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Today's quote:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hi from T.I.

Hubert sitting in Merauke considering the pros and cons
of travelling without a visa! Read the full story below.
Australian Hubert Hofer sitting in the airport waiting for his flight home at the Mopah Airport on March 13, 2009 in Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia. The five Australians, Karen Burke, Hubert Hofer, Keith Mortimer and William and Vera Scott-Bloxam were detained after landing a sightseeing aero-plane at the Mopah Airport in September 2008. They were charged with entering Indonesia illegally and each were jailed for between two to five years. The decision was overturned by the Jayapura High Court on March 10, 2009. They landed in Merauke on 12 September 2008 and finally flew home on 24 June 2009.


Hi Peter, I just read your article of your visit to Thursday Island on the TRINITY BAY. What a great read. I have the strange feeling that I know you. I of course know all the people you mentioned including my dear old friend David (Pommie Dave) Richardson. David passed away over two years ago, aged 82. David and I did a few trips together up the Jardine River, Possession Island, Somerset etc. He was brilliant with the metal detector and so knowledgable. He's one gentleman I miss. You mention you worked for the Island Industries Board (IIB) under Cec Burgess. Well, the grumpy old bugger made it to 95, I was told. I ran into him when he was in his late 80s on his way to England. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. Cheers."

So emailed Hubert Hofer after having read my travelogue in which I describe my trip back to Thursday Island in 2005. And he continued:

"I've been back on T.I. since 2002, retiring on 8 May 2016. 'Bluey', your former neighbour, was actually Kevin Douglas and he was the skipper on the MELBIDIR. He passed away quite a number of years ago as did Canadian Jim. I was told Wally Robinson too has succumbed some years ago. I was employed for a little while with IIB in ’79 and then with DAIA. Cec sacked me on the word of Allan Neil and when John Buchanan reinstated me, Cec became really friendly towards me. I went away in '81 to work with Ben Cropp in Port Douglas but returned to the Strait in '83. Have been hanging around ever since chasing shipwrecks and other historical interests. Did a couple of minutes on the COAST programme last year on the sinking of RMS QUETTA.

SS QUETTA Wreck from Hubert Hofer on Vimeo.

But mainly, I have been accumulating material to compile later. Meant to do a video on some wrecks but the theft of my two Mac Book Pro’s and ALL info on back-ups and several cameras and some diving gear got taken in a daylight break-in as well as damage to the car and the rust then continued where the mongrels left off. This set me back quite a bit. Intend to sit on my boat MV TIGA KALI cruising the coast upon retirement and hopefully get some serious writing in. Unfortunately, my website northpic.net has a severe malfunction so you won’t be able to see anything for a while. Hopefully it’ll be up and running again soon."
  (Hubert's website isn't working but he's uploaded some great photography at Panoramio.com - click here.)

What a blast from the past! And from a chap with a leaning toward writing when most of the leaning on the island was done against the bar! And so the reminiscing continued about the old T.I. sandals (sadly, they stopped producing them some fifteen years ago); about Rolley Kirk and his wife Geraldine who used to run the Rainbow Motel; Dan Taylor a.k.a Dan Fritz who ran a nightclub opposite the open-air cinema and also published the local rag, THE SENTINEL; Milli and her husband Lance Fulwood who struggled to operate a small grocery store in competition with the taxpayer-funded and tax-exempt monopoly of IIB; the Hermit of Packe Island whose island plot Tony the Swiss fellow has apparently acquired; and others - see here.

Seaman Dan, already famous when I lived on the island

Hubert, who came out in '71 from the Salzkammergut in Austria, is going on 64 (must have come out at the same age as me) and used to work as a maintenance carpenter for IIB for about two years, then DAIA, then Qld Health (the most unhealthy outfit to work for, he says), also for Ben Cropp the filmmaker, and for the past twelve years as a desalination plant overseer on T.I. His boat is a little 8m cabin cruiser but, once retired, he'll be looking at something around 12 m catamaran or similar shallow draft.

Hubert got his 15 minutes of fame in 2008 as one of the "Merauke Five" when a retired 747-captain invited him along on a one-hour joy flight in a P-68 twin-propeller light plane from Thursday Island to Merauke in what is Indonesia's politically sensitive province of West Papua. Hubert was told that they would be granted entry visas on arrival; instead they were in immigration detention for six weeks, then out for three months, then back in the clink for another six weeks. Flying time 1 hour; detention time 9-1/2 months! Pity they weren't drug-runners or the Australian government would've sent in the gunboats to get them out - see here.

Article in the TORRES NEWS of 1 July 2009 after their return to Thursday Island
Four of the "Merauke Five"
l-to-r: William Scott-Bloxam and wife Vera, Hubert Hofer,
Keith Mortimer (and here is a photo of all five)

It seems we have a few things in common (including Indonesian wives) and certainly knew all the same people. We also worked under the dick-tatorship of the same boss, Cec Burgess, a former missionary-type who, having discovered the difference between a debit and a credit, passed himself off as an accountant to become manager of what was then the Island Industries Board. Had it not been for Cec's reign of terror, I might well have stayed forever, as, according to 'Banjo' Paterson's "Thirsty Island", 'the heat, the thirst, the beer, and the Islanders may be trusted to do the rest.'

Of course, professionally speaking, I would have signed my own death warrant had I stayed because Thursday Island was a dead-end whereas I went on to bigger and better jobs in the Solomon Islands (again!), Samoa, Malaysia, Australia, New Guinea (again and again!), Saudi Arabia, Greece ...

It was a case of Thursday Island versus the World, and the world won!

P.S. To read more about Hubert's "holiday" in Merauke, click here and here and here. William Scott-Bloxam died when crashing his aircraft in December 2019, aged 73 - see here.

Article in TORRES NEWS 1 July 2009