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Remembering Laurabada, the pride of Papua

Kranz   Laurabada officers and crew Sydney trials 1924 ANMM
Laurabada officers and crew in Sydney for sea trials, 1924 (Australian National Maritime Museum)


MORRISET, NSW - This photo from the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney shows MV Laurabada on her trial voyage to test the engines in Sydney Harbour in 1924.

Her officers and Papuan crew, in Sydney for the sea trials, pose on her prow and bowsprit.

Laurabada was one of the last Australian government vessels to have a carved wooden figurehead on her prow.

It represented a Papuan maiden signifying the south-east trade winds which heralded the start of the Hiri voyaging season.

The Brisbane Telegraph reported on the trial in the edition of Saturday, 9 February 1924.

The story is quaintly written and there are hints of the casual racism of the time:

Kranz   Laurabada Sydney 1924 ANMM
Laurabada motors down Sydney Harbour, 1924 (Australian National Maritime Museum)


The Laurabada's trial trip was a graceful hesitation waltz round Sydney Harbour, with a meander up and down the coast as an extra polish to her new engines.

Who is Laura — what is she?

The new motor-boat, built for the Papuan Government service, enters no competition with steamers that trundle up and down the Pacific, earning their fuel picking up cargo, unloading stores, putting down a few passengers here and there, and getting on with their business.

Laurabada means the south-east trade wind, and that means nearly everything in the tropics.

It cools the heated argument, and wafts away the mosquitoes, and it is the white man's consolation prize after the worst heat of the year.

There are 4,000 miles of coast, including the island navigation, round the Papuan water-front.

And unless the Lieutenant-Governor and his staff do their travelling by boot, or where the rough and mountainous paths permit, on horseback, they must have a craft to take stores, and pay official visits in remote parts of the dusky territory.

The Merrie England, ill-fated name, was wrecked in 1914.

Later in the procession of years there was a second Government launch for Papua, of the same name.

Something went wrong with her benzine tank and the boat blew up.

After this tragedy there was an Interregnum, and there will never be another Merrie England in the Port Moresby Government service.

Kranz   Laurabada figurehead 1948 JK Murray UoQ crop
The carved wooden figurehead of a Papuan maiden  on Laurabada's prow signified the south-east trade winds in the Gulf of Papua (JK Murray, University of Queensland)

The trial trip of the Laurabada worked out at ten and a-half knots, even in her unfinished state, for she dragged a little, owing to being still uncoppered at the bottom.

Trim and shapely, painted white, fitted up with cedar, built of Australian timber with the exception of a little Oregon above her water line, this attractive motor-boat is a credit to Australian ship builders.

The enterprising firm of Morrison and Sinclair got the contract and built the island craft in their yards at Longnose Point [in the Sydney harbourside suburb of  Balmain].

She draws eight feet of water, has hold capacity of 40 tons, carries eight passengers, when required, will also have accommodation for ten Papuans, in those official trips to lone stations - bringing both native police and prisoners - if any, to headquarters.

The launch is propelled by two Fairbanks Morse CO engines — each with 100 horse-power.

Kranz    Laurabada with Rabaul refugees POM 1942 AWM sharp
A listing, overloaded Laurabada arrives in Port Moresby carrying military and civilian refugees from the Japanese invasion of Rabaul, 1942 (Australian War Memorial)

One of Laurabada’s most dramatic voyages occurred in 1942 when she made an heroic journey to Japanese-occupied Rabaul.

Under the captaincy of Ivan Champion, she rescued 156 soldiers and civilians from Rabaul and along the New Britain coast before her triumphant return to Port Moresby, overloaded and listing.

The Pacific Islands Monthly of 1 June 1951, reported that Laurabada was scrapped in that year due to extensive rot and rust after long and eventful service of 27 years.


Geoff Hancock writes:

Ten years ago I made some inquiries on the fate of the Laurabada and found she was not scrapped after being retired from government service in 1951.

Sadly, she was left to rot on the beach in front of the government offices at Konedobu until being rescued by shipwright Ted Yabsley in the early 1960s.

Ted spent six years restoring her to her former glory at his boat building yard at Badili, where Laurabada was converted into a coastal trading vessel.

Ivan Champion, Laurabada's captain during her government days, took charge of her once again for a time.

So did other skippers including Milton Cotterell and Karl Kramer.

Laurabada was used on the Port Moresby to Daru run and also did some trips from Moresby to Lae.

Ted Yabsley eventually sold Laurabada in 1972. She ended up in the Mariana Islands doing charter work, but eventually sank in bad weather.


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Jon Lohberger

I just read an interesting paragraph from the autobiography of the late Tony Pike, founder of the infamous Pikes Hotel in Ibiza which was a celebrity hangout in the 1980's and 90's hosting wild parties for the likes of George Michael, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, Oasis and many other pop/rock/movie stars and royalty.

The book is 'Mr Pikes: The Story Behind the Ibiza Legend' - you can easily find a free downloadable PDF copy on Google.

In the very early 1970's, before moving to Ibiza, Tony purchased Doini Island in Milne Bay Province after selling his business in Sydney.

Paragraph below mentions he then purchased a 120 ft boat, 'Lourabada', a misspelling as the book was written when he was in his 80's after decades of partying.

