Book Reviews: September 2010

Big road by Bob Cleland
Brus by Lady Barbara Jephcott
Four novels by Martin Kerr
Not a Poor Man’s Field: The New Guinea Goldfields to 1942 – An Australian Colonial History by Michael Waterhouse

Big Road: A journey to the heart of the New Guinea Highlands, 1953-56 by Bob Cleland
ISBN: 978-0-9806720-2-2. Published 2010 by Red Hill Publishing 256pp plus 16pp picture section Soft cover Cost: RRP $34.95 plus $5.50 p&p For a limited time there is a Christmas Special to Una Voce members from the online store at $29.95 + $5.50 p&p Please quote: UNA2010. Available from Red Hill Publishing E: Ph: 07-3137 1799 Post: PO Box 22, Paddington QLD 4064 Australia DD: BSB: 304-029 Acc # 0024991 Red Hill Publishing
The “Big Road” of Bob Cleland’s title is the PNG Highlands Highway. It connects those great populous and productive uplands to the rest of New Guinea and to the rest of the world, passing the great airstrip at Nadzab in the Markham Valley, and on to the sea at Lae.
Few civil engineering projects faced more appalling difficulties, from the hot malarious Markham Plain at one end, to two towering limestone escarpments at the other. Pessimists long maintained that the very attempt was a futility; among a score of other obstacles they cited the torrential seasonal rains, and the uncertainties of relations with teeming thousands of tribesmen, many of whom had yet to see their first actual white face.
Without bulldozers or mechanical diggers, it was a “pick-and-shovel” job, with the addition of the digging stick, the axe and the crowbar. Without road-rollers, road-fill was consolidated by the stamping, bare black feet of thousands of Highlands men and women. I have a photo of two Highlanders, wearing fine feather head-dresses but little else, carrying between them what looks like a slightly smaller version of a hospital stretcher, fashioned from two bush poles and a couple of old corn-sacks. It is piled high with earth; that high-tech modern marvel, the wheelbarrow, had yet to penetrate the Highlands.
Yet the thing was done. I well remember my astonished admiration the first time I drove an ordinary Holden car all the way from Lae to Mount Hagen.
As with most major achievements, credit must be distributed between many contributors, but the names of three kiaps stand out: Ian Downs, longtime District Commissioner; ‘Rupe’ Haviland, a young patrol officer whose work fell largely in the Kassam pass stretch; and Bob Cleland, whose labours achieved the higher Daulo Pass, and who later wrote this remarkable book.
The conception, the drive and persistence overall came from Downs. By one of the weird chances of wartime, his path and mine crossed in 1942, as we pursued our separate “cloak-and-dagger” capers in the Huon Peninsula behind Lae. We pooled our resources and camped together for a short period. If I were an American I would have called him the most “ornery”’ man I ever met. Renewed acquaintance in Australia some twenty years later did not change my view. But of his intelligence, resourcefulness and courage there was never a doubt; his lieutenants Cleland and Haviland had been selected with superb judgment.
Big Road describes clearly all the practical problems: the flooding rains, the rebellious rivers, the dense moss forests, the landslides, the freezing high slopes barely climbable on foot.
But the book also offers deeper PNG insights with subtle penetration. The “Pax Australiana” was hardly colonialism as ordinarily conceived; “Missis Kwin” (Queen Elizabeth II) was the sovereign; no imagineable force could have set all those Highlanders to such labour unless they saw that they themselves were to be the ultimate beneficiaries. I was moved by Cleland’s Highlands Anzac Day translation into tokpisin of Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old” is rendered as “Ol i-noken kamap lapun olosem yumi istap yet i-kamap lapun…” Perfect!
This is a splendid book. As the Bible reminds us ‘there were giants in the earth in those days’, and the kiaps were of their number. Peter Ryan

