|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia
By Steven Abrams
(Now known as East Timor)
Official rate in 1969:
Note. This page is text only for the time being. Photographs and graphics will be added at a later date. If you email me, I will contact you as soon as the page is updated.
Saturday 5th April 1969
We were all up again at first light to walk the rest of the way to the border while it was still cool. Mark had left at least an hour before us. It was 3km to the Portuguese border and the sign outside the tiny frontier post said "Portugal Interpol". We only had 3 day transit visas, but the border policeman checked us in and immediately extended our visas for 8 days. Outside the door there were some locals selling fried corn and fresh milk. We only had Indonesian rupiah but they accepted them happily.
The border policeman offered to drive us into Oecusse for US$2 each. He also changed our remaining Indonesian money into Escudos for us at a rate that was very advantageous to him. We had already been warned that it was not possible to change Indonesian money anywhere inside Portuguese Timor except at the border, but we didn't have too much to change.
We took him up on his offer of a paid lift to Oecusse to save ourselves the 27 km walk, but after travelling just 17 km we came to a river that was flooded, which the driver said was too deep and he couldn't cross. We had to get out and when we started to ask for a refund he just drove off back to the border. When we started to wade across we found that the river was only a few inches deep and he could have driven through it easily in his Land Rover. He obviously had no intention of taking us all the way.
Just before we had reached the river we passed Mark. By the time we had got out of the Land Rover he had caught up with us and we all crossed the river together. On the other side of the river we met a group of men who offered to carry our bags into Oecusse for us, but they wanted 20$00 each, which was too much, so we didn't bother. We saw an army vehicle, a Haflinger going the opposite way and the driver stopped to say hello. We asked him if he would give us a lift and he said that if we waited at the side of the road he would pick us up on his way back. We waded across another river and walked on until we found a nice piece of shade where we could sit and wait. Mark decided to carry on and not bother to wait, so we asked him to find out about onward transport for us all if he arrived in Oecusse before we did.
While we were waiting a Chinese guy came along with his family. They were on a picnic and they offered us some bread. We also bought a coconut for 1$00 from some local people who were passing. Eventually the Haflinger came back again and picked us up. The driver dropped us just outside Oecusse so that his commanding officer wouldn't see us and we had to walk the last kilometre. We came to a shop and as went in, Mark was just coming out. We asked him what he had managed to find out and he couldn't tell us anything. We asked him if he had managed to book places for us all on the plane to Dili and he assured us that he had.
The only way to get from Oecusse to Dili was either by boat or by plane. Through the grapevine we had already heard that both were the same price, so we had all decided to catch the plane. There is no land route because Oecusse is an enclave that is detached from the rest of Portuguese Timor. Even if there had been a road, going overland would mean passing through Indonesia again.
The shop was a general store, bank, post office and café all rolled into one. We changed some money there before walking the last few hundred yards down to the beach to have a most well deserved swim. After the swim Louis and I decided to go to the local administrator's office just to confirm that Mark had booked our flights like he said he had. But when we checked up on it we found that he had only booked for himself and none of us had our names down. When we asked him to book us onto the flight we were told that the next flight was now full because within the last half an hour a school group had just booked all the remaining places. We couldn't get on a flight until the following Friday, but if Mark had not been so selfish we would have all been able to get on the Monday flight. We put all our names on the waiting list and hoped for the best. Needless to say, Mark was not very popular when we broke the news to the others.
We bought some corncobs and bread from the shop and tried to cook the corn in seawater, using my mess tins over an open fire. After 3 hours it was still hard, so for our evening meal we ate the bread and then we all settled down to spend the night on the beach.
The next morning we were all awake at sunrise and we lit the fire again and this time we tried to fry the corn, but it obstinately refused to cook and remained hard as a rock. We decided to give up and went to the shop for breakfast.
Louis and I walked out of town and found a native village. We managed to buy some coconuts by bartering and swapped 5 of the cigarettes we had left from Sarawak for 10 coconuts. When we got back to the beach we found that the others had bought a chicken. The guy who came around wanted a lot more at first and they had bargained him down to 6$00, but Danny only wanted to give him 5$00. While they were bargaining, the seller started sawing at the chicken's neck with a blunt knife. Ted said the chicken's eyes were going round and round in opposite directions as the guy sawed deeper. Eventually the chicken expired before the final price was agreed and Danny then told the guy. "Well, it's dead now, we don't want it". With that the price dropped to just 4$00. By the time we had arrived back at 11 o'clock they had just started cooking it in my mess tins but it wasn't ready to eat until 2.30.
That weekend was Easter and today being Easter Sunday there was a horse race right around the town and everybody had turned out to watch and cheer them on. Afterwards we all went down to the shop to have some coffee and while we were there, Roger arrived with a Canadian and a Swiss guy. They had arrived in Kupang a few hours after we had left and had managed to get a truck out that same day.
That evening we were all invited back to a Portuguese guy's house to spend the night so we all packed our bags and followed him back. When we got there we found that it was an empty house, completely devoid of furniture and with large nasty looking centipedes all over the floor. There was no electricity and we would have had to sleep on the hard stone floor with the centipedes. We had bought some food between us which we split eight ways, and the guy who's house it was bought us all chocolate milk, but as it got near to bed time we made our apologies and we all went back to sleep on the beach.
