Chapter 26B

Letters Home

Copy of a letter by Betty to John’s parents and brother Ian. The letter is dated 2nd July, 1953.

Dear Mum, Dad and Ian,

It is about 8.30a.m. Thursday morning. I came down to the office with John this morning to help him with stock-taking but when we got here we noticed a boat pulling in to the wharf so, of course, we went down to meet it. It is a Seventh Day Adventist Boat sailing from Samarai to Port Moresby and we have asked if we could put some mail aboard as the next boat we are expecting to bring mail and to take mail from Abau to Moresby will be the ‘Domar’ which does not leave Moresby until 14th July. We have had only one letter from you since we arrived here and it will be at least another two weeks before the next mail arrives at Abau.

It has been literally pouring with rain here since last Thursday; we recorded seven inches falling in ten hours on Sunday. John is certainly making use of his rain-coat. He has been in charge of the station for a week now, as the Assistant District Officer and the Cadet Patrol Officer left on patrol last Thursday; we expect them back in about a week. John will have to go out on patrol then so I hope he will have better weather than they are presently experiencing. He has had a lot of responsibility here during the last week, but he seems to be taking it all in his stride.

We went over to Dedalli plantation on Tuesday in the station launch Minnetonka; while we were Lamington blew up. They were sailing back from Sydney in their new launch after fourteen months there we met people from a big plantation near Popendetta which is very close to the place where away ‘down south’. Anyway, it seems they knew about John and me from our Moresby friends the Elliott-Smiths and they showed us a copy of the Pacific Island Monthly for June in which was a photo of John and me taken at our wedding with a short story about the event. We had no idea how it got into the paper and don’t know how they got the information, anyway, we were quite pleased to see it. We will try and get copies of the Monthly to send to you, it is circulated round New Zealand, Fiji, Suva as well as the Pacific Islands.

We will be very interested to know all about Alan and Glenda’s wedding. We were thinking of them on their big day; it was raining very badly up here but I hope they had sunshine and I hope they have as much happiness as we are enjoying.
We seem to be always having visitors. Last weekend we had the lone European who is opening up the air strip visiting us. He is coming again this week-end. This Sunday, too, we are having the Manager of Dedalli plantation and his assistant over for dinner. Last night we had the Medical Officer and his wife over for dinner; you can see my cooking prowess is being tested to the full. I enjoy getting the meals and serving them attractively. John says they are all right too. Of course I havn’t tried making sponge cakes yet, but our bread, scones and tarts have all been successful.

John has sent you a wire for an Akubra Outdoor hat and also walking shoes for me. I need some good strong shoes up here as it is very rocky and I go out with the men a lot and I’m hoping they will take me on patrol later on, it has been suggested. If you havn’t done anything about them yet, I would like low heels, Brevitt, Valencia and Carmelette are good brands, not lace ups though…they are too old-fashioned. We will send you a cheque for the amount owing. John needs the hat, as when the sun does come out it is very fierce.

I have had a little fun with my house boy lately. The first one I had called ‘Oover’ left suddenly last Friday with a bad case of scabies; he is now in hospital. I couldn’t tell by looking at him that there was anything wrong with his skin; anyway we now have a new boy ‘Abarava’, he has a prison sentence of three months because of riotous behaviour. The thing I’m concerned bout with Abarava is that he is terrified of ‘pourri pourri’ and won’t venture out at night along, so consequently we have boys in our laundry house from 6p.m. onwards, they are waiting for Abarava so they can escort him safely back to gaol. Abarava has worked for Qantas in Port Moresby, so I am lucky he has been trained; he makes a good job of John’s shirts and shorts.
How are you getting along, Ning? We look forward to your next letter. Perhaps you might like to come up here for Christmas? You would have fun trying to ‘knock-off’ a few crocs. Perhaps you could make your fortune as their skin sells for 5/- an inch up here. When we were over at Dedalli plantation last week, a big ten foot crocodile surfaced about 40 feet from the shore, the men shot at him but missed. Dedalli never keeps its dogs for long.

While Bill and Gordon are away we have the use of Bill’s wireless so we feel we are keeping in touch with things a little. It does get lonely here occasionally though we have always something to do. We both miss you all and will be pleased to see familiar faces again. I particularly miss our Sunday night teas.

I will say au revoir for now and send love to you all. How about writing!

With love,
Betty.

P.S. from John:
You will still have to wait for a letter, but one will be on the next mail. Betty is a much better correspondent than me and she lets you know what is going on. We are thriving on Liz’s cooking. She is pretty good by now. You will have competition when we come home. All is well here but we do miss you all and will be pleased to see you again.
John.

