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  • We heard: If you can't say anything good about someone, or something, don't say it.


    In 1946 the Australians were in Timor. A military operation to clean up after the war.
    Indonesia was a Dutch colony back then. Timor, a Portuguese one. The natives were the work force for the colonialists.

    One native lad ended up being relegated to work for a native cook at the Koepang aerodrome. Apparently he didn't like that much. He reckoned the cook used to beat him.

    Now, with the war over, the Australians had arrived in force. There was a special Aussie contingent called Tim Force. Their main job was to dispose of ordinance and reinstate infrastructure. The air force base was at Koepang. This lad was very happy for their arrival, finding comfort in jovial company, rides in their jeeps, receiving top tucker like bully-beef and even getting a ball to play with. Attention deserved by any kid. He was somewhere around ten to twelve years old.

    Then came the time, job done, the Aussies had to leave. By August a variable sized squadron of DC3s making a twice-daily run, Darwin, Koepang, Darwin. A one-way trip was around three hours in those tail-draggers.

    The lad just wanted to be out of there. To go with those soldiers. Those blokes who looked after him. At some point he's realised that it's not possible to leave with them. Officially.
    So with unofficial courage, handfulls of naivety and his own sense of determination he worked out his own plan. To go. With them.

    The last flight of each day was an evening one. The aircrews and any soldiers on the flights were chowing-down in the mess, googing-up before hitting Darwin, where the promise of R&R, grog and maybe girls awaited some. All those planes sitting there on the tarmac, gear loaded and nobody around. Perfect opportunity to sneak aboard.

    When the lad has tried the aircraft's doors he's discovered they were locked. Then, passing under a wing he starts thinking about that hole under the motors. It's a big hole. A wheel-bay. It's located under the engine, in the engine nacelle. A perfect hiding place to his mind. So up he goes, climbing the wheel struts, and waits, in the hole.

    If you've seen the size of one of those DC3 wheels you'd know that they're pretty big. If you've looked up into the wheel-well, you'd know that there's pretty much only spare room for the wheel, nothing much else. If you've ever been close to one of those fired up motors you'd know that they're pretty loud. And warmed up, like, bloody hot! Hot motor, hot exhaust pipe and hot-oil tank.

    When that engine was kick-started goodness knows what was going through his mind. But he hung in there, that exhaust pipe only inches away. He survived the taxiing experience and by then was probably wondering, under the deafening noise, if this idea was such a good one.

    Liftoff. That wheel needs to go to bed, in the hole. It's still spinning as it makes its way upwards to snuggle up to the warm motor. Altitude of around 9000 feet will make for a cold trip.

    According to the Dutch Air Force pilot flying the Dutch DC3 for the Australians they experienced problems during the flight. The cabin heater wouldn't work. But he moseyed on, holding formation.

    Arriving in the black over Darwin he has to wait his turn to land. Down go the wheels, well before needed. It slows the aircraft down. They are pretty slow aircraft anyway, but it's all a part of how to manage airspeed. The wheels are sent down at around 1500 feet. Three circuits over land and sea, of this port town, undercarriage down, waiting for his slot. Then touchdown. Followed by taxiing to park-up. All good.

    The crews go on to chock-up their planes and pin the hydraulic struts. The bloke working this particular wheel does the routine visual check. He beams his torch up under the engine. Probably illuminating an indelible image for him. He yells, "Hey, there's a kid in here!" as he sees the lad hanging in the piping, cables and struts.


    Back in the 60s, tropical Darwin was a comfortable shirtless town for many males after work. Before prudes.
    Playing footy on the oval as kids, we heard, "Mr Wie, Mr Wie. What's that mark on your back?"
    " Oh, a butterfly landed there.", was the nonchalant response.
    That's Dad for you.
    Hit by a spinning wheel. Blessed by fortunes.
    Cooked on one side, frozen on the other. Always magnanimous.
    The scars on his arms the legacy of the heating lines that prevented him from falling out when those wheels were lowered for landing. Unconscious, tangled and heat-welded to a safety margin.

    I never heard him ever say one negative thing about anybody.

    Good people fought for him to be able to stay in Darwin. They had to oppose the 'Keep Australia White' law of the day. As soon as he recovered he was to be deported, as an illegal immigrant. But the citizens saw otherwise and bombarded the government with their lobbying. Apparently when he finally left hospital he was picked up by an official limo and taken to Government House, the Administrators residence (Queens Representative for the Territory). He lived there until the Administrator of the day, Mick Driver, moved on. Then he was fostered to an Englishman married with a Larrakia wife, Aunty Bertha Cubillo, (Aboriginal and Philippine heritage) and eventually being formally adopted by them. Larrakia is the Indigenous Nation which includes the Darwin region.

    He and the Dutch pilot Jan Sjouw were reunited in 1978. We were there, the whole family, and heard the stories.

    Bas Wie on wheel of a DC3, 1992. Photo gifted to family courtesy of People Magazine.
    & DC3 scenic flight over Nightcliff Beach.
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