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Reminiscence: The last voyage of MV Bulolo


BULOLO WITHIN A FEW MONTHS of my arrival at Taurama Barracks near Port Moresby in 1967, as part of Australia’s commitment to educate Pacific Islands Regiment servicemen, Christmas vacation was imminent and what better way to see the country as a new arrival than to go on a cruise around TPNG’s coastline.

Advertisements in the South Pacific Post invited readers to make a passage on the Burns Philp & Co Ltd-owned MV Bulolo for a New Year’s Eve trip from Port Moresby to Madang via Samarai and Lae and then on to Rabaul before returning to Port Moresby.

The voyage had originated in Sydney before proceeding to Brisbane and Port Moresby as part of Burn Philp’s mail steamer service, run on behalf of the Australian government, to islands in the Pacific.

MV Bulolo was built in Glasgow in 1938 and commenced trade between Australia and PNG ports the same year as a cargo-passenger ship making about eight voyages a year. When World War II intervened, the ship was converted to an armed merchant cruiser boasting seven six-inch guns, two anti-aircraft guns as well as depth charges and small arms.

HMAS Bulolo commenced convoy escort duties to the United Kingdom and the next two years were spent almost entirely in the Atlantic Ocean. She was then converted to a Landing Ship Headquarters, employing extensive communications equipment, and she saw service in North Africa as the flag ship of Commodore Douglas Pennant, Naval Commander of Force G.

On Empire Day, 24 May 1944, King George VI visited the ship to review the assault craft of Force G from her bridge as preparations for the D-Day landings on the Normandy coast were made.

Bulolo returned to South East Asia in 1945 as a headquarters ship for reoccupation duties. The ship’s battle honours were impressive and many Burns Philp merchant navy personnel remained with her throughout the war.

She recommenced civilian cargo-passenger duties in 1948 and the mail steamer service became a vital link between Australia and its Pacific territories. The regular sailings brought news, passengers, parcels, presents and social activity at island ports.

All manner of people came to the wharf to witness the comings and goings, unloading machinery, loading copra, as Bulolo made her contribution to commerce.

After Christmas in 1967, I embarked on the ship, which was flying the red, white and blue tri colour Burns Philp flag with a black and purple scotch thistle emblem super imposed on the central white colour. In charge was Captain Brett Hilder, newly married in Brisbane prior to the voyage and as famous as his ship.

I didn’t know it, but this was to be the Bulolo’s last voyage.

Read Terry Edwinsmith’s full tribute here: The last voyage of MV Bulolo


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Catherine Mahoney

I have found some old black and white photos of my uncle leaving Brisbane on the Bulolo in December 1960, bound for PNG. Would the group be interested to have them?

Hi Catherine - If there is a story (doesn't have to be long) to go with them, we'd be delighted. Would you be sending scans or hard copies? KJ

John Egerton

Is it possible to access passenger lists for voyages of the Bulolo in the 1960s?

A J (Tony) Hagen

Hi there all, I was born in England in 1939. With my parents and my two sisters, I travelled to Sydney on the MV Bulolo after its post-war refit.

Being eight years at the time I was most intrigued by all the workings and history of the vessel. I became most friendly with the Scots chief engineer. My parents often commented on my developing Scots accent.

We travelled by the Mediterranean and Suez Canal, calling in Port Said and Suez. The most memorable time of the voyage was encountering two cyclones in the Indian Ocean. How the ship survived is a miracle.

We called in at Fremantle on the way to Sydney where we disembarked.

Graeme Gurney

I was so excited to see this great story of the Bulolo's last trip. I have had the joy of making two voyages on this wonderful ship.

The first in 1954 travelling from Brisbane to Rabaul (on which I had my eighth birthday), and the second in 1956 when we returned to Brisbane for leave.

I have great memories. The first trip was very rough as we went through the edge of a cyclone between Moresby and Samarai, the second was magically calm.

Incidentally, my father, Carl Gurney, was a small ships master in New Guinea waters for about 40 years. Memories from great times past.

Peter Lyne

The photo shown is definitely not the TSMV Bulolo.

You're right, Peter. Now fixed - KJ

Di Harwood

This article made me remember my own trip on the Bulolo from Sydney to Port Moresby. I enjoyed the detail and the nostalgia - a fitting tribute to the adventurous life of a great ship.

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