In January 1970 the SS Francis Drake [left] docked in Rabaul’s Simpson Harbour eight weeks out of Sydney going the long way round - via Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, Yokohama, Nagoya and Guam.
I disembarked with then wife, Sue, and two-year old son, Simon, and we absorbed the ambience of our new home. The town and its harbour, protected from the sea but ringed by volcanoes, were visually splendid. The air was hot, humid and still and smelled of copra and sulphur. This photo shows Simpson Harbour with Tavurvur Volcano in the distance and the wharf middle distant.
Radio Rabaul, where I was to take up my new appointment as assistant manager, was nearby. After a week in a hotel, we moved into our quarters on 2nd/22nd Street, named after the ill-fated Australian garrison overwhelmed by invading Japanese forces in 1942.
1970 was an eventful year in Rabaul. The Mataungan Association had stepped up its struggle over land rights and was causing the Australian Administration much grief. Prime Minister John Gorton visited in July and, as Gough Whitlam, later wrote: “He was greeted in Rabaul by an audience of 10 000 who were as hostile as our 11 000 (on an earlier visit) had been enthusiastic. Tom Ellis, head of the Department of the Administrator, gave Gorton a handgun.”
It was at about this time that I first met Sam Piniau, a Tolai broadcaster who, a couple of years later, was appointed as the first chairman of the PNG National Broadcasting Commission. Sam – a charming, capable and intelligent man - was to become a great friend.
Last week, on a scratchy telephone line, I spoke to Sam for the first time in many years. He now lives in a village outside Kokopo, the new provincial capital since Rabaul was destroyed in the volcanic eruption of September 1994. Later next month, I’ll be in Rabaul for the first time since 1971 on the MY Orion. And Sam and I are looking forward to renewing the friendship.
[Lower photo: Rabaul after the 1994 eruption - University of Papua New Guinea]