Vudal and the Mataungans – 1970 (Part 1)

Vudal and the Mataungans – 1970 (Part 1)

During 1970 Gordon Dick served as principal of Vudal Agricultural College. It was a year made difficult by the Mataungan land claims and the militaristic response of the Australian administration. An item in the recent copy of Una Voce reminded him of Prime Minister Gorton’s visit to Rabaul.  

Here is the first of a series of his recollections from that year. The others will be published in subsequent issues.  

Syd Saville did not hand over the position of Principal to Bruce Boniwell. There was an interregnum of about 18 months. Syd left Vudal in the second half of 1969 to travel on a Churchill Fellowship and subsequently attend Reading University for a year. He handed over to his deputy, Syd Medcalf, a competent educationist and specialist science teacher.  

I was on leave in Australia and for family reasons was weighing up my future. I applied for a position at Gatton Agricultural College. Knowing Saville and Neil Brittain (then Principal of Gatton) were friends, I wrote to Syd for a reference. By return mail Syd replied ‘No trouble about a reference, Gordon, but from your letter I wonder if you are aware that you are to replace me?’ So the focus of my future shifted.  

hn Kaputin – welcoming John Gorton (Australian Prime Minister) at Matupit Airport 1970 (Photo from the Post Courier)

I arrived at Rabaul late in January 1970. A staff member from the College met me and regaled me with stories of the Mataungans all the way out to the college. The press were carrying an increasing number of stories, many of violence against Papua-New Guinean staff loyal to the colonial Administration. It was easy to go from these incidents to more generalised threats against Europeans and Chinese, and indeed, the experiences with the Mau Mau in Kenya were invoked.  

For a minority movement, as it was described, the Mataungans appeared to have widespread graffiti and signage all along the 30-plus kilometres of road to Vudal. Their special emblem was an enigmatic child’s face which I found disconcerting and perhaps evil.  

Later at the College I was able to gain a better assessment of the movement and the extent to which the College farm lands were involved in the Mataungan land claims. But there was no denying that there was real fear among staff and we needed to establish contacts and reliable information sources.  

The Administration’s response to the Mataungans was authoritarian and rapidly became militaristic with hundreds of police, trucks, weapons and resources being rushed to the area (leading the Secretary of the Mataungans to send a telegram to the Secretary of the United Nations asking him to send observers urgently ‘to save us from the fate of the Australian Aborigines’.)

Gordon Dick

Part 2 can be found HERE


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

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