Thien


Danny Rafiqi was a friend of mine who had been on the ship with me to Kupang and Dili, and places like that. One trip I was coming back to Darwin from Kupang and I was bringing something in for him. Thien was over here to visit her uncle and she was staying with Danny and his wife. They all came down to the wharf as I was steaming in with Larrpan. In those days, Larrpan used to look a picture - I didn't wholly stain the deck, I did it with oxalic acid and that whitened it and cleaned it up; it was perfectly white, narrow boards with a black line of pitch. When I had tied up to the wharf, Danny and the other people all came on board and I met Thien. But I tell the story different to that. I say I distinctly heard Thien say: 'Who's that good looking young captain there? Introduce me to him, Danny.' And she gets mad when I tell this story. But that's how it was - and I think I took her out to dinner a couple of nights later. And then it was on and off, you know. She was over there, and back here occasionally.

(Thien’s explanation is that she had met Danny in Kupang and he had recognized her surname as the same as a man he knew in Darwin. She knew she had a close relative who had been recruited just before the war to dive for Paspaley; she had never met him and thought he had died in Darwin. Danny suggested Thien write a letter that Danny would take back to Darwin and give to the man. Thien was reluctant to write to someone she did not know, and felt it might cause offence. However, Danny persisted and she eventually wrote the letter – ‘Dear Uncle or Cousin, I don’t know what to call you’ and included details of their possible kinship. About a month later Danny returned with a letter in which her Uncle wrote of having tears in his eyes when he received her letter, it was the first contact from any family since he had left Roti thirty years ago. Some time later Thien came to visit her Uncle but, because he was living in single men’s accommodation, she stayed with Danny and his wife.)

When I sold Larrpan, I went to Dili with Johnny Chadderton, the new owner. It was my ambition to drive from Dili up over the top of the mountain and down into Kupang. I swung a Mini Moke on board Larrpan and I took a good box of tools and some canned tucker and a few spares, and a couple of spare tyres, and a couple of jerry cans - one for water and one for petrol - had oil spare on me. In Dili I saw Mr Calado and told him what I'd done and introduced him to Johnny. Calado now works for the library in Darwin but he had a hotel in Dili. It would be worth a million dollars in them days - beautiful place. He was building it while he was a captain in the Portuguese Army; continuing on with the building over a period of years. He lost all that of course.

I tried to get a passenger to Kupang but there was nobody going so I set off by myself. Near the border I get to the place where there's an old fort with - a square box, it is really, about sixty or seventy metres square - and the guns sticking out all around. You know, little old canon - they're still there, sticking out all around. I go on a little bit further and I can hear something rattling alongside of me and I think its something on the Moke, and look over. And here's a bloke on a motorbike waving a pistol. I'd just passed through the border gates where the bloke had whisked me on my way - I had bribed him with a packet of P-rifle bullets and he was very happy. Anyhow, I pull up and I see this little bastard - he's still astride his motorbike - a little two-stroke scooter. He was waving the pistol at me, and I said: 'Point it over there' - and he did. I went over and shook hands with him, pistol and all. I could have taken it off him but he didn't realise that. He said: 'I am the chief of customs at Apapulpa'. - 'Oh yeah'. - 'I wish to see your papers'. So I pulled them out. He said: 'I change my mind. You come with me'. Oh, the bastard's going to lock me up. I followed him about two miles down the road to a little house in a real picturesque setting on the side of a little tight harbour. Anyhow, we had a talk but he did not like my papers and said he was going to place me under arrest until he could get in touch with Kupang. Then he introduced me to his wife, and hell's bells, she's a dead ringer of Thien. I said: 'Dia Roti'. Yeah, she got real excited; she did come from Roti - and what's more, she knew Thien. Thien’s family were very highly placed. She started talking to me. He got in between: 'And who are going to see in Kupang?' - 'A Miss Messakh, she's my fiancee'. - 'Oh yes. You don't know a Miss Messakh' - 'Yes I do, I know all her relatives'. - 'Where does she come from?' - 'Roti Island'. His wife started jumping around, really excited. Finally it got right round to him that I was genuine, and he started calling me Mr Mini, because he'd seen the name Mini on the front of the Moke. He said: 'We want a thousand dollars deposit on the Mini', and I said: 'Bullshit!' He said: 'You are not American' - 'No, I'm Australian. We go on and on, and I said: 'It wouldn't take me much to talk to a friend of mine in your government about the treatment you're giving me'. – ‘Who is that?’ – ‘Adam Mallick!’ – ‘You do not know Adam Mallick!’ – ‘I do, I have a photograph’. After a great deal of searching around my gear I found the photograph that had been taken once in an hotel in Surabajo when I was introduced to him by a friend. ‘Oh, you do have it. Well I will give you an escort to Kupang.’ It was too late in the day to leave.

