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57 posts from November 2009

Independent riots inquiry is sunk by government

The parliamentary committee investigating the May anti-Asian riots throughout PNG is in turmoil following the government’s sacking of its chairman, Jamie Maxtone-Graham, and the resignation of three members – including a vice-minister - in sympathy.

Mr Maxtone-Graham has revealed he was sacked just before his committee exposed the involvement of some politicians in questionable activities with certain people of Asian origin.

He warned of a “time bomb’’ that would explode unless the government immediately took positive action to defuse increasing anti-Asian sentiments.

It wasn’t the first time the PNG government had put the dampener on a parliamentary inquiry whose activities it found discomfiting.

Transparency International reported last week on the dismal fate of the Commission of Inquiry on the Department of Finance [see PNG Attitude here]

Vice Minister for the Public Service, Anthony Nene MP, said committee members had tried to carry out their task without funding and without government cooperation but the decision to remove Mr Maxtone-Graham was a big setback for the country.

Mr Nene said his decision to resign was final because “I have seen a lot of stinky things happening and I cannot continue”.

Meanwhile, parliament has taken delivery of 109 plasma television sets (“as big as a dining table and worth more than K20,000 each”, said one observer) that will be installed in the offices of MPs.

Official: AusAID management, strategy problems

The Australian National Audit Office’s [ANAO] performance audit of AusAID, tabled in parliament last week, provides less than a ringing endorsement of the aid agency’s performance.

Indeed, it questions its ability to deliver the Rudd government's pledge to double the aid budget by 2016.

The report, entitled AusAID's Management of the Expanding Australian Aid Program, says that the Australian government provided $3.8 billion in overseas aid this yer, an increase of 42% in four years. AusAID is responsible for 83% of this program.

The audit considered critical aspects of AusAID’s management; how aid investments are selected; monitoring and evaluation and other matters.

Audit fieldwork was undertaken in Australia and three recipient countries, including PNG.

While ANAO concluded that in recent years AusAID had managed the program “in a way that supports the delivery of effective aid”, it said that the agency “faces considerable management challenges”.

There is a shortfall of expertise in some areas and many programs are operating without an agreed strategy

ANAO made recommendations aimed at improving management of the aid program, which give some greater insights into AusAID’s performance:

Improvement of human resources management to mitigate problems of high staff turnover.

The better management of locally-engaged staff.

Develop aid strategies for each recipient country to make aid delivery “more focused and predictable”.

Develop a policy on using recipient country systems to manage projects, thereby strengthening them, rather than imposing its own systems.

Greater transparency in budgeting and reporting.

Source: The Auditor-General’s Audit Report No.15, Performance Audit: AusAID's Management of the Expanding Australian Aid Program, Parliament of Australia, November 2009. Read the full report here

Genia stars as Wallabies cream Wales in Cardiff

Head  The Australian rugby union team ended its Spring tour of the British Isles in spectacular fashion with a convincing 33-12 win against Wales at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.

And once again the Wallabies PNG-born halfback Will Genia was in great form, producing what critics described as “a mighty all-round performance”.

In a dominant display of open rugby, the Australians ran in four unanswered tries against the 2008 Six Nation champions to silence the crowd of 75,000.

Matt Giteau was voted man of the match with Genia and Australia’s inspirational captain Rocky Elson also worthy of the award.

After the game Genia said the win against Wales was more satisfying than the defeat of world champions South Africa in Brisbane in September.

“To come home so strongly, score four tries and play for the full 80 minutes makes for a great dressing room,” he said.

The 21-year-old Genia has received another honour in his rookie year of international rugby.  He is one of six Australians selected to play for the Barbarians against the New Zealand All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday. 

It's political: The truth about corruption in PNG

Transparency International’s recent report on global corruption ranks PNG 151st of 180 countries: its corruption rating continuing to worsen.

Overall, corruption in PNG is characterised as more political than bureaucratic in nature. That said, bureaucratic corruption is a significant concern to the private sector.

Corruption profoundly affects business operations, yet businesses are reluctant to speak out because of fear of losing state contracts, or simply being shut down.

Although businesses are not likely to pay small bribes on a daily basis, they may assume large costs at the time of entering a market or expanding their operations, and may make side payments to bureaucrats to secure public contracts.

There is reason for concern about the potential for corruption in public-private partnerships. In May 2008 an interim report by the Commission of Inquiry on the Department of Finance revealed that over $US100 million in public funds intended for such projects had disappeared between January 2000 and July 2006.

It is believed the missing funds were paid to businesses and consultants holding bogus government contracts. But the final report is still pending.

The on-again off-again inquiry was initiated in 2006, but its mandate and funding lapsed in May 2007 and were not renewed due to questions regarding the integrity of its members.

It was reconstituted and relaunched by the prime minister in December 2007 and functioned to April 2008, when it lapsed again because of lack of funding and political will to pursue the inquiry.

While the inquiry was taking place, however, civil servants as well as prominent businesspeople spoke publicly about bureaucrats and politicians extracting payments from business after a contract with the state has been awarded but before it was paid out.

Media reports suggest that parts of the private sector are complicit in an elaborate network within the bureaucracy by which a percentage of some cheques produced by the Finance Department is taken out before payment is made to the contractor.

Forestry in PNG has reached a critical juncture. Current levels of logging are said to be unsustainable and the legality of many current concessions is in doubt.

There are also human rights abuses of the local communities and local labour.

A review of 14 logging operations from 2001 to 2006 was highly critical of these operations, except for the Japanese company that runs the Open Bay timber project.

In the first admission of its kind, the country’s forest minister Belden Namah told parliament in 2008 that logging companies routinely flouted the law with the help of corrupt officials.

He found that most of his departmental officers responsible for monitoring forestry operations had ignored the law and that many were in the pockets of logging companies. The minister suspended two forestry licences and announced that no permits are to be issued for log exports after 2010.

More recently the Post-Courier linked unnamed PNG politicians to $US45 million in a Singapore bank account, allegedly money earned through secret logging deals.

The logging industry wields influence in PNG through political donations, public sponsorship, lobbying and media ownership. In other instances, companies simply ‘buy’ rights to log from corrupt government officials.

Source: Global Corruption Report 2009, Transparency International, Cambridge, November 2009


Baby Kevin latest: linked to his namesake for life


BabyKevinBilas I was recently back up in the highlands of PNG and spent some time in Lufa with little Kevinrudd and his family.

Kevinrudd is a delightful little boy, cheerful and easy and not at all afraid of white skin (most children his age are).

The novelty and interest has waned a little, but nobody in the area is in any doubt where his name came from. He remains a relatively famous child in the community, though he himself is oblivious to it all.

His family hold and value the mementoes of the famous association, the presents from the prime minister’s staff, copies of Reconciliation News and his portrait, but for all that he is just another young life full of promise and much loved by those around him.

It is in the adult community that the ‘namesaking’ is still having a lingering and confusing effect. The prime minister didn’t ask to have the child named after him and probably had no way to refuse it.

In highland PNG, though, this ‘namesaking’ has strings attached and culturally it links the two people for life.

A bank account had been opened to hold any money coming L’le Kev’s way to perhaps provide his education with a kick start, but I expect the whole thing to wind down to becoming an interesting and slightly unbelievable story to be told around the fire in the future.

Source: Reconciliation News, the newsletter of Reconciliation Australia, November 2009,

There are none so blind as those who will not see


Two toddlers axed to death [The National]

An infant and a three-year-old girl were among four travellers axed to death at a roadblock in Ipanda village in Enga province. Wabag police commander Snr Insp Albert Beli said several women passengers were raped while some women and children were still missing.

He said the clansmen had been unhappy about a decision of a mediation handed down by the peace and good order committee. Insp Beli said the quick response of police prevented many more deaths and the roadblock was cleared but no one was arrested.


I can't believe that quote ... "but no one was arrested".

The news item shows how much law and order has lapsed in PNG today.

In the days of the kiap, no stone would be left unturned until the perpetrators of these crimes were brought to justice.

The PNG government has effectively lost control of the country.

PNG has actually descended into chaos and the Australian prime minister does nothing.

The PNG government (if one can still call it a government) is unlikely to request military assistance in what is clearly becoming a civil war.

The obvious extrapolation is full scale civil war in PNG where the real losers will once again be the people.

It's been a long time in coming and could have been avoided at any time over the last 30 plus years.

By omission and commission, both PNG and Australia have allowed this situation to develop.

Port Moresby villagers fight for their land rights

Landholders from the villages of Boera, Rearea, and Porebada near Port Moresby are taking resources company Esso and the PNG government to court to hand back land they say has been acquired illegally.

The villagers accuse the government of stealing their land and giving it to a foreign company.

Fifty-four villagers representing 40 clans met with lawyers and agreed to enjoin court proceedings started in September by two local companies and Boera villagers Igo Namona and Oala Moi.

They claim that land titles were obtained illegally by the government and given to Esso for an LNG processing facility.

“There has never been any doubt that [this] has always been customary land,” the villagers claim.

“One portion comprises our fishing grounds. It is very large and comprises more than 900 hectares. The company does not need all that area. They only need an easement for their pipeline and for the construction of a pier. Why give them such a big portion of our fishing grounds?

“The effect of this lease is to make our fishermen travel long distances out to sea beyond this area to get fish. We cannot stand on the shore and cast our lines anymore. We cannot look for crabs, oysters, eels and other fish on the seashore. In fact we will be excluded entirely from entering this land.”

They say they have had previous “bad experience” with land in Port Moresby.

“There are instances where the government has leased the land from customary landowners and, when the leases expire, the government issues another lease for another 99 years without giving the land and improvements back to the descendants of the original landowners.

“This lease terminates all the rights of our future generations. We do not like this and we are seeking advice from our lawyers.”

They accused deputy prime minister Sir Puka Temu of “lying to this nation” because he had said the ‘national government is determined to allow all customary landowners in PNG to develop their land and earn a benefit from it’.

“This man cannot be trusted any more. His words mean nothing to us. We want to see action to fulfill his promise.

“We are here to tell our lawyers to fight for us to get our land back.”

'Bonfire' threat to PNG's Asian-owned businesses

There’s a nasty piece of propaganda circulating in PNG that may be a hoax or a malicious case of wishful thinking. But it contains a serious underlying threat and has authorities worried.

It’s purports to be from a group or person under the pseudonym ‘PNG Grassroots’ and is directed to “all Asian cottage business owners in PNG”.

