Australia Country Map

The doping was not the short job we had expected. We seldom had two hours in the morning or afternoon warm enough for it, and as we had to give each coat several hours to dry, we were lucky if we could give a wing one coat in a day. One morning a retired Australian architect called Giles visited our ‘factory’. He was about seventy, tall and handsome with a short white beard. ‘I should like to know why a young man like you wants to grow a beard, he said.

I said, ‘Growing a beard is like undertaking a flight. First you have the idea which you dare not reveal to a soul. You feel that there will be wide open spaces you cannot cover. If it fails, have you the courage to face the condescending pity which people have for failures? If it succeeds, have you the endurance to be pleasant to everyone who asks why you did it?’

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‘Well, anyway, grunted Mr Giles, ‘I don’t agree with half the funny things people say about it.’

The Makambo was due to call again a few days later on her way to Sydney, so I thought that I had better put the motor together before she arrived. I went down to Kirby’s to ask about the cylinder heads. ‘Oh, he said, ‘the valves must first be thoroughly ground and the cylinders thoroughly cleaned. When I do a thing I like to do it properly.’

‘Don’t you think I ought to put the engine together again before the boat returns? I said. ‘It’s not much good cleaning the cylinder heads until they shine only to discover after the Makambo has left that a new one is required. How about just a little grinding of the valves? After all they were perfect when I left Norfolk Island.’

He washed his hands of a job unless it was done properly, so I set to work grinding them myself at his bench. It was a job I disliked intensely.

Putting the engine together again was simple enough in one way. All the tinfuls of nuts, bolts, washers, screws and parts must be used up. If anything was left over, I nosed round the engine until a place was found for it. In the end, the engine seemed perfectly all right, except that it would not go. There was no spark in either magneto, so I packed them off to Australia on the Makambo.

We could not cover any more wings until the Makambo returned with the dope-resisting paint. Roley and I carried on rebuilding the wing and aileron frames. We finished the second wing in three days, the third and fourth in two days each. The steamer was soon back, and life became still more arduous. Repairing, covering and doping all went on at the same time. We were always jostling for room, though the islanders had lent me the only other shed large enough to hold a spread wing, the seed-packing shed. There was only room there to work on one wing, and room in the cargo shed for the wing being covered.

I had been going about barefoot, but I gave it up because the sand had grown cold. It was the edge of winter, with the days shortening and rain squalls more frequent. As the warmth went out of the sunlight, the glow of my island life cooled. I had to think day and night. It was not a question of making as few mistakes as possible; I mustn’t make any mistakes. All the time I felt the urgency of hurry; the stormy westerlies were setting in, and they lessened the chance of obtaining a run of fine days necessary for assembling and launching the seaplane. Once the wings were attached to the fuselage they must stay out at the mercy of the weather, for there was no room to take them back under cover. Once the seaplane was on the lagoon, it must stay there until it left the island.

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