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25 February 2013

Bougainville Interlude

With kind permission by Dermott Ryder


Late in January 1971, as the aircraft climbed out of early morning smog-bound Sydney and moved north - first call Brisbane and then onto Port Moresby - I reviewed my recent meeting with the pie-in-the-sky recruitment guy and my subsequent life changing decision.

"Bougainville", he told me, with enthusiasm bordering on evangelical fervour, "is a tropical island with an amazing history, fascinating people and great opportunity. It is the home of the Panguna Project; the world's most promising copper mine. You mark my words, Bougainville Copper will become a household name." Neither of us could have possibly foreseen what a prophesy of doom this eventually became.

"Where there's copper, there's gold too", he said, almost bubbling with excitement. "It's a marvellous chance for an adventurous young man, a writer and musician like yourself, to find and embrace new inspiration in a place most people will never be able to visit." He added - gilding the lily a bit - "And with your experience in construction at Mount Newman you have a great deal to bring to the job. That's why the pay and conditions are so good and the company will pay your airfare there and back and put up the expatriate guarantee bond to get you into TPNG." He finished with a conspiratorial stage whisper. "This job will be better than a holiday with pay."

He had a fine line of bullshit, but that was a given so nobody was getting fooled. We had objectives in common. I wanted to travel. He wanted to make quota. He shouted a plate of sandwiches and a couple of beers and it was a done deal.

Two weeks later I found myself, with a slight hangover, at thirty-five thousand feet, flying north and, as luck would have it, sat next to a cynical but talkative self-styled historian. He was returning from annual leave in Sydney to his position in the administration. He declared himself a government man but more accurately and on reflection, I think, he was an opposition man. He gave me the low down on Bougainville, chapter and verse. He spoke with practised and unchallengeable authority. I quickly came to the suspicion that he had written a book or that he had memorised somebody else�s.

"The island of Bougainville", he declaimed, "is 127 miles long and 30 miles wide. It is geographically part of the Solomon Island Group and politically part of Papua New Guinea, and as such is part of the Australian External Territories. The United Nations deemed it so at the end of the Second World War. The act of accepting this hegemony increased Australia's colonial power."

I detected something in the tone of his voice that made clear to me that he did not approve of colonial powers. He sensed this insight and he knew that he definitely had my attention and he warmed to his pompous presentation.

"The history of Bougainville is a grisly story of rampant imperialism", he announced. He was on a roll. "At the end of the 19th century the rapacious representatives of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Alexandrina Victoria and the equally grasping wheeler-dealers of the German Kaiser Wilhelm created an Anglo-German pact that brought sunny smiles to the time-lined features of these two aging, inbred monarchs. British imperialists, the owners of record, gave Bougainville to the German imperialists. They attached their new little gem of empire to German New Guinea. Neither power consulted the native peoples so dramatically affected. Why should they? After all, Europeans were gods." He took a sip of water. He seemed to be pacing himself, speaking in what I later came to know as sound bites. I waited in silence for him to continue and then I listened intently.

In the fullness of time I have edited his potted history into memory as dot points of factual convenience. The main points being that in 1914, at the start of The First World War, the New Colonial Power, Australia, annexed German New Guinea and attached it to Australian Papua - an empire within an empire. Victoria Regina would have been as proud as punch of her colonial children.

During the Second World War the imperial Japanese became the brutal overlord but the imperial Americans, swaggering gods of the cargo cult, kicked them out and introduced chewing gum as an alternative to beetle nut. However, as if to spite the interlopers, the ingenious indigenise combined the two evils and developed the capacity to projectile spit over a great distance. In a less politically correct world this local competitive activity could have become an Olympic sport.

In time the remote and dispassionate United Nations, sensing problems ahead, gave the whole box and dice back to Australia. What goes around comes around shrugged the faceless grey suited undead of Canberra as they recreated the Bureaucracy.

Once again, apparently, the protecting power did not consult the Bougainvillians. However, the island people were growing up and developing a sense of enlightened self-interest. They were becoming politically aware and quite naturally began to object to foreign rule. Their expressions of earnest opposition and protest became particularly vocal in 1969 when the people of central Bougainville learned that their ownership of land extended no more than one metre below their gardens. The land below this depth belonged to 'the crown' a right and title sustained by the ruling power, Australia, and administered by the all-powerful Neo-Colonial Bureaucracy.

