Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 20 Papua New Guinea

4 x 7UP collage

Imagine if you will a country with spectacular, awe-inspiring scenery from fierce mountain ranges clothed in almost impenetrable jungle to deep aquamarine seas with an abundance of tropical fish.

Highlands children on a pit-pit fence near Lufa, Eastern Highlands, PNG © P Cass 1972

Highlands children on a pit-pit fence near Lufa, Eastern Highlands, PNG © P Cass 1972

Imagine a country with hundreds of tribal groups, languages and specific cultures. Imagine the potential for clashes between those tribal groups, the payback[i] and potential for inter-clan fighting, and the translation of traditional sorcery into the recent horrors of witch-burning.

The Asaro Mudmen at the Goroka Show. © Pauleen Cass 1972

The Asaro Mudmen at the Goroka Show. © Pauleen Cass 1972

Imagine the variety of costumes and sounds when thousands of warriors come together from diverse places for a sing-sing, or music and dance. Where even other clans and tribal groups look on astonished at what they’re seeing. This can either be in a traditional environment or replicated from traditional practices into a form of performance for visitors eg the Goroka Show or the Kenu and Kundu Festival which we recently visited.

Wahgi warriors at the Goroka Show © P Cass 1972

Wahgi warriors at the Goroka Show © P Cass 1972

I think this was 1973. The showground was a tad muddy, as you can see. © Pauleen Cass 1972

I think this was 1973. The showground was a tad muddy, as you can see. © Pauleen Cass 1972

This truly unique place is Papua New Guinea, venue of A Million Different Journeys. When I moved there only weeks after my marriage it was still the Territory of Papua New Guinea, under the jurisdiction and administration of the Australian government.

What an amazing experience, so incredibly different from suburban Australia, and where sights and sounds are like nothing ever before experienced. For close to a decade, this country was home. For my husband it will always be home as apart from his earliest years, and school absences, this was his place which very much shaped who he is and how he sees the world.

Memories of coastal villages, mountains and mountain valleys and passes, semi-naked people dressed in elaborate costumes. The unique smell of pig-grease spread on the skin to keep out the cold, blended with smoke from a chimney-less hut. Women loaded down with kau-kau[ii] in their bilums[iii]. The blood-red stain of buai spit on the ground. The sounds of the kundu and the ululation of chanting during a sing-sing.

Milne Bay women at the 2012 Kenu and Kundu festival. © Pauleen Cass 2012

Milne Bay women at the 2012 Kenu and Kundu festival. © Pauleen Cass 2012

I feel very privileged to have lived in PNG and come to love it. In my heart it’s like a good friend who I’ve lost contact with, and from whom I’ve grown apart, but is treasured for how it shaped my view of the world, and myself, turning me into a very different person from the one I’d have been if I had stayed in Australia. I’m privileged too that it’s enabled me to understand my husband’s formative years.

Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge


[i] The practice of exacting punishment from another person or clan, for injury to the pigs or people of another clan or village.  Punishment may be exacted by payment of fines or by physical violence.

[ii] Kau-kau is the Tok Pisin name for sweet potato.

[iii] A bilum is a string bag worn by women with the strap over the head, and carrying the load (or the baby) leaning against their back.

Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 14 Young Love

4 x 7UP collageI just had to rejig my sequence of photos so I could accommodate Valentine’s Day!

In the 60s and 70s, Valentine’s Day was a non-event in Australia but as a devoted reader of Seventeen magazine from the USA I’d caught the “love bug”! Of course having titled this post “Young Love” I also had Cliff Richard on my mind –ironically our children are even greater fans of his movie, Summer Holiday. Who knows why?!

Wasn't he cute?

Wasn’t he cute?

Mr Cassmob and I met during my first year at Uni, and after that for various reasons we spent long blocks of time apart. Having distracted each other enough to need to repeat part of Year 1 at Uni, he returned to TPNG to supervise the labour line at Gili Gili Plantation. As I said previously I’m sure they loved being under the supervision of a teenager.

During his year back in PNG and sometime after his family relocated to Alotau, the new district headquarters, Mr Cassmob sent me the featured collage photo. I’m sure you can see why it promptly became one of my treasured items.

