PNG media elite not interested in the grassroots
Yu save olsem wanem: Winmoni ikamap nating?

Gone, Beeps, in a great flipping flaming flambe


You remember the Burns Philp department store in downtown Moresby? Roughly, very roughly, opposite the rough Bottom Pub. Uptown was the Top Pub, 50 yards away.

Beeps. Remember it? Large canvas punkah ventilation systems punkahing overhead. Relentlessly stirring the humidity. We could have been in Delhi if we’d the imagination for it.

The Burns Philp store burned down the other day. Nothing left except the old clock tower. Until I saw the aerial photo I hadn’t realised just how close to the wharf it was. Everything seemed further away, more spacious, then. Maybe it was because the mind was working faster.

A blogger, Mad Dog of Madang, has written of this final fatal fire…

'We were sitting on the balcony drinking wine and saw a huge plume of smoke from downtown. Like any good PNGer we immediately raced towards the disaster and saw the final moments of the famous yet flammable Burns Philip building...

"There were vast and knowledgeable crowds who were remarkably close to the action and a few brave firemen trying to save Westpac with some very leaky hoses… It was quite a communal affair. Well ordered and quite solemn at times."

Burns Philp Then I liked the Burns Philp store. Just down from the Chimbu and just married, it seemed like David Jones gone tropical so far had the mind wandered.

The staff were friendly enough. And there were more trade goods than in the entire highlands’ supply of Heagneys. You could easily spend an hour there buying whatever you liked – from jockettes to joke books

Everywhere has an aroma, Moresby had the aroma of sweet sweat. After the first day you got used to it and never smelled it again until you went away for a while.

Alight Until you went into Beeps, where you could smell this musky ambience – and then slip over the road for a beer or three in the Snake Pit, if my memory serves me right. (‘Serves you right’, says my memory.)

If you have stories of the late, great Beeps, pre flambé, write them now while you can. They’ll be appreciated. Link in through Comments below.


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Campbell Mark Smith

It was a real shame to read this story. I grew up in the Burns Philp store and the shipping back office in the late 1970's and through the 1980's.

I'm not sure if there are folk who knew some of the people about in those days.

I don't recall punkahs, I was there a bit later in the scheme of things. Would love to know more.

Denis Murrell

I went into Beeps for the first time one day in mid-1968 and noticed the punkahs. And, unbelievably, on the day I was there, a wiry local employee was busy operating them in the old-fashioned way with ropes because the apparently the machines had failed. How I wished I had my little Kodak Instamatic with me but I'd accidentally left it at my cousin's home.

Henry Sims

Crikey, that story brought back memories. The smell in Beeps circa '69 was delightful and now poignantly enshrined in text.

Also the shopping days, when many shelf items were missing until a vessel arrived from somewhere - and it was almost a declared public holiday following the unloading. With fresh milk, meat and veggies, soap powders and the things we take for granted being in surplus for a while.

Great days, now gone, forever. Soritumas.

Hellen White

Can anyone please tell me exactly what year it ws built in? Thanks, Hellen White

Ilma Leahy

Oh madi! It looks like it even got to the old Niugini Lloyds building next door!

I suppose it would be too much to ask if it was going to be "restored to its former glory"? No doubt some great monolith will take its place and it will be forever forgotten - like the old House of Assembly (which will probably end up with a monolith on its site) as "progress" rents its way through anything we have in PNG of historical value which is just allowed to decay and rot away till nothing is left of it or until a grander, newer "development" takes its place (eg Parliament Haus, Waigani and Jacksons Airport too).

Now I hear the current Haus Tambaran in Waigani is falling apart with little to no maintenance being the culprit. No wonder the tag of cargo cult mentality keeps popping up. All this with the increasing prevalence of sorcery or sorcery related activities occurring in PNG today makes you wonder if things are regressing or progressing from a societal point of view! But here I go on my soap box again.

It’s just so sad to see another piece of history go up in smoke. And too often it seems that those who should care or are sitting on various committees, organisations etc charged with preserving (or restoring for that matter) things that are either culturally, historicaly or environmentally unique or important for future generations of PNGeans.

And the rest of the world keeps on paying lip service about such losses/degradations and of course exploitations (in the context of our marine, mineral/oil/gas and forest resources). Oh dear, dea,r dear....em bai hard tumas ia! Sori tru. Now what's next on the agenda?

John Fowke

Its intriguing bell-tower like topknot and its punkahs aside, BP's head-office in then TP&NG was the centre for a very large and comprehensive merchant-shipping operation to say nothing of an equally-wide- spread empire of coastal plantations. Thus the building, now no more, must have been the scene of an extraordinary number of interesting, possibly controversial and undoubtedly often rancorous, even combustible, exchanges of opinion, meetings and confrontations, particularly back in the time of the late Sir Hubert Murray, who was not a fan of the big,sometimes muscular trading company.

BP's boats, large and small traversed the coasts of the then Territory, and I well remember evenings of considerable levity and occasional loud song spent on board the likes of M.V."RASKAI", chartered to BPs and captained by Pip Bolton,who I think actually leased rather than owned his small but redoubtable vessel. An old, much-travelled wooden ship,she was hailed with some accuracy all round the coast of New Britain, as "em Ratskaikai ia!".

My late wife, Pennie, as a friend of the Hilder family, sat at Brett Hilder's table on board M.V. "BULOLO" when she travelled to Lae to marry me in 1965.The other "Cap'ns tablers" included senior Admin men and their ladies returning from leave, and a dowager plantation-owner of many years residence in the Islands. This lady asked Pennie what the purpose of her trip was. Pennie replied,
"Actually, Im going up to be married.." whereupon the old one, taking a second, judicious look at my bride-to-be said,
"Oh, my dear, a nice girl like you should have no trouble at all!"

Whilst the diners at the captain's table, together with the other paying passengers, were fed well and sufficiently, the Company had a well-entrenched and justifiable reputation for meanness with its resources. Whilst all its ships were easily identifiable by the chequer-board, black-and-white motif painted around the funnels or exhaust-stack of every BP's ship, large or small, it was said that another reliable marker was the complete absence of any sign of following, soaring sea-birds. The birds knew, it was said, that food-scraps were never thrown overboard from ships with black-and-white funnels.

Phil Fitzpatrick

The last time I saw the building, about 9 months ago, there was a "nightclub" operating out of it. The advice from those who knew was that no one in their right mind went there, even walking past at night could see you floating in the harbour next morning. Maybe the left-minded denizens know something about the flambé?

Paul Oates

One of my first impressions of Port Moresby was a visit to BP's store in the late 1960's. It seemed a veritable classic example of an old, tropical emporium.

I had previously heard and read of the old system of using 'punkahs', an Indian term for a flapping board hanging from the ceiling that was used to move the tropical air around the inside of a building.

Imagine my surprise when I actually saw them being used in BP's? They were of course then operated by a machine but it didn't take much to imagine, in the old days in India in the time of the Indian Raj, they would have been hand operated by a 'punkah wallah' who pulled the rope connected to the punkah.

Perhaps the punkahs in BP's were originally operated by hand when the store was first built? Husat isave? Lau diba lasi.

Diane Bohlen

I remember the punkahs.

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