When sports teams travel for a fun game, they often play up. The Paga Rugby League team in Port Moresby, PNG, were no exception, especially in those free and easy days
We chartered a plane for a town called Lae, (on the other side of the mountains), went to the airport, were shown an old DC3, got on board – then all got off again.
“What’s wrong ?”
“It’s an empty cargo plane, there’s no seats!”
“Yes there is, just fold them down from the wall.”
Sure enough, there were these little dicky seats that commandos use, so up an away we went. At first we flew along the Papuan coast, which was awesome, gazing down on small coastal villages living in their ageless tranquillity.
Yet, on looking around, I noticed one of the great local characters, (who we’ll call Bungers), had joined us for the trip. Now Bungers was the worlds best liar. He not only had a gift for inventing outrageous stories, but would soon believe them himself, so was utterly convincing.
Anyway, before long all the boys have left their dicky seats and are sitting on the floor drinking beers and playing cards. The plane turns away from the coast and starts climbing up into mountain ranges. That’s fine till someone asks..
“Why are we flying so close to this ridge?”
Everyone peers out the right side windows – struth – we’re about one eighty metres away from a mountain – on the side of which are traditional village women working their gardens, (tied to ropes so they don’t fall), waving at us!
”Why are they flying so close?”
“Look out the other side.”
Oh struth, here’s another ridge just as close, with more ladies tied to ropes waving at us.
“Don’t worry”, says Mocca, “these pilots are the best on Earth.”
But just them came an unforgettable sight.
One of the boys appeared in the cockpit doorway, face pale, eyes wide, and the knuckles of his hands clenching either side of the doorway were white..as he spoke these words..
“Bungers is flying the plane !”
Yegads – half the boys leapt up in alarm – that shifted weight, so the nose of our plane dipped, then beer and cards went flying all over, before they finally dragged Bungers out.
He’d wandered into the cockpit, casually mentioned his flying exploits, and they’d given him a go. (He’d never flown in his bloody life).
Anyway we get to Lae, start booking into our motel, and they ask Bungers his name ? he replies ”Mr ….enson”.
“Oh here it is, Dr Hutchenson ”. (Hutcho didn’t make the trip)
Bungers doesn’t blink an eyelid. “Yes lass that’s me. Now I’ll have a full round of drinks, put it on my bill, and give yourself a good tip “
(Dr Hucho laughed when he heard, but was still sending the bill back for ages).
That night there’s a dance on. Bungers, sorry, Dr Bungers, gets on stage with the band, picks up a stray guitar and starts to play.
Now he really could sing and play piano, but not guitar. So the band suddenly stop, and show he’s only miming. No worries, he just comes down and starts dancing with a lady. Which is another thing he can do, dance, something terrific. They’re doing the jitterbug. Bungers is turning her over his shoulder an wot not, when he throws her under his legs, goes to grab her and misses. She goes sliding across the floor at a great rate of knots, fetches up smack against the far wall, and sits there stunned.
Bungers just shrugs, shouts another round of drinks, then wanders off to give a few free medical consultations.
Next day we play the footy game..
..then hire a car to go collecting souvenirs.
There is a famous old hotel in Lae called the Cecil, which had, (past tense), a full size bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes. Amazingly his head was only bolted on. So with a bit of spanner work, Cecils’ head was soon resting comfortably in a box on the back seat.
Well by the time we drove off it was night, raining a full on tropical downpour, and we’d made a near fatal mistake. If Bungers was the worlds best liar, Freddy was the worlds worst driver, and now at the wheel.
Rain is teeming down, it’s as black as the haydes of hell, and no one can get Fred to turn the headlights on .. cos he’s happy with his own “feel method”. If he feels the right hand wheels go off the bitumen he steers left, etc.
Another car, with it’s lights on, starts tailgating us. Suddenly the rain stops, and right in front of us a local bloke is sound asleep in the middle of the road. Keysey hauls franticly on the handbrake and stops our car, then wham the tailgater rams us, and shoves our front wheels to within inches of the sleeper.
Now one of the inflexible laws of Papua New Guinea is “payback”, (an eye for an eye). If anyone is hurt in a road accident, it doesn’t matter a fig who was really at fault, the driver is guilty, and must pay the full price immediately.
In no time flat the noise of the crash has fetched thirty or so locals out of the night. They are looking at the prone body in front of our car, thinking we’ve killed him, and pulling out axes. Umm, well, things are kinda grim.
Then zip, the sleeper bounces up, and walks away. The crowd drift off and we clear out, with someone else driving!
What a sight to see on the way home. Tony had the box on his lap, so every now and then would open it’s lid and pour in a drink for Cecil. There was one hell of a ruckus about it in Lae, but I don’t think Cecil minded. He got a heap of free beers, a free trip to Moresby, and must have been bored standing outside the Hotel all those years.
So yes, we were a bunch of young blokes getting up to mischief in an extremely free and easy, exotic land ..
..yet oh boy, there was never a dull moment.