The missive instructs Asian businesses to cease trading by a deadline of 31 December 2009, falsely claiming that this is “in line with the PNG parliamentary bipartisan committee findings”.

The committee, inquiring into the anti-Asian riots of May has in fact not reported and moreover has just had its chairman Jamie Maxtone-Graham sacked in what seem like dubious circumstances.

The letter also claims the support of an unlikely collection of “all national NGOs, international NGOs, prominent Papua New Guineans, the Melanesian Spearhead Group of Nations, other Pacific Island nations and above all, the full support of all ordinary grassroots of PNG.

It calls upon “all Asian-owned cottage business like takka [tucker] shops” to close by the end of the year.

“This is not a petition to the national government or the Asians [defined as ‘Chinese, Malaysian, Philippines, Indians’]. It's a simple instruction. No more excuses, no more false promises.

“The findings of the parliamentary bipartisan clearly spelt out the facts of the findings. Now the government is sitting on the fence, disputing the facts presented by the committee itself set to uncover the truth behind the people's fury.”

It says that if the businesses do not close, people will take to the streets again.

“The government is too sympathetic and has failed the people of PNG. Everyone seems to be apologising for what has happened and none of the so called leaders seem to understand how the inflow of illegal Asians are stealing business opportunities and jobs from helpless PNGans. It's costing the country simple store-keeper jobs and denying the privilege of simple PNGans owning these businesses.

“One just simply needs to walk down the street corner stores at Gerehu, Erima, Kundiawa Town, Kiunga, Lae Market stores, Rabaul Town, Alotau, Madang, you name the rest! In every one of these locations, you will see a takka box store being managed by three to for odd looking Asians who cant even speak proper pidgin, let alone English! What the hell is happening with the laws of this country?”

The letter also alleges corruption on a grand scale by the PNG government, illegal migration organised by “Asian investment giants”, illegal gambling, prostitution and an Asian mafia.

“They have already started importing Asian woman to work as prostitutes. Our own mothers and sisters are being lured into these filthy illegal business[es].”

The letter ends with an ominous threat. “We will celebrate 2010 New Year's Eve with bonfires of all Asian-owned takka shops in flames all around the country. That will be the solution. Forget the government. If they can't do it, we will do it ourselves! No need to buy candlesticks on New Years Eve.”

Download a full copy of the open letter here.

New lease of life for those old area studies


Fitzpatrick_Philip Area studies were the bane of every kiap’s life. Standing orders stated they would "be updated every year and rewritten every three years".

I have memories of sitting in villages counting chickens and pigs, trying to figure out the local kinship system, and casting bones to determine local attitudes to "programs for increasing the cash earnings of the area once people realise an increase involves change and hard work.”

In the nether regions of the Western District, the latter hardly seemed to matter.

Well, area studies were resurrected under the monicker of "social mapping" with the passage of the Oil and Gas Act in 1998.

Under the Act, social mapping is required to help government decide which customary land owners should be consulted in negotiations regarding the distribution of royalties and benefits from oil and gas projects.

The underlying principle of the Act recognises the value of traditional life and culture and seeks to include these in the economic and social development of communities: a principle loosely referred to as 'the PNG way'.

Social mapping seeks to define those cultural and historic factors that have shaped the relationship between the people and their land.

It involves the systematic collection and analysis of a range of objective data relating to the physical, demographic and social landscape.

While it primarily assists the distribution of benefits from oil and gas projects, it has important secondary functions including informing and guiding project proponents about how to deal with customary landowners and in helping mitigate the social impact of projects.

Faced with this requirement, the old kiaps who work in mining and petroleum exploration have fallen back on the format of the old-style area studies. It's only when a project gets serious that heavyweight anthropologists are brought into play.

I'm doing some social mapping at the moment based on the region between Lake Murray and Daru. The old area studies are priceless background, but hard to come by. A visit to the archives in Port Moresby is hit-and-miss and depends on who is behind the counter. Otherwise, it's a trip to Canberra.

If any reader has kept copies of their patrol reports that include area studies and census figures, my advice is to hang on to them.

In the meantime, if you have area studies for Lake Murray-Daru, I'd be eternally grateful to get a copy. All that hard work and two-fingered typing may not have been in vain.

If you have any of those old reports, you can contact Phil Fitzpatrick here

Rimbunan Hijau: missing the point of the riots

I don’t know whether readers are aware of my day job (what you’re reading is my early morning job) as chairman of a long-established Australian public relations company.

When I’m not playing at being retired, I turn up for work most days to advise clients on how they ought to deal with what, in many cases, are tough issues affecting their reputation.

The advice my company offers is based not on spin but on seeking to get clients to identify and address the substantive issues they face.

In this context, if I was advising Malaysian conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau, I’d be telling it to abandon its current line of argument and adopt a more intelligent approach to the problems besieging PNG.

RH, as it’s called, came to PNG in 1989 to cut down trees but has since diversified into timber mills, mass media (it owns The National), property development, retailing and IT. It employs 5,000 people, including 500 expatriates, and is a big PNG firm by any measure.

Senior RH executives just appeared before the PNG parliamentary committee inquiring into May’s anti-Asian riots, where they strongly denied allegations of human smuggling, drug running, arms trafficking and more.

The officials - executive director Nathaniel Ho, general manager Ang Cheng Chooi and corporate policy manager Axel Wilhelm - said they believe “international non-governmental organisations” are trying to sabotage RH operations in PNG.

Mr Wilhelm said in 2003 an unnamed NGO [we think he’s referring to Greenpeace] started a global campaign against forestry, with RH as its major target.

In the ensuing years, a range of allegations has been made about RH. At the inquiry, the company noted a number of perceptions it believes some people harbour about it:

that its logging ships carry illegal immigrants (“I firmly deny that aliens are brought in tin containers to logging camps and disappear into the bush,” said Mr Wilhelm)

that it’s involved in drug trafficking and arms smuggling

that it imports for retail sale low quality counterfeit products

Mr Wilhelm said RH was not surprised at the riots. Why? Because, he said, there had been incitement by the Masalai website, international NGOs and the media.

He also provided the parliamentary committee with what was termed “an investigative report compiled by an independent group”, which sounded like snooping to me.

I’m not sure RH didn’t end its appearance at the inquiry worse off than before its executives walked through the committee room door.

My advice to RH is as clear as it is free. The May riots were embedded in ordinary Papua New Guineans' feelings of disempowerment and dispossession.

As a leading PNG company, RH would exercise its social responsibility conscientiously and better protect its commercial interests by addressing that root cause.

Further reading: Download the Greenpeace brochure on Rimbunan Hijau, The Untouchables, here.

Resonances of war linger in PNG cargo cults


Professor Jared Diamond spent a good deal of time in PNG, where he first came to study local birdlife.

On one trip he was asked by well known cult leader Yali, why it was that the west had so much material wealth and PNG did not.

That question formed the basis of Diamond’s second book in the trilogy The Third Chimpanzee, Guns, Germs and Steel, and Collapse.

Yali’s question had a recent resonance with me as I conducted some research into a family matter.

My wife always knew that her father was involved in PNG during the World War II but had no idea of what he did. We realised why records were hard to find as we searched through some recently declassified documents about a wartime Australian intelligence unit.

The unit was established to assemble information about the enemy, distribute written material and, in New Guinea, convince the local people that the Allies were going to win.

This was very important given that local cooperation was vital in helping the war effort and protecting and hiding the Coastwatchers.

With PNG’s low literacy levels, two main activities were implemented. The first involved bringing groups of New Guineans to Australia and showing them the industry and might of a developed country.

I recently learned that Yali was brought to Australia on one of these tours.

The second activity involved the unit patrolling through New Guinea villages with generators, films and recordings of how the Japanese were being defeated and showing the power the Allies had at their disposal.

It turned out that the unit visited the same villages I patrolled through over 20 years later. The main difference appeared to be that all I had was a Tilley lamp.

I reflected on the disparity between the wartime effort based on necessity and our post war effort. When the chips were down, no expense was spared to educate PNG people.

When the war was won, however, suddenly interest and effort ceased. Is it any wonder that PNG people affected by the war could never again be the same?

Clearly people like Yali tried to find a way to establish that world he had glimpsed. The cargo cults that ensued continue to this day.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to maintain Australia’s efforts in PNG at a reasonable level instead of starving the post war Administration of funds.

It’s hard to blame Yali or any number of other cultists who have emerged over time.

No new ASOPA, but AusAID cops a Senate spray

The foreign affairs references committee of the Australian Senate has just issued a report, a year in gestation, on economic challenges facing PNG and the Pacific.

Prof Clive Moore of Queensland University and I made a joint submission to this inquiry more than 12 months ago calling for the re-establishment of a 21st century ASOPA – a Pacific regional training institute to address the needs of Australians preparing to work in the region as well as the vocational needs of people from PNG and the Pacific states.

We said such an institute would “better meet regional needs and overcome observed deficiencies in the delivery of development aid.”

We also submitted that it would, amongst other functions, “orientate Australians … intending to work in the Pacific to cultural nuances and to techniques of navigating through the complex situations in which they will operate.”

We backed up these propositions by saying that “though a large amount of money is being spent annually by Australia, there seems to be a large degree of waste and no clear evidence of a permanent transfer of skills to Pacific peoples, such as would create economic sustainability and national self-reliance.”

Well, the committee chose to ignore the ‘regional institute’ suggestion but made a number of findings consistent with our general thesis.

Importantly, it conceded that aid “does not always reach the intended beneficiaries or those most in need of assistance”  and said that aid “could be aligned more closely with the needs and priorities of the recipient country”.

“Evidence suggested that there was a serious disconnection between the courses offered by training institutions … and the requirements of local [enterprise]”.

The Senate reported spoke of “a lack of policy coherence and robustness” in the monitoring and evaluation of Australian aid programs, all issues that have been raised frequently in PNG Attitude.

In a recommendation so wide it represents a stern condemnation of AusAID’s approach to date, the report proposed that “the Australian government direct AusAID to formulate a strategic single policy framework to guide its governance program in the Pacific region.”

It took a Senate committee to tell AusAID that.

The Senate also told AusAID that it should link its on-the-ground programs with higher level objectives.

In other words, the Senate says AusAID has been working without a strategy.

No wonder so much of Australia’s aid expenditure is wasted.

