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23 posts from October 2006


Fergusson Island, Tuesday – Two days, two methods of suicide. Yesterday Orion made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to anchor in narrow, reef fraught Tufi fjord. With a big swell running, the harbour bottom offering no purchase for a dragging pick and, at one point, our stern hovering just eight metres from the reef, Captain Peter Greenhow ultimately opted for prudence and anchored well offshore.

Tufi_jetty We surfed back into the fjord on a Zodiac and, after disembarking at Tufi jetty [left], began the uphill walk to Suicide Point, two kilometres away. The Tufi area is beset by drought and the coffee trees are dying but it wasn’t lack of rain that bothered William, our guide. He said he felt ashamed of the decrepit state of the buildings at the old Tufi government station. “There’s no money, no maintenance. Sometimes we wish the kiaps were back,” he said.

Tufi_fjord_from_dive_resort Suicide Point lies on a prominent bluff overlooking two fjords; perhaps 300 metres above sea level. Infamous as a place where spurned lovers swallow dive into oblivion, it offers a panoramic view stretching as far as the Owen Stanley Range, silhouetted like a cardboard cut-out against the bright morning sky. Far beneath us a clutch of outriggers lazily tracked a school of fish.

Overnight we made passage to Fergusson Island in the D’Entrecasteaux group where Maria (‘Sound of Music’) von Trapp was resident 50 years ago. Until arriving at this blissful spot, I had no idea that Fergusson is known for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools and insect-eating plants. The locals use Dei Dei’s sulphuric water boiling up from unknown depths for cooking, washing and as a source of salt.

Ingrid_at_geyser Here, in bygone years, the islanders would also boil captives alive before eating them on the spot, bones and offal tossed into another scalding pool nearby where they would be quickly reduced to consommé. There was an incident a couple of years back where a young village woman, upset after an argument, threw herself into the biggest geyser. Death by fjord; death by geyser. Add these to the list of bizarre ways of ending it all.

[Photo: Ingrid poses before one of the more diminutive Dei Dei geysers]


Orion_from_island Tami Islands, Sunday – These islands, situated perhaps ten kilometres east of Finschhafen, are best known for their great natural beauty and across-the-grain bowl carvings which are traded as far south as the Trobriand Islands.  Orion anchored just outside the reef and, as we headed to shore, dozens of high spirited dolphins leaped and spun around the Zodiacs in magical display. I write this as we depart the islands and, through the stateroom window, a large dolphin pod is racing alongside the ship as we begin our passage to Tufi.

We waded ashore from the Zodiac to be greeted by a singsing group which was providing a rhythmic counterpoint to another ‘theatre’ group which, in music and dance, told a series of stories about the Tami people in a ‘set’ framed to represent a canoe. In all my years in Papua New Guinea, I’d never seen such a precisely staged or exquisitely danced performance.

Blackboard Local villagers dragged rough hewn desks and benches from the nearby schoolhouse to provide seating in a natural limestone amphitheatre. The rhythms and melodies were hypnotic. “I think I was here in a previous life,” murmured a fellow passenger.

Class_rules After the dancing, Ingrid and I inspected the local elementary school, taking in the Grade 6 classroom at close quarters. I thought I’d share a couple of interior shots with fellow ex-PNG chalkies who I know have a passion for such pedagogical minutiae.

Then, accompanied by 20 fellow passengers, Ingrid and I clambered five metres up a rugged limestone sea cliff and picked our way through gardens pockmarked with rocky outcrops of ancient coral. Then down the other side for a flat 20-minute walk along a flotsam strewn path (thongs and parts thereof being the most common items) to a village of about one hundred people.

Here a new Lutheran church was being constructed – the only western material building in the place. “It’s cost 20,000 kina so far,” a villager confided, “and we’ve run out of money.” Alongside it, the old bush material church was cuter, cooler - and cheaper.

Then a walk-and-wade around the island before variously motoring and canoeing to a beach where the galley crew had established on of Orion’s spectacular desert island lunches – rum punch and barbecued tiger prawns. I’ll let you into a secret, travel doesn’t come much better than this!


Madang, Saturday – Yesterday Ingrid and I disembarked Orion, along with 60 other life-jacketed passengers looking like a seniors invasion force, to ride eight bucking Zodiacs for half an hour through a four foot swell and across a boiling reef. I use the word ‘bucking’ advisedly. Our destination was Watam, a fine example of a traditional village located a few kilometres east of the mouth of the Sepik River.

After such an arduous trip, it wasn’t hard to understand why Watam, a community of about 200 people, doesn’t see many tourists. Entering the small protected harbour we were surprised to see over 30 canoes and banana boats and the village teeming with over 1,000 people and half a dozen police, some armed with AK47s. For a fee of 30 kina a group, the Watam people had invited neighbours for 50 km around to establish a mass impromptu artefacts market. With so many tribal groups intermingling, the police were there for obvious reasons.

