In my role as an economic advisor in government one of my tasks was to find ways to balance economic return with environmental value in utilizing the country’s natural resources. One area this applied mostly was beech forest, which is the most common indigenous forest species in New Zealand. While it is also under protection we were examining the possibility of taking out dead trees without harming the environment.
It was during this exercise we learnt about the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government using old, giant Russian helicopters for logging in remote forests. To cut a long story short I was tasked with learning all aspects of these operations spending a fortnight with the Russian crew in their deep forest camp in PNG. It was an arduous trip. To get there I had to walk one full day with my backpack.
On the one hand I was excited to spend time in a real forest camp away from civilization while at the same time dreading venturing into the unknown where even the cities were unsafe and prone with crime. Anyway excitement got the better of me and I agreed to the mission.
A few days before going I spoke to the very friendly pharmacist in Molesworth Street close to my office in Wellington. He supplied a cache of drugs that could be used practically for any eventuality ranging from tummy bugs to snake bites and asked me to return them if I did not use any.
On the day, I packed my backpack, got all the documents ready and called a taxi to take me to the airport.
While waiting nervously the phone rang. The call was from PNG.
“Thank god I could catch you’, the caller said. “Don’t come. The helicopter crashed killing the crew’.”
I was terribly upset: sad for the crew and sad for having to abandon my mission. I went back to the office and related the story and everyone expressed the same feeling.
But that was not the end of the story. I took all the medications back to the pharmacy as agreed. My friend, the chemist, returned all the money but I found it was ten dollars more than what I had paid.
I pointed it out to the chemist.
“That is for you to buy a lotto ticket”, he retorted. That drove home the realization that my time had not come yet.
By Don Wijewardana – Wellington