Tiger and the village pigs: Paul Oates

Not long after I returned to Kabwum from working on the Yalumet/Derim road, we received word that a mature age Assistant Patrol Officer would be arriving from Lae. Jim Soul and his wife and teenage son arrived on the next government charter and I was directed to take Jim on his first patrol.

Jim had been in the Australian Army and a member of the Armoured Corps or a ‘Tankie’. He swore by his crepe soled tank boots that he intended to wear on patrol as he could, he said, walk up the side of a tank with them. I wasn’t so sure, having made the same mistake with rubber soled boots two years previously on a patrol between Mindik and the Ogeranang airstrip site.

The patrol was going back to the Timbe Valley to see how the road between Derim and Yalumet was progressing. We flew to from Kabwum to Derim airstrip and unloaded our gear. As we descended down below Derim airstrip I pointed out to Jim how one could look at but not see things. We were looking at a fully functioning vegetable garden yet until I pointed out the individual banana trees, kaukau vines, taro plants, etc. it just looked like a patch of lush, green bush.

Inevitably, Jim, who was well over six feet tall, started to have difficulty in keeping his feet due to his rubber soled boots filling up with greasy wet clay. I suggested he cut a stout walking stick to help him keep himself upright. That was very fortunate as it turned out.

Walking through the forest can be very pleasant in the early morning before sun gets too high in the sky and the humidity starts becoming oppressive.

Along the bridle track, people had cleared the jungle on either side. The particular small trees in that area (called ‘Kurung’ by the people there), gave off a very pungent, sweet perfume as they dried out and I was sure they were wild cinnamon from the smell of the bark that was curling up around the dead sapling’s trunks.

Half way along the track, we camped overnight at the village of Takop.

Situated on the crest of a hill, it was quite cool at night and we started off early next morning. Near the track was a waterfall and we had a wash along the way. My dog Tiger was by this time almost full grown and had a very deep bark for what was a medium sized dog. I was out in front of the patrol with Jim behind me and then our cook and a long line of carriers. Along the track, the forest occasionally gave way to patches of kunai, that 5-6 foot high grass of New Guinea. As we entered a large clearing in the forest and were approaching the village of Longmon, Tiger suddenly raced ahead of me and disappeared around a bend in the track about 50 yards in front of us.

Loud excited barks were then followed by a cacophony of grunting. Back around the bend in the track erupted Tiger and not far behind him, a herd of semi feral village pigs. For those who have never seen village pigs, they aren’t the docile animals you see at country shows. These were mostly a dirty black with stiff spines on their backs and were led by a large male tusker of clearly aggressive disposition. We could plainly hear him gnashing his tusks together in a series of ‘clicks’ as he sharpened the protruding lower pointed teeth against the upper ones.

It’s fair to say that Tiger was having a great time. The look on his face was plainly saying ‘Look what I’ve found for you!’ as he disappeared past me at a rapid pace of knots with his tongue lolling out.

Now that left me in a pickle as I was facing a herd of clearly agitated and semi feral porkers coming along the track at a fast run. Not the least of which was a large boar with tusks that could do me a nasty damage if he got to me.

I turned to look at which tree I could climb and to my dismay, saw behind me just one small sapling that was even now starting to bend as Jim shinnied up it. In the grass along the track behind the sapling, there was a long winding line of cargo that had obviously had been jettisoned by the carriers who were now nowhere in sight.

To this day I can only say that ‘necessity was the mother of invention’.

Propped up on the slowly waving sapling was Jim’s walking stick. Grabbing the stout 6 foot walking stick, I turned to face the herd that by this time was about 20 feet away but closing fast. Hurling the stick as a spear, I hoped it might slow the onslaught. My luck was in for it struck the boar end on, right on the most vulnerable part of his anatomy, his snout.

Letting out a high pitched squeal, the boar stopped in his tracks, turned around and ran back the way he came with all his sows and piglets following him.

Trying to look nonchalant and to give the impression that this was the sort of thing that often happened on patrol, I retrieved Jim’s stick and gave it to him as he climbed down the sapling. Little by little the carriers appeared gingerly out of their hiding places and took up the cargo boxes again. Tiger then returned and wagging his tale, indicated that he thought, ‘that was a good game wasn’t it?’

Longmon was an interesting village and I remember the orange trees that grew there were laden with ripe fruit yet the outside of the oranges was still green.

 

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