Book reviews: September 2012

Needed but not wanted: Chinese in colonial Rabaul by Peter Cahill
Port Moresby: Taim bipo by Stuart Hawthorne
Prisoners in Rabaul by Gordon Thomas
Stitches in time by David Watters with Anna Koestenbauer

Needed but not wanted: Chinese in colonial Rabaul 1884-1960 by Dr Peter Cahill
ISBN 978-1-876344962 Published 2012 by Copy Right Publishing, Brisbane, 316pp, hard cover, maps & photos included, cost: $Aus35; or $Aus40 includes postage & handling within Aust, available in October from or telephone 07 3371 4794
This is an in-depth, intensely researched, well-illustrated study of the history of the Chinese in Rabaul, from the first arrivals in 1884 to 1960. It is an ambitious and readable account, which should find a place in the library of anyone interested in PNG affairs. There has been a Chinese presence in New Guinea from the very earliest days of the colonial era. The New Guinea Chinese have been mentioned in passing by many writers—including the present reviewer—but there has been only one previous book-length attempt to tell the full story, Dr David Wu’s The Chinese in Papua New Guinea 1889-1980, published in Hong Kong by Chinese University Press in 1982, and not easily obtainable. It is, moreover, a much more specialized account than Dr Cahill’s book, and it has not been unreservedly accepted by all New Guinea Chinese.
The book covers the story to 1960. Since that date the Chinese presence in PNG has dramatically increased and this is a trend that will undoubtedly continue, given the scope and scale of mining development in the country. Dr Cahill’s book should assist decision-makers to better understand the mainland Chinese who will be among them in increasing numbers in the years to come.
Dr Cahill lived in Rabaul as a schoolboy, and his sympathy for and understanding of the New Guinea Chinese is apparent. Most New Guinea records were destroyed or lost during the Pacific War, and the researching of this account must have been a herculean task. The story unfolds in chronological order, from the cruel beginnings in the era of Neu Guinea Kompagnie in 1885 to the movement of most Rabaul Chinese to Port Moresby and Australia in the years before Independence.
The New Guinea Chinese were treated as second-class citizens—by both government and the white majority—for most of their years in New Guinea, and Dr Cahill examines this situation with care and objectivity. There is no doubt that the Chinese—hard-working, frugal, fruitful, pragmatic—achieved a very significant position in the business world of Rabaul (and later, Port Moresby). Some (and notably the early pioneer, Ah Tam) became very wealthy. This commercial success is one reason why there is still resentment of Chinese store owners in PNG, as indeed is the case in many other parts of the world where Chinese have settled and thrived, usually at the expense of local merchants seldom prepared to work as hard as the Chinese. There is also not the slightest doubt that the Australian Government treated the Chinese in shameful fashion at the outbreak of the Pacific War. White women and children were evacuated to Australia in the nick of time just before the Japanese invasion, while the Chinese—men, women and children—were mostly left to their own devices. Despite this, there are many instances of New Guinea Chinese helping Australians during the war, often at the risk of their lives. This section of the book will be of particular interest to many readers. Another fascinating section deals with the eventually successful struggle by the Chinese to achieve Australian citizenship. I commend this book to all who have lived and worked in PNG.
James Sinclair

Port Moresby: Taim bipo by Stuart Hawthorne
ISBN 9781921920196, 320 pages, 446 photos, 4 appendices and index. Published by Boolarong Press 2012. Available from $45 includes postage anywhere in Australia.
Papua New Guinea has not been kindly treated in the Australian media since achieving independence in September 1975. The only accounts that Australians usually read in the newspapers or see on television are about crime or corruption. Few positive stories are ever told.
Yet there are many thousands of us who spent the best years of our lives there retain fond memories of PNG, and it is undeniable that it still exercises a spell.
In this book, Stuart Hawthorne has written an affectionate account of his boyhood years in Port Moresby, capital city of PNG, during the two decades before Independence, and of his eventual departure as a young man. The outstanding feature of this well-produced book is the more than 400 photographs, in colour and monochrome, that illustrate the narrative. Some were taken by the author, others by many contributors, all of whom are acknowledged.
They are well selected, and of generally excellent quality: all too often photographs are included in books of this type purely because of their historical significance, but a certain minimum quality level is really essential if a book is to succeed. This has been achieved here. Hawthorne has also included a useful selection of brief articles from contemporary PNG newspapers, which add to the experience, and maps of the town.
The author takes his reader on a nostalgic journey through the Port Moresby of yesteryear. His chapter headings tell the story to those who knew the Port Moresby of the 1950s and 1960s: At Home, Weekend Diversions, A Paradise for Kids, Good Sports, Bomana War Cemetery, A Working Port, Hanuabada, Hiri Voyages, The Yacht Club, Gemo Island, Ela Beach, the Streets of Port Moresby, Koki Market, Sogeri Show, and Town and Country, Going Finish. It is hardly necessary to make any further comment, the headings say it all.
Hawthorne devotes one chapter to an attempt to explain why the fortunes of PNG, and Port Moresby, have so dramatically changed since Independence. This is the least convincing part of the book, for it is manifestly impossible to do justice to such a huge and complex subject in a matter of 20 pages. Yet he does make some telling points. I am pleased to note that he has given considerable credit to the late Sir Donald Cleland, Administrator of PNG during most of the period covered in this book. I believe that historians of the future will be kind to Sir Donald.
This is a book that should find a place in the libraries of all who lived and worked in the old Port Moresby. It is lively, well presented, and of a handy size. I recommend it to all PNG old-timers, and to those who want to know a little bit more about the fascinating country lying just off the tip of Australia.
Australians should know more about PNG: we administered the country from Federation to 1975. What happens in PNG should matter to us. You can literally almost throw a stone from the northernmost point of Queensland to the southern shore of Papua New Guinea. How many Australians realize that?
James Sinclair

