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25 September 2013

Stewie's trip to Bougainville

My September 2013 visit to Bougainville
by Neal Stewart

(Pictures available here.)

Just a few days ago I returned to Melbourne after having had the joy of visiting Bougainville after a twenty-four-year absence.

Alighting from the Air Niugini F100 at Buka Airport I was met with that unmistakable sweet tropical aroma, that clammy humidity and even at 7:30am, a warmth that jerked me out of the torpor of a Melbourne winter!

Buka is all go. Now the centre of government, the only registered commercial airport, the hub of the majority of NGO activity along with a proliferation of commercial outlets-banks, trade stores, wharf, Guest Houses, bakery, hardware, boozers/clubs, pharmacy etc. It has the only hospital in Bougainville (the Arawa General and Private were burnt to the ground).

The market is a ripper - I was amazed at the selection of beautiful vegetables-heaps of tomatoes, beans, capsicums, lettuce, bok choi, chocho, ibeca, cucumber, eggplant, sweet corn, cabbage, ginger, garlic, kaukau, taro, cassava, pitpit, watercress, choco/pumpkin and squash tips and lovely butternut pumpkins and shallots. And the sweet tropical fruits were abundant-pawpaws bigger than footballs, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, water melons, guavas, limes, thirst quenching kulau, delicious banana leaf wrapped packs of galip nuts, bundles of peanuts and bread fruits. It was certainly a little different to the 4:00am scramble under torch light at the at the Arawa market searching for a tomato or two! Di and I still have lovely “From Garden to Table on Bougainville” recipe book that Helen Newell produced. There is little doubt that the return to village/cultural values, the virtual absence of ready cash flow and little shipping had revitalised the wonderful garden subsistence living style that sees an abundance of quality fresh, healthy produce in both the Arawa and Buka markets that I visited.

I brought a big ‘muddie’ at the Buka market for K10 ($6:00) and the cook at the Lodge I was staying at did it up in coconut cream, garlic, ginger and chilli for an absolutely stunning meal - eat ya hearts out!

On Buka there was a selection of eight or ten Lodges/Guest Houses of varying quality where one could stay. There are three right on Buka Passage with breath taking views across the passage towards Bonis Plantation and out across to the spectacular island of Sohano. It was pretty special to sit sipping a ‘green can’ with the gin clear water passing under the Lodge deck looking out on this unsurpassed beauty.

Single self-contained rooms vary from K350 to K650 per night……ouch!!!! Evening meals were between K35/K65, breakfasts K25/K35.

Across the Passage a new town has grown. Kokopau is a busy hub with lots of various stores and is the drop off and pick up point for all travellers moving to and from the island. It is simply unbelievable the number of banana boat taxis that constantly speed back and forth across the Passage with passengers and cargo. It is a K2 ride with all the boats Yamaha powered with 40/65hp motors. It is busier than any taxi rank you’d see in the city and I reckon there would be ten/fifteen on the water at any one time and another 10/15 lined up either side of the Passage loading up or waiting for passengers. It is remarkably different to the last time I was visiting the McNee's at Bonis and sat on the jetty casting into the Passage with not a boat in sight! At that time I seem to recall that Wong Yu’s and a couple of other Chinese stores and not much more was on Buka. Vehicle hire is expensive at K900/K1200 per day with a driver-recommended.

And so to Arawa. The drive down from Kokopau takes a good three hours over some good and some bloody rough roads. The great thing now is that it is practically an all-weather road. The Japanese have erected fifteen cement bridges over previously flood prone rivers and these, together with the Bailey bridges are a great improvement. Along the way down it was somewhat sad to see that none of the plantations were operating-Bonis, Rawa, Teperoi, Numa Numa, Tenekau and Kawina were mostly all burnt down and now overgrown.

In Arawa I stayed at the Bovo Transit Lodge which is located right beside the Bovo River about a hundred metres up past the Mari Mari Haus Lotu. There are a few other Lodges available. Throughout the town evidence of the destruction is raw and uncompromising. Both hospitals, schools, Provincial offices, the supermarket, strip shops, Nafig Club, Country Club, and hundreds of homes all burnt to the ground. Same story for all of the business houses that were out of town along the road to Kieta where Arawa Motors, Robert Matarelli’s hardware, Peter Zillmere’s complex etc were. The town generators are now in this area. Nothing left in Kieta and Toniva other than village style houses and the odd trade store.

