The following reminiscences are by Brian May who was a pilot in West New Britain in the 1970s. His photo, below, was taken in 1975 when he was flying there. Brian says:
"I was employed by Crowley Airways (Lae) and began work in Hoskins in August1974 - as a permanent posting. Other pilots were usually rotated on a six weeks basis, but flew their bums off to run out of hours and get replaced as soon as possible - as they hated the place. I requested and they were pleased to leave me there full-time, so I became the local pilot until then end of May 1976. It is probable that a few of the old-timers from then will remember me (they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) - it would be nice to catch a few of them again.
I lived in the Hoskins Hotel in the back donga [section], with Bob Walton as manager and eventual owner after Max and Shirley Wright sold it. Bob was a gentleman, a good quiet friend. I haven't seen Bob since late '76 when I went back for a short holiday to see Veronica ( a young lass I was friendly with - my first girlfriend and never forgotten).
The routes in those days were:
Monday: Linga Linga, Cape Gloucester/LabLab/Siassi and return in the morning and I think a run to Bialla in the afternoon.
Tuesday and Thursday: Fullerborne, Gasmata, Kandrian and return, Talasea, Bali/Vitu and return in the afternoon.
Wednesday: Bialla and Jaquinot Bay return in the morning - afternoons for charter.
Friday Kandrian in the morning early, possibly a Bali Vitu (not sure) and then an afternoon run across the bay to Bialla then Sule. This was my end of the week fun trip as enjoyed the beat-up down the beach from Sule to Bialla as usually no passengers. Sometimes I stayed the weekend in Bialla with Anne-Marie and Arnt Neilsen, or with Barry and Elly White. Other times a nice low level run back across the bay to beat-up the village kids east of Hoskins - they used to run down to the water to watch me come through and then scatter into the coconut trees.
I spent many pleasant evenings with the families at Bialla (Anne-Marie was the airline agent there), and with the two-way radio at the hotel. I had some pleasant evening conversations across the bay. Col. Benton and his wife Dee (I met them again - separately - in Moresby on the same day in 1982 when I started flying with Douglas Airways (based in Daru for a year - always liked the remote bases). Some good friends from those years.
Crowleys sold out to PANGA Airways in '75 but little changed in Hoskins. The aircraft were initially Islanders, then Aztecs until nearly the end of my stay when the Islanders came back."
The photo was taken in 1975 by two American gents (Tony & Jack) who were back visiting the area (I think they had been there during the war). I gave them a flight from Hoskins to Talasea one afternoon, and am here loading up for Bali-Vitu. The lady was the didi-woman (Agricultural officer) from Kimbe - can't remember her name. It must have been in December or there-abouts as we got stuck in Vitu overnight after trying to get down to Cape Gloucester - everywhere was sealed in with the Wet - never saw Bali when we went past. Aircraft was an Aztec, originally owned by Airfast, a helicopter company from Australia who bought out Crowley Airways which became PANGA Airways during 1975. The photo is looking North-east from the Talasea parking bay. Normally the horizon is mountainous, but there was just thick rain on this day, hence the overnight at Vitu. Dick Doyle, manager at Vitu then, drove us around to the eastern plantation on Vitu as he had limited accommodation for the lady. I cannot remember the names of the plantation manager and his wife.
I also remember the sisters and Father Birkmann at the Catholic Mission east of Hoskins. I used to drive the Hotel cook home some evenings, and on pre-arranged nights continue on to the mission and play chess with him until after 9:00 pm. I was much appreciated by the nuns as the generator stayed on until we finished and they could do a few more chores and reading. They were pleasant evenings, with some long chats about any topic. I think the Protestant usually won.....!
It was also the era of the DC3 and Fokker Friendships loaded to over-capacity. I think Hoskins had a load factor of 110% as Bob used to have kids on every knee just to get the people moved. Air Nuigini never seemed to appreciate the effort Bob went to. He made that airfield a very successful operation for them.
I recall some of the medical emergencies from around the area - in particular a young girl from Bali with internal injuries from jumping into the water and landing on a stick. Instead of taking her back to Hoskins with limited medical expertise, I went direct to Rabaul. The Catholic sisters on Bali introduced me to the youngster some time later and commented that I had saved her life. There were some personal rewards helping those people and I remember them with fondness.
Another memory from 1975 when I was driving Islanders around
WNB, the 10 seater with high wing and fixed undercarriage: Some
time earlier before the actual event, I was approached on the
Vitu airstrip by Dick Doyle (the expat manager of Langu plantation)
if I could take the mother of a local family into the Kimbe hospital
- she had been very ill for some time and was expected to die
shortly. Her village was located at the strip threshold, and they
brought her up in the back of Dick's land cruiser. Her son lifted
her into the Islander and supported her head as we flew to Hoskins
where the ambulance collected them.
Some months later, a booking was made for them to return to Vitu, and they duly arrived at Hoskins airport in the ambulance. Tickets were purchased and the old lady was carried out to the aircraft, supported by her son. I secured her seat belt as she was held upright in the rear
seat and off we went to Talasea where a very large crowd appeared and gathered silently around the aircraft. Nothing said. Very strange gathering.
We flew into Vitu and Dick met us as usual. The son asked if they could take his mother back to the village in the land cruiser which was okay (only 300 yards away). So he carried his mother across from the Islander and dumped her in the back of the cruiser like a sack of spuds, which caused Dick and I to raise eyebrows at each other.
"Mama bilong yu, em i orait?" [Is your mother alright?]
"Nogat, em i dai pinis!" [No, she's dead]
"Em i dai pinis long wonem samting?" [What did she die of?]
"Em i dai pinis long ambulans, long rot i kam long Kimbe!" [She died in the ambulance on the road to Kimbe]
Ahh, it was cheaper to buy a ticket than to charter an air plane. No silly people around here. But how did the people at Talasea know that she was dead? The legal and health implications caused a bit of a stir for a while. Now it is just a bit of PNG nostalgia.
Names and faces are long diminished with passing years, but they were the two most enjoyable of my life. Often wish I had stayed longer, but I became very tired, and ill health forced a return to Australia.
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