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16 October 2015

John Hewitt emailed from the U.K.

Dear Peter

I stumbled across your website some years ago, whilst looking at news that BCL was possibly going to open again, and our time on Bougainville all came flooding back, after more than 40 years!! Like yourself, I have never forgotten the times my wife & I had on Bougainville, so I started to write this and then got waylaid, but it was always there in the drafts section of my emails. I recently saw a programme on Sky TV about the Ertsberg and Grasberg mines in Irian Jaya, and realised that those mines were pretty much like Bougainville, and indeed, Bechtel Pacific no doubt used the experience of building those mines when they built BCPL., so I decided to finish this and send it off as I thought you might be interested in our story.

We are POMS, who emigrated to Perth in 1969 and very quickly had 2 daughters, in 1970 & 1971.

I was working for Alcoa of Australia in their Jarrahdale Bauxite mine as a Maintenance Controller, looking after the PM of their fleet of Cat 992's, 769 Dumpers and 660 scrapers which had been mated to a specially made (Alcoa) aluminium 100 tonne bottom dump body in place of the normal bowl arrangement.

I saw an advert for Maintenance Controllers in the crushing section of the BCPL mine, applied for it, went to Hamersley Iron's offices in Perth for the interview and got the job. Shortly afterwards, in January 1973, I flew up to BCPL leaving my wife Linda & 2 girls due to follow on in 3 months time after I had been allocated a house.

I was met at Kieta airport by my new boss, Pete Martin, who was Chief Maintenance Controller Crushing, Screening, Milling and Floc section and travelled to site the following day with him & John Tynan who, along with Bill Wordsworth, was a Maintenance Engineer in the same department. My outstanding recollection of that particular journey to work was looking out of the Land Cruiser window as we went over a stream bridge, to see a nubile young Bougainvillean girl getting bathed in the stream!

I lived in the single quarters at Karawong (?) House but Pete's priority was to get me a house in Arawa ASAP, which he did after just 2 weeks on site, so I had to break the news to Linda that she would be flying up there very soon.

I had 2 weeks to get the house clean, and boy did it need it - locals had been living in it prior to me getting it and I remember spending every evening and a full weekend down in Arawa, scrubbing every square inch of exposed surface!.

Linda was left in Perth to arrange letting the house out and liasing with Wridgways the removals people BCL used to pack up and ship our stuff to Bougainville. She left Perth at midnight, with a 3 year old, a 22 month old, 7 suitcases and a pushchair. She flew to Melbourne, was booked into a hotel during the stopover whilst waiting for the Brisbane flight, then on to Moresby where she got on the flight to Kieta. Just out of PM the flight was diverted to Rabaul due to bad weather at Kieta, so she overnighted in a Rabaul hotel, with a departure time of 05.00 the following day.Fortunately there was an Aussie woman who was going back to Bougainville after leave and she helped Linda with the kids and luggage.

The plane was being held for Bougainville passengers and everyone had to rush, so it could get to Kieta, offload and turn around back to Moresby to collect the next batch of passengers for Bougainville. I can tell you my wife was less than impressed when I met her at the airport!!

I enjoyed my job and time on the island, but unfortunately Linda got hepatitis and malaria just before Christmas 1973 and I had to have almost 2 months off work to look after her and the children, so we decided to leave which we did in July 1974. I remember that John Tynan tried very hard to get us to stay on but Linda had had just about enough and wanted to get off the island, so we did leave and went back to the UK.

Just before we were due to leave, we had a weekend at Loloho, in one of the Wowic cabins, which was fine, except that at 3am on the Saturday morning, Linda woke up to see a local standing at the bottom of the bed, just watching us. She screamed, I woke up and set off after him, but he had prepared the way out and got away. We then realised that one of the window catches between the bedroom and sleepout was faulty and wouldn't lock, and this guy had cut through the fly wire on the sleepout, got into the cabin, unlocked the door and then went looking around. We were very lucky, as both of our girls had very short hair and being asleep, looked like boys, so he didn't touch them. I got in touch with Peter(?) Quodling, the Admin Director and told him what had happened and that I thought it was one of the cleaning or maintenance staff, and they did investigate and catch the guy afterwards. On the Saturday morning we went to Toniva and was talking to a woman in one of the shops, telling her what had happened and she went white, as she had had a similar experience, but thought she was dreaming, because he had gone when she awoke! She realised it wasn't a dream after all!

At the time, the mine was were making so much profit (and I believe we were also enjoying a tax holiday from the original agreement with the government) that I was told to spend as much money as I could on spares etc., to ensure we had enough spares and consumables to keep the plant going and I bought all sorts of kit; gearboxes, motors, couplings, wear parts, conveyor rollers and belt etc. I was like a kid in a sweetshop!! I remember drawing up PM schedules for crusher, screen, conveyor and wear parts maintenance and loved every minute of it.

I also saw a TV programme some years ago called "The Forgotten War in the Pacific", which covered the situation on Bougainville, from the days when the first exploration teams went in looking for minerals, to the time of the uprising. If you ever get a chance to see it, I would recommend it, as it show how the so called rebels had become so ingenious at living with the aftermath of the war, utilising whatever they could cannibalise from the mine. It was such a shame really to see the effects of the war. I know BCPL didn't have the best ecological record and did loads of damage, but there was a chance to get some proper investment into the whole PNG Region, but it was squandered.

We were very lucky in one respect as we moved next door to a couple from Brisbane area, Paul and Anne Scott and their 3 children. Paul was a schools inspector for the government and had lived on Bougainville for a good few years. Anne was a teacher at the Arawa school and they were really helpful, especially after Linda fell ill. We became good friends and Paul bought our house, just outside Perth W.A? (unseen) as an investment property, as we decided for family reasons, to go back to the UK rather than Perth. We had lost touch, but I found them again via the Internet and corresponded. Sadly Paul died a few years ago, but we are still in contact with Anne.

I know it's probably changed out of all proportion but I would love to be able to go back and see the place again. I found it a fascinating place and loved the history.

I hope you found my recollections interesting, and would appreciate your comments

Kind regards
John Hewitt