The Die Was Cast - My Journey to New Guinea

The Bougainville Aftermath

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Sohano Ocean View Apartments in Buka Passage


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July 26, 2015

A message from the webmaster:

It is perhaps not surprising that this blog and the Bougainville website are dying a slow death. However, as the numbers of ex-Bougainville employees are diminishing, it puts an even greater responsibility on those who are left to keep recording those times which were important to us as well as to the island of Bougainville.

If you have an anecdote to contribute or some old photos, please email me at riverbend[AT]

I look forward to hearing from you.

Peter Goerman
PO Box 233
Batemans Bay NSW 2536
Email riverbend[AT]
Skype riverbend2

July 25, 2015

John Clark emailed:

I was working in Bougainville in 79. My wife and I were living in Arawa with our 2 year old son (Michael). I was programming on the BCL minesite at Panguna with Des Smith, Dennis Smith, Andrew Liversidge (we called him LIVERSAUSAGE), Andrew Cowan, and others I cannot quite remember. it was a marvellous experience. I actually played cricket, walked through the jungle, from Panguna to Arawa, swam off Loloho, helicoptered around the island, and had many experiences there. I will have to see if I can find some photos. I also have a copy, in good condition, of the first newspaper they printed in Bougainville.

I remember when Dennis Smith cracked a raw egg over Des Smith's head one day. Some days later, Dennis arrived at the office and his bottom draw made a very strange sound when he sat down. He jumped up and moved away from the drawer. Eventually he gently opened it, and there was a baby piglet, with a ribbon tied to it and a note saying, "Here is some bacon for your eggs".

John Clark
email clarkkent[AT]


July 16, 2015

Sonya Organ emailed with a question: "I am hoping someone will recognise the men in the photo and help me solve the mystery of the origins of the photo."


Hi Peter,

I found this photo amongst my father's belongings. My father was a miner in Broken Hill but he had written on the back of the photo 'Bougainville 1970s'. As far as I know my father never went to Bougainville. I am hoping someone will recognise the men in the photo and help me solve the mystery of the origins of the photo.



to which I replied:


Sonya, thanks for the photo but I doubt it was taken on Bougainville. For one thing, the people in it look far too dressed and well-dressed and the company is far too mixed (too many females) to make me think it's from Bougainville. As far as drinking Coca-Cola is concerned, in all my years on Bougainville I never saw any self-respecting construction worker or miner drink that stuff ☺ Anyway, let's see if somebody else can shed some light on it.

Peter Goerman


July 9, 2015

Arovo Island today

Arovo Island is just off the coast of Kieta. It was a famous resort before the Bougainville crisis. Now an old jetty and seawalls are all that remains. But it is still beautiful, with white, sandy beaches, jungle, and lots of birds.


July 1, 2015

Brian Mc Nicholas emailed from the Gold Coast:


Don't know where to start as it was so long ago. I am living on the Gold Coast Qld and have been looking for my old mate from Bougainville who moved to Sydney. Enclosed are one of the first ID cards issued in the 70s. If you print this he just might see it.

Many thanks.
email pbmcnicholas42[AT]


May 21, 2015

This year's Reunion in Brisbane


May 6, 2015

Brian Rear emailed from Perth:

Hello Peter

Just discovered your web-site, great to see it.

I worked with BCL from January 1970 to September 1973 as a metallurgical Engineer. Such a great experience for a graduate from final design, construction, commissioning and the early operating period. I clearly remember we received the first ore from the pit to the primary crusher on Christmas day. I was lucky getting experience from the primary crusher right through to the concentrator, my last position was Assistant Mill Superintendent, worked for the late George Gauci, and of course Bill Davis and John Trezise. My wife Martina worked for Bechtel-WKE in the beginning and then with Maurie Pears and Bob Duffy in BCL training.

After Bougainville went to the Royal School of Mines in London to further my qualifications. Ken Woods and Ray Cantrell also left at that time and we all did the MSc course in Mineral Process Design. Theo Macrides went to Oxford to do his PHD in chemistry at the same time as well. After London we decided to see Africa and after 14 years working for AngloVaal returned to Australia in 1989 with our twins who were born in Kimberley.
Now living in Perth WA.

Keep up the good work.
Brian Rear
email bushboy47[AT]


April 18, 2015

Tukana – Husat i asua?


The film Tukana – Husat i asua?, set in pre-crisis Bougainville, is one of Papua New Guinea’s favourite local movies.

The eponymous protagonist, Tukana, is a lovable buffoon like Mr. Bean. The character was brought to life by Albert Toro and opposite was Francesca Semoso, who played the role of Lucy in the film.

The tagline for Tukana defines its purpose as ‘Husat I Asua?’ meaning ‘who is to be blamed?

Though the film is based around its physical comedy, like Mr. Bean and Mr. Bones, it special because it captures the issues and attitudes towards Bougainville’s future that existed at the time and continue to exist today.