Photo of Mr Cassmob's family home in Alotau taken from much the same place as the old one. P Cass 2012

Photo of Mr Cassmob’s family home in Alotau taken from much the same place as the old one. P Cass 2012

Hearts and flowersI also couldn’t resist the self-indulgence of including this photo of us out to dinner at a theatre restaurant (remember when they were in vogue) in our “courting” days. We’d planned to go a couple of years earlier but we did eventually make it there. Haven’t a clue what the theatre aspect was, or indeed the food, but obviously the company was worth it <wink>. Were we young, or what?!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mr Cassmob!

Out to dinner.

Out to dinner.

Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

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.

Home again

In case you’ve been wondering why my responses to comments have been a bit slow lately it’s because we’ve been having a great adventure: our first return to Papua New Guinea since we left in August 1978.

We had an absolutely fantastic time and met lots of people including some who knew Mr Cassmob’s parents or his brother and one lady who he knew on Samarai.

We spent most of our time in Alotau in the Milne Bay Province which I wrote about back in the alphabet series in April here. It was such fun we’re wondering why we haven’t been back before.

I’ll be sharing some of the stories and photos soon on this blog or on Tropical Territory 

but for now I just wanted to say I’m back in Darwin and looking forward to catching up on other people’s blog writing from the past couple of weeks.

Talk soon.

Pauleen

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

 Let me explain my plan for the A-Z blogging theme for April. Given that family history is my focus generally, there are a number of paths I could have taken. I’ve opted to use each letter to highlight a place/places of some ancestral significance. Hopefully they’ll also be interesting from a travel point of view. I’ll try to keep them relatively short on words (good luck with that!), and where possible, illustrate them with photos. Where I’m defeated by a particular letter (eg X), I may write about a place I’ve visited. (X still has me stumped). I’m already behind the eight ball having just learned about the challenge so I’ll do two tomorrow to catch up.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne.

Ardkinglas is an estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. Technically Argyll is in the Highlands but very close, by sea, to the metropolis of Glasgow. In this way eastern Argyll bridged the cultural divide with the Lowlands as in the mid-19th century more and more Scots found their way to Glasgow to look for work as their traditional rural roles disappeared. My McCorkindale ancestors lived on the Ardkinglas estate for many years as evidenced by the census returns. However don’t begin to imagine my family offers a re-run of Monarch of the Glen, despite its physical similarity. Unfortunately my family, like most other Scottish emigrants, were labourers or workmen on the estate, not the laird.

The sixpenny gatehouse for Ardkinglas estate.

Not only that, the current “pile” is not the one that James McCorkindale knew when he worked as a sawyer on the estate in his younger years. As he aged he seems to have become more of a general labourer and in old age, the census reports him living in the sixpenny gate house at the entrance to the estate. Ardkinglas offers one of Scotland’s beautiful gardens with magnificent conifers from around the world and a fantastic array of Rhododendrons. It’s a delight to wander around even in chilly weather but absolutely gorgeous in spring. My husband has just learned to his peril that they now have accommodation available in the old butler’s quarters….he’s so in trouble now.

Alotau is the headquarters, albeit a small town, in the Milne Bay district of Papua New Guinea. It’s family history links are modern rather than historic, with three generations of our family having lived there. You can read about my in-laws’ contributions to Papua New Guinea here and here.

When I went to Alotau as a young bride it had only recently taken over the role of district headquarters from the island settlement of Samarai, another site of family history heritage of which my husband has many fond memories. We had radio telephones, slow combustion stoves, 18 hour power, and more red clay than you’d care to see in your washing. Most of our groceries came in from Samarai or Port Moresby, and the pilot’s success at landing depended on the weather. You can read about my 1st Papua New Guinea Christmas here.

The airstrip for Alotau is some miles away at Gurney, the site of a major World War II Australian base. The Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 was pivotal in turning the tide of the Japanese advance. While less well known than Kokoda it was arguably even more important in the overall scheme of the war’s outcome, as it was the first time the Japanese military had experienced defeat. Milne Bay is U-shaped, and in the Wet Season the cloud descends over the surrounding mountains obscuring everything until you can barely see further than 20 metres away and keeping aircraft from landing –very inconvenient.  It’s unforgiving flying country which challenges all a pilot’s skills. One plane crash, soon after I arrived, killed a young family who we knew, as well as others[i]. The sound of choppers and planes searching through the clouds and mist for a downed aircraft is an eerie and sobering one. My husband was the last person to see this plane take off and I had farewelled some who had stayed at Glyn Wort’s guesthouse (where I worked) that morning. It’s surprising that the incident was not more well-known among his colleagues.

