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19 June 2010

Maxine Dean

A PIONEER WIFE - The first three years.

My husband, Bob Dean, went to Bougainville in 1970 as Piping Superintendent with Bechtel. We left in 1973 for 6 months and returned again with B.C.P., this time as Maintenance Superintendent in the Concentrator - we were there until 1988. We are now working with Minera Alumbrera in Argentina and have loads of photos in Aussie which I will send to you when we return. Please excuse spellings, I'm a little rusty on local names.

Rob was on Bougainville Island but I had to stay with my parents in Brisbane until housing was available. After three months all was ready and off I ventured. The only contact with Panguna was by radio phone and "the powers that be" assured me that all was organized. Emma, our eldest, was 17months old and Jason was 4 months old. The journey was horrific - three hours in Port Moresby waiting for a connection and then another three hours to Bougainville. We finally arrived at about 5 p.m., everybody disembarked and went their various ways, and I was left at the airport by myself with two tired and grumpy children - yes, nobody there to meet me and pouring rain. About 30 minutes later a Bechtel bus arrived - luckily they had come out to pick up some people from a charter flight. They bundled us into the bus - I'm exaggerating when I call it a bus - and off we went to the first check-point at Kobuan. The driver tried to radio through to Panguna to see what had happened to Rob, but could not get through, so he took me on to Loloho where the Port Construction families lived. The trip from the airport in those days took forever as we had to cross all the flooded creeks and negotiate the mud. We arrived at Loloho at about 8 p.m. and went to number one donga where Stan and Dot Clarke lived. He then rang Panguna, got in touch with Rob and informed him that his family was in Loloho - great surprise for Rob, huge panic! I then waited there until Rob came down to pick me up. There was another check-point at the top of the mountain, D8's waiting to pull us out if we got bogged and much reversing if we met another vehicle. I finally arrived in Mud Valley at about midnight, swept out the cockroaches, made the beds and got the children off to bed. Rob's boss Lyle Cantwell was there with his wife Maudie to meet us, along with a much appreciated Survival Kit.

Mud Valley was pretty wonderful in those days, lots of young women with children and all very supportive of each other. The kiaps and some of the police lived in the center in dongas and we spent many a time listening to them reciting "The Man from Ironbark" and "Three Little Pigs" in pigen. None of us had cars - it was impossible to drive anywhere because of the dirt roads and the flash floods, so we used the buses. The buses went from Married Hill to Mud Valley to the supermarket - they stopped outside Ron Uru's! Actually, one of our methods of occupying the children was to bundle them into the bus and take them on the route a couple of times. The supermarket was pretty exciting, everything mixed up together, no order at all, Kenwood Chefs next to the sugar. One needed to use a plastic bag glove to fossick around trying to find a hard onion, and the meat kept in regular household freezers was black at times - it was often a surprise to discover what in fact we were having for dinner! I had a good scheme going for fresh milk and cream - unheard of anywhere on the island, milk was Longlife and I made my own cream with the Kenwood. I had been an airhostess with T.A.A. before we were married and two of my former workmates were then flying on the Gulfstream and regularly coming to Bougainville each time bringing me milk and cream. They also supplied me with eggs which were not soaked in ether for preservation! We bought our veggies at the local markets, much better than yellow broccoli, and once a month we got down to shop at Kieta.

The trip to Kieta was also pretty horrific. We went in the work Ute, through the mission at Tunuru and usually arrived in Kieta covered in dust - but once there it was a shoppers paradise for us, deprived as we were in Panguna. There was a row of Chinese shops just as you turned right at the bottom of the hill and of course Steamships and Greens. We usually had a list as long as your arm for all the neighbors and came home laden with exotica. Oh yes, we always had to check on Clarry 's boat at Birempa on the way up to see if work was progressing.

Gurias were a common occurrence, and every afternoon we had the 3 o'clock blast.

Henry Moses lived across the road from me, and one day he asked me how I got my curtains closed each night and opened each day. I went over to investigate his curtain system and found he had them nailed to the wall. Later when he moved to Townsite he bought furniture from departing Americans, superb Spanish-style sets and pride of place in his lounge was a television set which he wouldn't have been able to use for about five years.

