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11 posts from November 2006


Here's a rattling good yarn about life in the PNG capital today ...

Moresby_taxi1_thumb For Port Moresby cabbie Paul Egan, the smashed and spiderwebbed upper-right section of his windshield is not a big deal. Probably, he surmises, caused by a stoning after an argument. Nor is the bullet hole just beneath the handle of the driver's side door. A car-jack attempt? He doesn't know.

Sporting a collared plaid shirt and gray trousers, Egan, 46, from Papua New Guinea's mountainous Simbu Province, pulls his deep blue Mazda 323 cab from the International Terminal parking lot at Jackson Airport.

"All that damage," says the former restaurant chef as he drives toward the National Capital District, about a 10-minute drive, "happened to the driver who had this car before me. I got it 8 months ago."

In a day Egan can earn up to 160 kina (about $80), but more realistically he pulls in around 80 on average. Sunday is his only day off.

After subtracting costs for fuel, flats, and the fee to his employer (Kongo Taxi), he's still doing much better than the national average. (For reference, a worker in rural areas not engaged in subsistence agriculture will earn less than 40 kina a week.)

Egan's worst customer is the drunk. "Sometimes," says the thirteen-year veteran, "they drink and drink and drink until all their money's gone. Then they cannot pay the taxi bill."

More from The Captain at ‘Sake-Drenched Postcards’ here. And an equally well written story about the Alotau canoe festival here.

Photo: Sake-Drenched Postcards

John Beagley dies

Hugh Greer [ASOPA 1968-69] reports that John (Beakley) Beagley [ASOPA 1967-68] died in Cairns Base Hospital yesterday after a long illness. John had various postings in PNG and was well known in Bougainville, Rabaul and the Mortlock Islands. Hugh, who went to PNG 1970 and returned to Australia in August 2004, now lives in Cairns where he works for Caltex. He says he’s sure many people will remember John.


Malagunabadgegr Richard Clark of the 7th E Course (1964) has written a fascinating account of his teaching career in Papua New Guinea, which you can find on the E Course website here. A couple of quotes that especially caught my eye:

“My first posting was Hood Lagoon Primary located about 150 km south-east of Port Moresby. The only access was by sea or a 5 km walk along the coast at low tide. The initial trip to Hood Lagoon was on the coastal vessel, MV Kobo. We left Port Moresby early on the Tuesday morning with a cargo of essentials including a load of teachers destined for various schools along the coast…

“…During the first year at Hood Lagoon I had to come to terms with the isolation in terms of regular food supplies, mail and the like. Thanks to Steamships Trading Company, we were able to receive weekly freezer supplies of meat, bread and vegetables. The coastal vessels had a huge esky packed with blocks of ice. The meat was frozen in Port Moresby, packed and sewn in hessian bags. Even if the vessel was a day late, the meat was still frozen... Beer was included in the weekly order. At first it was one carton a week but it soon went to two cartons…”

“My next posting was Daumagini Primary, located inland and about an hour’s drive from Port Moresby. The head teacher was Allan Jones, an ASOPA graduate and a crow-eater to boot! Allan was (and still is) a dedicated soul. He would spend countless hours at his work. He was a strict disciplinarian and had the school working like clockwork. He would never take no for an answer and instilled a great pride within the school. I learned a lot from Allan and implemented some of his ideas in later years as both a teacher and head teacher.”

Richard’s evocative piece is a thoroughly good read for people who went through similar experiences at PNG’s bush schools in the sixties and seventies and for anyone who may have wondered what those experienecs were really like. I commend it to you.


Maf Nick and Paula Swalm are recently arrived in Mount Hagen from Canada, never before having lived in Papua New Guinea. Nick has just begun to fly as a pilot for the highly esteemed Mission Aviation Fellowship. But the reason for this mention is that Nick and Paula have set up a weblog that has some great photos of the Western Highlands and a bit of a story of how they’re settling into Hagen.

