2.7 Melbourne to Sagarai River

Broke and heading alone on foot into the bush on Papua New Guinea.

March 5, 1910 –June 6, 1910

Never a man for cities, after ten metropolitan days Hayes writes: “Am about satiated with Melbourne.” Sydney has more appeal for him; it will be easier to get into the bush from there.

A trip to the museum immediately followed by a tour of  the red light district in Melbourne touched off a pensive passage. At the museum Hayes saw the skeletons of the extinct diprotodon followed by those of the Wooreddy and Trugannini, the last of the native Tasmanians.


Diprotodon skeleton


Truganini

In the red light district girls formerly beautiful and charming accosted him “offering what is most precious for a pittance.” The discordance between the exalted museum and the tawdry streets prompted Hayes to question: “Is man an equal to the wild creatures he is exterminating? When their natural appetites are satisfied they are willing to live and let live, even the predators among them. Not man, for I see in the harbor warships, about its shores forts and guns to destroy their own kind. I would like to forget men, am sometimes ashamed of my own species. Yet I am no better than the rest.”

At Sydney, Hayes takes up temporary residence at a Salvation Army hotel called the People’s Palace, “the largest hotel in the in the Antipodes.” The one-hundred rooms of the palace house too many men for his comfort so Hayes quickly transfers to a family boarding house where he bunks with only Carter, “a man from the back blocks of Queensland, near the Gulf of Carpentaria.” Hayes has heard of rich opal strikes up that way, but Carter warns him off: that area is poor, sparsely populated and almost unexplored. Carter says a smart man would try Cairns where there is lots of work in the sugar mills.

Just as he was about to leave for the bank to secure funds for the boat to Cairns, Hayes noticed an advertisement in a magazine trumpeting financial opportunities in Papua New Guinea. That afternoon, he was in the offices of Charles Neville landing a job pioneering 6,000 acres for a prospective rubber plantation. Hayes thought 300,000 pounds had been subscribed to this project but it turns out to be 1,500,000 pounds. Personally, he is down to 20 pounds, then flat broke by the time he outfits for the trip, but “Money doesn’t count in an expedition like this. I want to see the big world down in this part of the globe and this is a splendid chance.”

MAKAMBO of Burns Philp & Co at anchor
Steamer Makambo

Seen from the deck of the steamer Makambo, Halley’s comet grows larger nightly on its approach to perihelion. By day, deck chatter concerns George V succeeding Edward VII in England but “I take a deal more interest in the rapidly growing comet, now the finest feature of the skies, than all the kings of earth.”

On the passenger list of the Makambo Hayes reads the name Young who are missionaries and plantation owners at Bundaberg. When he “chipped in a sovereign for the work,” Miss Florence Young approached Hayes to tell him “She sees how the Lord has laid it upon me to run their small sailing craft between the islands picking up copra and trade, receiving nought but my keep.” He agreed to the work “if she would give me what the secular trading and planting companies did.” No sale.

[According to Riedl and Tietze in Jack London’s tales of Cannibals and Headhunters, London had lunch on this same ship, the Makambo, on August 22, 1908. In his short story The Terrible Solomon’s,  begun shortly after that lunch, London’s character Bertie Arkwright learns about inevitable white men on a steamer called the Makembo.  London also writes the Makambo into his novel Michael, Brother of Jerry.]

After a brief stop at Tulagi, the Makambo pulled in at Pendufferyn, a plantation on Guadalcanar (sic) where the white managers are still laughing about the recent visit by Jack London. Seems the adventures he set down as real were entirely vicarious. “In truth, he sat on the veranda of the wide bungalow and penned these thrilling episodes in safety, drinking numerous highballs the while.” Later, on the way to Gizo, Hayes continues on the subject of adventure novelists: “One of the worst features of the South Seas is the itinerant writer.” He complains that these writers soak up the wild tales of beachcombers and island traders in a six-week tour on a boat like the Makambo then write these tall tales as personal experience. “Consequently there are almost no books portraying these people truthfully to be read in any library.” Jack London and Beatrice Grimshaw receive low marks for veracity; Louis Becke rates a little higher. [London spent two years sailing the South Seas on his ketch the Snark. Hayes’ comments are particularly unfair to Beatrice Grimshaw who spent 27 years on Papua. Louis Becke spent more than 10 years adventuring about Australia and the South Sea island chains.]


Jack London on the Snark circa 1908


Beatrice Grimshaw

Louis Becke

Dinner Island, all of its 54 acres, received the name Hayes recorded when Captain John Morsby paused there for a meal in 1873; maps now call it Samarai Island. Perhaps two miles across a small strait surging with great tides Hayes can see the mainland of Papua New Ginea.

At Waga Waga, the orchids, coconut palms, frangipani, hibiscus, coral sands, and bluest sea elicit from Hayes, “What a marvelously beautiful land!” As usual, for Hayes the beauty of the natural world exceeds that of its human inhabitants: “Many are not unprepossessing, but others are hideous.” He goes on for two paragraphs: piercings, distended earlobes, betel nut, sipoma, hair died red in enormous dreadlocks, etc.

On the walk overland to the Sagarai River, Hayes amazed the native porters by taking onto his own back a load from an exhausted man, “for such a thing as a white man carrying a load is unknown. But we did it all in Alaska.” At the 6,000-acre prospective plantation, Hayes finds constant rain and no solid ground on which to build. “All the natives seem half wild” – especially the women – which Hayes says, “gives one suspicion of the attitude of the general run of the Europeans toward the native girls and women, and these people are extremely jealous.” Fortunately, the natives speak an understandable English jargon and, by toting the pack, Hayes has made a good impression on them.

It’s June, it’s raining, Hayes, a lone “European” in the bush, is already gaining the trust of the native workers – and he’s about to discover, little to his surprise, that the rubber plantation is an investment swindle.

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