Remembering Norman Kunkel

Today is the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. His death went unremarked in the wider world as he was always a loner and never cultivated a friendship circle but of course for me it was a sadly memorable event. In most ways those 10 years seem a long time ago, so much has happened in my own life since, and yet he was such an integral part of my life. It’s time to share a little of his story, both work and personal.

Norman Kunkel had turned 84 not long before his death. He’d been born in a private nursing home on Butterfield St, Herston and his parents planted a mango tree in the corner of their yard when he was born. There was always a superstitious sense that if the tree died, Dad’s days would be numbered, and yet it is still there, growing more healthily than it had done for some years. His parents were old to be having their first child in that era with his father being 43 and his mother 36. Norman would remain an only child and apple of his parents’ eyes.

29 Bally St c1930s_edited-3

This photo of the house where my Dad grew up. The photo would be c1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence. It’s difficult to see but there’s a horse in the foreground.

It is unusual, in this day and age, to find someone who has lived in one area for all their life, but Dad took this rather to an extreme.  With brief exception(s), he lived on the same block in Kelvin Grove his entire life, first in his parents’ home and then in the home that was built after I was born when my grandparents subdivided their land. He knew so much about the area, and the people who lived there, yet it was difficult to get stories from him – my best discoveries came when I was writing the family history of the Kunkel family.  I only wish I’d been able to extract more stories from him over the years. Mum called him “Elastic Jack” because she thought he exaggerated a yarn (common enough with story-tellers, I suppose). In retrospect it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, but when on a roll he could be very funny. He had a very particular view of his German heritage which I suspect my Kunkel research discoveries threw into chaos. I now wonder if his German surname, unchanged through two world wars, affected his and the family’s response to their heritage.

Dad’s social network as a child focused on his mother’s siblings and their children. While he may have met his maternal grandmother, Annie Sim McCorkindale, he would have had no memory of her, since she died before he turned three.  Growing up, Norman was closest to his cousin Isabelle who was only a few weeks older than him. I have many photos of the two of them together and I’m thrilled to have recently reconnected with Isabelle’s daughter, my second cousin.

Isabell Bryson and Norman Kunkel c1927

Dad with his cousin Isabelle. Both these cane chairs are still in the family.

Sadly, Dad had little knowledge of his Kunkel cousins, of whom there were many. My grandfather had had a falling out with his siblings, reportedly over religion, and only two uncles came to visit from time to time, and perhaps also their children, one of whom was lost in Korea. I suspect Dad knew more about his Kunkel 2xgreat grandparents than he shared, both frustrating and ironic given my paternal grandfather was their eldest grandchild.

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930. Dad is 4th from left in second back row.

Dad attended the Kelvin Grove State School for his primary schooling. It was the closest to his home and many of the stayers in the area were kids he’d attended primary school with…handy one time when some boys threw stones at me en route home from the Catholic school. Dad was round totheir father, quick as a wink, and it never happened again. I’ve been lucky to inherit many school photos from those days. In high school he ended up at Brisbane State High School at West End. He was never a good scholar and yet he was a prolific reader all his life – a love he shared with me. A fond memory is that whenever I was sick he’d bring me special comics or books home to read.

Norman Kunkel v young

Dad in his railway uniform as a young man.

As a teenager Dad joined Queensland Railways, like his father and many other Kunkel family members. Ironically while I have staff files for many of my ancestors, there is none available for Dad as these have been destroyed. It’s likely he joined first as a lad porter but for decades he worked as a numbertaker in the Roma Street goods yard, of which more anon. He worked shift-work for many years and our family life revolved around accommodating these constraints.

There was no tennis or golf, cricket or football, in Dad’s off-duty time – he’d got quite enough physical exercise during his shift. Instead he did the standard things men did in those days: mowing the lawn, mending shoes, and keeping the yard tidy. Unlike many families of that era, there was no vegetable patch in our garden and no chook yard. I have a distant memory of Dad having to kill a chook one year (probably for Christmas) and it running around, headless. He’d have hated that as, looking back, I can see that he hated killing fish or chooks, and, only once, having to drown some kittens in the nearby creek.

