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17 July 2018

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Re the derelict Seleo Island school. In 1971 a group called MondoX took over the former Seleo School and promised Bishop William Rowell they would restore the buildings.

MondoX was run by a flamboyant Franciscan Friar Padre Eligio who had a Drug Rehabilitation Centre just north of Cetona in Italy and others around Italy.

So Padre Eligio made Seleo into a Drug Rehabilitation Centre and about eight men arrived and were kept busy restoring the buildings, including the Church.

They appeared to have ready finance and purchased a small boat and even decided to make a short airstrip there.

They asked me to organise to bring to the island, on our pontoon, a small Fiat bulldozer that Fr Leo Leoni had at Pes Mission Station. Their long term idea was to base a small Cessna there and have their men go out to various Aitape Diocese Mission Stations and apply their skills in helping the Parish.

But it didn’t go according to that plan as it wasn’t long before some of them started going to pieces mentally and physically.

A few months later one guy had to be medivacked out as mentally he could not handle life in the tropics and most of them were the same.

I do not think that Bishop Bill had any idea what he was getting himself into. Padre Eligio came a few times to see how it was going and with his rose coloured glasses he was most unusual.

At some time he was the Chaplain for the mighty Milan Soccer Club. He had many rehab communities around Italy so was too busy to keep proper control on a faraway place like Seleo, so it all folded and the station drifted back to it’s previous state.

When Bishop Bill was in Italy, he was given a grand tour by Padre Eligio of some of the restored castles etc that he has operating as drug/alcohol rehab centres. You can Google his first one near Cetona. It is now said to be the best restaurant in Italy and also a drug rehab centre.

It is housed in a building started by St Francis in 1212. Many of Francis's disciples, who also became saints, stayed there. Over 800 years it drifted in and out of use as both a convent and monastery.

In 1970 Padre Eligio got permission from the Bishop of Florence to take it over and restore it to be used as a drug rehabilitation community called Mondo X which he had started a few years earlier. It took 12 years to bring it to an immaculate condition.

Interesting information. It is also interesting to note the establishment of the station appeared in the 1906/1907 annual report, and it appears that the station was known either as Berlinhafen, Eitape or Aitape.

With the growth of the large force of 1,000 men by 1914, is it possible that some of the defending army at the 1914 battle for Bitapaka were deployed from Eitape, or did they remain to defend against local intrusions and possibly defend the local wireless station as well?

The Seleo Boarding School was not built by the Germans. It was built in the 1940/50s. An amazing Australian lay missionary Peter Hughes was asked to build the school.

So first of all he and Fr Anslem OFM (Fr Dom) set up a basic saw mill at Malol Mission Station 15 km west of Aitape on the coast .

Peter got an engine out of a Gallion Grader left in the jungle after the war at Tadji Airfield and somehow got it to Malol to power the saw bench. Then, using axes, they cut down trees and logs that had to be dragged out of the jungle. There were no chainsaws or tractors at that time.

After some sawn timber was ready, a small 8HP petrol engine powered 18 foot boat that Fr Anslem had built was used to ferry the timber to Seleo. This could only be done in the calm south east season, April to September.

So from then on, while Peter worked on building the school without any qualified carpenters, Fr Dom looked after the sawmill. What a slow and laborious operation.

The heavy diesel International engine caused so much trouble as it had to be started with a tiny petrol engine attached to the side and then switched over to diesel. They nicknamed it 'Satan',

Peter was tragically killed some years later when Satan was used to power a sawmill at St Anna just 100 metres from our home. A lump of timber came off the saw striking Peter on the neck.

I took him to Raihu Hospital and Dr Judith Fitt looked after him for six hours until a Gibbs Norseman aircraft arrived but, just as he was being put into the aircraft, he passed away.

His wife Dorothy and four lovely young children accompanied his body to Wewak and continued on to Australia and never returned.

The small expat community was in deep sorrow for many months. Peter Hughes was an amazing builder, a gifted mechanic and a dedicated missionary.

Thanks Rob for these intriguing stories of life in PNG during German times. Great history.

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