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39 posts from April 2009

Kim Beazley is Montevideo Maru patron

Head Former Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Kim Beazley AC, has accepted a senior role in a new organisation established to achieve greater public recognition for Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

On 22 June 1942, 1053 civilian and military prisoners interned by Japanese invasion forces in Rabaul were transferred to the freighter, Montevideo Maru. Nine days later, on 1 July 1942, off  the Philippines, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine Sturgeon. All the prisoners died.

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee was established to gain official recognition of the sinking, to determine precisely who was on board at the time and to encourage further research into events in Rabaul that led to the tragedy. Mr Beazley has accepted the position of Patron of the Committee and I have been appointed Chairman.

Prof Beazley’s uncle, the Rev Sydney Beazley, who resided in Rabaul at the time of the Japanese invasion, was just 33 when he was believed lost on the Montevideo Maru.

“The Montevideo Maru sinking is Australia's most devastating loss at sea,” Prof Beazley said today, “but is a quiet part of public consciousness of World War II history.

“The military personnel lost in particular were a product of the first desperate efforts of the Australian Government to defend our immediate approaches.

“The Japanese occupation of Rabaul produced many heroic Australian efforts at resistance and escape and an enormous Australian tragedy, both from massacres on land and the huge loss of life at sea. Getting this story more firmly into our national consciousness is a noble effort,” Prof Beazley said

Prof Beazley’s ministerial career began in 1983 in the first Hawke Government. In December 1984, he became Australia's youngest ever Defence Minister. He also served as Special Minister of State, Minister for Transport and Communications, Finance Minister and Minister for Employment, Education and Training. He was twice Opposition Leader.

He is now professorial fellow in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia.

PNG: You’ll just never read all about it

We travelled to Canberra on the shuttle – chins on knees – initially dodging clouds but ultimately finding it easier to fly through them and damn the turbulence. There was snow on the Brindabellas.

On the ground, the PNG flags had been broken out, and all up and down King and Commonwealth Avenues the Kumul flew proudly alongside the Southern Cross. Motorcycle cops shivered at every intersection.

The Hotel Canberra was swarming with Papua New Guineans - I recognised Foreign Minister Sam Abal behind dark glasses - who were searching for patches of warmth at the entranceway.

Under overcast skies, Kevin Rudd and a 19-gun salute greeted Sir Michael Somare before he inspected the Federation Guard on the forecourt of Parliament House. Inside the building, the two prime ministers chatted briefly with primary school children before heading to the ministerial wing for private talks.

Later in the morning the pair held a joint press conference and Sir Michael made a formal visit to Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

It wasn’t really much of a press conference as far as the press were concerned. Both Sir Michael and Mr Rudd made longish opening statements, there was a little banter between the two and then it was over to the journalists.

There were just four questions: three of Mr Rudd on Fiji, swine flu and the budget and, finally, one of Sir Michael on whether Australia’s $400M aid program to PNG was money well spent. You can read a full transcript of the press conference here. There were some ephemeral internet reports of the press conference and a couple of story-less photos in the morning papers.

Speech_280409 That night Sir Michael gave a first class and newsworthy speech, which I referred to in my previous post, to a reception at the PNG High Commission. I didn’t see journalists present. The speech, except in PNG Attitude, went unreported even in the PNG newspapers.

It was Phil Fitzpatrick who nailed the problem on 24 April in a comment on this site when he observed that the information flow between PNG and Australia was malnourished (my word not his) and that something ought to be done about it.

I agree. And Sir Michael strongly suggested the same when he said in his speech, “Of particular interest and importance to me is the warmth of the relationship – an aspect very often overshadowed by negative reporting in the media.”

The truth is that there is a real PNG beyond the stories of doom and gloom and crime and corruption. (There have been more than a few similar stories out of Sydney lately, I should advise.)

My own return visit to PNG a couple of years ago was scintillating and joyful – Papua New Guineans really like Australians – and so many contributors to this site have verified my experiences through descriptions of their own.

There are some old expats who seem to derive a perverse pleasure in the problems of PNG. I don’t happen to be one of them. But it is time there was a better information flow into Australia. I know that High Commissioner Charles Lepani is struggling with this issue. I hope he gets on top of it.

Photo: Sir Michael at the High Commission. On the far left is Charles Lepani [Ingrid Jackson]

Somare announces key PNG policy shift

Somare006 You would never have known from today’s Australian media coverage of Sir Michael Somare’s visit to Australia, but in an important major speech in Canberra last night the PNG Prime Minister heralded a major shift in policy on development aid and resource deployment.

A key feature of the new approach is the intention of PNG to direct more resources to employing Australian judges, doctors and teachers throughout the country.

Sir Michael said the time has come for PNG “to assert and accept more responsibility for our national development. We must forge a new relationship of equitable partnership with Australia. We will also be accepting more responsibility with respect to regional initiatives.”

Negotiations are about to begin with Australia on an Aid Exit Strategy to ultimately phase out Australian development aid. Initially, in what can be seen a blow to aid agency AusAID, there will be less consultancies and more money deployed to the private sector.

The Exit Strategy will be conducted so as not to prejudice PNG’s development effort and without destabilising the national budget. There will also be a resource shift from the public service to fund infrastructure development in the transport, health and education sectors.

Sir Michael announced that new consular offices would open in Sydney and Cairns as PNG seeks to strengthen its relationship with Australia.

Somare005 “PNG and Australia are true friends,” he said. “Our partnership has withstood the test of time. Over the years this partnership has grown and matured. But of particular interest and importance to me is the warmth of the relationship – an aspect very often overshadowed by negative reporting in the media.”

You can find a full transcript of Sir Michael’s speech here.

Upper photo: Sir Michael Somare talks to Orange’s Cr Chris Gryllis and me. For many years, Orange City Council has undertaken much philanthropic work in and around Mt Hagen [Ingrid Jackson]

PNGAA potential must now be realised

The constitutional reforms adopted so overwhelmingly by the Papua New Guinea Association on Sunday provide a framework for the reorientation of the organisation and signal the end of the influence of a small group of members whose attitude was best summed up when one of them said: “As for the Association facing extinction … so what!”

Instead PNGAA members have opted for change and given a new committee - to be elected in June - the tools it needs to redirect and renew the Association so that it plays a more substantive role in building and maintaining an effective civil relationship between Australia and PNG.

But the job of the members is not over yet. They now have to elect a national committee (and it should be national, and get rid of the Sydney monopoly) that has the talent, commitment and energy to meet their expectations for reshaping the organisation.

In the near future, members will receive in their letterbox nomination forms for a range of executive positions, so now is the time to begin a collective discussion on who are the best people to manage the affairs of the organisation.

It is also the time for aspirants for office to make themselves known to the membership and to state their claims to office. One of the significant problems of the PNGAA in the past has been its lack of transparency to the membership. This is a cultural issue that constitutional change cannot address.

The culture of secrecy can only be changed by the new committee opting for an ethos of openness and communication in its approach to members – and members need to demand this.

Hopefully, also, the days of internecine warfare are over and genuine disagreements within the Association can be resolved in a courteous and civilised way.

It would be presumptuous for the ‘old guard’, given its routing by the membership and its abject failure at Sunday’s meeting to even show the courage of its convictions by exercising a vote, to continue its tactics of undermining the President of the day.

Whoever runs the organisation after June must be given the full support of members to get on with the job and, in return, must ensure that members are engaged and that many new and younger members, especially Papua New Guinean members, are recruited.

As the election draws nearer, the PNGAA membership deserves to hear from all candidates what their views are on these and other important Association policies and activities.

Somare in Australia for high level talks

Sir Michael Somare arrived in Australia yesterday for talks with Kevin Rudd and a tour of bushfire and flood affected areas.

He is accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Abal, National Planning Minister Paul Tiensten, Vice Minister for Mining Ano Pala and leading Opposition identity, Byron Chan MP, son of New Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan.