Norman Kunkel

Dad and his roses – an early colour photo thanks to a family member who brought the film back from the USA.

He grew beautiful roses in the front garden, the most prolific of which was a red rose called Roundelay and one I loved that was pink striped (name?). Gerberas held a fascination for him and he grew magnificent double gerberas back when singles were the norm (oops a name pun there!). He would order them and the roses in from a nursery in Bundaberg.

Having lived near a tributary of Breakfast Creek all his life, he was familiar with the hazards of snakes and taught me early how to deal with them – a skill that proved handy many times. When I was very little we would fish in the creek but all I remember catching was the odd catfish. However, whenever we went to Magnetic Island on holidays, Dad and I would go fishing, either off the jetty or in a dinghy which he’d row out into Picnic Bay. There we’d catch delicious tropical fish like coral trout, rock cod, rainbow trout etc, and yet somehow I picked up his reluctance to having to kill them. I liked to be Daddy’s girl and go fishing, but it’s not something I’ve continued into adult-hood, for the same reason as him.

He loved the bush and he, Mum and I would often go bush-walking especially when on holidays. From him I learned the names of birds and some plants. They were special times as a family.

norm and joan at picnic bay1

My parents climbing up from Rocky Bay,

One time I came home from Girl Guides very upset about something and Dad’s advice has stuck with me down the decades “don’t always turn the other cheek”. This was so contrary to my religious education that it truly caught my attention. Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself.

Dad also shared his love of cats with me – a love that has continued throughout my life. We were never without one when I was a child, and only for one very brief period as an adult. They are a fundamental part of my well-being.

pauleen norm at picnic bay

One of my favourite photos – Dad, me and kittens on holidays at Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island

When they were planning to build the Ballymore Stadium in the 1960s, familiar to Rugby Union aficionados, Dad was up in arms battling all the powers that be. It was ironic that after it was built he became a dedicated rugby fan (helped a little by his daughter’s new boyfriend!). He was never much of a drinker, but he liked an occasional beer or whisky, which led to a funny story one day when we were all engrossed watching a game on TV and Mum moved his coffee table as she tidied.

Reading, flowers, cats, fishing, snake avoidance and the bush: all great gifts but the greatest he gave me – apart from his love – was the opportunity to have the best possible education. With mum’s committed and dedicated support, this was truly a gift that has kept on giving. It wasn’t always easy for them, with limited finances, but they made it a priority for which I’m grateful to them both.

Thanks Dad, for everything.

Why not come back to read the story of his working life, and how it contributed to his death.

Sepia Saturday PNG Merry Makers

Sepia Sat 337From the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to the coast, the people celebrate culture and make merry with dances and traditional costumes. For some reason these warriors from Wahgi came to mind when I looked at the Sepia Saturday merry makers. They were at the enormously popular Goroka Show in, I think, 1972. Seeing thousands of warriors gathered together is a spectacular sight, and that’s without walking in mud up to your ankles, and before a “stoush” led to the Police firing tear gas into the crowd, which promptly knocked down the wire fence trying to get out of the showgrounds! Lively!

Goroka sing sing Wahgi men edit

Our two older daughters grew up with similar sights as part of their daily life. However an experience in New Zealand in 1975 revealed they had assimilated the potential for violence behind all the costumes and sing-sings. We took them to a cultural exhibition in Rotorua one evening…as the Maori warriors came out with their traditional war cries, our two let out their own version of blood curdling yells. Exit of Cass mob promptly followed!

More recently we returned to Papua New Guinea for a visit and these merry makers from Milne Bay District show their traditional splendour at the annual Kenu and Kundu (canoe and drum) festival.

It’s likely that those genealogists travelling on next year’s Unlock the Past Cruise to Papua New Guinea will see some version of these celebrations by the welcoming and open Milne Bay people.

447 Women dancing 2012 PNG

I wonder what merry making the other Sepians have been up to this week.Or are they waiting around for the fun to start like these competitive young men in their canoes.