And as for a new ASOPA to better orientate Australians to the development task, well it will sort of be there – through something called the Asia-Pacific Civil-Military Centre.

For mine, I don’t see a joint civil-military operation working. The cultures, goals and operating procedures are too disparate. But that’s what the Senate says it wants, so we’ll see.

Source: ‘Economic challenges facing Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest Pacific’, Volume I, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, November 2009

Morauta says PM not serious about corruption

Corruption is the hottest topic in PNG and demands swift and decisive action by the government, says opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta.

Sir Mekere said Sir Michael Somare had finally “come to his senses’’ by admitting corruption was rampant in his government, but had failed to act.

“Everyone is fed up with the evil and destructive effect of corruption [which is] destroying the fabric of the system on which PNG is built,” Sir Mekere said.

“The Prime Minister cannot blame the public servants because, as the number one lawmaker, he must lead by example instead of buck-passing and blaming civil servants for his incompetence and lack of action.”

He asked what Sir Michael was doing to protect the institutions he had helped create 40 years ago from being chipped and chiselled away by corruption.

Sir Mekere said the people needed the Prime Minister to urgently lead a nationwide fight against the real causes of corruption.

He added it was a waste of time and money to treat symptoms when the deep-rooted causes that allowed corruption to continue were flourishing.

K2.2m disappears from development account

The PNG parliament has been told that K2.2 million disappeared from the District Support and Improvement Program for the Tewai-Siassi open electorate between May and September this year.

And local MP, Vincent Michaels, has blamed “a Waigani criminal syndicate”.

According to Mr Michaels the syndicate involves Waigani bureaucrats and Bank South Pacific staff who cashed several cheques that were dishonoured at the district level but restored at the bank’s Port Moresby headquarters.

Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Puka Temu, said the matter was completely serious and corrupt in nature and would be thoroughly investigated.

Sir Puka agreed the case involved fraud and said it was typical of what had been happening in the public service.

He describing it as “daylight robbery” and said the culprits should be put behind bars.

Peter Figgis MC: an extraordinary man departs

Coastwatcher Peter Figgis died on Friday night. PNG Attitude will publish an obituary soon. Meanwhile, here’s part of his story as told by Ken Wright…

On December 1943, the US Navy had requested that Australian Naval Intelligence establish a Coastwatching outpost in New Britain to cover the southwest seaway from Rabaul.

Lt Cdr Eric Feldt asked former patrol officer Sub Lt Malcolm Wright to look at the possibilities of the operation. Wright spent time in Port Moresby evaluating plans and locations and was joined by Peter Figgis, an Intelligence Officer in the 2/22 Battalion AIF, and Les Williams who was a corporal in the Armoured Division of the AIF.

The three men decided that Cape Orford was the most advantageous place to set up a Coastwatching post but native help carrying supplies and information on enemy movement was vital. Wright went to see Sergeant Simogan of the New Guinea Native Constabulary who was a great friend of Wright’s during his days as a patrol officer. He eagerly agreed to join the group.

Figgis, Williams, Wright and the four natives boarded the USN submarine Greenling just after dawn on 21 February 1943 and departed from Brisbane for their journey northward to Cape Orford. On 1 March, the men went ashore at Baien Bay just before dawn and established contact with the villagers. No enemy forces were in the area and the villagers were prepared to help. Two tons of supplies from the submarine, enough to last six months, were landed. They established a camp in the mountains about three miles from the shoreline where they could see miles out to sea as well as inland with the added advantage of running water near to the campsite.

When not on duty watching sea and sky for enemy movement, the Coastwatchers read, played cards, treated various native ailments and learned a great deal about the natives and their customs. Most importantly, they were able to spread their influence even to the point where they had valuable contacts within the Japanese fortress of Rabaul.

Peter Figgis was responsible for communications and intelligence. Les Williams was camp commandant and medical officer and Malcolm Wright was overall leader and responsible for liaison with the natives. It was a very successful team.

From the time of their arrival in New Britain, 70 Japanese submarines, numerous barges and aircraft had been observed and reported to GHQ via Moresby. It was frustrating to the Coastwatchers that GHQ never told them of any action that was taken on their reports. One event that did brighten the situation took place in mid July. About 7am one day, a small 300 ton Japanese freighter entered Baien Bay and a signal was immediately sent. Two hours later three USAF Mitchell B-25 bombers appeared and sank the freighter. The Coastwatchers’ prestige went up amongst the natives as it was everyone’s first visual victory.

On 25 March 1944, PT boats brought in new teams and extracted Peter Figgis and seven Allied airmen. Figgis had been in New Britain just over a year. He was later awarded the Military Cross.

You can download the full Ken Wright feature on the exploits of Malcolm Wright, ‘Coastwatchers: No More Smelling Flowers’, here

Global survey: PNG keeps getting more corrupt

Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index shows PNG steadily slipping down the league table of venality.

The index, a measurement of perceived levels of public sector corruption in 180 countries, has PNG dropping three places to 154 this year.

The most honest country in the world is New Zealand. Australia is ranked eighth, which begs the question of why we’re not doing more to deal with corruption in a country to which we give hundreds of millions of dollars.

In an index on a scale from 0 to 10, PNG scored 2.1. The vast majority of the 180 countries scored below five and countries placed in the same group as PNG were Cote d’Ivore, Paraguay and Yemen.

Other Pacific states performed much better than PNG and managed to improve their ranking: Kiribati and Solomon Islands to 111th, Tonga 99th and Vanuatu 95th.

Meanwhile Transparency International in PNG has raised concerns about the government’ allocation of K2 million to each district when a proper evaluation of the district service improvement program has not been finalized

TI is also concerned about K20 million allocated for the newly-created provincial services investment program, where each governor will get K1 million.

Aitsi_Peter  “While our politicians claim they need direct access to funds because of the inefficiencies within the public service, I urge caution and issue a warning here,” said TI chairman Peter Aitsi [right].

“We are beginning to see corruption in the form of outright theft and misuse of these funds, so why put more money into the program?”

Mr Aitsi said if PNG was to have long-term change, the highest priorities of government should be to completely overhaul and reform the public service, including the police.

“We stand the real and dangerous risk of becoming another failed resource-rich economy where our elected leaders end up siphoning off the nation’s wealth,” he said.

Ex AusAID chief is appointed our man in Ireland


Davis_Bruce Five months after he left his job as director-general of AusAID, Bruce Davis AM has been appointed Australia’s ambassador to Ireland. He will take up the diplomatic posting in Dublin next month.

Davis, 56, joined the Australian Development Assistance Agency (ADAB) – the forerunner to AusAID - 34 years ago.  He was born and educated in Queensland, gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from the University of Queensland.

In June this year, Davis became a Member of the Order of Australia for services to international relations through leadership of AusAID for 10 years, and the development and reform of Australia’s overseas aid programs.

He retired in early July at a time when there was specific criticism of AusAID including allegations that it serviced Australian commercial interests through its procurement policies, and had misused aid to support foreign policy initiatives such as the so-called Pacific Solution for processing asylum seekers.

AusAID also was being criticised from the right wing, particularly by Helen Hughes, of the Centre for Independent Studies, who’d argued that “aid has failed PNG and the Pacific” – a criticism of the broad policy of AusAID. 

A senior DFAT officer, Peter Baxter, has been acting Director General of AusAID since Davis retired.

Arms, drugs & people penetrate a porous border


Several years ago I was dangling a line in the Kikori River at Kaiam in the Gulf Province hoping to snare a barramundi.

Kaiam is where the oil pipeline from Hides and Kutubu crosses the river. The road beside the pipeline also joins the road through Kopi to Kikori. There was a ferry at Kaiam and the fishing was good in the deep water beside it.

I noticed a little procession coming down the road and congregating on the other side of the river near the ferry. There were half a dozen highlanders carrying cheap trade store backpacks. They were evenly spaced about twenty metres apart, with a couple of blokes front and rear toting M16s.

One of the armed men went to have a yarn with the ferry operator and this culminated in the exchange of a roll of kina. The company didn’t allow people to use the ferry but there seemed to be no problem about the backpacks.

On the other side a couple of locals loaded the packs into the back of a Hilux and headed towards Kikori.

The pipeline down from the mountains pretty much follows one of traditional trading routes to the coast. In the old days tigaso (tree oil), black palm bows, pigs and cassowaries went one way and pearl shell and fine black axe blades came up from Torres Strait.

The highlanders who came over in a canoe afterwards to see if we had any jobs said the stuff in the backpacks was run to Daru by local police and then down to Australia. Guns, flak jackets, Kevlah helmets and other necessities of highlands’ life came back the other way.

I salted away this piece of information and didn't think much more about it until recently, when I noticed a few obscure reports in the press about Papua New Guineans overloading health services in the Torres Strait and otherwise causing mischief. There are 13 villages in the Western Province whose citizens are allowed there for traditional purposes under the Torres Strait Treaty.

There is unfettered illegal immigration to this part of PNG. Just about every big village or town in the Western and Gulf Provinces has a resident ethnic Chinese trade store. A lot come in through West Papua.

They are nice enough people but communication is a bit of a problem until they get a handle on Tok Pisin. A lot of them talk about eventually moving to Australia when they've made enough money to join relatives. Apparently they go down in boats from the PNG villages. It seems well organised.

This is all rumour, of course; there doesn't seem to be any hard evidence. But it did make me wonder whether Indonesian people smugglers are involved.

They are probably in the thick of it; the boats that head for Ashmore Reef might just be useful diversions. I wonder how many terrorist training camps there are out in the swamps of the Fly River?

Greater recognition for Montevideo Maru


Relatives of more than 1000 Australian troops and civilians who lost their lives in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942 have had a breakthrough in their campaign for greater understanding of the tragedy.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Alan Griffin, told the Herald yesterday: ''I think we all agree now that the detail and the significance of the event have not received appropriate recognition in the past.''

He said the Government would investigate the possibility of declaring the site of the sinking, off the Philippines, an official war grave, and assist family and friends in raising funds for a memorial in Canberra.

His statement followed a meeting with a delegation from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee led by its chairman, Keith Jackson, and Kim Beazley, ambassador designate to the US, whose uncle died on the ship.

Mr Jackson welcomed the Government's support, but said provision of a memorial - probably in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial - would cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

''It will require public fund-raising on a massive scale, which the Government will support.''

Mr Jackson said the meeting had been productive and had achieved breakthroughs in several other areas.

