When I set up the Bougainville website way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I had in mind the four-thousand-plus expat workers who built the mine, the mine access road, the port and powerhouse, and the Arawa township, and who cooked the meals, ran the camps, bashed away on typewriters or, as I did, ticked and flicked the hundreds of progress claims by contractors working for the construction managers Bechtel Corporation.
Given that all that work was done in the early 1970s when the workers' average age was around 30 which, if they haven't succumbed to the booze and other occupational hazards, would make them now octogenarians, I shouldn't have been surprised when many, if not most, visitors and contributors to the website turned out to be the much more numerous and much younger permanent mine workers that passed through the employ of Bougainville Copper Limited from the start of mining phase in April 1972 until the first pylon was toppled on 15 April 1989.
I was therefore delighted when an "oldtimer" from those early construction days turned up yesterday (7/4/2014) at the gates of "Riverbend". It was Col Burns who had been draftsman with MINENCO and later Bechtel Corporation from 1969 to 1972. He had rung me some years earlier from his acreage way, way west of Nerrigundah which, while only some 60 kilometres south of us, is closer to Cooma than the coast and in serious four-wheel drive country which our little FORD Focus could never negotiate.
We talked and talked about Loloho, Camp 1, the early days of the mine access road, the then seemingly metropolitan delights of Kieta, and forty years disappeared in a cloud of memories. We felt we were again in our twenties when it was always morning, when time was endless, and we and the world were young and full of hope. We agreed that those years on what was then the world's largest construction project to become the world's largest open-cut mine had been the best years of our lives when we gained experiences and formed friendships that would last us for the rest of our lives.
Thanks for calling in, Col!
P.S. If you know Col Burns and want to contact him, his phone number is (02) 44779306. His mailing address is 3682 Belowra Road, Belowra NSW 2545. Alas, you can't email him as he has no internet.