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27 August 2013

First Contact


When Columbus and Cortez ventured into the New World there was no camera to record the drama of this first encounter. But, in 1930, when the Leahy brothers penetrated the interior of New Guinea in search of gold, they carried a movie camera. Thus they captured on film their unexpected confrontation with thousands of Stone Age people who had no concept of human life beyond their valleys. This amazing footage forms the basis of First Contact.

Yet there is more to this extraordinary film than the footage that was recovered. Fifty years later some of the participants are still alive and vividly recall their unique experience. The Papuans tell how they thought the white men were their ancestors, bleached by the sun and returned from the dead. They were amazed at the artifacts of 20th century life such as tin cans, phonographs and airplanes. When shown their younger, innocent selves in the found footage, they recall the darker side of their relationship with these mysterious beings with devastating weapons.

Australian Dan Leahy describes his fear at being outnumbered by primitive looking people with whom he could not speak. He felt he had to dominate them for his own survival and to continue his quest for gold. First Contact is one of those rare films that holds an audience spell-bound. Humour and pathos are combined in this classic story of colonialism, told by the people who were there.

"The film is ironic, poignant, and often chilling. It's ironic to see recent shots of the natives, once so isolated, sporting Western clothes and chuckling over old photos of themselves. It's poignant to hear women recall being sexually "sold" to the visitors despite their fears. It's chilling to hear the Leahy brothers matter-of-factly explain why they killed their less hospitable hosts - forgetting that, whatever the danger may have been, no invitation had been offered them in the first place. It's a disturbing film, full of head-on challenges to colonial and racist attitudes. Yet it's a deeply human experience, too: Its message, strongly implied if not stated, is that some kind of rapport is bound to develop in any situation, however clouded the circumstances may be by isolation, ignorance, and the urge for domination" — Christian Science Monitor

View more images here.


Publisher Penguin Books Ltd, published 25/02/1988
ISBN-13:9780670801671, ISBN-10:0670801674
hardback, 100 black-and-white photographs.

23 August 2013

Iain MacPherson emailed from Perth:


Iain MacPherson is my name and I was a fitter with Buin Earthmoving from 1976 to 79, my father is Alistair Macpherson who was the G.M. for Blackwood Hodge and was on the Island for 6 years before going to Lae, Moresby and Ok Tedi.

Our family have now settled back in to Perth in W.A.

Iain MacPherson
email iainmac[AT]


18 August 2013

Alan Wilson emailed from Doncaster East in Melbourne:

Please note: the number across the chest has been cropped out ☺



My name is Alan Wilson and I spent 3 years as a Shift Supervisor in the Loloho Power Plant, on the Bougainville Project, arriving on 17 August 1971, at the tender age of 29.

Moving out of the “rut” in Victoria that many of us get ourselves into, moving to this exciting opportunity which shaped the remainder of my career. It took us out of our comfort zones into an exciting new world with no TV, radio (sometimes), very little in the way of telephones and newspapers that might arrive from Australia, if you were lucky. We were forced to make our own entertainment and the regular house-parties were always well attended and enjoyed.
Reel to reel tape decks with somewhat large amplifiers and speakers were most important when putting on a party.

Recall many times on Arovo Island which was hard to believe that such a place could exist close to the place that we worked and lived. Then there were the boat trips out to what we called No: 3 Island out from Loloho Beach. Some-one took some scaffolding tubes out there and we could light a fire under the tubes which would act as an excellent BBQ.

Made friends with many of the guys who were building and maintaining the township of Arawa. Bill Hubbard is one name that comes to mind.

On two occasions we were lucky enough to be involved with weddings for our expats who married girls in Honiara. Chartered a DC3 for the weekend and enjoyed what Guadalcanal had to offer. Mike Reid was the name of one of them who was married there.

After leaving PNG in 1974, tried to re-settle in Australia, but the bug that I picked up in Bougainville meant that we were off to Soroako, Sulawesi, Indonesia. This was followed many years later with time living in Borneo, Indonesia, China, Philippines and then across to Curacao in the Caribbean.

Now trying to deal with retirement back in Doncaster East, Victoria.

Have had recent contact with Theo van der Meulen, Don Houston, Jim Watts, John Withers, Eric Healey, Peter Bazelt, Keith Britton and I believe that we all agree that Bougainville shaped our future lives.
When reading the experiences of others on your website, it is obvious that many lives have been affected by the time that they spent on Bougainville.

It is a really great website and it shows that people love to be able to remember the time that they spent there.


Alan Wilson


ps: not sure about your decision to go to Kalimantan. I was there in 1997-8, during the drought, living right down in the south east corner, managing a power station for a cement plant. It was a 6 hour drive to Banjarmasin and it was rugged going.


2 August 2013

Visit Bougainville and stay at the Sohano Ocean View Apartments


Owned and operated by Ralph Christen, son of Urs Christen, formerly of Morgan Equipment at Birimpa, the Sohano Ocean View Apartments are by far the best accommodation one can find in Bougainville.

There are four ultra-modern apartments and seven well-furnished rooms with balconies giving a breathtaking view of the Buka Passage, Bougainville and Buka islands and the outlying reefs and atolls.

For more photos, click here and here.

To book yourself into a holiday you're not likely to forget, click here.

Approaching Buka Passage from the north, Buka with its airstrip is on the right; Bougainvile on the left; Sohano directly above Bougainville

Buka Passage, the narrow channel that separates Bougainville from Buka, is steeped in history and legends and packed with beautiful islands. It's also thick with fish just waiting to be hauled out. Sohano Island, in the centre of the passage, was the district headquarters from just after the war until 1960.


