Didiman’s Diary #11 by David Montgomery
The story continues from Una Voce, March 2019, of new experiences, challenges and developments in West New Britain.
One of the delights of tropical living, and the indigenous people’s skill as gardeners, was the abundance of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables—beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, taro, yams, tapioca and leafy greens. Fresh European potatoes were highly valued, as those available from the Chin Cheu’s trade store at Talasea were always well sprouted and of suspect quality. Our garden handyman, Tito, would request the peelings (with sprouts). On one occasion, some three months later, I asked him if he had dug the potatoes, ‘Yes’ he said and then confessed he had given them to the local Irish priest.
Apart from an occasional visit by a coastal trader there was little marine activity other than the government workboats. Ted Foad was the most regular visitor. You could hear him coming before he arrived over the horizon! This was beneficial in that there was time for the locals to get their produce to the wharf or beachside.
With the development of timber exports and the palm oil industry, a marine survey was to be undertaken of Stetten Bay extending to the proposed township of Kimbe.
28 April 1964—a telegram was received at the sub-district office: Warship HMAS Paluma (3rd) due 1030 hrs. The Assistant District Officer, Chris Normoyle, sent a note to Gillian, as our house looked across Stetten Bay and Garua Island, asking her to report the arrival of the ‘warship’. In due course Gillian responded: Warship Paluma has arrived and appears to be bogged (Gillian’s not very nautical terminology) on a reef off Garua Island. This was not the case; however, it became a joke with the crew at our social evenings at the Talasea Club. Not so with the captain, Lt-Cmdr Varley, who had previously scraped off some of the survey gear attached to the ship on the Barrier Reef. HMAS Paluma carried an armament of two .303 service rifles and the captain’s pistol! Interestingly, the Queensland town of Paluma has a war service memorial monument to an earlier vessel of the same name, Paluma (1st). The vessel stayed in the survey area for six months.
17 May 1964—there was much excitement with the arrival of the HMAS Anzac—a magnificent sight anchored off the north side of Garua Island. I was invited on board on several occasions by the Captain, Lt-Cmdr (Nobby) Clarke and his ‘offsider’, Lt-Cmdr (R) Wilson. Dr Wilson was a Perth medical specialist and was spending three weeks on the ship.
The forthcoming visit, and lunch, with the Governor-General Viscount Lord Sidney de Lisle and his daughter, the Honourable Catherine Sidney, was discussed. The captain said, ‘Anything you need we have it.’ I successfully negotiated a chief steward, a table steward, a bar steward, a complete silver service setting for eight, six bottles of wine, five dozen glasses, linen serviettes and a linen tablecloth for the official table at the Talasea Club on 22 May. To stock the club bar, unrestricted quantities of Victorian beer was required.
During the week, visits to the ship by local village elders and council dignitaries were arranged and they, too, were guests of the Talasea Club for the luncheon.
What a memorable week, which also included a couple of picture shows for all at the club courtesy of the Anzac.
Three DC3s with press, public relations, etc. arrived a few minutes before the dignitaries landed at Talasea (Volupai airstrip), and so to the official welcome and lunch. All and sundry lined up, the local planters, government staff and the village officials. Brian McBride, the Assistant District Officer, introduced the Governor-General and my task, as president of the Talasea Club, was to introduce his daughter, Catherine. I was hopeful she would pause, ask a question, comment on the area, her surroundings. No—there was just the formal handshake and repeatedly ‘How do you do’!
After the first twenty or so introductions, in my head, I was saying ‘Cockle doodle do’. The protocol officer on the ship had earlier stressed, ‘If you forget a name just make one up, your guest will in all probability be unawares.’ That was okay until it happened with one of my own staff members. He was unimpressed with his substituted name.
Following the lunch there was a tour of the station. The official party departed the next day by air for Port Moresby.
A great upside of the Anzac visit, apart from the socialising, was that anything needed to be fixed—was fixed—wirelesses, lights, motorbikes, jeeps, generators, etc. It was great to have a skilled temporary workshop!
Land settlement had become the focus—initially, in the immediate vicinity of the town of Kimbe and extensive areas had been purchased by the administration. This extended to village areas from Cape Hoskins to Bangalu Bay and, eventually, extending further north to Ewase. Going forward fifty years, the scale of development of palm oil on the whole of the West New Britain coast is staggering. I would love to see this development now and the changes it has brought.
As an insight into a ‘normal’ day’s work involving land settlement, the following diary note is recorded:
9/2/64. 0900 by speed boat to San Remo Plantation (which was subsequently purchased by the Administration and is now part of the town of Kimbe). Walked to Ruango Village and then by tractor to the DAGI land settlement arriving 1115. Peter Croke (Project Manager) arrived 1300 after leaving Cape Hoskins 0600—getting bogged and raft turning over in the DAGI River. Departed the land settlement area by Landrover 1630. Brief stops San Remo (Wing-Cmdr William (Bill) Faulkner-Allshorn as he preferred to be known) and Walindi Plantation (Margaret and Lou Searle). The trip took 4.5 hours—36 miles, arriving Talasea 2100!
