I had to be off early again next morning, and my hostess generously got up to cook me breakfast, and she gave me a tin of sweetcorn, some bread, butter and jam and a magazine to take with me. Soon I was roaring north. The Great Barrier Reef was now within 20 or 30 miles of the coast, and there were detached reefs everywhere. The water over them was dark blue or pure green, and the sun struck through to the reef as if through plate glass. I flew 80 miles across Princess
Charlotte Bay, out of sight of land for part of the crossing. Near the mainland I noticed a school of sharks in the lee of Cape Sidmouth, swirled round and alighted on top of where I had seen them, then cast anchor. It was so hot it made my eyes lazy. I took off my clothes and lolled about the seaplane. I was disappointed not to see any sharks, though splashes I heard showed they were still near. From above, I had seen through the water as clearly as if it did not exist, but on the surface I could see only the bottom immediately below me.
Australia Map Of Europe Photo Gallery
After eating and smoking I finally tore myself away, for I had to reach Thursday Island before dark. For hundreds of miles it was like flying along the coast of a desert. Once I spotted a wretched kind of shelter with the thatch beginning to collapse, and once I saw a group of horsemen on the beach. I came upon a lugger with sails drooping limply in the hot still air. It seemed black from a distance, and when I flew up to it I found it was covered with black natives. They were a strange sight, dotting the deck, and leaning over the bulwarks, with a string of them twisted up the mast, feet to woolly pate. They all kept utterly still as I flew up to them, and only twisted their heads to look at me as I flashed past.
I headed out to sea from Cape York, the northernmost point of the Continent, for the group of islands 14 miles off. Thursday Island was not marked on my chart, but the whole group was only 20 miles across, so I did not expect difficulty in finding it. And sure enough I recognised the island at once by the mass of luggers alongside it. As soon as I alighted near the jetty and cast anchor, a dinghy put off with two aboard. One was a man called Vidgen, who turned out to be a pearl merchant. He said that he had a mooring buoy ready for me in the lee of the jetty. He gave me confidence, and I liked him. I hauled in my anchor and stowed it, restarted the motor, and taxied slowly against the strong current to within a few feet of the buoy. I switched off, hopped quickly out of the cockpit and caught the rope thrown to me by Vidgen before the tide bore the seaplane out of reach. We were fast to a proper mooring in just a few seconds without any shouting, swearing or fuss. It was a pleasant change. People came down to the jetty to look. The Australian aborigines fascinated me with the absolute blackness of their skins, and their hair like thick black mats. I dropped one of my watches from my breast pocket and its pale face reproached me through the green water as it sank. The previous day I had lost the oil dipstick. While changing the oil I was scared of dropping the sump-plug into the sea.
Vidgen invited me to spend the night with him. He had a dinner party for a Dutch captain from the Aru Islands. The manners of the party were gentle and punctilious, after the Dutch style. We had a huge, excellently cooked dinner, the sort of feast that one had fifty years ago in an English country house in the middle of winter. They asked me what I proposed doing if I came down in headhunter country. I said that I had a -410 double-barrelled pistol, and had made the shot solid with candle grease. ‘What range would it kill at?’ ‘Ten yards,’ I said. This caused a general laugh. I asked what the joke was. I was told I would never see any Papuans, who kept behind the trees; they would shoot poisoned arrows at me from 200 yards, and would not approach until I was dead. Further, the Papuans used arrows barbed both ways, so they could not be pushed through or pulled out. They seemed a nice bunch.
There was a small wooden bank building on Thursday Island and I walked through the heated air to it full of hope. But no money had come for me, and I had to leave with only £18 to see me through to Manila. Vidgen collected some mail for me to take to Japan, and I was asked to keep a look-out for a lugger that had been stolen from Thursday Island. I said I guessed that none of them had ever tried to identify a stolen lugger from an aeroplane. Oh, but it would be quite simple, they said, and to help me they gave me a photograph of another lugger which was like it, but had a mast two feet longer.