The War Memorial will include a permanent Montevideo Maru display in its revamped World War II galleries. The Government will renew the search for Japanese papers bearing the names of those who died on the ship.

''It will also be represented on and support the formation of a working party to ensure the story of the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the ship becomes a more recognised part of Australian history.''

The Montevideo Maru, which was being used by the Japanese to move civilians and prisoners of war, was sunk by mistake by the submarine USS Sturgeon. It remains the worst maritime disaster in Australia's history.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2009

Two related stories in The Catholic Weekly:
Unravelling the riddle of the Montevideo Maru, by Alan Gill
Ex-POW Sister: call on Diggers' deaths, by Brian Davies

PNG offers to re-open Manus for asylum seekers


In a shock announcement, PNG officials say they are prepared to reopen the Manus Island detention centre to help solve Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's asylum seeker problem.

Foreign Minister Sam Abal told AAP the government is open to the idea of offering the facility, which Australia used for offshore detention of asylum seekers under the Howard government's ‘Pacific Solution’.

"If there is a request from Australia, our government will consider it," he said.

The Manus Island detention centre was closed in 2004. It is now used by the PNG Defence Force.

"The facility is still there, we've done this before," Manus Island Governor Michael Sapau told AAP. "We are here, we would like to re-open and see the program continue."

Comment on the proposal is being sought from the Australian government.

Kiaps: Senate moves to flex medal criteria


The Australian Senate wants changes made to the eligibility criteria of a special accolade so it can be awarded to Australians who served as police officers in PNG.

The National Medal recognises long and diligent service by members of recognised organisations who help the community during times of crisis.

But it can only be awarded to people who served after the medal was established in 1975.

The Senate successfully moved a motion today to alter the criteria so officers who served in the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary between 1949 and 1974 can be honoured.

Footnote: This means that kiaps are now eligible for the National Medal provided they meet a number of other criteria related to the award - KJ

2010 marks 100th anniversary of Westpac in PNG

Nadine Cattell, Westpac’s project manager for Pacific Banking, says that 2010 marks the centenary of the bank’s engagement with PNG.

And, as part of the 100th anniversary, Westpac is seeking to get in touch with the many people who worked for the Bank of NSW and Westpac in the PNG context.

“I've pulled together the history,” says Nadine, “but would like to bring it to life by including stories and photographs from those that worked there.”

Nadine would like people to get in touch with her with information about when they worked for Westpac PNG, their role and their location.

She’d like you to note the most memorable changes and most delightful events that you remember, and also any events you'd prefer to forget!

Contact Nadine on 02 8254 2599 or email her at

Kiaps paid high tribute in Australian parliament

The Australian parliament has highly commended the work of kiaps in pre-independence PNG.

Scott Morrison MP moved a private member’s motion on Monday calling upon parliament to recognise the service of Australians employed as kiaps between 1949 and 1974 and to acknowledge the hazardous and difficult conditions that were experienced.

A number of ex-kiaps and their families were present in the chamber to hear the speeches.

“The kiaps were an extraordinary group of young Australians who performed a remarkable service for the people of PNG,” Mr Morrison said.

“They were some of our nation’s finest. Their adventurous spirit was matched only by their commitment to the wellbeing of the people of PNG. Their story remains largely untold. More Australians need to know the story. It is deserving of recognition and much greater awareness.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Hon Duncan Kerr MP, said the government should look at some way of appropriately recognising kiaps’ service.

He said he knew there was some discussion among kiaps as to whether the mechanism proposed in the motion is the appropriate one, because of its considerable emphasis on kiaps’ policing role.

He said: “I note that in the recent PNG affairs newsletter that is produced by Keith Jackson, who has a long history of involvement, there is a discussion between Phil Fitzpatrick and Paul Oates about whether the particular mechanism that is proposed in this motion is appropriate — the reservation being the overemphasis, perhaps, on the policing function.

“Kiaps were far more than police,” Mr Kerr said. “Whilst it is true that they were all sworn officers, equally they represented the civil authority in the widest range of possible services. They were, in many ways, the face of government in the districts for which they had responsibility.

Mr Kerr commended the mover of this motion for bringing the issue to parliament and said “it may be that a new model needs to evolve to properly recognise the range and depth of that service.”

Luke Hartsuyker MP said that kiaps were multi-skilled field officers who often filled over a dozen roles. “The kiaps lived a dangerous existence,” he said. “There was an ever-present threat of attack from hostile tribes and locals, and many kiaps were murdered on patrol.

"The harsh conditions on the frontier also proved to be very dangerous, with accidents and illness claiming the lives of kiaps. The list of kiaps killed in boating and aircraft accidents is extensive and I think it is fitting that these men and their surviving comrades should be officially honoured by the Australian government.”

Jill Hall MP said it was very appropriate to give recognition to the role the kiaps played in PNG. “I would like to put on the record that this has been a long campaign—it has gone over six or so years—and that you are getting towards the end of the road.

“I truly believe that there is going to be some form of recognition in the very near future,” she said.

“PNG is very different to Australia. We have remote areas in Australia, but our remoteness is different. The issues we have around keeping peace and harmony within the community are very different. The role played by kiaps was of vital importance.

"You kept those communities together. You kept those tribes together. You kept villages and districts functioning.

“I know the government is working to see that formal recognition is given for the vital role that you played from the Australian perspective and from PNG’s perspective.”

Record PNG budget is highly dependent on LNG

The PNG government has delivered a K7.5 billion revenue budget for 2010, 13% higher than the 2009 budget.

But it remains highly dependent upon assumptions that construction will start on the giant liquefied natural gas project.

The final decision on the project is scheduled for Tuesday 8 December. If it falls through, PNG’s economic forecast will be 5.5% instead of 8.5%.

PNG is finding it hard to achieve economic growth without soaring inflation, expected to rise from 7.4% this year to 9.5% in 2010, putting greater pressure on rural people who have little opportunity to increase their incomes.

Higher growth is expected in non-mining industries, especially communication and construction and to a lesser extent in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The petroleum sector is forecast to decline by 19%.

Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch said the stronger economy will enable the government to ramp up development spending, including the establishment facilities to raise the capabilities of Papua New Guineans and the improvement of crucial infrastructure to enhance economic growth.

The major item of development spending will be K220 million for national and rural roads but another K700 million will be spent on new training colleges and education facilities, agriculture development and other infrastructure – including K66 million for the 2010 census.

The district services program will allocate K2 million to each of the 89 districts and the 20 provincial governors will each receive K1 million under a new services improvement program.

Recurrent expenditure including salaries constitutes K4.1 billion, or more than half the budget appropriation for 2010.

Mr Pruaitch said the government was committed to supporting the growth and development of the private sector, citing the example of communications where PNG had benefited greatly from the competition between bemobile and Digicel.

Support for MvM memorial but challenges ahead

The meeting between Kim Beazley and I and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin yesterday afternoon was positive and constructive but significant challenges still lie ahead of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee.

Mr Griffin understands the issue of the relatives’ need for closure and supports greater recognition of the 1942 tragedy in which more than 1,000 Australian troops and civilians died.

He said the federal government is keen to assist the work of the committee and will start an immediate investigation on how the site of the sinking in the South China Sea can be declared an official war grave.

The government supports the erection of a memorial at the Australian War Memorial but insists that private as well as public funding is required.

Therein lies a big rub, as a memorial of the type envisaged is likely to cost between $500,000 and one million dollars. The implication is that the committee will have to now turn its attention to fund-raising on a massive scale, which the government will support.

There were other breakthroughs in the meeting, which was attended by Maj Gen Paul Stevens, director of the Office of Australian War Graves, and a number of other officials.

The War Memorial will include a permanent Montevideo Maru display in its revamped World War II galleries.

The government will work with the committee in a search for the missing Japanese roll that lists the names of all the prisoners on board the Montevideo Maru when it sank.

And the government will be represented on and support the formation of a working party to ensure the story of the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru becomes a more recognised part of Australian history.

Overall, a productive meeting. The government has set us a challenge and has indicated it  is prepared to contribute in a range of useful ways, including by making some funding provisions.

The government at both political and bureaucratic levels is very much engaged.

And, very importantly, both Alan Griffin and Kim Beazley, have pledged their support in the challenge ahead.

Beazley & I meet Vets Minister in Canberra today

Kim Beazley and I will meet Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin in Canberra this afternoon to discuss whether the federal government is prepared to take steps for greater recognition of the tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

We will be discussing a submission which asks the government to agree to three main proposals:

(1) To construct a memorial, inscribed with the names of the dead, in Canberra to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died defending Rabaul and the islands.

(2) To initiate action to have the site of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru declared an official war grave.

(3) To appoint an official group including Friends of Montevideo Maru to develop strategies to ensure that the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru remain an enduring part of Australia’s history.

The Ministerial discussion will be Mr Beazley’s last official act on behalf of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee before he takes up his role as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States in February.

After receiving the submission, Mr Griffin said he looked forward to meeting with Kim Beazley and me to discuss it.

Readers may recall Mr Griffin’s landmark speech in parliament last June which - while largely unreported in the media - paid tribute to the men who died on the Montevideo Maru and to their families, and asked Australians to remember the tragedy.

It was one of the most significant speeches to be made in parliament on this matter and indicated Mr Griffin’s understanding of the issues, something that has rarely been the case with previous ministers.

I hope this bodes well for the future of the submission.

Read the submission to the federal government here.

Is the Somare government running scared?

It seems extraordinary, given what the Somare government claims to be its unassailable grip on power, but it seems to be running scared of the opposition.

In two different but related actions in the last two days, the government has shown a sense of heightened nervousness.

First it threatened to disband a bipartisan parliamentary committee investigating anti-Asian riots, using as a phony excuse that the committee “has lost its credibility” and the dubious rationale that “it has become a tool to sabotage economic relations between the Philippines and PNG.”

The bipartisan panel, chaired by MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham, was seeking to establish what triggered the May protests and looting of shops owned and operated by Chinese, not Filipinos, in the highlands, Lae and Port Moresby.

It was starved of funds and official support and a so-called “government caucus” last week deemed that Mr Maxtone-Graham was no longer fit to chair the panel.

And, in defiance of parliament's express wish, the government has said it will now create its own panel to hold an inquiry - without the presence of the media.

Meanwhile fears of a no-confidence vote have led to the sudden cancellation of a crucial meeting in Bougainville by deputy prime minister Sir Puka Temu and other senior ministers.

