Chapter 34


In Moresby I was offered a position in Kavieng as Treasury Clerk and accepted this. Betty was happy with this situation and we went to Kavieng, the main town on the tip of New Ireland, aboard the “Soochow”. From my point of view I had given up the job I really liked but would finish my term with the Administration and we were still like a couple of kids absorbed in each other.

The “Soochow”, a China Navigation Line vessel left Moresby and stopped off at Samarai for a short time. Samarai had the District Commissioner’s house on the top of a hill commanding the whole island and the gossip was that the District Commissioner’s wife could monitor what was happening on the island from this height. It was the administrative centre for the Milne Bay District. I think the ship then went straight through to Kavieng. Captain Taylor had us to dinner at the Captain’s table on this trip and would call in to see how we were managing on subsequent trips. I remember when the ship was berthing at the wharf, which was still being constructed, a life boat hit a protruding beam and ripped a hole in it’s side, very much to the annoyance of the Captain.

Kavieng is the administrative centre for the New Ireland District. New Ireland is 230 miles long with an average width of only ten miles. It is mountainous in the north and south but a gap in the mountains permits a road crossing the island from Namatani to Uluputur. The east coast road is one of the most beautiful drives in the Territory. Important off-lying islands are the Tabar group and New Hanover. Kavieng, at the North-Western tip of the island has a perfect all weather harbour, sheltered by a string of small islands such as Nusa and Nusalik that define the Steffen Straits and could accommodate the largest vessels in the world at that time. White coral beaches, palm fringed with crystal clear water explains why it has been called the jewel of the Pacific. From 1884 to 1914 Germany occupied the island and developed plantations for copra. These were taken over after World War I and officially acquired in 1921, chiefly by Australian ex-servicemen.

The Germans were hard taskmasters and good planners. The story goes that one of their Governors, Bolominski, would regularly check the East Coast road in his horse drawn sulky and if there was a rough or neglected patch the villagers responsible for the maintenance of that section had to pull the outfit in place of the horses.

Then the islands came under Australian administration until 23rd January, 1942 when the Japanese landed and took over until the end of the war in 1945 when the Administration took over once again. New Ireland had been heavily bombed by the Japanese, then more so by the allies since it was Japan’s No. 2 base in the Pacific.

We arrived in Kavieng in 1954. The house allocated to us was the Custom Officer’s house. He was going on leave and the night before our arrival had gone to sleep smoking and had set fire to the bed so there was a mess to be cleared up quickly before we could move in. The house was made of native materials; the floor about two foot off the ground was sawn hardwood, the walls and ceiling were of plaited strips of palm fronds made into panels and the roof was thatched palm leaves. There was a veranda on two sides enclosing the bed-room with the dining area and kitchen the other end as well as a spare room and bathroom. There was a wood stove and a ‘Pope’ kerosene refrigerator. The veranda was enclosed by dropping hinged panels of plaited palm. These were hinged at the top and propped open with a timber batten. Water was collected in a battery of 40 gallon drums along one side of the house and all were interconnected. The boy house was at the back and separated from the main house. In romantic terms it was a charming place and was positioned directly opposite the wharf. The furniture was basic.

Next door was the Regional Officer for Commonwealth Works Department. He had a new house and this backed on to the Kavieng Hospital which had been recently built. Further along the road was the District Office which was to be my work place for the year. This contained offices for the District Commissioner, District Officer, Patrol Officer, Senior Clerk and Treasury Clerk. There was a New Australian Doctor for the hospital and further down the road a Native Hospital with a European Medical Officer in charge. There was also a native doctor who had been trained in Fiji; he looked after health on the islands. The town centre consisted of a Chinatown, Kavieng Hotel, Kavieng Club and several trade stores as well as an apology for a nine hole golf course. Further on was the airport and the beginning of the East Coast road.

The island was basically coral and this coronous material was crushed and used for road construction, setting like concrete. There was a coral ridge from our house to the town and other houses were built along this ridge, mostly built in native materials like ours. You could still see the bomb craters each side of the road(s). We settled in quickly and soon made friends. There was Juanita, the daughter of the Regional Officer for Commonwealth Works Department and Sam and Phyllis Pearce who came from Brisbane. Sam was the Lands Department surveyor in the district. There was also Nick von Berky, a clerk with the Works Department, he was Hungarian and a very keen photographer.

Betty was asked to do secretarial work and became the District Commissioner’s secretary; she also took notes for two regional councils and was happy in these positions. We settled into a regular routine, work in the office, then after work we would go for walks…Chinatown was interesting though really just a collection of galvanised iron sheds which had survived the war; we would often stop for a drink at the Kavieng Club before returning home. We ended up with a house boy whose name was ‘Au’. I don’t know whether we found him, or he found us. He was a lanky, thin character who chewed betel nut but he kept the house and yard in order. In reality he was a rogue and we think indulged in a bit of pouri-pouri, black magic; but Au suited our needs. He could manage the pressure iron without blowing the house up or setting it on fire though he used an incredible number of matches. I’m sure these were not used for ironing but for his smoking. The papers we had from home, the Sunday Mail etc., did not go to waste here and were used for Au’s smokes. Here the Europeans smoked Capstan cigarettes in round tins of fifty cigarettes and the drinks were much the same as in Papua. Here in New Guinea we had gone from being Taubada and Sinabada to Master and Missus.

Soon after our arrival the District Commissioner and his wife took us for a Sunday afternoon drive down the East Coast road. It was fascinating…this coronous road winding through tropical forest, crossing creeks and by-passing villages on each side and the sea close by. There were plantations of coconut palms, swamps with sago palms, village gardens and this green canopy. Just out of town past the airport there was a limestone cave which was full of water and was used for the local water supply.

It was very apparent in the Territory that there were two classes of planters. One lot owned their plantations and the others managed the plantations. The New Ireland plantations were typical of those elsewhere, but had the advantage of road access to a centre and magnificent scenery

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