2.9 East Australia and New Guinea

Now he’s back in motion bouncing around the east coast of Australia and cruising timber on Woodlark Island.

October 9,1910 – March 27, 1911

Hayes walked with Moody, one of the new men at the Sagarai River station, across the isthmus from the plantain site to Milne Bay stopping briefly at the Anglican Mission at the hilltop. A bit of a scrape ensued when one of the young Papuan women followed the men down to Davey More’s trading station at Gibara:  when Hayes pushed off from shore without replying as “Connie, clad in a coconut fiber rami, or waist mat reaching from waist to knees, eagerly pressed me with questions in her native tongue,” the worst happened. “She threw both hands over her head, ran up and down the bank screaming.” Old Davy accused Hayes of “spoilin’ the missionary girl.” (Hayes’ quote.) Moody loudly denied the charge, vouching for Hayes, but the rumor struck. “… So I grin and bear it. Just tell them I can’t help bein’ good looking.”

Waiting for a ship to Sydney, Hayes repeatedly circles “the enchantingly beautiful path” around Samarai Island watching the locals spear fish by torchlight and listening to the beachcombers tell hair-raising stories of cannibals. “Trouble is, most of them are prone to fiction.”  (Beatice Grimshaw‘s romance novel Guinea Gold published in 1912 uses this very short path around Samarai Island as the meeting place for her ill-fated lovers.)

The boat to Sydney travels first to Port Moresby through “a bad willy-nilly… the local name for a hurricane.” [Hayes’ diary has a date discrepancy regarding this storm. He says the steamer Koombara sank with the loss of all 128 aboard in October of 1910. Wikipedia says the Koombara sank in May of 1912.]  Approaching Port Moresby after the storm, Hayes says he’d rather watch the native Papuans sailing outrigger canoes than a yacht race. “If there be any faster sailing craft in the world, I have never heard of them.”

Turning South from Port Moresby, Hayes sailing with Strachan and his wife, have “ample time to plan what to do in the way of founding a new plantation.” But his diary makes Hayes’ skepticism clear: “But that is all up in the air as yet, and no one knows what will be doing before we are done. I long for Africa, my folks want me to return to the U.S.A., the company wants me to return for them.” Mrs. Strachan succeeded in smuggling tropical bird feathers hidden beneath her skirts into Brisbane, Australia despite the guilt advertised across her face.

Hayes enjoys regular food and the company of a few friends in Sydney but, “All round, I like the bush the best.” He does not like “the inner council chamber” of the rubber plantation company to which the investors summoned him immediately on return to Sydney. Based on Neville’s reports, the stockholders expected immediate dividends following the arrival of the new men and the sawmill at the Sagarai River station. “I explained as truthfully and without reserve as I could what was doing there.” In response, he describes “consternation” and “consideration” among those assembled.

After Hayes’ truthful report about the lack of trees at the Sagarai River site, the company needs to find a use for their sawmill. After some haggling, Hayes agrees to go to Murua [Muyua or Woodlark] Island in return for forty pounds and refund on his fare from New Guinea. In the meantime, news arrives that Neville, the lead man in the plantation swindle, skipped to London “where he was taken by police and made disgorge 7,000 pounds.” Slight return to the investors, who lost the rest to this “flim-flam game to fleece the public.”


Matunga at Alexis Harbor, German New Guinea 1918

In December 1910 Hayes sailed first class on the Matunga toward Murua jostled by miners returning from the “cup races” at Melbourne and Randwick and by missionaries headed to New Guinea. One expects it from the miners but, “Most missionaries are tipplers, some openly, others surreptitiously; but they love their hooch. The others are godly, self-sacrificing people. These are in the small minority, and always have the lowest places.”  Sailing beyond Brisbane north toward Cairns, calm seas behind the Great Barrier Reef, “bring most of the disciples of Bacchus on deck. At Cairns “some say” the river falls 700 feet at Barron Falls and rainfall in this wet corner of a dry continent “is above 200 inches.”


Barron Falls

Arrival at Port Moresby on December 25th – all others on board are “blind paralytic” after the holiday celebration. “Once I looked on man as something apart from the so-called lower animals. I still do, but place man below instead of above them now. What pig, what dog would demean itself by acting as these people do?”