This august, humane and forward-looking body granted the right to plunder the copper riches of the island to the company Bougainville Copper Ltd, part of the ugly Australian face of the ravenous Rio Tinto Zinc of London. My airborne informant smiled and laid the whole scam bare.

"Just between you and me", he stage whispered, "the plan was simple: dig up the hill, turn it into a slurry, pump it down to the coast in a pipeline, ship it out, get rich and bugger the bloody kanakas. Best not call them bush kanakas though, at least not directly. Some of them get really agro if you call them that. The tactful, or the hypocritical call them indigenes, not me though, I call a spade a spade." Then he laughed, I think he thought it was a joke.

He continued his address as if quoting from a well-rehearsed lecture. "The simple plan, when implemented, included the destruction of the coastal copra plantations, the obliteration of gardens, the felling of trees and the polluting of rivers and bays." He droned on. The Bougainvillians became stroppy and vociferously voiced their discontent. The police force handled the protesters, particularly the land-owning women, in the time honoured colonial, head-banging way, with hobnailed boots and batons, tear-gas and unlawful imprisonment with cruelty and with impunity.

He stopped for breath and for another drink of water and for a moment I got the feeling that through his half closed eyes he could see the audience he would one day address. Then he was off again.

"Of course, the multinationals won and got the land they wanted and have dug a six kilometre long deep, deep hole at Panguna and are shipping out as much copper and gold as they can before the shit hits the fan. The unprofitable part of the excavation, mostly poisonous tailing's are as we speak being thrown into the Jaba river system thereby killing every living thing in it, most of the riverside flora and an as yet uncounted number of people." Finally he said, with the hint of a sigh, "We have the best bureaucracy money can buy and influence can protect. In the beginning we could have stopped the rape of Bougainville but not now that politics and profits run the game."

At this point I realised that apart from asking for a second cup of coffee I had not spoken a dozen words since taking off from Brisbane. But the thought quickly passed as the cabin steward, a feisty woman with sharp blue eyes and no buttocks, barked out the usual orders for landing. So, cigarettes extinguished, seats upright and tray tables folded away, we landed with a bump at Port Moresby's unprepossessing airport.

We left the aircraft together and walked across the tarmac to the baggage check and customs and immigration table where we said our goodbyes. He was met by a uniformed government chauffeur who took his bags and led him around the formalities and out to a large official car. I, on the other hand, had my documents diligently scrutinised and my belonging rigorously searched and my guitar treated with upmost suspicion.

According to my ticketing details I would have a one-hour wait before boarding my flight for Bougainville so I made my way to a bar and discovered a small crowd of travellers - five New Zealanders, a South African and two North Queensland carpenters - all heading for the island. I also discovered South Pacific Lager, commonly known as swamp piss and quite rightly so. After a couple of beers in good company I asked about the approaching flight departure time and was told, with a great laugh, that the term one-hour in the external territories meant a time period of no particular duration. The flight for Bougainville left three hot, sweaty hours later.

I can only describe the flight as liquid and hilarious. Apart from the construction group and the crisply turned out and up themselves Burns Philp types the rest of the passengers were indigenous and gregarious, and so were their children and sundry livestock. Although all became strangely quiet as we approached the landing strip at Aropa, near Kieta. I joined in the silence when I looked out of the window and discovered that what I had originally thought to be a third class road was the landing strip.

The arrival at Aropa was as chaotic as the departure from Port Moresby. There were no company people there to meet us and nobody knew where we were supposed to be going. Eventually our company truck arrived to collect the South African and me and take us to our accommodation in the Loloho camp. After some discussion and the establishment of an appropriate gratuity the driver agreed to take the New Zealanders and the now seriously hammered North Queenslanders to the wet canteen at Loloho from where they could contact their employers. The negotiations worked and the driver had free beer for a week, courtesy of the incoherent carpenters, and we discovered that alcohol in any form was as good as if not better than legal tender.

The construction camps on Bougainville were similar to those I'd experienced during the early days at Mount Newman. The accommodation was simple. There were neat lines of demountable caravan-like units, each with four two-man compartments. Each compartment contained two beds separated by a small table and two lockers. A table fan, a monument to futility but the only form of air-conditioning available, laboriously moved the heavy, humid, almost oxygen free air around the compartment. This Spartan structure, called a donga, is universal in remote area construction.

