Monday Memories, NFHM and Milne Bay

postcard-1242616_1280Over the years I’ve often written about battles and family members who have fought in them. Today is a little more personal. As a young bride, I went to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea with my newly-minted husband. Nothing all that strange in that perhaps, as many young women made the same migration for love, curiosity or a sense of adventure. The difference for me was that we were going to Milne Bay, my husband’s “place” in the indigenous sense, or in Pidgin “as (=arse) ples bilong en” where he lived for 10 years….at the time his longest residence anywhere. For him it was home, familiar, and in his emotional blood.

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For me it was confronting, exciting, confusing and isolated. My family and other friends were thousands of kilometres away, not as today at the end of a phone or an email, Facetime or Skype. Our communications were mid-20th century: snail mail letters (and sometimes the snail would be faster!) and radio telephone calls when the weather didn’t interfere, over, over. Everyday conversation was scattered with a proliferation of acronyms, wonderfully clear to those in the know but bewildering to the newcomer (the ADC said to the DC that the ETA on the DC3 was 0900, for example).

Alotau 1960s house1 1968

THEN: The Cass family’s first home in Alotau, taken soon after the move from Samarai 1968.

But all this took place in the most wondrous geographical environment. We lived for a few months in the government home of my parents-in-law who were in Port Moresby for work. The house had a magnificent view over Milne Bay and was near the school where my mother-in-law taught. Mr Cassmob’s father had chosen the site as he sailed up the bay in the Education Department trawler – perhaps the only site with a better view was the District Commissioner (the head honcho for the district administration). If that all sounds rather colonial, I suppose it was, after all that was the world they were living in, as was I briefly, though the tides of change were already coming. We were, after all, a tiny minority population responsible to Australia for its governance of an emerging nation.

NFHM Blogging challengeThe local people of Milne Bay are among the nicest you could meet in PNG – open and friendly. However, only 74 years ago their world was turned on its head with the invasion of Australian troops sent to defend the then-territory of Papua against the wave of Japanese invasion. Milne Bay was to be the first place on land that the Japanese troops would be defeated, and yet it has long been overshadowed and forgotten in a similar way to the predominance of Gallipoli in our nation’s military historiography.

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n.d. Milne Bay, Papua. 1942-09. Fellow pilots of 76 Squadron RAAF, lend a hand to push Squadron Leader Truscott’s plane back into the dispersal bay, as he steps out of the cockpit. Australian War Memorial image. (The plane is on marsden matting)

You have to have seen the jungles of Milne Bay (or north Queensland) to have an appreciation of how dense it can be. And you have to have lived there in a Wet Season to know how muddy and claggy the red clay could get, or how fiercely the creeks and rivers run. The clouds come down over the ranges that encircle Milne Bay and take up residence over the bay foreshortening the view and making flying hazardous today, let alone in the thick of battle. Pilot skills and aircraft readiness are challenged to the maximum and when we were there, a small aircraft was lost with all souls including people we knew. This brings home earlier realities for those at war.

Milne Bay ships war

Argus (Melbourne, Vic) & Australia. Department of Information 1943, NEW GUINEA. Milne Bay. State Library of Victoria collection.

Between Alotau (the district capital) and the airport, you could see the remains of war – marsden matting on the bridges or elsewhere, and the remains of boats half-buried. The Australians were stationed near the current-day airport (only an airstrip when we were there) and as a teenager Mr Cassmob worked on the adjacent coconut plantation, Gili Gili. One day at work he found an old street sign for Sadds Ridge Road which we’ve had on our houses at various times. It was some years before we found it came from Charters Towers and we still wonder who took it with them as a souvenir or reminder of home.

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

There is something that cuts to the heart of your understanding when you live near where the Australians fought for their lives, and quite genuinely, for the safety of their own country and that of PNG. And nearby, a Queenslander, Corporal John French from Crows Nest, won his Victoria Cross.

Milne Bay during World War II ca. 1942

Unidentified 1942, Milne Bay during World War II, ca. 1942, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

I’ve written many times about Alotau, Milne Bay and the battle that was fought there, so I’ll just include the links and those who wish to can (re-)visit them. If you’re looking for a better understanding of jungle fighting, you can read The Last Blue Sea which gives you sense of what fighting was like in PNG. Current Australian author, Peter Watt, also writes a fictional series which includes a family who lives in Papua and fights during the war.

Those genealogists taking the Unlock the Past cruise to PNG and Milne Bay in 2017 will get a taste of the place – but beware, like family history, it can be addictive. Thanks Alex from Family Tree Frog for this prompt in National Family History Month.

Return to Milne Bay

Milne Bay: the people and old and new friends

Home again

The Battle of Milne Bay remembered in stained glass

The Anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay

Lest We Forget: The Battle of Milne Bay

My response to NFHM 2014 Geneameme

NHFM GeneamemeHere is my own response to my National Family History Month (NFHM) geneameme. I’ll be collating all the responses in a couple of weeks but if you want to read them in the meantime you can check the links in the comments.