Keith_constable_and_arnold I was escorted around Watam by a new found friend, Arnold, from whom I bought some artefacts and who, with that spontaneous generosity of Papua New Guineans, reciprocated by giving Ingrid and me gifts. Spending an hour or so conversing with Arnold allowed me to shake the cobwebs from my rusty Pidgin and, for his part, he seemed well pleased with the dialogue.

With the singsing going flat out, a 14-man pandanus and pitpit ‘dragon’ bouncing up and down at the village entrance and a lapun meri painting everyone’s face with an indelible red mark which will require a skin graft to remove, it took the ship’s passengers no time to get into the spirit of the day.

Manam_island Last night we sailed abeam of Manam Island [left], still in eruption and its population resettled on the mainland, and Karkar Island before entering Madang Harbour at seven this morning. Although its public infrastructure is deteriorating, Madang remains one of the South Pacific’s prettiest towns and it must surely be one of the most prosperous, with tourism and agriculture clearly flourishing. The sweet smell of copra hangs in the air and, despite whelming humidity, it remains the most pleasant of towns to wander around.

Ingrid_captn_peter_greenhowSome 35 years ago Phil Charley ran the radio broadcasting station in Madang after coming from the same role in Goroka. With these two postings, I always reckoned Phil had the best of it and, on visiting Madang for the first time in over 40 years, I see no reason to change my mind. Meanwhile, life at sea on this luxurious expedition vessel remains vibrant, as you can see from this pic of Ingrid with captain and self-proclaimed ‘driver’ Captain Peter Greenhow.

The end for Rabaul?

Bismarck Sea, Thursday - Orion wound her way out of Simpson Harbour yesterday evening on her way to the Sepik. Since our arrival early Monday, Tavurvur volcano continued to belch a thick cloud of black ash which the prevailing south-easterly caused to drift remorselessly over Rabaul leaving the town, and us, grubby and sulphuric. The ash gritted between my teeth and a medical condition, which I will call ‘Tavurvur Throat’, could only be soothed by the application of a large libation of ice cold SP beer.

It was on the long, hot and dusty walk from Orion to the Hamamas Hotel (around which there is a story) that the future of Rabaul became clear to me. On Malaguna Avenue I again met the middle-aged Tolai man from Matupit Island , in the shadow of Tavurvur. I’d encountered Matthias when Ingrid and I were out walking on the first day. He’d rushed to greet me yelling “G’day Bill! Where are you from?” To Matthias everyone was Bill.

He was now standing alongside a pick-up truck parked in front of Seeto’s decrepit trade store at the town’s western fringe. In the back of the truck squatted a group of ten glum men. At their feet, a few bush knives, sarifs, kulau and other possessions. The only good cheer came from Matthias. “G’day Bill!” he shouted. I asked him where they were going. To the New Matupit, Matthias told me, a resettlement area in the hills near Vunakabi beyond the Burma Road.

They were giving up on Matupit. The most recent eruption had destroyed most of their canoes and generated a tsunami they feared might annihilate the village. No one was hurt but they’d had enough. They were voluntarily taking a step that protracted government persuasion since the 1994 eruption had failed to elicit. Demoralised, they were abandoning Matupit for good. They were miserable – and it showed.

222_street2“You were in Rabaul in 1970, Bill,” barked Matthias happily. “They are leaving. Give them some words.” So I stumbled my way through an inadequate speech in Pidgin about how sad I felt for them but I had driven past their new home yesterday and it was beautiful place with rich soil and fine trees and I was sure they would find it a good and safe home. I did not sound, and I am sure I did not look, convincing.

Matthias, however, was pleased. “He was Radio Rabaul”, he announced to the men. I wished him luck, we shook hands and went our separate ways. When the Matupit islanders start leaving, I thought, that’s the end for Rabaul. Of course, for so long as ships can still enter the harbour, there will always be a port. But there is unlikely to be a Rabaul community.

A fellow passenger, Bryan Grey, Ingrid and I finally trudged into the Hamamas Hotel for a welcome cleanser or two. Owner Bruce Grant had saved his investment in 1994 by shovelling ash of the roof faster than it fell. It’s now the last intact building in this part of town. The ash fell constantly as we were there and, while it won’t drive out Grant, another blow to tourism might.

People in Rabaul are talking about Vulcan erupting again and about a new underwater volcano, Togirgir, south of Vulcan, emerging. They’re worried and the Matupit villagers are leaving. It’s just possible we’re witnessing the end of Rabaul.

Photo: House in 2/22nd Street where we lived in Rabaul in 1970 [Ingrid Jackson]


Tuvurvur_keith Rabaul, Tuesday - Ingrid and I were out on the forward deck just in time to see Tavurvur erupt. As Orion approached Simpson Harbour at 5.30 am yesterday, a dense column of black ash spiralled rapidly through the cloud layer reaching about 8,000 feet before being pushed away and diluted by the prevailing south-easterly. Fortunately for Rabaul the ash was directed away from the town.

After some stuffing around with an overloaded local telephone system, I eventually caught up with my old mate and boss Sam Piniau – the first and former chairman of the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation. Sam now trades around the Gazelle Peninsula in cocoa and vanilla and is a long-time member of the PNG Sports Commission, a job which takes him to Port Moresby four times a year. At 68, he’s in good shape and the 30 years since we’d last seen each other hadn’t blunted the edge of our relationship.

