No announcement yet.

Round the Bend: Pages 181 through 190

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Round the Bend: Pages 181 through 190

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

    ```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)



    "I don't know. It's like he was a prophet or something. Some of them get up and do a sort of a salaam when he walks by."

    I hadn't heard that one. "There's no harm in that."

    "I know. But one or two of them have started doing it to me. Do they do that when you go walking down the souk?"

    "Only beggars. Do they come and beg off you?"

    Shc shook her head. "These are well-dressed old men, merchants, you know, sitting in their shops. Not poor people."

    I laughed, because it seemed best to take it as a joke. "I look too English. Nobody salaams to me unless they want something."

    "I wish they didn't do it to me," she said uneasily. "It makes you wonder what it is that's going on."

    I didn't pursue the subject; it seemed better to let things sort themselves out in their own way. In a sense, I was relieved. The girl and her brother were a mixture of the East and the West, and when first I had heard that she was living in the souk I had been a bit troubled. If respectable old men got up and bowed when she passed it probably meant that she was perfectly safe down there; it seemed to indicate that she was already known and respected. So far as it went that was all to the good, and resolutely I put the matter out of my mind.

    We took off for Australia in the Tramp a few days after that, Gujar Singh and I, with a load of four passengers and about three tons of technical equipment. We left at dawn and put down in the early afternoon at Karachi to refuel; after an hour we got going again and spent the night at Ahmedabad. We refuelled at Calcutta next day and slept at Rangoon, and on the third day we got to Diento after stops at Singapore for fuel and Palembang for customs. On the fourth day we stopped for fuel at Sourabaya and went on down the island chain of Indonesia, and then over the Timor Sea to Australia. We put down on the big aerodrome at Darwin just after dark, and ran our heads straight into a pack of trouble.

    Australia is a white man's country, and nobody could have presented Gujar Singh as a white man. I found in the first ten minutes that everyone knew that my aircraft were normally flown and maintained by Asiatics, and that a strike of the airline staffs, control officers, and ground engineers throughout Australia was


    threatened if my aeroplane was handled by the customs or allowed to fly into Australia at all.

    Preoccupied as I had been with all my own affairs, I hadn't foreseen that one. The row broke in the darkness on the tarmac, and it went on for hours. The customs refused to clear the goods in the aircraft or, at first, to pass the passengers through immigration. Somebody said at one stage that I could have fuel and fly away back to Indonesia with the load and passengers and all. After an hour and a half of argument they allowed the four passengers to go into the town to the hotel, but the machine was placed under a military guard till the morning. At about ten o'clock they said that I could go down to the hotel, but when I asked about Gujar they said flatly that no hotel in Darwin would accept him. I was so angry by that time I said they could take their hotel and treat it unconventionally, and went off to sleep with Gujar in the cabin of the Tramp, having sent a radio message to the Arabia-Sumatran Company at East Alligator River to tell them of my predicament.

    I found Gujar Singh waiting patiently by the Tramp; he had very wisely kept in the background while all this was going on. "Look, Gujar," I said. "I'm very sorry about this. They've got this colour trouble on their minds here, and we've got to make the best of it." I told him what had happened, and then I said, "We'll sleep in the machine tonight, and see what happens in the morning. It looks as though the idea of running through to the East Alligator River will have to be revised a bit."

    He smiled gently. "Don't be upset about it," he said. "This is nothing new to us."

    "I am upset," I answered hotly. "By God I am. I've never heard such bloody nonsense in all my life."

    "My people do things as silly, or sillier than this," he said. It was just after the British had left India, and Pakistan and India were at each other's throats and mass deportations of pitiful refugees were taking place from both countries. "All countries are stupid in these things," he said. "It does not matter."

    "It's economic," I said. "They know that we can undercut their rates because we employ Asiatics. I don't believe we've got a hope of operating in this country."

    "There are plenty of other countries," he said philosophically.


    "You've said it." I was still very angry. "They can keep this one."

    There was no trouble about sleeping in the machine, of course. Darwin is hot all the year round, and we had no need of coverings. In the rear fuselage we had the engine covers and the cockpit covers which I had brought with me in case we had to leave the aircraft parked in monsoon rain, and these great masses of canvas were quite new and clean. We were both well accustomed to this sort of thing, and we made beds of this stuff in the cabin behind the load, and made ourselves comfortable for the night.

    I lay awake for some time, worrying about my business. This regular fortnightly charter for the Arabia-Sumatran was a very big thing to me; a steady contract running at the rate of £120,000 a year was not one that I could afford to let slip through my fingers. At the same time, I had heard enough about Australian reactions to the flight that evening to realize that it would be quite impossible to operate my aircraft in white Australia. My Asiatic pilots and staff were a valuable asset to me all the way from Bahrein to Timor; they smoothed the way politically for the free passage of my aircraft and they made it possible for me to quote low prices for my freights. The last leg of the journey, however, was impossible for me to operate at all.

