Book Reviews: December 2006

Cloudlands Memoirs – Stories from Contemporary Papua New Guinea by Laurie Le Fevre
Doctor in Paradise, Challenges and Rewards in Medical Service New Guinea 1958-1970
by Mary W Guntner
Mud Over Blood, Stories from the 39th Infantry Battalion 1941-43, Kokoda to Gona, compiled by Carl Johnson
Loving Life: One Physician’s Journey by John Sturt
Hurrell’s Way by A. Lloyd Hurrell, edited by James Sinclair
A Potted History of Madang, Traditional Culture and Change on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea by Mary R Mennis

Cloudlands Memoirs – Stories from Contemporary Papua New Guinea by Laurie Le Fevre
ISBN 1920 785 868, 180pp, Brolga Publishing 2006, soft cover, illus, contextual map, $29.95 from bookshops or mail orders (please include $9.00 postage within Aust.) Payment to Better Bookshop, PO Box 12544, A’Beckett Street, Melbourne 8006, Vic. . Cost to PNGAA members is $29.95 (includes postage) from Laurie Le Fevre, 16 Highland Avenue, Croydon 3136

This is a book that needed to be written. Most news coming out of PNG today is bad news – this book provides some much-needed balance. The author achieves this by using individual life stories to show how remarkably successful Papua New Guineans have been in various fields and by giving readers a thoughtful overview of some of the big issues facing the country today.

The author worked and travelled in PNG from 1961-71 and has undertaken various tasks for the PNG Government since then. In 2001 he was offered a two-year contract with Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML). Ok Tedi is 600m above sea level in the remote Star Mountains near the border with West Papua and not far from the town of Telefomin. Ninety-five percent of workers at OTML are Papua New Guinean. Tabubil, built to serve the mine, has become the largest town in the Western Province with excellent schools and medical facilities. But change is on the way for the 10,000 strong community, with mine closure only a few years off. The future of the town is under discussion. OTML has already provided ongoing funding for the development of infrastructure in Western Province for the next 40 years.

While acknowledging the environmental mistake, the book focuses on the benefits of the mining operation, particularly the improvements in health and lifestyle, and education and training. OTML has a vigorous apprenticeship scheme and sponsors higher education. Many young Papua New Guineans study and work far from their family’s roots – this has broadened their horizons and given them a vision for their own and their country’s future. Old-timers might be surprised to learn that today a handful of PNG professionals even hold executive positions in the resources sector in Australia; also that a female Papua New Guinean scientist employed by OTML has a PhD from Oxford.

There are chapters headed ‘The West Papua Diaspora’, ‘Tourism’, ‘The Telefol’ (which includes comments by early explorers and kiaps) and ‘Public Health’ (which includes consideration of the problem of HIV/AIDS). The author describes how, 50 years ago, Administration officers held out little hope of an economic future for the Telefol. Of the situation today he says that Telefomin is still isolated, but less so in a world where satellite phones reach every square metre of the planet; he adds that his e-mail address list includes as many Telefol as any other group of people.

The book is written with warmth and sensitivity. It will be of special interest to those who lived and worked in PNG in years gone by. It should also give the general reader an understanding of matters affecting PNG today – essential if we are to be the good neighbour we would like to be.
Reviewed by Marie Clifton-Bassett

Doctor in Paradise, Challenges and Rewards in Medical Service New Guinea 1958-1970 by Mary W Guntner
ISBN 1 86333 311 8, Crawford House Publishing Australia Pty Ltd 2006, 412 pp, soft cover, b&w photos, Cost: $34.95 Available from Crawford House Publishing, PO Box 50, Belair, SA 5052 Phone: 883703555 Fax: 883703655

Hundreds of medical doctors have worked in the Pacific paradises over the last two centuries. The majority of these worked in Papua New Guinea but very few have put their reminisces in writing for posterity. Ken Clezy’s epic is with the publishers while I am one of the many who have threatened to write memoirs. Mary chose Doctor in Paradise unaware that S.M. Lambert had used A Doctor In Paradise as the title for his description of his Pacific hookworm campaign starting in Port Moresby in May 1920 as part of the ‘globecircling humanitarianism of the Rockefeller Foundation’.

Mary was born in Victoria in 1930 and as an adolescent decided to become a Mission doctor in New Guinea. She accepted an invitation to work as a mission doctor at Yagaum Lutheran Hospital in 1958 and worked there with Dr Theo Braun until moving to work between Buangi and Butaweng in the Huon Peninsula near Finschhafen and leaving in 1961. Mary tells of the travails and tribulation of medical practice in New Guinea amplified by the mission environment. The book is interesting in the detail of day-to-day events that many of us experienced and most have described in writing to our families. She covers the role of the general practitioner as the primary carer serving villages rather than towns. Clinical problems, communications and personal problems of european and national staff. Many other aspects of Papua and New Guinea life are described in detail and are interesting in themselves. Of special interest is relaxation at the Butaweng falls and pool, which I enjoyed in 1947.

