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The changing of the (mud)guard

New Isuzu before the driver got drunk and rolled it
Our wonderful new Isuzu truck  which promised great service before the driver got drunk and rolled it. Like our driver, it was great while upright


TUMBY BAY - When I arrived at my first posting in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands in 1967, the Australian administration was well into transitioning its largely British made vehicle fleet into a Japanese one.

The tough Series 1 and 2 LandRovers that had been stalwarts for field work were rapidly being replaced by BJ40 Toyota LandCruisers.

The old LandRovers were primitive but remarkably reliable, easy to work on and not prone to rust because of their aluminium alloy bodywork.

However, unless they had been fitted with a Salisbury differential, they tended to snap axles easily and had curious features like a single hand operated windshield wiper.

They also tended to leak a lot in heavy rain.

The new watertight Toyotas weren’t too bad but their three speed gearboxes were a bit tricky, especially the synchromesh.

And after they’d been bashed around on the kiap roads the steering tended to get very loose.

I have vivid memories of Administration drivers pushing hard on LandCruiser gear sticks while listening to the pinging of shearing metal on the walls of the gearbox.

None of them believed in such sophisticated manoeuvres as double de-clutching.

Splay-footed LandCruisers were also a common sight where the front wheels pointed either east or west but never north. Tightened tie rods in the hands of an Administration driver usually lasted about a week.

A sensible and practical expedient to extend the longevity of most vehicles was swapping places with the driver once you were out of sight of the office.

For some peculiar reason only known to themselves the powers that be in Port Moresby also decided to change the colour of the new vehicles to dark blue.

The old light blue, white topped, LandRovers handled the heat quite well but you could cook an egg on the bonnet of a dark blue LandCruiser and bake scones in its glovebox.

The heavier British vehicles were also being phased out and being replaced by Toyotas and Isuzus.

The old Public Works Department Austin and Bedford trucks that littered the workshops in various states of disrepair and driver induced catastrophe soon began to disappear.

Phil on his Honda 90 Trail  Mt Hagen  1967
My Honda 90cc Trail, Mt Hagen, 1967.  Keith also had one of these machines, which performed great work on the Highlands Highway as well as on appalling bush tracks

Even the old cantankerous BSA motorbikes (Beezers) were on the way out to be replaced by shiny red Honda 90s.

And while the latest model Holden attracted some interest when it eventually made its way into the highlands most of the expatriate staff in the Administration had quietly changed over their private vehicles to Japanese cars.

Len Aisbett, the District Officer who had interviewed me in Adelaide, now drove a Toyota Crown station wagon and Roger Gleeson, the affable council advisor out at Dei, drove a Toyota Corolla utility.

All this was happening a mere 20 years or so after the end of the World War II. Many older Administration officers had fought the Japanese in that war.

It must have seemed strange encountering this new Japanese invasion. The LandCruisers even had a military type appearance, based as they were on the American jeeps.

Even the big 6x6 Izuzu trucks looked like they had come straight from the battlefield.

A lot of kiaps on the outstations in the highlands and elsewhere tried to hang onto their old LandRovers as long as possible but they had to eventually and reluctantly give them up.

I developed quite an affection for the ones I drove but, after returning to Australia, bought a BJ40 LandCruiser. I had tried out the new Leyland Series 3 LandRover but found it wanting.

Later on, when I drove a Commonwealth government Leyland LandRover, I grew to dislike them intensely. Leyland vehicles were cheap and nasty.

One day while pulling the innards out of one that had broken down in the bush (again) I was amazed to find some fairly important bits made out of what looked like Bakelite instead of metal.

The poor old LandRover’s demise into oblivion seemed to parallel the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the Japanese motor vehicle industry made one wonder about who had actually won the war.


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Garry Roche

Phil, thanks for info on photo. That building in Hagen still looks familiar to me, I think I can place it. When I was in the Jimi I had a Honda and it was quite useful. However, punctures were often a problem.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Garry, if you stand on the site of the old sub-district office and look down the hill to the town centre, the spot is on a street to the left, immediately behind the what was then the main street.

Dave Ekins

I still have a decent burn scar on my right calf as a result of a quick roasting on the exhaust of a Honda 125.

I was giving a lift to a local in the late afternoon along a wet track in the Lai Valley, hit a rock and dropped the bike.

Instead of being able to leap clear, I was held around the waist in a death grip by my terrified passenger with my leg under the bike and in direct contact with the hot exhaust pipe.