In each of my previous ten Didiman diaries there has been an aviation highlight. In the 1950s–60s when relying on unscheduled services, private or government charters, the catch phrase was ‘the land of wait a while’. Strip sitting became the norm and often without any creature comforts. My diary frequently noted occasions like: 0900 to airstrip, awaiting Aztec. 0930—amended to 1030, 1145, 1215! Departed 1230 for Rabaul. In earlier stories I spoke of there being no anxious moments flying in TPNG, however, there was one which, on reflection, could have been disastrous.
Having completed a patrol into Sibul, Esau, and Berberg river areas on the east coast to inspect cacao and coconut establishment, I returned to Cutarp Plantation (Mr Butcher) and then to Pomio Patrol Post. This area subsequently became part of East New Britain. The following morning a mission workboat was chartered to Jacquinot Bay and Unung Plantation (Mr Bode). Contact was made with TAA Lae to ask for a diversion of the Aztec Rabaul-Kandrian-Lae service into Jacquinot Bay and Talasea.
The aircraft arrived Jacquinot Bay and at 1030 departed for Talasea with Agricultural Officer Jones and myself. Also on board was a passenger for Kandrian, the manager of Arawe Plantation. As we crossed the Whiteman Range (approx. 4,500 feet ASL) the pilot was advised that Talasea (Volupai) airstrip was closed so we headed west for Kandrian. Flying through cloud and severe turbulence we suddenly flew into clear still air which, in fact, was a 360 degree ‘funnel’ surrounded by dense cumulus cloud.
Our pilot was disinclined to fly into and perhaps through the cloud wall, and continued circling upwards in the hope of getting above the cloud and flying out. We were getting close to the Aztec’s ceiling with severe icing occurring to the aircraft.
The pilot was looking for guidance. Fortunately, a DC3 flying along the south coast made contact and gave compass directions for clearer air. After an hour and a very bumpy ride we arrived over the Pacific Ocean and turned right to land at Kandrian.
From the outset, our Rabaul passenger was upset by the diversion and became volubly traumatised by the experience—and our fuel had been close to exhausted. The pilot was not prepared to take off again for Lae and requested avgas from Rabaul. A DC3 was dispatched with a 44-gallon drum of fuel! As the best option, Jones and I flew back to Rabaul on the DC3, and two days later flew back to Talasea via Cape Hoskins.
An interesting diversion in the Central Nakanai in 1959–60, centred on Uasilau, was the arrival of a CRA team of geologists. I had earlier provided some soil samples from the confluence of the Ala River and an adjoining river. Unannounced, and during my routine patrol inspecting native cacao plantations and processing facilities, a helicopter arrived carrying a couple of geologists who worked in the area for some weeks. The anticipation of economic copper deposits was not fulfilled.
Early in 1964 the move to individual land ownership was gathering pace, the forerunner to the now extensive palm oil and cacao plantings. Over a period of several days the project manager, Peter Croke, and myself registered over 380 applications. Public service conditions did not apply in those days. On 18 March after commencing the day at 0715 at the Uasilau base camp and inspecting settlement blocks, the flooded Ala River was negotiated, and after an hour arrived at the Santa Maria Mission (Fr Wagner) at Silanga. At 2000 we started signing off applications and payment of lease fees. 225 applications, with queries, took us through to 0100 (1 am!). At 0630 we began a two-hour walk to Lasebu to board the government workboat MV Langu to return to Talasea.
Moving away from the intensity of the work involved in the land settlement program, special reference is made to Peter Croke who made a significant contribution to the success of the West New Britain land settlement projects. Peter continued working in TPNG eventually heading up the Papua New Guinea Rural Development Bank
Over the period of my TPNG career I had been nominated for a health education fellowship in the Philippines, but this was not approved by Canberra.
I had also applied to continue my studies at the School of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. Insufficient professional qualification was the reason given for declining my application.
My decision to return to Australia was a relatively easy one. I had reached the top of my salary scale at age twenty-nine and I decided, with two small children, that the offer of a transfer to Port Moresby was an unattractive one.
Recreation and long service leave was due. Some twelve months previously I had notified our Chief of Division, Jack Lamrock, of my intention to resign. In August 1965 Gillian, our two sons and myself departed Rabaul on the SS Francis Drake. Gillian cried as we departed. Talasea was the happiest of times.
My ‘Didiman Diaries 1954–65’ have barely covered those exciting years— very special experience with very special people