It has been reported that a possible opposition move during the current budget session of parliament had compelled the leaders to remain in Port Moresby.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea: a Ken Wright feature

Bombing While the fighting was taking place along the Kokoda Trail, on 25 August 1942 a Japanese naval convoy landed 2,700 troops supported by several tanks at Milne Bay.

Facing them were 8,824 Australian and American troops. This was the first time Australian militia, AIF and Americans fought together and after 11 days of heavy fighting, they had beaten a common enemy.

On 5 September, Japanese ships evacuated what remained of their troops. They had suffered their first defeat losing 311 personnel with 700 missing. The victory bolstered the confidence of the Allies who were beginning to think the Japanese were invincible.

Then, on 2 November, the Australian flag was hoisted above the Kokoda plateau but three more months of bloody fighting lay ahead before the Australians, joined at last by American troops, pushed on towards Buna and Gona.

The Japanese soldiers received their last reinforcements and supplies at Buna and knew this was their last stand. Surrender or evacuation was out of the question; they were to either be victorious or die.

Japanese High Command began planning a resupply Lae by a large convoy of ships. Allied intelligence became aware through intercepted and translated radio messages.

The convoy left Rabaul at night under strict radio silence and an umbrella of bad weather.

The Allies had been practising for an aerial attack but Australian Air Commodore WH ‘Bull’ Garing convinced the Americans of the need for a massive, coordinated air attack using large numbers of aircraft, striking the convoy from different altitudes and directions with precise timing.

So the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was conceived.

Download Ken Wright's graphic and detailed account of an event that proved crucial to the defence of Australia in ‘We sent the Japs to hell: the battle of the Bismarck Sea’’.

After all the praise, just how good is Will Genia


How good is Will Genia?

This is the question dominating discussion among Rugby followers around the world.

It comes after Genia’s meteoric rise through Australian Rugby this year, and his man of the match performance for the Wallabies in their 18-9 win against England in his debut appearance at Twickenam.

The international media has really taken to the pint-sized 21-year-old scrum half who was born in Port Moresby, and is being hailed as Australia’s long-term solution for halfback.

The president of an English rugby club in Cumbria told PNG Attitude that stories about Genia began appearing in the British media soon after the Wallaby squad was chosen.

“Media coverage increased in the week leading into the game against England. At first, we thought it was a publicity stunt. But after his performance, there’s no doubt about it, you’ve got a good one,” he said.

Rugby writers for the major British national newspapers have been lavish in their praise of Genia.

Former England five-eighth Stuart Barnes wrote in The Sunday Times that Genia is destined for greatness. “He is developing at such a rate that come the 2011 World Cup he is going to be one of the outstanding pivots in the world game.”

In the same newspaper, chief rugby writer Stephen Jones said the ghost of the great George Gregan had finally been laid to rest. “Genia is a diamond, splendidly sharp and with many facets to his game.”

Former England second rower Paul Ackford in The Sunday Telegraph described Genia as “the new George Gregan. Quick and decisive. A real find for the Wallabies.”

In the same newspaper, Mark Reason compared Genia to former Wallabies skipper and halfback Nick Farr Jones. He wrote: “Playing halfback at rugby is all about understanding time and relative dimension in space. Genia seems to have a pretty shrewd grasp of physics.”

Australian coach Robbie Deans says Genia is very calm for a young man. He lauded him for his courage, poise and vision “He’s offering us a lot in terms of being the hinge between the front and back.”

But Deans has warned Genia that the battle has only just begun, and that he must adapt and diversify his skill set if he is to become a top-class halfback. “It is vital he does not relax or convince himself that what worked against England would always work.”

And how does the guitar playing Sanchez William Genia – to give him his full name – react to all the publicity?

“You’ve got to be excited,” he says, “and look forward to the challenge because it’s an opportunity you never want to take for granted, playing for your country.”

Time for action: Australia has spoilt PNG rotten


A popular PNG Attitude blogger recently raised some pertinent questions about corruption in PNG.

It embarrasses many Papua New Guineans to explain why the average politician in seems undeterred by public opinion. Unlike some democracies, where politicians caught in misconduct cases resign or are made to step aside step, not so in PNG.

In such cases, an implicated MP usually issues a public denial, accuses the media of misrepresentation, and accuses local papers of spreading false stories to discredit his reputation.

The MPs involved do not feel disgraced or compelled to temporarily step down from office to await investigations (if any). Despite public outrage, politicians unashamedly hold on to their jobs with the prime minister failing to take tough action to ensure parliamentarians do the ‘right thing’. Over the years, successive prime ministers have all failed in this regard.

The citizenry today do not even bother about writing letters of complaint. It is a complete waste of time. Except for a handful, most pollies are big disappointments to their electorates. The so-called ‘big men’ simply ignore the complainant as a trouble-maker.

As for the PNG Ombudsman Commission, it may soon be made powerless if the government has its way. The Commission started off well. After the 2007 elections, the new Chief Ombudsman discontinued master’s studies at a prestigious Australian university to take up his political appointment.

He publicly reminded the pollies and senior bureaucrats that the Commission would do its job without fear or favour and keep public officeholders on their toes.

In recent times this earlier passion has waned somewhat as a familiar trend repeats itself. As with most state institutions, the Commission has limited resources with much to do to clear a huge backlog of outstanding cases. With little capacity, the Commission has become impotent.

On the whole, the Commission has done a sterling job, but it must do more to put away some bad politicians behind bars. To do this, it will need the help of the Attorney-General’s office and law enforcement agencies.

If that is not bad enough, the government now plans to pass a bill to further regulate the watchdog. This shows the government has something to fear. If this bill is passed in parliament then PNG will experience more gross political abuses of power.

The end state will be the Ombudsman Commission becoming a mere paper tiger with no powers to stop crooks occupying public office.

PNG needs committed department secretaries, board chairmen, civil society leaders and the general public to blankly tell MPs to behave.

Moreover, the country needs strong whistleblower legislation to protect those intrepid individuals brave enough to expose graft and corruption.  Without this, PNG will continue to suffer in future as people fear retribution from a corrupt and weak governance system.

It will take plenty of guts by good, honest people in all walks of life. These people must declare that enough is enough and collectively work towards improving and strengthening good governance in PNG's national affairs.

The change strategy must start from the Governor-General but the buck stops with the PM.

Australia too can play an important role in reforming PNG politics. Australia needs to also get tough with PNG. Australia is to be blamed to some degree as, over the years, it has spoilt PNG rotten with too much aid money and no accountability.

It is time for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to diplomatically tell PNG political leaders to be more accountable for the billions spent in development aid. This is a good time for Australia to pave the way for a new political order in the Pacific.

Australia cannot rest on past laurels but be absolutely honest with the Somare government. It is time to systematically reduce AUSAid funding so PNG is forced to plan better and start living within its own means without being over-dependent on Australia.

This is one foreign policy strategy to ensure the PNG government works towards improving the quality of life of all Papua New Guineans and not just enrich a few political elites who are bleeding the country dry.

In recent times, AUSAid has become a quasi-PNG government, freeing politicians to promote pork-barreling of local projects using resources in a mostly unplanned and unbudgeted way.

There has been much lip-service paid over the years the aid program as an effective development tool, but the outcome has always been unsatisfactory. Today, PNG desperately needs more trade with Australia, not more aid.

Overall, though, the whole political mess needs to be cleaned up by the Somare government. The Prime Minister must not shirk his leadership responsibility. It is not impossible for him to clean up his act now before he exits the political scene as he has the numbers in parliament to ensure his government is highly responsive to meet the people’s needs.

John Bowden: a teacher of Sir Paulias Matane

Former Keravat high school headmaster John Bowden died on Tuesday 27 October.

His daughter Judy gave the Eulogy to more than 100 people who attended the service.

PNG Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane said John was his second Australian teacher in the early 1950s at the then Keravat High School.

“He was a really good teacher from whom I learned so much, not only academically but also about proper attitudes towards others and life,” Sir Paulias said. “We truly miss him.”

Barbara Short, who attended the funeral, said it was “a happy occasion” attended by people from John's many interests.

“He was so proud to be able to contribute to Tuum Est [the history of Keravat school] which he read from cover-to-cover,” Barbara said. “Keravat was a place that was very precious to him.”

John Bowden arrived at Keravat in 1954. He married another expatriate teacher and stayed in PNG for 12 years, eleven at Keravat and one at Tusbab in Madang. He was headmaster of Keravat from 1960-65.

How we broke bush and opened up the Chimbu

“My mother was horrified when I was seven years old and told her my plans to become a nurse in the mountainous jungles of our northern neighbour,” says Margaret Schellenberger.

“But the day I stepped off that plane in New Guinea and felt the humid jungle air around me, I knew I was home.

“I was sent to Chimbu, to Kundiawa, from 1960 to 1966. It was really primitive. I got off the plane and there was this great sea of naked bodies and it was what I expected, as if I’d already dreamt it all.

“I opened up lots of areas so I was often the first white woman they saw. There was still some cannibalism when I went to Chimbu. They were using bows and arrows and they wore feathers and not much else.

“We had a hospital with a special ward for women to breastfeed pigs. Pigs were worth more than children.

“There were other cultural differences. They would thank you by rubbing hands up and down your legs. Living in native villages never fazed me. It was just life.

“When I first moved into the nurses’ quarters, the walls were literally made of paper and our hot water system was a metal drum with a fire underneath it, but I loved every moment of it.

“When people came to the hospital, we would give them three boards to sit on and planks of wood to form their beds. Friends would sleep under them if they needed to.

“They used to bring their own wood pillows and all their heads would hang out towards the corridor so you would sweep through their feathers as you walked by, especially beautiful bird of paradise feathers.”

Her husband Frank lived in PNG from 1950-66.

“I loved being able to get out into the jungle and explore by myself with a group of native boys. I was adventuring, going to places most people had never been before.

“It was great as a young bloke being able to buy weapons over the counter but it was a very dangerous place. Once in Port Moresby, I saw a drunk guy shoot up all the bottles on the shelf behind the bar.”

“We both came across witchdoctors. A medicine man would put on his dukduk, a long timber thing, on his head, and a funny grass skirt, and he’d prescribe that, if a child swallowed a piece of wood, it would cure tummy pains.

“The witchdoctor used to make this yellowish powder, which pregnant women would take. He’d tell them to climb a tree and jump off a branch three times but it would work without doing that last part.

