Ours was the year that was: 1965-66
Sydney celebrates pioneer anthropology

Winning swimming was tough in PNG

Richard Jones

PNG produced many fine athletes during the 1960s and 70s, but few swimmers of note. Unlike disciplines such as track and field, weight lifting, the football codes, softball, boxing and even lawn bowls where leading competitors mushroomed, the ranks of top class swimmers were decidedly slender.

Prime among those late sixties aquatic competitors who did excel in the pool were breaststroker Toby Tovitolon, freestyler Oala Moi and the Mae Verave sisters from Marshall Lagoon in the Central District. Tovitolon captained the PNG swim team at Moresby’s South Pacific Games in 1969.

Since then there have been a number of outstanding swimmers representing PNG at international meets, not least Ryan Pini who won gold in the 100m butterfly at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

It was always a surprise to me that PNG didn’t produce more local swimmers of note. On any given day in the country’s coastal areas, scores of children of all ages could be found leaping in and out of the sea.

But pool swimming demands real discipline. Countless hours of training. It’s a demanding sport and, as I wrote in a Post-Courier feature in December 1976, perhaps the required strict training regimen discouraged many potential PNG swim stars.

Dedicated coaches can train youngsters in basic stroke skills and techniques, even for something as demanding as butterfly swimming. Once those techniques have been mastered thousands of laps need to be swum so that fitness and durability can be built up. The long, hard training grind might have been just too much for many aspiring PNG teenagers.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Gary Shiell

I was an expat kid who went to Ela Beach Primary from 1974-76. Dean Harvey was in my class and I loved having Jo Kuth as my swim coach.

The Friday carnivals were great and, as people have written, were all about doing your best. I still have the little certificates that were presented at the conclusion of each carnival.

Great memories. Feel free to get in touch: [email protected]

John Woolhouse

I just found out from my brother that Mae Verave was the elder sister of Vaua and Mati who were 12 and 14 in 1976.

Type 'Trove' in Google, choose 'digital newspapers' at the top, then on the side choose 'International' and '70s' as the decade. You will find quite a lot about the swimming championships in Moresby during that period.

John Woolhouse

Vaua Verave and Mae Verave were the daughters of the RSM ofthe PNG Defence Force. They competed in 1973 and 1974 onward not the sixties.

They lived in Murray Barracks and were coached by my father WW2 John Woolhouse as were myself and my brother William Woolhouse who won the National Titles for his age group in 1973, 74,75 and 76.

Before we went to PNG Bill came third in the butterfly NSW Titles. But he stopped growing and times went downward.

Swimming was a great way to fill in time as were all sports back then with no television. I wonder if the children in Murray Barracks get outdoors as we all did back then.

Nikolas Kuth

Joe Kuth was my dad. He spoke very fondly of his time in PNG and I recognised many of the names mentioned in this thread as dad used to tell stories about his days coaching in PNG.

He sadly passed away in 2009 but if any of you have any photos of him from those days I would love to see them. My email is [email protected]

PNG Olympic Committee

The PNG Olympic Committee would like to get in touch with Nigel Cluer. If anyone is able to provide contact details for Mr Cluer, please contact PNGOC through email [email protected]

Many thanks.

James Buckley

Irving Underwood...good grief..I remember swimming in your pool..it was only about 5 metres and you practised every day. Were you not also friends with the Carter brothers Andrew Stuart and Bruce?
Other names here are the Harvey's of course, I often relied on lifts from their parents, Chris White and I were good mates at PMHS, Julie Capon,Jenny Moyle, McKays...those were special times.

Irving Underwood

Well what a pleasant surprise. I was searching, out of interest for Joe Kuth and came across a number of threads.

I went to Ela Beach Primary (and before the pre school), from 1965 to 1971. Joe taught me initially at our pool on Paga Hill, then Taurama then the Sir Donald Cleland pool at Boroko.

I recall, as previously mentioned, the chlorine, the discipline, his yellow trunks, the Friday evening carnivals and Saturday morning competitions. some of the names I also recall are Helen Byrnes and Neil Bostock. One in particular, Julie Antonio? Who had a beautiful butterfly stroke, the likes I've not seen since.

