Konpira


At the time of Cyclone Tracy the Konpira Maru 15 brought a seaman in here who was suffering from peritonitis and they landed him in hospital. The harbourmaster advised the captain to get out of Darwin as quick as possible. He got out of Darwin but he thought he'd seek shelter behind Bathurst Island. Well, that would be one of the worst places he could be because just above Bathurst Island is the entrance to St Alf Strait which is a big, shallow water area full of sand-bars. And he would be trapped. And whether that was what did happen I don't know, but he cleared out and got around Cape Fourcroy and probably got driven in - or maybe went into Aloysius Bay for shelter. But they had engine failure and he broached, side on, to the beach.

We found out later they'd opened the engine room glass hatch, the one over the top of the engine room, eight months before when they got the ship new in Japan. They'd opened that hatch to keep the engine room cool. As a consequence, those hinges had frozen right up with salt water and they'd never been closed. A man went up there to close them and he couldn't close them, then bashed them to close them and the glass broke. The sea came over and underneath that hatch was the air intake to the supercharger. Well, the supercharger took a bellyful of water and so did the engine. She stopped and she broached then on to the beach where there was a small amount of rock under the sand. The seamen jumped overboard, and they got washed ashore because it was an onshore breeze - bit more than a breeze quite likely. Then they were found by Abos the next day and they were taken across to the mission and they had them flown back at government expense to Darwin.

Johnny Chadderton heard about this. He went across to the airport - had a friend there with a light plane - and they had a look and yes, it was there. He and two other guys went out and they started de-watering her. I got the steering gear going - partly, but not good. As we limped back to Darwin they nudged her with a grader tyre on the bow of the Larrpan
; they pushed her onto course and steamed slowly, you see. There'd been six feet of water in the engine room so we drained the crankcase and pumped her and flushed it with methylated spirits to absorb the water - and the gearbox too.

Then the job came to get all the electrical gear done quickly before it went bad with salt water. You see, she had two hundred-odd tonnes of freezer space which takes a lot of holding. So we decided we would get all the generators right before we attempted to run anything. She had a hundred and thirty KVA, which was a very big generator, and then there was a hundred KVA, which was just as big. They were almost the same size. And there were a twenty KVA and another one, smaller - might have been six-point-eight or something. They were for just a caretaker - running the lights and things like that. So we were going to take the diesels out and when we looked at the proposition: 'How do we got them out?' Now that was the thing. You couldn't get them out because they'd been put in there before the ship was built. So we had to take the whole hatch and all that section of the deck out - even to get the armatures out. Some of the alternator armatures, alone, weighed over a ton. We couldn't take all the generator out in one piece. I had some small generators and we used them to supply light and power for an electric pump and things like that - to pump her out. We got to work and did her up as good as we could and as cheap as we could. Percy Mitchell helped us a lot. It took us about two months to get her in shape. The radar needed a little bit of work. The radio we never did get going; it was beyond us, it was too big. But it was a radio that you could talk from here to Japan direct.

The Aboriginals put a writ out on us. Two thousand five hundred dollars they wanted - and they claimed it was their boat also, by further writ. I think it was Whittledon and Barker we had to deal with, but we didn't reply and they didn't persue to us. That little episode was apparently squashed from inside.

We were only here about two weeks and eight Japanese arrived. We're still working on it because we had a salvage notice, an old one that I had. I'd had it in my gear for years and years in case I ever had the opportunity, you see. So, we nailed that on the mast, or stuck it on the mast, and tied cord around it. They claimed that the salvage notice was out of date. Waters, James and O'Neil were representing us. We were in the port authority building for three days. The last day went on till three o'clock in the morning and - only for my wife being a very believing woman - I arrived back at three o'clock and I'd been talking to the Japanese. And that was so. During that job they must've ordered about ten or twelve bottles of whiskey - scotch - and they used to pour about three or four fingers out in a glass and drink it straight. Disgusted with me when I poured one finger out and used to fill it up with lolly water. Anyhow, I had to be a bit sober because it was my money we were going to spend - I could see that - so, finally, they said: 'Alright.' I said: 'Legally, my salvage would hold up in a court of law in Australia because, me being an Australian and qualified, and this was a legal notice at one time and you are at a bit at a disadvantage, you realise that.' And: 'Oh yes, yes.' And: 'Alright,' they said, 'We will do it another way.' And obviously they'd discussed this. 'You pay all our expenses from Japan to here and back, all our expenses at Travelodge and a little bit of car hire. And that was for eight people. So: 'Jesus,' I began to think about this and I did a quick tally up. I knew what the fare was from Japan and back again. And, luckily for me, we'd been going in and out of the Travelodge with the Consulate people making arrangements for them and it was seventy, eighty, ninety dollars a night for a room and that kind of thing. So we did a quick think about it and: 'Oh yes, alright.' And it came to forty-two-thousand. So I paid. And the ship was ours.

