Book Reviews: March 2010

Big Road (A patrol officer in the New Guinea Highlands, 1953-56) by Bob Cleland
Crossroad to Justice by Sinaka Goava and Pat Howley
Eleven Bloody Days: The Battle for Milne Bay by Brian Boettcher
Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea edited by R.M. Bourke and T. Harwood
Hell and High Fever by David Selby
New Guinea Days by Michael O’Connor

Big Road (A patrol officer in the New Guinea Highlands 1953–56) by Bob Cleland
ISBN: 978-0-9806720-2-2 Red Hill Publishing 2010 Paperback 224pp plus two 16pp picture sections Cost: RRP: $29.95 plus $5.40 p&p within Aust. To order: Email: ; Phone: 07 3137 1799; Fax: 07 3367 1637; PO Box 22, Paddington QLD 4064 Or visit
Bob Cleland arrived in the New Guinea Highlands as a cadet patrol officer in 1953. In the early 1950s there was no way into or out of the Highlands except by plane or on foot. Yet the region was densely populated, home to hundreds of thousands of villagers, and alluringly fertile. A road connection had to be built, and it had to be constructed by hand. Right from the start Bob was sent to work with Rupe Haviland building the Kassam Pass on the Big Road, now known as the Highlands Highway, linking the Highlands with the coastal city of Lae. A month later he was charged with building Daulo Pass. In Big Road, Bob describes building the two passes and other challenges and problems that faced him as a patrol officer in 1950s New Guinea.

Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea Edited by R.M. Bourke and T. Harwood
This book (2009) has been published on-line by ANU E-press, The Australian National University, Canberra. ISBN 9781921536601 (pbk) ISBN 9781921536618 (pdf) The book can be read on the web or downloaded in part or all (for free). The URL is: The book can also be purchased from ANU Epress for $80 plus postage. Postal orders to: The Co-op Bookshop, Union Court, Building 17, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Telephone: 02 6249 6244 Email:
AusAID have agreed to fund publication of 4000 copies of the book, and these will be widely distributed in PNG once printed. This process will take some months yet. For the moment, the book is available on line and can be downloaded or printed from the ANU E Press website.
Many aspects of agriculture in PNG are described in this data-rich book. Topics include agricultural environments in which crops are grown; production of food crops, cash crops and animals; land use; soils; demography; migration; the macro-economic environment; and gender issues. The history of agriculture over the 50,000 years that PNG has been occupied by humans is summarized. The book contains results of many new analysis, including a food budget for the entire nation. The text is supported by 15 tables and 215 maps and figures. Total length is 666 pages. Eight authors contributed to the book.
Mike Bourke

New Guinea Days by Michael O’Connor
ISBN 978 1 921509 186. First published 2009 Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd, 165pp, Map, Foreword (Peter Ryan), Preface, Introduction, Contents (Chapters), Aftermath, Black and white photos. Cost $33 incl p&p within Australia (Note 17% discounted rate for PNGAA members) Phone: 03 5428 0538, 0413 824 929 (mob) or email:
New Guinea Days is a personal memoir of Michael O’Connor’s life as a kiap in Papua New Guinea over 50 years ago. In his Foreword, well known PNGAA member, columnist and author, Peter Ryan, writes: ‘In plain language, O’Connor describes the challenging and varied daily work of the kiap: life (with a young and growing family) on godforsaken outstations; the hot, mosquito-ridden swamps of the immense Fly River; the freezing cold of the high central range; the hair-raising hazards of pioneer “bush” aviation; snakes in the house and crocodiles lurking in the streams. O’Connor and his Colleen received as wedding presents many modern electrical appliances. They remained for years in their gift wrapping, until at last they were posted to a station where there was electricity. Yet, in spite of it all, the steady extension of law and order, basic hygiene, primary education, even the inculcation of elementary notions of representative government: all these things went ahead.’
The book is something more than a personal memoir. The author also discusses policy changes driven by what he calls ‘the clever people’ who lacked an understanding of Papua New Guinean culture and whose Australian cultural solutions for that very different world have contributed to Papua New Guinea’s current difficulties.

Eleven Bloody Days: The Battle for Milne Bay by Brian Boettcher
ISBN 9780646 506821. Self published 2009, soft cover 160pp, b&w photos and maps. Cost: $25 plus $1.30 postage within Australia and $8.50 to PNG. Available from: PO Box 391, Wahroonga NSW 2076. Phone: 0408 071239.
Author’s note: I wrote the book because too few Australians appreciate this battle which was a turning point for the Battle for Australia. Many issues have not been well known and I have endeavoured to clarify the great achievement this victory was for Papua and New Guinea as well for Australia as a whole. The soldiers who clearly turned the tide of war were mainly Australian and ANGAU with some US soldiers initially.
Whilst I have worked at the Port Moresby Hospital pathology department for three months, the book was inspired after a visit to Port Moresby, Rabaul and Milne Bay.