There are some lovely new traditional style buildings at Kobuan. The home where Di, Mitch and I lived in Section 7 is now a kaukau garden and banana patch-the only remaining evidence of the home is a charred air conditioner, a rusting cylinder from the Solarhart hot water system some metal stumps where fence posts have been sawn off and pieces of green fencing wire scattered in the garden. Exactly the same scene for the lots where Dr Keiley and the Robsons were across the road from us and just the centre besser block wall standing where the duplex was occupied by the Moran’s.

Further down the street is totally overgrown with some garden plots where Ron and Linda McInnis, the Martins and Theodore Dewe all lived. I tried to locate Nick and Corinne Crawley’s place but there is not a home standing right through the whole of Section 7. Section 5 and 6 are in good shape and the Sections around 10 likewise. The first house we lived in 10/55 is in better shape than ever and is now owned by Dr Imako, the Superintendent at Buka Hospital. All of the homes up that Connecter Road are in good shape as are many in behind where the general hospital was and up around Section 17.

An absolute highlight of my time on the island was the opportunity to catch up with lots and lots and lots of Bougainvilleans whom I had worked with and knew as good friends during the eighteen years Di and I had on the island. It was indeed heart-wrenching and at time pretty emotional to listen to the stories of survival, of torture and of fear many had experienced during the heat of the crisis. However, it was heart-warming to hear the same folk talking hopefully and genuinely of ongoing peace and conciliation talks and meetings that are happening on an almost daily basis.

John Tabinaman, one of my Superintendents, is now the Hon Minister for Education in the ABG and he and his wife Liz speak enthusiastically about programmes trying to bridge the gap for a “lost generation” where schooling was virtually non-existent for ten years. John has Mike Titus and Francis Tanapuma in his team. Agneas Titus is continuing her work with women and is a pivotal part of a UN Team. Theresa Jaintong is doing great work as Chair of the Arawa/Loloho Landowners Association and Deputy Chair of the Umbrella Association. I had a lovely gathering with a group including Stephen Burain- a Mining Engineer graduate who now heads up the Minerals Dept, Joe Pankau-another Mining Engineer and Misac Rangai-a lawyer, all working on Resource Legislation for the ABG. I was able to catch up with that beautiful man Severinus Ampoai who at 80 was as sharp as a tack. Cec Kahuru trekked up from the Siwai to catch up - he had just completed the construction of a three roomed school building in his village that had been funded by World Vision. Patrick and Mary Itaa live in “D” Block Karoona House in Panguna where they have replaced the burnt out walls with sacsac materials. Here Patrick is the Education Officer for the ABG trying to look after nineteen schools right throughout the PMAR, Panguna, Jaba and surrounding areas with scant funding-what a hero! I got a gorgeous pic of my PA Bernadette Sarei with her first grandchild-she has worked as the PA to the Harbourmaster in Buka for seventeen years. Pat Passam showed me his hands where every finger had been snapped in a torture session. I was able to sit and chat for hours with senior ex BRA members who now want to move on and resolve past differences. These are just a handful of the folk I was able to meet and have great time with.

Thanks to the generosity of Lawrence Daveona and his family, I was able to have a day up in Panguna and had the added bonus of a perfectly clear, sunny day. At Morgan Junction it cost K200 to get through the “NO GO ZONE” road block -very restricted on whom they allow through so having the Chairman of the Landowner Association as host was pretty useful!! All that is evident of Morgan Equipment, Goodyear, SHRM and Birempa is twisted metal framework and cement blocks. The PMAR is in remarkably good shape. I was amazed at the profusion of flowers along the verges of the road and as we stopped regularly for pics along the climb to Pakia Gap and the descent into Panguna I couldn’t help but be aware of the abundance of bird life which I had never noticed during the hustle and bustle and noise of production years. Don Hadden, the Bird Man would be wrapped. Also the trees were loaded with a profusion of beautiful orchids and ferns.