Keith_sam_at_old_radio_rabaul Sam drove Ingrid and me through the bleak wasteland that is the new Rabaul, the occasional skeletal structure being the only sign that, before Tavurvur and Vulcan erupted simultaneously in 1994, a town once stood here. The once splendid boulevarde that was Mango Avenue is now a goat track. What was the only three storey structure in town, the District Office, has been obliterated. Radio East New Britain is a roofless shell. “I told Tom Pearson [one time NBC director of engineering and construction] not to give it a flat roof”, Sam joked.

We then drove out of town and took the long way to Kokopo: up the Burma Road to reach a plateau containing neat villages, substantial houses and rich cultivation. This I recognised. The Gazelle Peninsula, despite Rabaul’s demise, remains progressive, busy and comparatively wealthy. The education system is strong. The churches are active. The politics, as always, dynamic.

Keith_sam_at_restaurant Reaching Kokopo, we called in at a small seaside restaurant for lunch. Here I met Francis Rangatin, the son of Chris, the NBC’s first director of news, who died last year. Death. When old mates get together, the subject they move to before most others is old mates. And many of our old Papua New Guinean mates have died, a substantial number after suffering from diabetes and losing one or more limbs. Over a cold SP beer and a meal of fresh fish, we pondered these and many more matters.

Later, in our stateroom, back on Orion, Ingrid remarked how Sam and Francis knew much more about Australia than Australians knew about PNG. And how they implicitly understood it would be the quality of the personal relationships that would improve the strained and testy conversation between our countries. John Howard and Alexander Downer take note.


Off Bougainville, Sunday – It’s a good day to spend at sea. As Orion makes her passage from Gizo to Rabaul the clouds are low, visibility is poor and it’s raining. Somewhere to the east is Bougainville - home to my family and me for three years in the early seventies, when I was manager of Radio Bougainville.

Around 1972, PNG Director of Education, Dr Ken McKinnon, visited Kieta and, through the radio station, I did him a small favour, to which he quipped: “I’d expect nothing less from an ex-teacher!

The other day my daughter Sally, a journalist with The Australian newspaper, interviewed Ken, who is the long-standing chairman of the Australian Press Council. Sally mentioned ASOPA PEOPLE to him and Ken wrote a comment to this blog, which I will amplify by reproducing here:

“Until Sally sent me the ASOPA URL information, I had no idea there was an active internet blogging facility for ex PNG people, so I am following your travels with interest. I can beat your thirty year reunion with PNG, having first landed in Port Moresby in early May 1954 after an ASOPA course between January and April.

“My Sydney sojourn came after two years at Oodnadatta, so was mostly a time for savouring the offerings of the city - not neglecting the ASOPA luminaries such as James Macauley and Camilla Wedgewood.

“Anyway, at the beginning of 1955 I was posted as Area Education Officer in the Milne Bay District based at Samarai (Alotau did not exist) and got around the Trobriands, Misima etc.

“I see you are going to Rabaul and meeting Sam Piniau there. Remember me to him, as I have strong memories of him initiating me into the Duk-duk society, which cost me a fascinating afternoon of dancing and later several fathoms of shell money. More when I have time and memories come back.”


Marovo Lagoon, Friday - Jill and Grant Kelly have spent 25 years developing and then enhancing their small but exquisite resort on Uepi (you-pee) Island in the Western District of the Solomon Islands. Being in a remote part of the country, almost at the end of the line, they don’t make a lot of money but live a fine life catering to the requirements of scuba divers, expedition travellers and people who simply want to drop out for a while. And, after more than a quarter of a century, they feel a close connection to the natural environment and to the native people who live on the tiny coral islands arranged necklace-like around Marovo Lagoon.

On board Orion earlier today I watched [on the ABC’s excellent Australia TV Network] Alexander Downer fulminate against the governments of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. He also fulminated against the Australian Labor Party, which he accused of “supporting foreigners” as if this was a most heinous crime.

Ingrid_in_jungle_1 With Downer’s petulance still on my mind, I took the Zodiac to shore, where Ingrid and I walked into the centre of the island on a rough hewn track before returning to the resort for a refreshing local lager. There I talked with Jill and Grant Kelly about Solomons’ politics, asking them about the usefulness of Downer’s megaphone diplomacy in addressing the serious problems Australia finds in its immediate neighbourhood.

They were ambivalent: saying Downer’s remonstrations against the poor governance of these nations was understandable but that it wasn’t clear exactly how this would fix relationships that Australia  had allowed to deteriorate over many years.

Uepi_resort_card_1 Marovo Lagoon is an hour in a plane and another 30 minutes by speedboat from Honiara’s troubled politics and, while the Marovo people know and are concerned about what’s going on, it doesn’t affect them directly. But I couldn’t help contrast the human values realised by the Kelly’s in developing a mature and mutually fruitful relationship with the people of Marovo Lagoon and Australia’s failure to do likewise on the larger diplomatic canvass. It reflects poorly on the competence of Australia’s politicians that relations with our regional neighbours should be in such an unhappy and volatile state.

