Planting Memories: A Settler’s Life on the Sogeri Plateau

Anthea Matley

For those who enjoy a trip down an expatriate’s memory lane of life in Papua New Guinea just prior to Independence, this book is easy to read, as it examines the challenges of Australian colonial life amongst the expatriate community in developing and managing rubber plantations on the Sogeri Plateau. 

Anthea states her ‘book is part-memoir, part creative non-fiction and part biography’. She has written the story of her parents, Culver and Margaret Matley, and her siblings. Her father spent over 30 years running rubber plantations on the Sogeri Plateau where Anthea was born, and her siblings were raised. The cover offers a charming photo of Culver and Margaret Matley.

Culver Matley arrived in Papua New Guinea from Canada in 1935, after which he enlisted in the Australian army in 1940, until 1945, the year he met his wife Margaret, a nurse in the Australian army. The family returned to Australia in 1968, prior to Papua New Guinea’s independence.

The book starts as a family history of Culver Matley tracing his English and Canadian ancestors and the extreme hardships Culver’s parents suffered in Canada. Events led to Culver finding temporary employment on Waigani Plantation in Milne Bay, before securing permanent employment at the Sogeri, Mororo and Eilogo rubber plantations.

Anthea interviewed her parents and carried out extensive research on the various places, personalities, and events, that her parents experienced. Culver’s involvement in World War II is detailed and illustrates the vagaries that occurred during the military campaigns. Anthea has used her parents’ voices as well as her own, to tell of their lives before, during, and after, living on the rubber plantations. It may take a while for the reader to absorb Anthea’s ‘creative non-fiction’ first-person voice, but it gives extra power to her family’s experiences.

Culver Matley was a fine photographer and the photos included in the book enrich the description of the family’s experiences running rubber plantations, of their Sogeri plantation home, and Culver’s war service. I was disappointed that the Sogeri Plateau map was not clear.

The book details the many social, health, and economic, hardships that planters experienced on plantations, and their strong social networks and achievements. I was particularly struck by the sadness the Matley family experienced when the promised employment back in Australia didn’t eventuate. This could have affected many other Australians who struggled settling back in Australia when they returned prior to Papua New Guinea’s independence.

Anthea returned to visit her Sogeri home in 2018. She describes the growth of Port Moresby; the deterioration of the Sogeri roads; and how the rubber plantations were lost among the jungle vegetation that has reclaimed the land. When she reached the now derelict Eilogo home, childhood memories flooded back. Anthea was left with the sense that the house was no longer home.

Reviewer’s postscript:

I enjoyed reading this book because I have been to Samarai; the Waigani Plantation; and a rubber plantation home. I was a relief teacher at Sogeri National High School; played the piano at Woody’s Rouna Hotel, and the Papua Club, and worked next to the WWII Wards Strip runway at Port Moresby Teachers College. Reading the book renewed many of my own happy memories of my time in Papua New Guinea.

Keith Stebbins
Published by Sevenpens Publishing, Harcourt, Vic 3453 Australia, 2024
ISBN 978-0-9954144-2-6
This book is available from the author, Anthea Matley, HERE.

An extract from Anthea’s book will be published in the September issue of PNG Kundu.


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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