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living Pirate treasure source of after-dinner entertainment. Together with other young officers, I would sit on his verandah and look out across the Torres Strait at night while Old Harry enthralled us with tales of derring-do. It was on his verandah that we learned the legends of the South Pacific, and of the exploits of its most famous characters like Queen Emma, His Majesty O’Keefe, Bully Hayes, and King Cameron of Kitava. Old Harry had other stories, which reached further back into history. He would tell of the early explorations of the Pacific; of Spanish galleons lost on their way back to Spain from Peru; of mutiny, shipwreck and Inca gold. Most of these stories related to the eastern end of Papua, in and around the islands administered from Samarai. And one night, when I was alone with him on his verandah, Old Harry told me that if I ever went there, I would see remnants of long-lost civilisations, stone artefacts, and megaliths like Stonehenge, and relics of a by-gone sailing era. And if I were lucky, he told me confidentially, I might even find pirates’ treasure. “What treasure?” I asked. “There’s pirates’ treasure out there,” he told me. “It’s on an island out from Samarai … a king’s ransom, in royals, doubloons, and pieces-of eight.” “How did it get there?” I asked in disbelief. He told me of a Spanish galleon blown off course when crossing the Pacific from Peru to Manila, laden with bullion for the Spanish government in the Philippines. Frightened, lost and far from home, the crew mutinied and murdered the officers. They tried to head back to Spain with the treasure, but became more lost in the tangle of islands strung across the Solomon Sea and, eventually, they anchored to take on water off a small island out from Samarai. Fearful of another mutiny from their fellow mutineers, the pirate leaders decided to put the treasure ashore on this island and come back for it later. “But they never came back,” Old Harry said. “It is still there in a cave in a cliff face.” He told me the name of the island. “The island people must have known about it,” I said. “How

88 Paradise – Air Niugini’s in-flight magazine

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come they didn’t take it?” “They won’t go near it,” Old Harry said. “They think the cave is haunted by the spirits of the dead pirates.” When I questioned him further, he told me it took 15 pirates to drag the treasure chest to the cave. To safeguard the secret of the treasure’s exact location, the pirate leaders then murdered the 15 crew and left their bodies in the cave, tied around the treasure chest with the rope they used to haul it there. The leaders celebrated this foul deed with a bottle of rum, which they left there, and they then returned to their ship. To cover the absence of the 15 men, the leaders claimed natives had attacked their shore party. According to Old Harry, after the ship had departed the curious islanders peeked into the cave to see what had been left there. But stunned by the gruesome sight of 15 dead men roped together, they fled in horror, never to return. Exaggerated stories of sailor’s ghosts and evil cave spirits, passed on from one generation to the next, have ensured that the islanders still shun the cave. And to make sure that the pirates’ ghosts would not molest them, Old Harry said, the islanders have kept their haunted cave a secret. Very few outsiders know about it, Old Harry told me. But he was one, and now that he had told me, I was another. “How do you know about all this?” I remember asking. “It’s only a story I picked up,” Old Harry said. “It might not even be true. But to the natives of this island, it is a sacred legend, and if you ever go there they might talk to you about it. But you should always keep the identity of the island secret, so that you do not betray their confidence.” Years went by and Old Harry passed away, taking stories like these with him to his grave. It was 15 years later that routine transfers saw me posted to Samarai. By this time, we (the administrators) were less pukka and more practical, and instead of white suits and pith helmets, we wore shorts, long socks and slouch hats. We got on with the job of bringing the country to independence, and in the course of my duties I visited many islands throughout the Milne Bay district, and slowly, very slowly, some of Old Harry’s stories began to ring true.

Paradise: the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini, July/August 2016  

The July/August 2016 Issue (Vol 4, 2016) of 'Paradise' magazine, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini, the national airline of Papua New Gu...

Paradise: the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini, July/August 2016  

The July/August 2016 Issue (Vol 4, 2016) of 'Paradise' magazine, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini, the national airline of Papua New Gu...