Photo: MAF hangar at Mount Hagen from the window of the Swalm’s arriving aircraft


Barrydaintree Today is Remembrance Day – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marking the end of the war that was supposed to have ended all wars. This morning, in Far North Queensland, a retired military chaplain – Rev Dr Barry Paterson, an icon of the ASOPA Class of 1962/63 – dusted off his liturgical gear for a special commemorative service in the heart of the Daintree Rain Forest - one of Australia's great wilderness areas. Barry poses at Cow Bay Airport, north of the Daintree River.


BelfieldbookA former Port Moresby-based colleague and ex PNG Department of Information journalist, Jane Belfield, writes she recently had a novel released by Internet publishing company Alinar Publishing.

An online biography says “English-born Jane Hill [her pseudonym] lives in Victoria, Australia, in a house on 10 acres by the sea. Jane - who lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for 25 years - is a former radio and print journalist, now writing and editing freelance. Her work, published and broadcast in several countries, includes short stories in the romance genre, but this is her first attempt at a romantic novel.”

"Any resemblance to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is quite intentional," says Jane about this modern take on an age-old theme. The book, ‘King of the Castle’ is available for $US4.49 on Alinar’s website here.


Getaway MV Orion's Papua New Guinea expedition cruise will feature on Channel 9's Getaway travel program tonight. Channel 9 sent a TV crew to cover Orion's first PNG encounter last March, so if you're interested in a current view of Rabaul, Kavieng, Sepik, Madang, Tufi and Milne Bay, as well as experiencing a taste of shipboard life on this flash 100-passenger vessel, tune in to Channel 9 at 7.30 pm (DST).


It might still be eleven months away but 30 people (21 former cadet education officers of the ASOPA Class of 1962-63 and nine partners) have already registered for their third reunion in Brisbane from 12-14 October next year.

In alphabetical order, they are: Henry & Janelle Bodman; Bill & Diane Bohlen; Colin & Wendy Booth; Jeff & Robyn Chapman; Bob Davis; Sonia Grainger; Rod Hard; Colin Huggins; Keith & Ingrid Jackson; Richard & Judyth Jones; Dave & Elissa Kesby; Peter & Margaret Lewis; Ian McLean; Rory O'Brien; Barry & Janine Paterson; Roger Philpott; Howard & Glenda Ralph; Val Rivers; Roger Stanley; and Bill Welbourne.

The Brisbane organising committee appointed Colin Huggins to secure top value accommodation – and he delivered in full by striking great deals with Brisbane’s Sofitel and Novotel Hotels.

Sofitel [$195] - To book your room and get the deal, quote booking code ASO1007. Bookings through Jade Thompson at this email or telephone 07 3835 3535 or 07 3835 4959.

Novotel [$150] - To book your room and get the deal, quote booking code ASOPA2007. Bookings through Laura Ousby at this email or telephone 07 3309 3309.

And you catch up on all the current information about Brisbane ’07 on  Bill Bohlen's reunion website here.


Samarai_street_06 Kevin Lock, who now lives in Fremantle, was a member of the 2nd E Course in Rabaul. He has sent me two wonderful old photographs of Samarai 100 years ago. The scene in the first photo is instantly recognisable as the main street of Samarai, the buildings on the left backing on to the now very decrepit main wharf. The second photograph pictures some houses of the period which seem very pleasantly disposed and evidence a prosperous and well laid out town.

Samarai_housing_06 Samarai, a tiny island of 24 hectares only five km from the mainland, is located at the far eastern tip of New Guinea in the China Strait, which an early navigator thought would provide a clear and straightforward passage to the Far East. Prior to World War 2, the town was a provincial headquarters for the Australian administration but in 1942, as Japanese forces approached, the residents fled. Installations on the island were torched by Sgt Les Arnold at the end of March 1942 and there was also some bombing by the RAAF to deny invading forces buildings and equipment. After the Battle of the Coral Sea, Samarai, too small for an airfield, was used as a base for flying boats. Visiting Samarai today, it is possible to understand how beautiful the town once was. But, sadly, its glory days are long since gone.

