Rotary Sponsored Me in Papua New Guinea – by Suellen Holland

Rotary Sponsored Me in Papua New Guinea – by Suellen Holland

Even though I was born in India, I grew up in Rabaul on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. In 1969 and again in 1970, Rotary International sponsored me to represent Rabaul in the (then) Territory of Papua New Guinea School Swimming Championships. These Championships were held each January in Port Moresby, Lae, Rabaul or Madang.

Suellen Holland

My father, Cyril Holland, was an active member of Rotary in Rabaul and from a very young age I remember attending many Rotary events. I recall standing with Dad at the Rotary stand at the annual Kokopo and Kerevat Shows, attending the Rotary Golf Days and being present at sporting events sponsored by Rotary. I also recall that Rotary held their monthly meeting on a Tuesday evening at the New Guinea Club. 

The first championships in which I participated were in Port Moresby. I was also selected for the team the following year to compete in Lae. On both occasions I was billeted by a local Rotarian family.

The swim trials for selection for the Port Moresby event in 1969 were held in Rabaul at our local swimming pool. However, I was in New Ireland at that time visiting our friends, the Harrisons, and was not able to compete.

I was in the swim squad at boarding school and that year had won the Junior Pollard Swimming Trophy. On that basis Dad approached the Rotary committee and asked that I be considered for the Rabaul team. The committee insisted that, when I returned from New Ireland, I swim a ‘time trial’ and if ‘good enough’ my placement on the team would be ‘voted on’. I was more than pleased when the vote went my way, and I was selected to join the team.

I had now been home from boarding school for more than a month and the championship was only a few weeks away. My Dad was very sports minded and extremely competitive and was concerned the team did not have a designated swimming coach. He often voiced his opinion to me on my ‘declining fitness’ and reminded me that, for me to swim at that level, I needed to be swimming fit. Dad also reminded me that it was as an honour to represent Rabaul in the Rotary swimming team and that if I wasn’t fit I would ‘let the team down’.

The fact that we did not have a swim coach, or that I appeared lackadaisical towards my declining fitness played heavily on Dad’s mind. One morning he announced he had decided to coach me himself! For those who have (and for those who have not) read my autobiography, Black Sand and Betel Nut, you may remember that my Dad was a very poor swimmer. However, being a poor swimmer did not seem to worry him and, armed with stopwatch, whistle and note pad, took to his coaching role with gusto.

Every afternoon after he had finished at the office, Dad ‘trained’ me as one would train an Olympic hopeful. I pounded up and down the local pool, lap after lap after lap. I practised my starts, my finishes and my in-betweens. Dad, stopwatch in hand, ran along the side of the pool and at each wall turn shouted encouragement. If I was lagging in my (allotted) time, he spurred me on: if I was ahead on my time, he urged me to swim faster, and when I hung on the pool side, waterlogged and spent with exhaustion, he patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘You swam very well today, pet’. Let me add at this point that, even though Dad offered to coach the other members of our team, they declined his offer!

On the day before I flew to Port Moresby for the championship, Dad presented me with a gift, a dark blue beach towel fringed with white tassels. When I unfolded the towel, I saw my name stitched in thick white embroidery running down one side. I loved my towel and every time I dried myself with it, I remembered with love how Dad appointed himself my ‘swim coach’.

As I recall, in Port Moresby there were only two girls and two boys in our Rabaul team. The two-day program was a busy one and as we were such a small team (despite our ability in each stroke) we competed in all the swimming styles. The heats in all categories were

completed on day one. I remember being hoarse from cheering, tired from competing and starving at the end of the day.

The finals in all categories were held on day two. Our freestyle girls relay team came second in the four X fifty-yard finals. I swam in the individual finals for freestyle and breaststroke and came third in both. I do remember our boys team made the finals as well but, try as I may, I am unable to recall in which events.

All in all, as a team, we were pleased with our end results.

The next year, 1970, the championships were held in Lae. I was home this year for the trials and was very proud I had made the team again. Dad resumed his ‘coaching role’ and once again, rather than body surfing at Pila or snorkelling at Nonga,

I spent most afternoons pounding up and down the Rabaul pool. 

The program was much the same as the year before, however, this year there were only two in our team, so we combined with the Mount Hagen team. We made the finals again this time in the four X fifty-yard relay. I also remember I competed in the individual freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.

Rotary pennants

Upon our return to Rabaul after the Port Moresby and Lae Championships, Rotary hosted a congratulatory dinner for the team. I was very proud to be seated at the official table, along with Dad and the other committee members of Rotary.

Although many, many years have passed, my selection to represent Rabaul at the Rotary International School Swimming Championship remains in a special place in my heart.

Thank you, Rotary for all you do and all you have done.


Footnote: The Rotary Club of Port Moresby was established in 1957. In 1959, the Rotary Clubs of Lae and Goroka received their Charters and in 1969 Rabaul, Mt Hagan, Madang and Wewak also received their Charters.

Rotary International still has an active presence in Papua New Guinea.

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

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