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Copy of a letter by Betty to John’s parents and brother Ian; the letter is dated 23rd June, 1953…one month after Betty and John’s marriage in Port Moresby and a week after arriving at Abau, a tiny island half-way between Port Moresby and Samarai.

c/- D.D.S.& N.A, ABAU, Papua. 23rd, June, 1953.

Dear Mum, Dad and Ning,

It is 3.30p.m. I have just said goodbye to the first of my dinner guests so I thought I would like to write and tell you about my first dinner party. Up until noon I was preparing dinner, a farewell feast, for A.D.O. Bill Driver, and C.P.O. Gordon Fleet, before they go out on a two to three week patrol tomorrow. Anyway at 12.00 noon, John rushed in to say, “Hey Bet, we’ve got three extra guests for dinner, the crew of the Tania launch have just arrived”; so after a deep breath, we got stuck into it and before long we had everything under control.

Fortunately we had plenty of fresh meat, incidentally, the first we have had since coming to Papua; we were given the meat last night from one of the plantations on the mainland. They promise we will always get fresh meat when they kill. Now, here is the menu of my first dinner party.

1. Pea soup with sippets
2. Fried steak and gravy with baked potatoes, onions and pumpkin; also boiled potatoes, green peas and carrots.
3. Strawberry jelly, peaches and cream.
4. Tea and beer.

Not bad, don’t you think? Luckily I had cooked ample so we didn’t have to do too much more and so it worked well with plenty of food for everybody though there wasn’t much left over. Bill, the A.D.O. was very surprised and that made me feel quite proud of myself. Everyone complemented me on the meal so we were both pleased. We also shared our first loaf of bread made on Monday; it was quite a success. Last night we made another two loaves and also some bread rolls. We had to borrow most of the cutlery and crockery, also chairs for our guests, but we will be set when our things arrive from Moresby. I’m beginning to think we have too much coming now and that it might have been wiser to leave the best things at home in Australia.

We have our little home. It has five rooms. Two bed-rooms, both with walls of glass windows overlooking the sea which is studded with little coconut covered islands…little jewels. We are right on top of a hill which rises a hundred feet straight up from the sea. The lounge and dining room is combined with the entire walls of the dining room and kitchen made of wooden louvers. I think it is very attractive. The bathroom is painted green and has a set-in bath and a sink, also, built-in cupboards which we use for the store-room…incidentally, the cupboards are quite full at the moment. Our kitchen is small with a wood stove and stainless steel sink…just like yours. Our refrigerator is a Silent Knight. The dining room suite is cedar and John says the bedroom suite is also cedar. We have two comfortable chairs, a book-shelf and a couple of small tables.

We have been given plenty of fresh fruit, lovely oranges, grapefruit and lemons, also bananas, crabs, peanuts, potatoes and pumpkin; you can imagine our Silent Knight is filled to capacity! I am enjoying doing the cooking immensely. I will try your ice-cream recipe and tell you how it turns out. We are having three-course meals at lunch time…soup, salad then sweets and at night time we have a hot meal and at breakfast iced fruit and a grill or fried bacon or egg.

We have a ready-made garden with hibiscus tress everywhere, also frangipani; as well we have zinnias, bachelor buttons and other tropical flowers and there are also paw paw, lemon and, of course, coconut trees. The back garden is terraced and there are steps leading down to the road to the office.

John will be in charge of the office while Bill and Gordon are away on patrol I will probably help him with typing etc., He has to do all the banking and postal work and attend to all native affairs on the island as well as operate a radio in contact with Port Moresby and supervise the building of a new gaol on the island. I have filled in some forms stating I am willing to be the Metrological Officer on the island. That means every day at 6a.m., 10a.m., 3p.m. and 6p.m. I give weather readings for Abau via radio to Port Moresby and also radio them any other relevant information they may require. My salary for doing this is $170 a year, not bad eh! In any case I hope that it will not be long before I can start doing this job.

We have a house-boy Oover. He is a prisoner, convicted of smashing a house to pieces, in consequence he has had all of his hair shaved off and is confined to the island, and to us, for three months. Just now, poor Oover is chopping wood; he does not speak much at all but he does have a smattering of English and once worked for a Sinabada in Port Moresby; he is certainly excellent at washing and ironing. Oover coves at 6a.m. each morning when he lights the fire for breakfast and he leaves when he has done the washing up at night. Being a prisoner we pay him nothing. I do all the cooking and most of the house-work while Oover does John’s washing and ironing for both of us.

We received our first mail from Australia last night; it was a letter from Daddy and your own letter. I was pleased to hear hour news and also that people liked the photos…the photo stepping out of the church is our favourite too.
I hope you will try to come up here for several months this year. Think about that.

Now, with love from us both.

Betty

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