Port Moresby to the hunting camp at Laroki, 16 June 1893

According to the appointment we should depart at 7 o’clock in the morning on the expedition to the Laroki river but only set out when a certain signal, hoisting a red flag on Government House, indicated that everything was ready. Finally at 9 o’clock the red flag appeared and we went on lan where the governor and four of his officials who had the intention to participate in the expedition awaited me.

The number of officials the governor had were only a few persons and the body of his military land army consists in an armed police force of 70 men and is currently composed mostly out of natives from Fiji as well as the Solomon islands.The commander of this force was the  Commandant of Armed Constabulary. The policemen are said to be bold, skillful people who set out to restore order if a native tribe within British New Guinea has committed some misdeed. If the natives murder a white man, the guilty are executed and in fact hanged as the natives consider being shot less ignominious. The murder of natives is usually not handled as strictly and punished with hard labor for which the criminals are deported to a nearby island.

For the march to the Laroki, horses were provided for me and the gentlemen who wanted to participate in the expedition while our people had to march on foot. The baggage, the supplies and the munition was carried by natives but in no way by men who would never deign to such servile actions but instead by young girls who carried the heavy loads with admirable endurance. The use of about thirty girls as carriers our caravan naturally looked particularly strange.

The guide for this difficult route to the Laroki river was a mixed blood of a Samoan and an Englishwoman called George Bedford who was notable by his strong stocky build. He spends the largest part of his life,  a true ranger, hunting and collecting for researchers in the jungles of the island only to now and then go and talk to Port Moresby and to sell the bird bodies caught on his journeys to the merchant resident in the colony.

The horses we were riding roam freely iin the bush when they are not needed and had only been caught during the morning with a lasso; they are all descendants of Australian horses which the gold diggers once brought to the coast.

The day was hot and muggy. We crossed over many first bare limestone hills that ascend up to the top of Port Moresby and reached after having completed a steep descent the valley on the opposite side of the mountain range. There we saw banana and yams plantations surrounded by strong fences whose poles were fixed in regular intervals and connected one to the next by fibers of a vine called „sei“.

The valley we were now entering in a Northern direction reminded me in terms of the plants and its vegetation to the plateau of New South Wales. Here as there the ground was covered by individual tufts of tall grass of up to 2 m high. Between these grass islands was a terrain similar to a savannah in which rose now and then evergreen eucalyptus trees. Irregularly arranged ranges of hills of various sizes and forms delimited the grass land.

On the Northern horizon the contours of the Owen Stanley mountains appeared in a delicate blue tint whose peaks of Mount Victoria reached up to 4002 m. Its majestic top had been climbed for the first time by a European on 11 June 1889, namely governor Macigregor.

The climb caused the greatest of difficulties and the whole tour took 64 days. Macgregor and his party had set out on 22 April 1889 at one of the estuaries of the Vanapa river and continued their drive upriver for six days. There they camped while they ordered to bring carriers and supplies from Port Moresby and continued on 17 May on foot. Storms, swamps, gorges, craggy hills and obstacles of all kind hindered the advance of the expedition that had to cut its path step by step, ax in hand, through the jungle until the had climbed to the top on 11 June which Macgregor named Mount Victoria. The return trip lasted from 13 to 25 June and the arduous journey was made more complicated by the fact that Macgregor was not very good walker.

A great appetite for exploration seems to be one of the qualities of Macgregor who is an outstanding explorer of geographic worlds as he spends the largest part of his time on explorations and inspection tours into the interior in the areas he is assigned where he shows as much endurance as courage. Many still unexplored area and numerous native villages he set foot in as the first white man and was naturally from time to time forced to make use of the destructive power of modern firearms when the savages ambushed him or fought against him.