Hell and High Fever by David Selby
ISBN 978 207 12225 5. 1st Ed published by Currawong 1956, reprinted by the Selby family 2008, soft cover, one map. Cost: $30 incl p&p within Australia. Available from: or by post: Robert Albert, GPO Box 4899, Sydney NSW 2001
This historically significant and compelling World War Two memoir was first published in 1956 by Currawong and has now been reprinted by David Selby’s family. It is a valuable first-hand account of the invasion of Rabaul in 1942 by the Japanese forces who vastly outnumbered some 1400 Australian men of Lark Force—the 2/22nd Battalion—and the small civilian population who were left to suffer the consequences of the brutal and carefully orchestrated invasion of New Britain on 23 January by 5,500 Japanese army troops supported by a strong naval force.
That Selby, who commanded the only anti-aircraft artillery the defenders possessed with 54 officers and men, mostly under the age of 19, escaped the Japanese is a testament to his leadership and courage and the sheer dogged determination of those who managed to survive the appalling conditions of jungle warfare.
Aware of their perilous situation after the first Japanese air raids, Selby writes: ‘Again about the middle of January,[1942] I went down to headquarters and asked what the plans were should a withdrawal become necessary. Despite my lowly rank, I had been present as a unit commander at various conferences, but this particular matter had never been raised.
‘The reply I received to my question was disconcerting: “That is a defeatist attitude, Selby!” I was referred to an order of the day which had been promulgated on the first of January. This order which I learned later had come from Australia, exhorted every man to fight to the last, and ended with the words underlined and in capitals: “THERE SHALL BE NO WITHDRAWAL.”
‘…isolated and vulnerable as we were, we were later to regret bitterly the absence of a comprehensive plan for a fighting retirement.’
Knowing the ‘dim grey ships [Japanese] on the horizon would disgorge their troops by the thousand,’ Selby prepared his men for the inevitable onslaught. The Battle for Rabaul was over quickly and operating under the orders of ‘Every man for himself’, Selby set out to escape the Japanese by leading his party south from Rabaul on a gruelling walk through swamps and rivers and malaria-infested jungle. The route took them through Lamingi, past Wide Bay and Jacquinot Bay and on to Drina plantation on the south coast, some hundreds of miles from Rabaul. Drina belonged to Jack Thurston, who at the time was on the mainland, evacuating civilians from the Sepik. The place had been looted, the manager murdered and his wife raped. Against this sombre backdrop, Selby set up his headquarters in the homestead and it was from Drina, that the remains of the party finally escaped on the vessel Laurabada anchored at Palmalmal.
As his family state, ‘David Selby did not glorify war, his book is a factual account of the reactions to the worst side of war of normal men who volunteered to serve in defence of Australia.’ His understated style only serves to enhance the pathos, humility and courage of not only those men who made it to safety, but of those who died a futile and gruelling death in their comrades’ arms after giving every ounce of moral and physical strength to the service of liberty and democracy.
There are moments of wry dark humour in the book when the men discuss making their own headstones. ‘I am sure it was by trying to treat matters flippantly that we managed to keep going and assume an air of confidence which we did not always feel.’ And in one of his more lyrical reflections Selby writes poignantly: ‘We spoke of our wives, of philosophy, art, literature and music and, on fine nights when the stars burned with cold brilliance we tried to find our way around the heavens.’
David Selby, a barrister in civilian life, wrote his memoir while recuperating in hospital. After the war he continued part-time service in the Army as a Legal Officer at Eastern Command retiring in 1955 as Chief Legal Officer with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After a term as Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of Papua and New Guinea, he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He was created a Member of the Order of Australia.
The reprint of David Selby’s story brings back an important voice to the contemporary debate and re-examination of the fate of those civilians and soldiers at the frontier of the Japanese attack on Australian mandated territory. Over 800 members of Lark Force were captured by the Japanese and boarded onto the Montevideo Maru bound for Hainan. The ship was torpedoed off the Philippines by the USS Sturgeon and along with 208 members of the civilian population of Rabaul, they perished in Australia’s worst maritime disaster. Elizabeth Thurston

Crossroad to Justice by Sinaka Goava and Pat Howley
ISBN 9980-9956-0-2 Published 2009 Divine Word Publishing soft cover 135pp 26 photographs 1 map. Cost: $30 incl postage within Australia. Available from Brother Patrick Howley, Marist Brothers PHD Commonwealth Bank Account BSB: 063254 a/c 10281189 Doncaster Shoppingtown or cheques to: Pat Howley, Divine Word University, PO Box 483, Madang, Papua New Guinea. Email:
Both Sinaka Goava and Goava Oa were well known in Port Moresby before independence but for very different reasons. Sinaka was outstanding for his integrity and honest and was the darling of the administration moving to Independence. His Father Goava spent 32 years in jail because he was feared by the Judges, the colonial Administration and the white population of Port Moresby. In this book both Sir Sinaka and Sinaka Goava get the chance to tell their own story.

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