Other neighbours included:- The Kuzmans, Whiteheads, Edens, Garretsons, Marg and John Milne, Wellingtons (Gilly was the best nurse - along with The Sheriff), Tony and Geraldine Brown, Clarry and Norma Bradley (Norma's daughter Judy, lived at the Fur Farm and later married Ross Henderson and moved to Kieta) and the Collins lived behind us on Married Hill. Jenny White ( nee Collins) married Ian and stayed there for many years. Rob had Sundays off and we usually went to Loloho for the day - another adventure. One of the better parts of the day was the trip home. If it had rained in Panguna the Piania was up - no bridge there then - and we all sat around on the Birempa side waiting for the water to subside. There were always a few beers left in the esky just for that occasion!

When I went to Bougainville I was not much of a cook, but, I had two cook books, the beloved Margaret Fulton and the Country Women's bible, and eventually I cooked every recipe in them - our only other alternative was to go to Camp 3, which, by the way, I really enjoyed. That was our social life - dinner parties. Of course we had no T.V., but instead radios and the most super-duper sound systems with woofers and tweeters and hoofers, you name it!

We had a Bechtel Ladies Luncheon every month, held at someone's home. By that stage families had started to move into Townsite. One luncheon was extremely memorable. During the afternoon it poured and of course all the roads were washed away. We sat around drinking the punch deciding what to do, and eventually were all transported home in man-hauls, rather degrading in all our finery and ruined hair styles. By the way, Jan MacKenzie was our hairdresser then, she had a salon in Married Hill.

Another outing was to go down to the Jaba for a swim and a B.B.Q. It was really beautiful then, clean and picturesque. There was a swinging bridge leading over to a village, lots of us have paintings of it.

One weekend, we went to Loloho for dinner with one of the Port families. We returned home fairly late to be met by the police and security just before Birempa. We were told there was a bit of trouble brewing there and not to stop for anything - a bit of trouble? It was a full-blown riot, rocks through the police station, nationals (we called them indigenes then) running amok - frightening stuff.

One weekend we were experiencing the tail-end of a cyclone which had come pretty close to Torakina on the other side of the island. We went off to dinner at Townsite with the Cantwells and when we returned home around midnight, the whole hill behind us had come down slap bang up against the back door. We were told to evacuate, grab everything we could and get back to Townsite. Collins duplex behind us was declared unstable and it was thought that it could drop at any moment. Rob took me back to Cantwells and returned to Mud Valley to load as much as he could into the car. While he was at the house there was another mud slide which blocked the road and with no access now available he had to stay there for the night until the road could be cleared. Our dinner date turned into a six day visit - the Cantwells were packing to leave and I was there with the two children and no water or electricity. When we finally returned home our little valley was really living up to its name.

We eventually moved over to Townsite into a brand new house, it was the last one on the left before the drive up to Koniana. Gay and Tina Garretson moved in after us and I think the Goldens lived there later. We bought a car - a V.W. and I could finally visit friends who had moved to the newly-built Arawa and of course the Arawa Markets.

After start-up we stayed on with Bechtel for the 9th Ball Mill and moved to Birempa - dinner in the mess, open air movies (bring your own chair), darts and dances in the Rec Club. Occasionally we went to the movies at the Fermentary in Arawa, much more civilized. Emma started at Pre-School in Arawa down by the beach, and each day I had to negotiate the Arawa road which was not sealed and in the wet season a nightmare, just ask Norma Bradley, she "fell off" it two or three times!

We bought our first boat, a 23ft Bertram and a whole new world opened up for us. We went to the Wakini Fair each year, camped on the beach or stayed at the Numa Numa and of course we discovered all the beautiful islands off Loloho, and had a freezer full of Spanish Mackerel.

Will also include a few extra names from those first three years which I haven't heard mention of for quite a while. Rolf Thieman. Hans Ohff - Manager of Eglo Engineering, he worked with Rob and they called them Bob Down and Hands Off. Last we heard he was M.D. of the Collins Class Submarines in Adelaide. Bill Byson - Bechtel, chewed and spat tobacco. Marty Nagle. The "One Armed Bandit" Frank Gardiner, Bruce Machen and "Chooky" Fowler, Graham Talbot, with E.H.M. in Cloncurry. Ray Knight, also E.H.M. Peter Thielmann.