John Steeles - Locals' freshwater knowledge

Running time
4 min 47 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


The other instance was after we had finished the road, we had another job to do, and they dropped us off on the way back to Moresby, and it meant that we would have to walk the best part of 100 miles back to Moresby. And in the process, we came across this village where the Japs had been stationed, and there was a lot of boats that had been, like coastal vessels, not big ones.

They'd stove the wooden planks in the bottom, and sunk them, and they were all lying about everywhere. And some of them they'd taken the engine out, to the repair workshop I suppose. And some had the gearbox off, and hardly any propellers or rudders or things like that.

So I said to the skipper, I said: "Listen, I reckon I could find enough bits and pieces there to assemble one of these things and save us walking back to Moresby". "What a good idea", he said. So, we cannibalized everything and got one going. And so we were in a big gulf. And we were coming out and one of the hoses burst on the vessel, and we lost all our freshwater. We had some cans there with our drinking water in, and the skipper said, "Well you'd better use our freshwater there". And I said, "That's a bad thing". The skipper, so unbeknown to him, I put one aside, and got the bilge water and put that in, in its place. Anyhow, we hadn't gone far, and we saw a village on the coast, so we headed for it, to get some freshwater for drinking and also for, he didn't know about the saltwater going in the engine.

Anyhow, cut a long story short, the locals were very happy to see us, and when we asked them for freshwater, they said not good water here. We get our own freshwater. So it was 6, in the Lakatoi and I had all the empty drums, and I was only one in the Lakatoi, and we were going to get this freshwater. So when they take off, they start to go out to sea. And I said, "No, Australia. Yeah, Australia".

And they said "Freshwater". And I'm thinking, don't tell me we're going to go to Australia to get some freshwater, type of thing, and I said "No, go back. No, freshwater". "Your boss wants freshwater, We give him fresh water". Anyhow, we got out, almost out of sight of land, and they could, on the mountains, they could see where they were. And they pulled up, and they said "Cup". I got my cup out. And they said, dipped over the side. They said "Freshwater". I said, "No, saltwater." "You try". Bloody beautiful freshwater. I said, "How come fresh water?" It must have been the Fly River up here, and it's got a big tributary of all rivers running into it, and the current, they know where the current is, and it's freshwater. So I filled up all the cans, and that's how we got back to Moresby without walking.

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