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8 days of rain & a some bizarre musical chairs

My call alerted the authorities to my existence as a primary trained teacher in a secondary trained position. This triggered a rather drastic chain reaction

Tapini airstrip c 1967 (Bob Grieve)
Tapini grass airstrip, c 1967 (Bob Grieve)


BRISBANE – The Tapini airstrip featured as an oddity during my service in Papua New Guinea.

This has begun in 1959 after I had completed the two-year Cadet Education Officer’s certificate course at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in 1958.

I left PNG in December 1975 after 16 years in the Education Department as teacher, inspector and senior officer, and flying in small aircraft came as part of the job.

Tapini was an oddity both because of its significant gradient and because it had a completely grassed surface.

In 1962, I was an English teacher at the Idubada Technical School in Port Moresby.

A good friend of mine, Glen Thompson, was head teacher at the Tapini Primary T (for Territory curriculum) School.

With Easter nearing, I booked with Patair for a Good Friday flight to Tapini to spend a couple of days catching up with Glen.

I was booked to fly back to Moresby on the Easter Monday.

Tapini Patair Piaggio 1971 (David Carter)
Patair Piaggio, 1971 (David Carter)

All went well on Good Friday l subsequently flew in the extraordinary Piaggio aircraft with its rear facing engines that did the regular 120 km trip in something over an hour.

Not long after we landed and the plane had departed on its return journey to Moresby, the rain began to fall - and it kept falling.

On the Saturday morning we were informed that there would be no flights for some days.

The Department of Civil Aviation had imposed its 24 point/24 hour rule and closed the airstrip.

If a quarter of an inch of rain fell in 24 hours, the grass strip would be closed for landings and take-offs.

If I remember correctly, the ‘some’ turned out to be eight days.

On the Tuesday I was due to be back on the classroom at Idubada, I called the District Education Office on Tapini’s morning radio sched and explained my dilemma.

I was given permission to help at the Tapini school until I could get back to Moresby.

My call, however, had alerted the authorities to my existence as a primary trained teacher in a secondary trained position at Idubada.

This triggered a rather drastic chain reaction.

Fellow teacher, Roger Hunter was posted to Tubusereia Primary T School where he and his wife were living in a Dowsett aluminium single officers' donga just 20 feet square.

Meanwhile at Tapini, the unmarried Glen Thompson was living in a three-bedroom married quarters.

Furthermore, the single John Powell, head teacher at Aroma school (west of Kupiano at Marshall Lagoon), had for some reason sought an urgent transfer.

The simple solution, of course, would have been the straight swaps of Thompson/Hunter and Robertson/Powell.

But I had a vehicle which could not be transported to Aroma and the Administration would be required to pay me compensation if I was forced to sell it.

It was a rule strange and largely unknown, except to the eagle eyed bureaucrats in Education headquarters.

Not every landing succeeded - Tapini, August 1958  (Geoffrey Luck)

The result was that Hunter left his donga to go to the married quarters at Tapini.

Powell was granted his escape from Aroma to take my place at Idubada.

Thompson transferred from his three-bedroom mansion at Tapini to Aroma.

And I and my vehicle were posted to Tubusereia, half an hour or so by road east of Moresby.

The bloke who drew the short straw in this redeployment of labour was Glen Thompson - all because of the grass Tapini strip and a rather bizarre vehicle rule.

He did eventually forgive me and remains a very good friend to this day.


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Paul Oates

Ah yes. The problems of outstation living. Most will understand how important a queen or king size bed is in the tropics, otherwise you can end up in a sweaty huddle in the middle of the bed.

Our double bed in Sialum had an old metal mesh under the foam mattress and sleeping in it was like sleeping in a large hammock. I 'requisitioned' a length of four by two and put it horizontally, under the mattress so that when we turned over at night, we wouldn't automatically end up in the middle of the bed.

When we arrived in Cocos, the politically appointed administrator didn't want a deputy and wouldn't allow me to have the Official Secretary's allocated house.

The double bed in what was possibly one of the worse houses was in a sorry state. As luck would have it, however, the administrator preferred to sleep on a futon. Given the policy of RHIP, I immediately snaffled the available king size bed in the government store for obviously reasons.

Everything was OK until there was a change in the politically appointed administrator and he didn't fancy sleeping on a futon.

On the other hand, we didn't feel like giving up our bed and moving back to an old double bed, having got used to the bed we had been using. My wife had some very strong views about this including those of possession being 9/10ths of the law.

The head of the Department in Canberra was drawn into the fracas as king size beds were then for some reason in short supply in the Territory.

Eventually, the Department caved in and sent another king size bed and mattress on the next ship. That potential hiatus then subsided.

But the allocation of houses was always a hot potato and as Deputy Dog or acting as the case maybe, it was my responsibility to allocate houses. Of course, there were the desirable cooler ones next the beach that got the Trade Winds and those in the hollow on the other side of the street that were the hot airless ones.

The unwritten protocol was that those newcomers got the hot houses and after the annual change overs, were then were allowed to move into a beach side house for the next year. Try explaining that to those who had rather partial views of where they wanted to move to and very vociferous wives who for some reason, saw things and priorities differently to me.

Yep! Life in a gold fish bowl

William Dunlop

Ian, To be sure, Canberra tis still full of it; going 13 to the dozen.

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