434 Men in boats PNG

 

Dad’s and Mum’s Neighbourhood Reminiscences on Trove Tuesday

I was mentioning last week how Dad had lived in the street in Kelvin Grove his whole life, and had memories stretching back decades. Some years ago I asked him a little about it. There was a time when he would “clam up” and not tell stories like this, but when I wrote my family history, he realised I did really want to know more about life in the suburb. I’ve used Trove extensively to see if I could track down more information on what he told me. After starting this story I also had an extensive conversation with Mum to clarify some of the comments, and she also added information.

So here are his brief reminiscences, with my own comments, or follow up research relating to it. Mum’s conversations last week are included in green.

An image from SLQ looking towards Kelvin Grove (but which part?) http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/185011646

An image from SLQ looking towards Kelvin Grove (but which part?) http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/185011646

When I was young you could catch a feed of prawns down the creek (Enoggera Creek) and when it was mullet season, you could just about walk across the creek across them.

When Pauleen was young we sometimes caught catfish in the creek. Perhaps the floods washed the creek clean in the earlier days considering there was more industrial waste going into it. Mum used to sometimes call Dad “Elastic Jack” when he started telling tall tales, like walking across the creek on the mullet.

When Pauleen was a child, the mangroves were quite dense and the wretched lantana held sway over the creek banks.

Hayes had a dairy[i] and willed all the land to the council for the public. The dairy was located where the Mynor cordial factory was (at the bottom of Gould Rd). He used to run all the cows on Ballymore where the rugby union is now and a bit over the other side of the creek. The creek used to dogleg over the road and they cut it straight for flood mitigation. There was a weir over the creek across from Ballymore until they straightened the course of Breakfast Creek (technically Enoggera Creek) after the 1974 floods. The Commonwealth paid 60% and council and states paid the rest and the council was supposed to maintain it (presumably the land).

Flooding around Enoggera Creek Windsor 1893 (1)

It seems likely this was Henry Thomas Hayes as he’s mentioned in a Trove newspaper article as a dairy owner though the electoral rolls record him as a labourer of Gould Rd.

Enoggera/Breakfast Creek is tidal to the weir at Bancroft Park on Kelvin Grove Road and has a history of flooding and drainage problems that has led to flood mitigation measures including widening, straightening and dredging.[ii]

The bakery (Hassetts) in Butterfield St, was a family bakery –it was there when Dad was twelve (mid-1930s) because he went over on the pushbike.

In fact, in later years Dad and I would ride over to buy bread –the smell was heavenly and you would pull a bit out of the soft part in the middle…yum! Mum says this was often during the school holidays.

Mum remembers that someone used to come around selling clothes props.

There was a vegetable farm down where the NARM (sandshoes/sneakers factory) was, where the new Post Office depot is now. They used to call them Chinese market gardens. Mum says there was also one across the creek where it flooded as well as at Stafford.

This is interesting because a health inspection refers to the terrible conditions of Chinese abattoirs in this area.

This dairy, Ozanne's, was in nearby Ashgrove but shows what must have been a similar mix of rural and urban. c1920 http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/36908896

This dairy, Ozanne’s, was in nearby Ashgrove but shows what must have been a similar mix of rural and urban. c1920 http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/36908896

Another dairy (was owned by) Hicks, where the baseball and Italian Clubs are now (in Newmarket, near where Pauleen used to go to Girl Guides). I was surprised to learn how many dairies were in the area, but it makes some sense in that pre-pasteurisation era. I still remember getting fresh milk from the dairy at Samford where we camped with Guides.

On the flat opposite Bally St, another bit of a dairy, owned by a couple, McShea and Vowles. In Pauleen’s time this area flooded whenever the creek flooded heavily. Mum says there were also Chinese gardens there in her time. 

Mum also said that there used to be a horse track, with fencing, in the middle of Ballymore Park then in the 1950s every time you caught the bus there would be less fencing there, until it all disappeared.

Hayes used to pick up all the old produce in Roma St. One day Dad saw him with the old big draught horse pulling the dray and he (Hayes) is asleep and the horse was leading the way. At the railway the horse went straight up, round the policeman, up College St and into the railway stables, while the policeman watched with all the traffic stopped.

