MIVA in North Bougainville 1934: Chris Diercke

Rigu strip, N Bougainville 1934  L – R  Johnny Sanson, Dr Kroning (of Toberoi Plantation) talking to Fr Tonjes, Rudi Diercke (of Woskawitz Plantation), Peter Berkenheier (camera man).


By the 1930s the Catholic Marist missionaries were well established in the North Bougainville region. In 1929 a Fr Tonjes (ex WW1 German pilot) arrived in Kieta as a Marist missionary. He soon realized that an aeroplane (seaplane) would assist greatly with the Marists’ work around Bougainville.

Tonjes contacted a friend in Germany, Fr Schulte (who started MIVA*), and asked for the donation of an aeroplane. He was strongly supported by his superior, Bishop Wade.  MIVA agreed and in Sept 1934 a Flaming D1400 plane arrived at Kieta in packing crates aboard the Burns Philp vessel MV Malaita. All was ready to commence aviation history in Bougainville after two airstrips were built at Rigu and Tarlena, near Kieta. However fate was to intervene.

The Australian government would not let the aviation operation happen. Anecdotes reveal that Australian authorities viewed the MIVA operation as a Nazi propaganda effort to re-establish potential German control in Bougainville. Bishop Wade managed to get a six week reprieve for negotiations. In this six-week period a film crew arrived from Germany to film aviation history in Bougainville. This proceeded and one photo shows the first aerial photo of Bougainville (Toboroi plantation, lower left). On one filming run the pilot made an error on approach to Rigu strip, landed on the beach and flipped the plane. No injuries or damage resulted.         

The Australian government would not relent so the plane was dismantled, repacked and returned to Germany.


*MIVA  The organization exists today as Diaspora MIVA.  It aims to assist with pastoral care by providing transport aids.


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