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13 January 2014

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 [Note from blogmaster: just tried Barnabas's and Plater's email addresses; they both seem to be no longer current.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.