"Oh, I was just a little boy when the Australian pearl luggers last came to dive for pearl shell here," Matthew sits, completely at ease, in Moira's cockpit. He sips his morning coffee and reminisces about the Pearling Days.
In return for the fish, and assurances from Dennis Young in Alatau, Matthew has agreed to help with the pearl oyster study. He is part European, mostly Melanesian. Here in the islands, store owners are often people with mixed blood. Exotic to both societies they stand apart from the family one-talk networks. They can refuse to give another villager something without payment and so, actually can run a business out here. Matthew is sharp. And he's nice.
"Do you know where they dove for the pearl shell?" I ask.
"Oh yes, of course. Just over there, off that point." He aims a finger at the gray-green island off to the northwest of us. It is one of the places I thought looked good on the chart.
On a hunch I ask, "Did you assist the Accountant from Fisheries when he came to look for pearl shell?"
Matthew beams, flicks his eyebrows yes and gives a slight dip of the head. This translates as, "Of course."
I thought so. Matthew put the guy right over the population of Gold lip. "So he found them where the Australian divers used to work? I heard he was pretty excited about his find."
"He was a greedy man. I didn't care for him. He filled up sac after sac with big Kina. He sat over there right next to the trade store and opened every one like a mad-man looking for pearls. Oh, he promised me he would give me a share if he found any, and said he would leave some of the Kina shells for us, but when he left he took everything and never sent us a thing. I paid for the fuel, spent several days out there with him, and talked with him for many hours."
"Did he send you a copy of his report?"
"No. Nothing. He returned again with Mr. Wilson. This time I rented him the skiff and let them go by themselves." He smiles, knowing they found nothing without his help.
This is a test, class. "I see. This is a very sad story. I will keep you informed about everything I find and will recommend you be the person to manage any village pearl culture facility Fisheries builds here. I have my own boat and fuel. Come, I want to show you something."
We go below and I get out my underwater high resolution remote TV. "This is a camera. I lower the camera down and can see the image of the bottom on this television screen. Using this, I can survey large areas without danger of getting the bends and without worry about sharks."
He looks over the equipment with obvious admiration. "I would very much like to see this."
"I would be happy to have you come with me and I will show you how it works. Our survey will take about a month. There is plenty of time. Perhaps one day this week we will go out together. First I want to have a look around myself."
He glances up at me and I smile reassuringly. "I'm sure you know where the pearl oysters are, because you saw the Australians working the beds. But maybe they missed some. Maybe there are more beds today. Anyway I have to look in many places to be sure."
After I run him ashore in the dinghy, I decide to pay my respects to Father Joe at the Catholic Mission. Then, it's on with the survey.
Freddy and I zoom across the bay in the Avon and anchor off the small beach at the Mission. We walk up past a row of huge banyan trees to the center of the Mission. It is a mixture of older wooden buildings - school rooms and dormitories - and a big church. The trees and buildings have been here for many years. A colonial style house stands at the far side of the campus. I stop a young boy and he shyly tells us Father Joe is over there, in that house.
Father Joe meets us half way. He is an energetic man in his mid-thirties with a wavy shock of dark brown hair and sharp English aristocratic features. I like him right away.
He gives us a guided tour of the facility. In the science lab there is a small room with a shortwave transceiver. A student is reading the local weather report into the microphone. Father Joe explains Nimoa is one of the international weather stations feeding information to the weather center in PNG. The data goes to Australia and New Zealand for making weather maps of the whole Pacific.
The boy says, "Wind Southeast, 10 knots." into the mike. As it happens the wind is out of the East at 20 knots. I wondered where they got their wind data. Here in the Pacific the weather reports are almost invariably wrong.
"Er, how does he know what the wind velocity is?" I can see a fancy looking barometer and a wet-dry thermometer for giving temperature and relative humidity but no other instruments.
The boy puts down the mike, finished with his transmission, so Father Joe lets him tell us how he determines the wind direction and velocity.
