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21 March 2013

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I need to correct my previous comment to indicate that the Baimuru airstrip is evidently still functional. Contrary to information I received a while ago, it seems that Airlines of PNG is still running a scheduled service from Port Moresby.

I am pleased that this is the case, as it is remote enough without the added burden of having no air link to "civilisation".

In relation to John Senior's story that the Marsden matting from Baimuru was purloined to make Kikori's strip useable in all weather, I recall being told the same thing.

However, by the time I landed at Kikori it had a sealed strip, so I guess the old matting had been "dispersed" for other purposes by then.

There was enough residual matting to cover the old government wharf at Baimuru, but I cannot recall much lying about otherwise.

At the time I was at Baimuru, the mill was operated by Ollie Godwin, assisted by his son John. Mrs Godwin ran the store and post office, while Adrian Van Veldt (Pelt?) was working with Colin Ryman at the pub.

The pub was not owned by Colin but by a slightly mysterious Dr McFadden, who was (I seem to recall) an obstetrician and gynaecologist.

Quite what a Queensland gynaecologist was doing owning the Baimuru Hotel is a matter of conjecture.

The tricks played by airlines as recounted by Arthur did not occur in my time simply because it was the local kiaps who assessed the condition of the strip each day and lodged a report with Moresby.

I must admit though, for the sake of receiving mail and consignments of freezer goods, that we sometimes erred on the side of optimism when determining the strip's condition. I hasten to add that we never pushed the envelope beyond the limits of safety!

I took over the Steamships store in 1983 a year after John Bird departed for Tabubil branch. His son is still a prominent businessman in Sepik.

The store was next door to the Steamies sawmill run by Phil Taudevin, an apparent typical Ozzie but in fact a fellow Cardiffian.

He was assisted by a great character, 'Papa', or Adrian Van Veldt, once in the Dutch airforce in West Papua.

STC replaced the rickety wooden wharf with a concrete one on massive piles during my two years in the muddy place.

As well as running the decrepit collection of wooden add-ons that made up the store, which had almost K1 million turnover even in 1984-5, I ran the Douglas Airways agency in competition with the Talair agency (which was run by the expat managing of the then busy Baimuru Fisheries complete with his stunning tall Nordic-looking wife).

The two airlines played tricks on each other. Their pilots would close the strip after takeoff due to 'bad water on landing area' .

This meant overflying the POM passengers to Kikori where a dinghy would be hired to get them back to Baimuru.

John Senior was the agent in Kikori and told me how his strip got all-weather landing when the WW2 Marsden matting at Baimuru was taken up and transferred to his place; apparently because the government would not build a high school for the Baimuru kids.

Got my own back on the competitors though during a real wet when I got one of the Buchanan brothers to use his Milne Bay float Cessna on the POM-VMA run.

Annoyingly, one day I had to wade up to my thighs in the sticky Purari mud when a falling tide left the small craft half out of the water.

I also serviced the PNGBC agency as well as being the only liquor holder in town.

It was during the dry-pay Friday or was it Saturday rule (which caused some annoyance) that I learnt a carton of 24 stubbies could be completely concealed in an empty carton of 48x425g Sunflower mackerel.

Some years after I departed for the healthier highlands of Tari, my countryman Phil was able to buy both his sawmill and the store from STC. I recall his Welsh/Gulf daughter was a Miss PNG competitor.

Two years in a different but interesting environment from the white sand beaches and blue seas of New Ireland.

George Leahy bought the mill and it is now part of his Oilmin holdings. He also bought the store.

The old wharf is still there and a newer steel one without planking is busily rusting away.

There was a new permanent materials office built in the late 1970s and it is still standing.

Hi John - I was posted at Baimuru in 1970-71 and enjoyed working there, rather contrary to my initial expectations.

The office you built was still there, although I believe that it was physically relocated at some point, being literally carried by hand and placed on new stumps.

My main memory of it was that the chickens that lived in the ceiling space would sometimes plummet down through a hole, landing in a squawking mass of feathers on someone's desk.

I enjoyed patrolling in the stations ancient 19-foot launch, the Aveta, with its one ratpower Petters diesel engine.

Apart from being gutless, the Aveta had a habit of throwing off the propellor shaft. This necessitated an urgent paddle to shore so that the errant propellor could be reattached and progress resumed under power.

I visited the old Beara station in 1970. It was heavily overgrown by then but still recognisable as a station. Quite a few buildings were more or less intact and there was at least one old radio aerial still standing.

I am told that the airstrip at Baimuru is no more and that it once again relies entirely upon K-boats for supplies.

However, the mill is still there and still going. The wharf you built was heavily infested with Toredo worm by 1970, so I have no doubt that it has long since collapsed.

Tommy Kabu's name was still mentioned when I was there but I failed to realise his significance. I am glad that someone is recording his story for posterity.

Dating from the time of the two separate Territories, with Papua administered by one of the colonial era’s great men, Justice Sir Hubert Murray, men from each Territory had widely-differing opinions about each other and the policy differences apparent as emanating from Rabaul and Port Moresby respectively.

Even in my relatively late apprenticeship in the late ‘fifties this attitude, on both sides, was still present albeit in a jokingly derisory way. But there was a difference,.

We patrol officers and ADOs on the Papuan side were gentlemen. The ‘kiaps’ on the NG side were rather tainted by some sort of inherited influence from their Teutonic predecessors.

And, no skin off anyone’s nose nor offence intended, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties you could straight away identify a Highlands kiap. In two words, they were forcefully didactic!

Secondly, the story of Tommy Kabu has been told twice by interested academics, once by Robert Maher, an American anthropologist with whom I was in touch when writing ‘Time Of Rain’, and a fairly comprehensive paper written by Graham Hassall, once of UPNG but now of Victoria University in NZ.

It is an absorbing and ultimately sad story of a Papuan of very basic education but high intelligence who anticipated the mindset and worldly understanding of many of PNG Attitude’s growing community of contributors.

Energetically pursuing his pragmatic ideals to the end, he died of TB in 1968. There was a memorial to him dedicated by the then Mr Michael Somare MP at Rabia camp. Twenty years ago it was very neglected and difficult to find. I have no idea as to its existence and /or condition now.

As I said, a man well before his time.

I could write more about Tommy if it would be of interest. Perhaps better, I could submit two 1,600-word linked sections from ‘Time Of Rain’ which picture quite graphically the sort of politico/commercial/social environment in which the emerging trader/leader Tommy found himself.

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