'Tukana' tells the story of a university dropout in Papua New Guinea returning to his native village in Buka Passage, North Solomons. His parents want Tukana to marry a school teacher, Josephine, and settle down. But he secretly slips away to Panguna and a driving job with Bougainville Copper. He takes up with Lucy, a high school student who drops out herself later on, and he also drinks long and hard. But he returns home to marry Josephine when his parents actually begin the bride price exchange and summon him.

Meanwhile Lucy has resumed an affair with another man, but her wantoks [relatives] favour marriage with Tukana and they organise sorcery against Josephine. In the climactic scene Josephine succumbs, and she is killed by a drunken hit-run truck driver. Tukana is left alone but he decides to drop back in and become a school teacher.'

The crisis has caused Bougainville to be portrayed negatively, but in reality Bougainvilleans are funny, loving, peaceful and friendly people. Films present an opportunity to change the perception and show the real Bougainville.

The recent film, Mr. Pip, exemplifies the real Bougainville, which is portrayed as peaceful, friendly and danger-free. As well the region's portrayal in the film itself, positives can be drawn from the completion of its production in Bougainville without any interference or danger.


April 16, 2015

TO OZ AND BACK by Larry Garner


Larry Garner was born in London. In 1973, he left his home to discover the world and immigrated to Australia and Africa. He has worked in the mining industry for over forty years. His first book, "To Oz and Back", described his first three years in Australia and was released in 2012. He is currently residing on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.

Here's an excerpt:

The next morning, after breakfast, we caught the night shift bus down to the coast making for Pub Island. We first stopped at Arawa, the main town on the coast, to do a few errands. Like most blokes, I don’t like shopping, but once in a while it’s nice to buy something you really need like soap, or in my case a cassette player and half a dozen cassettes. As I was seriously thinking about staying in Bougainville for a while I decided a bit of music would help to make me comfortable.

We needed transport too, as became obvious when we wanted to continue to the town of Kieta. With a poor bus service and taxis few and far between we started walking but Seb, who must have been in his 60s, soon tired of that so we eventually waved down a passing taxi to take us the six kilometres to Kieta.

The town had been the working port of Bougainville long before the mine was even thought of, since the turn of the century in fact. The same was true of the Chinese general store that sold everything from anchors to ice. What an interesting place-I could have spent the day in there. After visiting the general store we headed up the street to the Kieta Hotel.

It was hot down on the coast. Living up in Panguna we weren’t used to the heat and it didn’t take long to feel the bite of the sun. Even before lunchtime it was sweltering out there.

Burgess had worked for the company during the construction of the mine. He told us they had built a resort just out from Kieta on Aropa Island, now commonly known as Pub Island.

The ferry to the island left from the Kieta Hotel so, while Burgess and Seb went looking for the ferry master, Rommel and I bought the beers. What a location it was, right down on the water with a splendid view out over the South Pacific. Rommel and I sat at a table on deck. If we had sat there all day I would have been quite happy.

When Burgess and Seb returned after a few they announced that, sitting on deck where we were, might be as close as we were going to get to Pub Island.

‘The engine has thrown a bearing,’ Seb told us. ’They’re waiting for parts from Moresby.’ He said the ferry might be ready in a couple of days, but it wouldn’t be running out to the island today.

‘No other boats?’ Rommel asked.

‘Don’t know, didn’t ask.’

‘I could live here,’ I said, gazing out over the ocean.

‘You’ve only been here five minutes,’ Seb said.

‘I could buy a boat, run charters and sail around the islands. I could work up at the mine during shutdowns and spend the rest of my time down here on the water.’

‘You’d be bored out of your mind in no time,’ said Burgess.

‘No, no I wouldn’t. There are a million things to do when you have a boat like fishing, diving, maintenance, women … I wouldn’t find time to get bored.’

No-one offered any more arguments.

‘Might join you …’ Rommel conceded.

We spent an hour in the pub, enjoyed a good lunch, and just when we seemed to be settling in for the afternoon, Burgess suggested a walk along the esplanade.

There were all sorts of craft moored along the quay, including a couple of yachts, a small coaster and the Meadowbank, the big ship from Liverpool that was docked here the day I arrived.

‘I wonder if we can go aboard,’ I said absently as we approached the ship and noticed a bit of life.

‘Any chance of a look around?’ Seb asked a guy coming down the gang plank.

‘Shouldn’t be a problem. Wait here, I’ll be back in a minute after I’ve just mailed these letters and I’ll take you aboard myself,’ he said in a very cut glass English accent.

When he returned he gave us a quick tour of the ship. I had always entertained ideas of going to sea when I was growing up. I thought romantic thoughts of travelling to the South Seas but my dad told me that most of the people who went to sea were ’a sad bunch of drunks’. Our guide gave no indication at all that he was sad or drunk.

We ended up in the galley where we met the first mate, chief engineer and purser, and when it became known that there were guests aboard, the skipper joined us. I feared they might have thought us intrusive or just downright nosey for almost inviting ourselves aboard, but apparently it was not unusual in foreign ports and we were made quite welcome. The skipper, Les Toogood from Liverpool, was an older man, probably the same vintage as Seb.

‘Have you been at sea all of your life?’ I asked.

‘Not yet,’ came his well-used reply. We politely laughed.