Sir Michael will meet Mr Rudd tomorrow and also call on Governor-General Quentin Bryce. The discussions will also involve Trade Minister Simon Crean, Immigration Minister Chris Evans and Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs Duncan Kerr.

In the evening there will be a reception at the PNG High Commission which Ingrid and I will be attending and I’ll be reporting on for PNG Attitude.

On Wednesday, Sir Michael will meet Victorian Premier John Brumby before visiting bushfire-affected areas. On Thursday he meets Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and address the PNG-Australia Business Council in Brisbane.On Friday, he will get a briefing on the flood recovery efforts in the Ingham region before returning to Port Moresby on Sunday.

Tragedy poem still very much in mind

Guitar Award winning bush poet Jim Brown is still contemplating writing a poem on the Montevideo Maru tragedy. “I haven’t forgotten it,” he told PNG Attitude.

In 1990,as a TV reporter, Jim went to Gallipoli to cover the 75th anniversary of the Anzac landing. Fifteen years later, on the wall of an antique shop, he saw a photograph of a World War 1 light horseman. “For some reason I still can’t explain, I had to have it,” he said, “and I started writing a poem based on the question of who he was”

This became the much-loved Anzac on the Wall, written as performance poetry and winning first place at the 2005 Victorian Bush Poetry Championships. Last year, when we published it on PNG Attitude, it received a huge positive response from readers.

“I am humbled by the fact that so many people have been moved by the poem, especially around Anzac Day,” Jim says. “The suffering of those waiting at home has not been written about enough.”

It was with this thought in mind – the grief and pain of those left behind - that, a year ago, I asked Jim if he might consider writing a poem about the Montevideo Maru. I despatched plenty of material to him, including a list of names of the 1,053 men believed to have drowned. Jim was keen to write a poem, and I reminded him of this in a communication yesterday.

“I haven’t got around to the Montevideo Maru yet,” says Jim, “but I have not forgotten it. I was sidetracked by a poem called Fromelles I wrote after meeting Lambis Englezos, the man who found the missing Anzacs.”

So, with a bit of luck, in the near future, one of Australia’s premier bush poets will turn his attention to writing some compelling verse about a matter very dear to our hearts.

Perhaps it’ll include something like this:

I scanned the list in front of me; then thirty pages down
Was Ivan’s name, a bare fifteen, a clerk from Rabaul town
Captured with his dad, so sad, my emotions rose anew
One of a thousand Australian dead on the Montevideo Maru

No, Jim’ll do better than that.

PNGAA moves decisively to the next era

On the day after Anzac Day, at a special general meeting this morning, the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia resolved by 231 votes to 7 (such a miserly number) to march forward to the future.

In doing so it has shunted aside the baggage of past disagreement and acrimony, got rid of the après moi le deluge mentality and given itself a fighting chance of being a great organisation that can make a significant contribution to the Australia- PNG relationship.

Well done Ross Johnson, Andrea Williams, Riley Warren and the other stalwarts who made this result possible. They have achieved the support of 97 percent of the membership, easily exceeding the 75 percent requirement for constitutional change.

Among the main reforms that the PNGAA membership agreed today:

New objectives for the Association especially providing a prominent position for the PNGAA to emphasise strengthening the Australia-PNG relationship. The primary objective of the Association is now “to strengthen the civil relationship between the peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea”.

Introducing a policy that, while the PNGAA will not involve itself in partisan politics, it will be able to engage with government in the pursuit of its objectives.

Recognising regional groups of members within Australia and Papua New Guinea and having a committee member assigned to handle State liaison.

Mandating a full postal vote of members where required (offering the prospect of broadening member participation in the Association).

Limiting the size of the management committee to 10 members, and the committee will be elected for two year not one.

Restricting the term of the President to no more than four consecutive years.

A hearty 'well done' to that overwhelming number of members of the Papua New Guinea Association who have voted their belief in the greater engagement of Australia with Papua New Guinea. This is your day. It’s a good day for you. And it’s a good day for Papua New Guinea.

To pick up the Anzac Day motif, the decks have been cleared for action. Now let's see some action.

Large numbers at Bomana dawn service

Malum Nalu

Bomana Hundreds of people attended the traditional Anzac Day dawn service at Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby today.

The ceremony started at 5am with the mounting of the guard by the First Royal Pacific Islands Regiment of the PNG Defence Force.

Then the catafalque party moved into position and the many people attending were welcomed by master of ceremonies, Mick Pye.

The hymn Abide With Me was sung and the Requiem read by Australian High Commissioner, Chris Moraitis. Then followed a prayer by Major Kelvin Alley of the Salvation Army and Bible Readings from PNG Governor General, Sir Paulias Matane, and Australian Defence Adviser, Colonel Luke Foster.

After the Lord’s Prayer, New Zealand High Commissioner, Neils Holm, addressed the gathering. Wreaths were laid and there was another Reading, this time by PNG Defence Force Commander, Commodore Peter Ilau.

Bomana_Headstones The Ode was read by Ms Christine Coulthard of the Gungahlin RSL Sub-Branch and Mr Joe Filippi of the Port Moresby RSL. The Last Post was played followed by two minutes silence, then the Lament and Reveille.

The ceremony closed with the National Anthems of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

Those who attended included members of the diplomatic corps and hundreds of trekkers who had walked the Kokoda Trail.

Lead security role for Aust in Sth Pacific

This Anzac Day Kevin Rudd is set to announce Australia's biggest military build-up since World War 2, led by a multi-billion-dollar investment in maritime defence including 100 new F-35 fighters, a doubling of the submarine fleet and new surface warships.

A new defence white paper outlining plans for a shake-up of Australia's military says the defence force should be capable of taking the lead security role in Australia's neighbourhood, particularly the South Pacific.

The Prime Minister sees a far more challenging and uncertain security outlook in Asia over the next two decades. China's steadily growing military might and the prospect of a similar build-up elsewhere in Asia.

Mr Rudd says there is a need for Australia to accommodate "huge increases in military spending here in our own region". The Prime Minister's view is that Australia must face up to a wider range of possible threat, including inter-state conflict in Asia.

"If we are going to defend our sea-lines of communication to the rest of the world, we have got to make sure that we have got the naval capability to underpin that," Mr Rudd has said.

The white paper moves defence doctrine back to a more regionally focused approach founded on the defence of Australia, rejecting the idea that terrorism should be a primary driver of the defence force structure.

Source: ‘White paper orders huge military build-up’ by Patrick Walters, The Australian, 25 April 2009. Spotted by Graham Pople

Anzac Day, Kundiawa, 25 April 1964

From the Kundiawa News, 1 May 1964

Anzac Kundiawa 1964

A sizable crowd gathered outside the District Office last Saturday to observe Anzac Day in the traditional fashion.

Units on parade included the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary under Sub-Inspector Breman; a detachment from the hospital; the Kundiawa Brownie Pack under Mrs Doolan; and the 1st Gon Scout Troop under leader Ray Anderson.

In his Address the District Officer, Mr L Doolan, speaking in English and Pidgin, discussed the meaning of Anzac, talking of the part Australia had in three wars - World War I and II and the Korean War.

He later pledged Australia's future support to Papua and New Guinea in time of war, stressing that Australians and New Guineans had fought together once and would, if need be, fight together again.

The ceremony concluded with the National Anthem.

Two Anzac stories for a famous day


THE FIRST SHOT shot in World War 1 was possibly fired in Australia. My wife Sue's great-grandfather, Brigadier Sandford, was in command of the Fort at Queenscliff and ordered that first shot be fired. Apparently a German freighter Pfalz was trying to sneak out of Melbourne before war was declared.

However by the time the ship got to within range of the coastal battery, Sandford assumed that war may have been declared on the other side of the world, but due to time delays, had not yet been announced in Australia. After clearing a request with the government to open fire, Sandford ordered a shot to be fired over the bows of the ship.

