Anniversary of Battle of Milne Bay

This week is the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay.  Far less known to the average Aussie than Kokoda in the annals of our military history, it was a vitally important victory against the Japanese Forces.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

You can read what I wrote about it for last Remembrance Day, not long after we returned from visiting Milne Bay, as well as the memorial stained glass windows in the Catholic church.

This excellent link provides an interactive map of the battle field, and progress of the battle itself.

Facebook fans might be interested in liking the Milne Bay Memorial Library and Research Centre.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Sepia Saturday 162: “Marlon” on a bike

sepia saturday 2 Feb 13The highlight of this week’s Sepia Saturday image are the telegram boys on bicycles. This is a very apt theme for my family: my father rode his push bike to work every day, in hail rain or shine because we didn’t own a car. Mum and I also had bikes and we would sometimes go on family outings in the wider neighbourhood. I distinctly remember having to ride my bike down some of the scary roller-coaster-like hills in our suburb with my heart in my throat.

How frustrating then, that I have nary a photo of any of us on a push bike! Can you believe it? I can’t and will have to see if I can hunt one down (assuming there is one).

Mr Cassmob and his bike

So being lateral I had to find another picture which would serve. This photo of Mr Cassmob aka Marlon was taken in Alotau in Papua New Guinea, outside his parents’ new house, not too long after the government offices moved there from the island of Samarai. Mr Cassmob was studying long-distance and working on a coconut plantation about 30kms away, supervising the labourers. I’m sure they loved being under the jurisdiction of a teenager.

I ask you, which one is more handsome? Photo from Wikipedia.

I ask you, which one is more handsome? Photo from Wikipedia.

On the back of the photo which he sent me, he wrote “Love from Marlon. What no ‘pack’ behind fearless leader?” I think he was kidding himself on a number of counts:

  • Marlon? I think he was much better looking that Marlon Brando, though perhaps “smouldered” rather less
  • He’d been listening to the Shangri-La’s Leader of the Pack too many times
  • That his little Honda was in competition with the deadly rumble of a Harley Davison.

Milne Bay: Our Heritage Places Tour

One of our priority activities in Alotau was to hire a taxi driver to take us around the town to see our old familiar places. Eddie was educated as a health worker with a degree from the Divine Word University and his English was excellent (as well as probably being his third language) so we had a good chat along the way.

Before we start I should explain that in those pre-Independence days of the Australian administration of TPNG, the government issued specific houses to its employees, based partly on status, and partly on need. They also had full authority to move employees to wherever they were required –not unlike being in the military I suppose – so you could find yourself relocated with minimal notice….or rumours spread that you were leaving when you weren’t, come to that.

 FAMILIAR PLACES & MEMORIES

 Up Red Hill

 The main street up to Top Town, as it’s now known, is now called Tawara Hill Rd. Once upon a time it was unsealed, red clay through which your car or motor bike slipped and slid during the wet season. It was a killer-hill, very steep, so no surprise we didn’t walk it even though we had no car in those days.

 House #1: Top Town, Dalai Heights Rd, western end

The old Cass home in Top Town.

We were invited into the garden of my parents-in-law’s former house where they lived when Alotau first became the district headquarters in 1968. The story goes that my father-in-law, as District Superintendent for Education, stood on the deck of the Education Department trawler (the Kamonai) as it stood offshore, and selected their house block for its scenic outlook. Its proximity to the primary school at Red Hill where my mother-in-law taught was no coincidence either. Colonial days!

You can glimpse the mountains at the rear of the house. Sadly the hibiscus plants are no more.

The house is no longer the last in the street, but it was a thrill to see it once again. I remembered the covert disputes I used to have with Kaye’s haus boi, Jimmy, who insisted the heating pad for the slow combustion stove should be put up on the hooks while I’d been taught by my aunt that it needed to be down on the hot plates. A more experienced sinebada would have known better than get into a silly argument like that with long-term house staff. Every day Jimmy would bring one of Kaye’s beautiful hibiscus (some imported from Hawaii) into the house where they were placed in an upside-down fish pond thingy. They only lasted the day but were quite spectacular.

