IN early 1971 I was working in Broken Hill on the South mine as an Engine driver in the power house when i received a call from my brother in-law FRED ANSPACH
who was working for BARCLAY BROS in PANGUNA BOUGAINVILLE as Head mechanic in their workshop, Asking me if i would like a job over there as a service truck operator I thought this could be an adventure not to be missed so leapt at the chance The only down side was that it would only be a 6 month contract . HE said that if one stayed any longer they may become Troppo? Still i was keen to go SO tickets were arranged a TEMPORY entry visa to NEW Guinea A letter from the army stating that i was not required for service (i had in a few years earlier been discharged SERVICES NO LONGER REQUIRED ) as Vietnam was still an issue . The exact date escapes me now but sometime around may or June i boarded a DC3 from Brisbane to Morseby then a Fokker Friendship to LAE and RABAUL Stayed overnight then next day then a 12 seater to KIETA . ON alighting at KIETA the humidity nearly blew me back into the plane im sure i was gasping I had just left BROKEN HILL where the heat at times was oppressive but this was something else!! A small people mover was there to collect me and take me up the mountain , the driver a kiwi pointed out places where dozers trucks and men were lost over the side of this treacherous road during construction the year before I could see how this could happen on the 29 klms up this hill climb from hell SO i arrived at Panguna MET my new Boss the workshop foreman MR Gordon Munro Greeted by FRED the bro in law AND then up to the site office and met BARCLAYs Project manager Mr BOB CUSH .After all the pleasantrys iwas taken up to the donga that i would be sharing with Fred NEXT day i began work, i was introduced to my vehicle a Toyota 3000 tip truck . This vehicle carried 44 gallons fuel 2 x 13 gallon drums of hydraulic oil and transmission oil 5 gallon drum of grease and various tools in a metal tool box . All of this gear was in the back of a steel floored tipper . I was shown 6 Boys (indigenies) that i would be teaching to service vehicles when they( THE people of BOUGAINVILLE ) gained their independence . These Boys are not allowed to ride in the front of the truck for any reason, i was told.. Imagine
dear reader 6 boys no boots , Drums of fuel oils tool box A steel floor THE most mountainous terrain to traverse NOW picture the dance in the back of the truck as the drums slide backward and slam into the tailgate and forward into the headboard as we go up and over the hills .I had to learn Pidgin pretty quick and the Boys didn't help, Mostly all i got from them in the first few weeks was ME NO SAVVY TO Mus Master Lik LIK tasol I soon learnt and would answer Rouse im arse belong you . I will say now that i became quite proficient at speaking pidgin i had to WE worked 6 days 10 hrs aday except for about an hour most days at 3pm when the sky would open and man did it open and drench everyone and every thing. We all ate breakfast in the mess and while there i would make my lunch as invariably i would be away from the camp at lunch time , I would get back to the workshop around 4pm and replenish my drums on the back and top the truck up with fluids as required , THEN at knock off time was the drag race to the camp . I think every body on the mine knocked off at the same time and all wanted to get to the dongas or the wet canteen or the mess first. THE rain that had fallen in the afternoon would make the gravel road to the mess a bloody MESS and was uphill Many a time i would receive a whack up the rear from another 3 speed petrol Land cruiser that we all seemed to drive,With my passengers telling me to go faster, i usually had 6 or more crammed in the ute . I often had my lunch (after leaving my boys at the last vehicle we had serviced) in a small clearing that i had found off the side of a track not well used , i loved this peaceful little spot , I would eat my lunch , READ my book and think of home . One day while reading i thought i saw something out of the corner of my eye a movement in the thick jungle,. on the edge of the clearing I FROZE a cold shiver down my spine ,WAS i being watched? did i imagine it ? What to do? I decided to pretend i had not seen it and continue to read though watching that spot with strained eyes. THERE IT IS AGAIN definitely something there, far out i was packing poo, Don't move your head John PUT you finger on the starter button and get ready to Move. then i spotted him a piccaninny of about 6 or 7 years, naked as a jay bird , curliest crop of hair, Jesus where did he come from? the jungle that he emerged from was to me impenetrable and yet here is a lad staring at the truck . I made a move to open the door and he was gone POOF! gone,disappeared. The next day i had hatched a plan I would make some extra sangas and take one to this place I arrived a little earlier and placed the sandwich on a rock close to where i had seen the boy. I did not see him that day but before leaving to return to work i walked over to the rock and the sanga was gone. you little devil i will get you tomorrow . NEXT day i placed the sanga out in the open and sure enough he ran out of the the jungle grabbed the food and was gone!