On the Matunga’s quick delivery run to Yule Island, Hayes observes the “65 whites,” on the island all Christian missionaries and all divided along denominational lines: “Methodists, Episcopal, London Missionary Society, the Catholics and perhaps one or two others.” Conversion progresses slowly: “If they have uplifted one native I have not seen evidence of it.” On the other hand, he wryly notes that they are having some success with snakebite:  At the Catholic mission, “the holy fathers were taking every precaution against poisonous serpents, for almost all the cargo discharged was Old Scotch, Johnny walker and other noted antidotes against snakebite.”

South from Yule Island, past Samarai and through “a maze of emerald isles like those described in fairy tales,” brings Hayes back to Murua where “I am established at Gus Nelson’s, a bar and hotel combination at the village of Kulumadau.” Arriving on January third, Hayes shares Gus Nelson’s with all the broke hung-over gold miners down to celebrate the New Year.

Away from the haunts of civilized society to Solongo (Suloga) Bay, Hayes camps with a scattering of gold miners while scouting “much good timber, easily gotten if so desired,” with “an old native named Doudau.” One of the miners, Slater, says he was with Bayley and Hannan discoverers of the “Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie respectively,” two of the richest mines in Australia. Each blew his large fortune. One is dead of drink, the other on the way. Though Hayes wrote earlier that he tires of wild tales of cannibals, he takes a paragraph to relate in a story from the 1870’s told by a miner Hayes knows only as Old Jimmy – Hayes relates grim detail about Papuans eating Chinese laborers gruesome beyond anything Jack London could possibly have gotten published.

Immediately following this forty-year-old, second-hand cannibal story Hayes writes a first-hand account of contemporary barbarisms: Of one of his European hosts he writes, “His wife doesn’t look over seven years of age.” Colonial practices differ little the world over: “The miners keep tab on all girls approaching puberty on Murua, and the district commissioner doesn’t see it. Thus the people are dying as the Indians did where I was born in Oregon, and unless something happens will soon be gone.”

While tramping around most of Murua, “Doudau regales me with tales of the old time islanders before the whites came. They were man-eaters then,and on the smaller islands of Nesquab and Velous are settlements of refugees who fled at that time some twenty years agone from raiding cannibals.” Hayes still writes second-hand information about cannibalism, though perhaps it’s more reliable coming from Daudau, a native to the island – who agrees about the contemporary disaster: “But these raiders were less harmful than the invading white man. At least they did not debauch the women, brought no social disease nor broke up rthe ways of living by means of which the blacks survived for ages.”


Muaru or Woodlark Island

After the joys of wandering about the bush at Solongo Bay, Hayes returns to civilization at Kulumadau to write a couple of pages of gossip about “the men who have known palatial halls and women clad in diaphanous silken things” sunk low by drink. He names some of these beachcombers, others are described only by position as “a bank manager in Melbourne who now lives on the beach at Misima in the Louisiades.”

Disgusted to see men laying drunk in the gutters, Hayes walked fifteen miles across Murua, accepted food and cool coconut water from the people “said to be dangerous,” and marveled at a forest of tree-ferns that, “reach to a height of sixty feet, and completely smother all other vegetation in the gullies where they grow.” The crocodiles grow big too; Hayes says he personally saw one “longer than my 26-foot whaleboat when it ranged alongside.”

The investors must still be trying to salvage something out of the Sagarai River rubber scheme; Hayes bought many rubber plants for them. And the timber prospects at Murua were good enough that “I am engaged to set up the mill and oversee it, but it means nothing.” On the way south back to Sydney, Hayes wonders, “if I’ll ever see this island again.” He knows his own wanderlust – he’s been four months in this region now – quite a long time for him.

Toward the end of February 1911, Hayes steamed back through Samarai, Port Moresby, Cairns, and Brisbane chatting with missionaries and the occasional sober prospector. “It is truly enjoyable.” Except for the politicians on board. “Politicians are a fungus that grows on the body politic whom the world would be better without.”

At Sydney he gave an encouraging report to the investors and checked in with Strachen about the plantation proposal. “Strachan has not yet succeeded in promoting the plantation. He is much too honest a man for this business.” Well, that’s Australia and New Guinea – where to next? His premonition was right about not returning to Murua.

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2 Responses to 2.9 East Australia and New Guinea

  1. Noel Martin says:

    I like the observation he makes about politicians; things haven’t changed with the passing time.

    “It is truly enjoyable.” Except for the politicians on board. “Politicians are a fungus that grows on the body politic whom the world would be better without.”

  2. johnmmartin says:

    This observation seems to cross all political lines and all times.

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