Meet Sarina Bratton

Sarinabratton When I lived in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Clifton Gardens 20 years ago, my upstairs neighbour was Cunard shipping executive Sarina Bratton. Sarina went on to become the world’s first woman to found a shipping line - Orion Expedition Cruises – and in today’s log I briefly tell her story. But first a television program you might want to watch. In March this year, the popular Channel 9 travel show Getaway sent a film crew (anchored by presenter Jules Lund) to experience MV Orion’s inaugural expedition voyage in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

As the first Getaway segment went to air last Thursday, I was aboard Orion on the last leg of a most splendid journey around the islands to our north. But I’ll be tuning in for the second segment which goes to air this week [Thursday 9 November, 7.30 pm DST in the Eastern States].

Sarina Bratton is the founder and managing director of the five-star ‘soft adventure’ Orion Expedition Cruises, which also has financial backing from Marilynne Paspaley of the eponymous pearls to property group. Marilynne, an engaging and personable former stage and television actor, and husband Gary occupied Orion’s owners’ suite on the first leg of our PNG cruise.

Sarina Bratton now lives on Sydney’s northern beaches with her husband and daughter. An outstanding athlete, at age 17 she held national sporting titles in gymnastics, diving and trampoline. But when injury cut short her sporting career, she took a working holiday in Europe which led directly to her involvement in tourism.

On International Women’s Day this year Sarina won the coveted Australian Veuve Clicquot Award to recognise her leadership skills and contribution to tourism. Presenting the award, Janet Holmes à Court said, “Through Sarina’s persistence and perseverance she is creating a company that is exciting and innovative. Her vision to develop Australia as a cruise destination through the development of innovative itineraries has generated significant economic benefit.”

Two years ago Sarina’s dream of starting her own line became a reality with the launch of the Orion. She nurtured every detail from the galley to the engine room, hand-picked destinations, selected top expedition staff (including the inimitable Justin Friend) and worked with local communities to allow the ship to access those 'paths less travelled'.

“It’s tough starting a new business,” says Sarina. “You work very long hours and you have to put everything into it, which I’m not afraid of. I’ve got the best ship for the job and I’ve got a fantastic team working with me.”


Samarai, Wednesday - After lunch we clambered into the Zodiac for a two kilometre ride from Orion to Kwato Island, the last island of this voyage. The Kwato settlement was established by the London Missionary Society’s Charles Abel in 1891. He practised a practical Christianity and, while the Abel family has gone, their heritage lives in an active church and an outstanding boat and house building tradition. Charles Abel chose a fine place for his mission: petite islands, craggy mountains, azure sea.

Abel_family_gravestone2 It’s not wholly correct to say the Abels have gone. From the beach, we walked underneath a leafy canopy of raintrees and hibiscus up a wide, well-formed track which switchbacked to the top of a hill. Here stood a fine stone and wood church with a commanding view of Samarai and the China Strait. Just behind the church was a small graveyard with a monument testifying to the earthly remains of Charles Abel, his wife Beatrice (Bea) and many family members, the most recent who had died just this year.

To my surprise, also in this graveyard were the remains of my onetime Government Broadcasting Service colleague, John Smeeton, and his wife Marjorie (Badi) Smeeton. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, since I knew that John (and his broadcaster son Ian) had come from Kwato. John, a gentle and avuncular man in his sixties when I knew him, died in 1991 at the age of 82. He rests in a truly exquisite place.

Haus_seen_better_days Earlier in the day, we walked around the decaying remains of Samarai. A fellow guest on Orion, retired planter Jim Grose, who was a member of Papua New Guinea’s first House of Assembly from 1964-68, told me he had last been here as a passenger on the Malaita in 1949. Samarai, along with Port Moresby, was one of Papua’s original towns. A busy trading post which later had the unusual distinction of being bombed by the RAAF in WW2 to prevent the Japanese making use of its buildings.

Old_samarai_wharf The 24 hectare Samarai Island is one of PNG’s heritage listed areas. Not that such nomination seems to counts for much. Many of the original buildings and warehouses stand, but they have been allowed to deteriorate for lack of money. The once fine wharf is broken and unusable. People continue to live in Samarai, and the power station still runs, but – apart from the faint promise of an embryonic cultured pearl business, the place is fading away.

Samarai is somewhat symbolic of today’s Papua New Guinea. Removed from the aggrandising opportunities provided to the elite, bereft of readily extractable resources, almost beyond government, it is largely reliant upon itself for a meagre level of survival. It’s a real shame.