I flew along the south coast of New Guinea and then made a 70-mile flight across the middle of Frederik Hendrik Island. No white man had ever seen the interior of this island. All that was known was that natives attacked any ship becalmed near the coast.
Blotchy cloud shadows gliding over the ground were overtaken by the seaplane shadow flitting at an uncanny pace across tall reeds like corn or skimming up a wall of forest trees and rushing over the dense tops. In the middle of the island the swamp took on a definite pattern of stripes and cross stripes. I felt sure it must have been cultivated thousands of years ago, though now there was not a sign of man. Later I saw two tiny planted patches.
Australian Mountains Map Photo Gallery
The air was uncomfortable, not with vicious bumps but as if pitching into lively short waves. At every pitch my face was showered with petrol from the air vent. By 10 o’clock I completed the traverse of the island and flew over the sea again. I had to navigate the 260-mile sea crossing to the Aru Islands with care, although they were a comparatively wide target. I had flown on a careful compass course for the last 100 miles and found that I had drifted fourteen degrees to starboard. I therefore changed fourteen degrees to port. After New Guinea the sea felt safe and friendly. I felt hungry, ate a good meal, and then sat musing or writing in my log. It did not seem long before I reached my target, and at 12.43 I entered the channel between the main islands Wokam and Kobroor. It seemed full of war canoes with high stems and stern-posts. Some fled, furiously paddled. On either side of the passage was magnificent forest, with tall trees festooned with pink, rose and red creepers. A frightful bump drove the thought of beauty from my mind and I hurriedly fastened my belt for fear of being tossed out.
I came down on sparkling dark-blue water off the small island of Dobo, which faces Wokam across a narrow passage. I had taken five hours and ten minutes over the 472-mile flight.
A launch put off with four Englishmen or Australians aboard, and chugged round the seaplane. Hearing English again made me feel like a boy home from school. They shouted jokes, but every time I suggested that they should come nearer, they seemed to be deaf. Presently a launch flying the Dutch flag came up. The Dutch official was exceedingly polite to the Australians, and spoke to me through them, and the Government launch took me to the jetty to get my petrol. A tremendous press of natives, thousands of them, suddenly burst into a shout, a thrilling sound that would have raised the sky. On the jetty the Dutch official proudly showed me the fuel he had had the kindness to prepare for me – a formidable array of big drums, which must have totalled five times the weight of my Gipsy Moth. Unfortunately, they were diesel oil, not petrol. I managed to get some petrol, however, and I spent a delightful evening with the three bachelor pearlers, who lived together in an airy ramshackle old structure of two storeys with wide verandas and hanging rattan curtains instead of doors. Next morning, as well as the pearlers, a Malay Rajah and his princess came to see me off. The Rajah was small, quiet, delicate and aristocratic, and he wore white flannels with a Savile Row cut. His wife was perfectly charming with tiny feet and hands, a perfect little figure.