This is an edited version of a story published in Una Voce (now PNG Kundu), the journal of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, on 16 September 2015
MELBOURNE - My first interest in the old ‘European Cemetery’ at Badihagwa dates back to the late 1980s.
At that time, with my friend and fellow former kiap, Dave Henton, I decided to find the grave of Papua’s former Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Hubert Plunkett (‘Judge’) Murray (1861-1940).
The catalyst was our interest in Papuan history and rereading Canon Ian Stuart’s excellent book of 1970, Port Moresby - Yesterday and Today.
It was the dry season and we wandered throughout the identifiable cemetery, noting the absence of plaques and headstones where they had been in the past.
We also noted the new graves – flower-covered fresh mounds and holes either partially dug or already dug.
It was also obvious that some of the new graves were very close to older ones. A number of newer graves were surrounded by their own individual fences and cages.
We enlisted the support of a couple of Goilala school dropouts from an adjacent squatter settlement who had taken an interest in our meandering.
However we all failed to find Sir Hubert’s grave.
Wandering back to our car, we planned to use our dropout contacts to enlist the help of an appropriate older resident of nearby Hanuabada.
When we reached the road and approached our parked vehicle, an elderly Motuan gentleman passed by.
After exchanging a few words in Motu, he led us a few meters to a site with a headstone lying flat near the cement-rimmed border of a grave.
With the man’s help the three of us righted the headstone, and the engraving confirmed our goal had been achieved. We had found the grave of Judge Murray.
We secured the headstone as best we could in the upright position and, satisfied with our day’s work, we left thanking our helper who appeared to be impressed both with the interest shown by the two taubadas and the fluent Motu, of Henton in particular.
Many years later, after Dave had left PNG but I remained, I happened to mention our discovery to my old friend and former kiap, the late Graham Pople MBE.
He was interested, so one Sunday we visited the graveyard at Badihagwa.
It was the wet season and, despite the site’s close proximity to where we parked our car, it took a few minutes to relocate the grave.
Tall grass and small shrubs covered just about everything except for a few new diggings and mounds.
But we found that the headstone was still erect.
Graham was a member of the Port Moresby Sub-Branch of the RSL (Returned Services League) as he had been a national serviceman in the mid-1950s, assigned to the aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance on loan to the Royal Australian Navy.
(The ship had been deployed to bring a squadron (the 77th) of RAAF Meteors from Japan after the Korean War.)
I took the opportunity to join the RSL as an associate member.
Monthly meetings were held in the Officers’ Mess of the Royal PNG Constabulary (Police) headquarters in Konedobu, the old RSL building at Ela Beach having burnt down and the long defunct Boroko Sub-Branch, which for a while became the ex-seminarians’ club.
The RSL had a small cash reserve which from time to time it would donate for worthy causes, such as subsidising the education expenses of descendants of PNG ex-servicemen.
I recall that it also assisted a police officer, blinded in the Bougainville civil war, who, after mastering Braille, became a radio operator at Rabaul police station.
Pople and I proposed to an RSL meeting that Sir Hubert’s grave was worthy of maintenance and that a small amount of money should be made available in light of his military service in the Boer War.
We also suggested it would be desirable to promote an interest in their country’s history amongst the students at the Badihagwa High School.
So we recommended the donation of several books to the school, to be presented along with a short tok save (speech).
In addition we proposed a small cash prize for the student who wrote the best essay on Sir Hubert and that the school be asked to keep the grave maintained in return for regular donations of books to the school library.
At the meeting, the RSL members decided it was probably more appropriate, and worthy of Sir Hubert, that his remains be exhumed and interred at Bomana War Cemetery where the grave could be properly maintained by the Australian government.
I objected to this, explaining what Moresby meant to Sir Hubert and that engraved on his headstone was the Latin phrase, ‘Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice’ (If you seek a monument, look about you).
I was supported by Pople and another former kiap and RSL member, Peter Turner, and by John Meehan, club president for a short time. John Mudge, who had been president for many years, also agreed.
The old-timers were still a majority then just before the short-lived 2004 Enhance Cooperation Program disaster saw the RSL hijacked by the influx of former and current servicemen and Australian Federal Police from Australia and who were to soon get rid of the bipo (veterans of World War II vintage and earlier) committee.
(In retrospect maybe Bomana was a more suitable location because, as Canon Stuart noted in his book, it did seem that Murray preferred being out of Moresby amongst the people rather than in town.)
Anyway, Graham Pople, Peter Turner and I attended an assembly of teachers and students at Badihagwa High School and gave a short history of Papua and spoke about Sir Hubert.
We handed over half a dozen books that I had accumulated from spares in my own collection or acquired from the late Bill McGrath’s Pacific Book House.
We mentioned the proposed prize for the best essay if interested students had time to read some of the books.
Our offer was graciously accepted and we departed with a vote of thanks, pledges of support from staff and applause from the audience.
A couple of weeks later a visit to the cemetery revealed a very tidy grave site, clear of any vegetation amongst a sea of kunai and other weeds and shrubs.
The grave’s cement borders were now revealed to be the tops of low walls above the lower cement top of the grave which had over the years been hidden under 20 centimeters of accumulated earth and gravel.
The dry season came and went and within a couple of weeks of the onset of the next ‘wet’ the grave was obscured.
Nothing was heard from the school again about essays or receiving books on PNG.
My most recent visits to the cemetery were in November 2011 and February 2012.
The wet season was late arriving and in early November the grave was clear in a somewhat parched cemetery.
However, by February the grave was hidden by the usual seasonal vegetation. But the headstone was still upright.
A metal fence had also been erected along some sections of the cemetery’s boundary.
In Port Moresby in late April 2015, I was informed by former kiap and politician Sir Barry Holloway that due to the usual disputes that had arisen amongst government, landowners and squatters, the fencing work was still incomplete.
Readers may also be interested in a book about Port Moresby that is available for free download here: The Unseen City by Michael Goddard