I also read a post by James Buckley (JB) who was at Ela Beach Primary.

However with much affection I recall Stephen, Karen and Dean Harvey, (our fathers worked together).

I have stayed in touch with many from Moresby. John Collier, Ross Nielson, Karen MacGowan. I actually arranged a 25 year reunion for Ela Beach primary school in Sydney in 1996 to which a substantial number turned up.

Please feel free to contact me if you wish to reunite.

Catherine Cowling (nee Ainsworth)

Talk about memories. Joe Kuth was my coach from 1970 to Jan 1974 when like most expat kids I was marched off to boarding school in Australia when I was12 yrs old. I absolutely loved Mr Kuth and will always treasure the comradre,, training, including weights training on Saturdays, and competing every 2nd Friday club night, in carnivals and the PNG National Championships. I particularly recall the Whites - Bruce, Gary and older brother Chris and the Harvey siblings,, Stephen and Karen. I really can't recall training with any PNG nationals. Regards Cath Cowling (nee Ainsworth)

John Byrnes

My sister Helen Byrnes also swam with a fair amount of success under Joe Kuth in the 70's.

I remember Helen and Max Mowen swimming from Fisherman's Island to Ela Beach or vice versa.

The swimming club in those days was pretty big with the Mowens, Pini's, Bostocks and the like.

Tracey Clausen

JC Cootes was my coach in 1975, still have 14 medals. It was a great pool, and a great club, he ran it well.

Silvia Bekker Finke

Great to read about Jo Kuth. I have a few photos of him and his wife in our photo albums. Most of them taken in 1976 to 1980 during swimming events or at Club Germania.

We spend four years in PNG and my daughter Carmen Bekker trained under him in Sir Donald Cleland pool in Boroko. We still have many cups and medals at our home.

Camen held the PNG titles in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke for some of that time.

Linda Johns

Michael Mefeae and Oala Moi were both PNG swimmers of note in the 70s and neither had expatriate parents!

Linda Johns

Surprisingly noone has mentioned Kim Terrell who went on to represent Australia at the Atlanta Olympic Games. His sister Holly and parents Tim and Judy were faithful members of the BASC. Can I invite you all to the BASC facebook site to share your memories of your swimming experiences in PNG?http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=59076963404&ref=ts

Greg mackay

Hi just browsing ..came across the site ..cool reading ,brings back some great memories thx......Just to add A very accomplished swimmer in her own right Jenny Russell also coached a team at Boroko through the same period...the memory a little jagged I think 1970 nationals I placed 3rd to Charlie in the open 1500 ..I was 12 at the time I recall ..My dad had a great little squad out of taurama barracks..A great time!!! Take care all .......

James Buckley

I started training under Jo in 1973 aged 13 until 1975 when we left for South Africa (on holiday to visit family) and stayed. There was a younger guy assisting him (Max?), who used to swim in the 3 Mile Island race against Evelyn Coppel, I think.

I remember Charlie Martin (used hang out with his brother Peter) as a very talented swimmer. Also Chris White, Evelyn and others with faces but no names. We all had green tinted hair from that pool, and after some Friday gala nights or inter schools, I remember how painful my eyes were due to over chlorination. Goggles were for girls!I still have swimming certificates signed by Jo.

Richard Jones

Hi Max, good to hear from you. The article I wrote for the PNG Association of Aust. quarterly magazine was also used by Keith on his blog but in a much abbreviated form.

The point I was attempting to get across in that yarn was the small number of PNG nationals who were into competitive swimming.

I mentioned the people you listed - Toby Tovitolon and the Mae Verave sisters
- as being just about the only Papua New Guinean swimmers of any note with
Melanesian parents on both sides of the family tree.

If you click back to that swimming story on Keithy's website, and then track down to the letters and comments posted you'll notice that I mentioned Charlie Martin, Nigel Cluer, Bostock and your goodself - and they all got a guernsey in the uncut story in 'Una Voce' (the PNGAA magazine).