WE played this cat and mouse game for a week or so but in the end he would take from my hand . ONE day the rain came early bucketing down in torrents and the little fellow was shivering with cold i had a spare shirt in the truck that i always carried and i placed it around his shoulders . Off he went happy as larry swallowed up by the bush . NEXT day Holy hell there was with my little mate with this huge Black man holding his hand and my shirt in his other hand . Shit im in trouble now what do i do?? ( Dont back down John always be assertive when dealing with these natives I was warned constantly by my superiors and workmates if not it would be a sign of weakness and could end badly for me ) I Stood over to the waiting pair with an air of purpose and greeted the man with WoT EM to which he replied ME tin tin long piccaninny belong me emme stealem dispela lap lap masta . NO GAT i replied ,, lap lap belong piccaninny, me kissem dispela , long im .Then with a stern voice i said while pointing to the lad KISSIM Lap Lap and with that he thrust the shirt at the boy THEN he said to me Master,Piccaninny tellem me you kissem Im Kai Kai ? I nodded in the affirmative and went and got the sandwiches from the truck WE all had lunch together that day . Now i was making lunch for three each day Probably not in the rules I did not disclose what i was doing to any body as i knew it would be viewed as a sign of weakness if i was found out. On one of these lunches i asked if i could come to their village to take some photos (me like kissem pitch long bilage belong you) No Gat Master NO whiteman ever lookim pastime, I said OK no more Kai Kai e come , HE had be come quite partial to bacon and egg sandwiches (Bloody marvellous what food can do) so he relented after a short time He led me to the bridge that spanned a deep chasm he said not many men have seen this place This is special place You kissem pitch you go merris not happy Some years ago some men they try to cross they disappear not seen again JESUS !!! WE crossed the bridge and entered the clearing where there was a collection of wooden houses perched on stilts with thatched roofs The merris spotted me coming and promptly disappeared. I took many photos of that village and felt very privileged My new friend was the chief of the village and he delighted in showing me his collection of 5or 6 pigs and i made all the right noises about how good they were He was so proud. I'm glad he did not detect what i really thought about that sty of stunted ugly inbred swine . I did not get to see these friends very much after that day, work took me in a different direction. Which meant i did not visit my special lunch place again. I wonder how long they waited daily for their kai kai I Felt i had deserted them they probably felt the same!!! Sundays were a welcome relief from work some Sunday's i would venture down to Kieta or Arawa i loved going to the markets and watching the goings on, or lying on the beach at Kieta . On one occasion i was lying on the beach catching some rays when i heard a noise beside me, i sat up and there was a young indiginy about 7 or 8 years old He was holding a coconut YOU likem dispela massa?? I said OK and threw him 20 cents i returned to my nap ,30 minutes later another noise disturbed me i sat up and there were roughly a dozen boys all with coconuts and hands out Of course I did not have that many coins so i motioned them to follow me over to the Chinese traders shop and bought them all an ice block THEY loved that I didn't collect my coconuts I loved to watch the string of merris toting their heavy loads of produce to the market with the old man with his staff(big stick) out in front leading the way . I had to be careful and not get caught staring as the old guy would get nasty if he saw you. Some of us who lived in the camps used to entertain ourselves at night playing crown and anchor in one of the dongas WE would have to barricade ourselves in as quite often there would be a Boy Knocking on the door or walls demanding to be let in we would tell him to piss off and they would reply YOU cant speak to me like that IM edicated or I'm missionary boy you let me in. They would come looking of trouble after visiting the wet canteen. ‘’Kissem Spark He Come”, mostly South Pacific Lager. I tried this brew once, after that our mob would drink Stein Lager that was imported from New Zealand. The boys that were allotted to me to teach the job were a mixture of different tribes. We had Chimbu, Sepik River, Mt. Hagen, and a few others. These boys did not like each other and more than once l would ask where’s was Wombas, or some other boy that hadn't turned up for work, the answer would be “Eme Dead Master something nothing He Pinis True”. On occasion, some boys would turn up for work with the reddest mouth I would say “You Kai Kai l am betel nut” they would answer “ Me no sabby betel nut master”. Betel nut was forbidden to be consumed at work. But the evidence was clear to see, l would send them home for the day. If the boss had seen then they would have been sacked on the spot. I loved my time on Bougainville. So many memories But the six months was up too soon and Barlosse he come and Kissem me long Bilage Belong Me. One day if l live long enough l would like to venture back for a visit.