As we moved down into the valley Lawrence pointed out where the alluvial miners were working precariously on the upper and lower precipices sluicing for gold-it looked rather hazardous but apparently the rewards are worthwhile. This sort gold sluicing/dredging/washing is prevalent. From what I saw in Panguna, I believe it is fair to say that there is not ONE building or piece of equipment that was not burnt to the ground. Every building has been guttered with only twisted metal frames and cement blocks remaining. I’ll attach some pics. As I mentioned previously, there has been some renovating in a couple of the burnt out Karoona and Kawerong House single blocks and there are some families living there. There seemed to be very few people moving around in Panguna but some traffic passing through from down the Lower Jaba and West Coast areas.

There was a team of Chinese located in the pit area who were contracted to chop up the trucks, shovels, dozers-all the mobile equipment fleet that had been burnt-and was being transported to the Loloho wharf and shipped out as scrap metal. All of this equipment had been lined up along three of the lower batters in the pit and burnt. Down at Loloho it was also evident that almost the entire Power Station had also been chopped up for scrap. Someone commented to me that Panguna was “The biggest hardware store in the world”. I think that there were still twelve ball mills in the Concentrator. In Panguna I caught up with some of the very senior Landowners and Commanders all of whom had interesting observations about the past and future of Bougainville.

I’m sorry if this has been a little long-winded but I really have tried to truncate what was a simply wonderful adventure to return to Bougainville after some twenty-four years. I left with a feeling that amongst everyone I was able to talk that there was a determination to resolve past differences and to evolve a direction where the people of Bougainville could determine a future direction that embraced a global perspective. How long and how bumpy the road may be remains to be seen.

If any of you want to comment or ask questions I’d be more than happy to get back to you. Our email is

Neal and Di Stewart


20 September 2013

Colonial days in Papua New Guinea



THE OTHER DAY I came across a blog entitled Colonial Days in Papua New Guinea: Picturing the Past which is a treasure trove of wonderful photographs by Veronica Peek.

Unfortunately I can’t reproduce even a single one of them here because Veronica has, as is her right, copyrighted them for now and posterity, but they can be viewed on her blog here.

One series of pictures was taken in 1973 in Sir Michael Somare’s home village of Karau, in the Murik Lakes District of East Sepik Province. The occasion was Somare’s initiation as Sana [peacekeeper] of his own people and his initiation as Onkau [headman] of the family of Lady Veronica Somare.

“Almost 40 years have passed,” writes Veronica Peek, “and there would be people portrayed in the photos who have since gone to join their ancestors. Those of us who remain behind have grown old as each of us must. Even the children would now be in late middle age.

“My hope is that it is those children who will now enjoy looking at the old photos of what was an important day in the life of their families and their village.

“I went to Karau as part of a media contingent. The journey took all day, starting with a flight to the regional capital of Wewak, followed by a very long trip on a coastal boat until we reached the entrance to the Murik Lakes, where we transferred across to a motorised canoe for the final leg of our journey.

“By the time we reached Karau, it was already quite late at night and we all bunked down in the guest house that the villagers had prepared for us.

"I recall that the women supplied us with a delicious chicken and coconut hotpot. The village was built on a sandbank, and we were awoken the following morning by the sound of children playing on the beach. The day of the Sana had begun.”

In the same blog, there are also pictorial essays on Sir John Guise, Dame Josephine Abaijah and Biga Lebasi.


17 September 2013

Mister Pip - Official Trailer

Mister Pip is the story of a girl caught in the throes of war on the island of Bougainville. It is through the guidance of her devoted but strict Christian mother and teacher that Matilda survives but more importantly, through her connection with Pip, a fictional creation from the mind of Charles Dickens in Great Expectations. Pip helps Matilda maintain a desire to live, especially after her mother, the wise Mr. Watts, and her island cease to exist.

The novel opens with a colorful description of Mr. Watts, whom the children call Pop-Eye due to his eyes that "stuck out further than anyone else's". We learn of his marriage to Grace, a native of Bougainville, which serves to explain why he remained long after most of the white men had abandoned the island. With military tension rising and the school room growing over with creepers, Mr. Watts decides to take on the task of educating the children. Despite his claim to be limited in intelligence, he introduces the students to one of the greatest English authors, Charles Dickens.

Dolores, Matilda's overzealous Christian mother, expresses an extreme distrust of the teacher and his curriculum. She does everything in her power to ensure that her daughter's mind is not polluted by the strange white man, including making weekly visits to the classroom. She even goes as far as stealing and hiding Mr. Watts's Great Expectations book, an action that causes immense trouble when redskin soldiers enter the village and find Mr. Pip's name carved into the sand. Coincidentally, it is Matilda who wrote his name, and it is her guilt that makes her empathize with her mother, who refuses to give up the book as evidence of Pip as not a rebel but a fictional character. Convinced that this Mr. Pip must be a spy who has been hidden from them, the redskins destroy the houses. All they leave behind are smoking fragments of Matilda's former life.