One of the Kelvin Grove tanneries circa 1890, SLQ http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/185011646

One of the Kelvin Grove tanneries circa 1890, SLQ http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/185011646

Johnston’s tannery was in Bishop St and there was one over in Finsbury St and another one where the retirement development is near Catholic church (in Newmarket?). This one was possibly Granlund’s.

I remember the smell of the tannery quite vividly, but not pleasantly. It was okay except when the wind came from the west.

There has been some debate about these tanneries on the various websites but Queensland Places has this to say[iii]: Away from these public uses Kelvin Grove developed a landscape of Queenslander houses, most of them within half a kilometre of the tramline. Those further away were closer to Ballymore Park. Kelvin Grove Road had shops and a picture theatre (1912) (which Pauleen remembers). There were a couple of tanneries down Bishop Street near the creek, and the area is still industrial.

Dad got in a row with the tannery and council because he couldn’t breathe – “they used to release all the muck from the tannery when tide went out. Sent a diver up the pipe to near Bancroft Park and it was that tannery that was putting the muck down the pipes so there was a big kerfuffle”.

There was a big tannery at Stafford near where the shopping centre is (this coincides with a conversation on the web). There used to be a beautiful swimming pool (natural) at Kedron Brook until the tannery came along. 

An 1873 newspaper article praised the Kedron Brook tannery owned by J & G Harris (I wonder if these were the same people who obtained the initial land grant on the Ballymore estate?)Or was the tannery that Dad mentions a different, newer one. Either way the Council took exception as this report indicates. A 1934 newspaper story takes a different view with one MLA wondering why the tanneries had ever been allowed to empty their waste into Kedron Brook.

A fellow had a mirror factory down Bishop St for which they use cyanide to do backing of mirror (Bishop St was hardly a salubrious place to live, and it was good thing we didn’t catch many fish!)

Finney (Isles) and Ure had a carriers where the garage is on Herston Rd (cnr of Kelvin Grove Road). There was a paddock at the endof Picot Street for the Clydesdales and they took them along the creek near the Chinaman’s gardens.

via Trove: sale of property in 1929, large house in Herston Rd, one street off Kelvin Grove tram line. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21373382. This follows Hubert Finney’s death –papers refer to him as ex-Alderman. He and Ure were members of the Master Carriers’ Association.

Mum recalls that she was told euchre parties were held in the house across the road, to raise funds for the church and school.

Perhaps these are not profound recollections but they add some personal flavour to the local history, and offer stories that would otherwise disappear. I’m just sorry I didn’t “pump” him for more.

The Lawrence family had a tiny shop at the end of Bally St in Dunsmore St. They also ran the bus to Fortitude Valley until the Council took it over

I also asked Dad who lived in the street when he was growing up and have since compared the names with those on the electoral rolls with great success, though he add some additional snippets to add. This may be the content of a post another day. My childhood friend still lives in the street behind ours and my guess is that her family has the longest continuous for the two streets, perhaps shared with one other family. I wonder if her father passed on any anecdotes to her?
Trove Tuesday is a blogging theme created by Amy of Branches, Leaves and Pollen, revealing just how incredible a resource this is, even when making comparisons with oral history.

Book of Me: Prompt 10 – Click, Click

Prompt 10 for the Book of Me is Do you have an unexplained memory or memories? Items, Places, People Things and times you can remember, but you are not sure where they fit into your past.

I have no unexplained memories that leap to mind so once again I’m heading in a lateral direction.

Do you have little mental snapshots that stand alone and unaccompanied in your mind? I find that I do, and while some interweave with other stories, like school days, others just insist on hanging out alone. One of the real frustrations of being sibling-less is that you have no one else to bounce your recollections off. Then again you also don’t have anyone telling you “you’re dreaming!”.

Some of my snapshot childhood moments are:

AT HOME

Feeding the kookaburra.

Feeding the kookaburra.

