2.11 Plantation on Mullins Bay

Writers and Missionaries and Businessmen – oh my.

August 12, 1911 – March 3, 1912

Hayes’ vague plan to see New Hebrides got revised:  “Withdrew my deposit on the ticket to the Hebrides and changed it to New Guinea.” Hayes feels he knows New Guinea and its inhabitants well, so Greer, the importer who thinks he knows coconuts, in partnership with the reverend R.B.S. Hammond, decides to send Hayes to purchase land “and see what about promotion of the plantation.”

R.B.S. Hammond
Robert Brodribb Stewart Hammond

Of the return trip up the Australian coast “there is little of interest to tell now” – miners, planters, rapidly vanishing blackbirders, smug missionaries…. Instead Hayes writes an extended apology for his way of life: “A man does not survive many years in this environment, unless it be the missionaries, whose lives are better ordered than we adventurers who break the way for so-called civilization. It is a thankless job, but we like it. The freedom of the bush, the confidence given by the simple natives, the absence of the binding conventions and man-made rules is sufficient reward and repays for the hardships we must meet. Then there is the thrill of being the first to see a new river, find a rich mine, a new people whose knowledge of white men is nil.”

At Port Moresby Hayes met “the Honorable Staniforth Smith, lieutenant governor of British New Guinea” immediately sizing Smith up as “a suave sort of person, one who steals your brain and all that’s in it.” Hayes has nothing to say to the “great explorer” sitting behind a desk reaping the credit for the work of “hardy prospectors.”

Staniforth Smith
Staniforth Smith 1916

During the stopover at Port Moresby, Hayes also met the writer Beatrice Grimshaw of whom he had written somewhat disparagingly earlier (see section 2.7 of this synopsis).  Grimshaw was forty-one in 1911 and had been living In Papua New Guinea for eight years.  Their  meeting in person wrung from Hayes this slight approbation: “now she picks out the truth from the tares and makes fairly creditable books.” He still chides her for writing romance about the Papuans: “Those who in a measure are civilized would be back into cannibalism in a month if left to themselves.”

Beatrice Grimshaw
Beatrice Grimshaw
When the Red Gods Call
When the Red Gods Call, 1911

At Samarai he hitches a ride on the Kaiora with a former boss, Joseph Cox, who is now director of the Papuan Rubber and Trading Company, around to a river he calls the Regurani on Mullins Bay. [This must be the Wegulani River, the only river on Mullins Bay with a similar name.] The dickering for land purchase goes well. “The old women, slaves as they are but controlling public opinion, favor me.” With the land deal sealed, Hayes returns to Samarai by the overland route, a “hard run” wading rivers across the peninsula “to get government consent.”

Upon return to Samarai, “Unfortunately envy has been aroused among my old associates because all the natives in the country want to work for me.” Hayes freely advises his associates on how they too can succeed: leave the women alone, play square with the men, and carry a pound of chrysophanic acid to doctor the ringworm. “All Samarai is amazed at my success.” The reverend Charles William Abel of the London Missionary Society at Kwato believes Hayes ought to have asked Abel’s permission since he “seems to think he is head of all this (region).” Instead, Hayes seeks out Connolly, territorial surveyor, who will return with Hayes to the river to officially define the borders of his tract.

Connolly was required by “the boys who sit in the seats of the mighty at Port Moresby” to outline all roads on his survey map. As there are no roads at his prospective plantation, Hayes paid Connolly 75 pounds after Connolly’s road map “plotted down where natives have been chasing kangaroos in the grass.”

Connolly leaves just as the season is turning a bit dryer, “though there seems to be no real dry season here.” The drier grasses permit all the villages around to join in a hunt using nets of pandanus fibre to snare wildlife fleeing a line of fire set in the dense, six-foot high lalang grass. (This hunt is reminiscent of one described by Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible.) One of the native men who Hayes describes as deaf and dumb, and “easily the strongest in this community,” wrestles a wild boar live from the nets. “This is counted a great feat” marked by a ceremonial killing followed by a great feast. “None of the youth, no woman nor child might eat of this, but they offered me some. I was glad enough to get a good hunk of leg.”

Perhaps courtesy toward the post-hunt ceremony required Hayes to eat from the cook pot. A paragraph later he writes, “I dislike eating anything cooked in these community pots. In them they boil snakes, goanas (huge lizards seven or eight feet in length at times), alligator flesh or eggs, and perhaps human flesh for all I know. For all the bush people are cannibals and think nothing of it.” His gladness over receiving a hunk of boar’s leg was probably relief at recognizing what came to him from the pot.


