A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine, by Bob Lawrence, Chatswood Press, November 2019. 72pp,illus. ISNI:0000000067657158. $A25 plus $A5.50 post and handling charge. Available from Bob Lawrence here
SYDNEY - The Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM), my short history of which is being launched today in Sydney, was conceived during the trauma of World War I.
Some years later it had an unlikely birth in 1930, during the world’s worst depression, and then survived having half its subscribers driven from their home addresses in early 1941 as the Japanese advanced southwards in World War II.
It persisted and then flourished in the post war development of the Pacific as colonies grew to become independent states.
I first came across PIM magazine when I agreed to a secondment from the Adelaide newsroom of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now Corporation) to the Port Moresby-based National Broadcasting Commission of Papua New Guinea (NBC) in November 1974.
My new colleague, Sean Dorney, another ABC employee on loan (from Queensland) subscribed to PIM. He gave me a recent copy to read.
I searched out the Papua New Guinean articles first and then read more broadly. In July 1975 I moved to Rabaul to run the NBC islands region newsroom, which collected stories from its staff journalists in Rabaul, Kimbe, Kavieng and Kieta.
I found several stacks of old PIM editions collecting dust in the corner of the newsroom which was a wooden Word War II army hut with green paint peeling off in arcs from its external walls.
I read PIM while eating my lunch or at night. By the time I flew out of Rabaul for Port Moresby, via a two-day stopover in Kieta to report on the first Bougainville secession of 1 September 1975, I had read articles from every edition in the hut.
I also became aware of a master journalist, Stuart Inder, who edited the publication.
The PIM copies I read reported on great characters of the Pacific, including New Guinea patrol officer and gold miner, then actor, Errol Flynn; Samoan hotelier, Aggie Grey; writer James A Michener; and actor and Fiji newspaper proprietor, Raymond Burr.
It noted the meteoric rises and falls of various confidence tricksters and carpetbaggers and covered international interest stories including the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in Micronesia and Michael Rockefeller in Irian Jaya.
PIM would venture, as deemed necessary by the editor, from reporting to advocacy for its readership.
After World War II, Robson engaged in open-warfare with prime minister Chifley over his refusal to hold an enquiry into the 1942 fall of Rabaul, the failure to commandeer ships so Australians could flee and the dreadful Montevideo Maru story.
Robson also fought Chifley’s firebrand Territories minister, Eddie Ward, whose obsession with nationalised shipping saw people starved of basic foods in New Guinea.
Among my Port Moresby friends was Robert Angus (Gus) Smales, the correspondent for the Melbourne-based Herald and Weekly Times Group and PIM.
Gus was sent up from Melbourne in the 1950s. His knowledge of morse code was crucial, as he would use the code to transmit his stories to Melbourne.
When I left PNG I became a PIM subscriber.
Gus 'went-finish' to Sydney to become editor of PIM under publisher Stuart Inder.
In March 1981, when I moved from Adelaide to the Sydney based AAP-Reuters Economic Services, Gus was one of the first people I looked up.
He immediately invited me to a PIM lunch. A few months later I became the AAP-Reuter Sydney Stock Exchange Reporter, based in the Stock Exchange only a five-minute walk from the lunch, allowing me to become a regular attender.
Stuart Inder and I became friends and I was fortunate to meet retired former editor Judy Tudor on special lunch occasions.
Always in attendance was another grand old man of Pacific journalism, John Carter, a Lancashire born journalist who ran the PIM Year Book and regular newsletters produced by Pacific Publications.
He was ‘chief fill-in man’ when work needed to be done quickly. There was no important person in the Pacific these people did not know personally.
Health issues affected Gus Smales and so Malcolm Salmon took over as editor. On Malcolm’s death, Larry Writer and Carson Creagh joined PIM, becoming the last Sydney based editors, before PIM moved to Fiji.
I attended lunches irregularly until my retirement after which I became a regular.
In 2017, after delivering a short eulogy at the lunch to the recently deceased Gus Smales, a lady said to me, “I never knew there was a magazine called Pacific Islands Monthly attached to this lunch. I just thought it was a social lunch group.”
I realised then that someone had to write a history of PIM, then gone for 17 years, or it would be completely forgotten in time and its significance possibly overlooked by history.
As with Angus Smales, PIM was another old friend who deserved a eulogy!