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The curious affair of ONGU: A study in public confusion

ONGU in the headlinesROB PARER

The back story

IN 1963 the Indonesians kicked the Dutch out of Netherlands New Guinea. Paranoia reigned supreme from the West Sepik through to Port Moresby and Canberra.

The Australians built new outstations along the border and RAAF engineers built new airstrips at Vanimo and Green River and smaller ones at Wutong and Amanab.

Beyond the intelligence the Kiaps were reporting there were based in Vanimo two men who kept to themselves and did not share their information. To say they took themselves very seriously would be an understatement.

Before 1962 Vanimo was just a patrol post; there was not even a trade store there.  Overnight Vanimo became the headquarters of the new West Sepik District and Aitape, where resided Harry Roach, myself and several other good people, came under its control.

Lots of odd bods kept coming up from Canberra including an ASIO fellow who came to advise the Kiaps.

I well recall how in Aitape 12 impoverished Indonesians came ashore in their rickety home-made sailing boat. They were starving, having left Halmahera Island in Indonesia’s Maluku Group six weeks before and been reduced to eating stinking copra.

They came ashore at night and the Aitape police grabbed them and tied them to poles. All hell broke loose as Canberra were sure they were spies and over the next month four or five separate intelligence operatives from Canberra came to Aitape to check them out.

A map had been found on one of them and PNG was marked as ‘East Irian’. Proof if any was needed!

They were detained in the local prison and would do grass cutting for our local Kiap Harry (Roachy) Roach. In time they came to the Aitape Club for dancing and singing on a Saturday night. They were nice blokes and they must have been fascinated with all the fuss from the 007s.

They stayed in Aitape for about five months.

When Somare’s Pangu Pati was formed, it added to the work of the spooks and, to keep them even more on their toes. ONGU appeared.

I was once in a shop in Wewak and the young Michael Somare himself asked me if I knew anything about ONGU. I told him it seemed very active but was not sure what it was active in.

Harry Roach got an official letter from the Vanimo District Commissioner, John Wakeford, telling him to investigate this ONGU business. Roachy seemed to do his best but wasn’t much help.

Here he reveals to us the curious story of ONGU….

 

ONGU comes to AitapeHARRY ROACH

The ONGU story

THERE was very little to occupy the ever-enquiring minds of the people who lived and worked in the many and varied outstations of the Sepik District in the mid 1960's.

And so it was with those who filled the various government and private occupations on the small Aitape outstation at the time.

There was occasional cricket against the Doggett XI. Tennis on the concrete slab laid down by the AIF for its mess hall during the war. A dangerous surf. A popular game of golf on the ever expanding airstrip.

Whatever, the Aitape gang was ever ready to adopt any new challenge that appeared on the horizon.

Thus when Michael Somare formed PANGU (Papua and New Guinea United) Pati, the news became an important topic of conversation on Friday night at the famous multiracial Aitape Club.

This ensured much discussion far into the night. The beer flowed freely and ideas came thick and fast. Finally a consensus emerged - "something must be done."

If there is a PANGU, why not an ONGU?

And thus the ONGU legend was born. The political arm of Only New Guinea United.

Donald T, the technical school headmaster, vowed that henceforth the school's trade store - the ONGU trade store would guarantee Only New Goods Utilised (the commercial arm).

And Tiger, the didiman promised henceforth his efforts would be directed to Organised Natural Ground Utilisation. And thus the legend grew!

Matias from Menapi undertook to find a suitable carving to be the emblem - a mascot. He returned next day with a solid four foot carving of an ugly head, with a crocodile collar. It was immediately dubbed ONGU.

And the legend grew further!

When a bus full of school children slipped off the road, a local wag wrote’ONGU was here’ in the dust on the back.

When told the story a South African born police officer in Vanimo muttered "it had to come to this country sooner or later."

Again at Vanimo the 007 (special branch) left his safe open one lunchtime and an ONGU representative slipped an ONGU file into the secure space. When discovered it caused such a stir that the District Commissioner John Wakefield threatened to "bring the long arm of the law down on ONGU."

In Madang two tortoises, extracted from the hotel fishpond were branded with ‘ONGU’ and returned secretly to the water, setting tongues wagging and astonishing all and sundry.

