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Memorialising PIM - the 'Pacific Bible'

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PIM volume 1 number 1.  PIM, with its long tradition of public service, continued to publish even during the war in the Pacific


A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine, by Bob Lawrence, self-published, November 2019. $25 plus $5.50 post and handling charge. Available from Bob Lawrence here

NOOSA – Almost as much of an institution as the late and lamented Pacific Islands Monthly magazine is the PIM lunch.

It's a regular event held in Sydney for so many years its precise foundation date (sometime in the 1960s) is lost in a haze of red wine fumes.

I was a regular contributor to PIM in the 1960s and early 1970s. And later, people of my acquaintance will not be surprised to learn, a regular luncher.

In fact, it was at one of those lunches on the first floor of the old Occidental Hotel in Kent Street on 3 February 1983 where I heard that prime minister Malcolm Fraser had called an election and I was off and running in my first, and only, attempt at elected politics. But that’s another story.

At next Friday’s PIM lunch, now held in the Law Society dining room on Phillip Street, old and young Pacific Islands hands will foregather over twice cooked pork belly with tamarind curry sauce, crispy rice wafer, seared scallop and bok choy, washed down by the required few glasses of red.

PIM June 1961
PIM June 1961

And at this ancient gathering, Bob Lawrence’s latest book, ‘A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine’, will be launched in a limited edition as the definitive work on a publication established in the Great Depression in August 1930 and which, over the following 70 years until June 2000, when it was cruelly shuttered by new owner Rupert Murdoch, became the ‘Pacific Bible’.

Pacific Islands Monthly was a brave publication that informed the colonies and countries that spanned one-third of the globe from Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea through Micronesia to Hawaii, the Samoas, Norfolk and Cook Islands, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

PIM told all the great stories of the Pacific. Stories about the desperate people who fled the Depression to find gold in New Guinea, to the horrors of World War II and the unsolved mysteries of the disappearance of Americans Amelia Earhart and Michael Rockefeller.

It reported on the Pacific’s conmen and carpet baggers, people searching for lost 16th century Spanish galleons and the growth of the major Pacific trading houses and shipping and airline companies that connected remote island countries as they grew to independent nations.

It also related the experiences of average people - the planters, public servants and yachtsmen – as well as international celebrities like Errol Flynn, James A Michener, Margaret Mead and Raymond Burr.

Now Bob Lawrence, an ABC news journalist, despatched to help out the National Broadcasting Commission of PNG in the early 1970s before independence, has written a history of this eminent magazine.

PIM October 1976
PIM October 1976

Its New Zealand founder/editor, RW (Robbie) Robson, later wrote that in 1930 he “decided that a career in metropolitan daily newspaper journalism held no future for people after middle age. I was 45. It was a gamble.”

Through PIM, Robson and his later long-term editors, Judy Tudor, Stuart Inder and Gus Smales, with their staff and many contributors, championed the Pacific and its issues, fought for its development and were successful in helping create organisations such as the Pacific Forum.

In the mid-1950s, Robson also bought the Fiji Times newspaper published in Suva. Many years later, both publications were purchased by the Herald and Weekly Times Group.

But when the Murdoch empire swallowed HWT there was no place for PIM and its operations were relocated to Suva (the lunch stayed in Sydney!).

But, with the exception of The Australian, Murdoch has never been a sentimentalist and an under-resourced PIM it wilted until it was suddenly closed in June 2000, with nostalgia taking a back seat, one month before its 70th anniversary.

But the PIM Lunch remained. It had begun in the 1960s because expatriate Australians employed in the Pacific were always keen to share food and drink with Sydney-based PIM editors and reporters.

Initially, a weekly lunch time and place was established and advertised in the columns of PIM.

And so it was that Pacific politicians, planters, patrol officers, publicans, pedagogues and plebeians regularly broke bread with the PIM team.

In 2017, the Sydney-based author Bob Lawrence delivered a eulogy for his friend, the former PIM editor Gus Smales.

ABC secondees
ABC journalists attached to the PNG National Broadcasting Commission in 1975: Sean Dorney, Bruce Bertram, Albert Asbury and Bob Lawrence (Don Hook)

It was at this time that Bob realised he should accept the responsibility of memorialising in print that story of this brave little magazine and its devoted staff.

Bob first came across PIM in November 1974, soon after arriving in Port Moresby. When his friend and colleague Sean Dorney gave him a copy of the latest magazine, Bob was hooked.

In July 1975, Bob became journalist-in-charge at Rabaul and found hundreds of back copies of PIM stacked in the newsroom and these became his night time reading. On leaving PNG to work in Parliament House, Canberra, Bob became a long-time subscriber.

PIM lunches are held at the Law Society Dining Room, 170 Phillip St, Sydney NSW on the first Friday of each month, February to December. All welcome. Contact Tony Gentile on 0412 303 757 or email to PIM Lunch [email protected]


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Richard E Jones

Did we file articles for PIM either during, or at the completion of, the 1969 Mosbi South Pacific Games, KJ?

Upon return to PNG I seem to remember knocking out a couple of articles on the '75 Guam Games at the insistence of Gus Smales.

In '69 you of course were reporting on the (comparatively) genteel events of track and field while I was the correspondent for the boxing tournament.

My first relationship with PIM was when it began mumuting choice extracts from the Kundiawa News (which Murray Bladwell and I produced in the mid 1960s).

Then Judy Tudor visited Kundiawa and wrote for PIM how we youngsters spent all our spare time playing board games (yeah, for her camera we did so our mothers wouldn't get worried).

Next I asked Stuart Inder if he'd pay for contributions and he responded 'write what we want and write 'em in our style'. So I did and PIM paid well for the times - and promptly.

I wrote for PIM off and on through the 1970s, mostly under pseudonyms because for many of those years I was working for the NBC and the ABC boys on site didn't like freelancers (or something). My last published piece, on the International Training Institute, appeared in 1983 - KJ

Corney Korokan Alone

Thank you Keith,
Great effort by the National Library of Australia.

Keith Jackson

Corney asks if PIM has been digitised, and fortunately for all of us interested in PNG and Pacific history (or that after 1930), the answer is yes.

The National Library of Australia has digitised each issue on its Trove website. The series starts here https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-310385031 and you can scroll and select right through to the final issue in June 2000.

Click on the green tab, 'Browse this collection'.

Corney Korokan Alone

Wonderful source of information.
Have the works been digitized and available somewhere for reading?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Published my first article in PIM in 1970.

It wasn't the same after it moved to Suva and then Murdoch killed it.

Miss the pretty girls on the covers too.

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