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April 2, 2011

Harry Baxter

I was delighted to find your Bougainville site. Didn' find my name on the Honour Roll tho'.

I believe I was the 7th Bechtel employee to arrive on the Island back in 1969. By the time I left in 1972 I was the longest serving.
I was made redundant after having a beer with a senior American Bechtel project manager called Ray Bradfield, up in Panguna when he declared that he was the longest serving employee........I had to tell him that I had arrived 2 weeks before him.................He didn't like that one little bit. Funny that!

I was, at the beginning employed as a draftsman, later as a Civil Field Engineer (More money!)

Three days after my arrival the then Project Manager Jim Barnett along with a surveyor, the Aussie District Commissioner, myself, a PNG Police Inspector and approx 130 armed Riot Police went in and took Loloho plantation from the Rorovana villagers. It was quite a day.

After that I was given the job of designing the layout of both the expatriate and indigenious camps at Loloho.
Each day I would leave my Police escort under a canoe tree and trudge to and fro through the acres of bracken fern and coconut trees, getting a feel for how I could best use the area for a 1000 man expatriate camp and a 1700 indigenious camp.

The project manager Jim Barnett told me to cut down/bulldoze around 2000 trees. I really didnt like the idea of destroying this beautiful area. So, in between the time when Jim died tragically in Panguna from a Brain Haemorage and the arrival of the new Project Manager, I cut down only 60 trees to make way for roads. Dongas were being installed and there was no turning back.

One particular day when I went further than usual around the headland towards Rorovana village, I heard voices coming from the beach. I really wanted to meet the Rorovanans so I kept walking through the trees until I was well past them, then got on to the beach and walked back towards them.

There were three adults sitting on the sand with a bunch of pickininies playing on the edge of the bush. The adults consisted of two young men about my age and one lapun.
As I came abreast of them, I asked could I speak with them? One of them who later turned out to be a firm friend as time went by ,was
Willie Bele.
Sitting with them I tried to explain that I would deal with their land as carefully as possible and that if I didnt do the job then someone who would no be so carefull might come along. I also told them my name.
Willie was thoughtfull and silent for a moment before saying " We already know who you are and It's alright......we wont kill you"
I was pretty grateful. All the time they were watching me and I had never once seen them.

Bougainville was for me the greatest experience of my life.................Many stories...........

I returned in 1977 on holiday and again a few times during their conflict with PNG around 1990. I entered illegally from the Solomons.
At that time I took a lot of video footage which was aired on Channel 9 A Current Affair featuring Yana Went and ABC 7.30 report.

The Channel 9 footage featured the Armoured Vehicles which the BRA and myself built up in the Pit Mine Workshop. Now that......is a story!

I am now living in western Australia and still have contact with the people of Bougainville.

I hope this reaches you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards

HARRY BAXTER
harrybaxter@dodo.com.au