Sixty years on: Bill Brown

1952 was not an easy year for Harry West, transferred from Goroka to take over the Kainantu Sub-district, and thrust into responsibility for the road from the Highlands down to Markham valley floor. Highlanders, wielding picks and shovels, were carving out that track. They were led, inspired and jockeyed by “Young Rupe” Haviland, Patrol Officer, but he feared a critical section of the route was unstable.

West set the police to finding an alternative track. DC Ian Downs was adamant that there would be no change to Toogood’s original route, but he was eventually worn down by West’s persistence. West’s diversion, located by Lance Corporal Pokia, was vindicated: the 11-mile all-weather Kassam section, built by the Commonwealth Department of Works at a cost of more the half a million Pounds, in 1965, closely followed their route.

1953 should have been a quieter year. The Coronations Day celebration on 2 June was a huge event. Kassam Pass was officially opened in July, and John Gunther (Director of Health) drove the first vehicle from Lae to Kainantu, and on to Goroka: a Willys Jeep Ambulance. (DC Horrie Niall was his passenger.)

But then came disaster: West, on daily road inspection, soared over the handlebars of his BSA Bantam motorbike and landed on his shoulder. Ouch! Weeks in Lae hospital were followed by an arm immobilized in plaster, and, shades of Downton Abbey, I became the valet.

Then came Ralph Ormsby, on Liquor Licensing business, all 32 stone (205 kg) of him. On the first morning of his stay, he turned up to breakfast swathed in a blanket, and the domestic, waiting on the table, fled to his village. He thought that Ormsby was going to explode, and he was not going to be blamed.

When Ormsby departed, West recalled another meal: a dinner at Angoram in 1950. It started with pre-dinner drinks with host, Ralph Orsmby, seated in a director’s-style chair, summonsing the house staff to bring additional drinks with a large rubber bulb klaxon. The time passed. First sunset, and then nightfall. It was dark before Ormsby enquired if his guests all ate duck, and, when he was assured that they did, he sounded the klaxon with vigour. The cook appeared, and Orsmby gave his instructions: “KILL THE DUCK!”

Sixty years down the track, 2012, and Harry West has had another challenging year. What began as a visit to hospital for day surgery, and a simple procedure, turned into 71 days in hospital, with a spell in intensive care. He managed to turn 90 during convalescence, and, as well, tried pneumonia and shingles.

We are all delighted that Harry is switched back on: and happy and smiling.


Leave a Reply