"We have a wind-sock there," the boy points to a small, yellow wind sock directly outside the window. It is next to the building and well below the level of the trees and so will indicate practically nothing about the real ocean wind direction. "I check it against a compass," he holds up a pocket compass and shows me how he has decided the wind sock dangles somewhere between south and east. "Then I get the wind velocity by looking at the tree there. Depending on how much the tree bends, I know what the wind velocity is. The New Zealand Meteorological Service sent us this chart. It shows how to get wind velocity from the movement of leaves, branches and finally the whole trunk of the tree."
In awe, I look at the chart on their wall and then out the window at the wind velocity indicator tree. It is a big banyan. By the time its trunk bends, the whole mission will be blown right off the island.
Joe takes us to his office for tea. "Well, I hear on the news the trial will start soon." Seeing our blank looks he says. "You don't follow the news?"
"Uh, no, not really. What trial?"
"The drug runners," he says.
"Oh right, right. Sure we know about them. In fact, we were in Cairns when it all started."
"Were you? I'd like to hear about it. They came here, you know. Anchored just where you did yesterday. It was quite an event," Joe laughs, "Everyone ran off into the bush. They thought the war was starting all over again."
"Huh? Why would they think that?"
"Well, this great big airplane flew over us at tree top level. One of those things with the big radar dome. It must have been following the drug runners, it made several passes over us every day they were anchored here. At first, all the children, having heard stories about the airplanes during the war, were sure it was World War III." He laughs again.
The wheels are going around in my head but no gears are meshing. "Uhh, hold on. This was the yacht with the three men aboard?" He nods. "And they went from here out to Pocklington Reef and loaded up with cases of Buddha sticks - hashish - from the wreck there?" He nods again. "And then sailed to Australia?"
"Yes, that's the one." He says.
"Well what was the airplane doing buzzing them here, before they even picked up the drugs?" I ask.
"I suppose they were suspicious of them," Father Joe answers.
"Yeah, I know they were. In fact, the customs people took home movies of them when they left Cairns. But if you were a drug runner and you had a centurion aircraft buzzing around like a fly over shi...er I mean over a dead fish... would you go out to an open ocean reef and load up with crates of drugs? That would be stupid beyond belief."
"Well, I don't know. It was certainly very strange. Yes, I see your point. Very odd. You say the customs people took movies of them as they left Cairns?"
"They did. We were friends with the guy who sold the drug runners the boat. His father was a sheriff in a small town in the tablelands. He was a real-estate and boat broker in Cairns. One day, three guys showed up at his office. One was a rat-faced little guy with an English Cockney accent and long scraggly hair. He was the talker. Then there was an enormous hunchback Tahitian and..."
"And an Australian who looked like his face was broken," Father Joe finishes. "Yes, that's them."
"Rat Face told Trever they wanted to buy a sailboat, right away. So Trever showed them this big old derelict steel ketch. They asked how much it was and Trever started standard boat-bargaining procedures with twice the asking price. To his astonishment, the guy didn't argue at all. He said,"Right-y-o", hauled out a great wad of cash and counted off $60,000. While Trever was recounting the bills, the furry freak brothers began discussing the boat. They said things like "Yeah, plenty of room. We'll tear out the bunks". Trever got the idea there was something wrong with this picture so he took off with the loot and went straight to Customs and told them the whole story. They also reasoned this didn't sound cricket and rushed out a platoon of surveillance men to check it out.
"On the wharf, right in the center of town, the Furry Freak Brothers threw out cushions, bunks, and tables, and talked openly about the need to make plenty of room for the (snicker, snicker, snicker) cargo. That's why they have super 8 movies of the boat as it left Cairns." I finish.
"Very curious, indeed," Father Joe frowns. "It's almost as if they wanted to be caught. When they were here they acted very odd. Yes, I must say I knew they were up to something - even without the circling aircraft. It overflew them three times the day they started out for Pocklington Reef."
"They TOLD you they were going to Pocklington Reef?" I gape.
"Why yes, they did. Wanted to know if we knew anyone who had been in there, the depth of the pass and so on. They had no chart of it, you see."
"They were not very nautically inclined, I think." Says Father Joe.