Hope and his party, which included Jerry Cologna, Frances Langford (singer) and Patty Thomas (dancer) were flying back to Sydney after entertaining troops in the Solomon Islands when their Catalina seaplane developed mechanical problems and had to make an emergency landing on the Camden Haven River.
catalina being repaired by crew on the sand spit
Locals said the big Cat actually hit a narrow sand spit on landing and almost somersaulted. The plane came to rest near a bend in the river known as Bunny's Corner, where they were rescued by a fisherman named Allan "Bunny" Wallace, who ferried them into town.
The local man's first words to Hope, as the comedian later recounted, were: "Suppose you haven't got a smoke then, Yank?"
Hope was badly shaken by the incident, which army officials later conceded could easily have been fatal. "We had to throw a lot of our personal gear overboard to lighten the plane," said Hope. "We let our souvenirs go first. Then the girls had to throw out some of their glamorous clothes. Finally we jettisoned several cases of whisky. It was very sad."
The entertainers headed straight for the Post Office to send messages to relatives, friends, and their organisers that everything was alright. When Bob Hope announced "I'm Bob Hope, I want to send a telegram", the Postmaster Fred Plunkett, looked up and said "Young man, it's Monday, I'm much too busy for your jokes."
Fred made up for his misdemeanour later on, by loaning Bob Hope the equivalent of $11 to pay for his hotel bills.
As news of the unexpected guest spread, the town of Laurieton (population 600), came to a standstill. The sawmill closed early. Fishermen returned to port and hurried plans were laid for a dance to honour Hope.
The entertainers were persuaded by the locals at Laurieton to join them for an impromptu "party" at the School of Arts building, where more than 500 people packed the hall. Bob Hope and Jerry Cologna danced to the Hokey Pokey with some of the local girls until about 4am.
Meanwhile the aircraft which had become stuck on the sand bar near Bunny’s Corner was pulled free by a draft horse and Ted Hay's logging truck using a winch. Some of the local fishermen reportedly dragged the estuary with their nets to see if they could locate any of the crates of whisky which were thrown from the Catalina before it force landed. None were ever found.
According to Ian Hodgkinson, manager of the local Camden Haven Courier, the next day nine cars were sent from an American base to collect the party, which stopped over in Taree, before continuing to Newcastle and from there by plane to Sydney. However before departing Hope withdrew some money from a bank and gave it to Bunny along with several cases of whisky and asked him to look after the aircraft crew until the engine was repaired.
Bob Hope arrives in Sydney in 1944 after crash landing earlier in Laurieton.
Some of the residents of Laurieton presented Bob Hope with a painting of Laurieton when he returned to Australia for a concert in 1955. In 1968 Bob Hope was still sending Christmas cards to Laurieton. He also managed to repay the money that he had borrowed from Fred Plunkett.
On 31 May 1968, Bob Hope sent a letter to Wauchope resident, Bob Marchment, confirming that Allan "Bunny" Wallace had indeed taken him ashore in his row boat in August 1944.
The Whisky stash
Many people have wondered since that day in August 1944, what happened to the whisky that was forced to be jettisoned. Apparently the Catalina was flying very low over the water with just one engine as the crew was throwing out heavy items to lighten the load. So most likely the whisky would have survived the impact of hitting the water and should have remained intact.
From an interview with Allan “Bunny” Wallace just before his death, he mentioned that there was some evidence; a clue in Bunny’s Corner that could point to where the stash of whisky lay, but he could never make any sense of it. He believed that a local young man saw the crates of whisky floating in the river and quickly squirreled the whisky away and hid it for his personal consumption at a later date. However when the man later found out that the whisky belonged to Bob Hope he suddenly realised that he could sell it after the war was over as “Bob Hope’s Whisky from the Catalina crash”. He thought he could make a fortune by selling the famous performers whisky as a collector’s item. A very callous action considering that he was going to profit from people who were only recently fearing for their lives.
The young man, believed to be Johnny Dicks who was 18 at the time, then placed a marker with a special code in Bunny’s Corner, which indicated where the stash was actually hidden. He did this because he knew that he would not be able to access the stash for some years as he had just been conscripted into the AIF. In addition the location where he placed the stash would be totally unrecognisable in a few years due to the heavy rainforest growth that occurs in the location where he placed it.
Johnny Dicks’ plans of being a rich man were soon destroyed.
On the morning of April 16, 1945 Johnny and his platoon were being transported in a Catalina through the highlands of New Guinea when enemy ground fire ripped through the plane causing it to crash into the side of a mountain. There were no survivors. Some say that the Catalina that was shot down was the exact same one that landed in Laurieton with engine troubles the year before, but that may be just a myth.
The location of the whisky and the meaning of the code were now lost forever. Bunny said that he eventually found the marker with the code by accident, knowing that it was placed there by Johnny due to an obvious hint on the marker. However as stated before, he could never decipher the meaning of the code and never sought assistance in case people thought that he was a senile old man, grasping for the old days.
At the given co-ordinates, Bunny said before he died that there was a marker within an area of about 20 sq metres. On this marker there is a code which when deciphered will take you to the whisky stash.
So find the marker, which is on the south side at about waist height – decipher the code and locate the whisky stash and you could suddenly be a very wealthy cacher!!
Please be very gentle with the code container. Once you locate it you only need to remove the top - leave everything else as is.
Check sum for the total of the South and East decimals is - 770
Hope to read the full story of your adventure and please be careful not to wreck anything.
Bunny and his fishing boat ‘Nicabit’
The Catalina at Laurieton after it was pulled out of the river
Bunny’s house in Laurieton.
This is the only bottle of Hope's whisky known to be in existance!
Special thanks to lightsaberlodge who provided some of the photos and corroborated the story (well most of it in any case ?) Bunny was David’s uncle!
Also to DiMorgan for miraculously discovering the "Last Drop"!