After a brief struggle with the pilot, the captain of the Pfalz was convinced that the next shot would be fired into his ship (as it would have been), and turned around and headed back into Melbourne where it was impounded.

The second story is about what one wit has called The Bulletin. Sue's grandfather, Major Sandford, son of the brigadier, served at Gallipoli and brought home a rolled up newspaper that had stopped a Turkish bullet while it was being delivered to the front. It was addressed to a gunner who never actually got his newspaper but survived to return to Australia after the war.

Bullet in paper cropped

World War 2 mystery remains unsolved

Ilya Gridneff of AAP

Movie Rabaul, Friday – Families who lost loved ones in Australia's worst maritime tragedy want the shipwreck to be found and made a war grave by the federal government.

Relatives of men onboard the torpedoed World War II Japanese prison ship have set up the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee to mark the tragedy they say has been overlooked by officials.

The Montevideo Maru carried 845 troops from Australia's Lark Force and 208 civilian men, taken prisoner of war after Japan invaded Rabaul in Papua New Guinea's East New Britain province in January 1942.

The unmarked Japanese ship left occupied Rabaul on June 22, 1942 but nine days later on July 1 an American submarine torpedoed it off the Philippines coast.

Andrea Williams, whose grandfather and great uncle were on board, wants a government response similar to the recently found HMAS Sydney, another World War II sea tragedy that claimed 645 lives.

"There is a fair amount of literature on the Montevideo sinking but there are some nagging specifics, like why there was no inquiry into the fate of these men?

"It is still a secret as to why these men were left to their fate," she said. Australian archives had several passenger lists but they were inconsistent and there was no passenger manifest, she said.

"What has happened to the nominal roll of the men apparently on board?" Williams wrote to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urging him to launch a search.

"The site then should be declared a war grave. The story should be enshrined as part of our wartime history," she said.

Keith Jackson, a committee member, said victims' relatives, historians, academics and "others in the group share the belief that this is unfinished business".

"Sadly this neglect at an official level has gone on for too long," he said.

On July 1 the group will unveil its own plaque at the Hellships Memorial in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Australian National University Pacific historian Professor Hank Nelson said the sinking was the "greatest disaster at sea ever suffered by Australians".

"By the end of the war we're hearing about the Burma railway, we're hearing about Sandakan, Timor and Ambon and we've got nearly 8,000 prisoners of war dead, so within that context the loss of Montevideo Maru got lost," he said.

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra commemorates the Montevideo Maru in World War II galleries.

"The Memorial's grounds include a commemorative plaque for Lark Force and the Montevideo Maru," a spokeswoman said.

A Department of Veteran Affairs spokeswoman said: "There is an Australian memorial to the Defence of New Britain and the Montevideo Maru in Rabaul, which was refurbished in 2002".

Source: ‘WWII Montevideo Maru mystery remains unsolved for families’ by Ilya Gridneff, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent, 24 April 2009

The poster was designed for The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru, a documentary film currently in production. You can visit the film's website here.

Think positive & consolidate: Sir Paulias

Papua New Guinea’s Governor-General, Sir Paulias Matane, has made another intervention into public discourse, his second in a few days, this time in an attempt to build the nation’s morale.

Earlier this week Sir Paulias said he was “totally disappointed and sickened by [public servants’] work attitudes and inefficiency.”

He asked: “Whose interests are the public servants serving? Are they serving the interest of the public, or their own?”

Now he has called for Papua New Guinea to emphasise its stories of success and end its stories of failure.

Speaking to the St John of PNG Council, he said PNG needed to consolidate good achievements and not remain a nation stuck with “an attitude of starts and stops”.

Sir Paulias praised St John for bringing to PNG a tradition of goodwill, volunteerism, service to the poor, unity, peace and cooperative partnership”.

“What St John does in this country cannot be underestimated as it has already made a great, and positive, impact towards peace and goodwill in all towns it has established itself in,” he said.

It was one of the agents of consolidation of many aspects of life in PNG.

PNG has been a country of ‘starts and stops’, Sir Paulias said, but it had not strengthened initiatives and consolidated its achievements.

He said governments knew development could not be the sole responsibility of the public sector. “It must be, by its nature, a responsibility of individuals and corporate citizens.”

With the US marines on New Britain

Hal Holman

Sgt HS.Holman c1941I was appointed Acting Sergeant and attached to the 1st American Marine Corps for their landings on New Britain, beginning at Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943, and then to Talasea, halfway along the western coast, from 6 March 1944, and Cape Hoskins.

To join the Marines, I was transported on a landing craft mechanised barge: typical squarish design, like a motorised rubbish skip, with a forward ramp that, at sea, doubled as the bow.

My orders were to answer to the American Marines and to provide labour to facilitate the consolidation of landings by clearing jungle, unloading beached landing craft, erecting storage facilities and similar tasks. The labour line also excavated trenches, howitzer pads and temporary shallow graves for marines killed in action pending the arrival of coffins for transport back to the US.

I was in charge of a native labour line of fifty men recruited by ANGAU in the Central Highlands. This was fortunate for me for, without exception, they spoke Pidgin. In addition I felt secure that desertion was improbable because they were so far away from their own place.

My competence in Pidgin enabled me to communicate both with my labour line and to speak with the New Britain people. This gave me an added role of interpreter as we sought information about Japanese movements from natives under interrogation.

Highlanders at sea level constantly presented problems due to their vulnerability to ailments not prevalent in their high altitude homes. They had no immunities from coastal disease.

I issued atabrine for malaria and used sulphonamide to dress wounds and ulcers. On two occasions I tied off severed arteries and veins. The labour line claimed me as their liklik dokta.

The bulk of the cargo they carried consisted of building and clearing tools, food, my weapons and ammunition, and my gear and kit.

Hal_2009 When we first arrived I was stunned by the Marines’ decision that my Highlanders were not wanted inside the armed perimeter at night. This left us unprotected in the jungle to fend for ourselves.

The reason for our banishment was that the Yanks were afraid of contracting malaria, dengue fever, scrub typhus and other afflictions if they slept in the same area as New Guineans. Thus our first major task was to build a large boihaus for my charges and me.

Source: Edited extract from Chapter 23 of ‘The Phoenix Also Rises’ by Haldane Sinclair Holman OL OAM ASTC

Photos: Hal Holman, soon after recruitment in early 1941 [unknown photographer], and dining with me last weekend [Marie Charley]

BCL will spend K11B to re-open mine

Bougainville Copper Limited is prepared to invest more than 11 billion kina to recommission the abandoned Panguna Copper Mine, BCL Chairman Peter Taylor said this week at the company's annual general meeting in Port Moresby.

BCL’s plan includes the creation of 2,500 new company jobs, which will generate an estimated 10,000 other jobs in small businesses in and around Central Bougainville.

Responding to the European Shareholders of BCL, who asked if the company would employ former freedom fighters to prevent possible dissatisfaction, Mr Taylor said: "This will hopefully include ex-combatants and others."

The company faces huge environmental problems due to the uncontrolled closure of the mine twenty years ago. He said: "Access to the site is required before an assessment of the safety and environmental issues can be made. The company will work with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the landowners addressing environmental concerns."

Further details here.



Bringing back the fuzzy wuzzy memories

Anzac Day is on Saturday and over the next couple of days PNG Attitude will bring you a few related stories. Today ROBIN LILLICRAPP reflects on how Soc Kienzle became the interpreter of Kokoda for so many Australian visitors.

Angels Many Australians have revisited historic sites in Papua New Guinea to clarify memories of past events related to military campaigns of World War 2. High on the list is the trek over the Kokoda territory.

Stories of courage and tragedy come to life as we retrace the steps of old soldiers, hearing again the explanations of skirmishes and acts of courage supplies a fresh perspective on what otherwise is dim and distant: a fuzzy memory.