“In 1957, the United Nations stepped in and ordered a certain level of education and health be achieved in a specific time. But you can’t take someone out of primitive life with no background and turn them in one generation into educated people to our standards.

“When I was with the department of land, mines and surveys, we had a native we trained to be a surveyor. He went home to his island for three months and he forgot everything he had learned in five years. He immediately went back to the primitive way of life.”

“At this age, you all start writing your life history and to me the New Guinea years are the most interesting part of my history,” Margaret says. “We want the kids to understand who we are and why we are the way we are. I loved being out in the jungle.”

Margaret and Frank are now writing a book about their lives in New Guinea, imaginatively entitled New Guinea Adventure. It seems likely to be catalogued in the Fiction section of your local bookshop.

Source: Sunshine Coast Daily and  Whitsunday Times

Who will really benefit from the PNG LNG project


While the land based signing agreements for the LNG project in the country are underway, those living closer to the project sites do not know if they will benefit. [After] the Kutubu oil fields and Hides gas projects … many people living closer to the projects believe they would be left out again – PNG Post-Courier

It's the same the whole world over / It's the poor what gets the blame / It's the rich what gets the pleasure / Ain't it all a bloomin' shame – ‘She was poor but she was honest’, pre-WWI English music hall song

The old song parodies life as seen by the poor of the day, highlighting class structure and the impression that ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer'.

PNG is on the threshold of another mining and resources boom with the announcement of a huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) project estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Returns from gold and nickel mining are also set to provide a further huge boost to national income. But where is all this money heading for and will the majority of people benefit?

Past performances indicate that returns from resources development rarely last unless there is long-term planning and careful management of this national treasure well before the money starts to flow.

Current disputes over land and resources have already caused one civil war in Bougainville. The difficulty of establishing ownership in PNG is exacerbated by a traditional land tenure system not geared to resource development.

This system has difficulty is establishing who are the rightful owners of land and often leads to conflict.

Whenever there is an opportunity to gain without pain, many people want a piece of the action.

The government will expect that the lion’s share will be available to PNG as a whole. Past experience indicates, however, that the funds will be frittered away on unproductive public servants and government sycophants.

News reports have made much of the launch of the resources boom but very little about how the funds will be distributed in the general good.

The people of PNG deserve to know how they and future generations will benefit from this new wealth.

Push for recognition of Montevideo Maru disaster


Next week Professor Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador-designate to the US and former leader of the Opposition, will meet with Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to discuss how the Australian government can better recognise the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

Professor Beazley and the chairman of the Montevidea Maru Memorial Committee, Keith Jackson, will present a submission seeking permanent national recognition for those who died in the form of a memorial in Canberra and the declaration of the sinking site as an official war grave

Torso Radio Australia’s CAMPBELL COONEY spoke with CHRIS DIERCKE [left] from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, who says there were  an estimated at 845 to 850 soldiers and approximately 208 civilians on the ship at the time it sank.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Were there any survivors?

DIERCKE: There were no survivors at all. There were some Japanese survivors. Those numbers vary as well, but no allied POW survivors.

COONEY: Why no major recognition? I grew up in Australia all my life and I've heard about this in the past year or so, but it certainly wasn't something that I grew up with?

DIERCKE: That's a very, very good question. If we go back to the Chifley government in 1945, the then government and the opposition both agreed they would not hold a post-war inquiry into the fall of Rabaul, one of the focuses of which is the Montevideo Maru incident.

Also there were no POW survivors and no witnesses until very recently, when there was a Japanese sailor who was on board the Montevideo Maru. No one really had an accurate account of what happened. No one knew. Even the story of Lark Force hasn't come through very well either.

COONEY: From reading a little bit of the detail about this and the way Rabaul fell, there was a certain level of embarrassment on the part of the Australian government?

DIERCKE: Well Lark Force was sent up to Rabaul in 1941 and, around December '41, the war cabinet in Australia issued a written statement in a memo to say that there will be no resupply, there'll be no reinforcement and there'll be no withdrawal, they are hostages to fortune.

So I guess that would be rather embarrassing if that became public notice because the bulk of the military personnel onboard the Montevideo Maru came from the Lark Force who were subsequently captured by the Japanese in and around Rabaul. The other military people belonged to the PNGVR, Papua New Guinea Voluntary Rifles, and also members of the First Independent Company who were on New Ireland.

COONEY: You've got some big guns working for you now to try and get some recognition on this. You don't get much bigger, no pun intended about the size of the man of course, when Kim Beazley is working with you on this one. That's got to be a coup on your part?

DIERCKE: It's fantastic that Kim has chosen to be the patron of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee. One of Kim's uncles perished on the Montevideo Maru. His name was Syd Beazley. He was with the Methodist missionaries in and around Rabaul at the time. So Kim's got a personal link there. Yes, and he's certainly supported us really well in this.

COONEY: Have you got any early indications from the Australian government that they will be receptive to what you're asking?"

DIERCKE: Well, so far this year on July 1 in Subic Bay the Australian ambassador, Rob Smith, attended a memorial there to the Hell Ships Memorial, part of which is now the Montevideo Maru story. The committee has also put in a submission to the Veterans' Affairs Minister in Canberra, and the chairman of our committee, Keith Jackson and Kim Beazley are to meet with Alan Griffin next week. So I think they're all very, very positive signs. Extremely positive.

COONEY: We do know, you mentioned a war grave site as part of this, we do know where the Montevideo Maru lies? That's a known fact?

DIERCKE: The American submarine which sunk the Montevideo Maru, the USS Sturgeon, has given its locations in degrees and minutes to the exact sinking spot, yes.

On upping the ante in POM: a cautionary tale

For Port Moresby television executive Peter Jackson it was a normal day. He’d just picked up his wife after work and they’d gone to Boroko Food World and paid their electricity bill.

“We left and drove to the roundabout,” said Jackson. “A yellow sports car drove up very fast and erratically, like he was some sort of race car driver.

“He was extremely close on our rear end to the point where I thought he was going to crash into us. I tapped the brakes twice to get him off our backside but he accelerated and cut in front of us, causing me to swerve and I nearly crashed.

“I became angry at his behaviour and followed him along Kennedy Road. He pulled over to go into his compound. I braked heavily coming to a halt, the front of my car bumping the back of his car.

“I got out of the car and told the driver that he needed to learn how to drive,” Jackson said.

The tutorial turned into an argument which developed into some pushing. Then the compound security guard turned up along with a crowd of onlookers.

“I felt it was now time to leave as I felt outnumbered, and told the driver to back off and learn how to drive,” said Jackson, who is now pushing his luck.

“He told me I wasn’t going anywhere and he put his hand on my chest to stop me.

“At that point I retrieved a bat out of my car and told him to back off and that I was leaving. I then put the bat back in the car but he stood in front of the car and said I was going to stay.

“As I moved away, I saw him reach and grab a gun from under his shirt. It was then that we heard bullets strike the car.

“I grabbed my partner and pushed her down. I lay over her as the driver continued to fire bullets into the car.”

National Capital District police operations commander Andy Bawa has instructed his officers to bring in for questioning the son of a prominent Chinese businessman.

Spotted by Martin Hadlow. ‘EMTV executive attacked’ by Todagia Kelola, PNG Post Courier, 11 November

Meri bilong Rabaul: a courageous PNG pioneer

Muriel Larner was born in Rabaul and evacuated just before the Japanese invasion of 1942. She returned to PNG after the war, married and, with her new husband, established a plantation near Kainantu. After her husband’s premature death, Muriel stayed on – eventually spending 50 years in Kainantu before returning to Australia in 1997. You can read her remarkable story here: Download The Muriel Larner Story.

But first, an extract telling of an event many of you will recall:

The elephant – remember the elephant that came to PNG in 1973 sponsored by SP Brewery. When it arrived it weighted five tons, but it got diarrhoea and lost a ton – one ton less.

My staff had been working very hard and were very loyal to me, so when the elephant came, as a treat, I gave them the day off. The younger ones walked to Kassam Pass, and I took the older ones in the back of the Land Cruiser. We got to the top of the Pass and there thousands and thousands of people like ants crawling around waiting for the ‘bikpela pik’.

We waited and waited and nothing happened, so I thought I’d drive down the Pass. When we got to the bottom, there was the ‘bikpela pik’ grazing. The truck carrying him had broken down and they were waiting for someone to come from Lae to fix it.

Eventually they got it going but, while waiting, they gave me a ride on the elephant. You should have heard the people shouting ‘Mama bilong mipela raidim bikpela pik’.

It was too late by the time it arrived in town to proceed to the plantation that night, so we booked into the hotel. The trainer had the elephant chained outside my bedroom window and all night long I heard ‘clang  clang  clang  clang …’ as it moved about.’ People were so fascinated when it went and opened a tap and had a drink. I thought it was wonderful.

The Montevideo Maru commemorative envelope


CoverDetail The first day cover commemorating the departure of the Montevideo Maru from Rabaul in 1942, produced to mark the 30th anniversary of the sailing and referred to in PNG Attitude recently, brought back memories of the work involved in its production and of the accompanying memorial service held on the shores of Rabaul Harbour on 22 June 1972.

Four people played a part in this: Bishop Saimon Gaius of the United Church in PNG and the Solomon Islands; Rev Harry Voyce of New Zealand, a former Methodist missionary on Bougainville; Keith Sanders, an Australian printer working at the United Church's Trinity Press in Rabaul; and myself.

The process began early in 1972 when Bishop Gaius urged that a commemorative service be arranged for the twelve Methodist missionaries on the prison ship.

He had known them all before the war, as a student and then a young pastor, and greatly admired and respected them. Now he felt that the United Church, which had evolved from the work they had done, should honour their memory and tell their story.

The task was handed to me, as regional secretary for the Synod of the New Guinea Islands and personal assistant to the Bishop. The scope of the commemoration soon broadened to include all the prisoners who had perished when the ship was sunk.

Contact was made with the Lark Force Association in Australia, and Bert Smith came to Rabaul to take part in the service.

I gathered material and photographs of the twelve missionaries and contacted their widows, all of whom were still living in 1972.

This reached the ears of Rev Harry Voyce, a dedicated philatelist and collector of postal history. He suggested that a commemorative envelope should be issued for the occasion with a special postmark.

Negotiations with Posts and Telegraphs followed, which had strict rules to be complied with. Permission was granted for us to prepare the design of a postmark dated 22-6-72, to be used on that date only and applied to our envelopes by Rabaul postal staff.