Thank you Vincent for your kindness and openness in letting two complete strangers come into your yard. He probably thought we were quite mad when Mr Cassmob mused on how his father had the driveway built at a particular angle, or the drainage he’d also had constructed. I, on the other hand, visualised the photo of my future-husband sitting in the open area beneath the house getting ready for his day’s work at Gili Gili Plantation.

 House #2, Top Town (Dalai Heights Rd, eastern end)

Not much to show of Cass house #2. In fact it looks like the remains of an Irish wall.

This one nearly stumped us as we hadn’t lived in it for more than a couple of months. Unfortunately it was largely obscured by the curved driveway lined with plants. We remember it for those mornings when we’d wake up to butterfly devastation by our cat Tabitha who was a balletic leap-er, who would then shred her catch, and the in-laws’ dachshund, Tinka, who loved nothing better than shredding a box of tissues. You can imagine the chaos on the floor.

Not to mention chopping wood for the slow combustion stove, and hence hot water for washing etc, while violently morning sick and observed worriedly by both cat and dog!

This house is also famous for the kerosene lamp which exploded early on New Year’s Eve morning, when I was many months pregnant. Mr Cassmob woke to a sea of glass and flames across the lounge room floor and eventually found me in the kitchen starkers as my nylon nightie had partially caught fire. One local responses: from the Agriculture man “Someone’s shot his wife”; another “why is Pauleen running down the street?” Short answer – to the health worker!

Masurina Lodge, Middle Town

Masurina Lodge, now owned by the Abel family but formerly a guest house started by Glyn Wort.

Once I’d seen the map of Alotau and its Middle Town area, I suspected that Masurina Lodge was formerly the Glyn Wort guesthouse where I’d worked briefly. Sure enough when we rocked up to reception and enquired, one of the staff was able to confirm my guess. Now much bigger and flasher it was weird to remember how each morning the cook would bring us fresh cake for our tea-break. Just as well that job came to an end quite quickly or I’d have quickly lost my then-thin appearance.

 House #3, Middle Town, Bagita St

The view over Sandersons Bay from opposite Cass house #3.

This was the house to which we were moved with a small baby, our final house in Alotau. We were a little miffed because it had limited under-house space where I could hang the baby’s nappies…rather important in the wet season when there was no such thing as dryers.  On the flip side it had a fantastic view over Sandersons Bay and Milne Bay in general, so swings and roundabouts.

We were living here when the government told us we were to move to Goroka. In the family folk lore this came about because the District Superintendent for Education in Goroka wanted a new district clerk (Mr Cassmob) while the DS in Lae decided he wanted a new executive chair more! On such whims are our lives changed <smile>.

Sandersons Bay in the early 1970s.

When we pulled up outside this house, with its little sales stall of drinks and betel nut/buai, we were amazed to be welcomed by the whole family who lived there. Astonishingly they had taken over the house only a couple of months after we left for Goroka (from whence they had come). The house had been their home ever since. When we left the house in a mad rush, having had only a week to get packing crates made and our belongings packed up and ourselves out of there, we’d made arrangements for our cat to be adopted by friends at the high school and her kittens to be also shared out. For 40 years I’ve worried whether that happened and whether the high school kids contracted to clean the house had done so.  Unless the family was sparing our feelings it seems my fears have been unfounded so it’s a concern I can now lay to rest.

We were all quite blown away by this coincidence and had a long chat with the extended family. One brother had also met Mr Cassmob’s brother briefly from when he’d visited while working on a short-term consultancy with the Eastern Star newspaper.  I have a great photo of us with the family but I won’t publish it here as I don’t have their permission. Thanks Jessie and family for greeting us so warmly!

 Cameron Club

The Cameron Club promoting everyone’s favourite tipple.

It was hot and we were tired so we only had a quick visit into the Cameron Club. Situated right on the Bay it was the setting for some fierce squash matches as well as our Friday night movie venue. With only 18 hour power we would finish the movies, jump into someone’s ute, race up Red Hill and switch on the kettle for coffee and light the kerosene lamp before the power went off at midnight.