Nearly 40 years ago, I was privileged to routinely visit and enjoy the hospitality of the Kienzle family estate, Mamba, at Kokoda. Recently, I re-established contact with members of the family.

Cpt Bert Kienzle Soc (Wallace) Kienzle is the son of the late Captain HT (Bert) Kienzle [left]. He grew up at Kokoda in an environment reminiscent of a Boys Own Magazine adventure. Gold, cattle, rubber, trade stores and more were the playground of youth.

At 14 he trekked the Kokoda Track. There were few places he did not know. This stands him in good stead as he still guides visitors to the region.

However there was one matter that had eluded his total comprehension of his famous father’s role in the Kokoda campaign. After Bert’s death, Soc was amazed to discover critical information that provided new information on his father’s wartime activities.

Soc_Kienzle_Kokoda This information came to light when he came across an old camphorwood chest. Soc [shown right at Kokoda] had grown up at Mamba where the chest had been in the hallway of the family home. Upon Bert’s death, Soc, aged nearly 40, saw its contents for the first time.

What he found was a treasure trove of information that pointed to his father as a major player in a campaign that has gripped the imagination of Australians for the past 60 years.

The supply lines logistics and repatriation of the wounded was organised and administered by Captain Kienzle and some trusted lieutenants, supported by the now legendary Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

When he read and understood Bert’s campaign journals, a new chapter in Soc’s life began. So began Soc’s lifetime commitment to the Kokoda Trail and its story.

Sir Paulias 'sickened' by public servants

With_OL Papua New Guinea Governor-General and PNG Attitude reader, Sir Paulias Matane, has expressed his distaste with tardiness, inefficiency and lack of productivity in PNG’s public servants. “I am totally disappointed and sickened by their work attitudes and inefficiency,” he said launching a Walk Against Corruption at Government House.

Sir Paulias expressed his irritation saying: “Every public servant should be at work no later than 7.45 am and begin their normal duty at 8 am, working until 4.06 in the afternoon from Monday to Friday.

“Public servants are turning up late for work and sneaking off [early] and having extra hours for lunch and commercial breaks.” He termed such behaviour as “corruption”, as public servants were not honestly discharging their constitutional roles and duties.

Speaking on the fight against corruption, Sir Paulias said it should not be defined only as stealing money or unlawful acts. He said unfaithfulness, inefficiency and lack of productivity also count as corruption.

He was sad to see people being turned away by public servants when they go for assistance, telling them to come back the next day. Such attitudes were unbecoming in the public service, he added.

Sir Paulias asked: “Whose interests are the public servants serving? Are they serving the interest of the public, or their own?”

He urged public servants to be proactive and productive in serving the people because that was what they were paid to do.

Source: ‘Vice regal attacks public servants’ by Patrick Talu, The National, 20 April 2009

ABC AM program discusses the kiap role

On patrol Being a patrol officer in PNG was a great job, but for many kiaps the return home was not so happy, Kiap recognition project organiser Chris Viner-Smith has told ABC journalist Liam Fox of the AM program.

"When we left New Guinea, we felt a little bit like the Vietnam veterans. We came back to Australia and it was not so much as a thank you," he said. "It was a ticket back to a capital city in Australia, and then get on with your life. But the culture shock was quite enormous for many of us."

And veteran PNG politician, Sir Barry Holloway, was also interviewed for the program. He was 18 when he arrived in Port Moresby in 1953, after responding to a newspaper ad seeking patrol officers.

Sir Barry recalled his first trip into an uncontrolled area to settle a violent dispute between two tribes. "We demonstrated the power of the .303 rifle by lining up about five shields, making a dum-dum out of a bullet, and showing how it would come out a great gap at the other side. Because to the people these [the rifles] were just sticks and had no meaning until we demonstrated their power."

In 1964 Indonesian soldiers kidnapped Chris Viner-Smith while he was working as a kiap near the border. "I was taken down to Merauke, locked up, and the idea was that they were going to shoot me, because they said I was a spy," he said. "Fortunately, the commander who had been on the border, and who I'd met a number of times, managed to get me out and get me back to the border."

Liam Fox commented that being a Kiap was a lonely, hazardous and sometimes deadly job, adding that their pioneering work before PNG's independence has never been officially recognised.

“But after several years of campaigning by former Kiaps it looks like that is about to change,” said Fox. “The current Federal Government has been receptive, and Mr Viner-Smith recently met with advisors for the Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, in Canberra.”

"The meeting went exceptionally well," Chris Viner-Snith said. "The Government does want to give us some recognition."

Photo: On patrol, Lamari Valley, Kainantu Sub-District, Eastern Highlands. Photo taken during Kainantu-Menyamya-Kainantu Patrol, September 1955 ( Harry West and John Colman) - thanks to Bill Brown

Rudd’s PNG visit came at a high price

AAP’s Papua New Guinea correspondent, Ilya Gridneff, has reported that the PNG government spent $1.6 million on a three-day official visit by the Australian prime minister in March last year, despite Mr Rudd flying to Port Moresby and Goroka on a RAAF plane and covering other costs.

A spokesperson for Mr Rudd told AAP: "Costs borne by the PNG government in relation to the visit are matters for the PNG government".

At the same time the PNG budget was blowing out from an estimated surplus of $100 million to a deficit of almost $240 million. The PNG Treasury listed the details in its just published 68-page 2008 final budget outcome report.

The report on the Treasury website said the deficit was "substantially higher" than expected. The government has blamed the global financial crisis as a major reason for the turnaround.

Amongst many other expenses listed was the outlay for one night spent by the Commerce and Industry Minister and his delegation at an Australian business meeting in October 2008 – a cool $75,000.

You can read the full Treasury report, including data on the High Commission's $6 million Canberra residence and the Governor-General's $88,000 trip for the Solomons' independence anniversary last 7 July, here.

The genesis of Reg Thomson's good book

Reg Thomson spent a quarter of a century in Papua New Guinea from 1949, after attending ASOPA, finishing this major part of his working life as Director of Child Welfare. His Looking for a Good Book was launched on the Gold Coast last week. Here Reg’s son DR MARK THOMSON writes of how the book was formed and took shape.

Dad started writing many years ago, during his retirement on Mt Tambourine. I was still at university when he put pen to paper. During quiet times he could be found diligently scribbling and adding to an ever-mounting pile of foolscap pages. I had no idea what he was writing.

Eventually Dad arranged for a brave woman to take on the marathon task of turning his longhand into typescript. It was roughly bound and sat largely unread for many years.

But, when I first delved into its pages, I was immediately delighted by the construct of a man’s journey around himself. It felt like Dad was having an enlightening chat to me about things I contemplate from time to time: why we do the things we do, how we cope, what we learn in the doing of them, and what we collect along the way to help make sense of it all.

My earliest memories of Dad are permeated by books. They were an integral part of the daily rhythms of his life. In New Guinea they were a central feature of our life. They were forever being stacked or rearranged in hall cupboards as protection against bugs and the wet season.

I realised, as I read Dad’s book, that he enriched my life with a love of yarns of faraway places and life’s mysteries. He left me stranded on the beaches of Troy, deep in caves with questing knights, on the edge of the shire with feckless hobbits.

Dad did not have the benefit of a bookish household when he was growing up. He had to discover the joys of reading in other places - neighbours, school, YMCA. His book made me understand what a blessing a love of books is and how much my life would have been greatly diminished without that passion.

In his memoir about being a book collector, Larry McMurtry talks about preferring to settle down with old favourites as he got older. He winds up with a plaintive note:

I think sometimes that I’m angry with my library because I know that I can’t reread it all. I would like to, but the time is not there. It is this, I think, that produces the slight sense of alienation that I feel when I’m together with my books now. They need to find other readers soon – ideally they will be my son and grandson, but if not them, other book lovers.

So, I would like to thank Dad for entrusting me with bringing his book to fruition, and for ensuring his good books would find other readers, especially his son and grandson. We are still looking for good books.