Photo: Ingrid on the Uepi track


Trobriand Islands, Wednesday – After spending yesterday in Deboyne Lagoon in the Louisiade Archipelago (mostly on deserted Nivani Island variously sea kayaking, roaming around a long abandoned and overgrown coconut plantation and snorkelling above a ditched WW2 Zero), at seven this morning Orion anchored off Kitava Island in the Trobriands.

Seventy passengers and crew boarded seven Zodiacs which, en masse, as local custom dictates, headed for shore and a traditional dance welcome from the Kitava islanders, including a group of pubescent boys who were clearly embarrassed by the whole thing and fled into the bush the moment their dance concluded.

Frangipani_boulevard Ingrid and I then went on an hour’s walk into the hills to pretty Kumwagea village – clean, neat and with scores of blossoming frangipanis forming an avenue through its centre. At the entrance to the village was Kitava Primary School, established in 1962 and with the original head teacher’s quarters rather decrepit but still in use.

It was here that John Peter, a man from nearby Lalele village, befriended me. We got talking about the school, which he had attended in the late 1960s. “It’s not the same now,” he complained, “they Primary_school don’t teach in English anymore. The kids don’t learn it and they get pushed out before high school”. “Who taught you?” I asked. “At first an Australian,” he replied. “What was his name?” “Mr White.” “Mr Brian White?” John Peter looked at me surprised. “Yes, he said, “that was his name.” When I mentioned that I knew Brian well and that he had died just a few months ago, a single fat tear rolled down John Peter’s cheek.

Brian (BP) White was an esteemed and much loved colleague on the ASOPA Class of 1962-63. He and I taught together briefly at Mandi in the Sepik before he was posted to Milne Bay. He was assigned to Kitava Primary T in the mid sixties a couple of years after.

It was on Kitava, as I understand the story, that Brian met his wife Nammie who continues to live in the family home at Meringandan outside Toowoomba. It is on Kitava that a yam house still stands. A yam house holding Brian’s gift of the prized local product given when he wed Nammie and which he never bothered to collect.

Brian_white_house I paused for some minutes at the school, standing silently beside Brian’s bungalow perched on a small rise at one corner. The scene is peaceful and picturesque: classrooms on two sides; teachers’ houses on two sides; a lush soccer field between; large shade trees around the perimeter, bare patches beneath scuffed clean by generations of resting students; a school bell rendered from an old gas container. I struck it three times and called assembly. “That’s for you, BP,” I said.

Photos by Ingrid Jackson: Kumwagea village; Kitava School sign; John Peter near Brian White's bungalow and empty yam house.

Sweet dusty Alotau

Alotau, Monday - I was fortunate to awake early enough to catch a first shrouded glimpse of the Papuan coast 30 years after taim igo pinis in 1976. It was a sentimental moment which recalled my first arrival in TPNG in 1963: a mysterious and misty coastline holding promise of great adventure. Promise, I hasten to add, which was fully redeemed.

About an hour or so later Ingrid and I were breakfasting on the aft deck as Orion entered the China Strait, cruising within hailing distance of little villages and passing abeam of diminutive Samarai with its massive copra sheds.

Arriving_in_alotau_1 We berthed at Alotau, the Milne Bay provincial capital [left], at 11 am to be greeted by a local singsing group belting kundus like there was no tomorrow. An hour later Ingrid and I were ashore walking around the dusty streets of what appears to be a poor and run down township. The prominent presence of guards around any building related to banking, petrol and beer evidenced security concerns although the people retain a customary friendliness.

Keith_radio_milne_bay_1 As I happened to be passing by, I called in at Radio Milne Bay and said g’day to assistant manager Milela Gisawa, 27 years in the service of the National Broadcasting Corporation, which I’m proud to say I helped establish in 1973. That's me posing at the station entrance.

The main road through Alotau, the boat harbour and the market were crowded with purveyors of betel nut, leaf and lime – seemingly a staple of life and a driver of the economy.

After an hour we ended up at Napatana Lodge, on the edge of town, where manager Edna honoured her claim to “serve the coldest beer in Alotau” and I quenched my thirst on my first SP brown in three decades.

No_spittle_or_scum_1 We trudged back to Orion with the afternoon heat starting to stake its claim. Along the road we encountered a few interesting signs [left] and scores of warm and welcoming people. The sweetness of the welcome lingers. The dust washed easily off my shoes.


Coral Sea, Sunday – There is something very calming about the irregular motion of a ship ploughing across a long rolling swell. Awakening as usual at 3.30 am for some night-time pondering (like ‘why do I keep waking at 3.30 am?’) I can feel Orion moving around me. It’s like being gently rocked in a giant cradle.

Yesterday evening, after Australian Security, Customs and Migration conspired to render meaningless the word ‘efficiency’, Orion slipped casually out of Cairns with the city and its embracing hills slowly drifting from view. With Beethoven’s seventh on the stateroom CD revving me up, I was overflowing with anticipation.

