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Today's quote:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Taim bilong Rabaul

Grahame Ward and Peter Logan at the Royal Papuan Yacht Club in Port Moresby


Peter Logan, a friend from my days in Rabaul in 1970 where he worked at Rabaul Garage selling cars for John Dowling, recently travelled back to Papua New Guinea to meet up with another friend of ours, Grahame Ward.

Rabaul had been my jumping-off spot in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea when I arrived there in early January 1970. It was everything I had expected of the Territory: it was a small community settled around picturesque Simpson Harbour. The climate was tropical with blazing sunshine and regular tropical downpours, the vegetation strange and exotic, and the social life a complete change from anything I had ever experienced before! And to top it all, I loved the work which offered challenges only available in a small setting such as Rabaul where expatriate labour was at a premium.

This is a beautifully produced book; click here or here for a preview

1970 was an eventful year in Rabaul. The Mataungan Association had stepped up its struggle over land rights and was causing the Australian Administration much grief. Prime Minister John Gorton visited in July and, as Gough Whitlam, later wrote: “He was greeted in Rabaul by an audience of 10 000 who were as hostile as our 11 000 (on an earlier visit) had been enthusiastic. Tom Ellis, head of the Department of the Administrator, gave Gorton a handgun.”

I worked for Hancock, Woodward & Neill, a small firm of chartered accountants: the resident manager, Barry Weir, his wife Muriel as secretary, and two accountants, Peter Langley and Grahame Ward, plus myself. Graham was a real character who was destined never to leave the Territory. For him the old aphorism came true that "if you spend more than five years in New Guinea you were done for, you'd never be able to get out, your energy would be gone, and you'd rot there like an aged palm."

Rabaul's main street Mango Avenue

He and an accountant from another chartered firm and myself shared a company house (which was really an old Chinese tradestore) in Vulcan Street and a 'hausboi' who answered to the name of Getup. "Getup!!!" "Yes, masta!" Each of us took a turn in doing the weekly shopping. I always dreaded when it was their turn as they merely bought a leg of lamb and spent the rest of the kitty to stock up on beer! We spent Saturday nights at the Palm Theatre sprawled in our banana chairs with an esky full of stubbies beside us. The others rarely spent a night at home; their nocturnal activities ranged from the Ambonese Club to the Ralum Club to the RSL. When they were well into their beers, mosquitoes would bite them and then fly straight into the wall! Then, next morning, they were like snails on Valium. How they managed to stay awake during office hours has always been a mystery to me!

The Palm Theatre was the social hub on Saturday nights; the town would dress in
their finery and gather to see great epics like 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Ben Hur'

When the tradestore lease terminated, Grahame and I moved into adjoining flats above New Britain Bakery in Mango Avenue until the stale smell of bread and the noise of the nightly baking drove us away. We next took up quarters at the mess hall of the Public Works Department along Malaguna Road where Grahame Ward, Peter Logan, an alcoholic spray-painter by the name of Brian Davies who worked for Rabaul Garage, and I shared a 'donga', each of us occupying a separate room connected by a long verandah, with the ablution block at one end.

On that verandah, right next to my door, stood an old beer fridge beside an old wicker chair. This chair was always occupied by Brian who never wore anything other than the same pair of paint-splattered overalls (I think he even wore them when taking a shower which he did every Sunday, whether he needed one or not ☺). After a hot working-day during which he had quenched his thirst with paint thinner, Brian would sit all night on the verandah and work his way through the contents of the beer fridge (as we all know, alcohol doesn't solve any problem, but then neither does milk). I will always associate the sound of a creaking fridge door and the soft popping of bottle tops with those tropical nights in Rabaul!

Rabaul was considered the most beautiful town in PNG and the 'Pearl of the South Pacific' until 1994 when it was destroyed by the twin volcanic eruptions of Mt. Tavurvur and Vulcan.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of that period in my life as I didn't own a camera then. Maybe I ought to have bought one instead of the worthless mining shares which my fellow-accountants had talked me into "investing" in - read more here.

The address says it all: Box 187 P.O., Rabaul, New Guinea, T.P.N.G.

During my time in Rabaul, advertisements began to appear in the local POST-COURIER for the Bougainville Copper Project. I applied to the project's construction managers Bechtel Corporation for the advertised position of Senior Contract Auditor and was invited by the Project Administration Manager Sid Lhotka to attend an interview at Panguna. It was a case of vini,vidi,vici and within a month I was flying back to Bougainville to start work with Bechtel (but thereby hangs yet another tale.)

I've sometimes wondered what would have become of Grahame had he come across to Bougainville. I had a job lined up for him in my contract audit group at Loloho looking after the construction of the Arawa Township, Loloho Port, and Loloho Powerhouse. He actually flew over for the interview and said he would return within the month but never did.

I guess when Grahame returned from the interview on Bougainville, Mark Henderson, who by that time had taken over from Barry Weir as partner, offered him a few extra dollars (which, in Grahame's currency of the day, may have been the equivalent of several cartons of SP) and Grahame was happy to stay. It is also possible that he may not been cut out for the pace on Bougainville where we worked a minimum of 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Grahame Ward was never to leave Rabaul - well, not until September 1994 when the town was totally wiped out by a volcanic eruption. By that time Grahame had already got married to a PNG citizen and had become a PNG citizen himself and moved to Port Moresby. He remains there to this day, little changed in looks (further proof that alcohol is a great preservative ☺).

I wished I could've been a fly on the wall and listen in as he and Peter Logan talked about the good ol' days.