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25 March 2015

Joe Foss emailed from Mendoza, Argentina:


G’Day, Peter,

I was delighted to discover your webpage with the wonderful account of the Bougainville Copper Project and thereby emboldened I decided to toss in my own fond memories. Will you let another Yank get away with the intrusion?....

It all began up in San Francisco, USA in June 1976 when I signed aboard the LASHer ship SS Austral Rainbow for a couple voyages to the South Pacific. I knew it would be a stint of great pleasure to make the first port-call at Tahiti, thence off to Auckland, Littleton, Hobart, Burnie, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Lae, Rabaul, and then a jog down to Anewa Bay. We had cargo aboard for BCL, although I did not take note of its nature.

SS Austral Rainbow

As it had been a quiet Sunday for our brief stop at Rabaul I know it was Monday morning when we dropped anchor a bit offshore at Anewa Bay. Since I was the ship’s Radio Officer and having no duties aboard once the ship reached port, I was right along with the pilot and rode aboard his skiff to have a look at all there was to see at this part of Bougainville, PNG.

Once ashore and headed for the gate I was immediately impressed with this enormous heap of what appeared to be sand quite close to the dock facilities. Puzzled at this, I asked the Security Guard what this sand was, and its purpose there. He was at a loss for a detailed explanation but had me wait while he telephoned to get answers. After a brief preamble he passed the telephone to me and I found myself chatting with the Chief Mining Geologist up at the mine in Panguna. What I saw as sand turned out to be the ore from the mine that had been crushed up there and pumped as a slurry down to the port for shipment to the smelters. I expressed genuine fascination at all this as at this because as a teenager in Maine, USA, I had been an avid “rock-hound.” Sensing my deep interest, the Chief invited me up for a look at his mine. Ah, said I, being the visiting RO off the ship I have no way to make the road trip. At this juncture the Chief had me pass the phone back to Security who then made another phone call.

In short order I found myself speaking with Warren Hanes, Chief of the Motor-Pool and he advised me to wait right there at the gate and he would send his “car and driver” over to give me a lift to the mine. But, he informed me, I would be obliged to have him and his lady to come out in the evening to visit the ship. Done deal, and with great pleasure.

That telephone chat completed, it was just a few minutes when a pick-up/ute roared in, kicking up dust, and behind the wheel was his driver, Joe, a mountain of a man, and as deeply dark as anthracite. Away we roared up the mountain road, around the tight turns where I blanched upon peering into the jungle depths below. A great relief it was when we reached the mine office. If recollection serves, I met Sally Jones there as she was a nurse in the first- aid facility. Then a warm greeting from the Chief Geologist, and wish I could remember his name. I think I was still decompressing from the experience of the mad dash up the mountain! Anyway, the Chief was good enough to put a hard-hat on me and entrusted me to the care of a young mining engineer who took me down into the enormous pit to look at the ore mass at arm’s length. Indeed, the attached photo is my treasured souvenir of the unique experience, and I genuinely remember breaking it free with his rock hammer. This rock paperweight not only completed the voyage with me back to California, it has kept me company as I moved on for some years in Panama, then off for a time in Uruguay, and since February 2011 we have been here in Mendoza, Argentina.

Well, my very pleasant visit to the mine completed, Joe and I were on the road again for a hair-raising ride back to the starting point. But not precisely to the same point for it was late afternoon, end of the workday so the ride concluded at the club. I think that was Warren’s instructions to meet up there. So I invited Joe in for a cold beer with me at the bar, plus I wished to thank him further with a few Kina for his troubles. Now, of course one glass of beer is never enough, so certainly we had a second. Did we have a third?, I am not sure for as I glanced around the club and as my gaze passed by the open door to the veranda I saw Kiwi frantically waiving his arms and gesturing for me to join the crew out there. Here I thanked Joe again and excused myself to join the others.

There on the veranda Kiwi explained to me that as a firm policy BCL personnel did not let the indigenous folks have too much beer or spirits. He said, “ You see, these locals are really not of the original stock. About 75 years ago their forebears paddled to Bougainville in large canoes and they ate everybody they found here.” Fair dinkum.

Frankly, my memory goes to flat zero at this point and I just suppose that Warren and Sally (and perhaps others) visited the ship that evening; my mind is simply blank. But it was a wonderful visit to Bougainville and I wish that there had been cargo on the ship the next voyage to have us return. Alas.

In closing this chapter, I wonder if you have an email address for Warren Hanes? Current details of them? Maybe the name of the Chief Geologist?
(If anyone can help, please email blogmaster at riverbend[AT]

I got back to Australia the next voyage but there was no stop anywhere in PNG. In 1981 I returned to Australia on the LASHer SS Austral Moon. At that time I knew I had to return on holiday for a comprehensive look at the country. Then later on I saw the film Breaker Morant and it gave me additional destinations once I found occasion to plan a holiday. The opportunity arose in December 1995 when I was on the Arabian Sea Expedition and the research ship was based in Muscat, Oman. Instead of returning to California in winter season I turned southward at Singapore and flew to Darwin for Christmas.

Next day onto the bus for Kunnanura and thence Broome where I caught a plane to Perth with a plan to observe (at a safe distance…) the unbridled revelry of New Year celebrations in Fremantle. Once safely past all that it was off to Kalgoorlie and on to Adelaide. There I caught the Ghan to Alice Springs and took the bus back to allow a couple nights at Ayres Rock (What a climb!) and a day in Cober Pedy. Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Burnie before heading north to Sydney. A few days later off to Tenterfield to visit the grave of Major J.F. Thomas, my esteemed hero of Breaker Morant film. Brisbane had to be the terminus of my northern excursion but I did have a look as far north as Noosa Heads. Now I see that in my state of poor health I will not be able to return to Brisbane to visit the hinterlands of the York Peninsula before completing the loop back to Darwin.

Very best regards,
Joe Foss


Comment by Blogmaster: Joe, I still got one of those rocks from my Bougainville days in my 'trophy room'. It's from my second contract on the island when I was Office Manager/Accountant for Camp Catering Services (later SHRM). Nice spot you live in - see here.
Just don't mention the Falklands!  ☺  Cheers Peter