Cover Keith Sanders produced excellent designs for the envelopes and postmark. The envelopes were printed at Trinity Press, along with leaflets included within them. In the leaflets, amongst other information, I related the story of the Montevideo Maru, and provided photos and notes about the twelve missionaries.

The service on 22 June 1972 drew a large gathering. It was not held at the old Coal Wharf site where the ship departed because there was not enough room. An open space at the foot of Atarr Street was chosen instead.

In addition to Bert Smith, Australian visitors included the Hon Kim Beazley MHR, whose brother Sydney Beazley, a builder and technical instructor, was one of the missionary prisoners on the ship. It was a very impressive occasion, and Bishop Gaius was delighted, feeling that his initial suggestion had produced something even beyond his hopes.

(By the way, first day covers and leaflets are still available from me, for $2.75 including postage within Australia. My address is 18 Mawson Drive, Killarney Vale NSW 2261. Mint 55c stamps will be accepted as payment.)

First reactions acclaim epic MvM documentary

There was a special preview screening of The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru at Fox Studios in Sydney late this morning, and the initial audience reaction has been very enthusiastic indeed.

Andrea Williams, Una Voce editor and relative of two of the men who died on the ship, reports:

I have just returned from watching The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru. It is a powerful documentary, magically weaving together what happened in New Guinea and South-East Asia.

It gets the story of the Montevideo Maru out there – there will be no excuse for ignorance after this!

It is informative and impassioned, capturing the spirit of this enormous human tragedy … testament to this was that everyone continued to sit and absorb the impact of it for several minutes after it ended.

John Schindler is to be congratulated for his enormous achievement.

What a special Remembrance Day this is!

The documentary has its premiere screening on Foxtel’s History Channel tonight at 7.30 pm (AEDST) and at 6.30 pm in Queensland. Other State and Territory readers should check local TV guides.

PNG Attitude would like to get your feedback on the documentary. So after viewing it tonight, why don’t you email me here.

Witness: a terrible role in a tragic WW2 event


For more than 60 years Jack Atkinson, a former US submariner, has carried in his wallet a faded news clipping.

It is a constant reminder of his terrible role in a tragic event of World War II, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off the Philippines in 1942 killing nearly 1200, including 1053 Australians.

Atkinson was a machinist on USS Sturgeon, which by mistake torpedoed the Montevideo Maru, a merchant ship being used by the Japanese to transport prisoners-of-war and civilians from New Britain.

''The captain thought that it was a troop ship,'' he said. ''He thought that's what it was.''

Minutes later he was one of several crew members invited to inspect the damage through the submarine's periscope. “We thought it was a troop ship… We saw people jumping over the sides,'' says Atkinson, 93, fighting back tears. ''I'm so sorry that it happened. But we didn't know about it... It was just a terrible thing.''

Atkinson, one of the few remaining observers of the encounter, is interviewed in the documentary The Tragedy of Montevideo Maru, to be shown on the History Channel tonight.

The screening coincides with a fresh initiative by family and friends to secure recognition and proper remembrance of those who died in the attack, who numbered more than twice the Australian casualties in the Vietnam War.

Next week a delegation led by Kim Beazley, ambassador-designate to the US, will press the Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to provide comfort and closure for the bereaved.

''The Montevideo sinking is Australia's most devastating loss at sea, but is a quiet part of public consciousness of World War II history,'' said Beazley, whose uncle is believed to have died in the sinking. His Labor Party colleague Peter Garrett also lost an uncle.

For those who died, the delegation will seek permanent national recognition, in the form of a memorial in Canberra, the declaration of the site of the sinking as an official war grave, and further efforts to establish precisely who was on board the ship.

Despite the passage of time, the disaster and the disorganised evacuation of Rabaul that preceded it remained imprinted on family and friends of the dead, said Keith Jackson, chairman of the Montevideo Maru memorial committee.

''There has been a continuation of grief and frustration to this day … because of failure by previous Australian governments to appropriately recognise the tragedy and effectively respond to a profound need for closure.''

Source: Still haunted by song of doomed diggers by John Huxley, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2009

Read the full story here

Photo: USS Sturgeon

Time for recognition: release of MvM submission

Bayside Bulletin Today, Remembrance Day, PNG Attitude publicly releases the submission that will be the subject of a meeting in Canberra next Tuesday between Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, represented by Kim Beazley and me.

You can read the submission in its entirety here.

It is a document that blends history with clear proposals of how the Australian government can better recognise the tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942 – events that led to the deaths of some 1500 people, 1053 of them on the ship.

The submission also provides a voice for the victims’ relatives. See Annex II.  For me, reading this is  always an emotional experience.

Time for Recognition was prepared under my general editorship and reviewed by eminent historian, Emeritus Prof Hank Nelson.

The story it relates is one that has for very many years been steeped in controversy and mythology, but the submission seeks to tell it correctly for the historical record.

The submission begins by looking briefly at Australia’s emergence as the colonial power in the New Guinea islands after World War I and traverses the years of Australian settlement leading to World War II.

In February 1941, with Germany active in the South Pacific and Japan a looming threat, Australia despatched 1400 AIF troops to Rabaul which, as Lark Force, linked up with the local militia, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. The view of the Australian War Cabinet was that this garrison could do no more than briefly delay any Japanese advance.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the Japanese ordered its 5300 strong South Seas Force to take Rabaul. Australian women and children were evacuated around Christmas and the first bombs fell on the town a week later.

The Australian War Cabinet was determined that Lark Force and civilian administrators would remain to defend Rabaul. A decision to evacuate unnecessary civilian personnel came too late to be put into effect.

Soon after midnight on Friday 23 January, the Japanese invaded Rabaul. Less than 12 hours later Australian military commander Colonel John 'Joe' Scanlan ordered “every man for himself” as Lark Force was overwhelmed. So Rabaul fell.

While about 450 people escaped through New Britain, most troops and civilians surrendered. There was a massacre of 160 of them at Tol and Waitavalo plantations. Most of the rest were interned at camps in Rabaul.

In June 1942, 845 prisoners of war from Lark Force and 208 interned civilian men were marched from their camps to board the Montevideo Maru moored in Rabaul harbour.

The ship was to take the prisoners to Hainan Island in south-east China but, early on the morning of 1 July 1942, it was torpedoed 110 kilometres north-west of Cape Bojeador in the Philippines. It sank in 11 minutes and all 1053 prisoners perished. This was, and it remains, Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The doubts about who died at sea, who died on land and how they died linger to this day. Many relatives feel no sense of certainty and no feeling of closure. They believe there has been no appropriate national recognition. Most feel that successive Australian governments have taken their sacrifice for granted and that they have been let down.

In late 1941, the Australian government did realise the dangers of stranding an under-strength and under-supported garrison in Rabaul but it conscientiously believed this measure was justified in the defence of the Australian mainland.

Given this truth, it can be argued that this wartime decision and the terrible consequences it wrought, obligates the Australian nation to these people and, for so long as the matter remains inadequately resolved, to their relatives.

The submission proposes that this condition be remedied: since it discredits the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Australia and ignores the residual pain of relatives.

The document proposes a straightforward approach as to how the continuing anguish of the relatives can be satisfactorily and permanently resolved.

I hope you enjoy reading Time for Recognition. It tells an epic story of Australia and New Guinea.

Lest we forget.

Graphic: Throughout Australia, Friends of Montevideo Maru are keeping the memories alive. This feature was organised for her local newspaper, the Bayside Bulletin, by Carole Worthy. Left click on the image for a larger version.

Beazley and I will meet Vets Minister on MvM

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin MP will meet with Prof Kim Beazley, ambassador-designate to the US, and me next Tuesday to discuss how the Australian Government can better recognise the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

“The Montevideo Maru sinking is Australia's most devastating loss at sea, but is a quiet part of public consciousness of World War II history,” Prof Beazley has said in a submission to the Federal Government.

The Japanese ship, carrying over 1000 Australian prisoners of war captured in Rabaul, New Guinea, was torpedoed off the coast of the Philippines on 1 July 1942. All the prisoners died.

The submission argues that War Cabinet decisions that led to the fall of Rabaul with the loss of so many Australian troops and civilians imposes a moral obligation on the Australian government and people that needs to be properly addressed.

Despite the passage of time the disaster of Rabaul and the Montevideo Maru remains powerfully imprinted on relatives of the 1500 or so people who died, including 1053 on the ship, but it is a muted part of Australia’s history.

There has been a continuation of grief and frustration, sustained to this day, for the relatives.

This is because they lack knowledge of how and where many of their loved ones died and because of failure by previous Australian Governments to appropriately recognise the tragedy and effectively respond to a profound need for closure.

The submission seeks permanent national recognition for those who died in the form of a memorial in Canberra and the declaration of the sinking site as an official war grave.

It also seeks the formation of a working party to plan how the tragedy can be made a better known part of Australia’s history.

“Getting this story more firmly into our national consciousness is a noble effort,” says Prof Beazley.

Senior public servants are corrupt, says PM

In what sounded suspiciously like his first valedictory speech - to a political rally at Kandep in Enga Province - prime minister Sir Michael Somare has said he believes PNG public servants are more corrupt than politicians.

Sir Michael revealed he had received a report that showed many public servants were stealing from government. This included senior public servants involved in corrupt deals.

Members of Parliament involved in corruption were referred to the Ombudsman Commission for prosecution, he said, but corruption happened everywhere in society.

Sir Michael, 73, reflected that serving the country for 42 years was a very long time and that he was growing old. But he foreshadowed his intention to remain as prime minister for another three years, saying he will quit politics in 2012.

He seemed to rule out the Cairns option, saying he will retire to his village, get involved in village life and watch politics from there.

Sir Michael’s successor may be announced as early as next year at the annual convention of the National Alliance.

He said he had four good deputies representing the four regions of PNG and each of them was capable of taking over.

Kiaps reunion: Overweight & looking like a spiv

NO, THAT'S ME. The kiaps looked fine. They hadn’t changed a bit in 35 years. They kept patting my corporation and commenting approvingly on the prosperity that had so clearly created a world of eating and drinking opportunities for it.

Except for Bill Brown, former Bougainville district commissioner, who, staring at me gimlet-eyed, pontificated that my image on this blog makes me look like a spiv.

