Chapter 26.


What do we do now?  That was the question!  There were lots of possible options though backtracking at this juncture was not considered one of them.  Perhaps we could try and waterproof the gear and swim across.  Or build a raft.  But, one look at the speed of the current made us forget the idea of swimming across.  It seemed far too risky and the raft was also ruled out as there was no dry wood in this permanently wet area and even if we did manage to build one it would be far too ungainly and unmanageable in this fast flowing stream.  Even if did manage to get across it would be almost impossible to keep the gear and the radio dry.  The radio had to be protected from the water at all costs.  Clearly it was not worth the risk.

Neville suggested building a flying fox across the creek and, at first, that seemed a good idea.  We were in some very thick, lush, vine scrub and there was plenty of "kunda" (liana) vines about and if we could get one across the creek and fasten it at each end we could slide all the gear across. We thought about this for a while and then Bob said that, in his opinion, a flying fox wouldn't work but he thought we could build a bridge from the plentiful supply of vines available in the area.  He had done it before during his time as a Patrol Officer in the Mandated Territory, he said.  His was the voice of experience!  He had done it before!  He said, the major problem was getting the first vine across.  Neville said, that was easy, he would take it across, but I said I was a better swimmer and would go.  Bob wouldn't let either of us go and called upon Yaru, the boss police boy, to do the honours as he was a strong swimmer.

First of all a thin light vine was needed to be taken across and we hunted around for something suitable but had no luck as they were either not strong enough to take the strain, or too short.

It was then I remembered the large ball of very strong cord that was used to string up the radio aerial.  Why not use that?  There was more than enough to go across the creek and back and it could be payed out from this side and taken across by Yaru.

Bob, being the expert, proceeded to tell us how we should build the bridge.  He stressed that, even when the bridge was finished, it was not going to be easy to cross with all our gear.  The idea was to use three vines; a heavy one to walk on and a lighter one on each side and about four feet higher, to use as hand rails.


It was settled.  We would build the bridge.  No time was to be lost so we tied the cord round Yaru's waist, gave him a scrub knife and our best wishes, and helped him into the water.  He certainly proved to be a very strong swimmer, quite unusual for a native as most of them can only dogpaddle.  Strong swimmer though he was, he nevertheless was quickly swept down the creek by the current until, swimming furiously, he managed to make enough headway to eventually reach the far bank about 30 yards down with still plenty of cord left on our side.

He scrambled up the bank and came back up stream until level with our position and then disappeared into the bush.  In no time he was back dragging three long vines, one thick and two thinner ones, and then picked out a tree close to the bank.  Bob called out and told him that it would have to be tied about 10 ft. up the trunk to allow for stretching, when the weight got on it.  He did that, and then tied the two thinner vines, one each side of the thicker one, about four feet higher to act as handrails.

He then tied the vines to the end of the cord and we pulled them across.  It was here the trouble began when tying the vines to the tree on our side.  It was necessary to get maximum tension on the vines and the tighter we could get them the better.  We pulled and tugged at the vines, with very little success, until eventually we were forced to make a type of windlass to get added purchase and finally they were secured to our satisfaction.

We ended up with a V shaped contraption that looked anything but safe!  Bob now suggested a small refinement.  We should cut some thinner vines and use them as ties between the bottom vine and the handrails for stability, he said.

This proved to be easily the most difficult part of the operation and after a few attempts we were happy to leave the job to the policemen.  Eventually they had all the ties in place and surprisingly the whole job had taken only a little more than half a day.  All we had to do to finish the project was to cut some footholds in the tree on our side and we would be ready to try crossing.

From a distance it looked a pretty flimsy sort of bridge and it looked even worse close up.  But, Bob said it would do and he would have the honour and be the first to go across with all his gear.  I said, he should let one of the policemen go first and he reluctantly agreed and Anis said he would go.

First, he climbed the tree to get to the bridge, and then off he went!  It looked anything but safe but he kept going until near the middle the bridge started to dip alarmingly, as we knew it would, and ended up only about 4 ft. from the water but, fortunately everything held fast.  We had done a good job in securing the ends!

From the middle Anis had to climb the incline up to the other side. It looked far from easy, and was a struggle, but he made it!

My turn next, and I admit I wasn't at all confident, but determined to give it a go.  I found the hardest part was keeping upright and I walked at a sideways angle of about 45 degrees when near the middle.  The sight of the water rushing past about four feet below was sufficient motivation to keep me moving as quickly as possible.  While getting to the middle was difficult enough I found the going was much more demanding and arduous when climbing the upward slope to the other bank but, fortunately, the ties between the bottom vine and the hand rails afforded a bit of a grip with my boots and I made it, and that was good.

The rest of the party then came across, with me flushed with my mastery of the bridge crossing, shouting instructions.  The police boys put the rest of us to shame and did not have any trouble and thought it was good fun!  A couple of them had to make two trips to carry the excess gear across but they, to their credit, made light of what, to me, had been an extremely difficult task!  I nominated Anis to carry the radio across as he seemed to be one of the more confident and agile of the constables and he didn't fail me.  Looking back now I realise that in many ways we were extremely lucky to have the constables with us and as time went on so did our appreciation of their skill and bushcraft increase.  No wonder Bob had been so insistent on their coming with us!  He knew their worth!

I've often thought about that bridge and whether it was still there and had anyone ever found it and wondered who built such a contraption in this wild uninhabited country.

By the time we had everything on the opposite bank it was late in the afternoon and we camped about fifty yards from the creek for the night.  It was time for my radio sked anyway, so out it came and Bob's message was quickly encoded and the set switched on ready to go but I was unable to raise HQ, which was not surprising, as it was raining fairly heavily and the signals must have been pretty well shielded by the tall hill behind us.  I had hoped that the time spent with the radio would be short and was looking forward to being able to relax for a while but it was not to be.  Obviously more height was needed, so Anis came and we climbed, slipping, sliding and cursing — I did the cursing, Anis being a former mission boy did not — half way up the next hill, picked a suitable tree, rigged a groundsheet for cover, Anis climbed the tree and set up the aerial and all was well although I noticed the battery voltage was down somewhat.  Here the reception was excellent and the message was quickly sent and acknowledged, thank goodness!  It had been a big day and we were grateful to be able to rejoin the others, have a cold meal in the pitch darkness and hop into our hammocks, wet through, but at least out of the rain.

Go to Chapter 27 ->