 The Movie Theatre, the Government Offices and the Shops

Alotau’s main shopping street only held 4 trade stores in the old days: Chan’s, Cheong’s, Denis Young’s and ??

We suspect there’s an arsonist at work in Alotau as several large and important buildings have burnt down.  The Government Offices, opened in late 1970, burnt down a few years ago so there’s now a vacant block where they once stood.

Similarly the “new” movie theatre built by a man called Geoff Masters also burnt down…something of a mystery since we remember it as being besser block. It was built during 1970 and we remembered going to a “Ball” there as well as Mass every Sunday, the latter being interesting as the floor would be covered in buai spit from the movies the night before. Betel nut or buai is a popular habit, sort of like tobacco chewing,generally not appealing to Western eyes. When spat out it looks like blood on the ground. The movie theatre was eventually replaced by the new Catholic church, with the stained glass windows I posted about the other day. It wasn’t completed until either late 1971 or early 1972 after we’d left, but we reckon we might own one of the bricks <grin>.

The shopping precinct in those early days of Alotau comprised four trade stores – sort of like an old-time general store. It’s bigger these days but still restrictive in what’s available.

An early 1970s aerial view of Alotau with the approximate location of our houses marked.

Milne Bay: The People and Old and New Friends

In Moresby our big adventure is ahead of us and we’re as excited as two-year olds (thanks for the photo Jan!)

Yesterday I spoke about our return to Milne Bay after 41 years. Today I wanted to share some of our personal highlights, and the ensuing memories, with you.

Like two excited two-year olds we waited for the plane to take us back to Milne Bay. Despite a flight delay, the excitement and memories didn’t abate as we landed at the much-improved Gurney airport with its formal building – so very different from the bush materials place we knew “before”.  Initially I’m going to tell you about the people we met and later about the places, so hop on to share our journey.

The Festival dances and canoe races will feature on Flickr or Tropical Territory when I get them organised.

THE PEOPLE

The old familiar, gentle handshake of Papua New Guinea, shared by almost everyone you meet along with an exchange of names.

I love this image of the young boy enthralled by his cultural heritage.

Where else could you walk safely down the street at 6.15 in the morning and have every single person say “hello” and “how are you?”

 Where the taxi drivers introduce themselves, even on a short trip, and on learning that you had once lived in their town take a real interest in who/how/when/where/why.

Where the lodge staff quickly learn your name and are ever friendly and courteous even though incredibly busy with the festival.

Where an accidental interpersonal collision (due to me being preoccupied looking at something) results in a “sorry aunty”.

Where the local people will make sure you get a good view for your photo or tell you about the dance group, and really care that you’re having a good time.

Who wouldn’t love Milne Bay?

Where you can have an extended chat with a carver from a distant island who has come to town to sell his hand-carved artworks…a man who is a mechanic in another part of his life.

Where the churches are packed on Sundays with those educated by missionaries of various denominations.

Where people willingly invite you into their homes and gardens when they know you used to live in their house.

Milne Bay is the answer to all these questions. Very different from PNG’s well-deserved reputation in other centres, Milne Bay people remain as friendly and courteous as they have always been. We never once felt even slightly unsafe.

Milne Bay: where tradition meets the 21st century and everyone enjoys the spectacle.

But there were also a couple of positive interchanges in Moresby apart from those tremendously welcoming hotel staff:

Where the “meet and greet” man for the fancy hotel launches into Pidgin when he knows you once lived in Goroka and treats you like a wantok (relative), introducing you as such to the security guard on the gate at the international terminal.

Mr Cassmob silencing the hotel bus (including an airline pilot) with some comment about flying on a QANTAS Empire Airways Sandringham flying boat in the 1950s.

 OLD FRIENDS-NEW FRIENDS

In Alotau we stayed in a place called Napatana Lodge and one of its strengths was its staff while the other was the opportunity to make new friends in the open bar/dining area/informal lounge.

A vibrant and enjoyable Friday night social dinner at Napatana Lodge in Alotau.