  1. What are you doing for NFHM? This meme is my contribution to NFHM. There’s not much happening in the NT and I’ve been caught up with live-family activities when some of the online activities have occurred. I’ve registered for Shauna’s Golden Rules of Genealogy Webinar. Meanwhile I’m working at getting my blog back on track after a few disrupted months and my “To Do” list just keeps getting longer.
  2. What do you hope to learn in NFHM? Anything to help with my family history –new ideas/ inspiration. I’m checking out Shauna’s 31 activities list to see what inspires me.
  3. Have you any special research projects on the go? I’ve recently done some German research for an American descendant of a Dorfprozelten family. It’s also time I got back to my East Clare Emigrants blog and add more of the news stories I’ve collected from Trove. I’m also working on a paper I’m giving at Queensland Family History Society on 4 October. Geniaus has just reminded me, in her response, that I’m supposed to be doing One Place Studies for Dorfprozelten and Broadford…something that is kind-of progressing with my East Clare blog and ad hoc Dorfprozelten posts.
  4. Do you research at a family or local history library? As and when something needs to be followed up offline these days…not as much as in the pre-Trove, pre-internet days.
  5. Do you do all your research online? Not at all…I love offline research but being a long way from my main research places means that it occurs sporadically.
  6. What’s your favourite place to store your family tree? I’m a bit weird and retro – I like to keep a lot in hard copy though I also keep digital images and documents. I’m still sitting on the fence with this. I don’t have my tree online at all…I figure my blog is my “cousin bait”.
  7. If offline, which genealogy program do you use? Do tell us its strengths/weaknesses if you like. I’ve used an Australian program, Relatively Yours, for decades because it was an innovator in making it possible to store more than base biographical data for people. It still allows for more challenging relationships than some others. Its weakness is that because of its quirkier data I find the gedcoms don’t always import well. However I also have copies of Family Historian and The Master Genealogist. The challenge of having decades of stored information is entering it all into a program….excuses, excuses.
  8. How do you preserve your family stories for future generations? I’ve published my Kunkel family history as a hard-copy book and I’ve also printed off family histories for some of my other families, just for my own family’s reference. Mainly I now use my blog to tell the stories of my families, and others I research.
  9. What is your favourite family history research activity? The actual research and problem solving. I like that it keeps your brain active and keeps you in learning mode.
  10. What is your favourite family history research place/library etc? That’s like choosing between your children! Queensland State Archives followed by Queensland State Library or one of the Queensland family history societies. Locally I’ve been a big user of the Darwin Family History Centre where I can read any of the microfilms I order in through Family Search.
  11. What is your favourite website for genealogy research? Trove and whichever one addresses the problem I have to solve at that time. I flip between Ancestry, FindMyPast (world), My Heritage, com and Family Search. For Scottish research you can’t go past Scotlands People.
  12. Are you part of a Facebook genealogy group? If so which one? A few: Clare Genealogy Group, Wexford Genealogy Group and our Dorfprozelten Diaspora group. I also have lots of my genie friends I follow.
  13. Do you use webinars or podcasts for genealogy? Any tips? My favourite is Maria Northcote’s excellent Genies Down Under. Tips? Invent more hours in the day to find more time to listen to more of these, and others.
  14. Do you use social media? I’m on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkdIn though I think I’m very neglectful of them as I try to balance my time with them against my research priorities. You’ll find me by name or as my aka, cassmob. I also love reading blog posts and use Feedly to keep track of them.
  15. What genealogy topic/class have you learnt the most from this year (webinar/conference/seminar)? This is a tricky one and rather than single out one I’d say the presentations on the Unlock the Past cruise in February. You can find my posts here. I thoroughly enjoyed the final talk by Chris Paton on his fascinating study of Ruhleben Internment Camp.
  16. Do you have a favourite research strategy to knock down your brick walls? I like to revisit my notes occasionally because things make more sense retrospectively. I’m not a believer in searching once and never again because I think you find new things on revised searches. My top tip would be to branch out to your ancestor’s kin and friendship network as that may be what helps you out.
  17. Have you used DNA testing for your genealogy? Yes I’ve done the family finder test with Family Tree DNA.
  18. Have you made cousin connections through your DNA tests? There are lots of reasonably close matches but it’s sometimes difficult to pin down the connections. I recently had my mother’s DNA tested along with an Irish-descended cousin. Another 3rd cousin has also had hers done so I can see where we overlap – I find having known rellies makes it easier to start unravelling the potential. I hope to write a post on this soon.
  19. Do you have a wish list of topics for NFHM 2015? I’d be interested in a webinar on oral history and more offline options, though I’m hoping to be closer to more societies by NFHM 2015.
  20. What do you most love about family history research? The thrill of the chase and slowly unravelling a sense of what an ancestor might have been like by unearthing records about their lives and times.

My Heritage – August Aussie Access

Recently I received this email from Emma from My Heritage. I’ve not long had a subscription with them and have been finding their records useful. I like to compare the results I get from different suppliers – sometimes you get info from one that’s not on another, or you get better/different transcriptions. Most recently I’ve been using My Heritage for some American research but how could you pass up this opportunity to try out their Aussie records for National Family History Month (August)?

My name is Emma Datny and I’m the Australian Community Manager for MyHeritage, the global family history network used by over a million Australians (and 75 million people around the world) to discover, share and preserve their family history.

You may have spoken previously with my predecessor Kim or my colleague Daniel, but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself and let you know about the exciting activities we have planned for for August to celebrate National Family History Month including webinars, competitions, discounts and more!

In honour of National Family History Month this August, MyHeritage is giving FREE access to millions of Australian historical records between August 15-22. These include birth, marriage and death certificates, electoral rolls, school records, and many more. You’ll be able to search them here. We’d be grateful if you would let your readers know about this access.

Here’s a link to our blog post outlining the activities we have planned: http://blog.myheritage.com/2014/07/australia-celebrates-national-family-history-month/

Why not take this opportunity to try out My Heritage and their record sets?