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MY FATHER, SANDY [AFR WOLLASTON, New Guinea, Carstenz] Nicholas Wollaston 2003 Hardcover DJ Fine 4 Copies Available
By Wollaston, Nicholas
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London, Short Books, 2003. 191 pp, b/w photos. Hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.

Nicholas Wollaston was four years old when his father Sandy was killed in 1934 - shot dead by one of his Cambridge students. In this memoir, 70 years on, Nicholas finally confronts his loss and goes in search of the father whom he hardly knew. Sandy Wollaston, doctor, botanist, explorer, lived in the last great age of discovery. On extraordinarily tough expeditions to New Guinea, the Sahara, and the Himalayas, he collected new flora and fauna of lasting importance; and in 1924, in tweeds and leather shoes, he accompanied Mallory on his first trip to Everest. My Father, Sandy is a son's tribute - a voyage of discovery - part memoir, part travel history, but above all a moving love story.

From the Back Cover: "When did I last see my father? At tea-time, is the real answer – watching him eat bread and butter with quince jam. I some times wonder, was there no hint of tragedy to come? No warning shadow to creep across the page? He himself that summer afternoon in Cambridge could have had no fear of any sudden trick of fate. After surviving danger in far corners of the earth, to be marked now as the target for murder was absurd..."

Excerpted from My Father, Sandy: A Son's Memoir by Nicholas Wollaston. Copyright © 2003. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved: 

They camped beside a bubbling mountain stream; and by a hot sulphur spring where violets and begonias grew; and in uplands where thick forest gave way to pines and casuarinas, where Sandy found orchids, meadowsweet, rhododendrons, a geranium, a blue gentian. It was getting hopeful. Mount Carstensz appeared less then ten miles ahead. But the ground got steeper, the party had to be roped with lengths of rattan: ‘The weight of men made the vegetation start to slide down the smooth rock, and not much more would have set the whole thing avalanching… No footholes at all… We had to make a bridge with a sapling thrown from boulder to boulder, bending like a fishing-rod… No crack or projection to give a handhold… A slip would mean being swept into the torrent like a piece of grass… I was glad when we were past… Camped in a mossy jungle and slept snug enough…

Without the natives they would never have got through such country, but two days later, camped in clouds on a high ridge, even the guides were lost. Next morning, before the daily rainstorm, the world cleared for a view back to the country they had been through, and down the Utakwa valley to the flat jungle stretching to the sea. They scrambled over scree to a rock wall where a native found a way up – ‘they can climb like squirrels’ – and lowered a rope for the others. Then on to the first patch of snow with a glacier hanging above. Carstensz towering overhead was nearly conquered but it was midday, too late to go further.

Next day, with Kloss and a few Dyaks, Sandy set off to put a camp as high as possible for the last assault. It was raining and blowing and half the Dyaks, miserable with cold, dropped their loads and turned tail. The rest struggled through dense mist to camp on steep lumpy ground with everything soaking. ‘There we spent a night which, even by the low standard of New Guinea comfort, was the most disagreeable I can remember… But we had an exceedingly fine dinner off a tin of mutton which had always been sloppy tasteless stuff – now it was hard and firm and excellently tasty. Also half a tin of plum pudding with a dash of brandy from my flask, and then all our water in cocoa, which gave us a small cupful each. It was all very good had we not been so tremendously hungry… The Dyaks kept a fire going in their tent, but nobody got much sleep.

In the morning Sandy and Kloss climbed through fog and rain to the foot of the snow, then up a glacier to a point between a wall of rock and a wall of ice. Three strong climbers could have gone on, but Kloss had never been on a mountain and in such weather ‘it was not to be thought of… Nothing for it but to turn back.’ Boiling the hypsometer gave a height of nearly 15,000 feet, leaving perhaps an hour’s climb to the ridge between the two peaks of Carstensz. ‘To have the prize withheld when it was within our grasp was almost more than Christian patience could bear… If we had gone a few hundred feet higher, what might we have seen beyond? Further and further ridges?’

The answer would be found ‘by the happy person who first reaches the watershed and looks over to the other side.’ Crushed, mortified, they stumbled back to the camp: ‘Our food was at an end, the men wretched with cold. Fires won’t burn properly because of damp wood, rice won’t cook properly because of the low boiling-point. Stomachs are out of order as well as spirits.’ In the following days, on the long retreat down the Utakwa valley, Sandy’s disappointment was mitigated a little by looking back and seeing Carstensz always in cloud. Nobody up there would have had a view.  


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