Painter in paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea
Fallen bridge testament to the chasm in rural development

Bob Hoad’s Olsobip – the building of a nation

Hoad - Cessna dropping supplies; Gum Gorge in background
A Cessna drops supplies as the land for an airstrip and on which Olsobip will stand is cleared

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - In 1964 Patrol Officers Bob Hoad and Warren Dutton and their seven-man police contingent were hard at work building an airfield and a patrol post at Olsobip.

This remote dot on the map is at the headwaters of the Fly River in the rugged foothills of the Star Mountains in what is now Papua New Guinea’s Western Province.

Working alongside Hoad and Dutton was an enthusiastic labour force of about 90 villagers drawn on a rotational basis from the small Faiwolmin population of about 1,500 thousand people in the surrounding mountains.

The Faiwolmin were delighted to have a patrol post in their area and just about every man woman and child was lending a hand.

Hoad - Policeman and Faiwolmin workers clear the ground
Policeman and workers clear ground for the airstrip
Hoad - The Olsobip base camp
Olsobip base camp

The local population was too small to provide a lot of food from its gardens so the kiaps and police brought in their own supplies.

These were transported by motorised canoe and then helicopter from Kiunga or on foot from Telefomin through the awe-inspiring Hindenberg Wall.

In between the arrival of supplies by these means, air drops from Kiunga filled the gaps.

The new patrol post was located on a small plateau between two rivers that spilled into Gum Gorge.

The approach by air, which sometimes required negotiating the gorge when the clouds hung low, was one way.

There was little room to manoeuvre; once the aircraft was committed to land on the small airstrip there was no opportunity to go around and try again.

It was either make it down first try or crash.

Hoad - Women work on the airstrip
Women work on the airstrip

Some five years later, I had the privilege of serving at Olsobip.

By this time all the hard work of establishing the patrol post and its associated facilities had been done.

Until recently, when I came across a collection of Bob Hoad’s photographs from that time, I must say I took for granted the work done in establishing the station.

Hoad - A Faiwolmin family
A Faiwolmin family

Fortunately for us today, Bob is a talented photographer and he has provided a great collection of images.

But what most impressed me most was the sheer physical aspect of the work involved in creating that base for the administration of the Olsobip area.

I include a few of Hoad’s photographs are here to give you an idea of how patrol posts like Olsobip were established.

The collection has been digitised by Bob and passed on to the Australian National University's Pacific Research Archive, which collects, stores and in some cases digitises original manuscripts and images from the region.

Bob career took him on to Nomad River to establish the patrol post. I enjoyed his hard work there too.

Hoad still marvels at how lucky he was to have been in Papua New Guinea in those historical and golden times.

Many of us feel exactly the same.

Comments

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Greg Lipman

I was flying with Stolair in 1962 in a Cessna 172 when the undercarriage hit a rock on landing at Olsobip, wiping out the aircraft. I wasn't hurt. I flew into all Western District strips.

Robin Lillicrapp

I wonder if Phil can once again delight us with his mischievous foray into pot stirring albeit a fridge, not a pot?

Arthur Williams

Guess Bob found his move to Taskul in 1966 was an R&R posting after those experiences. Certainly no airdrops even if Ellis had told all ranks they must spend more time in the field and not just day tripping.

Because of our fondness at Taskul for outboard motors one of several repeatable nicknames for Kiaps on Lavongai was Petrol Officers.

I was chuffed though when told the funding vote for fuel was too low to allow me to travel in a back breaking aluminium dinghy for my north coast annual ‘census’ patrol.

Instead I found a seaworthy and easier journey on a two masted canoe, naturally called ‘Tu Mas’. Was that a play on pidgin ‘Tumas’ used when you made a maiden blush when she would exclaim, “O masta yu tumas!”

I had to have a second paddle canoe to carry the traditional kiap’s table, aluminium chair, patrol box and bedsail etc.

Can never forget coming round Taskul Point midway through the patrol. I told one of the crew to blow his conch shell to alert the quiet station of the return of their hero. A taffy version of Sanders of the River.

Only ever landed once at Olsobip I think it was on my also sole trip to Telefomin where I helped Pasuwe buy the Australian Baptist store there.

As a Welsh Baptist it surprised me to find they had been selling SP the demon drink as well as cigarettes and tobacco. Both forbidden in our APCM owned stores. Think there was a smaller store there that was happy to get those goods at a very good price.

I supervised our Mougulu store at the start of the 80s but never made a landing in Nomad. My mixed race West Papuan and PNG Papuan storemen, who later would become MP for Mid-Fly, told me he would only venture the track to Nomad if accompanied by several companions.

Such was the fear even then of the Biami and other tribes in the area. I felt a sort of historic high on my first visit when the bone-nosed tribesmen in all their tradition gear started fingering my arms and shoulders while my imagination went into overdrive. They must be telling each other, “Too late he’d have been a good meal – before the missos and gavman came!”

Beautiful seas, massive rivers, swamps and mountains – what a province. Just like Bob I too still feel lucky to have seen some of it.

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