At Trinity Wharf, waiting for Australian Security etc to do their thing, I spoke with a young East Sepik immigration officer who’d flown from Moresby to process passports for tomorrow morning’s landfall at Alotau. She agreed she had one a great job. And she was very proud that her boss was Prime Minister Michael Somare.

Orion is not full: there are 59 passengers on board of a potential 100. But there’s not a bed available for the second leg out of Rabaul. The old New Guinea hands obviously set to come to the party. Few travellers on this Cairns to Rabaul sector are old TPNG hands. Most being Aussies of my age group wanting to experience the delights of expedition travel.

As we near the Papuan coast the afternoon has brought rain and I write this log to the theme from ‘Titanic’ (My Heart Will Go On). It should’ve been played through the ship’s Tannoy (I’m acclimatising to maritime life) during this morning’s lifeboat drill.

We enter Alotau at dawn tomorrow. Here, in the words of Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, "Australian troops … inflicted on the Japanese their first undoubted defeat on land. Of all the allies, it was the Australians who first broke the invincibility of the Japanese army”.


Orion_in_trinity_inlet_2Cairns, Saturday - MY Orion berthed at Trinity Wharf in Cairns right on 7 o'clock this morning after a passage from Darwin from where she had cruised the Kimberleys and Timor. Her raked bow and sleek lines give Orion the most elegant appearance; her diminutive size perfect for expedition cruising.

With the pilot in charge, the ship glided down a smooth and silvery Trinity inlet, passing a scene of considerable devastation as the old wharf  is demolished, probably to make way for some monolithic high rise. Then Orion demonstrated her great manoeuvrability by crabbing sideways into the assigned berth at Trinity 2. Piled on the stern deck the six Zodiacs that will ferry us to shore on the many 'wet landings' we'll be needing to make in Papua New Guinea.

Orion_trinity_wharf As I write this, the revictualling is already taking place, so those great Hunter reds, exquisite Margaret River chardonnays and Serge Dansereau inspired meals will be safely ensconced by the time we board at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Meanwhile we'll go hunting in the Cairns CBD for a few good books. And I need to buy a cheap but waterproof wristwatch as I don't think my present timepiece - a Palm Pilot - is really all that suited for travel by Zodiac and jumping off rocky beaches.

Photos: Ingrid Jackson


Cairns, Friday - On Monday my good mate Nigel Milan, most recently chief executive of SBS, takes up a new post as CEO of Australia's legendary Royal Flying Doctor Service.  Spurred on by his new role, Ingrid and I today visited the Cairns RFDS base, which incorporates a small and rather disorganised museum. But ,through a door at the back, was a genuine article - a pensioned off RFDS Beechcraft Queen Air.

Beachcraft_queenair_2_1 When these beautiful aircraft were introduced to New Guinea in the 1960s, we who were conditioned to travelling in cramped Cessna 180s and old, slow and shaky single-engined Otters, looked upon them with awe. Here was remote aviation at its most modern. The Queen Air's also performed admirable service bringing the Flying Doctors to the injured and ill in the isolated communities of the Australian outback.

Ingrid and I are now ensconced in the Cairns International Hotel where, from our 16th Floor eerie, we have an eagle's eye view of Trinity wharf. From here, tomorrow afternoon, we'll be departing for Papua New Guinea on MY Orion . The weather in tropical north Queensland is unseasonal - with blustery storms sweeping along the coast even as bushfires ravage Tasmania and Adelaide's announced  its toughest water restrictions ever. Papua ho! as we once might have said.

Rfds_cairns_base_1Briefly back to Nigel Milan and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was started by the famed Flynn of the Inland [Rev Dr John Flynn] around the time of World War 2. For many years now Nigel has not only been a successful broadcasting executive but unpaid chairman of the Fred Hollows Foundation, which funds projects in many developing countries to reverse the devastating impacts of blindness. I believe the RFDS has the right man for the job and that we'll be hearing much more about this iconic Aussie organisation now Nigel is in charge.


A port by port account of the voyage Ingrid and I are about to take around Papua New Guinea.

12-14 October: Cairns. Promotes itself as the “safest tropical city in the world” although I don’t intend to test that assertion by crossing a croc infested river at midnight with a raw steak in my back pocket. Rated the third most popular tourist destination in Australia after Sydney and Brisbane. Milnebaystamp_1

16 October: Alotau. The scenic capital of PNG’s Milne Bay Province is located in the area where the invading Japanese army suffered their first land defeat in the Pacific war in 1942, even before the Kokoda Trail battle.

17 October: Deboyne Lagoon in the Louisiade Archipelago is home to the islands' master canoe builders. It had a brief role as a Japanese base during the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the Japanese invaded taking three Australian Army signallers prisoner. The four zeros that itched in the lagoon during the battle are clearly visible to snorkellers.

18 October: Trobriand Islands. The famed ‘islands of love’. Not even the missionaries have been able to alter the Islanders’ view that their place is a sensual paradise. Their culture of self-reliance and magic has changed little over generations.