All of a sudden he broke off. He said: 'We will buy a fish. We get into the Mini Moke. We go up to the village'. When we got there, here's a village; you would think you were in New Guinea. The huts were the bee hive huts, all exactly the same with the little low doorway, where you must get down and crawl in. The crinkly hair of the people, exactly the same. There's two nationalities living in Timor, perhaps many more. Those people were the ones that had fish traps and they could catch fish. They always had fish and they kept them alive in a you know, a bamboo turn-out. We get a fish and bleed him. We took the fish back and we had it for dinner - after I had paid for it. The people were highly delighted in the fish camp and so was I because it was beaut fish the way she cooked it, with coconut sliced onto it and all that - and something very sour.

That evening I'm looking around, and I walked around the corner of the headland a little bit and had a look, and it suddenly dawned on me I'd been in there before. One night about a year before I was very tired and a bit sick with the flu - and I had some useless people on board. The harbour master in Kupang had asked me to take them. I liked to do things for this harbour master because he used to look after me - he didn't drack me for port duties and things like that. But I said: 'I can't take rubbish like that. No, I'm clean, not filthy dirty. They'll sleep in my bed'. 'Well', he said: 'We tell them they must all wash'. They went onto the public bath and all washed. Among them was one Japanese girl, one Canadian girl who was a real hippie and a man who had his toe cut and it was very badly septic. I did what I could for the man’s cut toe, such as swabbing it with plenty of Friar's Balsam but it stung him too much. I had to cut it out. He screamed blue murder. So I got Agraflaven and put it on, and it kind of kept it a bit stable, you know - and hot water. I made him put it in hot water a lot. He used to do that himself. That trip was the only time I've ever had to tell a woman to go and get a bath; that Canadian girl came into dinner in my cabin, and she fairly stunk. I said: 'Glenda, you don't have dinner. You go down there and see Ronnie and get two towels. And you take one and you give one to' - I've forgotten the Japanese girl's name - 'and you go and have a bath before you come in here'. Now that's a humiliation to me as well as her. Oh, she was boiling. She went and had the shower though, or I'd have sent a couple of seamen in to give her one. We'd finished our dinner by that time and I left the two of them there having their shower. The Japanese girl came out with a new kimono on - and boy, did she look a dish. Before, she looked like a tramp. She was Japanese-Canadian born in Canada but Japanese parents. I said: 'Why did you get in that filthy looking thing that you just took off?' 'Ah', she said. 'That was my protection and nobody had a go at me. But Glenda, she'd get in the bus and somebody would grab her by the legs, soon as she got in the bus see, and start playing around. But they never touched me'. And that was it.

That night the customs man wanted the key to the moke, but I wouldn’t give it to him. We were nearly getting down to hostilities again when I said, “I’m going through to Kupang to see my fiancée and then there will be trouble; you know what her family are like.” - “Her family, I do not know her family.” I asked him if he knew Benjeman Messakh. “Of Course I know Benje Massakh, he’s the member of parliament and his brother is also the administrator on Roti.” “Yes, Thien Massakh is my fiancee.” After a while he was convinced.

(Thien’s explanation is that in 1792 her great-grandfather was made Raja of Thie, one of eighteen states on the island of Roti, by the Dutch East India Company. For nearly three-hundred years this hereditary position had remained in the family and they had retained the Seal of Office; the accompanying photograph shows the Silver Seal, the gold seal was taken during WWII by the Japanese. On account of her father’s age and poor health, Thien’s brother was appointed Raja in 1949/50 until 1972 when the title was abolished and replaced with a civil-service position of administrator or Tamat. At the time of Sid’s journey, Thien’s brother was a member of parliament rather than Raja, and his son was the Tamat.)

Early the next morning I was away with the company of a constable. But there was no road, only tracks, and he got lost. Finally we got to a road and pottering along I was stopped by more local police who wanted to have a talk. He wanted me to sleep at his place. I wasn’t under arrest, but damn near. I wanted a toothbrush as mine had got lost somewhere along the line. The man of the house offered to lend me his - “No problem.” I looked at his teeth which were black as a boot and declined his offer. The reason why things were a bit stirred up was because of the Portuguese. I finally got to Kupang covered brown with dust. Thien happened to be there having just returned from Djakarta. I had sent her a telegram but it arrived a couple of days after me. Their communications were very lax, but very expensive.

(Thien explains that back in Darwin Sid had asked Danny to tell Thien he wanted to marry her – at that stage Thien’s english was not very good. In reply Thien got Danny to tell Sid that he would have to ask her father, as was the custom. Even though Sid thought they were too old for such formalities, he made the trip on her insistence. Thien’s father had previously rejected seven other suitors but on this occasion said that if Thien was happy to have him and loved him then he would give his blessing as she was no longer eighteen or twenty! Sid and Thien - Marthina Hendrina Messakh, born 21 June 1933 – were married 9 June 1972. Their son James was born 1 January 1975 and married Danni Harris 5 July 2003 and hve since had a son called Jaxx.)

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