PNG Posting: Rod Noble
Being Queensland born, I thought I could do with some tropical warmth when I read the advertisement in the Hobart Mercury. It was a cold winter’s day and the ad was for Patrol Officers in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
A bit of tropical jungle would be no trouble for me, after all I had trekked through the South-West Tasmanian horizontal forests and button-grass plains. And the Department of Territories was offering to pay me to do what I liked to do for recreation. Plus I had the lofty thought that such a career would permit me to live my high school’s motto nemo sibi nascutur (nobody is born unto themselves). I would be one of the corps of selfless persons bringing stone age people into the 20th century.
I was selected, and with 23 other recruits arrived in Port Moresby early in 1954. We all stayed there for a boring induction course that lasted six weeks. Nevertheless the sights and sounds of this tropical capital kindled our imagination for the time when our real work would commence. The tar-paper walled huts in which we were housed were located at Konedobu, a mile or two around the harbour’s edge next to the Administration offices. A bit further round was Hanuabada (literally village-big, in the local dialect) and we did try not to stare at the topless, grass-skirted maidens who had a wonderful way of swishing their calf length skirts.
On weekends we had a choice of visiting one of the two hotels or going to the movies. We preferred ‘the Top Pub’ rather than ‘the Snake Pit’ as the bottom hotel was called. And at the cinema we could lounge back in comfortable deck-chairs, smoking and drinking, whilst enjoying the output of the Golden Years of Hollywood.
The department had sent us a suggested clothing list and I guess we had supplemented our wardrobe from the Burns Philp store so that we had adequate supplies of white shirts, white long socks and white shorts. But we were not adequately equipped for an evening visit to the Administrator’s residence. So we were all told to traipse round to Luk Poi Wai’s establishment near Koki market. In a seemingly miraculously short time we were all equipped with a white suit at a very reasonable cost. Then we had to give instructions to our very willing and pleasant wash bois on how to prepare this rig for the big occasion: not too much starch. It all went off very well. The coats were carried on a hanger (to avoid any creases) to the front gate then donned for the walk up the drive to be welcomed by Brigadier and Mrs Cleland. It was a pleasant occasion and the numba wun kiap gave the order for coats off after the first couple of drinks.
Then came the end of the course and we were asked to put in our preferences for our first posting. I guess most of us put in for the Highlands. Then the announcement came. I cannot remember if I was disappointed or not, to have been seconded, with Paul Conroy, to the Native Lands Commission. We were both pleased to discover that the Commissioner was Ivan Champion who was famous for having accompanied Karius on a successful pre-war exploratory patrol from the Fly to the Sepik across the cordillera.