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16 January 2018

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This item by Keith brought back quite a few memories, both of the return of the villagers to Bam Island and my part in it and also Tom Ellis, my mentor in my early days and a person whom I deeply respect and remember with affection.

I was posted to Bogia in February 1955 to take charge of the Bam Island Rehabilitation Project following the earlier (November 1954) evacuation of the population (some 500 people) as a result of volcanic activity.

The project involved preparation and maintenance of gardens, construction of housing and co-ordination of educational and health services. However, despite best efforts from all concerned, the people suffered extensively from malaria (Bam Island being malaria free) and cultural dislocation and following several deaths the decision was made to return the people to their home island.

In early May 1955 I took an advance party of able-bodied males (about 30-40) back to Bam on the MV Koro (approx. 10-12 hours sailing from Bogia) to rejuvenate the gardens and repair village housing in readiness for the return of the Villagers – there were 3 small villages on the island.

Tony Taylor, the Rabaul Vulcanologist, accompanied our party and set up a range of volcano measuring instruments (tilt meter, seismograph and thermometers in several vents to measure temperature) and instructed me in their operation – I had a 3BZ tele-radio and made twice daily reports of readings, including weather reports, to District HQ in Madang.

I remember that before Taylor returned to Bogia on the M V Koro (about 3 days later), he (with me as a ‘Chainman’) did a traverse (survey) from the anchorage, up the escarpment and around the lip of the actual crater which at times was only about 3' to 6’ wide.

I also vividly remember one afternoon when the volcano gave a cough resulting in a cloud of ash being discharged from the crater. In an instant, the day was turned to night and we all immediately took shelter – it took about 30 minutes for everything to clear but it was a bit un-nerving as we had no means of escape if a fair-dinkum eruption took place.

I was there for about 6-8 weeks and being overdue for leave I was relieved by Tom Ellis (see Note 2 below) in July 1955 (not 1954) and proceeded on leave to Australia.

On leaving, the Villagers presented me with a carved ‘Paddle’ that’s in the spare bedroom at home – a memento I’ve always treasured. I also have a few b&w photographs of the Bam Island Rehabilitation Project at Dagoi (Bogia) as well as some of Bam Island itself.

Additional Notes:

1. For a summary of the history of Bam Island (and other Islands), but more particularly, the section entitled ‘Bam Tragedy of 1954-1955, refer to the ‘Tony Taylor and an Eruption Time Cluster: 1951-1956’, http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p223471/pdf/ch092.pdf).

2. Tom Ellis: Tom and especially Freda Ellis were great friends of Roma Bates (my late mother-in-law). When I was first posted to Madang as a Cadet Patrol Officer after doing the ASOPA Short Course in October/November 1952, Tom Ellis was the Acting District Officer (notwithstanding his substantive rank of Patrol Officer) in charge of the Madang District (C D Bates, District Officer, was on leave).

I was initially posted to the Amele/Gogol River area south of Madang to carry out road and bridge construction on the (then) proposed Madang/ Gusap Road before being transferred to Aiome Patrol Post in the Ramu early in January 1953 to accompany PO John Jordan on a first contact/exploratory patrol to the Kairong and Simbai valleys of the Schrader Ranges between the Ramu and Jimi rivers.

C D Bates returned from leave early in 1953 and in April or early May I was transferred back to Madang as I was selected (?) to escort his daughter to the Coronation Ball, and, as they say, the rest is history.

The fact that it was Tom Ellis who relieved me on Bam Island was because the ‘misdemeanour’ referred to by Keith Jackson necessitated fairly drastic action by the authorities.

Tom and I did the ASOPA Certificate Course in 1956 and, of course, Tom, being a relatively senior officer (7/01/1936 seniority) and now without any ‘promotion bar’ impediment, eventually went on to become District Commissioner, Western Highlands, then Director, Department of District Administration and later Secretary, Department of the Administrator. Tom was 40 years of age when he was ‘posted’ to Bam Island (DOB 9/05/1915) – I was nearly 22.

$25,000 would not keep our foreign minister clothed or account for the accommodation and other expenses at Airways.

$25,000 in aid for 3,000 totally disrupted lives! How generous you are, Australia.

There are reports at the moment that Biem volcano is not erupting. So the people on Biem (Bam) may not wish to be evacuated. This is something that is being discussed at the moment.

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