As the tension escalates even further, a group of rebel soldiers returns to the village to question the only remaining white man, Mr. Watts. He agrees to explain himself over the course of seven nights, and proceeds to tell a story that entwines Pip's life even further with his own. Matilda develops an idea about why he returned to the island with his wife and stayed after all the other whites left. Now that his wife has died, Mr. Watts considers moving on and offers Matilda a chance to escape from the island. However, she would have to choose between Mr. Watts and her mother but before this can happen the rebels flee and the redskin soldiers return.

This time the soldiers kill Mr. Watts, and when Matilda's mother speaks up she is taken away and raped. Matilda herself is almost raped, but her mother gives up her life to spare her. In the wake of surviving the slaughter of her village, her mother and Mr. Watts, Matilda loses her will to live. She nearly drowns, but is revived by the memory of Pip, who also narrowly escaped death. After clinging to a log, Matilda is picked up by the fisherman who had arranged to escape with Mr. Watts, and eventually she reaches Australia. It is there that Matilda is reunited with her father and begins to pick up the pieces of her disrupted life. She comes to terms with the reality of Mr. Watts, who altered both the facts of his life and abridged the contents in Great Expectations in an effort to provide escape from the world, both for himself and for the children. She reveals her success in becoming a scholar and a Dickens expert and concludes her narrative by emphasizing the power of literature to offer escape and solace in the worst of times. Matilda herself becomes a teacher in Australia in order to fulfill her dream and educate people, but to also keep the memory of Mr Watts alive.


Mr Pip was filmed in the village of Pidia on Bougainville Island, a territory of Papua New Guinea, and in Auckland and Oamaru in New Zealand, between June and September 2011.

In Bougainville, the beautiful white sand beaches, lush tropical rainforest, the exotic look of the village buildings and the blue seas and skies made an idyllic backdrop for the lyrical scenes of village life and the developing friendship of Matilda and Mr Watts. The beauty of this environment contrasts sharply with the jolting reality of the harsh wartime parts of the story that take place in the village. The Lloyd Jones novel, Mister Pip, upon which the film is based, was set in Bougainville during the 1990s when the country was torn apart by a war over copper mining and land rights, and most of the story it tells is very close to the experiences of the people there.

12 September 2013

Colin Cowell emailed from Canberra:

Hi Pete

Talk about discovering a gold mine of memories!
Please add me to your hall of fame (or should that be blame?) I worked in the accounts department at Bechtel December 1969-1973 with yourself, Bulldog (met up with him in London 1975), Les Feeny (met in 1986 St Kilda Melbourne), and Thor Blysceck (worked with him in Montreal 1975).

Went to Canada in 1975 to work with Lloyd but it was too bloody cold.

Pete the Eskimo died on a trip to the Phillipines if memory serves me well.

Your story about Bulldog's organ brought back many memories. I helped organise the party at Loloho when Bulldog played Hot August Night 100 times and we drank 8 kegs, if I remember correctly.

Will send you a story to publish on your site as I have lots of good stories.

Currently based in Canberra and often get down to the Bay. What is your telephone number and we can catch up for a coffee and a laugh.


5 September 2013

Robert Gordon BURGESS

Robert died at Cobargo, NSW, on 17.5.2013, aged 68 years, after a long illness.

He is survived by his wife Pam and five adult children.

After serving in NSW Police from 20.2.1967 to 23.11.1969, he was sworn into RPNGC on 2.12.1969 after completing a short course at Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) at Mosman, Nsw.

His first posting was as a HQ officer under the late departed Raymond Wells Whitrod before being transferred to Panguna, Bougainville.

He resigned from RPNGC on 13.4.1971 and took up employment with Bechtel-WKE.

Towards the end of 1971, with his wife and family he sailed his yacht on a seven-months cruise to Sydney.

He re-joined NSW Police in 1972 and for some years worked in Internal Affairs before retiring in 2000.

In recent years with his wife, Pam, he ran a bed and breakfast in Cobarga (near Bega), NSW.