20 October: Gizo, in the west of the Solomon Islands is 350 kilometres from Honiara, is a small town of 3,000 spread over the southern end of a small island. One report notes: “It is a fairly busy little town, with lots of cars and trucks moving about during the day. The only noise at night were the dog fights about 2 am and the 3 am roosters”.

21 October: Kennedy Island. A picturesque speck in the ocean, formerly known as Plum Pudding Island, was renamed in honour of a famous castaway. In August 1943 the US motor torpedo boat PT109 was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Amongst the 11 survivors who swam to shore was its commander - one John F Kennedy. Rabaulstamp_1

23 – 25 October: Rabaul. My 1970 stamping ground (Assistant Manager, Radio Rabaul), when the Mataungan Association confronted John Gorton’s government with serious civil strife. Devastated by a volcanic eruption in 1994 and experienced another just five days ago when Tavurvur blew its top.

27 October: Sepik River. My first PNG posting as a young teacher in 1963 (I arrived a week before John Kennedy’s assassination) was to Wewak in the Sepik District. At 1,126 km the Sepik is the longest river in PNG and is navigable for most of its length. The tribes living along the river are noted for their magnificent carvings and elaborate manhood initiation ceremonies.

28 October: Madang boasts that it is “the prettiest town in the South Pacific". First settled by the Germans in the 19th century, its peninsula setting is a showplace of parks, waterways, luxuriant shade trees and sparkling tropical islands.

29 October: Tami Islands. Offshore from Lae, the Tami islanders are renowned for their carving. Former kiap Paul Oates has written: “The Tami Islands were wood carvers par excellence. A difference between their carvings and other areas was how they carved the wood across the grain, not lengthways. Their turtle bowls were much sought after”.

30 October: Tufi is 250 km east of Port Moresby and lies between Lae and Alotau on the tip of Cape Nelson. The Lonely Planet Guide calls it "PNG’s best kept secret". Tufi is a place of great natural beauty and is located among spectacular volcanic fjords.

31 October: D’Entrecasteaux Islandsare located near the eastern tip of PNG. One of the group, Fergusson Island, is famed for hosting Maria (Sound of Music) von Trapp in 1957 as she began to scope a major missionary project in PNG. My_orion_2

1 November: Samarai is a small island at the south-eastern tip of PNG. Two kilometres away is Kwato Island, where Rev Charles Abel established a London Missionary Society station in 1891. Kwato developed as an industrial mission with Papuan run plantations and a thriving boat-building facility.

2 November: Alotau.

4 November: Cairns.


Cashier Former ARL first grade rugby league referee Bill Harrigan recently officiated over the final of the PNG competition. He reported his experience for the Gold Coast Bulletin:

"You have never tasted true rugby league passion until you have been to a Papua New Guinea grand final. I refereed my second in succession last Sunday in Port Moresby and was as amazed as I was in 2005. It is a thrilling, frightening and exhilarating experience.

"The match was not scheduled to start until 3pm and I was intrigued when told we were leaving for the ground at midday. "We won't get in if we leave any later," I was told.

"Arriving at the ground I soon understood. At just after noon the ground was almost packed and there were five lines of people stretching about 300m waiting to get in. I could sense that there were going to be a lot of very disappointed people.

"That was certainly the case, because just as I blew time-on there was a large 'boom' outside the ground and I saw a plume of tear gas rise. Soon after there was a burst of automatic gunfire as the police 'persuaded' those who could not get in to move on.

"Not long after that one of the main gates was pushed over and a stream of people started to pour through. These were met by a wall of police and police dogs. The gate was put back into place and the game started. Every now and again I would hear another tear gas canister explode outside…."

By the way, Mendi Muruks defeated Goroka Luhanis 24-14 in what, on the field anyway, was a good natured game.

Photo: Cashier at Boroko Food World, PNG Gossip Newsletter


091006pcfrontpage The Mt Tavurvur eruption in Rabaul has subsided and the skies are now clearing. But Tokua airport near Kokopo has been closed indefinitely after the runway was inundated by volcanic ash. Nonga hospital has also been closed.

Tavurvur, on the outskirts of Rabaul, erupted on Saturday with a blast that shattered windows up to 12 km away. Around 2,000 people - 90 percent of the population - fled the town as ash rained down and lava poured into the sea.

Volcanic activity on Tavuvur has been declining since Saturday afternoon but the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory reported yesterday there were still explosions and some ash fallout.

More about Maria

Mariavontrapp_2  Les Peterkin writes: I remember Maria von Trapp on the 4th E-Course in Rabaul, which ran from April to September 1963. I had been seconded from ASOPA to lecture in Physical Education and Music on that program. Maria was a quiet and unassuming lady but, to everyone's delight and enjoyment, she was a brilliant recorder player. I more or less put her in charge of teaching the recorder to the rest of the students.