My Alotau memories are quite shell-shocked, having come from a familiar urban environment to a very different environment, but within the year it felt like home. I’ve always wanted to revisit Milne Bay to refresh my memories.


[i] Also see http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/the-kiaps-honour-roll.html. The plane had reportedly stalled the day before when another kiap (later murdered) was on the flight.  In PNG, we lived with the philosophy that “when your number’s up, your number’s up”.

Week 2 of Sharing Memories 2012: First flight(s)

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories - A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for Week 2 is “First flight”.

This seems like such a simple question doesn’t it, yet for me there were three flights that fitted this description. As this theme is intended as a memoir for my descendants I’m going to take some authorial licence and write about each of my first flights.

One of my first occurrences in the bureaucratic record as a married woman was my entry permit to the Territory of Papua New Guinea. This is the second one that was issued to me.

When I was at university a friend was in the Air Force cadets and as part of his training he’d been taught to fly. For some reason he invited me to take an early flight with him from Brisbane’s general-aircraft airport at Archerfield. This was the first time I’d ever flown and it was fabulous to be up in the air and see the world from above (Thanks Matt!). I don’t remember being scared at all as I’d always had a fascination with flying perhaps attributable to my mother’s enthusiasm – she’d been a volunteer aircraft spotter in Brisbane during the War.

A few years later I took my first “real” commercial flight. We had been married less than two weeks and were heading to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea where my husband had lived for many years and was just starting work with the government. Leaving Brisbane where I’d grown up meant leaving behind my family and many close uni friends so there was lots to be sad about, as well as excited about the life ahead. I remember there were many tears on all sides at that departure as we knew it would be likely be two years before I’d see them again. When I think about my ancestors setting sail from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, never to see their families again, my paltry two year absence is quite miniscule and irrelevant. But it wasn’t for me or my family. To my parents’ great credit they did not place pressure on me at this very difficult time of separation even though I know how much it cost them.

My hubbie's baggage tag from our first flight to my new home in TPNG. We flew in a Patair Piaggio: six seater from memory.

In those pre-security days Brisbane airport was just fenced and farewelling friends could stand at the fences to wave goodbye as those departing walked across the tarmac. I recall one of our very good male friends standing at the fence with two of my closest girlfriends draped on his neck, having a really good cry. I was no better and shed more than a few tears. For my husband, this was like taking a bus trip across town as he’d been doing the same flight a couple of times a year for about 15 years. As we disembarked at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby my first impressions were the wall of tropical heat and the ground crew with dark faces and curly hair and dressed in lap-laps or sulus with the initials of TAA down the side. My life had irrevocably changed in a few short hours. I had left my familiar life and family behind to start a new life…perhaps a tiny glimpse of life as an immigrant. It’s not the thrill of flying that I remember from that first commercial flight but the all-encompassing emotional rollercoaster.

This little book is my student pilot's licence. Currently in my archives, I hope it survives into the future.

By the time I took my final “first flight”, I’d notched up many hours on commercial flights in an array of aircraft. I’d had an urge to learn to fly for some time and as I headed into my 30th year, my husband decided it was time for me to take the plunge. I remember in my first lesson being inundated with diverse technical information before taking to the air. Do you remember when you first learned to drive and you struggled to assimilate all the skills required of you? Learning to fly was like that…I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would manage the controls, radio the tower and watch the skies, let alone get that little Grumman Tiger (code-sign VH-SPG) into the air or down to earth again safely. I vividly remember watching from mid-flight as an early Qantas jumbo took off into Moresby’s skies with effortless ease like a pelican getting airborne.  Although I enjoyed learning the skills and feeling slowly more competent, I eventually reached the conclusion that I would never be a natural pilot and gave up my lessons when I was pregnant. I have no regrets about giving it away, I was pleased I’d given it a go, but I don’t think I ever felt sufficiently confident or competent to be a good pilot. The 3D world is an unforgiving space as Papua New Guinea’s flying history testifies.