Lord Forster Visits the Western Islands by Rob Parer
I came across a press report from Rabaul/Kokopo, New Guinea of 4 September 1924, and was amazed to learn that the Governor-General of Australia, Lord Henry Forster, GCMG, PC, came to TPNG and, from Rabaul, he and party, accompanied by the Administrator and Mrs Wisdom, visited Manus then to various parts of the Western Islands.
Wonderful reception from villagers at Lorengau, Manus Island. The Governor-General of Australia, Lord Henry Forster, GCMG, PC, and party, accompanied by the Administrator and Mrs Wisdom, arrived by SS Mataram on Friday afternoon at Lorengau, which is the administration headquarters for Manus. A wonderfully impressive sight was the natives’ welcome, consisting of over eighty huge canoes, which sailed out through the passage to meet Mataram. Almost at the mouth of the passage the canoes turned round and, with the favourable wind, were able to accompany the ship through the passage and to the anchorage. The Manus canoes are famous for their lines and speed. The Japanese, with the assistance of Manus natives, who are noted for their swimming and diving, gave a wonderful demonstration of turtle fishing, which consisted of the natives swimming along until near a turtle, then diving below the turtle and turning it on its back, making it powerless.
After delivering the mail, Mataram went on to Mokareng, which is the head station for the Manus group, and also a copra concentration depot. It was originally the headquarters for the German firm,
HR Wahlen and Co., for the Western Islands. The ship left for Maron on Saturday afternoon in fine weather, arriving on Sunday morning.
Maron is the Expropriation Board’s headquarters for the Western Islands, and is in the Hermit Group. The Governor-General, on arrival, visited Wahlenberg, the mansion of Mr Wahlen, which originally was fitted with electric light, a freezer and a chilling room. Owing to neglect since the board took over, all have gone, and the house has deteriorated. The natives of Maron have practically died out. Only about thirty old people now survive, and there will be none in another ten years. Wahlenberg is situated on a hill, 280 feet above sea level (overleaf).
The wharf is situated in the lagoon, and only schooners can go alongside. Mataram anchored outside, where the party enjoyed some wonderful fishing and shooting, leaving on Sunday at noon for Longan, arriving at dusk. Longan is in the Ninigo Group, and is a low-lying coral island, and an overseer and a medical attendant are the only white inhabitants.
The native population is small, and is dying out fast. They are large, similar to Lord Howe Islanders, and are noted for their wonderful speedy sailing canoes, one of which was presented to Lord Forster. Mataram left at dusk on Monday for Matty (Wuvulu), and arrived at dawn on Tuesday in good weather.
A wonderful sunrise was witnessed. It is an island of eight square miles, with a population of 300 natives and 160 indentured natives.
The board owns two-thirds of the island. The output is sixty tons of copra a month. Two whites live on the island. There is no anchorage, and the boat stands off. Right alongside the reef the water is tremendously deep. }
The party first visited the King of Wuvulu Island, Lului Pato, whose village is three miles from the shore. Then they travelled to Tuauvali Plantation, which is one mile further on the western shore front, and then back again to Agita Plantation. The roads were wonderful, with beautiful ferns and palms growing along the sides. The natives are very light skinned, similar to Malays, and the women have long hair, and are noted for their figure and beauty.
After returning to the ship, it left at dark for Seleo Island near Eitape (Aitape). They arrived at daybreak and anchored a quarter of a mile from shore, where there was a splendid anchorage. Seleo is a small low-lying coral island and is the concentrated shipping centre for Eitape District. There is one white overseer and one missionary. The party visited the Expropriation Board’s plantation and went to the Catholic mission on the foreshore.
After inspecting the mission and listening to the school children singing, the viceregal party were provided with an exceptionally fine tribal dance and display of canoeing by the natives of the island. Then everyone boarded the ship, which sailed at dusk en route for Madang.
Madang, in the German period, was known as Friedrich Wilhelmshafen on the mainland of New Guinea. It possesses an excellent harbour with a bold narrow entrance widening to provide safe and ample anchorage for a large fleet of ships.
Mataram berthed alongside a fine wharf that is government property. Practically the whole town welcomed the dignitaries on arrival. Owing to the ship leaving again just after noon for Alexishafen, which was ten miles down the coast, very little entertaining could be done. Mainly confined to displays of native music and singing and a visit to the town and surrounding plantations. The viceregal party was given a great farewell.
Rob Parer continues:
Stan McCosker, aged twenty-seven, lived on Maron in 1925,
as he was the store manager for the New Guinea Expropriation Board. The board had taken over all the German plantations in German New Guinea and was the largest employer of Australians in TPNG—some said that their CEO in Canberra had more power than the Administrator.
He and partner, King, took over Maron in 1952—the plantation had been left for years, and it was in a chaotic condition since prewar, with vines choking the palms. Wild cattle and deer descended from Baron Heinrich Rudolph von Wahlen’s herds roamed the island—the cattle had kept the English grass down but had destroyed the young palms. They could be killed for food.
Stan wrote that one of the first jobs was to get rid of the thousands of rats that had taken over. And as the Maron area was teeming with valuable trochus shell, as they had not been collected during the war years, there were fleets of Japanese poaching. He would chase them away by firing at them with a .303 rifle.
What an opulent life style Baron Heinrich Rudolph von Wahlen had on Maron in the Hermit Group! His Castle Wahlenberg was designed, and construction supervised, by a German architect. He imported cattle and deer, had electricity for lighting, a large freezer for meats and kept large stock of French Champagne!
In 1926 about 400 expropriated properties went to tender, many just a few acres—there were trading blocks as well as all the large plantations.