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Past perfect: Those were the days my friend


Kwikila 1967 
I WENT TO PNG as a Cadet Patrol Officer in 1967.  We were on six year contracts and had just spent several months at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney learning some of the theory we needed for the job.

This was topped up with a stay at Kwikila, just east of Port Moresby, learning a few of the practical skills, like missing targets with a rifle and revolver and making obsolete A510 radios work just once more.

In 1967 the Assistant District Commissioner at Kwikila was Ernie Sharp.  Jack Karukuru was a Patrol Officer and Roland Kekedo, another PO, dropped in to lend a hand.  Bruce Dunn was the Training Officer and Jack Baker, Deputy District Commissioner, occasionally arrived to take us tuna fishing off Hula.

We were housed barrack-style under mozzie nets and a leaking saksak roof behind the council chambers.  The latrines were holes in a concrete floor out the back.  At night the big white maggots from the dunnies came out and crawled up the legs of our beds.

We lived on rice and other sundry tucker served up in the nearby council chambers.  That’s where I developed my lifelong addiction to salted cooking bananas.  Solace came in the form of the occasional visit to the Kwikila Country Club for a feed and a dip in the pool.  Otherwise we bought goodies at the barn-like trade store over the road.

The culmination of the course came in a raft race down the Kemp Welch River and a pounding with flour, old bananas and other unsavoury items I would rather not mention as we passed under the suspension bridge.  After that we were deemed to be marginally useful and shipped off to various postings.

Last week I was wont to drive out to Kwikila for an entirely different reason.

The old SDO The Sub-District Office is still there, painted a lovely shade of blue.  It is now the Rigo District Headquarters.  The barracks are gone but the concrete floor of the old council chambers and the unholy latrines are still mouldering in the long grass.

The old barn of a trade store is also still there.  I bought some tin fish and bread rolls for lunch.  It’s now owned by a Chinese family.  One of them sits up on a high pedestal directly behind the checkout girls keeping an eagle eye on their every move.

Old and new bridges over the Kemp Welch The suspension bridge over the Kemp Welch has been replaced but it is still hanging alongside its newer neighbour, albeit without decking.  Incidentally, John Kemp Welch was the London Missionary Society treasurer in the 1880s – the real name of the river is Wanigela.

Mine wasn’t the first cadet course and the last to savour the delights of Kwikila.  If you’re ever out that way drop in and say hello.  The people are still mighty friendly and welcoming.

Main photo:  I’m the bloke with the cheesy grin on the left at front, Peter Edwards, rear left, took the photo with a timer.  The lady at the front with the footy is the one responsible for my banana addiction.  Taffy Watkins who later drowned while on patrol is on the far right back row.


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John Adams

Long socks were de rigeur at that time.
Does The Rigo Country Club still function?

Phil Fitzpatrick

I don't know where the fashion came from, Andy. Didn't the navy wear long socks? They obviously tickle your fancy.

I remember wearing them at half mast around the tops of my boots and annoying hell out of Ross Allen the ADC [Assistant District Commissioner] at Hagen. 'Pull your socks up', was a frequent refrain. Sadly Ross disappeared sailing a yacht back from America quite a few years ago.

When I got down to Papua the socks were ideal - soaked in diesel and tucked around the top of the boots - for repelling leeches.

They were also the only suitable sized socks for the canvas jungle boots we used. Remember them, $2 at the local tradestore; you took three pairs on patrol because they wore out quickly. If you can find them you pay a fortune these days.

I think the socks (or stockings as you suggest) were known as 'walking' or 'walk' socks. I bought a pair about ten years ago for anti-leech purposes but haven't seen them since. I bet they're still available up here in Queensland though.

Andy McNabb

Phil - Very nice stockings or "hose" you are wearing. Are you still wearing stockings ?

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