For the next instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


Bougainville Interlude II

With kind permission by Dermott Ryder


For the previous instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


My first three nights on the island I spent in a worldwide donga at Loloho, two hundred metres from a wet canteen, a hundred metres from the shoreline and close to the colourful one-room hut of Ali the Barber. He was a real character who made a living cutting hair and selling his daily catch of fish. Then I moved to Camp Eight, Arawa.

The significant difference between my Mount Newman experience and Bougainville was the climate. At Newman the hot, dry days and often cool and comfortable evenings made the place bearable. The brutally hot, humid days and the hot, airless nights made the Bougainville coast the gusset in the underpants of hell. My Western Australian experiences with Bechtel Pacific and Mount Newman Mining in no way prepared me for the Bougainville job. Compared with the shambolic Territorian companies, Bechtel and Newman run like clockwork.

My introduction to the company office and production facilities was a revelation. The site office, the lair of the project manager, his feral general foreman, who was also the owner's son-in-law, two indigenous clerks, a mildly confused draughtsman with an invisible friend, and an expatriate administration clerk with a number of serious issues, was not a model of modern project management - although it would have made a fascinating case study for my earlier project management course.

Our promised contribution to the Panguna Project, called for the building of an ever-changing number of three types of houses. At the low end was the indifferently cobbled together army barrack style, round roof shanties for selected indigenous workers. The second level houses, for expatriate trade contactors and middle management, were largely in keeping with southern expectations. At the top end the upper crust dwellings were, by Bougainville standards, borderline palatial. This was not a classless society.

Several teams of consummate professionals were in the field at any one time. The building plan, handed down from the project office indicated that construction would occur, in job lots and in theory, in seven activities called days, each day's tasks representing the work in progress for the group of houses in the job specification.

For instance, on day one the concrete slabs would be poured and allowed to set. From day two to day six most of the rest of the construction would happen. On day seven the job would be completed, inspected and handed over to the unsuspecting new owners before it fell down. It would be a flight of fancy to translate this sort of seven days into a conventional week. On first acquaintance this "day build" approach seems simple and straightforward. In practice, experience indicates, that madness lies in this direction, especially on Bougainville where time had an elastic dimension.

The building plan with a bill of material also came to our site office, to the workshop and to the store, traditionally, two days after it should have. Fasteners, fittings, fixtures and roofing iron were not a problem. The small stuff came out of the main store and the roofers called for their iron when they wanted it.

The timber wall frames, various panels and roof trusses all required fabrication work. The crunch came here. Timing was always a problem. Everything had to wait its turn in the queue for the workshop, first for the saw men, then for the assemblers and finishers, finally for the loaders. Of course the guys on the sites always got mightily pissed off waiting for something to happen and blamed the workshop for every delay when the fault lay fairly and squarely with the clown of a project manager who couldn�t organize a romantic night out.

Under normal circumstances the set out of this sort of production unit would put the rough timber yard adjacent to the point of entry into the mill and workshop to streamline transport into process of materials for cutting, assembly and eventual despatch to the construction point. In theory nothing could be simpler.

However, this wrong way round epicentre of productivity, planned and built by the project manager and the general foreman, had the rough timber coming in at the point where the finished frames should have been going out. This brought unnecessarily hard work to everybody involved and especially to the indigenous timber carriers. They paid the price of this cock up in sweat and blood. Naturally, the two great brains of the organization, the ancestors of dumb and dumber, blamed each other for this monumental foul up with vaudevillian fervour.

My place in the great scheme of things, in concert with two colleagues, was to translate the blue prints and bills of materials into a timely flow of timber to the mill, roofing iron and fasteners onto trucks and to get everything to the right place, according to the building plans, and at the right time, according to the building schedule.

I was fortunate in my two associate administrators, Michael from Sydney, a quietly spoken, compulsive counter of things was painstakingly accurate in everything he did. This was, on occasion, time consuming and frustrating but proved worthwhile. Roger, a native born and experienced expatriate from the New Guinea highlands town of Mount Hagen was our wise and trusted guide and advisor. We readily accepted and adopted his approach in dealing with and supervising the indigenous workers. Fluent in Pidgin, Motu and Chimbu, he opened our eyes to experiences we would have otherwise missed. Looking back, his influence is hard to overvalue.