Not a Poor Man’s Field: The New Guinea Goldfields to 1942 – An Australian Colonial History by Michael Waterhouse
ISBN 978 1920831837 Published 2010 by Halstead Press 272pp Hard cover approx. A4 size; incl 160 photos and eight maps – 7 drawn specially. RRP $59.95. Also available: The Special Limited Edition (of which there are only 100 copies) costs $300, including postage in Australia. Each copy contains four Bulolo stamps, showing a Junker G31 flying over the goldfields. Included are one £1 Bulolo stamp, two 2/- stamps and one 1/- stamp. They are mounted in a panel on the front of the book, which is bound in maroon reconstituted leather. These stamps were used by Bulolo Gold Dredging to post gold bars back to Australia in the 1930s and early 1940s, and are therefore genuine artefacts from the pre-war New Guinea goldfields. More information, including how to order, is provided on the website: .
As the future governance and stability of PNG every day create deeper anxiety, insightful books about the country continue to appear; this is one of the best, in which Michael Waterhouse tells the stupendous story of the Morobe goldfields. That glittering province of auriferous treasure was centred on Bulolo and Wau, and at times rivalled even South Africa in its productivity. How many of today’s Australians know of it?
Most of the millions of ounces of gold extracted from the deep gravel-beds of the Bulolo River were dug up by immense mechanical dredges almost the size of battleships, each designed for its own special task. Companies heavily capitalized in Australia and North America shouldered the risks and built the financial foundations. Here emerges the essence of the book’s title: Not a Poor Man’s Field. The seeds of this great industry in Australia’s Mandated Territory had been planted largely during the 1920s, by adventurous but impecunious individual prospectors, mostly Australians.
The pioneers were “characters”: legends of courage and resourcefulness as, with shovel and dish, they pressed their way ever higher up the creeks of New Guinea’s freezing mountains. For weeks on end their dishes might yield them nothing whatever; with a change of luck, a single shovelful of gravel might produce an ounce of gold. In 1927, six miners who were mates took out more than three tons of gold.
There was conflict in the wilds with the indigenous inhabitants—mostly with the diminutive and semi-nomadic Kukukuku tribes. Their languages were as totally unknown to the Australians as English was to the locals. The only channels of communication were, respectively, the rifle and the arrow. Two of my kiap friends, in earlier days, had been carried down to the little European hospital on the coast looking like dart-boards, so many arrows were embedded in their bodies. How many Kukukukus perished by rifle bullets we will never know.
Gold supplied more than a quarter of the Territory government’s entire revenues. Pleasant modern townships sprang up at Wau, Bulolo and elsewhere. Venturesome white wives one by one set up house on the field. Great water-powered turbines constructed higher in the mountains to drive the dredges supplied also the electricity needs of civilized living. A successful timber industry, based on the superb surrounding pine forests, was there to support the town when gold ran low.
It is amazing that all this was established in wild mountain country far from the sea and without a connecting road. The aeroplane replaced the highway, even the monstrous dredges being broken down into pieces and flown in. The world’s heavy air transport industry was not merely developed in Australia’s Mandated Territory; it was virtually invented there.
In a superb combination of meticulous research, broad understanding and clear writing, Michael Waterhouse offers us a tour de force. A few old-timers (very old-timers) may scent in his account of black-white relations a whiff of the newer political correctness, foreign to the era he describes. Well…times change. Splendidly illustrated, and supported by a wealth of helpful tables, references and a first-rate index, this book is a “steal”’ at the recommended retail price. Peter Ryan

Brus by Lady Barbara Jephcott
ISBN 978-1-921514-70-8 Printed by TEC Print, Toowoomba; 275 pp including index and black and white photos. Cost $25 plus postage. Available from the author at ‘Gundah’, M/S 28, Warwick QLD 4370
A Biography of Sir Bruce Jephcott. The majority of the book is set in PNG whilst he was a Member and Minister of the last House of Assembly and First National Parliaments. The formation of Air Niugini and general parliamentary business leading to, and after, independence are described in detail.

Four novels by Martin Kerr were launched at a Ravenshoe writers’ workshop on the Atherton Tablelands, on 5 August 2010.
Amon’s Run (CD-ROM) is a three-volume saga set in Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and France during the last half of the 20th century.
Diansinkan & Other Stories (CD-ROM) opens with the spy thriller Diansinkan the Exiled, a Dutchman’s confrontation with the Indonesian military and its sympathisers in West Papua and New Guinea.
Mr Kerr’s previous books include New Guinea Patrol (also on CD-ROM) and Tamariki and the Whales.
Amon’s Run and Diansinkan & Other Stories can be purchased in CD-ROM from Tableland Books, Atherton or through the publisher’s website:

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