The Great Gold Rush of 1987

There’s a hard way to accumulate golden riches, and there’s an easy way.  Here’s an example of the hard way.  The easy way will be revealed, just read on!

I had the extreme pleasure to work in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1987.  Working for a global survey company was both adventurous and exciting. I got the call to action when a helicopter crash took out half the crew and they needed fresh warm bodies to fill the void, and fast!

I raised my hand and was sent to get a dozen vaccinations, then caught a flight to the capital city of Port Moresby PNG, via Auckland New Zealand and Sydney Australia.  I didn’t have much time to relax and before I could register where I was going,  ”Where the Hell on Earth am I?”

Port Moresby, the capital city of PNG is incredibly different than any place I’d ever been before. It had a pungent flavor all its own. The sights,  sounds, and dangers were nothing compared to what I was about to experience as I boarded the flight to Tari.  Located in the Southern Highlands Region of PNG, Tari was like stepping into a whole new “Old World.”

The “Huli Clan” locals were there to greet us when we landed.  I guessed the daily high there is watching the planes land and seeing the white strangers come and go.

Seems there is a different sub clan  in every valley here. The men dress up in there finest clay paint and jewelry, most wearing living wigs, woven from their own hair and adorned with feathers and beautiful flower blossoms. Like the many birds of paradise that live in the wilds, the men wear the most vibrant costumes and the women are  more plain in their cosmetics and self decoration.

The Huli males main duty is to hunt and the women do the farming and raise the children and pigs. Pigs are used as a sign of wealth and come in handy for paying a hefty dowry to the father of the bride. Before currency was created in PNG,  money was in the form of pigs and the beautiful shell money the clans used to make their necklaces. It’s a fact that the Southern Highlands were discovered by Australian European gold seekers in the early 20th century, the clans first glimpse of the strange looking white fellows.

Working in the Southern Highlands was like stepping back in time a few hundred years, in fact the people there were first discovered in the 1935 by gold prospectors. They used tools made of a hard green stone. The art of metallurgy hadn’t been invented yet and tribesmen lived by hunting and agriculture and some died in warfare and skirmishes with their neighboring clans. Cannibalism  was a common event back in the day. I hear it still goes on in the remote areas, for special occasions!

These days most every man carries a weapon or three, whether it be bow and arrows, razor sharp machetes and knives.  I really didn’t want to do anything to anger these modern day warriors.  Deep down, beyond the ferociousness,  they were good people.   I was invited often to sit with them and eat sweet potato, tin fish and rice around the fire, sharing stories, singing and laughing!

As for my story, I was dropped right into the middle of this twilight zone and was hungry for an adventure most can’t imagine, or even dream about. I got all I could handle in five months there and enough stories to last a lifetime!

There was a recent mudslide on Mount Kari that uncovered a treasure trove of pure gold nuggets. The men of the  clans took over the mountain and harvested all the gold they could, even using rented helicopter shuttle services to go back and forth to the site at a hundred dollars a pop. I saw young men come to town with jars filled with gold, some nuggets were as big as my hand! It was amusing to see some of these kids try to drive brand new trucks they had purchased with their precious gold. Driving wasn’t a common skill in Mt. Tari as there were very few roads. Our crew got around by helicopter and lived in a bush camp cut out of the tropical rain forest.

The mining company that owned the mineral rights to the mountain and gold were wise in that they didn’t want to go in and start a major conflict with the locals. They figured they would let them skim the surface gold and go in with the heavy equipment later on. What they didn’t anticipate was the clever tribesmen also discovered they could rent heavy equipment and keep right on mining! It was better drama than the great California Gold Rush and I got to play a part in that living movie! It wasn’t always fun and games.

Working and flying in helicopters in the Southern Highlands is risky business.  After having lost four crew members to broken backs that occurred when their chopper went down on an isolated hill top, it was always on our minds as we flew to and from the job site from our “Little Camp in the Jungle.”

Our base camp consisted of basic pole structures covered in bright yellow poly plastic and split bamboo floors. We each had our own small cabin house and the large kitchen and mess hall was where we spent most of our free time. There was a solar heated shower and an ultra violet water purification system that was replenished by the daily downpours that came right around 2 PM and lasted most of the night. We had a chef and camp workers and administrators that took care of our laundry and needs, who spent many hours trying to dry our clothes in the damp cool high altitude jungle environment. They found the only way to do it was to hand dry the clothing by using a electric iron powered by a large diesel generator system. I realized this when I got a shirt back with a nice iron shaped burn hole in it.