On expedition that Macgregor always likes to mention with a certain pride was the one up the Fly River. It arises in the center of New Guineas and flows in a huge delta in the gulf of Papua and has been discovered in 1845 by Captain Blackwood. Later L. M. d’Albertis as well as the missionary MacFarlane drove in the steam boat „Ellengowan“ 800 km upriver. Macgregor now managed to drive a further 168 km on the mighty river meandering in countless bends beyond the endpoint of d’Alberti’s journey up to the border of British New Guinea driving into German territory for which purpose he first used the steam boat „Merrie England“ and a whaling boat.

The report of Macgregor’s research exploration made me truly want to also enter into virgin territories, to drive on rivers that had never been sounded nor mapped, to see areas that no European had set a foot in, to bring back home valuable and plentiful catches as a collector and hunter.

Thus in thoughts I rode through the monotonous country under the burning heat of the sun. For three hours we saw nothing but grasses and rubber trees where animals were scarce. Now and then, while we rode under eucalyptus trees, red ants dropped down on us and plagued us mightily. Next to a swamp enclosed by trees, cockatoos and large parrots took to the sky with great cries while no other living beings could be discovered in that area.

In the area of the Laroki river the vegetation was finally luxurious and varied. Mighty trees such as the native olive tree (Notelaea ligustrina), Casuarinae, mangroves and Ficus replaced the tiring sight of the monotonous grasses and eucalyptus trees, and soon we entered into the shadow of a beautiful jungle that follows the river on both sides like we having arrived at the South shore of th Laroki. Between the high trunks appeared all kinds of ferns, winding rotang palms (Calamus Rotang), orchids, mistletoes and other parasite plants.

The Laroki arises in the East of Port Moresby beyond the Astrolabe range at the Western foot of the Richardson mountain range, takes at the beginning a Western direction and then after absorbing Goldie River turns Northward and finally flows into Redscar Bay. At the place where we reached the river it had an important depth at a width of about 30 m, but it still continued to be 60 m wide and more; it is said to shelter as all the waters of this area numerous crocodiles but we did not see any of them.

We stopped at an open space at the shore under mighty trees to await the arrival of the caravan following us which included knowledgeable local guides who were to lead us into the jungle at the North shore.

After one and a half hours the caravan arrived, completely exhausted from the journey they traveled during the hottest hours of the day and required a lengthy pause to recover while we hastily ate a meal made out of the tins in order to cross the river in the company of our guide and devote the time to hunting. In the mean time those staying back set up the camp at the rest stop.

From the North shore of the Laroki we ventured out in multiple directions into the jungle and namely I set out in a North-western direction accompanied by the mixed blood Bedford and a Papuan. During our slow advance I had to admire again and again the splendor and festive silence of the jungle filled with giant trees.

The goal I wanted to accomplish was to bag as large as possible number of specimens of the bird species so diverse on New Guinea whereas I mainly targeted birds of paradise, the large hornbill, Papuan crowned pigeons  (Goura albertisi) and brushturkeys. But as I did neither speak English nor Papuan, I had some difficulties communicating with my companions which I tried to solve with sign language.

The first catch was a beautifully colored parrot that did not look taller than a wren sitting in the top of a mighty tree. Soon afterwards my guide stopped and pointed at a spot in the undergrowth where 80 paces away I discovered a large chicken-like bird and killed it. To my joy it was a female brushturkey (Talegallus cuvieri).

Only by using all energy I managed to advance in the dense jungle. Almost constantly I had to wiggle my way like a snake through the tangle of twines and climbing plants that connected the mighty trunks and the branches that were hanging down and dropping from the twigs and was felting the bushes and covering the ground. Thorns and leaf edges with barbs, thick, trunks laying criss-cross and being covered with twines as well as fallen trees multiplied the obstacles step by step. Despite the shadow provided by the dense leafy tops of the jungle, I was covered in sweat. I was a bit surprised not to find mosquitoes close to the river and at least I was spared that plague.

Suddenly I heard loud bird cries and it took possession of me when Bedford announced that it was the call of the birds of paradise. Just as tigers in India, the most valuable catch of the hunter in the South Sea are birds of paradise! It is a very timid bird and as it is usually frightened by the most quiet noise and disappears only caught with lime-twigs or slings and only rarely by shot. The difficulty of hunting birds of paradise, the colorful splendor of their feathers and especially the tail feather of the male have made these inhabitants of the air the topic of legends and fairy tales — all this will be sufficient to explain my desire to catch this prey.