Find out more about this remarkable book here.

Why the MM tragedy must not fade away

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee is a small and informal group that meets around a table from time to time and by email much more frequently.

Its handful of members report, check progress, plan and make commitments for their self-imposed task of gaining national recognition for that most appalling of tragedies, the sinking of the prison ship Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942 – Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The committee consists of relatives of some of the 1,053 men who died together with others of us who have become captivated by the story. Having learned as many of the facts as can be gleaned from the official records (although it is known there are some records that have never seen the light of day), we share the relatives’ belief that this is unfinished business.

As this is an issue I’ve referred to more than once already in these Notes, and as it is likely to be a recurring topic, it’s probably worth stating succinctly the reasons why this matter remains of importance, not only to those people affected but to all Australians.

Firstly, there are the victims’ relatives and their thirst for knowledge and need for closure. Because there remain so many questions about the tragedy, it is impossible for these people to assure themselves that the full story has been told. In the dishonouring of the rights of the relatives to official recognition of this tragedy, there is an implicit dishonouring of the memories of the 1,053 men who died.

  Second, there is so much that is unknown about political decisions made in Canberra in January 1942 that left just 1,300 Australian troops (Lark Force) to defend Rabaul against a 5,000 strong Japanese invading force supported by overwhelming air and naval power.

MS_Herstein Lark Force and hundreds of civilians were then denied, yes denied, an exit from Rabaul when a Norwegian freighter,the MS  Herstein [left], became available. It departed from Simpson Harbour loaded only with copra.

Third, there was the discreditable official silence, for the entire duration of the war, surrounding the fate of the 1,053 (it is thought) troops and civilians loaded on to the Montevideo Maru. And then there was the unsolved puzzle of who exactly was on board the vessel. There was a roll kept by the Japanese that apparently fell into Australian hands after the war. It went missing.

Fourth, there has been the unfathomable official reluctance since the war to give due recognition to the Montevideo Maru tragedy, which is at least as significant as the sinking of the light cruiser Sydney (645 deaths) and the hospital ship Centaur (268 deaths).

While disasters should not be put into a league table of mortality, the comparisons indicate that what happened to the Montevideo Maru was of a scale that warrants official recognition.

A memorial to be unveiled on Subic Bay next July has been paid for entirely by private subscription: individual citizens and small associations keeping the flame alive.

Fifth, there are stories that Australians should know about our history. This is surely one of them.

These are the reasons why this matter must be pursued.

Photo: Committee member Chris Diercke recently tracked down this rare image of the 'Herstein' in a Norwegian maritime journal.

MM plaque to be unveiled at Subic Bay

A plaque to commemorate the sinking of the Montevideo Maru will be unveiled at a ceremony at Subic Bay in the Philippines on Wednesday 1 July. The Montevideo Maru – carrying 1,053 Australian soldiers and civilians captured in Rabaul – was sunk by a US submarine off Subic Bay on this date in 1942.

In the words of historian Hank Nelson, “[It] was the greatest disaster at sea ever suffered by Australians”.

Head&Shoulders Businessman Clive Troy [right], director of the Philippine Commerce and Trade Advisory Service,  and Phil Ainsworth, president of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and Papua New Guinea Rifles Ex-Members Association, have made the development of a memorial to these men a passion.

And now relatives of the victims and other interested people are invited to attend the Subic Bay ceremony on 1 July. The plaque will be unveiled at the Hellships Memorial, dedicated to all prisoners of war who suffered on the Japanese POW vessels, including the Montevideo Maru.

“Rather than referring to the event as some sort of closure for the descendants of the tragedy,” Clive says, “I would use the words comfort and resolution. The plaque will be unveiled by the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Rod Smith, but the ceremony will be low key.”

Subic Bay, is a leisure and cultural enclave just two hours drive from Manila airport, and Clive will coordinate on-ground activities for visitors. Current airfares from Australia to the Philippines are as low as $594 return on Qantas, booked through the Webjet website.

“It’s similar to Madang,” says Clive, “very informal and suits our laid back style. Three to 3½ star accommodation is available from $70 a night. The views are fantastic and you can sit in the club style area with the swish of the punkah enjoying your San Mig beer.”

If you’d like to join the group for this historic event, contact Clive on (02) 9868 2123 or email him here.

PNGAA vote nears: uncertainty reigns

Rod Hard has provided a timely reminder of the fast approaching proxy deadline for the PNG Association’s constitutional ballot.

The special general meeting that will vote on a range of reforms – and accordingly will determine much about the future of the PNGAA – is to be held on Sunday 26 April, the day after Anzac Day.

Given that a 75 percent majority is required to get the reforms up, it is impossible to know how the vote will go. I’ve received a small number of letters and emails, maybe 30, from people who have told me they’re submitting proxies in favour of change. There are about 1,500 members of the Association.

My own view is that the fate of the constitutional reforms will depend very much on the floor vote (as differentiated from the proxy vote) on the day. I don’t anticipate that a lot of mailed proxies will be received – perhaps no more than 150 of the 1,000 plus votes outside Sydney.

I’d expect that between 100 and 120 people will turn up at Killara Golf Club with votes in their top pockets. They will include the core group of wreckers who gossiped so assiduously to undermine my presidency and who got an unjust reward when I decided to step down, unwilling to waste my time dealing with such inanity.

If the wreckers vote to wreck, the constitutional reforms will lie dead in the water. If, however, the white ants have seen the error of their ways and decide to opt for humility and align with change, the reforms will succeed and the PNGAA will move forward to a better time.

PNG ATTITUDE asks here, in the interests of transparency and keeping faith with members, that the PNGAA’s duly appointed returning officers do two things:

(1) Announce publicly the numbers who vote for and against each motion.

(2) Announce publicly, for each motion, how many floor votes and how many proxy votes are received for an against.

Further, whoever presides at the meeting should ensure that detailed minutes are kept - including summaries of the contributions of individual speakers – and ensure that these minutes are speedily circulated to members after the meeting.

All that would be a change, and a big improvement, on the way rank and file members have been kept in the dark in the past about the workings of their Association.

I don’t want to embarrass progressive committee members by naming them here – they do exist but wouldn’t regard my endorsement as a favour - but I’m reassured to see that hard-bitten independents like Rod Hard, Colin Huggins and Clive Troy will be at the meeting.

If the committee doesn’t report, I’m sure these gentlemen will.

There’s no doubt the PNGAA is under pressure. The long-running internal warfare – that dirty little secret – is out in the open. And there’s much expectation that the Sydney members, who have effectively controlled the organisation until now, will get sensible about its future. Let’s hope they do.

Where are the Japanese graves in PNG?

With Anzac Day bearing down upon us (PNG Attitude has a number of interesting pieces to offer you during the memorial period), Robin Hide spots an interesting letter in the Post-Courier. Let me reproduce it:

Please readers, I need your help!

I am a Japanese national. Until August 2004, I was in Port Moresby on a 4-year assignment for the United Nations (I was the UNDP resident rep.).

I lived in Toaguba Hill and visited your office from time to time. My research on the Japanese servicemen buried at Bomana is one of the topics I have been pursuing since I returned to Japan.

No one consulted so far knows the location of the Japanese burials except that it was in Bomana. No official record exists that remains were repatriated to Japan. I have decided to seek your assistance after researching the subject for almost two years. Readers who have reliable information can email me at

Harumi Sakaguchi
Taasaki-city, Japan

Robin writes: "Perhaps one of your readers may have more information." Though he adds, “It sounds unlikely. And it’s certainly not mentioned in a recent online paper ‘Return to New Guinea: comparing Australian and Japanese memories ...’, which includes the following footnote:

‘After the war, the Australian war graves units reported it could only identify the remains of only 246 Japanese in New Guinea, while the remains of another 330 Japanese were ‘unidentified’. [Cemeteries established by Australian War Graves units, A518, item G016/2/1 Part 1, National Archives of Australia], Canberra, Australia.’"