A wrestle ensued, culminating in an elbow to the chin which temporarily relaxed the passenger, and I crawled away. I continued the journey alone, sporting a blister like a saline bag attached to my calf.

Garry Roche

Phil, looking at the photo of you (?) on the Honda 90cc Trail in Mt. Hagen 1967, I am trying to guess the location. I only arrived Hagen in 1970, but the building in the background looks familiar. Was the photo taken up by the old Sub-District office with the old Hagen Coffee building in the background?

Robert Forster

How many riders burned themselves on motorbike exhausts?
Both BSAs and Hondas inflicted damage..
With BSA it was the left leg . With Honda the right.
How many people still have crescent shaped scars?

Ian Robertson

In 1966 and 1967 Bob Brownlie and I were conducting the Education Department’s Senior Officers’ Course at the Port Moresby Teachers’ College.

The 12 months course led to the appointment of PNG nationals to senior Headteacher and Inspector roles,

I recall there were about 18 members of each course and represented most of the districts and they were all male. Their ages varied considerably.

Bob and I were able to obtain a clapped out LandRover and a similarly decrepit BSA motorbike from the Transport Department and I, as the junior officer, was tasked to teach all members of the course to drive and ride.

Many of you will recall how tight-fisted the Transport Officers were with their vehicles so you will be able to imagine the state of these machines which they reluctantly released to us.

The old surface of the war-time air strip (Ward’s) was still usable and this became the scene of many spectacular stacks and misadventures. Several students still preferred the lap-lap/sari and these in particular often caused disastrous results.

However, by the end of the courses everyone was still physically intact and all received dual licences except for one very senior and quite solid Tolai who absolutely refused to sit astride the bike.

During the rest of my time in PNG I met with and laughed with many of the senior nationals who had been chased / yelled at / terrified along the old airstrip.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The Mini Moke was a wonderful vehicle Ross. A cut down Aussie version of the British Mini Minor. It even had handles on the side so a bunch of blokes, and sometimes ladies, could pick it up and carry it.

I dropped one of them into a barat too. Not the one that swallowed my Honda 90 but klostu. The Moke had a little bolt at the base of the steering column and if it came loose and fell out you lost the steering, which is how I cruised into the barat on a sharp bend. A bunch of locals helped me pull it out and I drove it to the Transport Department workshop to have the busted windscreen fixed.

As for outboards they were bloody dangerous, especially those sinister black 40hp Mercurys. Outboards jumping into of gear when being started tossed a few people in the drink, injured quite a few when they circled back and actually killed a kiap in the Western District. Dead man lines were unheard in those days.

Snapping shear pins on the propellors were also another bug bear. If you planned to cross the weed infested Balimo Lagoon to the Aramia River outlet it was wise to carry a box of spare pins.

My last Land Cruiser was a 60 series and it's still going strong in the Snowy Mountains running on vegetable oil.

Daniel Kumbon

I have vivid memories of different types of vehicles being used in Kandep by the kiaps and missionaries as soon as I have vivid memories of different types of vehicles used in Kandep by the kiaps and missionaries as soon as the Laiagam - Kandep road was completed. But I wish to talk about motorbikes.

I remember the kiap and an Apostolic missionary at Sawi roaring up and down the airstrip on many occasions. Perhaps they were testing different makes/models or perhaps racing to see who was faster.

Once three of us boys from the village hopped on a bike parked on the other side of the Lai River near my village at Kondo where the new road towards Mendi stopped.

The bridge was not yet built. We didn't know who left the bike there - definitely the kiap or a missionary. We probably disturbed the single leg the bike balanced on when we took turns to pretend we were riding it turning the front wheel from left to right and back.

We made all sorts of biking sounds, too carried away to notice danger. The heavy bike fell awkwardly on its side. And we all fell on top of it.

We could have been injured if it fell on us. I saw the red petrol leak out almost immediately as we fled into the bush. Luckily we saw a man appear on the spot as we ran. He shouted abuse at us. We also heard him say he would report us to our parents and the kiap.

The pitpit bush we were hiding under began to shake. If he came looking for us, he could have easily caught us. We were so terrified. He must have saved the petrol by lifting it upright again. Much later in the day, we heard the bike start with a roar and take off. But we poor idiots stayed on in the bush till dark so nobody could identify us.

Many years later in 1971 our deputy headmaster whose name was Mr Gilmore married a lady from Milne Bay and gave me my first motorbike ride around Kandep station.

He was happy I had scored very good marks in my Standard 6 final exams. I had come first and won a big torch with six batteries in it.