With extreme caution we sneaked close to the trees where we had heard the call and nearly became blind by watching for them until we realized that only females were sitting up there. The unornamented hens were no desirable target for me. In contrast to humans, in the animal kingdom it is usually the male that is favored by beauty so that in the birds of paradise only the male has the splendid feathers while the female is completely inconspicuous.

As no male was following the tender calls of the females I had to relinquish my position after some time without success. On a small clearing covered with grass two wallabies suddenly jumped up at my feet. I bagged one, while Bedford killed the other.

My next catch were two very large fruit pigeons (Carpophaga pinon) and a specimen of a new kind of black, yellow and white colored oriole (Eulabes dumonti) that sat on a eucalyptus tree. A nankeen night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus), that I shot when it flew over my head, made me sense the presence of water and in fact I soon came to a pond covered with cane brake in which was all kind of water fowl. The ducks seemed to have forgotten their usual timidity here or did not notice the presence of humans. As they returned again and again to the pond even after I had fired quite a few shots. Thus I managed to bag two whistling ducks one of which was a species I did not know before (Dendrocygna arcuata and guttata). Of such ducks I saw a whole flock of around 30 pieces sit close to me on a large Ficus; also divers and coots were present here. Furthermore I shot a splendid crake but could not bag the bird as the Papuan accompanying me was unwilling at any price to recover the crake out of the swampy water.

I was much astonished to find suddenly cattle in this secluded area. It gawked at me for some time and then timidly fled. They answered my question about this with the explanation that these were cattle from a herd formerly held at Port Moresby that had been banned into the wilderness as it had caused too much damage in the gardens of the natives. The cattle was now living in a semi-wild way. Whenever a piece is required it is shot from the herd.

At the edge of the small pond stood two snow-white egrets to which I was just sneaking up when a fleeing wallaby made them fly up into the air with hoarse cries. In spite of the darkness that had set in I noticed a sitting obscure white bird: I fired and in front of me lay a splendid duck (Tadorna radjah) with snow-white body, head and beak and metallic dark-brown wings.

In the mean time it had become completely dark so that it was time to return to the camp. Surrounded by whizzing fireflies we passed the river and found my gentlemen already in the camp who had also brought some catches.

The camp at the Laroki set up under giant trees offered a truly picturesque view. It was a real hunter’s or gold digger’s camp without any comfortable sleeping or kitchen tents such as those I had been offered everywhere on my expeditions in India. Each of us had a hammock fixed to the trees above which was hanged a 2 m oil cloth to protect against the rain while below our hand baggage and the rifles were stored. The cooking was done on the open fire and the evening meal consisting of risotto and the content of some tins was simple enough. It tasted much better after the hard work of the day than the fine cookery of Bussatto. Next to us around the large fire the Papuan guide and the female baggage carriers had set up their camp and from time to time they sang in a monotonous voice. Furthermore there stood the tied horses. At our feet the river was rushing and through the dense leafy tops the golden stars and the silver moon were glittering.

I lay for a long time, wrapped in a blanket at the shore of the river and while I looked at the glittering night-time sky, the sparkling camp fires and the ghost-like shadows moving over the trunks and bushes of the jungle, deep memories out of my childhood came up. Yes, thus I had dreamed about the camp life of Cooper’s heroes in the endless forests of North America in „The Last of the Mohicans“ . . .

When I finally went to frequent my hammock, the natives began to dance in the distance and to sing. Their singing and their individual shouts of joy  reminded me of the songs and shouts with which in our Alps the young men greet their „girls“ and made me remember many beautiful memories about home that lulled me to sleep in which dreamed about an images about a scenery far from Laroki and New Guinea.

Links

  • Location: Port Moresby, New Guinea
  • ANNO – on 16.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Die Grille“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

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