The variables that can influence any construction project are legion and change by the minute. Multiply this truism by a very large number and this will give some small indication of the Bougainville experience.

It took about a fortnight, and numerous visits to the house building sites in the project area to discover and confirm that not one of the printed or typed documents provided by the company to do the job was anything like accurate. The mounds of unused materials at every finished house should have been a clue to project management but for all sorts of reasons wasn't. Eventually the excess material always conveniently disappeared, sold off by and to interested parties or gathered by the cargo cult true believers who never let a chance go by.

When we pointed out this misalliance of documentation and material to the project manager he simply shrugged and said: "Fix it lads, that's what we're paying you for." We did fix it, in devious ways and with a small but reasonable profit. Value engineering has many applications.

The only accurate building location plan accessible to us, we discovered, was a hand drawn section of the project area with roads and house sites marked on it with the traditional, thumbnail dipped in tar. The location plan, thumb tacked to the project office wall of the main contractor, we acquired by stealth, or burglary if you will, at the dead of night. Nobody ever commented on its disappearance.

Getting the house building plans was a little more difficult. Neither the mildly confused draughtsman nor his invisible friend had a clue where the file copies could possibly be. The project manager and the general foreman, comfortably ensconced on their own self indulgent cloud nine, were never in the loop. They were simply not trusted. Fortunately we found Darwin Denis, one of the few sane carpenters on the job. He was a first class tradesman and took great pride in his work. He had accurate drawings of the two higher-level houses and just enough larceny in his soul to open the door to opportunity at first knock. He was willing to share his knowledge and his unique paperwork for a consideration that included a conjugal round trip air ticket to Rabaul, where the dark-eyed light of his life resided. The enlightened self-interest of the person who described our carefully worded requests for the appropriate documentation as "freaking blackmail" made the whole thing possible.

The situation settled down remarkably quickly and, apart from the discovery that some weeks earlier one of the teams had built two houses in the middle of a planned road, there were no major incidents to contend with. Fortunately the surveyor responsible for locating the houses had made a number of errors and after some discussion was willing to redraw this tiny section of the map and re-peg several house sites yet to be developed. When completed the short road would be fifty metres south of where the original planner intended it to be but as far as I know nobody ever noticed this very typical Bougainville discrepancy.

All of this focussed activity begs the question: Why would we, why would anybody, put so much energy and effort into the service of a company so marked by remote indifference and cynical ineptitude? The answer, I think, lies in the strong possibility that it was important to us how we spent our time, and what we could achieve in the process. The desire to bring temperate order to tropical chaos was a driving force few could resist. Add to this our scalding contempt for the project management philosophy and our motivation, in hindsight, seems clear enough.

After the initial frenzy of energy sapping activity that marks the early days on remote area construction things usually settle down. The work becomes a process, mostly predictable but with occasions of heightened excitement to alleviate the tedium.

For the next instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


Bougainville Interlude III

With kind permission by Dermott Ryder


For the previous instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


There is, however, another side to the working life in a remote location. Off the job the feeling of social isolation that exists in these places is often disturbing. The ability to cope with this sort of negative sensation is essential. Many on Bougainville relied heavily on memories to protect against the more dysfunctional effects of the place. Does constantly looking back help? Not constantly but from time to time perhaps.

It doesn't take long to realise that nostalgia is an ever-present danger because living too much in the past can drive strong men to drink and lesser men mad. The dedicated survivor, or compulsive hedonist, will find more effective diversions of various sorts, some wholesome, others less so.

Entertainment for many on Bougainville was, in the main, grog, grog and more grog. Drinking, a before and after dinner social activity for most, was a dusk until dawn pastime for more than a few. There was no lack of opportunity and supply was a wide and rushing river. Beers of many lands, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, bourbon and all sorts of fancy liqueurs were readily available. The thing that surprised me a little was the absence of a local bootlegger. There may have been an illicit still, somewhere, but I never found it. Nor did I hear so much as a whisper of its existence. Perhaps the workforce lacked an industrial chemist with time on his hands and a desire to produce a potable toxin.

