At 92, and still going strong, the artist and sculptor HAL HOLMAN OL OAM bears the national awards of two countries – Papua New Guinea and Australia. - along with his military regalia. During World War II he was an Australian commando in New Guinea. This chapter from his unpublished memoir, The Phoenix, tells of his first patrol through the PNG Highlands….
ON 8 January 1943, I was one of a group of 13 men who volunteered for a patrol in the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea.
The Highlands was strategically vital to the New Guinea defences against the invading Japanese forces. It was a vast plateau at an average altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level.
We boarded three Lockheed Hudson aircraft at Ward's airfield (one of the several landing fields in the area) in Port Moresby and were flown to our starting point, a crude 1,200 meter landing strip at Bena Bena, constructed entirely by native labour who had been employed by the missionaries before the war.
The grass on the airstrip, we found out later, was kept mown by the Bena Bena tribe using only sharpened and bent lengths of flattened steel, a sarif, that looked like a machete, the blade tip of which was hooked at an angle similar to a golf club (not like a scythe). By slashing to and fro the grass was kept short.