Most of the written records of Rabaul were destroyed during the Pacific War in the early 1940s and by 1944 the town was obliterated by Allied bombing.
So Rev Threlfall faced the long job of researching colonial records, mission papers, old newspapers, private letters, papers and diaries, locating Rabaul identities and interviewing them, finding old photographs, and reading war histories and naval, military and air force files.
Thirty-two years later, after much research and the lengthy re-typing of the book in digital form by his daughter Beth, it has finally been published.
The book includes 533 A4 pages of text and includes a detailed and methodical account of the history of Rabaul, with 150 photographs, many from the 1920s and 1930s and numerous from wartime, portraits of noted leaders, official ceremonies and volcanic eruptions.
There are also six maps, a bibliography, an index and a foreword by Dr Allan Marat, MP for Rabaul.
The book tells of the geological reasons for the site’s instability; of the first human settlers; of European navigators, whalers, missionaries and traders; colonisation by Germany and development of a port and town with a cosmopolitan community, which came under Australian rule as a Mandated Territory after World War I.
There follows an often-stormy history up to and after PNG’s Independence, including three volcanic eruptions but with the town surviving in 2012, with its emblem the frangipani blossom still blooming.
The book is full of stories of colourful personalities, eye-witness accounts of the volcanic eruptions, the heartbreaking stories of Lark Force, the mystery of the Montevideo Maru, the recurrent question “Should the town be rebuilt?”, the Mataungan uprising, the long road that eventually led to Independence for PNG, and many more stories, all told in much detail and with great understanding.
It is dedicated to the people of Rabaul, past and present, and to Roma, the Rev Threlfall’s late wife, who shared his years there and who helped him greatly during his work in the book’s production.
The book will be launched in PNG at a special event in Rabaul in the coming weeks.
Lower photo: Steven Gagau, Barbara Short and Dr Jennifer Gagau, the paediatric registrar at Maitland Hospital, (all of whom first met at Keravat National High School) at the launch of Rev Neville Threlfall's book on the history of Rabaul last Saturday at the Uniting Church at Croydon in Sydney. Jennifer is organising for a choir to sing at a special service for the Rev Threlfall when he returns to PNG for the launch of his book in Rabaul in the coming weeks.