The next morning we were around at the administrator's office when he opened up at 7am to see if there would be any room on the flight to Dili. The good news was that two seats had become available. To be fair we decided that we should draw straws to see who got the seats and Louis and I lost. There were two flights that day to Dili and Danny and Ted were on the first one. We decided to go along with them on the off chance that there might be some room.
The airport at Oecusse was just a grass strip with a concrete bench at one end that served as the terminal area. It seems that the twice-weekly arrival of the plane is a social event and half the population of the town had come down to the airstrip to watch it arrive. We sat and waited and eventually the plane landed about half an hour late. The plane was an old De Haviland Dove and it didn't hold many people. There was only one pilot and he was also the check in clerk and baggage handler. I went over to speak to him and ask him if there was any chance of travelling, even in the luggage hold. He told me to wait until all the passengers were on board, then he took one of the children and put him in the co-pilot's seat and one of us was given the seat that had been vacated. He said that he would do the same on the second flight all being well. Louis and I tossed to see who went first and I won.
While we were in the air I could hear the pilot talking on the radio to book us on to our connecting flights the next day to Baucau and on to Darwin. By the time I had arrived in Dili our reservations had been made for us. Louis arrived a few hours later and we started to walk into town. As we were walking we hitched hiked and a car stopped for us. The lady who gave us a lift was the Administrator's wife, you could say the first lady of the province. We had a look around Dili, but it was a really sleepy place with not much to do. We had lunch and met some Australians who were just setting out to head overland to England. They had managed to find a ship going straight to Singapore and were going to miss out Indonesia completely. After lunch we met up with the others and went to the beach together and had a swim.
In the evening we all met up and went for a meal and we found a restaurant where we could get fish and chips, a rare treat. There was an Australian guy there called Bill who was working in Dili and he invited us to join him for a glass of Portuguese wine, which developed into a few glasses and eventually a few bottles. He was doing most of the drinking and before long we was really drunk. He came from Queensland and as far as he was concerned it was the centre of the world. He asked each one of us in turn what we wanted to do in Australia and whatever we answered he told us that the best place to do it was in Queensland. Mark was lapping it all up and he really believed the guy. When he mentioned that in Queensland there were so many cattle that you could pick up a hide of leather for just a few cents, Mark suddenly decided that he was going to become a millionaire from making leather goods. From that point on all Mark could talk about was the wonders he was going to create in leather.
As the evening drew on we had a competition to see who could pick up the heaviest thing with chopsticks. Bill certainly won when he picked up a wine bottle. His friend, a Portuguese policeman, then picked up a half full bottle so Bill ordered a full bottle of wine to be brought over and he picked it up with his chopsticks. He lifted it right up in the air then it slipped from his grip and fell to the floor and smashed, covering his light coloured trousers with red wine. He was so drunk that he hardly noticed it.
At 11 o'clock we went down to the beach to try to sleep, but we found ourselves being eaten alive by mosquitoes. One of the Aussies gave us some repellent, but it didn't work very well and we didn't get very much sleep. As soon as it started to get light we started to walk back to the airport even though our flight wasn't due to depart for many hours yet. When we got there we found the airport building was all locked up so we walked around to the back and found ourselves on the apron where we came across Danny and Ted fast asleep under the wings of the Dove.
At 7.30 the airport opened and we checked our bags in for the flight to Baucau. None of us had paid yet for the previous day's flight from Oecusse, so we had to pay for both flights today. We had already bought our ticket from Baucau to Darwin when we were in Singapore, but the others had to buy their tickets at Dili airport. The customs also wanted to go through our luggage because when we had come across the border from Indonesia we had only been seen by immigration and had not been checked by customs. They still had to search us even though we were now on our way out of the country. We also had to pay 5$00 each for airport tax. The plane took off at 8am for the short hop along the coast to Baucau and we landed at 8.30. The runway at Baucau was really long and that was probably the reason that the plane from Darwin went there instead of to Dili, which had a much shorter runway.
The flight from Darwin was not due in until 11.30, so we had a few hours to hang around. At about 9.30 a Swiss guy called Robert arrived at the airport. As soon as he saw Danny his face dropped. I think he would have run away if he could, but Danny grabbed him before he could go anywhere. He had a bag of Danny's containing a stamp album and a sum of money. Danny got the bag off him and the stamp album was missing and so was some of the money. There wasn't an awful lot that Danny could do about it, but by the look on Danny's face, Robert had better keep out of his way in Darwin. Robert became friendly with Mark. They seemed to be two of a kind.
At 11.30 the plane arrived. A Foker Friendship belonging to Trans Australian
Airways (TAA). It was the first time I had seen a plane with a name painted
on it like a ship has, but on the nose was the name 'John Oxley' who I
later found was a famous Australian Explorer. We looked around the duty
free shop but there was nothing that we wanted, then we boarded the plane
for the 432-mile flight to Darwin. At 12.30 we took off for the very last
leg of our journey into Australia.