We had barely arrived when we headed to the lounge for a cold drink and some lunch. Another couple were already there and greeted us. Further enquiries revealed that John and Judith had not long arrived, but also that Judith and Peter had known each other as children on Samarai where her father had been the District Commissioner! How amazing and what great exchange of stories and memories took place. A highlight of our holiday!

A contemplative cat in the sunshine in the haus wind guest lounge.

Not to mention that we all had a great fondness for cats so we seemed to constantly have one or other of the Lodge’s kittens on our laps. If Judith was here she’d tell you how evil Nanna took the tuna dish from one VBK (very bad kitten). I still maintain it would have exploded if it kept eating, Judith <grin>

Thanks to Judith’s discussions with one of the Lodge cooks, Diana, we learned about another family connection. Diana comes from an island called Logeia off Samarai. She remembered that when she was seven, Mr Cass (THE Mr Cass, not Mr Peter Cass as he used to be known) had come to the island to do a formal inspection of her mother’s teaching. Les had a pretty formidable reputation so this seems to be why it stuck in her mind. Diana and the kitchen and bar team also set out a wonderful spread for dinner each night, including beautiful floral and fruit arrangements. The atmosphere at the Lodge was just so companionable.

Hours of work to create a tropical ambience with frangipani and palm fronds.

The connection with Diana also led to calls to Samarai where we met two men who had been in my brother-in-law’s class and taught by Peter’s mother. Mr Cassmob also met another of the guests who he’d last known through work in Goroka: truly it can be a small world.

We also met other sets of people from a variety of places and heard about their travels and where they’d visited: all very interesting with fascinating stories (Hello to Kim and Lyn, Andrew, Ian and Anne,and Phil). Because we were attending the Festival and most of us were photoholics, we kept tripping over each other either at the Festival site or at the Alotau International Hotel where we’d migrate for a cold beverage, lunch, and a rest-room break during the day, because it was the closest venue.

There were a number of chilly South Pacific export beers enjoyed over the hot days of the festival.

Jeff took us on our boat trip to Samarai and he and Mr Cassmob had much to talk about as both had lived there around the same time (including reminiscing about picking up fresh loaves of bread and picking out the centres).

As we walked around the small island we met others who wanted to know why we were there and what we remembered of the place. My memory was sketchy as I’d only had a couple of brief visits years ago but of course it was like an old movie for Peter. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the family’s house no longer survives, but we were able to admire the wonderful view they’d had to the government wharf and over the water to Logeia. We knew that the island was a shadow of its former self when it was a thriving government and shipping hub so were not shocked by the ghost-town aspects of some areas.

Mr & Mrs Cassmob (aka Pink Hat Lady) enjoying every minute of their return to PNG…and (mostly) avoiding sunburn.

One of the aspects of Milne Bay which we noticed is that it is no longer one homogenous ethnic group. Workers have come in who were born in other provinces, and some have married Milne Bay people.

You have probably gathered just how much we loved being back in this wonderful place, and how much the people added to that enjoyment.

I’d love to include images of the friends we made but without permission to publish I haven’t added them here.

Return to Milne Bay

Seven days in Papua New Guinea (PNG), seven days home in Australia. A short enough time you would think, but somehow our world has shifted ever so slightly on its axis. It seems that we have been reinfected with the PNG virus. Our normal life seems vaguely strange as we try to reacclimatise to all our normal activities. Thank heavens for family and grandchildren to ground us back here.

We landed at Jacksons Airport in Port Moresby on 31 October, 34 years and 2 months after we last flew out in a Boeing 747 Jumbo “going finish” (left permanently) to Australia. For me it was the end of 8½ years of a challenging discovery of another world vastly different from my pre-marriage life in suburban Brisbane. For Mr Cassmob he was leaving his home, probably forever. He was an emigrant as surely as our ancestors were when they left their home countries for the new world.

Mr Cassmob returns to PNG 34 years after going finish.

