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Rev Threlfall’s Rabaul: The story of a beautiful town


Rabaul c1960sIN 1980, after 20 years working in Papua New Guinea, the Rev Neville Threlfall was asked to write a history of Rabaul.

Most of the written records of Rabaul were destroyed during the Pacific War in the early 1940s and by 1944 the town was obliterated by Allied bombing.

So Rev Threlfall faced the long job of researching colonial records, mission papers, old newspapers, private letters, papers and diaries, locating Rabaul identities and interviewing them, finding old photographs, and reading war histories and naval, military and air force files.

Thirty-two years later, after much research and the lengthy re-typing of the book in digital form by his daughter Beth, it has finally been published.

The book includes 533 A4 pages of text and includes a detailed and methodical account of the history of Rabaul, with 150 photographs, many from the 1920s and 1930s and numerous from wartime, portraits of noted leaders, official ceremonies and volcanic eruptions.

There are also six maps, a bibliography, an index and a foreword by Dr Allan Marat, MP for Rabaul.

The book tells of the geological reasons for the site’s instability; of the first human settlers; of European navigators, whalers, missionaries and traders; colonisation by Germany and development of a port and town with a cosmopolitan community, which came under Australian rule as a Mandated Territory after World War I.

There follows an often-stormy history up to and after PNG’s Independence, including three volcanic eruptions but with the town surviving in 2012, with its emblem the frangipani blossom still blooming.

The book is full of stories of colourful personalities, eye-witness accounts of the volcanic eruptions, the heartbreaking stories of Lark Force, the mystery of the Montevideo Maru, the recurrent question “Should the town be rebuilt?”, the Mataungan uprising, the long road that eventually led to Independence for PNG, and many more stories, all told in much detail and with great understanding.

Steven Gagau, Barbara Short, Dr Jennifer GagauThis book will be a wonderful asset for Papua New Guinean students of history and for the Tolai people in particular.

It is dedicated to the people of Rabaul, past and present, and to Roma, the Rev Threlfall’s late wife, who shared his years there and who helped him greatly during his work in the book’s production.

The book will be launched in PNG at a special event in Rabaul in the coming weeks.

Lower photo: Steven Gagau, Barbara Short and Dr Jennifer Gagau, the paediatric registrar at Maitland Hospital, (all of whom first met at Keravat National High School) at the launch of Rev Neville Threlfall's book on the history of Rabaul last Saturday at the Uniting Church at Croydon in Sydney. Jennifer is organising for a choir to sing at a special service for the Rev Threlfall when he returns to PNG for the launch of his book in Rabaul in the coming weeks.


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Ed Burke

I taught on Matupit Island in 1966 and one of my friends, Ian Horsfield, worked in the printing unit of the United Church in Rabaul. Does anyone have Ian's contact details?

John Viner

Greetings Keith, Like Erica Smyth, I would like to get a copy of Mangroves,Coconuts and Frangipani - The Story of Rabaul by Rev Neville Threlfall. Tried the link at the top of the page but didn't get anywhere.

Is it still available from the address listed there? I was a student at Rabaul High School
from 1968 to 1971 and was interested to see the Mataungan uprising mentioned. Hope I can track down a copy of the book.

Hi John - the only place where the book is available that I've found is The Rabaul Historical Society. I suggest you start your hunt from its Facebook page here - KJ

Kenneth Miller

I should like to make contact with Rev Neville Threlfall to inform him of the death of my dearly beloved wife Marian Miller who served as as a missionary nurse in the Duke York Islands between the years 1967-1970.

She lived and worked at Vatnabara and trained local nurses in child health and midwifery.

Marian returned to PNG in 1971 and continued teaching in the three year community health program.

Her last three years in PNG were spent in Port Moresby as the coordinator of health services for the Church of PNG and the Solomon Islands.

I should also like to make contact with people in the Duke of York group of Islands to send copies of photos that Marian had taken while teaching at Vatnabara.

I would like donate Marian's text books to any colleges or training schools run by the Church in PNG.

Dear Kenneth - On behalf of our readers and myself, I offer to you and your family our condolences on Marian's death and my thanks for your kind offer. If anyone can assist with Rev Threlfall's contact information or suggest how the books may find their way to the Duke of York Islands, you can contact me through this website or write to Kenneth at 7 Hannibal Street, Palmyra 6157 WA or phone him on 08 9339 2060 or 0447 940 853 - KJ

Jakob Schmitt

Rabaul was planned by the German government as a beautiful city with broad avenues and spacious gardens. In Rabaul, there was also a botanical garden, the 1906 founded.

Erica Smyth

Can you tell me where I can get a copy of this book? Mangroves, Coconuts and Frangipani by Neville Threlfall please.

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