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4 July 2011

From John Esling:

Hi there,

I was up at Panguna for most of 1968. As one of the CRA surveyors under Gunther Froemell.

At the time I was 24/25 and spent most of my time setting out drilling sites and doing topographical surveys.

We established the geodetic control survey on the hills surrounding Panguna and established azimuth control by carrying out Astronomical observations from control points above the old playing field.

I do remember a couple of names;
Barry ? – a geologist about the same age as me.
? Williams, from Auckland who was related to the Corbans family – I think his work was more office orientated.
Bill ? An Aussie surveyor who spent most of his time in the Adit on alignment surveys. He paired up with one of the nurses whom we referred to as YapYap, because of her rather raucous voice!!

We did put on a concert in the wet canteen for a visit by Miss PNG 1968 and six of us performed the cancan in grass skirts. Our dance teacher was a blonde school teacher to whom my boys referred as ‘raba susu’ because of her padded bras!! She was married to ‘wan bikpela cuscus’ – either in HR or accounting I think?
I used to spend most evenings with the group of drillers that were always seated at the first or second table nearest to the road side of the bar. We used to play bowls almost every evening until a couple of weeks before I left the project in December 1968.

We stopped playing bowls as a sign of respect after one of the drillers was killed as he and his mate were making there way back to Panguna during one of those heavy rainstorms after their week away deep in the bush. The young man, only 28, was knocked down by a rotting branch and pinned down in the riverbed for only a minute, but that was time enough for the poor bugger to drown. His 56 year old mate tried mouth to mouth to no avail – had to leave him there and walk out to get a recovery team. They had been working as a team for almost ten years – and had a beautiful close bond – like a father and son.

My first responsibility on arriving in Brisbane was to visit his sister and reassure her that he had not suffered an agonizing death, but that the whole event had passed in a matter of seconds, as he had probably already been unconscious even before hitting the ground.

If there are any formal records available I would dearly like to find his name again. And that of his drilling mate too.

On the matter of bowls – it took me a long time to beat one of the older bowlers. But I finally did succeed one night in October by coming back on the final bowl from two down to three up. Only after that win did he let on that he had been a former Queensland Bowls Champion!!

There were so many memories and, after starting to write six years ago, I have only just completed the first chapter of my memories of that year.
Unfortunately, in the course of so many house moves over the last 43 years any and all the slides that I took whilst there have all been lost. So I would love to be able to upload anything available from that period if you have anything that might refresh my memory.

John Esling – another Maus Gras