Adventures in Kainantu Circa 1954 by Leo Butler
During 1954 I travelled with Jack Rice and Kevin Hilliard, who were carrying a load of 44-gallon drums; the convoy had 2 ex-Army Jeeps, plus 2 fully loaded ex-US Army GMC 6×6 trucks, which carried Aviation Fuel, Motor Spirit and Diesel.
The trip was through the Markham Valley past Nadzab then crossed the unbridged and fast flowing Leron and Umi Rivers then through the foothills of the Mountains to Kassam Pass at an altitude of approx 8/10000 ft. As we approached the Pass it became very cold but Jack had prepared for this and suitable clothing was available. We finally reached the Valley which led to Kainantu.
Our trip had taken 2 days and one night spent inside the trucks to avert the cold. This was a massive change from the oppressive Heat and Humidity of Lae. Mobil’s Agent at Kainantu was Buntings and their Manager was Jack Scurrah a long-time resident to PNG. Whilst in Kainantu I borrowed a Jeep from Jack to visit one of Mobil’s major customers a Chinese Trade Store Business Man who had an old-style hand operated petrol pump outside his store.
He was also the largest seller of Lighting Kerosene in the Area. The natives used Tilley Lights and Heating which operated on Lighting Kerosene.
The Trade Store was situated at the top of a hill in Kainantu and had a large Native Village situated below the store. I parked the jeep outside the store and applied the brakes. I went into the store to discuss Business prospects, whilst inside we heard a rather large amount of shouting and screaming from outside, and on rushing outside we encountered a chaotic scene, the Jeep was gone and we observed it had come to rest after demolishing a native house. Great panic was shown by inhabitants of Village and an ugly scene was developing. The Trade Store owner quickly dispatched his assistant to the Administration Office to seek help to settle the Natives down. Help soon arrived in the form of the District Officer along with four of his Native Police Boys. On investigation the District Officer established calm through the Village Elders, and fortunately no persons were injured. The D/O successfully negotiated a settlement of repairs to be made to the house as well as a cash settlement. What had actually happened was I had forgotten to leave the 4-wheel drive Jeep in first gear as well as applying the brake.
Jack was able to retrieve the Jeep and fortunately there was little damage to this Jeep.
You can envisage the fun Jack had at the Kainantu Club that night as Butler was forced to pay for drinks for all and sundry including the D/O and his staff. The next day we travelled through the Valley to Goroka without any further incidents. Again, I had to suffer further embarrassment as Jack retold the story to the locals at the Goroka Club. I flew back to Lae whilst Jack returned by road with a load of coffee. He never forgot to remind me of this incident. I had some explaining to do when I returned to our Lae Office, but fortunately Mobil’s Insurance covered the costs involved. I later heard from Jack Scurrah of Buntings that they felt no loss of business nor did it affect the Chinese Trade store.
A life changing experience for me but Jack and I remained good friends but it gave him some ammunition to throw at me on my next trip.