OK. The challenge is out there. Can any reader assist?

Positive first response to new newsletter

Early reaction to our new look 18-page free newsletter, PNG Attitude, circulated last night, has been very favourable. “The layout is great,” says Mike Barnacoat, while Chris Diercke writes: “Great format, great content, good stuff”.

“It was indeed a pleasure to escape from other pressing matters and sit down this morning with a cup of PNG coffee to read the latest edition of PNG Attitude,” says Peter Comerford. “I enjoyed all the articles, in particular the review of and responses to Phil Fitzpatrick’s book Bamahuta and the news on Bougainville.

“The article in ‘Opinion’ on corruption caught my eye, as I have a very close friend Father John Glynn, who is involved in a number of issues and projects which include the homeless and orphaned children of Port Moresby and also a 'Youth Against Corruption' program which he initiated a few years ago.”

Thanks to those friends, we like geting feedback, and I remind people who have not registered for the mailing list to drop me a line here.


The 'Montevideo' campaign progresses

Liz Thurston presents the facts plainly and without emotion when she writes:

"The Japanese vessel the MV Montevideo Maru departed Surabaya on 28 May 1942 carrying Japanese troops bound for Rabaul. On 9 June it arrived in Rabaul and disembarked the troops. There were continuous air raids all day and night. On 22 June, 845 members of Lark Force, who had been taken as POWs, and 208 civilian men, also POWs, were boarded on to the ship with 27 Japanese guards. The ship then set sail for Hainan Island.

"On the night of the 1 July about 20 miles west of Luzon, N18-40 E119-31, the American submarine USS Sturgeon torpedoed the ship which listed and sank immediately. The commander of the Sturgeon, Cdr Wright, had no idea that the Montevideo Maru was carrying allied POWs. The men from Rabaul were all lost. The Japanese survivors, including the ship’s captain, boarded two lifeboats. On 2 July at 1900 hours they drifted and landed near a lighthouse off Cape Bojeador on Luzon."

And thus, so simply stated, is written the essence of Australia’s biggest maritime disaster, one with such a strong PNG connection, and which took the lives of 1,058 men. It is a disaster that is hardly known in our own country and, as Anzac Day nears, it is one that deserves a place in our thoughts.

As the Kiap Recognition project gains momentum in Canberra, and this is a heartening development, so our attention needs to turn to gaining official national acknowledgement of this tragedy.

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, which meets again this coming Friday, has these objectives:

1.     To secure national recognition of the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

2.     To locate the nominal roll brought back from Japan and deposited with Central Army Records.

3.     To encourage government action to ensure the story of the tragedy is a significant part of Australia’s social history.

4.     To facilitate comfort and closure in the minds of the victims’ relatives.

5.     To enhance knowledge in the community of the role of and sacrifices made by Australians in PNG.

6.     To stimulate action to provide greater understanding of the events that led to Montevideo Maru tragedy including the official handling of the Rabaul evacuation in January 1942.

7.     To secure tangible official support for the dedication of the memorial on Subic Bay planned for 1 July 2009.

Committee members Liz Thurston, Andrea Williams, Rod Miller, Chris Diercke and Clive Troy are working assiduously to achieve these objectives and they are making gradual progress, including with the important goal of gaining political support. But there is some way to go.

We’ll keep you informed – because, at some point, we may need your assistance in taking the message to the people who make decisions.

Extract from ‘Background Facts on the Tragedy of Rabaul, 1942’ by Liz Thurston, a paper on the context of events surrounding the sinking of the Montevideo Maru. The paper is still in draft form but we hope to publish it in full for Anzac Day.

A secret message to all my readers

I have been letting readers know for a month now that their supply of a monthly medication hitherto known as The Mail is about to dry up. Although there has been a proviso: should you advise me that you are alive, compos mentis and capable of absorbing information, said supply will be continued.

One good thing about asking readers to, in effect, resubscribe to the newsletter is that many of us have been able to exchange short pleasantries with each other. I try to reply to all emails.

These jottings about Australia's relationship with Papua New Guinea are not generated by five monkeys at a typewriter. Nor are they the result of some cognitive therapy prescribed for the editor by a zealous specialist to keep me occupied while doing minimal harm to the community. They are written to share information and keep relationships alive.

PNG ATTITUDE exists – both as a blog and, as subscribers are about to experience, as a revamped newsletter - because there is a demand for its existence. For most of you, this demand is demonstrated by your reading it and I am sincerely grateful about that. For some of you, it is indicated also by your contributions. You I love most of all.

Attitude_April I guess both blog and newsletter will continue to exist until either the demand from readers or the editor expires, whichever should happen first. Happily, neither shows any sign of faltering.

So let me announce that what was entitled The Mail will henceforth carry the PNG Attitude masthead. Following a survey of readers a couple of months ago, the monthly production has been extensively redesigned and, later this week, will be distributed by email to each of you who has requested it.

And that is 101 people so far. Thank you, dear Dalmatians. And for those who have not yet told me that the newsletter is a desired item for your email inbox, you can be reinstated (or, if you have never subscribed, added to the list) by the simple expedient of dropping me a note here.


Kiap writers top pops in ABC project

The Making of Modern Australia is an ABC project where people share their stories of life in Australia from 1945 onwards. You can link to the website here. So far some 200 stories have been published – and three of these are about Papua New Guinea.

An interesting observation about this is that the PNG stories are performing extraordinarily well in terms of the number of people who are reading them.

Australia’s Forgotten Frontier (Chris Viner-Smith) is the most read story with 886 views. John Hocknell’s PNG Adventure – A Kiap is eleventh out of 200 and Paul Oates’ Annual Village Census Patrol is 23rd.

Stories submitted to The Making of Modern Australia will be reviewed by the producers of an upcoming ABC TV documentary series on the same theme and, while the ABC is making no promises, some may be included in the show.

Given the obvious popularity of the PNG stories (perhaps there’s something of a exotic quality about those far off days), you’d think it’d be a monty that the ABC would conclude that one or more of these Boys’ Own yarns would go down very well with viewers.

Time to rebuild Bougainville from ashes

There’s some very good news from Bougainville this Easter Sunday. ALOYSIUS LAUKAI reports from Buka…

Belated Easter Greetings. I have just returned from Panguna and the Kieta district where the last of the so called original Mekamui have agreed to join the peace process at the latest meeting in Arawa with the President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, James Tanis.

At the meeting, Mekamui Commander Chris Uma and his senior leaders agreed to work with the Government. They asked the ABG to accommodate their group under the chief system adopted under the Bougainville Constitution. This paved the way for further discussion between the two parties.

The group were the original Mekamui established by former President the late Francis Ona which had dissociated themselves from other Mekamui movements in parts of Central and South Bougainville.

The meeting with the ABG delegation was the first to be held openly with the media also covered everything including presentations.

ABG president James Tanis praised the Mekamui for their support and called on all Bougainvilleans to support the Bougainville leaders.

He said Bougainville must now rise from the ashes and rebuild the entire island.

He said the move by the remaining Mekamui group has now removed all obstacles that have been blocking the development of Bougainville because of factional uncertainties.

The ABG President declared 2009 as the year of resurrection of Bougainville.

Mr Tanis has now travelled to Port Moresby to accompany Michael Somare on a visit to the Republic of China. They leave Port Moresby on Thursday.

There’s still a lot of spirit(s) in Rabaul

It might be located on an out of the way peninsula in the South Pacific but, when you lived in Rabaul, you never felt remote. Rabaul always seemed to be at the epicentre of life. Although at different times destroyed by volcanoes and by war, it thrived and retained a scintillating beauty. Rabaul had a lot of history, a lot of energy, a lot of wealth - and a lot of pride.