Drinkers worldwide often seek new experiences when off the shelf concoctions fail to excite or no longer please. Bougainville drinkers also shared this sense of adventure. Curiosity, human ingenuity and the creative use of available ingredients can bear intriguing alcoholic fruit. Aside from the usual mixing of soft drinks, cordials and fruit juices with spirits the most memorable Bougainville experiment that I recall was the great coconut project.

The initiator of this ground breaking and liver demolishing initiative was one of the contract foremen, Bent by name and bent by nature. He had a double donga set up as living quarters, work office and grog distribution centre. Three large fridges, a glass double fronted cold cabinet and an enormous freezer chest served his beer, sea turtle meat and seafood interests. He had an indigenous labour force of about thirty to do his bidding. Twenty or so highland boys and five ghosts did official contract company work. The remainder, coastal boys, worked on his various off-the-book enterprises. Naturally the company picked up the wage bill for the lot.

The great coconut project was simple and lucrative. The coastal boys selectively harvested the coconuts by shinning up the trees and sending down the nuts at the desired stage of development for husking and transport to a makeshift workshop. There, a highly trained technocrat with a Black and Decker drilled two half-inch holes in one end and drained the fluid remaining in the core, which was then filled with vodka or gin and, according to legend, a secret ingredient. The next stage was to plug the holes with sharpened pegs and stack the prepared coconuts on a purpose build wall rack for several days.

The theory being that the spirit, the secret ingredient and the heat of the day would break down the coconut flesh into alcoholic slurry. This process seemed to work more often than not. The suspension, when extracted from the coconut, formed the base for a mind-numbing beverage usually mixed half and half with tonic or soda water and served in a five-ounce glass. I tried the concoction once. After that I merely observed the results of imbibing. One glass produced good humour and a desire to tell terrible jokes. Two glasses created a powerful sensation of euphoria. Three glasses generated a feeling of omnipotence. Four glasses brought on an out of body experience. No one, as far as I know, ever reached a fifth glass.

Most campers, however, found other forms of entertainment more to their taste. We were, after all, living on a sun-blessed tropical island with wonderful black sand beaches. An ocean filled with exquisitely eatable creatures surrounded us. There were a few creatures that would prefer to eat us, should they get the chance but we weren�t unduly worried. We were alert but not alarmed. Life on the ocean wave had its pleasures.

From Kieta to Buka and back can be a very pleasant sheltered-water ocean journey in a half-cabin boat. A steady hand at the wheel, an esky of grog, an esky of fresh seafood, and a fishing rod to make the fish laugh, will also add to the simple joy of the expedition. A big hat and plenty of zinc ointment on the nose and ears will provide some protection from the sun and wind. The size of the boat will often discourage the smaller sharks but getting into shallow water quite quickly is prudent when the larger sharks are about.

If there is some way to go to reach shallow water the simple expedient of tying a large raw beefsteak to a small unsuspecting passenger and then throwing him overboard may gain those few precious moments required to reach safety.

There are also dangers lurking ashore. For sea-going pilgrims requiring occasional and casual female company the legendary and exclusive place known affectionately as the baby farm became a popular call. There, even an impecunious visitor could purchase an evening of tourist class hetero hedonism plus a souvenir, usually a native bow with arrows, at five dollars for a short time. The business class evening at ten dollars for a longer time and with better quality bow and arrows also came with shower facilities and, courtesy of a back door delivery from Burns Philp, heavily scented soap.

Unfortunately, for those wishing discretion, its powerful, lingering odour was an instantly recognisable giveaway and always generated an excess of lewd humour. It also introduced a new word into the Pigeon English lexicon. The makers and marketers of this powerfully aromatic soap, the choice of film stars, claimed it was worth nine guineas an ounce. The satirists of this demographic gave it an appellation not commonly used in polite society.

Former visitors, in remarking upon this entertaining establishment, may smile and show you a native bow and arrow and then tell you, rather ruefully, of all the rewards that can come with a five or ten dollar package deal.

Commercial fraternisation, of course, did not please everybody. The Christian missionary churchmen, none of them qualified to cast the first stone, were characteristically hostile to the activity. They much preferred their own insidious forms of exploitation. The local lads didn't like it either. They got very miffed when their girls got up to no good with cashed up expatriates when they should have been getting up to no good with the local lads. They weren't being mean. They were just protecting the gene pool. Feelings, at times though, ran very high.

