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An exciting trip by car

| A 1953 memoir in the possession of Ancie's son, Dr Ivan Schindler

Track image

ROSEWOOD, QLD - The road from The Highlands to the Markham Valley floor had become a reality. A road, did I say, more like a track, which wound down the steep mountain sides to the flat Markham Valley.

The only Europeans to have travelled it as yet were the ADO (Acting District Officer) Kainantu and the PO (Patrol Officer) Rupert Haviland, who was in charge of the labour cutting out the track.

The labourers and PO were certainly not trained road makers and the tools they used were merely axes, spades and picks, but most digging sticks. What an achievement this road was!

The morning of our trip to the valley was cold and misty. It was still almost dark when we excitedly donned sweaters and raincoats and clambered into our jeep.

This jeep, except for a few horses and Shanks’ Pony, was our only means of transport. Long ago the hood had disintegrated and so we braved the elements whenever we took off.

For 25 miles we jogged along the road (built during the war) from Aiyura to Arona and then on the new road (track) to the Kassam Pass.

We had left early because we knew that there were places where we would have to get out and push the vehicle or dig it out of the boggy patches. Our average travelling time was usually on the Highland roads about 8 mph.

On reaching the top of the pass the mists were still covering us and the valley below, so we stopped and waited for them to rise. It was very damp, cold and windy and we were glad of the coffee we had brought with us.

At last about 8 am the mist began to rise rapidly and there below was the most breathtaking view. It was so magnificent. We could see from Shaggy Ridge towards Madang to miles and miles towards Lae in the opposite direction.

Directly opposite the mighty Finisterre Range rose suddenly to the height of 14,000 feet. The whole scene was one of blues and purples with misty browns of the kunai grass in the valley and patches of emerald green where the natives had burnt tracts of land and new grass was sprouting.

Now we began our descent. The road was only wide enough for one jeep, there was no surface except the mountain clay of the newly cut bench.

Above us towered the forest trees and now and then hornbills, white cockatoos and brightly coloured parrots in flocks screeched, as they flew by. Hawks floated aloft ready to dive on some rat or small animal.

The rattle and noise of the jeep engine broke the silence. It was easier to look up at the birds and trees than at the thousands of feet below, as the jeep seemed to overhang these drops.

The grades and corners were not exactly what one would expect of a road. Most of the curves were so sharp that the driver had to manoeuvre the vehicle back and forth to get around them.

The trees felled to make the bench, had left a path of destruction as they rolled hundreds of feet to the gorge below. One slip of the jeep and we would be down where they lay.

Half-way! We stopped for a cup of coffee and a chat with Rupe, whose native built house was perched on a spur that overlooked the valley.

What a magnificent view! But I am sure Rupe would have traded it very often for some young company or fresh bread butter and meat.

On again. Leaving the dense tropical rain forest we travelled over the blady grass spurs. Down and around, down and around, would we ever get there?

The sun shone brightly and the warmth of the tropics made us remove jackets and sweaters, Ah! Something soft to sit on.

Then came the ‘Rocky River’, which we had crossed several times as it rushed down the mountainside.

Now the bed was covered in huge boulders so it was all out [of the jeep] to build a ford. Half an hour later we watched the poor old jeep rocketing across our ford.

All aboard again and after building several more fords we came at last to Wata Rais. We were on the valley floor at last! What a trip!

We had left early in the morning 6,000 feet above sea level – a climate of eternal spring by day and log fires by night and here we were sweating in the tropics surrounded by tropical coconut palms, bananas and pawpaw.

The native huts were on stilts for coolness instead of being huddles close to the earth for warmth as the Highlands built.


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Ian Robertson

I travelled by air from Goroka to Lae in June 1969 to collect my VW Type 3 which had been shipped from Moresby.

I drove back to Goroka in about three hours. I did the return trip at least three times during the six months I was posted to Goroka, all without drama of any kind.

My memory of the road at that time is a little rosier than others.

In January 1970 I was posted to Mendi and insisted that my trusty VW came with me. It did - by air, in what I recall was a Short Skyvan.

When I reversed it out of the aircraft, it became the only privately owned sedan in Mendi - the District Commissioner had a black Holden.

After a year of the car's semi-retirement, I sold it to Talair as their crew wagon. Several years later they sold it to Tommy the Plumber who immediately rolled it into a barret near his single donga. It landed on its roof.

On my last visit to Mendi in 1975, I saw the remains of my once pride and joy still in the barret, stripped of wheels and dignity.

Henry Sims

Got it. I stand corrected, but never was perfect.
Great to be able to contribute. Haparua.

Harold Rogers

It's Marston matting, not Marsden...

Harold is right. The following story is drawn from the Pacific Wrecks blog, which you can find at - KJ

'Marston Mat' or PSP (Pierced Steel Plank) as the US Army termed it was developed during World War II and was widely used in every theatre of operations.

Known as 'Marston Mat' or 'Marston Matting' for Marston, North Carolina, the town near Camp Mackall Airfield where the matt was first used. It's widely spoken and misspelled as "Marsden Mat".

Each matt is connected with tabs to adjacent pieces using a sledgehammer to link the pieces together.

The matting was strong and rigid enough and mainly used rigid enough to construct runways and taxiways and bridge over small rivers or unstable sections of road.,

About 60,000 matts weighing nearly 1,800 tonne were required for a 1,500 metre by 45 metre runway. A runway this size could be assembled in 175 hours by 100 unskilled workers.

William Dunlop

Yes, Henry, as was the Markam Highway stretch from Nadzab to Kassam in 1969, the large holes filled with bulldust could be challenging.

Usually a day's trip with a convoy of new Admin Transport vehicles from Lae to Goroka, and another half day to Kundiawa.

In 1979, I would leave Lae at 0500 for a trip to Goroka in a Subaru 4WD sedan and sit down to breakfast in the Bird of Paradise Hotel by 0800. Such was the rapid advance in the upgrading of PNG's roads under the stewardship of the late Director of Works, civil engineer Tom Crotty.

Henry Sims

As an Elcom Tech Officer in the early 70's, I did the run from Lae to Yonki, doing a radio reception survey over that route, ready for the planned development of the Ramu Hydro scheme.

At the time of my drive, it was mostly single-file with off-sets to allow bypassing of oncoming vehicles.

Several trucks and landcriusers had slipped off the greasy camber of the "road" and even possibly remain in place today.

Mud-slip blockages were common, with rocks bounding down hill in the rain adding excitement

The drivers of the overloaded pmv buses were clever and quite brave to be in front of scared passengers critical of any false move.

I took my hard-hat off to the road construction people who had to react to landslip, using labour line excavation, water diversion and placement of stone filled bannis-crates and WW2 Marsden [or Marston]) matting, in very quick time.

Also, the radio reception achievable by the vehicle transceivers available then was poor to zero in most places where one could expect road problems.

The Kassam Pass was a thrill, even in those later days of Highland travel.

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