Mary returned from 1965 to 1970 and the narrative shows the metamorphosis of the health services in the Finschhafen area from three medicos through to one with the nurse practitioner gradually taking the primary care role along with the emergence of national nurses and medical assistants as primary carers. Through the detail of day-to-day events and crises Mary’s role changed to that of an experienced practitioner looking after area and regional health problems. She left the intimate caring model taken from the religious workers and developed the only system that could bring health to the rapidly increasing population on the expanding road network with the limited personnel and funds available.
Of special interest are the recurring visits of Stan Wigley and his team, which punctuated the daily grind of health care in the peninsula. Stan made a great contribution to the health of Papua New Guinea and his story is yet to be written. The book does not try to cover the many significant medical events elsewhere in the country. The unnamed Finschhafen doctor doing a goitre study was Terry McCullagh and there is no reference to the world impact of his studies. Margaret Smith at Goroka and Dr Meding at Buangi were not the only specialists in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Papua New Guinea at that time.
Reviewed by Roy Scragg

Mud Over Blood, Stories from the 39th Infantry Battalion 1941-43, Kokoda to Gona, Foreword by the Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery, compiled by Carl Johnson
ISBN 0958106037, , 304pp, size A4, case bound with dust jacket, approximately 500 photos, published 2006 by Jenkin Australia Pty Ltd, 26 Halley Street, Blackburn, Victoria, 3130, Ph: 0425 770 230 Fax: 03 8812 2620 Cost: $112 incl p&p within Australia.

Carl Johnson is not a newcomer to compiling war books so Mud Over Blood is not only very well presented but it is done in a manner straight from the heart and as such is a valuable contribution to a better understanding of the individual soldier.

Japanese forces quickly occupied the islands and the mainland of New Guinea in early 1942 and civil administration in Papua ceased. Able bodied residents (mainly) joined the Aust New Guinea Administrative Unit. Christmas 1941 saw the arrival in Port Moresby of a militia unit, the 2/39th Batallion. In general terms they were young, untrained, ill equipped and had little idea of where they were, where they were going or how they would go anywhere as there were no roads and virtually no aircraft.
It is their recollections, a collection of short stories, which form the basis of this book. In January 1943 the enemy was finished, but after numerous desperate battles, so were the 39th battalion – so depleted with death, wounding and sickness that they were disbanded.

Mud Over Blood, containing hundreds of photographs of those involved, is an excellent book and would not only be a great present for ex-servicemen but should be in all public libraries and schools. The reason for this are two-fold. First the 39th Battalion with their unstated bonding caused the enemy enough delay and uncertainty to enable Australia to get AIF troops back from overseas. Secondly, without advocating war as a means to an end, the younger generation of Australia would do well to read and understand that Australians in Australia could well be a subservient people today if it was not for those men who were prepared, and did, lay down their lives for King and country.

My congratulations to Carl Johnson for compiling this book and my deepest respect to the men of the 39th Battalion for their wonderful effort.
Reviewed by David Marsh OBE

Loving life: One Physician’s Journey by John Sturt
ISBN 0-476-00016-5 First published 2003 DayStar Publications Trust, Soft cover, 4 maps, 50 photos, $20 plus postage, Available from the author: 211b St Andrews Rd Epsom Auckland, NZ

Autobiographies by medicos are rare. Berkeley Vaughan, also a medical missionary, arrived in Kwato in June 1935 and wrote his in 1974 (Doctor in Papua; Rigby. 1974). Vincent Zigas appears to be the only government doctor to have written his story (Laughing Death; Humana. 1990).

John was born into an English missionary family in Peking (Beijing) in February 1929. His mother died at his birth but his family remained in China where he was educated at boarding schools. He was of the family that long ago gave us Charles Sturt the explorer. Both John and his father showed the Sturt physiognomy with narrow face and wide long nose. He describes his early years in China and how after Pearl Harbor he became a POW as a schoolboy and was interned in the school. He was evacuated separately in August 1942 by boat to Durban and in due course caught up with his parents who had arrived on another boat five days earlier.

The family went to New Zealand and after matriculation John worked his way on a freighter to England to achieve his objective of studying medicine there. He married in 1953 and in March 1956 went to Papua New Guinea to ‘fulfil a lifelong vision’ of working in the developing world. He was a medical officer at Madang for 2 years and, after obtaining his DTM&H, went in February 1959 to Anguganak to open a hospital for the Christian Mission in Many Lands. He tells of the building of the hospital and the many problems associated with its establishment and care of the people through to 1969. He was a pioneer of preventative medicine in the village environment.