Then we took on towing a big barge that was here, a tremendous turnout; like trying to tow a block of flats through the sea. A big, square outfit - it was a fuel barge for an oil company in the Gulf of Bonin in the Celebes. We hired a rope from Bruce Perkins which was five inches thick. And we had a huge chain on it to give it some elasticity so the chain sagged into the water and pulled up the slack and there was no jerk. It had to be rigged with lights according to our regulations here, which took the best part of four days. And we were ready to leave and we had a huge engine - a pumping plant - on the back that must've cost - I don't know, maybe a hundred-and-fifty-thousand or something. And right then, the Chief of Customs came down with several other people and Johnny had been rather insulting towards them. And I came down, thought I'd make the peace, and I started to get permission to put that engine on the ship to keep it safe and dry, high up on the deck of the ship. Well, we put it on the well deck which was well out of water reach. And Customs arrived down - Mr O'Neil was there - and I said: 'Well, how's things going?' I walked up and said: 'How's things going?' And Johnny said: 'Oh, this dickhead here,' and he poked the Customs Chief in the belly. He says: 'So and so and so and so,' you know, and he went on and on. And that stuffed up the whole business. He said: 'Righto, now take that off the deck and put it on the barge.' And we had to unweld it off the deck; it was welded to the deck. Bloody big angle iron lugs had to be all cut off and taken off - another whole day's work. Crane hired, pick it up, put it on the barge. We were going to then pull out into the quiet water somewhere around the corner of Bathurst Island and put it back on there but our crane couldn't pick it up; no chance of picking it up. So we had to leave it there. And on the way over I could see the waves going over the top of that. It would never have ran; blue water going over the top.

We were one night - Johnny had dysentery and was very ill - and he's a pretty hard man, it took a lot to knock him down, believe me. So, I was on watch all night. I had nobody else I could trust who could navigate - though there was no navigating; it was just a case of stay where you are because we were doing, I reckon, two knots. But I was wrong. When we came within sight of islands that I could recognise by supposing their position on the map - they were part of the Tiger Islands which are five or six dots on the map, but actually there's two or three dozen islands there. And rocks that are just under the water. And you don't steam through 'em, you go round. When we were getting there we could sight them. About five o'clock one morning I started to get a little glimpse, you know, and I went a bit further. And when I did my calculations later in the day, on the times we'd made, by clock, from the previous ones we'd only been doing about a mile-point-two-five all night, for seven hours, against the weather, you see - huge weather. And this thing is a hundred-and-twenty yards behind us. Anyhow, Johnny was still in bed and I sent a messenger back to say I was going to turn round, and was he well enough to come up on deck? And he did. I wanted somebody to stay astern and direct operations there, to pick that rope up if it happened to get down. We had proper gear there to reach out and pick it up, you see. A rope like this. Anyhow, we did this. It took me about - oh, a good three-quarters of an hour to get her turned round because we had a big tidal flow pulling us towards a strait between the islands opposite. We were up alongside Flores and those islands, you see, but not within sight of them. But the current still affects you. And I got her turned around and went up alongside Salea Island which is like a spine of a mountain coming out of the seabed. And you could go up there and it was like a millpond. I was out on the monkey island with the glasses thinking: 'What a beautiful place. Wouldn't I like to be there.' You could look right into the villages, I was that close. I was within a mile of the shore - beautiful.

