flight to Timor
virtue of what emotion do we risk our lives, sometimes so casually,
to move the mail?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
was Wednesday morning at 07:05 when the Cessna Super Cargomaster took
off from Bankstown and headed north, following the coast.
were just the three of us: me, my old friend Richard the bush pilot,
and the mysterious Timorese, Maria. Behind us there was the consignment.
was concealed under a dummy cargo of cardboard boxes in the cargo space.
There were ninety-five Chinese-made Kalashnikov rifles each with three
magazines but sans bayonet (to save weight), carefully padded in four
plywood crates. No ammunition. Then there were 100 semi-automatic pistols
packed in three big blue plastic drums. Each was swaddled in bubble-wrap
with a home-made nylon holster, three fully-loaded magazines, 50 spare
rounds, a cleaning kit, and a little instruction booklet. Each load
was strapped under a Butler cargo parachute.
few minutes after take-off we flew over Paul Keating's new renaissance
revival palace. It was nestled next to John Laws' place in a beautiful
secluded valley west of Wyong, and I wondered if Paul had slipped up
to Jakarta recently to console his embattled old friend Soeharto.
stopped off at Rockhampton to refuel and then flew over the Shoalwater
Bay Training Area where, for years, our army had trained the Indonesians
in 'counter-insurgency warfare'.
the dummy cargo?" I asked.
I borrowed my wife's stuff", Richard said, "She bought a whole
warehouse full of fat little Santa Claus dolls -- just a few cents each
from an Indonesian Chinaman who went bust last year. She snipped off
the red caps and dipped everything except the head in a vat of black
dye and sort of turned the mouth down at the corners with a couple of
strokes with a black Texta. She sells them at the Balmain markets as
Paddy McGuinness dolls, for ten bucks. She's cleaning up. Soft toys.
They weigh bugger-all but they take up lots of space".
had to be a message there, if only I could see it.
turned inland and headed for Timber Creek where we landed for the night.
It was 35 degrees but the air was blessedly dry. We slept on the ground
next to the plane.
flew out on Thursday evening so as to arrive over the drop zone at 21:00
hours, passing west of Timor at 15,000 feet as if we were heading for
Sulawesi. It was moonless and pitch black. Then we doubled back to pass
east of Dili -- hurtling towards our rendevouz with the independence
20:35 Maria and I went aft. We clipped on our safety harnesses and shovelled
the dummy cargo away from the rear door. One of the cheap cardboard
boxes split open, spilling a couple of hundred Paddy dolls onto the
floor. It was too late to secure them, so we worked with them underfoot.
clipped the drums and crates of weapons to the static line and marshalled
them towards the door. Sweet Mother of Charles Darwin, what if it was
a trap. What if ABRI were waiting with a few well-placed machine guns
or even real anti-aircraft stuff. My mouth went dry and my tail went
stiff. I check everything again and thought of Joadja. I was definitely
getting too old for this sort of thing. Maria sang softly to herself.
voice came quietly through the headset: "Okay, Three minutes".
pulled her back to 130 km/h, just safely above stalling speed. I eased
the cargo door open. There was a screech of air as it folded out above
the fuselage -- they were never designed for this sort of work. Paddy
dolls tumbled towards the door and sucked out into the darkness as I
threw out the static line. I peeped cautiously around the edge of the
door. Wind cut under my glasses and my eyes ran, but I saw a couple
of torch beams stabbing towards us and an open field below.
ready ... ready. Now! Go! Go! Go!", Richard's voice screeched.
drums of pistols went in a few seconds.
Stop! We've overshot the drop zone. I'll come around for another pass."
was heaving the crates of rifles down towards the door as we banked
sharply, circled, and came in again. "Go! Go!" Richard ordered,
and as she slid them up, one by one, I leaned against the fuselage and
shoved them out with my foot.
they were gone. I kicked a couple of dozen Paddy McGuinness dolls clear
of the door, watched them fall into the darkness, and pulled it closed.
imagine if we had one of those Air Force C130s", Maria said, "We
could have dropped enough stuff tonight to do over the fucking integrationist
thugs in a few days. Howard and Downer are such grovelling creeps."
slipped back into our seats. Any moment I expected to see an Indonesian
fighter slip alongside and order us to follow him ... but it never happened.
Saturday I was back in the office. The whole thing had an air of unreality.
was reading the papers on Sunday morning when the mobile rang. It was
Tommy. He was calling, he said, from Jakarta.
consignment arrived in good order. It is much appreciated. The Phillip
Adams dolls were a nice touch, as you say. He is much admired here on
the Radio Australia and internet, but why do his dolls look so grumpy?"
it's a sort of local joke, Comrade; a cult thing. Very arcane. I'll
explain it over a Bintang next time we meet", I muttered.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 1999