These days, of course, much of the old place is a moonscape. Most of its residents have fled. Tavurvur had its way, and continues to belch skywards vast amounts of ash,  a fair bit of which descends on Rabaul.

But despite all that, the Rabaul Hotel, Travelodge, the Rabaul Yacht Club and, yes, the New Guinea Club - on the corner of Clarke and Central Avenues halfway down Mango Avenue – ply their trade. There’s still the vestige of a market near where the old copra factory used to be. And occasionally a tourist ship pulls up at a near decrepit wharf.

In town right now are Commander John Foster OAM and his team of expeditioners who grittily persist in their mission to locate AE1, Australia’s first submarine that, as the result of an accident, sunk off Rabaul in World War I. Its sister ship, AE2, was sunk at Gallipoli.

John Foster’s believes he knows the rough whereabouts of AE1 and has dedicated his life to finding it and uncovering the mystery of its final tragic voyage.

Rabaulmuseum Last Thursday night at the New Guinea Club, at the invitation of a still flourishing Rabaul Historical Society (Secretary, Susie Hamamas), John briefed residents of Rabaul on the slow progress being made by his team. Drinks were on sale of course (“Rum, Gin, Beer, Wine & Selected Soft Drinks” said the bar notice) and, after the talk, visitors could inspect the Rabaul Museum (inside the Club, key available from Rabaul Hotel reception).

By the way, the historical society has adopted as its motto Gordon Thomas’ Ode to Rabaul, which was written inside a POW Camp at Rabaul on 7 June 1945. Gordon was one of the few expatriates to survive the Japanese occupation of the town and for many years after the war was a prolific correspondent for the late and much lamented Pacific Islands Monthly.

Ode to Rabaul

Twine gently, Vines about this vanish'd town!
Bloom on, O Flow'rs; in riotous array;
Lie lightly, Leaves, as you come tumbling down!
Who knows?..... Rabaul may live again some day.

Lower photo: One of the exhibits in the Rabaul Museum showcases a few of my golden words [left click to enlarge]

Places still available at book launch

There’s an open invitation for south-east Queenslanders to attend the launch of Reginald Thomson’s Looking for a Good Book next Tuesday. Reginald was in PNG from 1949-73, beginning as a teacher and finishing as Director of Child Welfare.

The book will be launched at Golden Age Retirement Village, 60 Ridgeway Avenue, Southport at 10 am and refreshments will be served. If you want to attend give CopyRight Publishing a call on 07 3229 6366.

Looking for a Good Book has been described as “a literary tour de force”. Reginald loved reading, collecting good books and learning from them. His lifetime of looking for a good book has left this remarkable legacy worthy of inclusion in any good collection.

Reginald’s time in PNG – preceded by study at ASOPA during its early years - is well recorded. After service in World War II, he attended ASOPA and this is one of the highlights of the memoir.

And then, in early August 1949, Reginald arrived in Port Moresby. Here’s an extract from the book:

I met the Director, Bill Groves, who ran his Department from a modest office in a long shed with paper walls. This was the HQ of the department. Bill was a short, cherubic man who went to New Guinea in 1922 as the first European teacher at Kokopo. He had served in the First World War and spent a long time as a POW in Germany. He majored in Anthropology at Melbourne University, from which he held an Honours Degree and a teaching Diploma.

His book [Native Education and Culture Contact in New Guinea – A Scientific Approach] was critical of any hint of elitism and advocated a system aimed at meeting the everyday needs of the villager. Unfortunately, in practice, this meant an exaggerated emphasis on ancillary processes to the detriment of basic educational skills.

His educational philosophy caused a great deal of anguish both within and outside the Department. He resisted all attempts to expand secondary and further education, bringing down the ire of the Minister, Paul Hasluck, an academic, journalist and politician who, despite his many achievements, was never at the coal face like Groves.

Paul Hasluck, whom I came to like and respect, had little patience with those who disagreed with his Olympian pronouncements on all subjects. He was noted for his attention to detail, including the perusal of unimportant files, such as those concerned with the recruitment of base-grade clerks.

Country Life: On the trail of the goanna

Paul Oates

There's a sudden commotion down near the large dam. A mob of noisy minors has gathered. They're alarmed at something on the ground. Then a couple of nesting peewees start up, their two-tone alarm harmonising with the minors. Finally two magpies and a pair of crows join in, united as temporary allies. It takes a large snake or a goanna to stir them up like that.

A well-built goanna appears from the mouth of the gully leading to the dam, leisurely bending to the left and then to the right as he ambles along.

He disappears into the top end of the culvert underneath the road, reappearing from the end of the concrete pipe and continuing to the water’s edge to where a couple of ironbarks,  being use as nesting platforms, overhang the dam.

Goanna is doing his rounds, investigating a meal. Eggs, nestlings and young birds are all on the menu, as well as any carrion the crows have left behind. Even a nesting bird is fair game.

With a burst of speed, the goanna rockets up an ironbark to investigate a bird’s nest. It’s either empty or the bird is a a quick scoff because he’s soon back down continuing his amble around the water’s edge. The ducks, ducklings and purple water hens energetically launch themselves from the tall grass and head straight for the middle of the dam.

As the goanna pokes his head into nooks, crannies and woodpiles - looking for small lizards, nests and young birds - the crows and magpies swoop, screaming defiance as they dive bomb. As the diving birds' plunge bottoms out, the goanna half heartedly bends and, with his tail balancing the weight of his head, leaps up and snaps at them.

After a while he disappears into the scrub at the bottom of the dam wall, and the general commotion among the feathered populace dies down. Then the galahs around the cattle pens start screeching. The pens are mouse and rat magnets of spilled grain, and need checking out. A number of galahs and cockatiels, who have been harvesting grain around the feed troughs, hurriedly take to the air.

Goanna moves on.  The cattle pens produced lean pickings today.

PNG 'not ready' without kiaps: Jeffery

Australia’s former Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, has come out strongly in support of the Commonwealth Government recognising the nation building and other services performed by kiaps in Papua New Guinea on behalf of Australia.

Headshot“Having served in PNG on two occasions and visited the country on several more, I am of course well aware of the tremendous work done by Patrol Officers and District Commissioners in developing PNG, from a very backward and non-cohesive series of tribal groups to a fully democratised nation,” General Jeffery has told Chris Viner-Smith.

Without the Patrol Officers performing their policing, legal, agricultural, governance and administrative functions, PNG would simply not have been ready for nationhood in 1975.

lt is for all those reasons that I am happy to support the case for recognition in some form, of sworn Officers who served in PNG. I will do what I can to help support your worthy cause.”

General Jeffery is a former commander of Australia’s Special Air Services Regiment and a recipient of the Military Cross for gallantry in Vietnam.

He joins British war hero and also one time Australian Governor-General Field Marshall William Slim, who said to Territories Minister Paul Hasluck in 1960: “Your young chaps in New Guinea have gone out where I would never have gone without a battalion and they have done on their own by sheer force of character what I could only do with troops. I don’t think there’s been anything like it in the modern world...”

The Special Minister for State and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which have responded positively to the case for Kiap Recognition, are considering what kind of award would be an appropriate form of tribute.

Aussie celebrities spruik media freedom

Australian television personality Ray Martin will be joined by musician Jimmy Barnes and gospel singer Steve Grace in a string of events in Port Moresby next month to celebrate media freedom in Papua New Guinea.

The PNG Media Council will stage the events as part of its efforts to promote freedom of expression and the freedom of press as basic human rights. The international guests will help promote the message of media freedom.

The council’s executive director Nimo Walter Kama said the theme ‘Media freedom is your right’ was aimed at “liberalising media from constraints it faces from the State, civil society and also from the press itself”.

Mr Kama said highlights, presented in partnership with AusAID, include a TV movie marathon, a media breakfast, a public musical performance at Sir John Guise stadium and other events.