Much of the music course was designed to impart to students suitable folk and camp songs which they could teach in the schools. One of these was ‘Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me!’ Most of you will recall these songs from ASOPA days. We also taught local traditional songs and songs in pidgin like ‘Lik lik kanu’.

After we taught the songs to the school kids they would go home and teach their parents. The New Guinea Islands people are fantastic singers and I was greatly thrilled towards the end of my stay in Rabaul when a two-ton truck full of people drove by on the way to Saturday morning market with all on board singing ‘Do Lord’ in full voice.

I was also given to task of training the Malaguna Boys Technical School choir for the big choral festival held each year. That's a great memory: a hundred boys singing in perfect pitch and four part harmony. I taught ‘Jamaica Farewell’, having to write it on the blackboard in Solfa with the boys singing by numbers – the same way the missions taught singing. Can you believe it?


Tavurvur We’re just about to head off to the islands, including three days in Rabaul, when Tavurvur stacks on a big one. The volcanic eruption sent ash plumes 18 kilometres into the air and the blast shattered windows up to 12 kilometres from the caldera.

Mount Tavurvur, which we always called Matupit, on the outskirts of Rabaul, erupted at 8.45 yesterday morning. "It was quite scary, but it's quieter now," Rabaul Volcanologist, Steve Saunders, told the ABC.

In 1994, Tavurvur and the nearby Vulcan destroyed much of Rabaul, forcing the relocation of the East New Britain capital to Kokopo, 20 kilometres away. This morning ash is falling on Kokopo, causing power and phone cuts.

Mr Saunders said magma had been welling up inside the 688 metre Tavurvur since 2005 and contained large amounts of gas, which accounted for the explosive force of the eruption. He said he expected the peak to quieten quickly.


Colin Huggins is pressing on with preparations for next year’s Brisbane reunion for the ASOPA Classes of 1960-61 and 1962-63. Yesterday he met with the Sofitel Hotel to discuss arrangements. These plans will be detailed in the October Mail which will be circulated next weekend, but here are the headlines.

The 1962-63 people booked so far are (at the Novotel) Barry and Janine Paterson, Peter and Margaret Lewis, Dave and Elissa Kesby, Howard and Glenda Ralph and Richard and Judyth Jones; (at the Sofitel) Colin Huggins, Bill Welbourne, Val Rivers, Sonia Grainger, Bob Davis, Keith and Ingrid Jackson, Colin and Wendy Booth, Henry and Janelle Bodman, Bill and Diane Bohlen, Les and Margaret Lyons, Roger Philpott; (elsewhere) Jeff and Robyn Chapman. Paul and Margaret Brigg (1960/61) are also at the Sofitel.

The formal dinner on Saturday 13 October will cost $95 and details relating to money collection will be advised at a later date. The meet and greet function on Friday 12 October will start at 6 pm at Sofitel’s Chez Bar. The final function on Sunday 14 October will start at 6 pm at the Bow Thai Restaurant. The likely cost is $35-$40 per person.

Colin says, “I realise this plea is somewhat repetitive but I cannot over-emphasise that you need to make your intentions clear and book your accommodation as soon as possible. Rooms at our big discount rates will not be available for long and the "off the street" rate is presently $585 per night!”

SOFITEL HOTEL - $195 - Booking code ASO1007

Sofitel_brisbane_exterior_364_1_1 Rooms on Floors 10 - 21 cost $195 per night for single, double or twin. There are also Concierge Rooms (above the 21st floor) for $235 and Club Rooms, which include access to the Sofitel Club on the 30th floor, for $270 single and $300 double. Club Room accommodation includes free breakfast in the Sofitel Club and afternoon canapes and cocktails.

You can make a reservation by paying the first night's accommodation in advance with the remaining payment to be made on arrival or when checking out. Bookings can be made by credit card or bank key card. Book through Jade Thompson at email [email protected] or by phoning her on 07 3835 3535 or 07 3835 4959. Remember to quote the booking code. If you decide to extend your stay before or after the reunion period, subject to availability the Sofitel will extend the same room charges.

NOVOTEL HOTEL - $150 - Booking code ASOPA 2007

Homehotel The room rate is $150 per night for single, double or twin. You can make reservations by giving credit card details and paying on arrival. Book through reservations sales manager Laura Ousby, who can be contacted at email [email protected] or by phoning 07 3309 3309. Remember to quote the booking code. If you want to extend your stay before or after the reunion, the Novotel will extend the same room charges for the 11th and/or the 15th.


Petersalmon Peter Salmon [left] writes that this year’s ‘Ex-Kiap Bung’ (southern chapter) will be held at the Sandown Greyhounds Tabaret on Sunday 5 November from 12 noon to 4.30 pm. Between 80 and 100 ex-kiaps from Victoria, NSW, ACT, SA and Tasmania and former PNG government officers and private sector employees are expected. The Tabaret will provide a four course meal for $28. There is plentiful and affordable accommodation available in the Sandown-Dandenong area including Formule 1 Dandenong. Intending participants should email Peter Salmon or Paul Maroney. And you can catch up with a current list of acceptances here.


