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« 10 nights in Bomana: Analysis of a high level corruption case | Main | Illusions »

08 August 2016


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Re fresh rock oysters. We were regularly buying them in the early 70's. Can't remember the price but very reasonable and they came in the same packaging, longnecks or wine bottles.

So Ian Downs probably organised the whole transfer to save you from the clutches of a delightful woman but had to make up a story so you wouldn't cotton on to the real reason. He must have drafted the letter for McCarthy's signature?

There must have been lots of shanghaied kiaps over the years wondering why they'd ended up in particular postings.

A response to an email enquiry about oysters, and to comments by Phil Fitzpatrick and Peter Sandery.

The Vanimo ladies collected the oysters at watasiton (water stone), a rock outcrop roughly half an hour’s walk away, eastwards down the beach towards Leitre.

I never got there, but I was told that the ladies harvested the oysters with a hammer; smashed the shells while still attached to the rock; plucked the oysters from them, gave them a swirl in the sea, and dropped them into the bottle. Any small pieces of unseparated shell added to the flavour.

There was no weekly aircraft the day Neville Jenkins, a recruiter from Wewak, walked into to catch the plane back to home. There had been no aircraft for over a week.

Jenkins stayed with me while waiting for the next plane to arrive, and I was almost out of food. Finally we were reduced to oysters.

We ate them for breakfast; we ate them for lunch, and we ate them in the evening—three courses—oyster soup, oysters and veg, and oysters dobbed with tinned cream for dessert.

Jenkins may have been revitalized by those oysters, and more appreciated, when he eventually got back home to his wife. The delightful, “Oh là là” Josette, worked part time behind the bar at the Wewak Point Hotel, and beguiled us all with her French chic.

Phil, I did not think that the letter was a practical joke. I suspected the gobbledygook—especially the phrase “due to exigencies of the service.” I thought the statement that I would be replacing Tom Ellis was a subterfuge, but nothing more than that.

Ellis was probably only in his second term as a kiap then. He had been a Medical Assistant pre-war, served in the RAAF from 1941 to 1946, and had re-joined the Public Health Department post-war. He did not stay for long, leaving to try his had as a gold-miner, joining Jack Thurston at Yamil, outside of Maprik.

As a new kiap, posted to Madang, he had carried out long, thirty-day patrols in the then uncontrolled Adelberg Ranges with CPO Brian Proctor. District Officer C D Bates appreciated Ellis’s ability, but the starchy, upper echelon at Headquarters were less forgiving of his earlier career.

Recalled from the Sepik to Madang (when I replaced him?) Ellis was assigned to Bam Island which was rumbling, smoking, and threatening to erupt. Ellis spent two to three months on Bam, and hated it. Which one of us had been banished?

Peter, I never thought that I was not being banished “for earlier transgressions.” The letter, written to DC Elliott-Smith by DC Ian Downs, was a very clear indication that Downs was attempting to rescue me from, what he mistakenly saw, as my own folly.

That I had not been banished was probably further confirmed when, six weeks after arriving in the Sepik, I was transferred from Vanimo to Aitape, to take over the Aitape Sub-district.

At the time, three POs, more senior than I—of immediate post-war vintage—were readily available in the District: Mert Brightwell, PO at Ambunti; Ken Brown, PO at Maprik; and Brian Copely, PO at Yangoru.

I remained at Aitape for a year, but more of that anon.

Another fascinating episode, Bill.

It brought back some memories - Dick White was my first DC at Mendi in 1962.
In 1969 I was posted to Vanimo and John Wakeford was DC there.

Agree with Chris, Bill - fascinating stuff, especially for us later kiaps.

Just curious about the "veracity" of the letter you received. Did you think it was a practical joke?

Another lovely piece Bill. You are conjuring up a vibrant and colourful image of a place and time now long gone.

Your story is unique to you yet, from an historic standpoint, an important contribution to the all too thin supply of first person accounts of how TPNG was explored and administered.

Please keep writing.

If you are still musing about your Vanimo sojourn, Bill, might I suggest that you were banished there for earlier transgressions - much the same way the I was banished to Woodlark Island in 1968 for insisting on marrying a Papuan -my senior officers made their point by "posting" me to the only station in the District that did not have a double bed!

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