John the Maverick: Inland patrol with Betty
It was now time to go on patrol on my own. This was to be inland, by launch to Robinson River, then a day’s walk to the village on the banks of a substantial river. Betty said she would like to go as well and the ADO gave his permission. It was sort of unheard of for a CPO to have a wife and to take her on patrol so we took advantage of the opportunity. A few years before this there was a CPO killed at Telefomin in the Highlands making the Administration aware of the dangers which we may confront.
We had two police constables, the native medical assistant and a cook boy and had our first stop at the village at the mouth of the Robinson River. It was built on a high embankment looking over the river with houses on stilts and a variety of tame birds in the village. The census was carried out and a couple of sick people listed for hospital and it was noted several children were missing. There was reluctance from the villagers to say where they were, but eventually the police constable said they were at the back of the village so I ordered them to be brought forward. I was shocked to see these children covered in sores suffering from yaws, and made my displeasure known through the interpreter, especially when the hospital was not far away and an injection or two would fix the problem. I ordered the children to be taken by the men of the village to the hospital and to report to the ADO for neglecting their children. I was not popular with the village nor, I think, with the ADO but the children quickly got better and the men had to cut the grass on the airstrip as a result. Events blur so long back and it is easy to forget times and places but some events remain in your memory and this is one of them.
We continued up Robinson River to the limit of navigation and were met by the Plantation vehicle and spent the night on the plantation as guests of the manager. Next day we headed off on a day’s walk after villagers were recruited to carry the patrol gear. This was along a cleared track through the jungle or tropical forest and the village was reached early that evening. I think we spent two nights in the rest house in that village and conducted the census and inspection without any problems. While at Robinson River we had an enormous dinner, by our standards, and enjoyed fresh tender steak again. Then at the village Betty experienced pain in her side, something like appendicitis. It could have been over exertion by the trek where, at one stage, I strapped her walking shoes with Elastoplast to keep them on as the track was wet and very muddy. Anyway I arranged for extra carriers to help just in case and part of the way Betty was carried, sedan-chair style, by four carriers. Two poles were secured to the director’s chair with two men each end, and this solved the problem. The other details blur, however, we returned via Robinson River and were met by the launch and returned to Abau and then back to clerical routine after being away about a week.