The scene reminded me of the old black and white “Tarzan” series I loved to watch as a child. It was quite comfortable living there at the camp in the middle of a limitless tropical rain forest. The variety of butterflies and moths were beyond description. Birds of Paradise flitting from tree to tree in the immense hardwood forest. Then there was the colorful local hunter warriors who put on displays of marksmanship with their bows and arrows. The have an arrow for every purpose,  arrows for small and large animals, arrows for birds, even special poison tipped arrows for “shooting man.”

Working there was anything but comfortable, the Yin and Yang of every life experience. There should be a balance of good and negative, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  For every amazingly beautiful butterfly, there was also a hundred evil mosquitoes that would love to infect you with malaria. Three out of six of the crew members contracted malaria the five months we were there, not the best odds.

There are snakes that will kill you in a matter of minutes, if you happen to be the unfortunate one who got bit.  I recall a local native running up to us one afternoon as we sat in a running helicopter.  He pulled open the door and thrust a Taipan,  into our faces.  He laughed as he told us no worries, as he had already killed his lethal buddy. LOL

As for our  flying around with helicopters in high risk situations, I remember well the time we were trying to beat the daily afternoon fog that threatened to ground us in untamed jungle, overnight, with no shelter or food, in the constant pouring rain.

The pilot had just returned to work after a nasty bout of jungle fever that helped him lose eighty pounds in a matter of weeks, and he was still weak from the illness.  As we circled and gained altitude, the fog rolled in over the mountain tops.  We neared the ridge and it was obvious that the pilot wasn’t absolutely sure we were going to make it.  We closed in on the ridge line and his hand began to frantically work the collective, trying to gain altitude and clear the ridge top while fighting winds and fog. We just barely avoided a collision with the mountain slope and he managed to jerk the ship around 180 degrees and head the opposite way.  A shower and change of underwear was in order as soon as we landed safely in camp, along with sincere prayers of gratitude for our safe return.

Walking a line cut through thick rain forest was a daily hazard. Since it rained virtually 12 hours most every day, the survey line was a slippery slope of up and down radical hill sides, littered with downed trees and vegetation and mud. Equipment had to be packed by our local labor help. They were used to hiking the mountains,  lean and strong like body builders and happy to have a job. They would sing as they worked, eerie echoes in the forest when heard from a distance. They lived and worked with the ghosts of their ancestors, spoke with them, honored them and also feared them.

Our boots and clothing were constantly wet and covered in mud.  One of our core crew had to camp in a tent every night to take data and operate the systems. There’s nothing like having to crawl out of a  small tent at 2 am in a deluge and fuel the generator before it died and the computers shut down. Listening to the most incredible noises imaginable from all the night critters, bugs, beetles, moths bigger than my hand and who knows what else. It was magic and nightmare, fearful and spectacular at the same time! It was the job I loved and hated.

As we worked day after day for five months straight, we were able to amass a sizable amount of money. There was no place to spend money there and everything was taken care of, food, shelter, and alcohol. We were too tired to do much after work but shower, eat and try to dry off, warm up and sleep. It was bone chilling at night when the rains came hard and heavy. Get up the next day and do it all over again.

I had a great desire to buy some of that gold I had held in my hand at the assayers office in Tari. Near the end of our contract I went to town and traded some hard earned greenbacks for a few ounces of native gold nuggets, about 20 karat in purity. Just having a hand full of solid gold felt so good, it has such substance and weight to it.

The color of gold makes a heart flutter. Gold is truly Gods money, a natural creation, untouched or altered.  The final challenge was smuggling it out of the country through customs.  I succeeded at that, didn’t go to jail and kept that gold safe for many years.     I even had my wedding rings crafted from it. That’s a different story!

These days its much easier to get your hands on currency grade gold. I buy it a gram at a time and it only takes me a couple minutes from start to finish! I don’t have to battle snakes or fight the elements. Like King Midas, I turn flimsy green and purple paper into precious yellow gold. I watch the value grow as the dollar dwindles more and more every day. Better yet, I get my gold for free by referring others to start their own free gold savings plan.

No more pigs, shells, paper, plastic or promises. I’m saving my future, one gram at a time!











One thought on “The Great Gold Rush of 1987

  1. Paul, that’s a great story. Have you ever thought of making it a movie?
    Yes, gold is truly Gods money, with a LOT of intrinsic value
    it cannot be faked and it cannot be created out of thin air, like modern fiat currency.

    Gold is dug out of the ground by someone who then sells it on the open market , and can be used as money because for its own features: durable, divisible, fungible, etc.

    great article!

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