Fifties in Rabaul: Jan Barnes

I arrived in Rabaul in May 1955 having been married two weeks previously to Neville who had been in Rabaul as Brown and Dureau’s agent for the previous 12 months.We left Brisbane at midnight on a DC6, landed at Port Moresby at 6 am and transferred to a DC3 for the trip to Rabaul, landing at Lae for refuelling. Our arrival at Rabaul airport at 3 p.m. was so welcoming: our Parish priest, Father Jimmy Dwyer, was there and lots of local people who were al lvery friendly and happy to say hello to a newcomer. I think some of them met every plane.

We proceeded to our home at Pila Pila over Tunnel Hill and I must admit it was a bit of a shock: right on the beach looking over to Watom Island. Smiling household staff but no electricity, running water or lining on interior walls—but at least we had a dissolvenator toilet. Our shower was a bucket hauled up by a rope filled with water that had been heated in the copper. However we had lovely neighbours in Mervyn and Lorna James with whom we spent many happy hours and remained good friends. Sadly Merv and Lorna are no longer with us.

Vuvu Catholic Mission was close by and we became friends with Father Reischel who regaled us often with his tales of the Japanese occupation and his beautiful piano playing. He came from a talented Austrian musical family and our two boys, Bruce and Dominic, were christened in his mission church to the accompaniment of his native choir singing the baptismal promises. Both boys were born at the hospital on Namanula Hill which was then a post-war building constructed mainly of tarpaper but the staff looked after us well and I don’t think there was any such thing as regular visiting hours.

Another favourite priest was Father Franki, from Germany and an expert in Pidgin. We would go to his Sunday Mass which was said in Pidgin and his fluent delivery of his sermon whilst striding up and down the aisle and admonishing any of the locals who had forgotten their rosary beads was something to behold and hear. He was much loved by the local people and indeed all of us.

We made some dear friends there such as Barbara and Ross Jennings, Don Brewer, Joyce and Warren Marchant, Elaine Bruce, Norm (Diwai) Woods and so many others. I remember with great affection ladies such as Bess Fishwick and Jean Mallelly who looked after us new arrivals and gave us good advice and care and helped us settle in. We were all a fair way away from home and family.

The social life was lovely and a highlight of the year was the Frangipani Ball at the New Guinea Club: such a romantic tropical evening with the men in their formal whites and the ladies in pretty ball dresses. A weekend drive to Kokopo to watch the cricket was great fun in spite of the perilous condition of the road. It wasn’t too bad if the grader had been along recently but that didn’t happen very often. It was after a bumpy ride to and from the Kokopo Show that triggered off the arrival of our first: Bruce, as everyone said it would. 

We moved to Port Moresby—not as exotic as Rabaul but still beautiful. The poincianas in bloom at Xmas time was a spectacular sight. Those years in Rabaul and Port Moresby were wonderful: great memories and lovely people.


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