PNG pioneer Alf Uechtritz dies at 82
Montevideo campaign takes new turn

Obituary: Alf Uechtritz, an epic PNG life


Alf Uechtritz traced his lineage to both Queen Emma and the European aristocracy. Emma Forsythre Coe came to the Duke of York islands in 1878 and, realising the potential of New Britain, asked some of her family in Samoa to join her, particularly her sister Phebe who had married Richard Parkinson, a Danish/German botanist and scientist.

With their help, Emma established a trading empire and a large chain of plantations on the Gazelle Peninsula. Richard did the botanical work and Phebe recruited labour and translated. At the time Richard was also engaged in anthropological studies and his work, Thirty Years in the South Seas, was honoured by worldwide scientific bodies.

When Richard died in 1907, Phebe remained in New Britain among the Tolai people, living in a little house of local materials in Ralum village and, despite her advanced age, continuing to earn an income by recruiting labour for plantations.

During the Japanese invasion in 1942, Phebe was imprisoned in a small village on New Ireland, where she died from neglect and starvation in 1944.

One of Phebe’s daughters, Dolly, had married Peter Uechtritz who had come to the Duke of Yorks to work for Hernsheim, and Co. Alf was born to Dolly and Peter at Petalobo near Kokopo in 1926, delivered by a doctor who was to become Lady Phillis Cilento. He was a mere three-pounds but grew into a tall lean man, constantly tanned from an outdoor life.

In his early days at Sum-Sum Plantation, about 100 km from Rabaul, Alf spoke German, Kinigunan and Pidgin. When he was sent aged six to the Sacred Heart College in Bowral NSW he was considered “a little heathen”. Alf also retained his father’s German nationality and this proved to be a burden when World War II broke out.

In 1940, when his father was forced to leave Sum-Sum and could no longer afford to pay school fees, Alf – aged 15 - went jackarooing. For a short time he worked as a groom in Bathurst until reported by an English gardener as “a subversive foreigner”. He was arrested as he boarded a train and spent the following three weeks in gaol.

He was eventually freed by Alan Meagher, an influential friend of his father, and went to work on one of Meagher’s properties at West Wyalong. During the next five years he developed a love of the rural lifestyle. In 1948, his father died in Sydney. Fortunately Sum-Sum had not been confiscated during the war so, aged 22, Alf returned to New Britain to rehabilitate the plantation.

In Rabaul he met and married Mary Lou, a teacher whose father had come to PNG as a patrol officer and later settled at Biwa Plantation on Djaul Island, New Ireland. Maintaining the family tradition of large families, Alf and Mary Lou had 10 children.

In 1959, after 11 years at Sum-Sum, worried about problems in Indonesia, Alf took the family on leave, hired a caravan and found 5,000 acres at Capella in Central Queensland. The property flourished, growing cattle, sheep, wheat, sorgum and sunflowers.

But the call of PNG was strong. In 1968, Alf and Mary Lou returned and Alf became a supervisor with the Department of Primary Industry, head of the training school at Erap near Lae and finally OIC of all the Department’s training schools in PNG.

Source: ‘Meet Alf Uechtritz, our man on the land’, By Robin Horley, Your Guide to PNG, 1981


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Ron Sandell

I knew Alf when he worked at the Bubia Research station nean Lae. A lovely guy.

I remember the Australian Story "Finding Phebe" screened in 2004 and am trying to get a copy. It is not available through the ABC.

I worked in PNG from 1971 to 1987 with Ag Stock and Fisheries and privately. I also have an uncle who died in Kavieng in about 1960 or earlier, Frank Patten [Nugget] whom I will be investigating the history of [a visit] when time permits.

I am married to a PNG girl and have two sons by her. We have very close ties with PNG relatives.

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