He also mentions he later sailed the boat from PNG waters and sold it overseas soon after.

"It was on Doini Island that I saw my next boat. I’d just walked the island, and was about to put in an offer when I saw it sail by. It looked beautiful, with a bridge halfway down the deck.

"I bought it some months later and called it The Lourabada, a name in Motu, the common language the government was trying to introduce to unify all the dialects in New Guinea.

"Lourabada meant Big Wings, or at least I thought it did. A while later an Indian friend of mine told me it meant ‘Big Prick’ in Hindi. How was I to know?

It was an amazing boat. A 120 ft monster, which had been used in the Second World War. It makes an appearance in the book The Coastwatchers."

Thanks Jon. The correct spelling was 'Laurabada', but I suppose if you have the money you can spell it however you like - KJ

Khib Kugler

Following on from my inquiries into the Laurabada....

It seems the Laurabada in the article 'Remembering Laurabada' was not the one my father was on in 1963.

In Pacific Islands Monthly vol 35 no 11 of 1 November 1964 there was reference to a PNG Administration trawler, Laurabada II, in the early 1960s.

In early 1964 this vessel was renamed Lahara when the original Laurabada was recommissioned by Ted Yabsley and skippered once again by Ivan Champion for its maiden voyage (confirmed by Charles Yabsley).

Unfortunately, so far I can find almost nothing about Laurabada II/Lahara. So, my search for her skipper continues.

Thanks for keeping us informed, Khib, and a mighty 'well done' for the progress you've made so far. Please continue to keep us informed of this fascinating slice of PNG maritime history - KJ

Khib Kugler

Thank you very much, Geoff. I have joined that group, and have reached out to Charles.

Geoff Hancock

Charles Yabsley may be able to help you, Khib.

He is the son of Ted Yabsley and he sailed on the Laurabada with his father for a couple of years after she was rebuilt.

Khib Kugler

Peter, Geoff, Chris & Philip - My father, Dr Andrew Kugler Jr (now deceased) sailed on Laurabada in September and October 1963 in the Solomon Islands while he was acquiring gravity data.

We have a couple of photos from that trip. He also told us stories of the voyage, and of many other expeditions in New Guinea, where we lived in the 1960s.

While aboard Laurabada, Dad made friends with the captain (none of the names mentioned above), who told my father an incredible biographical story that had a great impact on my father's life.

I am trying to verify that story for a book I am writing, but am not making much headway. Would any of you have, or know where I might find, any information that might lead me to who that person was? Are any of the people referred to above still alive?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. My email is included in my submission to this comment.

If you have information that may assist Khib with his research, simply respond to this email below - KJ

Peter Kranz

There is a racing and cruising yacht with the same name built by Ivan Holm in Queensland in 1953 which has PNG connections.

Holm commanded a Fairmile patrol boat during the war, serving in Papua New Guinea and the south west Pacific areas.

The yacht has sailed in 50 Brisbane-Gladstone off-shore races and was basically-hand-made by Holm at Cabbage Tree Creek.

The engine is from an old US WW2 patrol boat found in Port Moresby. It has been renovated by the Holm family and I think is still sailing. It's also been in the Sydney-Hobart races.

Chris Overland

I am pleased to see Geoff Hancock's comments because it confirms my own recollection that I saw the Laurabada several times at Baimuru and Kikori during 1970.

I learnt about her history at that time which probably is why the memory of her has stuck with me.

If she was doing a regular Moresby to Daru run as described by Geoff then it makes sense that she stopped in various ports along the way.

I remember her well because although she was then working as a coastal vessel for either Steamships or Burns Philp, she was a much more elegant vessel than the typical Steamies K boat.

I also recall hearing that she survived a severe storm off the entrance to Port Romilly during which another vessel, possibly a Burns Philp coastal ship, was hit in the stern quarter by a rogue wave which rolled her over.

My hazy memory of this story is that the crew all survived by climbing aboard a Carley Raft that had popped open after the roll over. They eventually found help and, I think, ended up at Kikori.

Anyway, it seems that she had an eventful career and, if Phil is right, perhaps she may even still be afloat.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks Geoff.

I thought I was going daft.

I travelled from Moresby to Daru on the Laurabada circa 1969.

Somewhere off Kikori she hit a bloody great floating tree and woke us all up.

Shame to hear she sank in the Marianas.

Geoff Hancock

Ten years ago I made some inquires on the fate of the Laurabada and what I learnt was she was not scrapped after being retired from government service in 1951.

She was left to rot on the beach in front of the government offices at Konedobu until being rescued by shipwright Ted Yabsley in the early 1960's.

He spent six years restoring her to her former glory at his boat building yard at Badili, where he converted her into a coastal trading vessel.

Ivan Champion, her former Captain during Laurabada's government days, took charge of her once again for a time, along with other skippers including Milton Cotterell and Karl Kramer.

She was used on the Port Moresby to Daru run and also did some trips from Moresby to Lae.

Ted Yabsley eventually sold the Laurabada in 1972. She ended up in the Mariana Islands where she was doing charter work, but eventually sank in bad weather.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Great article Peter.

Was there another government boat called Laurabada plying the waters of Papua in the 1950-60s?

I vaguely remember she was sold to Hong Kong or Singapore and used as a tourist boat.

Maybe I've got the name wrong.

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