  • Playing mud pies with a second cousin from Sydney near the tank stand in my grandparents’ yard. But it’s not every mud pie that is baked with TLC including macadamia nuts, or Queensland nuts as they were known back in the day before marketing took hold. Given the price of Qld nuts you might find that horrifying but at the time we had a huge tree in our back yard so they were in surplus supply. Dad eventually took that tree out, I don’t recall why, and it was replaced with a large Melaleuca viridiflora which flowered spectacularly.
  • Cracking Queensland nuts in the vice on my grandfather’s work bench under the house. Or finding a dent in the concrete where the nut would sit still while you whacked it with a hammer.
  • Sitting under the stairs to the house, in the shade, reading a book and avoiding the summer heat of the holidays.
  • Being sooky because “no one” was ever home during holiday season to come to my birthday parties (boo hoo!)
  • Dad repairing the soles of shoes on his work bench (just imagine, how things change)
  • Mum washing in the big copper which had to have the water heated, and then the washing being hauled out, all soapy, with a long wooden pole. Back breaking work! A twin tub was an advance but an automatic (many years later) was a miracle.
  • The sheer drama and hardwork of Monday washing day with blue, starch etc etc.
  • Licking the bowl and the beaters when Mum was baking (every Saturday without fail)
  • The kookaburras landing on the railing for a snack of slivered meat -why would they catch snakes?
  • Lifting up the fence palings and finding a large snake under it, and seeing them elsewhere around the yard
  • Dad’s fierce injunction to never, ever run when confronted with a snake: stand still, don’t scream or yell, then back slowly away (very helpful many decades later when toe to face with a mercifully-sleepy death adder.
  • Doing bob-a-job for Guides and collecting money in Queen St for charity through my high school.
  • Joan Kunkel with Pauleen and quote_edited-1
  • The old Mason jar type stoneware jugs at the back of Grandma’s under-the-house. (For overseas readers, many traditional houses in Queensland are raised up on stilts for better air ventilation and also for protection against termites. I think the area under the house is used for similar things to colder-climate attics or basements: storage, play areas, work areas etc.
  • Climbing the mango tree, very high, and bobbing out of the “top” and calling out to Grandma (heart attack material, I’d have said). Then playing at Tarzan and swinging down from the lower branches –it would have been cheating to just climb down.
  • Standing up near Kelvin Grove state school and looking across the suburbs at the lights – my mother has a “thing” for lights.
  • Riding down the steep hills near KG school for the first time –like setting forth on a roller coast in a push bike.
  • Doing my Year 8 (Scholarship) exams at the state school and then coming back to the convent to run through what I’d done with my teacher (have I mentioned my obsessive characteristics?).

SCHOOL DAYSPauleen at Picnic Bay and quote

  • Walking home from school in the gutters when it had been pouring with rain. Yes, I did have my shoes off!
  • Being one of a handful of kids at school when there was a cyclone around, not because Mum had to work but because she came from North Queensland and probably thought it would be wimpy to stay home.
  • Grandad taking me to school in my first year, because Mum was very sick (and I assume Dad was at work). We went up one hill, he dropped me off, and I went home straight away down a different hill.
  • The big old tree, I suppose a Moreton Bay fig, under which we could sit during primary school lunch breaks.
  • The influx of students from all sorts of “strange” places in Europe as part of the post-war migration.
  • The warm milk we used to get at school courtesy of the government. Not very nice!
  • Sandwich lunches of sardines and potato chips (crisps) on Fridays back in the day when Catholics had to eat fish of Friday. Bizarre as it sounds I liked that food combination.
  • The class being tested for TB and having an early Salk polio vaccine.
  • Fabulous church fetes where I bought handmade doll’s dresses and home-made lollies.
  • Walking along the creek bank with a friend to the Guide hut at Newmarket –watched by Mum or Dad from the verandah.
  • The smell of the brewery across the road from school, and the smell of baking biscuits from the Arnotts factory off Coronation Drive.