And up to the Macassar Strait - not Macassar Strait, I've forgotten the name of that one, but its the strait between the tip of Salea and Macassar, the Celebes Island; Macassar is the port there. And then, when we got there, it was night by the time we got there. And, oh well, I look in the pilot and there's leading lights there. We could go in on leading lights, I figured, but we should have a tug; to go in with a tow is not the thing. So we were going to anchor the tow, and go into the inner harbour by solo. And I tried to get into Macassar radio, and at last I got on and: '
Konpira calling Macassar.' And at last somebody came on and he said: 'Capitan, we are not under the heel of the Dutch now. This is Ujang Pandang, it is not Macassar any longer. Ujang Pandang radio.' 'Yes.' And he made me pay for that because he didn't come out with a permit to enter and to clear us by quarantine until the following morning. We had to sit there out at sea - what, fifteen mile from the port - until the following morning. And when we're going in - of course you wouldn't see the lights in the daylight, but I looked for the towers for the lights - and there are no towers. When we were close in I could see one of them bent over like that at right angles - he'd fallen down years ago. They had no leading lights. So it would've been all the same had we have gone there at night. And then, finally, another man come out who was an understrapper there. He made friends with me and drank a good noggin of my whiskey and had a bit of a talk. And I wondered what point he was coming to. And then he told me - when he could see that I was ending the interview - because I wanted to go on the radio to Darwin. And he listened that out, and then the engineer wanted something and, oh, he got tired of me and he said: 'Capitan, it is customary for you to forfeit forty dollars if you drop anchor here.' I said: 'What, out at sea, not in your port? No, not me. You give me a receipt in your book.' And I pointed to his pocket that was bulging with something. 'In your book there, your official book, you give me a receipt for that money and, alright, I'll give it to you.' 'Oh, it doesn't work like that,' he said. So that was the end of the interview. But he was quite good to me afterwards. He took me around and showed me the town and things like that, while we stayed there for a few days.

Thien had an aunt who was a judge there, so I went to visit her and she insisted I stay at her house with her. But I said: 'No, I must be on board the ship. I have people on the ship that are not too reliable. I must be there.' So she excused me and I used to get run back each night about eleven o'clock to the ship. And then I was going back the one night and the young man - her young son - let me out of his car outside the gates - big, stone archway - on to the port - typical Dutch, solid-built stuff, you know, huge blocks of stone. And, on to the port - which, the decking of the port still had the bomb holes through it from - they reckoned Australian bombs. And, I just got in the middle of this archway - pretty dark, you could see a bit of light the other side - and three fellows grabbed me and somebody put a torch in my face and somebody else pushed up against me at the other side. And they yabbering to themselves, when they had the torch on me - and they let me go. And I tried my bad Indonesian, what it was, and they apologise and all that. And one fellow had a kris about twelve inches long, so what was going to go on there I only had a fair idea of. They were going to injure somebody. And the strength of their conversation was - when I got talking to my aunt the next day, to Thien's aunt - 'Yes, wrong man, wrong man.' What was it - 'tua orang' - wrong man. See, who did they want to get? I don't know but I did suspect young Johnny because he was a tiger for getting into trouble.

From Macassar I went by plane for Singapore, to get the documentary work done and register the Konpira - no Maru - in Singapore and at a Panamanian registry. I think I paid about two-and-a-half-thousand altogether to get it done, because I knew the Panamanian consul, chief clerk. We could not register the Konpira in Australia as we would've had to pay duty on the Konpira Maru. They wouldn't allow us to bring her in here. Six months and we had to go out, you see. If we could've worked it here, we were going to buy prawns in the Gulf. But that lent itself to villainy of course. You would've been buying them from skippers who weren't owners, you see. It would've been too open, too much questions asked. See you could run straight to Japan. Straight to Singapore would've been the best because it's an expensive business a voyage to Japan now. You would've chewed up many tons of fuel, you see, and she would only pull about a hundred and seventy tons of prawns.