Click here for an article on Buka and Sohano in the AIR NIUGINI PARADISE in-flight magazine which also mentions Sohano Ocean View Apartments:


"I stayed at the Sohano Ocean View Apartments being developed by local business man Ralph Christen, an enterprising young man with a vision. His Swiss father used to work at the Panguna mine.

Though his apartments are still a work in progress, this is by far the elite accommodation of Bougainville overlooking the waterways with four ultra-modern apartments and seven rooms.

Ralph also runs a bakery and a kai bar in town."


Read article in AIR NIUGINI Paradise Magazine


If you're interested in revisiting Bougainville, email me and I put you in touch with Ralph.

An aerial photograph of the Buka Passage between Bougainville (left) and Buka (right) islands in the Solomon Islands in 1943. Two Japanese airfields are visible, Buka airfield (centre) and Bonis airfield (left). Today Buka airfield is Bougainville's major airport whereas Bonis is disused since the Second World War.


Located in the middle of the Buka Passage, Sohano is one of the region’s historical islands. With sparkling blue oceans, green grass and swaying coconut palms, Sohano Island measures 3km in length and width. The island is historical in a sense that it holds most of Bougainville’s memorable past and recent history.

The atoll island lies right in the middle of the famous passage like a natural light house to all sea transport. By outboard motor, it will take less than a minute to travel from Buka Town to Sohano Island. Experienced boat skippers await you at the Buka market beach front. The rate for rides across the passage is K1, but if you want to experience the Buka passage more intimately with its surrounding islands, then you can bargain with the friendly skippers to hire their boats. Boat hire is much more efficient and convenient for people trying to take their time to digest the beauty Buka offers to its visitors.

Sohano is the ideal place for you in Buka to ease your mind after a load of hard work in fenced compounds and air conditioned offices. Known as the former colonial headquarters for Bougainville in the 50s and 60s, and as a World War II landmark, Sohano gives you a spark of history to enlighten your knowledge of historical values. Not only does the island hold political history, but in the colonial times the island housed what was then known as the colonial administration that managed Bougainville in the early 1930’s.

Many of the old men today regard those days as the “good days” when everything, according to them, was much cheaper and accessible. Sohano is shaped graciously like Clint Eastwood’s cowboy hat. It has a moderate hill that has a hilltop spreading some 2sqkm around and the base more or less spreads beautifully around this hill.

In the “good days”, most of the colonial rulers on Bougainville built their homesteads up on the hilltop. The scenery from the hilltop is most heavenly. From the top, the famous Buka passage and its fast flowing tides can be seen flowing on both sides of the island. Standing by the Buka Luman Soho lodge, you can see the Buka town on your left side and the Kokopau town on your right. Buka Luman Soho is the only modern-style classic lodging facility on the small island which provides lodging and facilitates conferences including National Court hearings.

Sohano is surrounded by some of the most beautiful reefs in PNG. At the back of the island stretches one of the largest from the tip of Sohano to the neighboring Taiof Island. A lot of rare marine life and fauna exist on these reefs.

A lot of the colonial administration and provincial administration buildings have all been weathered down by the years, but evidence of their being here is still visible, reminding visitors of the transition between the old and new administration. The administration of the then North Solomon’s Provincial government houses are still intact and public servants are still occupying these houses. Not to mention some of the high profile members of the Autonomous Bougainville Government living on the island. Former Bougainville governor John Momis lived in the Governor’s residence at the Sohano hilltop.

The island’s people are multicultural, diverse in language and tradition. If you are looking for the better picture of unity among Bougainvilleans, this has to be the place. The people come from all over the region but live in peace and harmony as a community unit.



Condolences Robert Vitagliano


It is with great sadness that we report on the passing of our dear friend Bob Vino. To Janice and the family go our condolences. The funeral will take place this week in Bob`s hometown of Mornington, Victoria - 10.30am Friday 9th August 2013, St Macartan's Parish Church. Bob had not been that well for a time but his passing was unexpected.

Bob`s first sortie into PNG brought him to us in Panguna, arriving in `73 and departing in `79. For much of this time he was a Leading Craftsman in the Pit Workshop. He returned to PNG for several 2 to 3 year stints including with Bechtel (in Tabubil), Warren Plantations, and Wamp Nga Motors, in Mt Hagen. When Bob related to me his experiences in Mt Hagen the place sounded like something out of the Wild West. For the last 20 years Bob had been self-employed and then went into retirement.

No doubt our recollections of Bob will vary some. Bob's ad hoc opinions and his wise advice were always available to us. Bob had this wonderful slow, dry and engaging manner of speaking. If one had business with Bob, one would always come away from the meeting significantly less stressed than when one set out.

You will be missed, old mate.


Condolences Dr John Dade


It is with sadness that we learned on Friday that Dr. John Dade has passed away.

John and his charming wife Juliette arrived on the island in 1981 and departed in 1989.

As the Chief Medical Officer for the North Solomons Medical Foundation, John was the driving force who planned and delivered the construction, equipping, staffing and operation of the Arawa Private Hospital.

Many claimed that this was a virtual impossibility but with his vision and drive John was able to deliver a first-class facility that complemented the wonderful service that was also available from the Arawa General Hospital.

John and Juliette cherished their time on the island where they thoroughly embraced the cultural diversity the experience afforded them. John was a keen 'squashie' and engaged in 'mortal combat' every Friday afternoon on the Arawa squash courts.

Before and after his time on Bougainville, John had his private practise in Mornington where his service to the local football fraternity is legendary as a Life Member of the Mornington Football Club.

John's funeral will be held on Friday 2nd August 2013 at 2.00pm at Tobin Bros Chapel, 604 Esplanade, Mount Martha, Victoria.