Nearly 60 people have registered for the annual Papua New Guinea education lunch in Brisbane later this month. The event is scheduled for 12 noon on Saturday 14 October in the private dining room of the Jindalee Hotel in Brisbane. The cost is $32 and a cash bar will be operating. If you wish to attend you should contact Murray Bladwell on 07 3379 3771 or email him here.


Pasquarelli_3  John Pasquarelli was a kiap and crocodile hunter who became a Member of the first Papua New Guinea House of Assembly in 1964. He was later an adviser to Pauline Hanson, the former and unlamented right wing Australian politician. More recently he has kept Australians entertained with a flow of eccentric columns, letters to the editor and Internet contributions. Like this effort published in the Melbourne Observer recently which, however irrelevantly, reflects his obsession with Moslems:

A visit to the Pro Hart gallery confirmed what a character this inspirational bloke was.  I visited a huge mushroom farm in Mildura and on the road to Swan Hill, 35,000 acres of almonds are being planted as well as huge acreages of olives.  Lots of new housing is everywhere indicating that population numbers are holding up in many rural towns...  I covered a lot of ground during my short trip and guess what?  Not a burka in sight!

30_miles_to_burraNow, at the age of 69, John has turned to landscape painting. And he's proving quite a dab hand at the milieu, considering he  picked up his first brush only five years ago. I might dislike Pasqua's politics but I admire his art. The work here, 'Thirty Miles To Burra', was painted in Val Rivers' country in South Australia.

Maria von Trapp

The question has been asked: Was a member of the famous von Trapp ‘Sound of Music’ family on the E-Course teacher training program in Rabaul, New Guinea. The answer is ‘yes’ and here’s the story.

Maria_von_trapp Ingrid Jackson writes: Maria von Trapp, who completed the fourth E-Course, was the stepdaughter of the Maria of Sound of Music fame. Her autobiography ‘Maria’, which I bought in 1973 and still possess, includes two Papua New Guinea chapters - ‘A New Mission’ and ‘The Native Chant’ – together with a photo ‘Maria and native child’ [left].

In 1956 the Trapp Family Singers had toured Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Their Sydney host was Archbishop Carboni, the Vatican’s representative in this aprt of the world. The archbishop was reportedly “very much concerned about the great success Communist agents were having all over that vast territory” and the von Trapps promised him they would go to the islands and start lay missionary work.

In 1957 Maria von Trapp (the one depicted by Julie Andrews) toured PNG with her friend, Franz Wasner, to scope the project. Father Wasner and Maria had jointly started the Trapp Family Singers in 1936. Maria visited Budoya, or Bwaioia, on Fergusson Island, Rabaul, Wewak, the Sepik and the Highlands.

Stepdaughter Maria (b 1914) and children Rosemarie (b 1929) and Johannes (b 1939) had just arrived in PNG. Maria and Rosmarie taught "the little ones" and tended the sick in villages while, among other chores, Johannes built a church and two schoolhouses. He remained in PNG for four years, Rosmarie for five and Maria for a dedicated 30.

Maria now lives in Stowe, Vermont, in the USA. Rosemarie continues to travel extensively as a missionary. And Johannes runs the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

Maria_f_von_trapp_accordian Noel Ryan posted this comment on ASOPA PEOPLE a couple of months back: Maria [seen on album cover with piano accordion], a Catholic missionary, was on our 4th E-Course. A book, ‘The Trapp Family on Wheels’, tells briefly of Maria, Rosmarie and Johannes joining the mission at Budoya (Bwaioia) on Fergusson Island.

Maria is now 92 and living at the Trapp family lodge in Vermont. I didn't know her background when I was on the E-Course, where she was a nice unassuming lady of 47. She kept mainly with the older folk; our interest was in getting down to the Cosmo and the Xavier dances. It wasn't until about 1966 when I saw ‘The Sound of Music’ that I realised who she was.

I wrote to Maria a few months ago and she replied saying she was thrilled to receive the first letter she'd ever got from a fellow E-Courser.


My_orion I’m beginning to get organised for a return to Papua New Guinea after a 30-year absence. In a couple of weeks time Ingrid (who has spent time in the Solomon Islands but has never visited PNG) and I will be departing from Cairns aboard the motor yacht MY Orion. The 100-passenger vessel is equipped for expedition cruising with Zodiac embarkation platforms for wet landings and a tight manoeuvring capability which allows her to get close inshore.

Orion cruises Milne Bay (Alotau. D’Entrecasteux, Trobriands), the Solomons, Rabaul, the Sepik, Madang returning via Tufi and Samarai. In Rabaul we’ll catch up with my old PNG Broadcasting Commission mate, Sam Piniau (he was chairman when I was cutting my teeth as a broadcasting exec), and visit the post-eruption studios of Radio East New Britain, now based at Kokopo.

Radio_rabaul_2Here I’ll present manager Terry Lombut and his staff with a rare original program guide (left) for the former Radio Rabaul, which commenced broadcasting in 1961.

Satellite communications permitting, I’ll be diarising the voyage on the Internet through regular posts to ASOPA PEOPLE.