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.

Fearless Females: The tragic stories of Julia Kunkel and Janet Melvin

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how this affected the family?

There are two tragic deaths of young women in my family tree. One was my maternal great-grandfather’s first wife, Janet Melvin nee Peterkin and the other my paternal great-grandmother, Julia Celia Kunkel nee Gavin.

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin

Janet Melvin’s story is a truly tragic one. Last Friday, 2nd March 2012, was the 135th anniversary of her death. Janet set sail for Australia from London on the Woodlark in October 1876. With her were her husband Stephen and infant son Lawrence, aged 4 months.

The family were all when the ship arrived in Moreton Bay in January 1877, but not long after Janet fell ill. She died on 2 March 1877 at Peel Island, in quarantine. I feel so sad when I think of her courage in making this voyage then knowing she would leave her infant son motherless. I was consoled that her husband and son were still with her on Peel Island when she died, and she wasn’t entirely alone. Janet had just turned 22.

Janet’s son Lawrence survived this early tragedy but I’m told his father tended to favour him above his other children – hardly surprising under the circumstances. My family descends from Stephen’s second wife Emily nee Partridge.

Julia Kunkel nee Gavin

Julia Kunkel saw more of life perhaps than young Janet but she also died young, at only 42, in what I feel was a particularly gruesome way. This was her obituary:

OBITUARY: Darling Downs Gazette 21 November 1901

We sincerely regret to have to record the death of Mrs George Kunkel, wife of the respected railway ganger of Geham, and daughter of Mr Denis Gavan (sic), of this town. The deceased was born in Dalby and was 42 years of age, and leaves a husband and 10 children to mourn the loss of a good wife and mother. Deceased, who had been ailing for some time, came in about a week ago to consult Dr McDonnell, who found her to be suffering from a serious internal disorder and at once pronounced the case to be hopeless. On account of the weak state of her heart, the doctors could not administer chloroform and had to perform an operation without its aid. Although the operation was a success, the patient’s constitution was too weak to make the recovery and she gradually sank and expired at 3.45 on Wednesday morning. The husband is at present also in a poor state of health.  Deceased throughout her life has been a particularly devout adherent of the Roman Catholic Church.  The deepest sympathy is felt for the bereaved husband and children in their terrible loss. The funeral leaves Mr D Gavin’s residence off Seaton St at 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Each time I read this I am horrified anew at the prospect of her being operated on without anaesthetic because she had a weak heart. Her husband died only five weeks later on Christmas Day 1901 leaving their children orphaned.

The impact on the family was significant because while some were old enough to be self-sufficient, they took on some responsibility for the younger ones. Over the years the siblings became alienated for different reasons and the younger ones in particular seemed to suffer the loss of their parents the most. I often wonder if my grandfather’s marriage at a rather late age wasn’t influenced by seeing what happened to his mother.

Julia Kunkel was laid to rest with her mother in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 21 November 1901. The full story of Julia and George Michael Kunkel is told in Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting her grave site, so the timing of this post is particularly apt. One of my family history “bucket list” items is to put a grave stone on her grave which she shares with her mother and a friend.