Chris Overland

Most ex-kiaps have a story or two related to motorised transport, particularly its ability to fail at the most inappropriate moments.

Personally, I feel that outboard engines deserve pride of place as the most sinister of motorised devices. They always seemed to fail at a critical moment, such as navigating rapids or in the middle of Dyke Ackland Bay or the Gulf of Papua.

So many things could fail on an outboard. The pull cord used for starting tended to break when you were not less than three days paddle from the station, spark plugs gave up the ghost mid rapid and the carburettor would become blocked with dodgy fuel just as you needed full power on the Purari or Fly or Strickland or some other large and fast flowing crocodile refuge.

As for motorbikes, falling off was inevitable: it was just a question of time.

I was once riding from Popondetta to Kokoda when, upon coming round a sharp corner, I collided with a very large pig which was sleeping on the road.

I careened off the road, landing in a deep drainage ditch with my Honda 175 continuing to roar as it lay on top of me, burning my thigh with its hot exhaust.

At length, after extracting myself from under the bike I peered over the top of the ditch to see the anxious locals giving the pig the porcine equivalent of CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation].

They had their priorities straight: that pig was worth serious money while yangpela kiaps were a dime a dozen.

Thank god I didn't kill the damned animal as I am quite sure that a very handsome amount of compensation would have been demanded.

As for LandCruisers, I still love them for their robust reliability and go anywhere capability. My very own 100 Series wagon is sitting proudly in the carport as I write. The Beast (as my wife calls it) may be 15 years old but I would not part with it for any price.

Besides, my adult son has made it clear that it is going to be his once I shrug off this mortal coil, so I am obliged to look after it on his behalf.

Bernard Corden

Q. What's the difference between a Harley Davidson and a vacuum cleaner?

A. The position of the dirt bag

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've fallen off BSA motorbikes, Honda 90s and even those 175hp Yamahas the Administration bought with the express intent of getting rid of troublesome kiaps but I never ever went on patrol with them. You are, of course, talking about bipo yet when I was still in short pants.

I did, however, often load up a couple of blankets, a bit of tucker and the dog on the back of a bike for short overnight visits to various places. Later on I did the same sort of thing with a dinghy and a 15hp Seagull in the Western District.

My most vivid motorbike memories involve a miscalculated plunge into a barat in Hagen and a going over the handlebars on the road out to Kagamuga and collecting a large river pebble that left me with a painfully bruised right palm..

I've still got a motorbike licence but haven't been on one for years and have no intention of doing so.

Ross Wilkinson

My first posting was Finschhafen where the ADC had command of the Landrover but there were several Mini Mokes for us lesser beings to get around in. It was an amazing "go anywhere" vehicle and fun to drive.

I first drove a Landrover in Kundiawa when on a short transfer to the sub-district office under Lyle Hansen. This vehicle had an annoying habit of having the driver's door fly open when turning left. Also, it was difficult to engage low drive which I found out on a very wet day on the red clay road base.

I had carefully avoided riding the Honda 90 until one day at Kabwum the ADC ordered me to take the bike up the hill to his house. He stated that I could either push it up the hill or learn to ride but come what may he wanted it up at the house. Once I got the knack it made life easy, particularly when doing the morning airstrip inspection.

Another unfortunate habit of the early Landcruisers was for the accelerator cable to twist and jam or to come off the pulley wheel altogether. Fortunately it had a hand throttle that enabled you to drive it home if the accelerator failed off-station.

Chips Mackellar

The BSA motorbikes were indeed cantankerous, and I hated them. But in the days before the Highlands Highway was built and there were few motor roads between the main centres across the Highlands, these bikes were a useful form of transport to take on patrol.

They could be ridden along the walking tracks which radiated out from the main towns, and especially along the valley floors where the tracks were long and straight. And where the bikes could not be ridden, for example across a creek, or where the walking track went straight up a steep slope, these bikes were light enough to be carried by two porters.

So in those days, the patrol retinue included two carriers, carrying a pole and a rope. The kiap could ride ahead of the carrier line until the walking track came to an obstacle, like a creek or ditch or a steep hill which the bike could not negotiate alone.

There the kiap would sit on the bike and chat to the locals passing by and wait patiently for the carrier line to catch up. When it did, the designated carriers would sling the bike on their pole and carry it across the obstacle.

The kiap would then remount the bike and continue riding it along the walking track until he came upon the next obstacle. It never made patrolling any faster, but the BSA certainly made patrolling a lot easier.

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