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Always 2 steps ahead….A tribute to Ian Rowles

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Have you ever had a role model in life, who might have played for your team, yet was forever positioned at the far end of the field which thus prevented your paths from ever crossing?

Someone you held in high regard, yet they never even knew you existed?

Have you had a distant admiration for someone, based only upon the trail of evidence and reputation which they left for you to find along your road of life?

Someone you were never quite able to catch up with. Ever.

That person in my life was a man called Ian Rowles.

Physically, the closest I ever got to him was soon after my posting to the tiny outstation at Pindiu in Papua New Guinea in 1972.    
He came, very briefly, to within about ten feet of me.


"Rowlesy" was piloting his single-engined taildragger Cessna 185 when he sneaked between treetops on the 5000 foot high mountain  behind my house, cut his throttle and dive-bombed a group of us standing beside the airstrip, before heading off directly to his home in the remote Kabwum valley.

Ian Rowles will probably be remembered by most Australians who knew him, or knew of him in PNG, for his irresponsible and reckless aviation exploits.  Thinking about him always causes me to recall the old aviators saying;
"There are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but no old bold pilots."

After just a few years of flying which notably included a string of accidents which were often a result of grossly disregarding Civil Aviation Regulations, Ian was killed, along with 6 passengers, a pig and a dog, when his plane was involved in a horrific fiery crash near Sialum on PNG's north coast.  
I think the year was 1974.

He was just 34 years old.

But I choose to remember Ian Rowles for something else.

He had another life before aviation and private enterprise.

He was my predecessor in the position of Rural Development Officer at Pindiu which I had just recently occupied.

The job involved trekking to each of more than 100 villages in the area, across some of the steepest, most broken terrain on earth permanently populated by humans, to find ways of helping the people achieve their economic and social development aspirations.

Many weeks of each year were spent camped out in the villages with  pleasant evenings sharing stories around cooking fires in the thatched houses of the host families who invariably "adopted" us for the duration of our short stays.

During my seven years of walking around the Huon Peninsula highlands I would hear, wherever I went, almost identical stories of admiration for "Masta Ian".
The Didiman who shunned any notion of racial superiority (which was common amongst expatriates in PNG at the time,) and selflessly devoted his time, expertise and prodigious energy to helping people wherever he could.  
This was not just another man from the Government full of piss and wind who failed to honour his promises. He was their friend.  A real friend, a hard worker, and an advocate for ordinary people living in the bush.  He was one of them.

Ian Rowles.

Although my feet were many sizes smaller, I once walked in your  footsteps.
Noni kike hatage boyopepo.

It was one of the greatest privileges of my life.


P.S.  There is a vivid first-hand account of the amazing exploits of  Ian Rowles  (here)  written by his friend, Patrol Officer Paul Oates, who also documents his own unenviable, gruesome and emotional task of overseeing the removal of bodies from the crash site.

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18 responses »

  1. Loved this post. I think this is the way to live life, and the way to go ultimately – take the hard road, help others, live life as an adventure and then fly however you feel like it after as a reward. Awesome. Hearing about your work was rewarding in and of itself.
    Now I must go google single-engined taildragger for a visual.

  2. Wow, I recommend everyone follow the link too.Standing on a stone fish and surviving is a pretty neat trick.I worked with a few blokes who had worked in PNG after the war. Pissy Paynter was one of them. He was found of pigin english and when asking who the new bloke was would say, "What name blong this fella massa?"

  3. Thanks Emmi, Ian was an extraordinary individual.Now I must go google single-engined taildragger for a visual. A "taildragger" is any aircraft which has a wheel under the tail, instead of a nosewheel. Taildraggers are notoriously more difficult to land, and then to control on the ground in crosswinds than conventional nosewheel planes.

  4. Wow, I recommend everyone follow the link too.Thanks Peter…..I hope people follow your recommendation….it is just an amazing life story and beautifully recalled and written by Paul Oates.Thanks for the Pissy Paynter anecdote…..there's probably a bit more of a story behind him too with a name like that. πŸ™‚

  5. Ooh yeah. Here is just one example that got picked up my Harlot's Sauce a little while back. I reckon there is a small book in the adventures of Pissy and that's just the stuff I know about him.Incidentally, I think the whole PNG series would get picked up by Dr Pat. It reads so well and would go for at least a year.

  6. Thanks for the link, it was a great read… I broke up though when I heard of his wife's reaction. Ugh. 😦

  7. A wonderful tribute to a man you admired. I wish that he could have read it!

  8. Thanks Pete for the link….now I know all about Mr Paynter.Harlots Sauce seems like an interesting place….wish I had more electricity to browse there.

  9. I broke up though when I heard of his wife's reaction. Ugh. :(That's the really sad part LOM….the family he left behind as well as the families of those killed in the crash.Paul won't mind me saying that as a result of his writing the story, one of Ian's children, now grown up, contacted him to find out more about what sort of person Ian was……one good result from the power of the internet.

  10. A wonderful tribute to a man you admired. I wish that he could have read it! Thanks Freedom. There was an element of therapy in it for me as I look back and discover these influences in my life.

  11. It's a great site and not just because they publish some of my material. ;-)I have taken the liberty of sending Patricia a couple of links to some of your stuff. A PNG piece and the hilarious GOF's Academy of Dance, so don't be surprised if you get an email request from an attractive young lady wanting to use your wit and insight on her web site.By the way have you ever considered rounding out the PNG series with a pigin english primer? From what I heard of it it sounded fascinating.

  12. I'm honoured that you think some of my stuff is worthy of wider distribution. Thanks Pete.By the way have you ever considered rounding out the PNG series with a pigin english primer? From what I heard of it it sounded fascinating.What sort of thing did you have in mind? A story in Tok Pisin, or some interesting words or phrases?

  13. Yes, a wonderful thing to contemplate….who and what has influenced our lives!

  14. Hadn't thought of a whole story in pigin. How about both?

  15. Sounds like he made an excellent impression and helped form the GOF we get to enjoy to this day!

  16. I suspect he influenced me more than I thought at the time m-t.

  17. I followed the link also – what an huge presence he must have been. I could imagine him fishing in the bracken water in bare feet and the bright pink plane. But, I think it is hard to imagine someone who lives so on the edge ever getting to old age – though 34 was way too young to die.

  18. what an huge presence he must have been.He certainly was a larger-than-life character, and I've never come across anyone quite like him since.


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