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17 September 2012

Peter Lovell emailed from England:

I first heard about the Panguna Mine in 1965. I was the Boarding Officer for Customs in Rabaul, and it was possible that I would get the job of being TCO ( travelling Customs Officer ) to Kieta. The Customs Officer used to travel with the vessel from Rabaul, and do the customs clearances on the vessel at Kieta port. I wasn't given the job, unfortunately, so it took a few years before I got a chance to go to Kieta and see the mine.

In the meantime I left Customs, having worked in Moresby, Samarai, Lae and Rabaul. I worked for a Customs Agency in Moresby for a couple of years, and then felt the urge to work for myself. The year 1970..

I knew the manager of the fledgling BCL in Moresby, and he suggested to Brambles, that I could handle the customs agency work for the new mine. It wasn't a difficult consignment, because all items imported via Moresby for the mine were duty free, but I still had to do the paperwork.

I flew to Bougainville on 23 Mar 1971, and stayed at Camp 6 in Loloho. The mine road wasn't finished at that stage, and I remember I was impressed that Toyota Landcruisers only lasted 10,000 km on those muddy and rutted roads. It was wet and muddy all the time, and I drank a lot and enjoyed the camaraderie at the camp. I still have my Bechtel-WKE (Bram-Ken) ID badge..

I flew back to Moresby and continued building up my business, and the BCL work was consistent. BCL used to fly me over to Bougainville on their own aircraft every now and again, to sort different things out, and I was given the Royal tour of the mine and all the social spots of Arawa. I went to the island and saw the Japanese fishing vessel still beached on the sand.

The mine was an impressive site. I remember seeing it when the hole had just started, and then towards my last visit of 1981, and seeing just how enormous the hole had become.

My last visit was not company business, but as a squash player. I won the men's B Grade championship, at the Panguna courts, and the presentation was at the club. We then drove down to Arawa and spent the night drinking. I couldn't do it now.

I lived in PNG for 40 years, and became a citizen at Independence. It is a wonderful country, although I now live in the UK. I still remember the special colouring of the Bougainvilleans, the blue tinge of the flora, and the heavy and regular rainfalls.

The troubles were there for a long while. Bougainville never felt part of PNG, and the mine didn't play fair by the landowners. It became a cash-cow for the PNG government, and the locals were resentful. So it got out of hand..

My favourite place in PNG is Rabaul. Although that is no longer the Rabaul that I used to know and enjoy. In 1965 Rabaul was the centre of trade and commerce for the Bougainville Islands. The plantation owners used to sail to Rabaul for their rest and recreation. It was a buzzing town..

I was told many times that there was more gold in them-there-hills around Panguna, so maybe one day it will start all over again ??

I enjoyed reading all the articles, and it reminded me of those halcyon days.

Peter Lovell