A book I’ve been re-reading called Territory Kids (author Genevieve Rogers) highlights that for children who grew up in the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea, their exotic life was the norm. They had not previously been acculturated to Australian life as their parents (or spouses!) had. For ten years Mr Cassmob had lived the life of a dual citizen, much of the year spent having a “civilised” Australian experience in school or university, then returning to his life on a frontier once or twice a year. He had built up some emotional calluses to protect the constant transitions. It was me who burst into tears one day in Mass in 1978 when the organ sounded briefly like the sound of kundus (drums).

When we planned this return-to-PNG trip we had considered that so much might have changed we’d be disappointed or disillusioned. Returning to a much-loved place can be an emotional hazard. What we hadn’t bargained on was that we might settle back so quickly into our relationship with it, and be in thrall to its charms.

Overlooking Jacksons Airport from our hotel: the plane is a feature.

Jacksons Airport had changed yet much remained familiar, not least the overlooking outline of Hombrum’s Bluff, part of the Owen Stanley Range. There were new terminals and new aircraft on the apron including far more helicopters than we used to see –presumably used in part by the mining companies. We had chosen to only overnight in Moresby –its reputation has never been good but it is now violently unsafe. It seemed easier not to navigate that issue –we’d lived there for four years so we knew it well and didn’t feel the immediate need to return.

It was while lolling in the pool at the very flash, very expensive, but critically, very safe, hotel that we made our first friends of the trip, Keith and Jan from England. This was their second trip to PNG and they’ve had some amazing adventures which you can read about on their blog, Claremont Globetrotters.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

The main focus of our trip was to revisit Alotau in Milne Bay on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Mr Cassmob regards this area as his “place”: that defining environment in which we grow up. For me it was to be a trip of rediscovery, 41 years after leaving the Bay, despatched by the government to live and work in the Highlands.

Not the bush material hut that we once knew.

I thought I’d been so overwhelmed by the vast differences between Brisbane and Alotau in my 18 months there (not to mention being uprooted from friends and family) that I hadn’t remembered Milne Bay well.

To my surprise I found I was quite wrong. There were things I hadn’t remembered, such as the mountains visible at the back of my parents-in-law’s house, but then that was easily explained by the fact that it had been the Wet Season when we lived there and the cloud descended so you couldn’t always see the clothes line, let alone the mountains! And yet, so much looked and felt familiar: the essence of the place was still there, in situ and in my memory.

Napatana Lodge, Alotau.

Milne Bay people have a tradition of friendliness and courtesy and we were delighted to find that hadn’t changed at all: everywhere we went we were greeted by those we passed, taxi drivers chatted and told us of their families and their own stories and happily we met people with connections to our past.

We had scheduled our trip to coincide with the National Kenu and Kundu (canoe and drum) Festival and perhaps that helped make for a more welcoming atmosphere but I think what we saw was the people’s traditional courtesy.

Of course we had to have a souvenir of the Festival.

When we lived in Alotau, in those pre-self-government, colonial days, there were about 100 expatriates and 1000 local people. It was a newly formed town built for the administration of the district when Samarai became too small.

Alotau and the surrounding area has grown a great deal and there’s now 10,000 people living there. We remained a very small minority of white faces amidst the brown and one of the things I especially liked about the festival was that the Papua New Guineans enjoyed the dancing, canoe racing and other festivities as much, if not more, than the visitors.  It felt like a festival for them, to which we’d had the privilege of being invited.

From a commercial point of view, more expatriate visitors would no doubt be welcome, but hopefully that will not change the engagement of the local people. In 2013 they will celebrate the 10th festival and a cruise ship is scheduled to arrive to coincide with it, I only hope that the voyagers recognise what a privilege it is to share in these traditional activities.

Coming up: Sights, sounds, memories and more.

I’ll probably post more of my photos on Flickr than I will here but I’ll let you know when that happens –some sorting and prioritising to be done.

Lest We Forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

As you know we’ve just returned from Papua New Guinea, and in particular Milne Bay where we spent most of our time. We had lived there for a couple of years after our marriage but Mr Cassmob had also spent his teenage years in the district, when home from boarding school, and he regards it as his “place”.

