Didiman’s Diary #10 by David Montgomery
The story continues from Una Voce, June 2018, of new experiences, challenges and developments in the West New Britain District.
I finished off in June saying there was a need to explain patrol necessities—mattresses, a wood stove, refrigerator, etc. A base camp in the village of Uasilau in the Central Nakanai was set up as this was one of the focal points for development of a cacao industry and in later years, extensive plantings of palm oil throughout the area. In the interest of a little comfort for long-term stays and staff visits, a few extras were added to the patrol equipment inventory. These ‘home’ extras were a far cry from my earlier patrolling experiences.
Social life at Talasea revolved around the Talasea Club and a tennis court—a meeting place for the administration staff, their families and nearby plantation owners—Humphrey (Volupai); Huygen (Garua Island); Marsland (Lagenda); Searle (Walindi); Desborough (Numundo) and Allshorn (San Remo) the closest and regular visitors. Interesting to note that Walindi today is widely recognised as a first-class, environmentally managed diving centre. Each Christmas Santa Claus arrived at the club to the delight of the children and especially ours. Our first son, Scott, was born 19 January 1963 and Mark 15 April 1964, both at Namanula Hospital in Rabaul.
A United Nations Food and Agricultural Survey was required to be carried out in each of the West New Britain Sub-Districts—Talasea, Cape Gloucester, Kandrian and Pomio. Identification, mapping and recording of representative samples of village gardens was to be undertaken. This required extensive patrolling into villages rarely visited.
My field journal of 19 May 1962 records a patrol commencing at Denga Island of the mouth of the Aria River—between Talasea and Cape Gloucester. 0620 departed for Aria River per MV Langu arrived 0750. By canoe to the village of Bagai arriving 1830. 20 May 0930 departed on foot to Aikon village arrived 1715 with only short stops. The patrol covered twenty-one days and important to note that my bride of eight months looked after herself at our new home at Talasea. Our handyman Tito slept under the house with our dog, Tiffy. Peaceful and untroubled times.
Back in October 1961 on Gillian’s first patrol we went to Uasilau base camp. Bed made, we climbed in, tucked in the mosquito net ready for a good sleep. Gillian aroused me and said she had observed something moving under the sheet—with that a large rat appeared and commenced circumnavigating the bed to find a way out of the mosquito net. I lifted the net, the rat departed and I said to Gillian, ‘taim bilong slip’. Next morning, I asked several of the villagers to remove the mattress out onto the lawn and give it a good shake. Mother rat and half a dozen offspring departed their overnight accommodation much to the hilarity of the locals. There were no more start-up dramas as Gillian settled into the New Guinea way of life.
Special mention needs to be made of Soa Ubia, who was the Lululai (headman) at Uasilau. A gentleman, a leader and a powerful pro-government influence in the Central Nakanai. I met with him many times and very much respected his intelligence, advice and desire to move his people forward. Some years later, on a private visit with the family, I had an emotional meeting with Soa. Another outstanding leader from the village of Silanga was Maneke, who nominated for and won the seat of West New Britain in the first parliament. I still have a letter he wrote to me at that time thanking me for the direction I gave to him and his people.
In my previous ramblings there has always been an aircraft story, having travelled to and fro over much of TPNG without serious incident in planes old, very old and some not so new. Helicopters were not part of the scene until early 1963 when a Bell 47 helicopter was chartered for an aerial survey of possible resettlement sites. Accompanied by Bill Conroy, Chief of Division, Agricultural Extension we flew the East Coast of West New Britain.
Several memories of that time—the pilot, named Hirst, wore only a pair of shorts and carried a pair of rubber thongs, should the control pedals get hot, and a toothbrush in his back pocket. The wide-eyed fascination of the children as they gathered around to see us, seemingly, drop from the sky on any cleared area near their villages. The departures from the Talasea school oval were no less frightening for us—under the power lines then out and around Kimbe Bay.
Coastal travel was either by canoes, work boats, speedboats or commercial vessels all variously used, without incident, except for one. With increasing administration staffing, allocation of transport to fit in with patrol schedules was sometimes difficult. I decided (without seeking local expertise) to construct a double canoe. Two hollowed out logs were purchased—funded from patrol allowance—joined catamaran style with sawn hardwood and notched bearers with a limbom (sago) bark deck sufficient to hold patrol equipment and a couple of camp chairs. One outboard motor was fitted to each of the canoes.
A patrol to Ewase and intermediate villages on the north coast was planned with this vessel to prove its usefulness. Rex McKenzie, a recently appointed agricultural officer, accompanied me (and penned the cartoon below).
Some days later leaving Sulu on our return journey, there was a light north-westerly wind and choppy seas. Fortunately, the decision was made to move inside the reef to smoother shallower waters. Without warning the cross members broke and the canoes rolled over. Villagers south of Sulu did a great job in rescue and recovery of waterlogged patrol boxes, outboard motors and numerous other effects.
Unknown to me Rex had written a graphic story of the event to his father in Melbourne, who wrote to the Public Service Commissioner.
Some weeks later, or was it months, the Commissioner wrote to me requesting an explanation. There was no official reprimand.
Continuing the marine theme, Agriculture owned a new ‘tinny’ and outboard motor. It had been pulled up on the beach at Cape Hoskins to meet the DC3 service from Rabaul. In the interim, whilst unloading the aircraft, the tinny and motor went missing. The TAA pilot agreed to an aerial search en-route Talasea (Volupai airport), flying time normally ten minutes, at the rate of one pound per minute. After ten minutes the search was called off. The boat and motor were never seen again. Another report to the Public Service Commissioner!
Major changes were in the planning stages for coastal resettlement of people undergoing land/population pressures from the Gazelle Peninsular, the Bainings and the Highlands. The DAGI River Resettlement Scheme was the forerunner to these changes. Small at the time of implementation, it set the scene for what was to become major rural development along the east coast and hinterland of West New Britain.
An inter-departmental conference in Port Moresby in December 1962 developed the strategies to move the project forward. There was excellent co-ordination and co-operation at all levels of government; field staff increases were planned and policy on native title and land acquisition finalised.
Recreation leave was due and taken in June 1963. As seemed to happen with my career, extra-curricular activities had been planned by Headquarters, the Public Service Commissioner and the Department of Territories (in Sydney).
It was a very happy and productive couple of weeks with Gumia Gitti and Stanley Wuai. To add to the Expo mix we made visits to Nestles; Taronga Zoo and Hawkesbury Agricultural College and, if I recall correctly, met with the Chief Quarantine Officer (Plants) in Sydney. Interesting to note that Gumi ended up a senior quarantine officer at Port Moresby. Stanley, I lost track of.
Not originally scheduled but a Cessna 172 was chartered (not sure if that was financed out of patrol funds!) and Gumia, Stanley and myself flew to Coffs Harbour to visit sugar cane farms and a sugar refinery. I think the Big Banana was also on the itinerary. Great experience for two of our staff.
Return from leave was planned for October 1963 and there is more to the Talasea story. •