MUM & DADNorman Kunkel and Pauleen at beach and quote

  • Dad being “up in arms” when they sold Ballymore Park to the Rugby Union, only to “adopt” the sport with gusto, especially after Mr Cassmob came along
  • Waving to Dad as he rode to work on his push bike (no gears!). He would always turn at the corner before heading up the hill.
  • The shock on his face when he came home after some bloke had got killed or caught in the buffers of the trains.
  • Mum making cakes or biscuits for me to take to school when we had birthday celebrations. This was an All Hallows’ tradition and we would sit in a big group on the terrace for our al fresco party.
  • Being violently ill and the boat rolling from side to side almost taking on water, as we made our way to Green Island soon after a cyclone. Mum always says “Green going over, and green coming back”.
  • Being scared witless of walking across the old pipe bridge near Gould Rd, leading to Bancroft Park. The timbers were pretty dodgy with gaps and missing boards: I really hated that! When my children were young and visiting from PNG, Dad would take them for walks in the pram over to the same bridge, something of a family tradition, though by then the bridge was in better condition.
  • Riding to Eildon Hill with Mum & Dad. Perhaps this is an ambiguous memory. I rather doubt I’d have managed Eildon Hill, where there was a reservoir, which makes me wonder if I was “doubled”. 
  • Riding with Dad to get fresh bread from the bakery in Butterfield St.

Pauleen as baby with Kit Kunkel AND QUOTE

And the only unexplained memory I can bring to mind, is whether there was ever a building at the back corner of my grandparents’ yard farthest from our place. I used to have the idea it was the dunny, but the sewerage maps show that was closer to where the mango tree was positioned. Must ask Mum.

Long term readers will probably remember some of these little snapshots as part of “story albums” on this blog, especially the 52 weeks series. I guess I got a bit carried away…thanks for reading along.

Merry Month of May Music Meme

What with the A to Z challenge and Anzac Day posts, April was rather a serious month of blogging. A week or so ago, after a series of blog comments my genimate[i] Catherine and I reckoned we needed a bit of frivolity. Catherine posted the humorous Purple People Eater on her blog for light relief. This morning it occurred to me that what we need is a (hopefully) fun meme so here it is….drum roll.

The Merry Month of May Music Meme: a meme for your amusement.

Since the whole point of this is to have fun, retrieve memories and generally chill out (very 60s!), feel free to amend/add/subtract. I’m not even going to ask you to do the usual checklist of have done, want to do, don’t want to do. If you feel the urge, go ahead, you know how it works. And, geneabloggers, yes there is still family history value in this: give your descendants a laugh, let them get to know you with your hair down. Don’t forget, anyone can join in – it will make it much more fun.

I’ll be posting my responses later today and I’m even going to try to be spontaneous – first song/music that comes into my head. If you decide to join in please let me know via the links below (it’s supposed to be fun, so I’m not going to learn about linky-doo-dahs).

  1. Song(s)/Music from your childhood:
  2. Song(s)/ Musos from your teenage years:
  3. First live concert you attended:
  4. Songs your parents sang along to:
  5. Song(s)/Music your grandparents sang/played:
  6. Did your family have sing-a-longs at home or a neighbours:
  7. Did you have a musical instrument at home:
  8. What instruments do you play (if any):
  9. What instruments do you wish you could play:
  10. Do you/did you play in a band or orchestra:
  11. Do you/did you sing in a choir:
  12. Music you fell in love to/with or were married to:
  13. Romantic music memories:
  14. Favourite music genre(s):
  15. Favourite classical music:
  16. Favourite opera/light opera:
  17. Favourite musical:
  18. Favourite pop:
  19. Favourite world/ethnic:
  20. Favourite jazz:
  21. Favourite country or folk:
  22. Favourite movie/show musical:
  23. Favourite sounds tracks:
  24. What music do you like to dance to:
  25. What dances did you do as a teenager:
  26. Do you use music for caller ID on your mobile:
  27. What songs do you use for caller ID:
  28. What songs do your children like or listen to:
  29. Favourite live music concerts as an adult:
  30. Silly music memories from your family:
  31. Silliest song you can think of:
  32. Pet hate in music/singing:
  33. A song that captures family history for you:
  34. If you could only play 5 albums (assume no iPods or mp3) for the rest of your life, what would they be:
  35. Favourite artists (go ahead and list as many as you like):

Let’s go Merry Month of May-ing

I hope you have fun dredging up some memories and get into the spirit of a Merry Month of May.


[i] Term coined by Jill Ball of Geniaus.

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.