Norseman: Rod Noble

George Oakes’ article in Una Voce, December 2011, mentioned one of the Gibbes-Sepik pilots, Peter Manser.

The previous year, 1954, whilst I was at Wewak and Angoram I got to know him and the other pilots flying in the Sepik District, chatting at the club or sitting in the right hand seat of the Norseman.

I was unaware that the plane was fitted with an automatic pilot because he would always hand over the joystick to me after reaching safe flying height and the direction for our destination.

Unlike George I had never before sat in a plane cockpit. In fact, when the Department of Territories paid for my ticket to Port Moresby it was my first flight in any sort of aircraft. What I saw in the cockpit was an array of instruments and dials, less than half of which made any sense to me. However Peter did show me the artificial horizon and explain the use of foot pedals and the joystick. Never once did he comment on the wobbly flight path caused by my over-corrections. When I could see the destination I would give him a nudge and he would replace the penny dreadful he had been reading back in the door pocket. I would swing the joystick back to him and with one finger he would level the craft and commence the landing procedures.

On one occasion I left the office at Angoram and went to wait at the strip after hearing “balus I kam” from a local with the hearing acuity of Radar in M*A*S*H. I was chatting with Peter in the shade of the wing while the freezer goods, mail and cargo were being unloaded. It was the weekly “milk run” and most of Angoram’s residents came to collect mail. He told me that the following week a new pilot would be doing the trip in a DH89 (a twin engined bi-plane) widely used in the UK before the war. I do not remember that pilot’s name but he was a Polish air ace and very experienced.

The following week I met the new pilot and asked if I could hitch a ride with him to Ambunti about half an hour’s flight up-stream. He agreed and I again marvelled at the huge sinuous river and the backdrop of the highlands on clear mornings from a few thousand feet up.

In the club at Wewak I had overheard pilots discussing the characteristics of the various airstrips in the Sepik District.

I had heard that at Ambunti one had to touch down as soon as possible after crossing the river because the DH89 did not have the power to go around again before coming into contact with the large hill not too far from the end of the strip. It was no trouble for the Norseman. Well, I may be the only one alive who can attest that it can be done in a DH89, even if there were branches in the undercarriage when we landed safely.

In 1958, I received a phone call from Peter in Sydney. He had got my details from “The New Guinea Book” which was held behind the bar at Usher’s Hotel. It contained the names, contact details and dates of PNG personnel on leave or who had “gone finish” as I had. I invited him to dinner the following night to which he agreed. I told Barbara that I had invited a New Guinea pilot for dinner and she cooked up a great dinner for our first guest as a married couple.

One other flight I recall was with the other Gibbes-Sepik pilot based at Wewak then (Shaw, I think). I had received permission to come to Wewak from Angoram to see DC Sid Elliot-Smith. I wanted to get a missionary sued for arson because he had burnt down a haus tamberan some way upstream of the Sub-Station. I was told I could try but I wouldn’t get far.

It was on the return flight that I experienced the acrobatic abilities of this aircraft which the factory declined to put in a more powerful engine so Bobby Gibbes did it himself. The pilot was in an exuberant mood as he had just been granted a higher commercial rating of his licence by DCA. He warned me, then headed for a nearby cumulus cloud. The experience of entering that cloud was just as good as one of the rides at Brisbane’s Ekka. And quite safe too.

Writing of these vivid memories of those long ago days seems like reading Rudyard Kipling’s tales of the British Raj on the Sub-continent or Somerset Maugham’s short stories of the British colonial days in Malaya.

It is so sad for me to read in yesterday’s paper (12 November 2011) of the race riots in Lae which the Police took days to subdue and that the Chief Justice had issued arrest warrants for the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General while he has been himself served with a dismissal notice by the government. And I quote from the Gold Coast Bulletin (16 November 2011): “Acting Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga said half of the $468 million in claims against the state came from ‘abuse, assault and ill treatment of …the public (by the police) whom we have sworn to protect’.” He has urged the police force to clean up its act.

It seems that there is only bad news coming from our nearest neighbour. All of the 2000 kiaps and personnel of all the other departments and the many private enterprise individuals who lived and worked in this wonderful land would have wished for a better outcome of the granting of independence.

Disclaimer: As most photos and all letters home from my Cadet Patrol Officer days have been lost, the above notes are from memory alone and may contain errors, although I have tried hard to avoid selective memory syndrome.


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