A dapper Buka with a permanent smile and the vocabulary of a Chicago wise guy ran the baby farm operation as a sideline to what he called Mary Jane enterprises. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of spectacular grass that he packed into brown paper tea bags that held at least 400 grams and sold for fifteen dollars a bag. The Arawa camp "Old Dope Peddler", named after Tom Lehrer's song of the same name, was his main competition. Sadly, a few months later, the surf and turf war that ensued took them both out of the game.

The darker side of the Arawa camp was, strangely enough, the best lit and was often the noisiest. On busy nights the blasts of high-powered stereo systems added industrial deafness to the list of sexually transmitted diseases available for the asking. The epicentre of this tropical island decadence, known as Faggot Alley, was a row of dongas gaily bedecked in fairy lights and featuring in each cubicle a competitively priced pillow biter stripped down and ready for action.

A vicious old queen called Paul the pimpernel was president of this chamber of commerce. The Old Dope Peddler also had a place of business there. The illustrious Harry Bent, of toxic coconut fame, had the sly grog shop concession. Otto the Pig, an ex Melbourne kneecapper, a bulldozer operator in daylight hours, and his hairy knuckle deputy pigs took care of security and warned off unwelcome visitors. Bougainville being Bougainville neither camp nor company management interfered and I suspect that the invisible local police, well served in their Kieta sly grog shop, were happy to have such a lucrative commercial enterprises on their manor.

For the next instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


Bougainville Interlude IV

With kind permission by Dermott Ryder


For the previous instalment of Dermott's story, click here.


For the more conservative members of the expatriate community there were other diversions. Outdoor pursuits including bird watching, fishing and beach combing were popular. For those built for comfort and the intellectuals, card games, backgammon and chess did the trick. Inevitably, I suppose, I started a guitar circle with unaccompanied singing and poetry thrown in when available. To gather a group of interested people I simply sat on the veranda every evening and played and sang a few songs, boredom and curiosity did the rest.

The expatriates attracted to the circle were a diverse bunch. USA, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, France and Germany were all, over time, represented. Their differences at times were striking but they all had something in common, the need for creative social intercourse.

The group was as anarchic as it was organic. It evolved simply by being. Guitar accompanied singing was readily acceptable but at first unaccompanied singing and poetry that didn't rhyme attracted a little derision. Poetry that did rhyme but lacked the required level of obscenity also struggled for acceptance. Eventually, in a surprisingly short time, the half remembered party pieces and ribald rugby songs of some members gave way to more considered offerings.

I was not surprised by the enthusiasm for reading established poets works or by the interest in both contemporary and traditional folksong. What did surprise me was the amount of admirable original work presented, hesitantly at first but with growing eagerness. Within this environment I felt confident to present my own Bougainville generated work.

The single greatest enemy on the Bougainville coast was the climate. The heat and humidity formed a devastating partnership. From the lowly leather watchstrap through to the most robust equipment, just about everything disintegrated in next to no time. Musical instruments were especially vulnerable: guitars, banjos and fiddles all suffered terribly. The only concertina I encountered fell apart in mid-performance. I tried to counter the conditions by cleaning and polishing my steel string guitar, including the strings, almost daily. When my guitar cleaning kit ran out I resorted to spray-on furniture polish.

My guitar survived the Bougainville experience. Others were not so lucky. A classical player at a formal musical evening had an unfortunate experience. Seated in the appointed position - right foot on little metal footrest, guitar between thighs and fret board pointing upward towards the left ear - he started slowly then he got into it with a passion. With his left hand flying up and down the frets and his right hand clawing and thrashing at the strings he achieved the climax with a flourish. He graciously accepted a flutter of applause. At that moment the guitar's bridge gave up the unequal struggle between passion, percussion, the Bougainville climate and glue designed to serve in temperate conditions. The bridge broke loose with a tortured, rattling boing and struck him on the nose, or thereabouts.