And at every inter-station sports day, football match, ONGU the carving would be a silent sentry on the sideline.

And so it spread - letters to the editor began to be published in the Post Courier newspaper from ONGU’s in Lae, Port Moresby, Aitape and Konedobu.

J K McCarthy (the journalist, not the Kiap) visited Aitape to report on the ever-expanding phenomenon. He was met by two motorbike riders with ONGU WAN and ONGU TU printed on their helmets and his subsequent full page article went viral throughout the Territory.

In 1972, local MP Paul Langro proposed to form an ONGU branch of his United Party and even suggested a renaming of the West Sepik to ONGU District. In a letter to the Post Courier a Jay Kay from Waigani criticised this idea and it was rejected by ONGU in a later letter to the editor.

Telegrams began to arrive over the radio sked. One that had the 007's worried was from Bulolo to ONGU reading: "ASPECTS GOOD ONGU UNGU BONGU BOT (STOP) DEKANAI.”

The monthly Aitape magazine Da Spegal followed the fortunes of ONGU and published an ONGU Book of Verse.

There was the famous occasion when the Australian naval ship HMAS Aitape arrived for a long weekend of sports and cultural activity. The town played the ship rugby league and the ship's team won. ONGU was present by the sideline.

It was agreed that the crew of HMAS Aitape would take ONGU for a publicity voyage round New Guinea, so wherever the ship visited and played a game against the locals, ONGU was produced, the omnipotent carving with pride of place.

Whenever asked the significance of the object, they crew would answer simple: "That is ONGU from Aitape." 

Comments

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Rob Parer

No, you have it wrong, Phil. It was to take the piss out of the Australian 007s. We had five different 007s interview thsoe poor stranded Indonesian fishermen.

Australia had never had a border with a hostile neighbour.

Even the guy who had the job of hiding Petrov arrived in Vanimo to advise the kiaps and then there was the ASIO guy who was renting a cottage from us. In addition there was another 007 living in Vanimo. Both kept to themselves and did not share their information. To say they took themselves very seriously would be an understatement. Very exciting for Canberra.

Must say it was all very confusing for poor old District Commissioner John Wakeford as he never woke up to the fact that it was all just a bit of fun.

I would love to see the file on ONGU deep in a basement somewhere.

Peter Turner

When posted down from the Southern Highlands in 1976 as ADC Lumi, I took the opportunity to hitch a ride on the Franciscan Air Cessna 206 for a weekend in Aitape, now and then.

I remember seeing the ONGU sign above a Trade Store which I thought was run by Big Don's Aitape Vocational Centre. When I asked about the initials in the Aitape Pub I was told it stood for ONLY NIU GINI UNITE, as a foil for Josephine Abaija's (now a grand old Dame) Papua Besena.

After five years in Huli land, with limited social life, I certainly enjoyed the civility and friendliness of the Aitape people (not that the Huli people were not civil and friendly, they were, and I made friendships which have lasted to this present day) and the harmonious relationships evident amongst the Catholic mission, government and business sectors were a breath of fresh air.

Rob Parer and his family were extremely well liked, and former ADC Harry Roach remembered by many with great affection. I was delighted to be posted to Aitape in 1977.

Unfortunately the government had other things for me to do, and after only six months I found myself in Simbu for the next 10 years.

No complaints. It was there that I met 'Meri Samarai', my wife of 35 years now, and enjoyed the best 10 years of my life amongst those wonderful Simbu people.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I suppose taking the piss out of Michael Somare's PANGU Pati was great sport at the time. It probably helped harden his views about Australia.

The again, I think he also enjoyed leading the spooks up the garden path with his subversive Bully Beef Club.

In Papua those kiaps who took to patrolling in PANGU Pati tee shirts were quickly pulled up and 'spoken to'.

That aside, the old PANGU Pati had some real ideals. I for one regret its slow demise.

Ed Brumby

Great to hear the real story about the genesis of ONGU, Rob. I remember many conversations about ONGU at the Boram Tavern in Wewak at the time, all of us wondering how seriously we should take the apparent emergence of another political force - and whether it was but a figment of the local spooks' imaginations designed to disrupt Michael Tom's PANGU initiatives.

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