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3 November 2014

Warwick Cuneo emailed from Sydney:


I’ve looked at your website many times over the years since my wife and myself left Bougainville and not written: for my own reasons, but we had Beverly Jager visit with us in Sydney, Australia. Bev and Dieter both were with us in 1978-odd and again, shortly before Dieter’s death in 2011, if memory serves correctly.

Both my wife Vesna and myself, Warwick Cuneo, lived and worked on Bougainville, for Bougainville Copper, from 1970 until 1975.

Today, 3rd. November 2014, we have visiting with us Colleen and Graham Hoskins, with whom we’ve kept touch since Graham and Colleen returned from Bougainville in 1978, or thereabouts. Graham arrived in Bougainville in late 1969. Graham was an employee of Thiess Bros. and when Thiess finished their construction time in the Snowy, Graham was offered a place on Bougainville and Colleen arrived three months after Graham, from the Talbingo site. Colleen also worked for Thiess.

Some of the information Graham, Colleen and ourselves have seen on your site isn’t particularly informative: that’s not meant in an entirely negative way, but more to ‘put the record straight’. I might mention also that none of us is really computer-literate as some of the younger people on the site seem.

Talking with Graham as I write, one of the bits of ‘scuttlebutt’ concerns Graham’s boat, the St. Joseph.

As an aside, both Vesna and myself spent many, many hours aboard Graham’s first boat, a 23-foot Hartley design, fishing ‘off the reef’ around the Zummes (spelling?), Two-tree island, Puk-Puk and Arovo, to name a few. The fishing was magnificent and probably a subject for keener fishermen than myself!

About early 1974, Graham and Colleen negotiated purchase of the MV St Joseph from the Catholic mission, at Toniva through a Bro. Michael there. The Hoskins first looked the craft over Kieta harbour, having sold the Hartley, which went down to Choiseul with its German owner.

The St Joseph had been a mission workhorse since about 1946, having been bought by Bishop Wade from the US navy 1945. The US navy used her in the Sepik area as a pickup boat for wounded. Due to her shallow draught, it was possible to run her bow ashore for loading. Her original commission was to the Australian Army as defence boat AM 2092, armed with twin Browning machine guns, mounted at the bow and stern. She was originally engined with two Packard-built Merlin aero engines of 2-3,500HP each engine, drinking 100 gallons petrol (4500 litres approx.) at speed, which was 27 knots cruising and 50+ knots full throttle. The Merlin was, of course, the engine of the famous Spitfire and Mosquito aircraft. The Packard versions of the Merlin were built under licence from Rolls-Royce. For further reference, Ron Drane’s PT boat site is good.

As received by the Hoskins, the St Joseph had been re-engined with two Gardner LW4 4-cylinder diesels: Graham relates that she was commonly run at 1200 RPM., giving about 10 knots, 3.5 gallons per hour consumption. Graham actually spent time at Halvorsen’s slip in Ryde, with Harold Halvorsen, who identified her as ‘one of theirs’, one of 12 which went to the Australian Army, out of a total build of 59. She was skinned with double diagonal Oregon planking, with canvas in between layers.

From 1946 onwards, she travelled as a sort of flagship for Bishop Wade of the Chabai mission, visiting outlying mission stations as far afield as Rabaul and the Carteret Islands and of course, what was then the British Solomon Islands.

For myself, I well recall ‘conning’ the St Joseph outside the Bougainville Reefs, steering by the compass card. Relative to many other recreational craft, she was huge at 65 feet long and 15 feet beam, with 4 feet draught. I’ll leave the conversions!

She had twin cargo derricks and a hold and Graham advises that he found a ‘log’ in the bilges, which set out that baroness Von Trapp, of Sound of Music renown, had travelled on the St Joseph at one time.

Having left Bougainville in 1975, I ‘missed the boat’ back to Australia with Graham and crew Peter Finch and Dick (surname), who actually sailed the St Joseph through the Coral Sea to Cairns, in 1976 or thereabouts. Note that all dates are as related to me by Graham and Colleen, pretty much ‘off the cuff’ and might be the subject of more detail. We believe Dick did in fact write of the voyage in some of the boating press. In retrospect, maybe it was a good idea that I’d missed the boat, as I can’t cook and am not exactly the stuff of seafarers, although I don’t get seasick.

The saga of the St Joseph ends with her eventual sale to a Brisbane buyer, who planned to take her to the Swain Reefs off Bowen in North Queensland as a mother ship for general storage of fish catch. Her transit to Bowen wasn’t without drama, as a cyclone had her reported missing South of Bowen and she was the subject of an air-sea search. She eventually arrived in Bowen a little the worse for wear, having lost her radio. The cyclone was still in the area and hit Bowen some time later. The ensuing excitement caused two trawlers to drag their anchors, entangling the St Joseph and all three are now at the bottom of Bowen Harbour.

RIP St Joseph.