    Half-waking and half-sleeping, for I was tired with the strain of four days' hard flying, I wondered if I could operate to the nearest extremity of Indonesia, and make arrangements with an Australian airline for the last leg of the route. Suppose I flew as far as Koepang in Timor, and transhipped the loads there to an Australian machine with an Australian crew, which would fly to Koepang from Darwin, pick up the load, and take it to East Alligator River? To operate like this would put the costs up, but the cost of the service to the oil company would still be far less than if the flight all the way from Bahrein were carried out by a "white" company. And in this way they would keep the political advantage of running an Asiatic service all the way through Asia.

    I drifted into sleep, thinking about this one.

    They allowed Gujar and me to go out of the aerodrome next morning to a small cafe just outside the gate, but they sent a soldier to stand guard over us while we were eating our breakfast. I asked him to join us at the bacon and eggs and after some hesita-


    tion he agreed; he was a good, clean lad, and said a little awkwardly that you had some pretty funny things to do when you were in the army.

    When we got back to the Control office there was a signal there for me from the East Alligator River to say that they were sending over a representative, and at about ten o'clock a Grumman amphibian landed, carrying a Mr. Fletcher as a passenger.

    Mr. Fletcher knew all about us and our way of operating aircraft; indeed he had been at Bahrein when first I went there with the Fox-Moth, and I remembered him when I saw him as a passenger that I had carried once or twice in those early days. Knowing Australia as he now did, he was not in the least surprised that we had run our heads into a brick wall. His first concern was to secure the release of his passengers and freight, but he listened to my proposals to end my service at Timor and make arrangements in the future for the goods and passengers to be brought into Australia on an Australian aircraft. After half an hour's talk he left in a taxi to go into Darwin for a conference with the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Mr. Walker.

    He didn't invite me to go with him, so I stayed up at the aerodrome and had a long talk with the pilot of the Grumman, a Dutchman called Beebs who spoke very good English. Beebs knew Australia well and had flown the Grumman repeatedly between East Alligator River and Dicnto in Sumatra. He thought that the proposal to stop my service in Indonesia was sound and he suggested that Maclean Airways at Alice Springs would probably be the best people with whom to negotiate for bringing the loads on into Australia; he said they had a Dakota which they used for freight. With the encouragement of regular work for this Dakota operating from Darwin, he thought Eddie Maclean would so adjust his services as to use this aircraft more in the northern part of the country, and so make it available to me.

    As regards the terminal point for my service, he suggested Dilly, Koepang, or Bali as these three places all had customs organization and good fuel supplies. He pointed out that customs would be necessary. He showed the geography to me on the maps. The island of Timor is half Dutch Indonesian territory and half Portuguese. Dilly is in the Portuguese bit and the authorities there were


    easy and pleasant going, and delighted to see Australians or anyone else who came to visit the colony. Koepang, in Dutch territory at the other end of Timor, was a military airstrip where civil aircraft were tolerated as a necessary nuisance. Of the two places he preferred Dilly. The third choice was Bali, farther back along the chain of islands, to the west. Bali, he said, was a friendly place with very good Dutch officials and very suitable as my terminal, but it was a good way farther back and would bring up the last leg of the route to be operated by white Australian aircraft to no less than eleven hundred miles, with a corresponding increase in the costs.

    Mr. Fletcher came back from Darwin presently with his four technicians, my passengers to Australia. He had settled the business, got his technicians through the immigration, and secured permission to unload the cargo from my aircraft; he planned to take the technicians back to East Alligator with him in the Grumman and to send over a truck for the three tons of cargo. Unloading the cargo was a headache, because the labourers at the aerodrome belonged to the wharfies' union and refused to touch it. With pilots, technicians, and Mr. Fletcher there were eight of us, however, and we got it out of the aircraft in an hour of sweat in that hot, humid place, and carried it all to a store.

    I had a talk with Beebs and Fletcher then about the future operations of the service, and we went down to Darwin in a car and had beer and lunch with Jimmie Corsar, the local agent for Maclean Airways. We told him what we proposed and found, as I had expected, that he was keen on getting the business, and saw no difficulties. Beebs and Fletcher left to go back to the aerodrome to fly to the East Alligator River in the Grumman with their technicians, and I went with Jimmie Corsar to his office and wrote a long letter to Eddie Maclean in Alice Springs. Then I drove back M the aerodrome.

