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The Bougainville Aftermath

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16 January 2014

Tonga calling!


I've just had a call from Horst Berger in Tonga! He and his family survived Cyclone Ian but with nothing more than the clothes on their backs! Their house is gone, their belongings are gone, and so is everything else on the tiny island of Uiha.

I've told him that I am right now sending AUS$500 to WESTERN UNION's office at Pangai on Ha'apai's main island of Lifuka. He thanked me profusely! I couldn't see his tears, but I could hear them!!!

Despite the far from overwhelming response from my friends, I shall try to collect more donations as I want to send another $500.

You may feel smug to have that $20 (or whatever) still in your wallet but let me tell you, you don't feel anywhere near as good as I do. I know I have helped another human being in his darkest hour and it makes me feel very, very good! You should try it one day!


Here's your second chance!


There are only a few times in our lives when we can directly help some of our fellowmen in need. Those few moments of grace give us a chance to share our own good fortunes, face to face instead of through anonymous relief organisations, with those less lucky. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee ..."

The cyclone which smashed into Ha'apai in Tonga last weekend destroyed some 75% of all houses in the town of Pangai on the main island of Lifuka. Communications with the outer islands have still not been re-established but it must be assumed that villages there have fared far worse.

Horst Berger's 'fale Tonga'

My Austrian friend Horst Berger lived in a 'fale Tonga', a native-style hut, in the tiny village of Felemea on Uiha Island. I use the past tense advisedly because after Cyclone Ian there won't be anything left of his fale or his meagre belongings.

Horst lives a hand-to-mouth existence on a tiny pension which he shares with his Tongan wife and two teenaged children. To rebuild his fale - and his life - will probably cost him close to a thousand dollars in our money which he simply hasn't got. So far my first appeal for donations has received surprisingly few responses:


Donations collected to help Horst Berger
in cyclone-devastated Tonga:

1) Peter Goerman AUS$450
2) Chris Jefferies, Canada, AUS$120
3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20
4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175
5) Werner Seifert, Germany, €20
6) Andrew Holt, Australia, AUS$200
7) Ralph Christen, Papua New Guinea, AUS$300




Please add your own name to this Who's Who of nice people


I could easily send him the money myself. However, I want him to know that there are other people who think of him in his time of need. So if you feel you want to contribute, however little, here's your second chance:

Send your donation to my PayPal account and I will remit the lot to Horst via Western Union when communications have been re-established. You don't need your own PayPal account to make a donation. Simply go to the PayPal website and send your donation to my email address

It's as simple as that! And it will make you feel good as well as Horst!


P.S. Sometimes, people need to be bashed over their heads to re-discover their humanity. I am bashing!

14 January 2014

Passing the hat for Horst Berger in cyclone-devastated Tonga


Cyclone Ian has totally devastated the tiny island group of Ha'apai in Tonga. The Austrian Horst Berger lives there on the even tinier island of Uiha. Or, rather, he 'lived' there, past tense, because there won't be much left of his small hut which was right in the path of cyclone Ian. And what the 250km/hr cyclone didn't blow away, the storm surge would have washed away.

Just how big a catastrophe this worst-in-fifty-years cyclone has been won't be known for weeks, if not months, as all communications are down, including the postal service which is terribly slow and inefficient even at the best of times.

Horst mentioned in his last letter - which took two months to get here! - that he would be saving up for a set of dentures in the new year. They cost $500 which he simply hasn't got and I had already thought of taking up a collection for them.

However, after this cyclone, he'll need a lot more than just a pair of dentures: his hut will be gone as will be most, if not all, of his meagre belongings.

I don't know how many good-hearted and generous people are out there who may want to give Horst a bit of a hand and donate some money with which to finance the rebuilding of his hut. I hope there will be many.

I will collect all donations in my PayPal account and remit them to Horst via Western Union when communications have been re-established. You don't need your own PayPal account to make a donation. Simply go to the PayPal website and send your donation to my email address

It's quick and simple. I am sure that Horst will be thankful for every cent, not only because it will help him financially but also because it gives him much needed moral support to carry on.

All incoming donations will be recorded on this blog. My own contribution is already there:


1) Peter Goerman AUS$200

2) Chris Jefferies, Canada AUS$20

3) Frank Köhler, Germany, €20

4) Matt Muirhead, Owner VILLA MAMANA, USA, US$175










Please add your own name to this Who's Who of nice people


Please email me if you have any problem with PayPal. And many thanks in advance for your generous help!


13 January 2014

Liz (Morton) Blake emailed:

Liz (Morton) Blake of



I grew up on Bougainville, living there 10 years - a lifetime in a child's life. My parents, Harold & Hope Morton, developed and operated Bougainville Air Services, which the Provincial Government purchased when we left at the end of 1975. I love this place.