This must have embarrassed and humiliated the virtuoso beyond measure. He lost it. He kicked his little metal footrest out into the Bougainville night. Then gripping his extremely expensive guitar by the fret board he smashed it to bits against a coconut tree conveniently growing near the performance space. At this point the organizer of the musical evening, acting as MC, suggested we all have a short break.

Meanwhile, back on the job... As the contract wound down the distant rulers of the company ordered local management to cut the indigenous head count. Sadly, in remote area construction, this is an inevitable step in the final stages of a job as it moves towards completion.

Separating people from gainful employment needs careful handling, a humane approach. Unfortunately, neither the project manager nor the general foremen were human nor were their methods humane. They simply tore several pages from the record book and issued the instruction for summary execution.

We, the rational ones, the unofficial underground movement, found this approach unacceptable but at first thought that we could do little to change it. Then a plan presented itself.� Mail security being non-existent we easily acquired the authorised list and confirmed that it included the names of many of our most reliable workers. We removed those names and to make up the required number we replaced them with the names of non-existent workers, known payroll ghosts. It was the work of moments and the adjusted mail went its merry way on time.

It all worked well. Instead of losing many workers we only lost a few. The head office accountants registered a worthwhile cost saving and, at the same time, we struck a blow to the hip-pocket nerve of the avaricious ungodly.

This substitution went unnoticed for a fortnight, the indigenous workers pay period, then all hell broke loose, albeit in a suppressed, red faced, swearing, spitting, door slamming way. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when certain privileged people discovered that the pay of the ghosts, a lucrative cash perquisite, was lost to them forever because some son of a bitch had removed the ghosts from the payroll by including them on a termination list. It must have been truly galling to be unable to re-establish the ghosts because at a labour shedding stage of contract how could they possibly hire new workers, even if they were invisible. Somebody would notice. Somebody would ask questions.

Meanwhile, the world was once again closing in on Bougainville. Time and tide and the coming of the vainglorious Gough Whitlam and his posse of political poseurs, including the flamboyant Bob Hawke and the super-trendy Jim Cairns, marked yet another turning point in the lives and fortunes of numerous tribes of the External Territories.

Whitlam, with an imperious wave of his chubby hand, offered the people a bright and wonderful future under the paternal rule of the Australian Labor Party. He also added, 'in time I will bring freedom, self-determination and self rule to the people of TPNG'. Strangely enough he didn't mention the violence, corruption and social dislocation that would follow in the wake of the abject failure of his personal dreams of glory and of his short but eventful time in government.

My time to leave Bougainville was at hand. The project manager and the general foreman recommended to our masters in Port Moresby the withdrawal of my expatriate guarantee bond. They had no provable cause to do this, beyond deep suspicion and festering paranoia. They came to the belief that I had played a part in the ghost busting - though did not say so publicly - so the general foreman accused me of having a hand in 'fermenting revolt' by the distribution of too many bread rolls and tins of pilchards in tomato sauce to the workers at lunch breaks. A fascinatingly ludicrous idea that still fills me with contempt for my erstwhile employers and for those self-serving despots placed above us in the service of the company.

If native labourers working twelve hours a day, six days a week for a pittance and a meal of tinned fish and bread rolls isn't exploitation I don't know what is. We, the so-called protecting powers, did not do the peoples of the External Territories any favours.

I gave the workers a few extra tins of fish and bread rolls � so what! How could such an act do anything other than assuage hunger? As for fermenting revolt, that process inevitably occurs as a direct result of a colonial power existing.

Without the expatriate guarantee bond I was persona non grata in the external territories. However, I was cashed up and ready to go. It was time to move on. During the expedited preparations for my departure I discovered an ally, none other than the expatriate administration clerk with a number of serious issues. When the dark powers discovered the great ghost extraction he was a prime suspect.

He loudly and convincingly protested his innocence but in the cross-examination he had taken a brutal, verbal lashing from the interrogators. He too thirsted for revenge so as part of his evil and largely unshared plan he lost the paperwork requesting the revocation of my bond and provided me with air ticketing that allowed me to travel the length and breadth of Papua New Guinea.

I revisited Rabaul, New Britain, one of my favourite places. They knew me by name at the Kaivuna Motel. Sadly, this pleasant, historic little town, after a decade of fear, suffered a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 1994.