It always shocks me how little known Milne Bay is within the history of World War II, while Kokoda gains a much higher profile. Despite contradictory stories, it was in the Battle of Milne Bay that the Japanese suffered their first land defeat, proving they were not invincible. Following the rapid domino effect of their overthrow of the Asian countries such as Singapore, this battle gave hope that their forces could be defeated. While there is now no indication that the Japanese forces intended to invade Australia, there’s little doubt that an enemy force ensconced in Papua or New Guinea would have been cause for grave concern and fears for Australia’s security. This year has been the 70th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Milne Bay was a relatively short but difficult campaign exacerbated by challenging terrain, heat and the hazards of malaria. It raged up and down the northern coastline of Milne Bay exactly where we were visiting last week and where we had lived in the 70s. The major air base was on Gili Gili Plantation where my husband worked briefly in the late 60s (see the story of his discovery of a wartime artefact here).

Rather than give you chapter and verse I’m going to show you the images of the War Memorial near Alotau and also the information plaques which tell the story of the battle. You might also be interested in the images on my Tropical Territory blog which show the stained glass windows in the Catholic Church in Alotau, honouring those lost in the battle.

The map shows the range of the battlegrounds. Alotau, the provincial headquarters, where we’ve just been, is slightly to the left of the arrow.

The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 70 years ago.

The Australians gained great support from the local people who risked much to help them.

Lest we forget

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II. The memorial includes the names of Cpl French VC and my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin.

P presents Popondetta, Port Moresby and Peel Island

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we have a guest post from Mr Cassmob on Popondetta, a place I’ve never visited. I divert into a sort of pathetic poetry on Port Moresby, and tell of tragedy on Peel Island.

P is for POPONDETTA (Papua New Guinea)

Mr Cassmob as a small boy with his Dad and big sister in Popondetta outside house #2. © Les Cass 1954.

This guest post is brought to you by Mr Cassmob who lived in Popondetta as a small boy.

Popondetta, capital of the Oro Province of Paua New Guinea, sits on the north Papuan plains, between Buna and Gona on the coast and Kokoda in the mountains; the area was the scene of vicious fighting when the Japanese invaded in the Second World War. In 1953, when Mr Cassmob’s parents, both teachers, arrived with their two small children, Popondetta was a very small town being established as the new administrative headquarters of the Northern District. Nearby Mt Lamington had erupted in January 1951, killing about 5,000 people and destroying the previous township at Higaturu.

Our first house in Popondetta had a coconut frond thatched roof, woven pit-pit (local cane/grass) walls and split bamboo floor, shutters, palm rats and a carpet snake in the rafters, and a long-drop toilet or thunder-box outside the back door. We thought we were the bee’s knees when we moved into our third house, a brand-new wooden high-set with louvres, internal doors, and an inside flush toilet attached to a septic tank. On the concrete slab under the house – very much our outdoor living area – Mum and Dad installed a cane-furniture bar complete with illuminated sign that said “Cass Bar”. For those who remember 1950s movies about Morocco, they greatly enjoyed saying ”Come wiz me to ze Cass Bar”.

School children, Northern District c1954 © Les Cass. Mould is what you get on your slides in the tropics!

I have happy memories of three years in Popondetta. It was, quite clearly, a colonial experience, but children could go anywhere in town, spending all day at the pool until dark drove us home; seeing flying foxes in columns half a kilometre wide and stretching from horizon to horizon pouring out of the jungle at dusk; checking Mt Lamington every morning to see if it was still smoking – if not, it might be trouble! Officially starting school flowed naturally from home because our mother was our teacher. The air link to Port Moresby (no roads) was through the Kokoda Gap in the Owen Stanley Ranges in a war-service Avro Anson flown by Papuan Air Transport. The Dutch pilot completed his flight preparations by walking out onto the tarmac, squinting at the clouds over the ranges and saying “Looks OK. We’ll have a go.”

I was saddened this morning to look at Popondetta on Google and see reports of raskol gangs, gambling, cyclone damage – in short, a town in collapse with no great reason for anyone to go there. Here are some recent insights into Popondetta life these days: Stranded in Popondetta and  SteveinPNG (unbelievable prices for betel nut).