While I was in Singapore arranging the registration, Johnny stayed three more days in Macassar during which he talked to somebody, by radio, on a ninety-foot yacht called the
Brigadoon that had a broken crankshaft. Well, the Brigadoon became famous later because she was part of the Mr Asia drug syndicate. In Bob Boothes' book (check also R. Hall, Greed – The Mr Asia Syndicate. Pan Books 1981) he describes all that and he describes it right from the Macassar time. Luckily I didn't come into it or my name would've smelt. Whether Johnny towed that yacht in or not, I didn't know, but there was no mention of it in the log book. I would say that was the time when he met Martin Johnson; he would've got off the vessel here in Darwin and flown back to Singapore.

I had said to John, about two days before this Macassar turnout, while we were still on the big tow, I think: 'I'll have to sell my share of the ship, because I can't have this much money tied up here and not be able to direct it. Only holding forty-nine per cent I can't control the policy.' Well, shortly afterwards - about three weeks afterwards - somebody walked in - a very smart-looking fellow - walked in to the office and saw Thien. Thien and I had an office in the other room of the Commercial Bank, Bennett Street, where we lived in those days. 'Can I see Captain Hawks?' 'Yes.' And she showed him into the office. He fished his card out and introduced himself as Martin Johnson. 'What can I do for you?' Oh, and he said: 'Johnny tells me you want to sell your share of the ship.' I said: 'Oh, yes, I would sell it if I get the right price.' And I put the price up twenty thousand. But, 'Oh, no,' he said: 'That's not the price he told me.' And he put his hand in his inside pocket and pulled out a cheque: 'There, that's the price he told me.' And it was too. It was exactly right. And the wheels are going round in my head and thought: 'My God, I'm in a trap now.' And I didn't know about Martin Johnson in those days. He hadn't become public, you see. I thought: 'He's an expensive-looking guy.' And he sure was, really smooth. 'Alright,' I said. Put my hand out, shook hands on it and I said: 'Now what you've got to do is get a surveyor immediately and fly into Thursday Island or wherever the ship is, and get it surveyed.' 'Oh, no,' he said, 'Johnny says she's alright.' I said: 'Bullshit. She's alright, but you don't know.' And foreign registry won't know - a Panamanian registered vessel can have many things that's skipped. I didn't know how much had been skipped because I paid a hundred and seventy seven dollars for the surveyor to go from Singapore to Macassar and a hundred and seventy seven dollars for him to come back, and two hundred dollars for his stay in Macassar. I paid that in my fee, but no surveyor ever came, so she was never surveyed. But I didn't know that at the time - not till afterwards. Anyhow, he said: 'Oh no, that doesn't matter.' So: 'My God,' I thought, 'I'm in a pickle here. This guy's up to something.' So I gave him a receipt for the money and we went across to the bank and I said to Denise, the accountant in the bank: 'Denise, could you send somebody over with me to clear this cheque?' And Johnson said: 'Oh no, we couldn't wait for that.' He said: 'That plane leaves in a quarter of an hour.' And I said: 'If my friend here rings up and asks the plane to wait for you, it will do. The couple will wait a couple of minutes till you come.' 'Bullshit,' he said, 'That's not possible.' He didn't know who I was going to ring up. Anyhow: 'Alright.' So out comes the accountant. 'Can I see the manager?' 'The manager's not here, he's in Adelaide.' 'Well, who's signature's that?' 'That's my signature.' 'Would you sign it again please, in front of me?' 'Jesus,' he said, 'What's this?' I said: 'Its alright, signatures are cheap.' And he signed it again and it was right. I says: 'Righto, you'll clear that cheque.' And by this time Johnson was really hopping mad. Johnson had given me a bank cheque. He'd been to the bank before he saw me, you see. And when he started to jib and say he couldn't wait, I thought: 'Oh, I've got him by the nuts. He's a crookie.' But he was alright. The manager said: 'That's cleared with Singapore.' He said: 'Its alright.' So they put it straight into my Commercial Bank account. And I took Johnson out to the airport.

We are pleased to advise that no koalas were injured when testing this website.
And that no personal information is collected from you.