I dream of returning and would love to get an idea of how much it would work, costs, etc. so I can work towards it. It is surely a paradise and always was (except for the malaria I got after my last visit!)

So GLAD to see things re developing for and by these wonderful people I loved.

Best regards,
Liz (Morton) Blake
Phone: 0406 000 969
Skype: lizmortonblake


Adele McConnachie emailed:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your initiative in setting up this site. My name is Adele McConnachie and my Father also worked on Bougainville and was killed in a landslide there. I set out to write to the people who gave their dates of employment as those that include the 23 January, 1970 when a landslide occurred supposedly at Kieta. I have enclosed a scanned copy of a newspaper article from the North Queensland town of Ayr that might give some credence to my request. You will have to enlarge it to read it better as it is a very yellow and damaged paper that I scanned. I was asking for their memories of the landslide event.

Click here to open in separate window for a larger text

To date, I sent off five emails successfully. However, today, I encountered trouble with the addresses for BRIAN BARNABAS and STEVE PLATER. I figure that their addresses are missing something. So I am seeing if you could recheck the addresses. Also GRAEME WELLINGTON did not provide an email address. [Note from blogmaster: just tried Barnabas's and Plater's email addresses; they both seem to be no longer current. Graeme's last-known email address was graeme[AT] and it still seems to work]

I was hoping to finalise all of this correspondence as the date of my Father's death was given as 23 January, 1970 and that anniversary is quickly looming. To all those I did communicate with, this is the information I gave:

I lived in Arawa from 1976 to 1981 (husband worked for Hastings Deering). My daughter was born at the Arawa Hospital in May, 1977. I don't know the Pinei River which is mentioned in the newspaper clipping. The Arovo (or was it Bovo?) River ran past where we lived at Section Ten? Arawa (I think it was section 10). Again, I always thought the landslide must have occurred near the top going up to Panguna but the newspaper article says Kieta. I'm just regretting that I didn't ask for more information about all this when I lived there.

It’s coming up to be the 44th anniversary of the landslide on Bougainville which I understand involved many men and took eight lives. The newspaper report from the local paper in Ayr, North Queensland stated that the bodies of two Australians and two natives were recovered and that one Australian (my Father), one American and two natives were missing.

The newspaper puts the location as Pinei River, Kieta. The date of death for my Father, Stanley Grant McConnachie is posted as 23 January, 1970. He was a mechanic come diesel fitter and turner but was reportedly driving a “machine” at the time of the incident. At the time, he was forty-seven years old and was separated from my mother. I was sixteen and about to start my final year at boarding school in Charters Towers. To the best of my knowledge, my Father’s body was never recovered and finality regarding his estate was not resolved until some five years later.

My Mother now has dementia and lives in a Nursing Home. I had a recent family event that triggered the inspiration to write a family memoir. However, to do so, I would need to have more information and the recollections of other employees would be very helpful.

I had always believed that Dad worked for Thiess. However, I contacted head office Brisbane, Thursday, 9th January and spoke with the Senior commercial Lawyer who did some research for me but came back with “nothing”. Employee records are only kept for the minimal seven years and there was nothing in their history about a project in Bougainville.

I have also recently contacted the State Library of Queensland in the hope that there would be some archived newspaper articles that refer to the event. It was on the television news so I imagine it would have been reported in the capital city newspapers. They should reply to me soon as they gave a response date of 20 January, 2014.

By the way, has anybody else seen the movie “Mr Pip”. I saw it on 25 November, 2013 but I imagine it won’t be released on DVD for some months yet. The main actor is Hugh Laurie but you should google it and at least see some of it on Utube. You will see a quick glimpse of what the open cut mine looks like today – all the dump trucks rusting in peace.

Back to the main reason for my contact with you – if you could just quietly sit down and recall what you remember of the days leading up to the landslide, the actual day and those following when rescue efforts were being made (I want the whole truth, warts and all, so please don’t hold back). Then write those memories down and send them back to me, I would be eternally grateful.

Once again Peter, thank you for you invaluable site. You will be proud to know that even though I had already discovered it, it was the only piece of information Thiess could provide me with.

Adele McConnachie



Had a good chuckle at Thiess's reply, "... there was nothing in their history about a project in Bougainville." Spoken like a typical lawyer fencing off a potential claim ☺ . They were only one of the biggest contractors engaged by Bechtel for whom I worked as contract auditor; in fact, their monthly progress claims went across my desk (although another auditor, also by the name of Peter, quite old and extremely short-sighted, did the actual checking).

Mind you, the "earth-moving contractor" your father worked for could have been a company by the name of DUMEZ which did all the heavy earth-moving work on the island in the early days and was still there in 1970. DUMEZ folded into GTM which in turn was acquired by VINCI, all French construction outfits.

