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.

Mapping family places in Papua New Guinea

I’ve been talking about a few places in Papua New Guinea as part of the A to Z challenge but not making allowance that their location is probably all “Double Dutch” to most people. For those who are interested this is a tailored map from Google of the places I’ve mentioned plus a few more. You can click on each blue pin to see what it says, drag the map right or left, or click on “View Larger Map” on the bottom to enlarge it.

Some thoughts on “St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish”

St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish

This book by John R Kane was published in 2011 and was a winner of the Viva Cribb Bursary offered through the Ipswich City Council. I bought the book during a driving trip to Ipswich a few weeks ago and felt my money had been well spent, and as a bonus it gave me in-flight reading on the way home.

This book added a new timeline dimension to those I’ve read before about Catholic Queensland, or Ipswich, or both. This meant I got a clearer sense of what had happened in St Mary’s Ipswich before and during the years my Kunkel ancestors lived there. Other ancestors lived there but they were members of other congregations. My interest really focussed on the period from the church’s inception to the turn of the 20th century.

The physical and emotional demands placed on these early Queensland priests, essentially missionaries, echoed our own experience of missionaries in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. It could be a very lonely life as well as physically challenging and financially draining.

I had known about Fr McGinty’s indefatigable efforts to fund-raise and build churches for the Catholics of his geographically-dispersed parish (or mission as it was technically known). I’d also known that he had ridden many, many miles in his commitment to his parishioners, baptising and marrying people who may not have seen a priest for some years. My great-grandmother Julia Gavin and her brother were among those he baptised on these rides to far-flung stations, settlements and towns. He’d also baptised some of the Dorfprozelten descendants as well as an unrelated Gavin family I research. The man really had enormous energy and dedication. Unfortunately his resistance to the Bishop’s directive to hand over the donated funds raised by McGinty, caused untold controversy, and no shortage of ill-will. He could also be a rigid-thinking man who got himself into bother with the community over religious holidays or refusing to bury those who did not practice their faith (even children). Still I continue to admire his commitment and energy.

It may not have been the author’s intention, but I left the book feeling no love for Bishop Quinn and his impact on the church in Ipswich. Certainly McGinty was obdurate but to over-ride the parishioners’ wishes for the money they’d so generously donated seems both unwise and insulting, albeit consistent for the times. My understanding is that the Sisters of Mercy struggled against Quinn’s control as well, though Kane suggests they conformed –not my understanding from years at All Hallows’ but perhaps my memory is not correct.

The book also highlights the Irishness of the Catholic Church in Australia, something that’s not news to anyone brought up in the faith in Queensland, and something the German Catholics had to come to terms with (though sometimes it drove them to the Lutherans). The book also talks of the debates and changes around parochial education and government funding –something that continues to rear its head from time to time.

From a personal point of view I remain disappointed that the church built by Fr McGinty in 1860 from donations by early parishioners was largely destroyed, to be replaced in 1884 by a grander church of cathedral dimensions. Surely it would have been possible to retain the old one and use it for another purpose. I wonder how many of the first donors contributed to the second church’s construction…those early pioneers must have suffered from church-building-burnout, especially if they moved around. Fr Martin (see book below, p134) indicates that stones from the previous building were used in the sacristy of the new church.

I’d have liked to see a little more cohesive editing of the book in some sections, and a subject index, but this did not detract from its value to understanding the history of St Mary’s Ipswich and would be a useful reference for anyone whose family worshipped there.

It is a good complement to the following books:

The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland, Martin D W, Church Archivists’ Press, Brisbane 1998 (this book has some excellent images of St Mary’s Ipswich, old and new).

St Mary’s Story: a history of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Ipswich 1849-1999, St Mary’s Parish Historical Society, Ipswich, 1999.