Otherwise compliments for chalkies were hard to find at this year’s biannual kiaps’ reunion at the Kawana Waters Hotel on the Sunshine Coast.

But, as perhaps the only chalkie there, I think I may have been more of a lightning rod than usual.

The Fayles and the Faithfulls have maintained the tradition of this reunion for many years now. It is perhaps the largest gathering of former patrol officers and, increasingly, sad to say, the wives and children of those who have embarked on that final, long patrol.

Yesterday’s event enticed about 200 of the ‘raus o mi kikim as blong yu’ brigade. It was a good turn-out. The boys are a little stiffer and slower than two years ago, but their joie de vivre remains undiminished.

The mateship is always a good memory. ASOPA retains its positive glow. The pride in what was achieved by these men is still there. And it’s deserved.

As I’ve written here before, and doubtless will do so again, this group of Australians – who operationally in the field never numbered more than about 620 – did more than any other group to create the conditions required for what was ultimately PNG’s headlong rush towards independence

They would baulk at the description, but the kiaps were true nation builders, and it’s always a joy and a privilege to spend a few hours amongst them.

November Attitude now in subscribers’ inboxes

The latest issue of PNG Attitude – the newsletter – was distributed to our 300 subscribers yesterday.

It’s a monthly compendium of the best of this blog – edited, refined, re-organised and updated.

It includes a range of departments – news, opinion, people, obituaries, books, history, sport and a comprehensive section devoted to reader feedback.

If you’re not a reader yet, email me here and add your name to the email circulation list.

And if you are receive the newsletter already, why don't you let interested friends and colleagues know they can subscribe. For free.

This will give more sinew and leverage to our efforts to strengthen the relationship between Australia and PNG.

Go to it.

MvM doco to premiere on Foxtel Wednesday

Doco_Poster Wednesday is Remembrance Day and Foxtel will mark Australia’s greatest maritime disaster with the documentary, The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru, premiering at 7.30pm on the History Channel.

Introduced by Sky News anchor Jim Waley – who lost a relative on the ship – and narrated by actor John Jarratt, the two-hour feature tells the story of the deaths of over 1,000 Australian POWs locked in the hold of the Japanese hellship Montevideo Maru when, in the early hours of 1 July 1942, it was torpedoed off the coast of the Philippines by the American submarine, USS Sturgeon.

The documentary recounts the harrowing story of the sacrifice and suffering endured by these men. It features re-enactments of the event as well as in-depth interviews with the only surviving Japanese crew member and a Sturgeon crew member who witnessed the sinking ship through the periscope.

The documentary also explores the broader story of the Australian POW experience and features interviews with Australian and British survivors of other prison ship sinkings.

“In the tradition of event television such as Beyond Kokoda and He’s Coming South, the History Channel remains committed to remembering the legacy of Australia’s brave men and women,” says Foxtel manager, Jim Buchan. “I’m delighted we’re able to share this truly incredible if forgotten story.”

Producer John Schindler said he was drawn to the story because his mother lost four friends in the sinking. “It is Australia’s greatest maritime tragedy with the loss of 1,053 lives and yet, remarkably, most Australians have never heard of it. This documentary will once and for all put faces to numbers.”

The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru, World Premiere, Remembrance Day, Wednesday 11 November, 7.30pm, The History Channel, Foxtel

Genia man of the match against England


Head Will Genia continued his amazing rise through Australian rugby with a man of the match performance for the Wallabies in their 18-9 win over England at Twickenham last night.

The British media hailed the PNG-born half back as the new George Gregan, and described him as a real find for the Wallabies.

Some commentators said the 21-year-old Genia, in only his fourth Test start, provided the vital spark that allowed Australia to eventually grind England into submission.

London Telegraph rugby writer said Genia was “quick and decisive” and rated his performance an outstanding nine out of 10.

Genia provided fast and accurate service to the Wallaby backline, dummied his way from close range to score his first try in international competition, and kicked for touch with great accuracy. He also demonstrated his toughness in tackling the big English forwards.

The win over England has given the Wallabies an encouraging start to their grand slam attempt in the British Isles.

They play Ireland next weekend followed by games against Scotland and Wales.

A joyful memoir that truly raises the spirits

Pretzel Legs Ex-kiap Laurie Meintjes’ book Pretzel Legs is billed succinctly as the reminiscences of an expatriate South African relating his youthful impressions of South Africa and his later experiences in New Guinea.

Of course, it is the latter period that will be of most relevance to PNG Attitude readers. But this does disservice to what is an insightful memoir with many sparkling gems between its covers.

In a sense, this is a coming-of-age book: a personal, thoughtful, well-told story of growing up in South Africa and maturing as a man in PNG.

Meintjes’ life is challenged and transformed by the cultural adaptation required of a young kiap, where significant professional, personal and moral choices have to be made.

For Meintjes, this challenge generated a zesty and embracing approach to life and his story is told joyfully, with good humour and with great anecdotes. This is a book that raises the spirits.

The ‘pretzel legs’ refer to the appearance of the gangly young Meintjes but also, I surmise, to the greenstick youth who is shaped by the life forces he encounters and who, making the right choices and with a bit of luck, matures into a substantial and accomplished human being.

The Meintjes mind is sharp, the pen acute and the writing faithful to reality. Passages such as this bring back rich memories:

Port Moresby’s Jackson Airfield in 1962 still showed signs that it had been a front-line airfield during the Pacific War. Marsden matting covered much of the runway; rows of 44-gallon drums hunkered down inside the earthen revetments that had protected the fighter planes; a trio of khaki Dakotas squatted tail-down by the Quonset hut terminal, their noses in the air as if they were sniffing around for another war; and a couple of Jeeps stood by into which officials hopped from time to time and scooted off to some distant part of the airfield. All that was missing was flight of Japanese Zeros snarling in from the Coral Sea.

When Laurie finished being a kiap he turned to teaching, from which he’s now retired to live in Cooranbong NSW where, amongst other pursuits, he writes poetry.

Pretzel Legs or Stepping Out of Africa by Lawrence Meintjes, Michael J Horn Blackwood, South Australia 2003, 238pp, 38 illus

PNG Attitude readers can copies from the author at the great discount price of $10 (includes postage). Email Laurie Meintjes at

Comrades in arms - US & NZ in the Pacific war

NZ in Pacific War Bruce M Petty, writer and historian, was born in California in 1945, and enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in 1962 while at high school.

He later served for two years in Vietnam aboard USS Yorktown. After demobilization, he earned a degree in history from the University of California.

While working in Saipan from 1995-2000, Bruce wrote his first book, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War. Since then he’s written others on a similar theme: Voices From the Pacific War: Bluejackets Remember and At War in the Pacific: Personal Accounts of World War II Navy and Marine Corps Officers – all of them based on oral histories.

Bruce and his wife, a pediatrician, now live in New Zealand, where he’s produced a fourth book, New Zealand and the Pacific War, which is an unusual attempt to tell the story of New Zealand’s contribution to the Pacific war effort and relate how a strong relationship was forged with the US during this period.

This book was researched and written in New Zealand and published in the United States. The stories are written from oral histories that Bruce recorded with the protagonists.

Bruce got his inspiration from ‘Mac’ Gregory, a retired Australian naval officer who made him realise that most books written about the Pacific war tended to focus on the US and gave little credit to the Allied forces. “Certainly Gen Douglas MacArthur gave Australian forces little credit for what they did while under his command,” says Bruce.

The book is in four parts, which Bruce refers to as “voices of NZ veterans of the Pacific War, voices from the NZ home front, voices of Americans in NZ, and voices from the next generation.”

It includes many references to the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. And to give you a taste of the gritty stories Bruce uncovered, here’s a reminiscence from Kiwi Corsair pilot ET Lang from RNZAF No 16 Squadron, whose personal experiences score a chapter in the book:

I came home after my [Bougainville] tour and I didn’t weigh very much. That was from flying hard, not getting enough food and perspiration.

You were only expected to do three tours. Some were discharged but two of us from our squadron were posted to instructor school at Woodbourne to learn to be flight instructors. We didn’t think much of this idea at all, but we had no option.

We flew down together in a Harvard, a two-seater, one behind the other. We did a particular hairy landing one day, and I said to Butch, “Christ, butch, what the hell you doing? That was a hairy landing!”

He said, “I wasn’t flying the damn thing, you were!” I said, “I wasn’t flying it!”

‘New Zealand and the Pacific War: personal accounts of World War II’ by Bruce M Petty, McFarland & Co Inc, 2008, 233 pp. Visit Bruce’s website here for purchase information

Newsletter welcomes milestone 300th subscriber

Jack Moffatt sent me an email last night asking if he could be added to the distribution list of our monthly newsletter, also entitled PNG Attitude. Of course.

Jack was the 300th (free) subscriber. It was a milestone, therefore. And behind it there’s a little story.

About a year ago, with this blog building its readership – there are now about 200 of you each day – I pondered the question of maintaining a newsletter I started in 2002 to promote a reunion of the 1962-63 ASOPA chalkies and which had developed a life of its own.

The newsletter had begun its life as Vintage which, after said reunion, transitioned into The Mail. In this bold new electronic age, with an increasingly popular blog, I was not at all sure I wasn’t generating extra work for no good purpose.

So I decided to ask the readership and emailed the entire distribution list of the newsletter, which at the time numbered about 120, saying that – unless I was advised otherwise – their subscription would be discontinued.

Then I deleted the distribution list – and waited.

Well, the answer was quick in coming. While quite a few people were happy not to proceed, PNG Attitude soon had the first of its ‘new’ subscribers. And the emails just kept on arriving.

Very quickly, the previous 120 were exceeded – and now, as I work on the November issue of what - thanks to its contributors - has developed into a pretty good publication, we’re up to 300 subscribers.

One of the very pleasing aspects of this is that so many of the new breed live in PNG.

So the newsletter continues. Maybe we can look at securing number 500 – and giving more torque to the talk as we seek to use both this blog and the newsletter to strengthen the relationship between PNG and Australia.

Footnote: I received an email yesterday from a colleague, who should have known better, claiming I’d put him on some sort of “off list” whereby he was banned from commenting on this blog.

There is no such list. There are no such bans. Sometimes technical problems affect Comments - but if this happens contributors can always email me [go into About at top left] and I'll execute a work-around.

I read all comments, and frequently edit them, but try to keep this blog as open to as many currents of opinion as exist - subject to the usual constraints of the law and of civilised human discourse.