    It was four o'clock when I got there, and Gujar had had the Tramp refuelled and was all ready to go. I think he was tired of Darwin, and I don't blame him. However, I had decided to go back by way of Dilly, and the strip at Dilly was right up against hills and with no night landing equipment except paraffin flares; I didn't fancy that so much in a strange place, and anyway, we


    hadn't got permission to go there. I went to the Control office and made a signal asking for permission to land, and arranged to leave at dawn next day. Gujar and I had high tea in the café by the gates and walked round the aerodrome a bit, and then we went to bed in the cabin of the Tramp as we had done before.

    We took off for Dilly about half past six next morning. We crossed the Timor Sea to the north end of Timor, skirted the mountains and flew westwards down the north coast till we came to Dilly, a pretty little tropical town on a white coral beach with mountains behind, much damaged by the Japanese. The strip was right up against the town and fairly short, but we got down without difficulty as we had no load, and taxied to park outside the hangars.

    We stayed in Dilly with the Australian consul for a day. The Governor and all the Portuguese officials were kind and co-operative, but they had a regular storm in a teacup vendetta on hand with the Dutch in Indonesia, and relations were very strained. It seemed that the colony had one ship, the bottom of which was dying of old age, so they had sent it for repair to the Dutch naval dockyard at Sourabaya. The Dutch had estimated a high price for the job and had demanded that the whole estimated cost of the repair was to be paid in United States dollars before they would begin. If there was any change, they would give it back in dubious Indonesian guilders. The ship was in no condition to go anywhere else, and in Dilly the Governor was furious. He maintained communication with Portugal by flying his air mail to Koepang and sending it to Portugal by the Dutch airline; his angry comments about the ship stung the Dutch to retaliate by refusing to handle his air mail. Accordingly he was now flying his mail to Darwin and sending it by B.O.A.C., and in this far corner of the world there was almost a complete diplomatic rupture between the Portuguese and the Dutch. Probably their governments in Europe knew nothing about it.

    I liked Dilly although the strip wasn't very good for the operation of a large, heavily laden aircraft; in the heat of the day the take-off might be dicey. The chance of political trouble, however, was more than I could face. My aircraft would have to enter and clear customs whenever they passed from Indonesia to Timor or


    vice versa, and if those two were at each other's throats my aeroplane might feature as pawns in a quarrel that was no concern of mine. Regretfully I washed out Dilly, and took off for Koepang in Dutch Indonesian territory at the other end of Timor.

    Koepang had a good airstrip, but it was ruled entirely by the military and garrisoned by troops. At that time the Dutch were conducting a full-scale war against the Indonesians in Java and Sumatra, punctuated by somewhat dilatory truces and negotiations. I broached my business to the military commander of the aerodrome, a Colonel Rockcl, but when I told him that my pilots would be Asiatics and I wanted to station Asiatic ground engineers with a spare engine and stores on the airstrip, he turned sullen and obstructive. He said that the airstrip was only nominally a civil one because it was used by the internal services of K.L.M., and that only the smallest aircraft with limited range ever used it nowadays for flying to Australia; in consequence there would be continual difficulties over customs. He said that he could not agree to have my Asiatics in the Dutch military zone that he commanded without reference to his superiors in Batavia, who would probably seek guidance from the Hague.

    This didn't look so good. It was just possible that we might force our way in there, but there would never be co-operation and there would always be the risk that we might be turned out of Koepang at any time for military reasons. The Dutch in Indonesia at that time were troubled and a little bitter with the world; pursuing a policy that they sincerely believed to be right, they were badgered by well-meant advice from U.N.O. and infuriated by criticism from India. The civil administrators seemed to stand this strain better than the soldiers; after an hour's discussion with Colonel Rockel I could see little future for my service in Koepang, and we took off at dawn next day for Bali.

    Bali was totally different. The strip is a good one on a narrow isthmus of land between two very beautiful bays; it was long enough for anything we wanted, with no high ground near it so that you could approach it in bad weather by flying along the coast at a hundred feet until you got there. To my delight I saw a very large hangar by the strip with a roof in good condition; I studied this as we went round on the circuit and pointed it out to


    Gujar Singh, who elevated one thumb. We found on landing that this hangar had been put there by the Japanese Navy during the war; it was big enough to take a Carrier or a Tramp, but it was seldom used and normally was only occupied by the Governor's Austen

    We landed and taxied to the airport building and stopped the engines. A young Dutchman in clean whites came out to meet us, a cheerful young man called Voorn. He said he was the airport manager and K.L.M. representative. He was very pleased to see us, because at that time his service only came to Bali twice a week and so good a chap found spare time heavy on his hands. He said there were no military on the aerodrome and very few soldiers in Bali at all. Ile didn't want to see our passports and had only a casual interest in our papers; when we asked about customs he said that the customs officer lived in Den Pasar, the chief town of the island ten miles to the north, and we would invite him to the hotel for a drink that night.

