BY TERRY EDWINSMITH
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