In 1970, John came to Port Moresby to establish the University Student Health Service, retiring in 1976 to New Zealand. He tells how he used his experiences and Christian background in the wider Port Moresby community and how in NZ he established Christian Care Centres providing counselling and care for the aging community. John Sturt is an unassuming person of great substance with a story to intrigue both doctors and anyone who has known him, and interest others who have not.
Reviewed by Roy Scragg

Hurrell’s Way by A. Lloyd Hurrell, edited by James Sinclair
ISBN 1 86333 316 9, PB, 463 pages, Index, $32.95 plus p&p. Available from Crawford House Publishing, PO Box 50, Belair, SA 5052 Phone: 883703555 Fax: 883703655

Lloyd Hurrell writes vividly of his experiences in war and in peace. This is an account of his early adventures, firstly to New Guinea in 1939 as a cadet patrol officer in the Rabaul, Salamaua and Morobe areas, followed by his service in World War II with 2/31 Bn (Syria, Kokoda, Lae), then his subsequent return to New Guinea in 1945 and his years of ‘big bush’ patrolling, notably his opening up of the Menyamya station in the uncontrolled Kukukuku country, aided by the Lutheran Mission, in 1950. Profusely illustrated with photographs and maps, scenes from the earliest days of Australia’s administration of New Guinea, and with an extensive index, this is a book that will be important to a wide range of readers.
Comment by Publisher

A Potted History of Madang, Traditional Culture and Change on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea by Mary R Mennis
ISBN: 0-9750346-4-2, 345 pp. Published 2006 by Lalong Enterprises, 11 Jethro St, Aspley, QLD, 4034, Australia. Phone: +61 7 3263 6327; Fax: +61 7 32635121 , Cost $75, (Postage AU$10/within Australia and AU$20/economy airmail overseas is additional). For multiple copies, please enquire for postage. Purchase of two or more copies will attract a discount of 10%. Payment by cheque in Australian Dollars (subject to clearance). Orders may be placed by email, and bank account details for electronic transfer of funds will be provided on request.

This is an ethnographical study of the Bel people living in the Madang area and changes over time brought about by external influences. The first eight chapters are, in the main, directed to the early oral history and the recording of myths and legends which are fascinating. Interwoven in this study is the significance of the traditional making and trading of pottery.

The author also draws on the contributions of early observers of the people, for example, Maclay, Finsch, Dempwolff, Biró and later, Hannemann, Mager and Aufinger. The effects of the Missions, German, Australian, Japanese and later, Independence influences underpin, but do not dominate, the essential thrust of this book.
The author was in a unique position and indeed privileged over a number of years to gain the trust of the people she wanted to research and get to know. The empathy and respect she gave and received is clearly evident throughout.

There is an interesting chapter discussing cargo cults in general and their origins linked to early myths and legends particularly on the Rai Coast. A suggestion is made in the final chapter that a proposed nickel mine development may see a return of the cargo cult mentality, if wealth without effort is a consequence.

The book contains maps showing the locations of the villages. A time-line encapsulates major periods in history and the main players. There is also an extensive bibliography as well as exceptional photos and drawings throughout. The Bel people in particular will be able to refer to this book as a detailed resource and to remember and learn about their stories and practices now dimmed in memory. The building and sailing of the trading canoes, the ‘lalong’ and the ‘palangut’ are a specific example of those cultural practices.
It was especially interesting to read the life experiences of one of the leaders, Maia-Awak, and how he coped with the changes during the 20th century. The included photos of Maia provide powerful images. As a reviewer, it was an unexpected surprise that his life story somewhat paralleled that of a family member and indeed their paths crossed at different times.

There are some minor inconsistencies in spelling of terminology and names that may be confusing to some, but these do not detract from the essential thrust of the book. However, apart from being a valuable resource for the Bel people, this is a remarkable book packed with information and human interest. Anyone who would like a good read, or people with knowledge of Madang or an interest in history will find it exceptional. The book truly reflects its title, A Potted History of Madang.
Reviewed by Pat Johnson

Publisher’s comment (in September 2006 Una Voce): This book is the culmination of many years research into the traditions and history particularly of the Bel people of the Madang region of Papua New Guinea. It studies their myths and oral traditions dating back 12 generations to when they were forced to leave their home island which was destroyed by some natural force. Also described are the extensive trading networks, both on land and on sea, the large sea-going canoes used and the earthenware pots which were their main item of trade. The changes that occurred during the time of German Colony, the Australian Administration, Independence and beyond are also discussed. The effect of World War 2 on both the people and the European population is described from first hand accounts. This book, while it is written in a semi-academic format with copious references, will also appeal to the general reader who is interested in the history of PNG

Leave a Reply