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Please forgive this self-indulgence

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Holy cow!  Some memories just never fade.

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Apart from walking for a full day from the nearest roadhead, there  was only one way to arrive at Pindiu, Papua New Guinea, in 1972.

That was by light aircraft, a 25 minute flight from the old, now abandoned, Lae city airport.
The direct fine-weather track was via the 7000′ Landslide Gap in the Rawlinson Range. In poor weather it was safer to follow the coastline then head inland for the final 15 miles following the Mongi River.
This is the sector when most of the aeronautical fun began.

The interior of the Huon Peninsula is deeply dissected by a maze of valleys heading in all directions, and mountains up to 13,000′ high. Pindiu, at 3000′ elevation, could be extraordinarily difficult to find by visual navigation in deteriorating weather conditions.

Thanks to someone elses recent flying experience and camera work (below) I am now able to relive the final approach to the airstrip which is so indelibly etched into my memory. On more than one occasion the sudden appearance of this tiny strip of dirt through a hole in the clouds was the most beautiful sight I could have wished for.

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When enthusiastic young GOF was delivered by a Macair single-engined Pilatus Porter aircraft exactly 40 years ago onto Pindiu soil he had no idea that he would fall in love with the place and it’s people and spend most of the following 8 years living and working there.

He also had no inkling that three years later he would learn to fly and, according to his Log Book, eventually go on to repeat that landing approach himself more than one thousand times as he came back home after working in nearby villages which had even shorter and more interesting landing strips.

As I watch this clip today I get goosebumps. Serious goosebumps.

I see my old home, the highset house 50 metres off to the left, halfway up the ‘strip. I hear the various sounds of flight and my heart beats faster. My palms begin to feel a little sweaty. I still have an urge to make final-approach landing checks whilst peering through the windscreen trying to get a fix on the exact location of the ‘strip through all the murk. I get butterflies in my stomach knowing that on short-final approach it is too late to abort the landing on this one-way uphill strip.

But most of all, as the aircraft rolls up the hill and turns into the parking bay, I am left with the warm feeling that I have just come back home again.

Pindiu got into my heart in 1972 ………..and never left.

Dammit!  Do you have a box of tissues handy? If I watch this one more time I might just need one.

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Edit December 2012…..due to internet gremlins please copy and paste the following URL…….landing approach to Pindiu airstrip.


About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

16 responses

  1. Kudos my friend. You never learn to appreciate people until you get to know them and that is usually a little at a time. Have you been back for a visit lately. I spent 6 years in the Philippines and memories haunt me from time to time.

    • Thanks Sammy. I think if it was compulsory for everyone to spend extended periods of time living with people of another culture there might just be a whole lot less trouble in the world. I’m sure you treasure your Philippines experience.
      I went back to PNG in 1998, 18 years after I left. Whilst the cities in PNG are a total shambles, the ‘bush’ and it’s people had not changed and it was a wonderful experience.

  2. You’re a gamer man than I am, Gunga GOF. I dips me lid to you and other unsung heroes who did so much to bring PNG to independence.

    • Nah, it was safer than driving a car through Cairns at rush hour Snowy, but thanks for the compliment. Upon reflection there wasn’t much lasting benefit, but it sure was an interesting adventure.

  3. Pretty neat film. Be careful out there, though. I’d miss your snark!

  4. GOF, I can’t believe a crusty old dog like you can become teary-eyed watching a video of a plane landing. But I understand what it’s like to see a place from your past, right down to your former home and the streets you used to walk down every day. I would not miss defying death every time I had to park my “vehicle” however. You’ve a stouter heart (and gut) than me.

    • Thanks HG. I have no doubt you would have been more courageous and effective than I was if you’d chosen this career path.

      Some degree of emotional instability seems to come with men getting older HG. On this occasion it has nothing to do with that specific aircraft landing, but the rush of memories that it brought back. Remembering watching my friend’s aircraft fall out of the sky and plummet into the bush just off the end of the ‘strip, and remembering that these outposts would not exist without aircraft. No roads. No telephones. No permanent-material houses.
      Some of the commercial pilots were genuine heroes who risked their lives doing medical evacuations. For example, I cannot help feeling somewhat emotional when this clip reminds me of the pilot who chose to fly this approach at night and land, guided only by the lights of one Land Cruiser, two motor bikes and a couple of kerosene lanterns.

      He volunteered to do this to save the life of an indigenous woman who would not have survived the night with childbirth complications. I have many other memories like this which have nothing to do with my own insignificant activities, and if a tear comes to my eye I think it an appropriate response as I remember the heroism, and occasionally sacrifice, made by these special people.

      Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to be a lecture my friend. My fault for not elaborating further, but it is difficult to explain in words the special attachments that many Australians formed with PNG places and people last century.

  5. You must have been so happy to find that 🙂 As am I, actually…have heard about that landing strip many times, but now I know what you’ve been talking about.

    And here I can barely park my car straight – are you sure we’re related?

    • Yep, thanks Inga. It was just wonderful discovering this clip…..I know you understand just how important this time of my life was.

      This clip has also made me more inclined to make one final journey back to Pindiu.
      Anyone want to tag along?

  6. It is amazing how the landing strip just appears out of nowhere. I’d be inclined to take the walk myself.

    And your house sitting right there just waiting for an errant plane to run into it …

    Now, of course, you’re going to have to go back through all your old blogs and look for videos to accompany them and then post it to an independent website for your “book” on your experiences. Or a loving daughter could do it in tribute to her father …

    • There was a real magic (and relief) when these ‘strips suddenly appeared out of the mist……I am just really thankful today for modern technology like digital cameras and YouTube.

      A large Caribou aircraft landed there a few times and the wingtips almost grazed my verandah posts. (slight exaggeration) 🙂

    • Poor GOF’s always wanted a loving daughter. Instead he got stuck with me. 😀

  7. Some of us were spared by fate. Others were not so fortunate.

    In memory of Chris Harvey-Hall who was killed in 1984 whilst flying P2-WKD.