There are at least three ex-DUMEZ guys on the "Honour Roll" who worked there at about the same time as your father. Their email addresses seem to be still current, so they may be able to give you more information:

CHAMBERLAIN, Mike, Dumez 69-70, Sunshine Coast, Qld, michael411[AT]

McHUGH, Peter, Dumez/Bechtel 1970-72, Sunderland, UK, farmer.geddon[AT]

MEIER, Eric, Dumez, Pioneer, Morgan Equipment (1970-73), Te Mauku Point, New Zealand, south38east174[AT]

Here's the reply from Michael Chamberlain, email michael411[AT] :

Adele, Peter emailed me regarding your father's death.I was working for the French company Dumez, building the earthworks and roads for the concentrator and Panguna townsite, as a surveyor. Your father worked for Morrison Knudsen Fluor [MKF] who were building the Panguna-Loloho access road. The slide occurred on 23rd Jan 1970 and cut off the temporary access. We had to leave the minesite. I was due for leave and we used the helicopter to fly down to the airport from Panguna. When I arrived in Adelaide where my family was, the press asked for info on what happened, and I told them about the conditions, which in typical way was rewritten to make news which was not the truth. When I returned, the mine access was still cut and we had to walk around the slide area to reach Panguna. I am enclosing a photo of a dozer track frame and the last foot access before it was washed away.


Hope and Harold Morton emailed:


My husband Harold Morton & I visited Arova Is. a couple of times. The first time we were hosts of the gentleman who sold us our first BN2 "Islander" - approx. 1973. We had a lovely meal at the resort, saw a movie and returned to home base in Kieta (Happy Valley for us) late in the evening. We re-visited Arova on another occasion because it looked like an amazing swimming spot off that pier. Lovely clear blue water - "blow the sharks". Unfortunately I have no photos. Sorry I can't give you more info on Arova though I've oftened wondered if it's still in operation, and who would be running it.

For your information Harold & I served with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in PNG/Bougainville for nearly 20 yrs. The first 10 yrs were spent on the mainland of PNG in various locations (Madang/Banz/Tari/Wewak) and the latter 10 years, 5 years on Buka Is and 5 years in Kieta. We commenced aviation operations in Buka 1966 and departed from Kieta Christmas '75, just after Independence.

Unfortunately most of our photos were slides or 8mm movie film. I, Hope Morton, have personally posted several Bougainville photos on the Fb group "I used to live in Papua New Guinea", including the Old Panguna rd, (see below) which resulted in many comments; the Panguna mine; Kieta Harbour, including the Royal Brittanica; a bunch of Hutjena HS students ready to depart Buka (in our single-engine Cessna) destination Kekesu (Teop village). This photo also resulted in many comments as many 'ex students' (now of mature age) recognised friends and even themselves.

My husband actually authored a book "Flying for God", which includes our years on Bougainville. This is still available online from some book stores.... We have just had his latest book (a Trilogy) *"Life Betterment"* published as an e-book by Amazon: click here.

Here is a clip showing the SDA's "Flying for God" aviation work

I should mention that in the last couple of our years on Bougainville we sold our MAF service to the Bougainville Govt. We then named it "BougAir" and below is a photo of one of our Cessna with the distinctive Upe on the tailplane, and with our two younger children, one of whom (Liz Blake) told me about your interest in Bougainville. That photo would have been taken in '74 or '75. [Our 4 children all had their high schooling in Brisbane.)

I spent many hours on the radio all day, starting early morning with our own 'sched' at 6.45am when either Harold or I announced the program for the day (we ended up with 2 Cessna 185's and 2 BN2 twin-engine "Islanders") as well as receiving bookings. Then there was the 8am sched with the Govt radio (Telecom) where we received telegrams and messages from all and sundry from every corner of the Island, mission, plantation owners/managers, government personnel, local village people. The phone continued to run hot all day. Then around 7pm every night our "raun bilong liklik balus" was broadcast over Radio Bougainville. Back then I didn't have the facility of a computer and printer, so you can imagine what it was like typing long pages (attached together with sticky tape) and several carbon copies so each pilot, plus staff out at Aropa airport, knew which aircraft was flying where and with whom. It was a very personalised and unique operation. I also handled a lot of correspondence with DCA, orders for aircraft servicing/parts, accounts, Govt travel warrants & contingency forms to fill in, etc. It was quite common for my husband to have to fly some w/e's as medical emergencies could only be arranged via the transceiver in our home and we had no communication with our staff out at Aropa after midday Saturday. But when we could, on w/e's, we would go out in our little aluminium boat and do trolling for tuna, bonitos or trevally (and sharks/sail fish) and sometimes fit in a swim around the reefs (which the children preferred).

I must close here.
Hope Morton



Another pioneer aviator, Roger Yound, wrote "Many Adventures Followed", which on page 99 describes the Bougainville Air Services operated by Harold Morton - click here.