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Estelle Pinney talks about her novels and Peter Pinney – Page 2

Peter Pinney's wanderlust, a charge of piracy in New Guinea, and favorite books...

Peter Pinney’s adventurous lifestyle had many highlights. Even when he lived in the city, in Brisbane, he built a houseboat on the Brisbane River, (which caused some controversy because people complained it was blocking their view of the Brisbane River), and he lived in the boat in Doboy Creek (which runs into the Brisbane River near its mouth) from 1961 to 1963. Estelle Pinney moved into the boat in late 1963.
“I was more or less with Peter then. He had a little houseboat down at Doboy Creek. I don’t know if you know about that, which he’d built himself. I was with him, and anyway we went up north.”
They sold Estelle’s Morris Minor, bought a Fargo and drove north while Estelle’s newly married daughter Stella and her husband moved into the houseboat. Peter Pinney took up sugar cane cutting in Proserpine while Estelle worked at the only motel in nearby Airlie Beach (now a major resort town) as a breakfast cook.
Peter was hit by a car while he was riding a motor scooter in Mackay, and they returned to Brisbane. Then in 1966 they caught a train north again, to Cairns.
“But we were en route, and going north and we finished up in Cairns and we finished up on a boat called The Poseidon, believe it or not. The Poseidon, that took stores up to Thursday Island. Peter got a job on it to go up there if we could sleep on the hatch, on the deck. There’s no…which we did. A couple of sleeping sheets, not bags. It’s too hot for the bags up there. And we went up to Thursday Island, and it was very interesting. Very enjoyable.”
Peter Pinney met up with a cray fisherman, Mick Helmuth, in 1966 on Thursday Island and went on a fishing trip with him “for six weeks, more or less. And when he came back he said we ought to get into this.”
During the fishing trip Estelle Pinney stayed with Nick Helmuth’s wife on Thursday Island and researched the book that would later be called Too Many Spears.
Then Peter went to Daru, an island near the mouth of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea, in March 1966, where he was working building the Daru airstrip, living in dongas, or huts, with the other men.
Estelle followed him there, working at Radio Daru as a news writer, and lived in a cottage. Then they left Daru, went back to Brisbane where they bought “a beat up old prawner from a lady at Shorncliffe”, called Ocean Spray.
He brought the prawn trawler to Doboy Creek, renovated it, with a big new wheelhouse and an innovative pull-out double bed, and kitchen facilities.Then they sailed back to Thursday Island.
The Pinneys knew it wouldn’t be economically possible to go crayfishing alone, so they teamed up with some locals from Banks Island, now Moa Island.
The local people had been short-changed by cray fishermen in the past, so the Pinneys decided they would take the local fishermen out on a boat to catch the crayfish, and the Pinneys would then weigh the crayfish and buy the crayfish from them, and do all the processing and selling from there.

“We’d go out to a lagoon. Peter would string out all the dingies in a long line, and take them out to the reef, and then they’d come in on the tide with the crayfish,” Ms Pinney said.
The Pinneys were married by the Administrator in Daru in November 1968 and stayed till 1972, crayfishing along the reefs.
Then Peter Pinney was charged with piracy in Papua New Guinea when he salvaged an abandoned boat.The boat was high on a reef in Daru when Peter Pinney salvaged it, and when the court case came up he and George Craig, a crocodile shooter who ran an old trading store in Daru with his wife Shirley, took the boat by moonlight to Horn Island, near Thursday Island, in Australian waters.
Estelle Pinney represented Peter Pinney in court in Daru.
“…Peter legally – the skipper had left the boat – legally salvaged a boat off the reef. That’s where all our trouble started.”
Ms Pinney said she showed that all the allegations of piracy were false and the charges were dismissed, to much applause from all the Daru locals in the courthouse.
But the Pinneys ended up having to leave the boat at Horn Island and returned to Brisbane in 1972 in Ocean Spray.
On the way back to Brisbane Peter Pinney had a stint working as a tugboat skipper for a company in Weipa, and Estelle worked pulling beers in the canteen, that only sold beer, at Evans Landing in Weipa.
After arriving in Brisbane, however, it wasn’t long before they were travelling again.
In 1974 they set off across Europe for nine months in a commercial van, or “sardine tin” as Estelle Pinney described it, which Peter Pinney wrote about in an unpublished novel.
“It didn’t even have a reverse, and he said, ‘God help us if we ever get down an alley’,” Ms Pinney said.
They’d just pull up at any campsite they could, freezing in their uninsulated van.
“He resented having to pay money to book into a hotel for a bed or anything like that!” Ms Pinney said.


I asked Ms Pinney what their favorite books were.
“Ah! I’ve been waiting for that. I’m going to surprise you here.
Now I lived with Peter for 30 years and I never…I know I bought him a set of Conrads (Joseph Conrad) and I thought he’d like those, and he read a few of them but he was not, in my mind, a reader. Not like I was, and I never heard him discussing books much.”

“When we were in our crayfishing boat up in the Torres Strait, we read read read. Most of it was paperback science fiction. Both of us liked science fiction, and his mother had quite a vast library…Even when we read then I never saw him…talking about an author.”

However, Ms Pinney said Peter Pinney liked Tom Hungerford’s book The Ridge and the River (1952), about the war in New Guinea. Ms Pinney said Peter Pinney had fought alongside Tom Hungerford and had written Road in the Wilderness (1952), published by the Australian Book Society, about the same topic ie commando experiences in New Guinea, and at about the same time.
“He read all the books of a fellow called Alan Lucas who was a yachtie whom we’d met, and he wrote a series of books for the holiday boatie, and they were very good and I think you still see them around, and they told of all the little nooks and crannies, and little coves and bays up the Queensland coast, Up the Coral Coast I think, and er.. but I would say Peter was more of a writer than a reader.
And when he was travelling he certainly didn’t carry a load of books around with him. The lighter…I mean, I’ve got his old string bag here just now. I mean he just…you read his books, you can see. He might quote things, half the time he was looking things up when he was writing, but no, no, and I’ve never heard him having deep discussions with people about books, so I can’t really help you there. He was more of a writer than a reader. There you are.”

And Estelle Pinney’s favorite books:
“He was absolutely my favorite author.”
Out of Peter Pinney’s travel books Estelle Pinney said Who Wanders Alone was her favorite because it was “more like Peter”.
“When his book first came out (Dust on My Shoes, 1952) and I read a review of it in the paper and I thought ‘Oh, I must get this book.’ And my cousin and I we just thought what he wrote about was so marvellous and so different, you know, so yeah, you’d have to say he had a big influence on my life because I finished up marrying him. How much more influential can you get than that?
“I noticed that he came to Brisbane and I made it a point to go and see him, and as I say I finished up …(marrying him).
Somerset Maugham now had a great…see, I left school at thirteen and a half. Wasn’t even 14. And when we moved down to Brisbane (from Cairns in far north Queensland) we used to live..right opposite the old South Brisbane library. That’s where I got my secondary education, if you could call it education, and Somerset Maugham was just one of my…He influenced, no, he gave me more knowledge of the East than I’d ever had before. And I just loved his writing, I’ve still got his books. I still occasionally read his short stories. I didn’t care for his novels much but I liked his short stories.
Ms Pinney said she had recently discovered John Grisham, and she also liked Edward Rutherfurd. “So, but bringing it right up to the present, one of my favorite authors, and I’ve just about read everything, is Edward Rutherfurd. He’s written The Forest, Russka, London. Wonderful, wonderful writer.”

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