Cult (continued) Chapters 2 and 3 by Maurice Meth

(Submitted by Maurice’s wife, Mrs Elizabeth Meth)
PNG Trade Winds blew East West East and trade in sea cargo followed the same way in expansion through plantations and their trading stations or ports.

SHIPPING AND TRADING SHENANIGANS 1974 TO 1984

Chapter Two
Shipping Services direct to PNG were quite sophisticated by 1974 with costs reflected in largely one-way trades with volumes setting rates. The main trading partner was Australia through traditional supply of consumables and building materials directly to Australian PNG Highlands and coastal trades, replacing the mail substitute.
The Swire Group strategy of securing the bulk of the food-consumable rice directly to Rice Growers Australia dominated this trade and capacity to directly service outports on lesser frequency, i.e. Madang, Rabaul, Kieta and others in containers proved a real disincentive for other than Swire Partners at that point. The added “reefer” capacity for the supermarket trades strengthened these, with NZ Services complemented by the subsidised Pacific Forum Line complemented by the fledgling Sofrana Unilines Auckland service.

The second major food group canned fish from Japan was well serviced by two vessels monthly calling from Japan and Korea monthly, on behalf of NYK and Mitsu carrying canned fish in breakbulk cartons to numerous small and large customers, replicating the rice trade complementing the “warehousing at sea” trade. Both cash crops interestingly evolved from the early supply of rations to Plantations.

The balance of liner trades were from South East Asia with Swire once again dominating with their monthly service. Volume wise after Australia/NZ the European import trades complementing monthly exports. This shipping matrix allowed the main Trading Groups Breckwoldt, Svensons, BNG trading and others to supply both agricultural imports like fertilizers and food and building consumables from a world wide supply base. The supporting Banking structure in all Ports supplied by the regulars ANZ, Westpac, Commomwealth and NAB provided a healthy trading base covering all manner of Commercial Drafts/ Letters of Credit between all types of Bankers.

Breakbulk Shipping and the Europe, Japan and South East Asia trades.

Sadly, the Europe, Japan and SE Asia trades remained breakbulk, creating an utter shambles with wharf deliveries. Shipping claims were rife from incorrect deliveries, however the healthy trades from these misdeliveries between wharf staff and trading companies or buyers, reduced actual claims to a trickle.

I recall Henry from Chapter One entering this industry through a job as the first Delivery Clerk delivering fertilizers from Lae and as the first PNG Clerk in such an exalted role. This group led by one Pete the Deke, JC, JM and TP briefly supervising Henry. The immaculate documentation between deliveries recorded by PNG Customs and that shambles between Receivers and Delivery staff was managed and juggled with great expertise by all concerned.

As the first fully employed claims clerk appointed to verify claims, I quickly adopted the view the net final claims were to be with the majority as a net result of the “trading shenanigans” clearing a dreadful mess. Only “Bailey Bridging” was seriously followed up to ensure new bridges had some chance of delivery and completion at the right site in the right year. Continuous offsets were the norm where the “quick and the dead” philosophy applied to all cargoes reflected in the Warehouses and Shelves of respective traders.

Chapter Three

By contrast we were presented with our own domestic “Air Niugini” – our domestic national airline early after independence. This was a quick amalgamation of a domestic fleet of aircraft with the very capable Fokker Friendship F27 Aircraft fleet left behind by the Qantas and Ansett fleets. Whilst the Aircfraft and physical aircraft remained, there appeared to be no planning for a linked infrastructure of systems and staff to operate this aircraft system, hence instant chaos.
Mourning Mud and Air Niugini.

As a shipping clerk and observer, I had the good fortune to experience this chaos of modern technology at first hand. I needed to travel to Port Moresby from Lae at short notice and clutching a waitlisted single return ticket, proceeded to wait at the “Lae Town Airport” for the next two days.

On the morning of day one, there was a series of F27’s transiting Lae Airport enroute Rabaul, Kimbe or Madang. From the beginning at the airport were three PMV trucks fully loaded with a large group of PNG Nationals all fully decorated in “Mourning Mud” and appropriate “arse grass”, awaiting the return of a wantok’s recently deceased body located in Kimbe.

Our newly-minted “Air Niugini” staff repeatedly ignored requests from the Mourning Group as to when they could expect their deceased relative as aircraft transiting were prioritising movement of Engineers to repair aircraft in outlying ports to re-position repaired aircraft and no effort was being made to return the “decomposing” body to Lae in transit.

After day two, it was increasingly obvious a number of arms were appearing in the hands of the mourners. When advised late on day two, no other aircraft were transiting, the armed group promptly charged Terminal staff who wisely fled the premises to secure.
The remaining “long suffering group of potential passengers happily cheered the Mourners from a distance. The first aircraft the next morning arrived with the body and business returned to some normalcy, where the “beer currency” and contacts were the only guarantee of a booked seat!!

I wonder whether leaving the original separate systems in place would have left a “functioning system”, as we had with our chaotic shipping system crafted over hundreds of years, with cargo owners at “arms lengths” through the trading systems protecting all parties.

Airlines and their systems could not provide volumes and systems available to International Sea Transport to provide integrity of both small liner shipping and volume project shipping. The original fleets and multi purpose stowage offered by a 100 years experience of the key Trading Companies WRC, Burns Philp (BP) and consequently Steamships, guaranteed the appearance of world-wide trading groups and manufacturers they represented, prepared to supply at volumes to “meet the market”.
PNG joined and operated in a sophisticated trading system not generally available to near neighbours, supported by legal shipping and trading systems policed by our original cartels. Their strengths were recognising and implementing virtually the whole transport chain with sophisticated multi-modal trading from supplier to door with inevitable financing generally covering both capital and consumables. The alternatives we have seen developing since the eighties have not served the economy well.

TO BE CONTINUED

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