Australian Goanna

In November of 1911, Hayes traveled back to Samarai where his backers from Sydney urged him with confident words and glowing praise to carry on developing the plantation – but produced no additional money. He says they want him to exploit the native workers according to “the Spanish dictum practiced in South America and Mexico, to get the natives’ work for nothing, but to treat them right and see their souls are saved.” Hayes won’t practice the dictum, he knows that good pay, fair treatment, and respect for women brings the best result.

For the second time, Reverend Abel from Kwato tried to interfere with Hayes’ land purchase.  Of course Hayes ignores Abel about the plantation but Abel’s presumption prompts a lengthy comparison in the diary between missionaries and miners – the two vanguards of colonialism. Miners wear their faults openly: “drink and loose women.”  While, according to Hayes, most of the missionaries practice the same two vices but top them with hypocrisy. “To get to brass tacks there is little difference between the miners and the missionaries on any of these matters.”  (Hayes’ critique of missionaries is quite general.  His complaints about Abel are specifically about interference with Hayes’ prospective plantation.)

Back at the plantation, the land is fertile; it would be perfect for coconuts but with no cash on hand for a tractor the whole place grows to palms instead. As Christmas approaches, his tinned food runs out so Hayes turns to eating sago, kangaroo, and wild pig. Right after the first of the year 1912, beseeched by her distraught parents, Hayes doctored an extremely sick young girl from a nearby village. Walking six miles daily to attend the girl, Hayes finally got the fever under control with quinine and the girl lived – for which the entire village demanded payment. “It seems that an ethnologist spent a few days among these people some years ago. The samples of blood he took he paid for, telling them it was excellent medicine he was giving them.” A precedent had been established and all were angry when Hayes refused to pay.

Enough of bad food, no money, and ingratitude form Europeans and Papuans alike; Hayes writes to Sydney asking for fare back to Australia and departs the plantation project.

At Samarai, Hayes relates tales of men once wealthy and of high station reduced by drink to beachcombing. From one of the beachcombers  (a term Hayes uses derogatorily) he heard a long tale of cannibalism and retribution for cannibalism accompanied by the gift of two pineapple war clubs captured in the fight on the Yodda River as proof of the veracity of the story.


Pineapple War Club

When the boat to Port Moresby stopped at Yule Island to deliver booze to the priests, Hayes meets a saint – a haggard, emaciated crone who cooked for the mission for twenty-four years. “The hard boiled traders, miners, blackbirders all respect her, stand dumb before her when they blaspheme at the name ‘missionary’ concerning others.”

In Australia, all the talk is about the disappearance of lieutenant governor Staniforth Smith into the bush west of Port Moresby. Hayes says they ought to send a couple of prospectors experienced in the bush to find them rather than “a government party with all the trimmings.”

Hayes travels as fast as possible down to Sydney to be finished with the plantation, but boats are slow. Conversation with the “hard-bitten bushmen” (a complementary term Hayes uses to describe Europeans toughened by experience in the bush) on board turns first to crocodiles. The longest length mentioned is thirty-three feet. Hayes himself says, “I saw one on Mullins Harbor longer than my whale boat, which was 26 feet.” They will chase prey on land successfully unless the man or calf is smart enough to twist and turn. A crocodile can outrun you but turns poorly, so, when chased by a crocodile, dodge and weave. And should one of these monsters clamor over the gunwales of your lighter (small rowboat), shove an oar down its throat. He’ll snap it in half but you might survive. Then to giant clams:  If you step in an open clam’s mouth, you’ll be seized and drown. Oh, and the native men won’t dive for pennies when sharks are in the vicinity.  It’s so dangerous here, “Even many plants are predatory or parasitic in their ways.” Just the shipboard chatter behind the Great Barrier Reef on the way to Sydney.

After knocking about Sydney for more than a month Hayes finally settled up with Greer and the Reverend Hammond. They convinced Hayes to sign for 25 pounds in payment for his six months in the bush plus 200 shares of stock in the company.  Subsequently Hayes learned that Greer and Hammond allotted themselves 900 shares each. “I don’t blame Greer, he is a so-called business man, and we all know such are one the borderline of robbery. But Hammond is one of the most noted ministers of the church in all Australia.”

So much for Hayes Perkins plantation owner; he’s done with this kind of business and this kind of ministry.

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