P is for PORT MORESBY (PNG)

Poetry isn’t normally my thing, but for a change of pace I thought I’d present my impressions of (Port) Moresby in a different way.

At Jacksons Airport, Mr Cassmob's parents leave PNG after 23 years service (called "going finish") © P Cass 1976.


MEMORIES OF MORESBY

Bereft of family and friends

arriving at Jacksons Airport

humid heat slams like a truck

ground staff in lap-laps

a sea of different faces.

Betel nut sellers Port Moresby © P Cass 1974.

People sit around town

lime bags at their feet

mixed with betel nut to chew

mouths turn bright red with

blood-red globs of spit.

Catholic Cathedral near Ela Beach, Port Moresby. © P Cass 1975

Cathedral with indigenous art

becomes my refuge

a bastion of familiarity

flee, fly to Alotau and

our new home.

Returning to Moresby years later

we learn its other faces

children, jobs, a different life

Family and friends sit on the fence, Variarata. © P Cass 1975.

new friends, old friends

Gerehu greetings.

Ela Beach swimming, picnics

take the dog, leave the cat

adventures at Variarata

family photos on a fence.

At Christmas in Moresby

Santa arrives by plane or fire engine

Gerehuligans gather together,

a new tradition.

The Prince and the Bishop at a loss for words.on Independence. © P Cass 1975.

Independence for PNG arrives at last

watch the visitors, princes and chiefs

lower the old flag, raise the new,

commemorate our contribution

celebrate the start of a new country.

P is for PEEL ISLAND (Queensland)

It is late 1876 and a husband, his young wife and infant child set forth on the 869 ton Woodlark for the long voyage to Queensland. He is bred to the sea, but she is not. The voyage passes uneventfully thanks to the care and attention paid to the emigrants, and the cleanliness of their persons, berths and clothes[i]. The ship’s arrival in Moreton Bay is announced by the newspapers in January 1877. Among the 295 immigrants on board is a suspected case of enteric fever, also known as typhoid fever.  The ship is not granted pratique and the immigrants and other passengers are detained while those who are ill are placed in quarantine.

After a week most of the passengers were brought up to Brisbane but the case of a young woman remained doubtful. Six weeks later the young woman dies on Peel Island, in quarantine, but not of an infectious illness. The question has to be asked whether if she had been brought into the hospital she might have survived. There is some consolation in knowing her husband was with her throughout but her younger brother had probably been sent ashore previously. How did they write to tell her father the terrible news of his daughter’s death?

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin was barely 22 years old and she was my great-grandfather’s first wife.

For today’s A to Z challenge link, why not pop over to Stephen Tremp’s intriguing posts on astrological matters or Like a bump on a blog on blogging tips.

A feisty blog from someone living in PNG now is A Goddess in the Jungle, interesting insights into today’s expat lifestyle.


[i] Letter to the Editor, The Brisbane Courier, 25 January 1877, page 3.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories – 21st December 2011 –Christmas Music

What songs did your family listen to during Christmas? Did you ever go carolling? Did you have a favourite song?

One of our first Christmas albums as a couple.

The Christmas carols I remember most from my childhood were Adeste Fidelis and Silent Night. Then when I got a small record player in my high school years we bought a new Christmas LP and on it was Oh Tannenbaum, the German carol which gave me a chance to practice the German I was learning at school.

On our first Christmas together my husband and I bought an LP by Nana Mouskouri and on that was the song, the Little Drummer Boy. I’d never heard it before and it’s become one of my favourites ever since along with Mary’s Boy Child as sung by Boney M (Mr Cassmob used to love it by Harry Belafonte but we didn’t have the music though his rendition is superb). In our house at Christmas time rocking Xmas songs by Neil Diamond are interspersed with Christmas Carols by the Oxford Boys Choir and Joy to the World or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

As a child in Brisbane the only carols I remember singing were in church over Christmas and I have no recollection of anyone going carolling. I was a bit surprised to discover when reading some old diaries recently that the Uniting Church people used to go carolling in our neighbourhood of Gerehu in Port Moresby…I had completely forgotten this. When we returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea our family used to go to carols by candlelight every year including when our youngest was just a tiny baby. We did this every year for about 20 years, without fail, until the television channel which hosted it turned it into a commercial farce. After that we settled for watching Australia’s iconic carols from Melbourne on Christmas Eve, often while wrapping presents.