Source: ‘Public invited to join media events’ by Travertz Mabone, The National, 7 April 2009

PNG still not signed up for labour scheme

The Australian Government says it is “still finalising” agreement with the Papua New Guinea Government on the proposed seasonal labour scheme despite having announced last August that the scheme would be put into effect. Participants will work for up to seven months a year in the horticulture industry in regional Australia.

Last November agreements were signed with Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu with promises made that the scheme would be operational by Christmas. Now the Migration Branch of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations – where the matter seems to have ended up - says it will happen “this year”.

Louise McSorley, manager of the Department's migration branch, was responding to a representation to Deputy prime Minister Julia Gillard from Philip and Luke Fitzpatrick, who were hopeful that the guest worker program could be used to assist the Gogadala people of Balimo in the Western Province.

Ms McSorley would not be drawn on this point, replying that the PNG Government will be responsible for “labour sending arrangements [including] the identification of regions where workers are to be sourced.”

At the time the seasonal labour scheme was mooted, PNG ATTITUDE reported that PNG was not to be part of the deal, an omission that would have caused a ruction in the relationship with Australia. Australian Government Ministers denied that this was so, but the long delay in reaching agreement with PNG suggests that our nearest neighbour was tacked on to the scheme at the last minute.

The official message now is that “the Australian Government is committed to helping PNG build up its necessary labour sending capacities to enable the earliest possible participation of workers from PNG.”

And then the punchline: “Currently there are no visas available.”

Given escalating unemployment in Australia, the head start of other Pacific nations and chronic visa issues PNG has with Australia, Gogodalas, Keremas, Chimbus or Sepiks may be waiting a very long time to pick stone fruit in the Riverina.

Dr Howie doing too much to be a Doolittle

Tele_040409 Australia’s answer to Dr Doolittle. That’s the wrap ASOPA graduate, ex chalkie, medical doctor and veterinarian Dr Howard Ralph received in today’s Sunday Telegraph after he was nominated for the newspaper’s Pride of Australia medal.

Howie has spent the last 30 years working with injured native wildlife and last year opened a refuge, Southern Cross Wildlife Care, at Braidwood in southern NSW. He regularly performs lengthy operations on wounded animals without charging for his services.

“For years and years he has gone over and above,” says Erica Martin of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.” “It has been an absolute privilege to work with Dr Ralph.”

Recently, Howie’s expertise in treating burns took him to Victoria for three weeks dealing with wildlife victims of the bushfires.

He has been nominated for a 2009 Pride of Australia medal in recognition of his devotion to saving native wildlife.

In addition to his veterinary duties, Howie also works as an anaesthetist at Canberra Hospital.

Source: ‘His animal magnetism’ by Liz Ackroyd, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday 5 April

Invitation to the launch of a good book

Good_Book CopyRight Publishing has invited readers of PNG Attitude to the launch of Reginald Thomson’s Looking for a Good Book on Tuesday 14 April.

Councillor Susie Douglas will launch the book at Golden Age Retirement Village (Eric Franks Nursing Home), 60 Ridgeway Avenue, Southport at 10 am for 10.30 am. The MC will be John McRobert, managing director of CopyRight Publishing. Light refreshments will be served.

It would be great for former PNG people in south-east Queensland to arrange to attend this event. You need to RSVP to CopyRight Publishing by Thursday 9 April - phone 07 3229 6366, fax 07 3229 8782, email

Looking for a Good Book has been described as “a literary tour de force”. Reginald loved reading, collecting good books and learning from them. His lifetime of looking for a good book has left this remarkable legacy, a unique potted history of Australia worthy of inclusion in any good collection.

Reginald’s time in PNG – preceded by study at ASOPA during its early years - is well recorded by a man who’s been called a “diligent bibliophile”.

Reginald lived in PNG from 1949-73, beginning his career as a teacher and ending it in the exacting post of Director of Child Welfare. The central characteristics of Looking for a Good Book is its sparkling prose and the extensive literary and life experience of the author.

Reginald was born near Bendigo in 1919, leaving school at 13 to work for the YMCA and enlisting in the Australian Army in 1941. The book describes his Army training and his initial war service in New Guinea and in Borneo.

After World War II, Reginald took a Diploma in Social Science, soon moving on to ASOPA. In the introduction to the book, his son Dr Mark Thomson writes: “The firsthand account of studying at ASOPA is a highlight of the memoir.” I agree. This is historic stuff and the book is worth reading for these reminiscences alone.

A book that tells how PNG really was

Bamahuta09 Trevor Shearston and Philip Fitzpatrick are about my age. They were in Papua New Guinea – Shearston as a teacher, Fitzpatrick as a kiap – when I was there. And they have both authored books about life around the time of national independence that I would dearly loved to have written myself.

Thirty years ago, in 1979, Shearston published Something in the Blood, a wonderful collection of short stories of which it was said “[they] were driven by a rejection of romantic and dishonest views of colonial Papua New Guinea and are widely regarded as accurate observations of the life and politics of that time”.

The same could be said of Phil Fitzpatrick’s novel, Bamahuta – Leaving Papua, which, if you'll forgive the paradox, is a relentlessly honest work of fiction - although, as you read it, you quickly realise it is strongly informed by fact. And, like Shearston’s stories, Bamahuta is thoroughly evocative of and true to the times it describes.

Bamahuta has been much mentioned in these Notes recently. It seems a favourable review, published after the first 2005 edition, was banned from the PNGAA website by some offended, anonymous, cloth-eared censor. Furthermore, Fitzpatrick was accused of unconscionably melding fact and fiction. But these are impertinent cavils. They are like old tannin stains in a chipped teacup - of slender passing interest even as the vessel is cast aside.

Phil Fitzpatrick has written a beautiful book and Diane Andrews is to be congratulating on republishing it. Fitzpatrick is not only a powerful storyteller with a keen eye for the kind of descriptive detail that makes you feel you're there, he also writes with a beguiling sense of humour and the ability to draw characters who are real (sometime because they are real) and who we can sympathise with, even when their personalities are less than appealing.

Bamahuta begins and ends with vignettes that take place in the year 2000, thirty years after the period in which the book is located. These markers show that the ambience of PNG has changed, and then, with powerful prose and through electric storytelling, Fitzpatrick returns to PNG as it was in the late sixties and early seventies. You can smell it and you can feel it; you are there.

And so are all the people you knew. They live again. The drunks and the lovers, the eccentrics and the confused, the blow-ins and the die-hards. It is in his characterisation that Fitzpatrick’s acute eye for detail excels. And the Papuans and the New Guineans who populate this book – and who are, in a sense, its real heroes – are at least as well drawn as the author’s countrymen. Here is a writer who saw and who understood what he was dealing with.

Bamahutais full of great moments. There is exploration, cannibalism, politics, sex, leeches, patrol reports, puripuri, boredom, drinking, pretentiousness and courage. The book can be read at a number of levels – from the easy stance of a rattling good yarn to the more complex angle of seeking to understand the unusual mix of grittiness, pragmatism and empathy required to be an effective midwife at the birth of a nation.

Australia and PNG do have a shared history. It is a rich history and it is a good history: Australian resourcefulness and Papua New Guinean shrewdness thrown together; all parties getting on with a job sometimes not fully understood but which, irrespective of where it might have been headed, always seemed worth doing.

Bamahuta makes you feel proud of this shared history. Amongst its many other attributes, Phil Fitzpatrick's book is the only reminder you should need of the centrality of the kiaps' role in PNG's development, and of Australia's role in that same process.

As Paul Toohey writes of Port Moresby in today's Australian: "The place would improve exponentially if Australians forced aside some of their justified scepticism and chose to revisit their old PNG friends or find new ones." The elemental concept here being that of friendship: a friendship that Phil Fitzpatrick understood so well and is able to write about so eloquently.

You must buy Bamahuta and read it.

‘Bamahuta – Leaving Papua’ by Philip Fitzpatrick, Diane Andrews Publishing, $35. Visit the publisher’s website here.