In dealing with Foreign people over time you come across many customs that are an important part of their culture. The French for instant, put great store on seating when dining, not only their formal dining, but day to day meals as well. You can tell immediately just where you figure in their pecking order by where you are placed at their table. There is never any time or situation when random selection is the order of the day, when it involves seating arrangements by a French Hostess. In our life I knew placement for dining was something we only did for say, special occasions such as a Wedding Breakfast, or a Birthday Celebration. But for the French Hostess, every occasion is always a matter of extreme importance.


There was one exception to seating, and that was when we were flying. If there was only one pilot, I was automatically granted the co-pilots seat. This had nothing to do with being held in high regard, or any other rules of placement, but more just a basic insurance while flying in a French Aircraft. Island Flying with the French in the Islands, at times is a very marginal experience, and very close to what’s known as ‘Bush Flying’.


A few years back I became involved with the French in a timber milling operation on a small Island in the Vanuatu Group. A very undeveloped place, no roads, only tracks between settlements with wild cattle and chooks wandering everywhere. No enterprise of any kind was practiced on this Island. This Island did have virgin stands of Pacific Kauri, as well as some Mahogany, or Acajou as the French called it. The French had obtained a concession to harvest some, and to take advantage of this opportunity, we initially went around Auckland looking at various Timber Mills, and later to the Centre of the North Island of New Zealand where a lot of Mills were Located. We initially looked at a Mill in Auckland operated by Henderson and Pollard, but it was huge, it would have been capable of milling a forest in Brazil. Completely automated with a laser, and a built in computer. Not for us, where we were going we even had to generate even our own electricity. What we did buy in Auckland was several caravans and these were shipped out to make an instant camp, as there was no accommodation on the Island either. This had a sequel as later, the Post Office sent me a reminder to re-register the caravans, when I said I wasn’t going to bother, they asked me to return the Number Plates. I said, ‘Not really’, but I could tell them where they are if they wished to go and collect them. Finally we settled for a purpose built saw mill driven by a diesel engine. Next job was to make a road to the sea, this was accomplished by a large Cat Bulldozer we also took along and driven by an expert Tahitian. No one to ask, or any need for permits. No Resource Consents either. No Civil Engineers either. The Tahitian, ‘took off’, and just followed the paths cattle had made over the years on their way to the sea looking for salt. I suppose this was the way things were done here in New Zealand years ago too. No fences either, creeks formed natural boundaries. You could buy a beast on the hoof for $7, but if it wandered over a boundary before you killed it, you had to renegotiate with the new owner.


If I ever wondered about the expenditure of all the thousand of dollars the Air Force spent in training me as a Pilot, and if it was of any use. Well, it was soon all to be tested. On a return journey from Eromanga I noticed we were on and maintaining a heading of 270 degrees, after some 15 minutes, I inquired from the pilot where exactly were we headed. Perhaps, there was a beam over to the West. I remembered at one field during the War Russian Pilots were flying Bell Aerocobras to Russia. They were always drifting off their beam after a couple of hundred miles. Landing at our field and inquiring. ‘Where was their Beam?’ We would always tell them, but it made our Chief Flying Instructor furious. He would without fail, make them file a flight plan. I wondered if any of the Aircraft actually reached Russia. Anyway, I suggested to our Pilot that Port Vila was to the North, shouldn’t we be headed that way. This conversation started off normal, but quickly escalated to an out of control situation. Laura suggested that the Pilot knew best, and I replied that’s correct, if you wish to go to Brisbane. I didn’t know if the Pilot had lost all his marbles, or was taking us for a tour to prolong the Aircraft’s Charter. Anyway, finally he went completely berserk, took his hands off the controls and said, ‘Seeing you know so much’, ‘You can fly the Aircraft.’ He had no idea I had received flight training. In all my life have never been in such a situation before. I was immediately filled with self doubts, but I grabbed the controls and headed North on a course that according to my dead reckoning would take us to Vila. The ocean beneath us was empty and remained so until an hour later we flew up the harbour of Port Vila. I had seen many Islands on the trip North, but allways, they were just shadows beneath the clouds. The pilot sat in sullen silence and when we landed said I suppose you think that you have saved all our lives. I replied I don’t know what to think. You are either a thief, or just plain barmy. No good complaining to anyone on this outpost as they were just emerging into self Government and not doing very well. I had the last laugh as we were leaving, he said the next day he had to take some Coco Cola executives to Fiji. I pointed to the East and said, ‘For your information it’s over there’.


That was enough excitement for one day,





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