Prisoners in Rabaul by Gordon Thomas
ISBN: 978-0-9807774-2-0. Published by Australian Military History Publications, July 2012, Soft cover 280 pp, Contains many old photographs and has maps. Cost: $39 (incl postage within Australia). Available by Visa, Mastercard, cheque or money order to: War Book Shop. 13 Veronica Place LOFTUS NSW 2232. 02 9542 6771 (fax: 02 9542 6787)
As I was about to review this important book I was rushed to hospital and can’t do it. But no matter. Because, simply, there should be no PNG old hand without it. Marvellous account of Aussie prisoners in wartime Rabaul, written more than 70 years ago by one of them, Rabaul newspaper editor Gordon Thomas, yet only now published. GET it!
Stuart Inder
Publisher’s Note: Hours after the Japanese invasion of Rabaul, Gordon Thomas and other civilians were prisoners. Thomas and several others were made to work for the enemy, operating Rabaul’s commercial freezer and ice plant. Most of the other civilian and army men imprisoned in the town were doomed when they were put aboard the Japanese ship, Montevideo Maru, to be sent to Japan. On 1 July the ship was torpedoed by a US submarine with the loss of 1,186 lives.
The four men at the freezer were left behind and spent three years under Japanese rule: but not in a camp. They were under “open arrest” in a building near their work but were not free to roam too far. This account also tells how the freezer crew escaped death from the heavy almost continuous Allied bombing of Rabaul from late 1943 to early 1944, during which the ice works was destroyed. His is a laconic account and makes it easy to overlook their luck in many ways, including when the dreaded Kempei Tai started to take interest. This book is a window into Rabaul during the bomb-blasted years of WW2 and a rare view of Japanese soldiers in their own backyard, stripped of ceremonial veneer and artificial smiles. Here is a very interesting study of the Japanese and the civilian prisoner experiences.

Stitches in time by David Watters with Anna Koestenbauer
ISBN: 1-4535-5473-4 Paperback ISBN: 1-4535-5493-9 (eBook) Published 2012 by Xlibris 804pp Cost $39.99 (soft cover) to $59.99 (hard cover) Available from, Book Depository or any bookstore.
David Watters spent eight years in Papua New Guinea from 1992-2000 as Professor of Surgery at UPNG. Like many others, he became fascinated with the PNG story and with the help of his German-speaking daughter has put together an 800 page encyclopaedia of PNG medical history into which he has woven the genesis, growth and maturation of PNG surgery. The two forewords and the preface by PNG professional leaders and the hundreds of photographs help set the scene.
The tables, “Journals and Books written by Whaling Surgeons in the South Seas 1820-60” and “French Naval Expeditions to the South Pacific”, indicate the depth of the study. Anna has translated many original German documents of the medical story of the German Years. Her sources match those of Jackman on Koch and malaria in Burton Bradley’s medical history.
The first section covers first contact and the initiation of health services through to the beginning of the Second World War. The unfolding story of the pioneers includes surgical events that faced those who in the past and through to the present worked alone and were required to attempt surgery outside their experience and sometimes outside their competence.
The achievements recorded in Sections 3 and 4 confirm my 1948 assessment of the innate intelligence of the people of PNG when my principal assistants in Sohano, with only primary education, were able to handle theatre management, nursing care, laboratory investigations and clerical records. They cover the mushrooming of surgery from Dr Maruff in 1948 through to the acceptance by the community of the innate abilities of the graduates of the medical colleges and UPNG. Those who questioned the ability of educated and experienced young men and women of PNG to fill the many roles in the medical hierarchy quickly found themselves out of place.
At times the book wanders into areas of medical history unrelated to surgery where the author occasionally gets lost. Those with long memories need to document their story while they can rather than have the past lost in conjecture.
Overall it is an essential read and reference for all doctors and others with a PNG interest will be fascinated by the collation of past events and the mass of historical information. Dr Roy Scragg

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