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30 October 2017


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Very few people know that in the 1950s there was a kunda (cane) bridge across the Raihu River, Aitape, at the same place where there is now a steel and concrete bridge.

During the war the Americans built a Bailey Bridge in 1944 near the mouth of the Raihu River as they required a connection between the (Marsden Matting) Tadji Airstrip and Aitape beach where small boats unloaded.

It only lasted a few months and washed away with the huge torrent of the Raihu River in flood. It is still there under the gravel.

Then a new dynamic young ADC arrived and was disgusted that, when the weekly Gibbs Sepik Norseman aircraft came, he had to drive to the Raihu River in his new LandRover. The only new vehicle in Aitape as others were still using old Army Jeeps.

Then he had to hop on a two- man canoe (government supplied Watchman) & rely on the Catholic Mission or Parers Tadji Plantation jeep to get to the Airstrip.

Worse still, if the Raihu was in flood, he would not be able to get across the Raihu.

So all of a sudden appeared half a dozen Highland policemen. Aitape had never seen Highlanders before!

Then fierce activity as these policemen had big numbers of calaboose getting kunda from the bush and all of a sudden we had a 50 metre kunda bridge which I ran across on my little BSA Motor Bike every day.

Villagers came from all over the District to see this wonder.

And the dynamic ADC was none other than the one and only Bill Brown.

I have been asking Bill & others if there is a photo of this miracle bridge as no one believes me.

Sadly one day there was a huge tree being swept down the flooded river & a branch ripped most of it away. There were a few strands left & we had to use them to get across one morning as the MV Mekong arrived from Rabaul with cargo & to pick up our 1,200 bags of copra for the Coconut Products oil mill at Rabaul.

We lived at Tadji Plantation & the copra shed was near the present wharf.In those days we used 40 ft canoes for loading & Unloading. And it took many hours getting special labour to man the canoes. Non swimmers (100) could use the plantation workers.

The image of a horse on a kunda bridge is mind-boggling Garry.

The idea that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink is a furphy. If the horse doesn't want to go near the water it won't, to drink or otherwise.

We had Arabs and Connemara ponies for years and I know for a fact that if they didn't want to be caught or go in a float you may as well give up because they would invariably outlast you (or me at least).

Phil, I remember Joe McDermott telling me he often had to find alternate places to cross the rivers when he was on horse-back. Horses would not go on those cane bridges - or even on some wooden bridges where the decking was not good.

But you always had to carry your dog across the cane ones Garry.

I was faced with a slippery green log spanning the Omati River in Gulf a few years ago. The river was clipping along at about 100 miles an hour and I just couldn't do it anymore, even on hands and knees. Got over by chopper the next day.

Up in the Star Mountains the Faiwol used to plant twin trees at strategic spots on rivers to be used many years later for bridges when they matured.

"My father planted those trees," was a familiar story.

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