Planning A Trip To Australia

My request for him to get the petrol in a hurry was strongly worded. The Maori is a devilish fine fellow, friendly, good-natured, sporting and with perfect manners. The man in the boat said nothing, and rowed back to the launch. The launch returned to the shore. Men disappeared. It all seemed unreal; it was hard to connect this with a trans-Tasman flight already overdue to start. I was sick with impatience and anxiety, when suddenly I thought, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it; why worry?’ Peace descended upon me, as the Bible says. I fumbled below the seat for the jam and butter and loaf of bread given me by the Isitts, cut myself a thick slice, and began eating it, riding astride the fuselage behind the cockpit. I saw the launch put off again, hastily rammed the remainder of the bread and jam into my mouth, and scrambled forward on to the float. Well, the position was not really so hopeless after all. But the launch shot by, headed to the other side of the harbour, and none of the crew took the slightest notice of me.

It was 11 o’clock. At last the launch came back heading for the plane. It was 11.23. ‘It’s madness not to turn back now,’ said Reason. ‘You can be sure of a following wind,’ said Instinct. The white bow waves increased in size. It really was petrol this time; the dinghy came down the anchor line, with three cases on board.

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‘Got a funnel?’ I called out.

‘No, we not got funnel. Hey, you make us present of this benzene case, hey?’

‘All right, how about opening it first!’

‘We not got a hammer, hey?’

I scrambled back to the fuselage-locker behind my cockpit for my collapsible funnel, then on to the wing-root, to ransack the front cockpit for the tools at the bottom of it. I passed over a big spanner, and my new screwdriver, which they belted into the wooden case to open it. After making a hole in the 4-gallon tin big enough to take his fist, he handed up the tin. I worked it up from the wing-root to the motor-cowling, then on to the top petrol tank between the two top wings. I clambered up after the tin, and stood, precariously balancing myself on the top of the motor of the bobbing seaplane, my right arm round a 30 lb tin of petrol and my left hand holding the collapsible leather petrol-filter. And how that collapsible funnel could collapse! I got surges of petrol up my sleeves and down my legs, and when the seaplane pitched petrol shot into my cockpit. The Maori chose this moment for questioning me. It sounded as if they were questions he had been told to ask.

‘You going far?’

‘To Australia.’

‘Ho, Australia, hey! You give me that benzene tin when it empty, hey? How many miles this Australia?’

‘Fifteen hundred the way I am going.’

‘Py corry! That th’ phlurry long way to swim, I tink. What time you get there?’

‘I’m only going to Norfolk Island today. That is to say,’ I added looking up at the clouds, ‘that’s where I hope to get.’ ‘You give me that benzene tin when you finish him? Norfolk Island! You hear that? Ho! Ho! Ho! Norfolk Island; you hear that! How far is Norfolk Island?’

‘About 500 miles from here.’

‘Five hundred miles! Why! That’s the phlurry long swim too, py corry!’

I filled up with 12 gallons so that I now had about ten hour’s fuel. I had tanks for twelve hours, but knew that it would be hopeless to try rising with more than 50 gallons, ten hours. I made a deal with him for his anchor, and this took time, because I knew I should never get it if I tried to cut short the customary haggling. I asked him to hurry and lift the anchors, take off mine and bend on his, and he said they had a telegram on shore for me. I clutched my hair swearing till I cooled off. Then I laughed and suggested he go and fetch it. It must be the weather forecast I was expecting. Then a launch came up, with a white man in the bows waving a telegram. ‘Forecast from Dr. Kidson,’ he read out. ‘Weather expected fine; fresh to strong south-easterly breeze; seas moderate becoming rough.’

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