‘I’ve been at sea nearly 40 years, most of it with the Bank Line, but I did a few years with the Blue Flu and the Blue Funnel.’

As he filled his pipe and the beers were passed around Les continued, ’I joined up as a cadet in 1937 and sailed the North Atlantic run from New York to Liverpool and back.’

‘Did you ever run up to Archangel and Murmansk?’ I asked.

He nodded. ’During the war, we were seriously damaged on one of our runs up there.’

He was good at telling stories and we warmed to him as he set the scene.

‘One bitterly cold afternoon in late November it was getting dark although it was only about three o’clock. I was on watch looking for U Boats, but visibility was too poor to see any tell-tale tales signs. All of a sudden, without warning, a tanker way off our port beam erupted. We saw just a massive flash at first and then the boom reached us a few seconds later.

‘The tanker only burned for a couple of minutes before she went down: there would have been no survivors. Less than 10 minutes later another tanker off our port beam, closer than the first, was hit by one torpedo and then a second. We were about to manoeuvre to pick up survivors but our escort told us to maintain course. If you slowed down, they believed, you became an easier target.

‘The skipper wasn’t keen on leaving possible survivors behind and he was seriously considering ignoring the order when we were hit ourselves. It felt like the whole ship leapt out of the water.’

‘What were you carrying?’ I asked.

‘We were a refrigerator/freezer ship carrying frozen food. The first torpedo blew our engine room to bits and everyone in there: the second tore a hole in our bow so that we immediately started to take on water and list.’

‘Were you on the Empire Glade?’ Seb asked.

There was a stone cold silence as the two men looked at each other. Les had never mentioned the name of the ship so there was only one way Seb could have known.

‘You sank us?’ Les asked.

‘I think so. The tanker was an American ship, the Hector Valley, and the ship we hit before yours was ….’

‘… our sister ship the Empire Lea. My brother went down with that ship.’

The silence lingered. ’I’m sorry,’ Seb said finally. ’Would you like me to leave?’

‘No, no. All of this happened a long time ago and it’s about time it was put to bed.’ He was really very casual about it.

‘Tell us about your war Seb. Were you ever sunk?’ Les asked.

‘Oh yes.’ He described the terror of sitting at his station listening to the depth charges exploding all around and wondering if the next one might just be the one to hit their U Boat.

‘But we were on the surface charging our batteries when our boat was sunk. We were in the Sargasso Sea, not far from Bermuda, on a beautiful afternoon and I was on watch with two others taking in the sunshine when we were hit by dive bombers. Two direct strikes blew the boat into the next century and blew me about a hundred metres.’ Seb’s German accent was perfect for his story.

‘We survived in the water for three days and three nights. Sharks came close on a few occasions but fortunately never touched us. We were in the shipping lanes and a U Boat supply ship eventually picked us up and brought us back to Bremen.

‘When I next went to sea we were sunk again. It was a year later in the Mediterranean and depth charges hit us. We managed to reach the surface where we fought a gun battle with a destroyer. We came second, but luckily managed to avoid capture because they shot at us in the water and left us for dead …. Not very pleasant times, Les.’
‘You’re right.’

‘Whose gonna top that?’ Burgess asked looking at Rommel and me.

We could both tell a fairly good story, but Les and Seb were in a different class.

Our time aboard came to an end as our sailor friends had to sail with the afternoon tide, so we thanked them for their hospitality and wished them good luck. We waved as they slipped their moorings, promising them a tour of the mine and plant next time around, but I never saw Les again.

We headed back up the hill to Panguna. My little adventure seemed to pale compared to Seb’s. Back in my room with the light out, I thought of Seb listening to the depth charges and wondering if the next charge would end it all. No, I thought, Seb could have his adventure. I was quite happy with mine.

And here are some more excerpts:

Click here for a description of Camp 6 at Loloho and click here for some more on Bougainville.

April 15, 2015

Eric Chang emailed from Port Moresby:

Hello Peter.

Worked with Bechtel from 1971 and Nikana Wholesalers from 1974; Dept of Transport 1972 and Bougainville Pharmacies 1973-1979. I left Bougainville in March 1979, lived and worked there till 1980 then left. I have been in Port Moresby since 1981 and have made it "home". I have a freight frorwarding business called Hi-Lift Co. Ltd. I now have my son Matthew running it and am taking a back seat. I now spend some time in Brisbane when I need a break from PNG.

I looked at some of the photos on your website. Doesn't Owen Dyer look young? I suppose we were all young; I was 20 years old when I went to Bougainville, he just seemed old to me, his partner was Tom Black who worked with us in Bechtel's Loloho Customs department. One of the photos had Alan Spicer in it, do you remember him? When I was last in Brisbane, my wife and I got out some of the old slides of Bougainville and that brought back some memories. I will look through my slides and post a few on the site.

Do you remember Tony Re? I hear from him occasionally. I usually contact him if we go to Melbourne. He is now semi-retired. Interesting to read thru the list of names it brings back a lot of memories.

We have lived in in Port Moresby since 1981 and still happy there!

Susan and Eric