    This looked good, and we went into the airport building and had a fresh lime squash and broached our business to Mr. Voorn. He saw no difficulties at all. Bali, he said, was an island run by the Dutch administration purely for the benefit of the Asiatics living there; it was a happy and a prosperous place that imported little and exported less. The balance of payments was made up by what the Dutch in Indonesia spent when they came to this delightful place on leave. He thought that there would be no objection at all to the presence of a few Asiatic engineers upon the aerodrome; in fact, he said, we should probably be offered a contract to maintain the Governor's Auster. He was interested in our colour troubles, but assured us that we should find nothing of that sort in Bali, perhaps because the girls were so attractive and the people so friendly.

    He drove us into the hotel in Den Pasar. I had heard vague stories of Bali from time to time in my travels about the East; I had not known it was so beautiful. The island itself was beautiful, a place of palm trees and rice fields, and white coral beaches, and a great volcanic mountain in the middle. The people were peaceable and friendly, and very artistic so that every beam of every house was carved and ornamented, and stone carvings were every-


    where. I found later that they had a deep religious sense and spent a good part of their lives, in that good place where food was easy to come by, in prayers and temple festivals, but their religion was a form of degenerate Hinduism unworthy of their sincerity. The women, I found, were normally beautiful and attractive, and they frequently went naked to the waist, though they were very careful not to show their legs. The most attractive of them went about in this way in the home, but when they went out shopping they would usually have a shawl of some sort to put round themselves if they saw a stranger or someone they didn't like. I thought Bali was a grand place; so did Gujar Singh.

    We met one or two of the Dutch officials of the administration during the afternoon, serious, competent people whose one concern was for the welfare of the people of the island. They went into our proposals with some care but they raised no obstacles. I think they welcomed the idea of an Australian aeroplane coming to the island now and then, because at that time consumer goods were very short in Indonesia, and small things such as thermos flasks and electric torches which mean so much in the East were almost unobtainable. We were taken to call upon the Governor that evening and received his approval of the proposals; next morning we had a detailed talk with a Dutchman called Bergen who seemed to be the second in command, and fixed with him the rentals for the hangar and the landing fees.

    I should have liked to stay in Bali and rest there for a time, but the demurrage on a Tramp is a heavy charge and I had to go on. I told Bergen that I would come out with the first series flight and stay ten days and go back on the next machine, in order to see the engineers settled in and the show running smoothly. We went down to the aerodrome about midday and had a last look round the hangar. Then we took off again and flew through to Batavia, and spent the night there, and flew on next morning to Diento to pick up a small return load for Bahrein.

    We got back to Bahrein three days later, and I went into a huddle with Gujar Singh and Connie that evening. "They just won't have us in Australia," I told Connie. "Too bad, but that's the way it is." And then I told him about Bali and about Maclean Airways.


    "Who do you think of sending out there?" he asked presently.

    "What about Chai Tai Foong?" I asked. He was the Chinese ground engineer who had been with Connie and Dwight Schafter at Dainrey Phong; he had been with us for two years or more, and he had come on a lot. I always reckoned him in my own mind as second in command upon the ground staff.

    He nodded. "He'd be all right. He's got an Arab wife here; I don't know about that."

    It was a point that I had missed when talking to the Dutch administrators at Bali, whether foreign Asiatic women would be acceptable. "I shouldn't think there'd be much difficulty," I said slowly. "I'll write and ask if there'd be any objection. Find out first, though, if he'll go and if he wants to take her."

    I suggested that we should send a young Egyptian called Abdul with Chai Tai Foong, but Connie said they would quarrel; he preferred a Siamese that we had with us, whose name was Phinit. That was a better choice as it turned out; the Siamese are a gentle and artistic people and Phinit was mentally much closer to the Balinese than Abdul would have been. He was unmarried, so that complication didn't arise. I left it to Connie to put the matter to these two and then to bring them in to see me in the office.

    It was dark by the time all that was finished, and I couldn't get hold of Mr. Johnson at the Arabia-Sumatran office. I had to see him soon to find out how he reacted to the whole idea of transfer to an Australian machine at Bali; it might well be that he would wash out the whole thing and give the contract to a British company with a white staff; the cost did not mean a great deal to them. I worried over this a lot that night.

    As luck would have it, a cable came in that night from Maclean in Alice Springs. I was in bed in the radio operators' chummery where I still had my room; the operator on duty saw it was important and sent it over to me by a boy. In it Maclean gave me his quotation for the return trip of a Dakota once a fortnight between Bali and East Alligator River. It was exactly what I wanted; I got up and went over to the office on the aerodrome, and stayed there for two hours revising my quotations to the Arabia-Sumatran, cutting everything as close down as I dared. When I'd finished I still had a figure that was about fifteen per cent lower than any-