"Puttoh"  Blown up, blown over and blown away

The autobiography of Kiwi Colin Putt, the leader of the first expedition to attempt Carstensz Pyramid, Sailor of replica 7th century canoes from Indonesia to Madagascar and Polar explorer.

“Blown Up, Blown Over and Blown Away: The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Me” by Colin Putt, 2020.

368 pages, soft-bound, coloured photographs and maps.

Colin Putt, or “Puttoh”, as he was known to so many, had almost finished his autobiography when he died in 2016, aged 89. The remainder of the text was compiled by his family using articles written by him in his later years and from detailed transcripts from interviews conducted by the National Library of Australia. Colin’s niece, New Zealander Jill Kenny, edited the text, designed the layout and oversaw publishing.

His loyal friend, fellow sailor and climber, Australian Iain (“Fitz”) Dillon, has written a wonderfully emotive tribute to Puttoh in the Foreword. In his opening paragraph, Fitz writes – “I’m writing on behalf of the many people who knew Colin well and whose lives were influenced and enriched by him, and especially for those who knew him in the mountains and on small boats in distant waters. For me, and for many others, in these environments he was “Puttoh”, the name conjuring the man and a universe of myth and legend. On expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, to the sub-Antarctic and to Dutch New Guinea, he was a leader, a mentor and a source of inspiration. He was admired and respected by all.” A few pages later, Fitz’s final paragraph states – “Most of all, I remember words. Wise words, kind words, cautionary words, words that drew on hard-won experience blended with fine scholarship’s first principles. Words that rearranged preconceived ideas and often, laced with humour, caused great belly laughs. Words that so generously allowed his friends to access the inexhaustible reservoir that was Puttoh’s life experience.”

Colin with his mighty home-made ice axe, that he had to leave behind on Heard Island in 1965. It was found years later, weathered but intact, by another expedition visiting the island. Understanding its immense value to Colin, they presented it to him on stage at a public lecture about Heard Island expeditions.

Colin Putt, BEng, BSc, CEng, FIChemE, FRGS, lived an extraordinarily diverse, interesting and adventurous life. He was born in 1926 in Auckland, New Zealand, into a family whose forebears were farmers, boatbuilders and engineers. The pioneering spirit and traditions that he inherited were to shape his life and values. His boyhood provided numerous opportunities for exploration and self-discovery, which led to a lifelong love of adventure in the mountains and in small sailing ships. They also helped form a man who was highly intelligent, loyal, hardy, practical, resourceful and possessed of a wonderful sense of humour. All these qualities can be found in the pages of this book.

Here is Colin aboard the ‘Allan & Vi Thistlethwayte’ during the 1987-1988 Mt Minto expedition, Antarctica. The very fine anorak he is wearing was made from recycled ICI filter material – a wonderful insulator and also weatherproof because of the density. He made his own climbing and sailing clothes, rucksacks, ice axe, tents.

Colin was a senior and highly respected engineer with ICI in Sydney, the UK and in South Australia, where his work saw him deal with complex and sometimes potentially very hazardous problems on a daily basis. He was a fine leader and a consummate problem solver. He remained involved in chemical engineering until the end of his life, and in his 80s was a loved and admired tutor to graduate students at Sydney University, passing on the lessons of a lifetime and enabling students to appreciate in a very personal way the practical implications of their studies.

 Colin met his future wife, Jane, on the slopes of Banks Peninsula in 1948. Canterbury University’s Tramping Club were climbing Mt Herbert. Her legs were cramping and the most practical of all the young men, Colin, gave her feet and legs a massage.

Expeditions to remote parts of the world became a significant part of his life. In 1962, he was asked by Sir Edmund Hillary to lead an expedition to attempt the first ascent of the Carstensz Pyramide in Dutch New Guinea. On this expedition he was accompanied by Lynn Crawford and Philip Temple. In 1964 he sailed with the legendary H.W. Tilman to Heard Island and was in the party that made the first ascent of Big Ben, an ice-sheathed active volcano and Australia’s highest mountain. In 1970 he sailed again with Tilman to Greenland and in the following years went to Antarctica on several mountaineering and scientific expeditions, including Greg Mortimer’s Mt Minto Expedition (1988), travelling to and from the continent in small sailing ships.

Colin sailed with well-known explorer H.W. Tilman to Greenland’s southwest coast in 1970, searching for suitable mountains to climb, but spent most of their time beset in pack ice. Here ‘Sea Breeze’ is trapped in an ice floe on a rare blue sky day. Photograph courtesy of Bob Comlay.

Puttoh’s deep knowledge of history and his engineering skills were both tested in his final expedition. This involved building a replica East African trading canoe based on a design described by the Roman historian, Pliny, and sailing it from Indonesia to Madagascar. In his retirement, he also helped design, build and test a replica of a 7th century Mongolian wind wagon.

Colin’s achievements on expeditions were acknowledged in many ways, but perhaps most notably by the esteem in which he was held by those who climbed and voyaged with him. After the Heard Island expedition, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and in 1986 he was named “Australian Adventurer of the Year”. In 2013 he was awarded a “Lifetime of Adventure Award” by the Australian Geographic Society.

Cost $35 + p&p. Available from Adventure Books, Boys High Building, Arts Centre, Christchurch, and from the Editor, Jill Kenny, jill.kenny@xtra.co.nz . Also sold online from Barking Mad books, https://www.colinmonteath.nz/contact .

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