I also, after a short flight, attended my last boozy party at the Ansett Lodge in Lae, TPNG before setting out on an around the mountains trip via Goroka, Madang and Wewak to Mount Hagen and eventually to Port Moresby - and then, on to Australia.

24 February 2013

Chris Jefferies emailed from Canada:



I know that I sent you this but here it is again. I really like this picture as it brings it all back with one big thump for me. I can see myself standing in any one of twenty different spots there.


Chris on Arovo Island, washing down that big lump in the throat with a cold beer

Left to right: Bert Williamson, George Payton, Mike Flaherty, Atuvi, Joe Holden, George Halkett

Fellows on Kieta beach: L to R, Dennis, the son of one of the Bechtel engineers. Dennis was there from San Francisco as punishment for being a dink. Albert, who claimed he was somehow shanghaied from England and all he wanted to do was to go home. Didn’t know next fellow. George Halkett. Didn’t know last fellow.

Johnny Ellis

Me, Johnny Ellis, George Payton, inside Arovo


Damien Kenneally emailed from Cooma:


I worked in the engineering office in Panguna for Pol Guzman for most of 1971. Colleagues included Roy Goldsworthy, Adam Bulinski, Tony Strove (Bechtel) and Bill Adams.

Thanks for the site which I found only recently.

I am now retired in Cooma, NSW

Damien Kenneally
email fletchkenneally[AT]

PS. Roy, where are you these days?


Edited reply from Roy "Goldfinger" Goldsworthy:

"Hi Damien

So many years ago – doesn’t time fly? Every crossroads in life one never knows if one went down the right path – for me probably 50-50. I have done so many things that I have to look at my cv to see where I was at any particular time.

Adam Bulinski I saw a couple of times when working in Melbourne he ended up (at the time) driving a fork lift in a big warehouse & preaching politics at the weekend at poets’ corner.

I have not heard from Peter (Riverbend) for a while – he may have gone for a long holiday in Samoa. The others I have not heard from – but there used to be a B’ville get-together in Brisbane every year

I actually stayed on in Bougainville till 1978. Then from 78 to 87 worked in Melbourne for an engineering design company and got involved with modifications to a oil tanker. As there was no one interested I had a go & basically been in that work ever since – specialize in the design and construction of offshore living quarters. Much of my early work was in the Middle East (Qatar & Abu Dhabi) but have also worked in Korea, several years in China, and Singapore and Malaysia. Although I have just turned 70 – I am now working with Technip in Bangkok for the FEED stage of a large 160 man LQ for Chevron for Thai waters.

I received you email whilst down in Kuala Lumpur – but have been too busy to reply till now."

19 February 2013

Mine Access Road

Click on image to enlarge


The infamous Port Mine Access Road commanded respect and focus to survive. Many didn't.

Technical Specs : 2 lane 24ft wide. 16 miles long, 9 miles valley, 7 miles mountain section. Design speeds: valley 50mph, mountain 30mph [20mph on difficult sections], ruling grade 12%, max elevation 3300ft.

Record time from Arawa Post Office to Panguna Pink Palace 16mins. Tony McDonald [260z] and 'Phantom' [240z 24valve] 1975.

18 February 2013

Bougainville in the Year 2000

Gray Chandler emailed some more photos:

He comments as follows: "EUCLID sent us the "0 powered by a Avco Lycoming TF25A Gas Turbine,1850 shaft horsepower, for test and evaluation. Suffered a flame out ,losing its dynamic braking.With no steering or braking it ran out of control colliding with a R105 haul truck and finally coming to rest on a Cat 12e grader and a Isuzu cherry picker. Bougainville Copper Ltd tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress the pictures. Yours truly with the recovered truck in the laydown yard. The truck never returned to service. [circa 1975]

P.S Barry Middlemas from the Arawa News agency published the first pictures.

Euclid promotion picture . Not sure if it is the same truck before dissassembly for shipping to BCL. I am sure they only built one. !!!!"


Click on image to enlarge

Gray Chandler aka "Phantom" emailed these photos:

He wrote, "Started scanning my old slides. Only person to be given permission to photograph the Seccessionist Protest in 1975. Had PNG security force kicking my door in that night demanding all the film. As you can see they didn't get all of it.

cheers,gray chandler. AKA Phantom
email graychandler[AT]"

Click on image to enlarge

4 February 2013

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