Just what is happening with those PNG fruit pickers?
The day the army torched Kavarongnau village

Chris, what memories of Baimuru you conjure in me


CHRIS OVERLAND’S STORY about Baimuru and the giant canoe, Eiwo, brought back some memories.

I picture my sometime boss, the late, great Clarrie Healey, setting off in his own most-favoured government canoe, Tillicum, and heading off into blinding rain accompanied only by a single cop, a Sepik constable known far and wide as ‘The Spider’ for his long, lanky and predatory look.

The Spider pushed off from Gulf Traders wharf while I remained behind to follow to Beara in another canoe, “if the plane brings the mail.”

Beara, established after World War II as a Patrol Post was uplifted to Sub District Office status as a parking-spot for Clarrie, now an Assistant District Officer after his demotion from District Officer status. Beara was soon to become a Patrol Post again with this writer as OIC.

On that wet day we had, as was customary, ingested ale and rum in largish quantities with The Colonel at Gulf Traders establishment, known locally as The Palace Flophouse, a name bestowed by another memorable Gulfite of the time, the late Francis Xavier Ryan.

We were increasingly, doubtfully, waiting for the plane to come from Daru and Balimo with the mail and freezer from Port Moresby.

Clarrie, who at home was ‘on the dry’, wanted to get back to his place not quite blind drunk so as to be able to pacify the much put-upon Mrs Healy.

He was inordinately fond of his skill as an ‘outboard-whisperer’ as applied to the heavy, often recalcitrant but durable Archimedes outboards which were supplied to us in those days.

As expected, with one pull of the starting cord, the twin-opposed two-stroke engine burst into life, on full throttle, with a mini-Harley Davidson-like burst of thunder.

Unaccountably unsteady in stance, Clarrie disappeared in a short arc over the transom. Tillicum surged away into the rain - the long, thin figure of The Spider gesturing frenziedly from the bow.

At an appropriate juncture after Clarrie had crawled up the ladder and had been fortified with further rum, a rescue was executed.

Also at that time there existed a worthy ancestor to your big canoe, Chris.

It was that built by Col Ryman, late of Kaimare sawmill and Gulf Traders, business partner and co-font-of-ribaldry with Keith "The Colonel" Ledingham of Gulf Traders.

Keith was also organiser and minder of Gulf Traders’ HQ, the Flophouse, and its store and the Shell agency at the downstream end of the airstrip.

This huge marine beast was endowed with a big, six-cylinder Chrysler Marine inboard engine and a normal motor launch shaft drive.

Control was maintained from a small, ugly, rectangular wheelhouse at the stern.

This latter excrescence resulted in the beast being named "The Specialist" in honour of the once-famous book about a builder of fancy outhouses, or dead-drop dunnies as we knew them. [That book was written by one Chic Sale in case anyone decides to search for it.]

So, Chris, we had The Colonel, Col Ryman, Joe Stuart and, by that time far away at Koialahu on the eastern side of the Vailala, the late Bertie Counsel.

Their antics and endless flow of yarns kept me from going completely mad in my memorable Gulf days which (madness in itself) lasted five years at one stretch.

The Colonel, a refugee from civilisation, possessed some inherited money and a good, classical education from one of Sydney’s GPS boarding-schools.

He had an endless repertoire of stories featuring either a pompous Major Ponsonby or a sex-crazed travelling salesman.

The others all had similar talents. Bertie Counsel, ever cheerful, witty and source of so many good stories, was an accomplished pianist, as he demonstrated once on the only piano west of Kairuku at Kikori. But that’s another story.

You may or may not have heard of the lingua franca known as King's Cross Motu.

This, originated by The Colonel, was spoken by a small group of intellectuals, one or two of whom look at this blog from time to time.

All of us were domiciled at Baimuru and at Ihu in those days of yore and endless rain.

In this era, succinct messages in Kings Cross Motu used to be left for other initiates in the famed New Guinea Book kept at Ushers Hotel in Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

Messages such as haraga ita mei botaia inisini were left as insider invitations(English translation let's hit the piss here soon).


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jeffrey James Wood

Does anyone remember the old Gulf Hotel, Baimuru, managed by a rough and often inebriated Aussie named George Patrick Buckley? I stayed there as a young man back in 1975 en route to the Wabo Dam site on the Purari River.I was one of a team of three botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK, and Barry Conn from Lae. We visited several areas of PNG including the Gulf Province,Eastern Highlands, Manus and New Ireland.I shall never forget the sound of hoards of croaking cane toads during the night.

Jeff Wood

Leanne Momo

Hi John,

In your stories you mention a Noel Chapman. My sister in law Carol is looking for some information about her father Noel Chapman who was a plantation manager. He died when she was about 2yrs old and the few photos she had of him were lost in a house fire. Her mother is from Paramana on the Aroma coast in the Central Province. Her name was Geno and Carol had 2 older sisters Barbara and Marie but they have all passed away. CRol wants to get in touch with people who knew her father and more information about him.