But as I pointed out they were not native Papua New Guineans. That was the
whole point of the original piece. Where were all the national PNG swimmers
after 1971?

Max Mowen

I was part of the 1969 and 1971 South Pacific Games teams and we were coached by Joe Kuth.

Fondest memories are sneaking out to the Kone Tigers Rugby League Club while Joe thought we were in bed while he was at the Germania club.

Paul Capon

Hi, swim fans! I lived next door to the Taurama swimming pool with my family in the early to late 70's. I learnt to swim under the guidance of Jo Kuth. Our family along with many other keen swim fans attended so many wonderful carnivals.

A lasting memory of Jo Kuth is the unwavering Austrian accent which rolled out some interestingly encouraging stroke improvement commands such as, "Come on you fincense (princess), what do you call that!" My sisters Julie, Michelle and I swam every day, morning and night, with other swimming kids. To name a few, the Lucas's, Corcorans, White's, Moyles, Love's. Nigel Cluer was also a family friend as was Charlie Martin.

I often wonder the same as Richard: how did it take so long for PNG to produce another gold medal swimmer such as Ryan Pini? The answer I believe lies in the dedication of the entire Pini family, particularly Kevin and Sarina, who with no official help sponsored and supported Ryan to achieve a degree of recognition for his homeland. Well done!

Colin Huggins

Regarding the young swimmer at Gagidu circa 1966.
I found a diary note from that year. The young boy was not a local from the area. His father was a policeman posted to Finschaafen. Unfortunately I can find no name. From the photos that I still have there is no photo of the classes either, however, I think he came from the Papuan side of the country.

Richard E. Jones

Spot on, Sue. If you receive a copy of the PNG Association's Una Voce newsletter - the March '08 issue - you'll see I mention Joe Kuth in the yarn. Keith has trimmed his copy of the story for space reasons.
Kuth was the coach of the 1969 Moresby Games swim team. Toby Tovitolon was the captain as mentioned in the article above. Some of the leading male swimmers in Kuth's '69 Games team were Nigel Cluer (breaststroke), Neil Bostock (freestyle) and Max Mowen (butterfly).
Six years on, Charlie Martin won 8 swimming medals at the 1975 Sth. Pac. Games in Guam. Four of these were gold. But these were all swimmers with at least one expatriate parent, just like your son.

There were few locals of any note, despite the best efforts of Colin Huggins in coastal New Guinea and Kuth, his wife and like minded coaches in Moresby and elsewhere.
We'll have to google" Pacific Games (the modern name for the old South Pacific Games) and see whether we can isolate the names of PNG swimmers of note in the results columns.

Sue Ward

In the early 70's there was a very active swimming program being run by Joe Kuth and his wife from Club Germania in Port Moresby at the Boroko Olympic pool. Children and youths from all nationalities were being encouraged to improve their times, being urged to compete against themselves. Carnivals were run weekly on a Friday night and reward certificates were issued for better times with celebrations all round when a significant individual achievement was reached. The club had a wonderful atmosphere and communities were involved with fancy dress fundraisers and barbecues. My son Brad became an excellent swimmer there, being selected at the age of 11 to be part of the South Pacific Games squad in 1973, along with several Papua New Guineans. What happened to that program?

Colin Huggins

Your article on PNG swimmers is very interesting. As you state, it is rather amazing that PNG did not produce swimmers of note especially from the coastal and island regions.

I was a very keen swimmer in my youth - GPS, club etc and for four of my years in PNG I was based on the coast and spent much of my free time, and for that matter school time, in the lagoons around Dregerhafen.

In my third year at Gagidu (Finschhafen) I discovered a young kid (Grade 2) who was a swimmer. So I gave him swimming lessons and he was as keen as mustard and very good. He was just one of those naturals and I am sure had he had the opportunities that are afforded to kids in Australia he would have been top class. Your article made me think ‘I wonder what happened to him’.

Unfortunately my last two years in PNG were in the highlands of the Morobe district - Wau and Pindiu – which ended my idyllic swimming in lagoons and water skiing.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)