At the church our own family used to go to in Brisbane, the band would play sedately throughout midnight Mass then as the Mass ended they would launch into full scale, full noise versions of carols and Christmas songs. Very exuberant and joyful and full of the Christmas spirit –put a smile on everyone’s face!

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 46: Politics not one of my favourite things

The topic for Week 46 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Politics. What are your childhood memories of politics? Were your parents active in politics? What political events and elections do you remember from your youth?

If I was to go all Julie Andrews in Sound of Music, politics would not be one of my favourite things in the world.

I have few childhood memories of politics until towards the end of my primary school years when reading the newspaper became part of our school homework. I think family listening to the news was restricted because of my father’s shift-work hours and sleeping patterns. I’m sure my parents listened when he was up and about…Dad was devoted to his “tranny” (transistor radio) as he always called it and in his old age would listen to the hourly news bulletins. Politics was not really discussed at home all that much when I was a child, at least that I recall.

Union politics and work matters were more likely to feature in the daily discussions as Dad was always an active union member, not always agreeing with the majority rank-and-file, and outspoken in his views. It’s only recently through Trove, that I’ve learned of my maternal grandfather’s political involvement: he was a union official and also had an official role with the Australian Labor Party(ALP), (not to mention the Hibernian Society). Given the presence of a declaration re the Irish constitution among his belongings it seems he also maintained a close interest in Irish political happenings, despite leaving the country as a two-year old. Neither of my parents was active in political affairs generally.

Particular memories of political events which have stayed with me are the election of John F Kennedy as the President of the United States of America which was a landmark event for Catholics across the globe. His assassination was consequently all the more shocking, and I remember my mother coming to wake me up that morning to tell me the President had been killed. Somehow it’s linked in my mind with being woken up a couple of years later to be told my beloved grandfather had died overnight.

I also remember the visit of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) to Brisbane and the cries of “All the way with LBJ”. The significance of the first visit of an American President to Australia was huge at the time and he was received by enthusiastic supporters. An interesting contrast with this week’s visit to Darwin by President Barack Obama when roads were closed and the general public had very little opportunity to see him – except on TV. The Defence Force members who heard his short speech and had a meet-and-greet with him seemed very keen to shake his hand and say hello (or g’day). He also won hearts among the survivors of the Bombing of Darwin who met him.

Other political “events” I remember are:

  1. The response of church leaders and teachers to the Communist Chinese threat in the 1950s, complete with gory details taught to five year olds.
  2. The establishment of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) with its anti-Communist, pro-Catholic aims and the break-away impact on the Australian Labor Party.
  3. The conservative governments in Queensland and Australia which were in power through much of my youth and into my adulthood.
  4. The all-pervasiveness of Prime Minister Robert Menzies and later Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland.
  5. The disappearance/drowning of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967 with all its attendant conspiracy theories. Prime Minister John Gorton, a war hero with a mashed-up face.
  6. The right-to-march and anti-Vietnam-involvement protests at The University of Queensland in the 1960s and almost-daily speeches in the Forum outside the refectory. Brian Laver was the charismatic left wing speaker and Bob Katter, leader of the recently formed Australia Party, was then (from my memory) head of the student union. This story by a friend I knew at uni, reveals some of the issues of the time..in fact I should have just put a link to this story against week 46, and left it at that!
  7. The election of an ALP federal government in 1972 and the rise of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, free university education, withdrawal from Vietnam etc, and later, his dismissal by the Governor General.
  8. The evacuation from Saigon in 1975 sticks in my mind as we were in New Zealand on holidays with our kids, watching the helicopters lift people out of the American embassy.
  9. Most importantly for my own family, self-government for Papua New Guinea in 1973, and Independence in 1975. My story about Independence is here.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.