Your assistance on this request is much appreciated. My email address is: leeanne.momo@gmail.com

Chris Overland

Thanks for this enjoyable article, John. It brought to mind further memories of Baimuru.

I knew Col Ryman quite well but Keith Ledingham had "gone South" by the time I was there.

Col's offsider was one Adrian Van Pelt, whose history was pretty murky. He made various claims whilst under the influence, including that he had been a Spitfire pilot during the war and fought for the Dutch during the Indonesian war of independence.

I gather that Adrian was still in Baimuru well into the 1980's, but do not know the fate of Col Ryman, who was quite unwell towards the end of my time at Baimuru.

I certainly heard about the redoubtable Clarrie Healy and visited the old Beara Station in 1970. It was very over grown but surprisingly a lot of the old buildings were still more or less intact. Even the old dipole radio aerial was still standing. I guess the jungle will have reclaimed it all by now.

One thing is for sure, those of us who spent time at Baimuru will never quite get over the experience.

E Ryan

This exchange has amused me greatly, as one of the notorious FX Ryan's daughters!

Rob Parer

John & David - Just prior to FX Ryan in Wewak was Dave Carey. Like Frank he was a tireless Agricultural Officer who always worked in the interests of the Melanesians and the cocoa and copra industries. He was universally well liked and a great team man.

I remember he ordered one of his officers to commence at Aitape and go to every village and do a complete count of the coconut palms. He had the cooperation of the DC to have a Kiap with the patrol to order more palms to be planted by a certain date and from then on his dedicated team would hound the villages to see if they were keeping up to the planting schedule.

Then Dave would come to Aitape to check on his guys and have all night conferences/drinking sessions driving his men nuts to follow his dedicated aims.

His glorious enthusiasm was contagious and the whole coast woke up from slumber amd with his further driving and help, small hot air dryers, which he had designed, were built to take over from sun drying.

Dave Carey, what a legacy you left as those 1000s of palms are still producing.

Thanks from the people of Aitape.

John Fowke

Yes, I knew of him but I was never stationed at Kerema.

Certainly he was famous, or more truthfully notorious, as an old pisspot with many stories to tell.

They did have an interesting history I believe - prospectors as you say - but I never got to talk to Baden.

David Wall

John, did you know Baden Wales? He had some sort of job with Agriculture, and was sharing a house with Frank when he was stationed in Kerema.
Baden was the brother of Hector, both quite famous gold propectors in the past - the more famous was perhaps Hector.

John Fowke

David, yes Francis Xavier was amusing and erudite, and something of a law unto himself. But not well-liked by all.

This tension emanated from his involvement in the management of the Tolai Cocoa Scheme of the 'fifties, where, in his, as you say, "forthright" manner, Frank managed to put a lot of noses out of joint at District Office.

As I was in an earlier, sillier age, Frank was a bit of a pisspot. Attending a conference in Moresby, and sharing an upstairs bedroom with the late Mick Belfield, FX came in late and eventually pissed the bed.

Rising early he checked out, taking the opportunity to tell Batting Jack Pitts, the ex-Queensland copper who was manager at the time, that Mick had pissed his bed.

The results were somewhat volcanic when Mick emerged later and protested his innocence. Frank was vastly amused when told of this controversy at the counter.

Vale both these old didimen and an outstation era which, whilst it involved stretches of boredom and isolation, was lightened by the acts and activities of so many expat individualists, men who were not put out by their pointed exclusion from "drinks from 6 until 7.30 at the DC's."

And as to your plantation days, that must have been Huiva, manged in my Gulf years by Edge Fitzgibbon and then by Dave, whose second name I've forgotten.

He was a nice bloke who'd been Steamies' relieving manager for some time. Upriver near Ihu, Noel Chapman ran Maira and Vaiviri. Later in my peripatetic career I also worked for Steamies, first at Mamai, lovely place, and later in the Highlands.

We must have many friends and acquaintances in common.

David Wall

John, you mention Francis Xavier Ryan. I first ran into Frank when he was stationed at Kerema, and I was on a Steamships plantation half way between Kerema and Ihu in 1957.

We subsequently meet up here and there, and years after when he was stationed in Wewak.

What an engaging forthright character Frank was. He died on 5 March 2000.

I remember the story he told me about his first marriage to Madge. He approached the Catholic Church authorities in Rabaul about getting married, and as Madge was a non-Catholic she was asked to go through certain preliminaries and sign papers prior to a so-called mixed marriage.

Frank got fed up with all this, and so, off he went, and asked the C of E Bishop to marry them. This he agreed to without any fuss.

The story rather amused me as I found it rather incongruous that someone with the name, Francis Xavier Ryan being married in the Anglican Church.

Frank was a tireless Agricultural Officer who always worked in the interests of the Melanesians.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)