Senior Inspector David Crawley, MBE, Bandmaster, RPNGC Band: Doreen MacGowan (neé Crawley)
David Crawley, my father, founded the Royal Papua & New Guinea Constabulary Band. He was born in London on 21 March 1906. At an early age he joined the British Army. During his time with his 9th Lancers Regiment, he was trained as a Bandsman. The cavalry regiment was stationed in Egypt, Palestine and India.
In the early 1930s, he left the British Army and journeyed to Tasmania to try his hand at farming. While there he joined the Light Horse Brigade. Through her brothers, who were members of the Light Horse, he met my mother Kathleen Allen, from a farming family in north-west Tasmania.
In 1935, in response to a recruitment campaign, he travelled to Rabaul and joined the New Guinea Police Force. He became aware of the musical aptitude of some of the young Tolais from Nordup village, and sought permission to form a police band. His request was rejected: he was considered “a mad young Englishman: it would be impossible to teach music to the native people”! He determined to persevere and so bought brass band instruments himself, and in his spare time taught the young Tolais to play. Their first public appearance in Rabaul in 1937 impressed the Administrator, Sir Ramsay Nicholls, and he recommended that my father be released from regular police duties to form a police band.
The Police Band was officially formed in 1938. (Some of the original “Nordup boys” were still with the Band when my father retired in 1963).
That year of 1938 my mother left Tasmania, and sailed to Rabaul to marry my father. The wedding was to take place upon her arrival on his birthday, 21 March. The ship arrived a day late, so they were wed on 22 March. Thus began a very happy marriage. I was born that year on New Year’s Eve, and in May 1941 my brother Allen was born.
Early that year of 1941, Lark Force, the Australian Army 2/22nd Battalion arrived in Rabaul. My father formed a friendship with their bandmaster Arthur Gullidge, of the former Melbourne Brunswick Street Salvation Army Band. He was considered a fine musician and a talented composer, who sadly lost his life with so many others, on the Montevideo Maru.
In late December 1941, with the Japanese invasion imminent, my mother, brother and I, along with the other women and children of Rabaul, were evacuated to Australia on the MV Macdhui. My father remained in Rabaul and when the orders were finally given “every man for himself”, he took to the mountains of New Britain to escape the Japanese. Prior to leaving, he and the band members buried the band instruments, along with my parents’ personal belongings. (None were ever recovered). A few loyal Band members insisted on accompanying him, but as time passed and it became more dangerous, he persuaded them for their own safety to return to their villages. He travelled with a small group of Police officers and hacked his way through the undergrowth with his bush knife, which we still have in our possession. He would never talk about his experiences during that time. After many weeks evading the Japanese, with little food, water or clothing they were rescued, with thanks to Keith McCarthy and Frank Holland, on the small vessel the MV Lakatoi, and after a hazardous voyage from New Britain through the Trobriand Islands arrived safely in Cairns. He eventually joined us in Sydney where my mother had taken up residence to wait out the war.
After a period of rehabilitation he joined the Australian Army and went back to New Guinea as a Lieutenant with ANGAU, and was mentioned in Despatches. He was stationed at Bisiatabu for some of that time, and while there was requested to train another Police Band. Post-war many of his original New Guinea bandsmen returned. In 1945 he accompanied the Band on their first tour of Australia, to raise funds for the Third Victory War Loan, which was very successful. Subsequent Australian tours he undertook with the Band were the Sydney Anzac Day March in 1950, Queen Elizabeth’s visits in 1954 and 1963, and the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. In April 1946 my mother, brother and I joined my father, who was then stationed at the Royal Papua & New Guinea Constabulary Training Depot at Sogeri, in the foothills of the Owen Stanleys, some 26 miles from Port Moresby. In 1947 my sister Joan was born.
In 1945 my father was awarded the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, London, in recognition of his skill in training two brass bands in Papua New Guinea. The award is given annually for the most outstanding musical work of the year. It was the first time the honour had gone outside the United Kingdom. Studying externally through the Trinity College of Music, London, many of the bandsmen passed their Theory of Music examinations with honours and distinctions.
In 1955 my father was honoured by the Queen, receiving the MBE. He was a devoted husband and father. My siblings and I have fond memories of our childhood with our parents in Sogeri. We were awakened each day by the bugler playing Reveille as the flag was raised. At sundown the flag was lowered as the bugler played Retreat: later in the evening was the sounding of the Last Post.
During the day the constant sounds of music practice emanated from the bandroom.
In 1963 my father retired from the RP & NGC. On the tarmac of Jacksons airstrip the band played farewell as my parents left Port Moresby for Brisbane. Many of the bandsmen wept. He took my mother on a long-dreamed-of visit back to England to meet up with his old British Army friends before he died suddenly in Brisbane in 1966, just three years after his retirement. My mother lived in Brisbane until her death in 2000.
After our years at boarding school in Brisbane I was the only one of the family who chose to live in PNG. I worked at the Commonwealth Bank in Port Moresby and then at Police Headquarters, Konedobu. I married Doug MacGowan who was with the Treasury Department and later became an Assistant Director of Post & Telecommunications. We lived in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands for five years from 1965 to 1970. While there I was the ABC correspondent and the New Guinea Times Courier correspondent for some time. (This newspaper amalgamated with the South Pacific Post to become the Post Courier). I have not returned to PNG since 1983. My sister Joan is a school teacher who is well travelled, and resides in the NSW Blue Mountains. My brother Allen who lives in Melbourne, became an athlete of note, representing PNG at the 1962 Perth Commonwealth Games. He then represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966 and the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968. He held the Australian Long jump record for a considerable time and competed in other track and field events. When he retired recently from his position with the Associated Grammar Schools of Victoria, the Yarra Valley Grammar School, where he worked for 40 years, named their sporting fields the “Allen Crawley Playing Fields”.