Eighty Years, Bookended by Kavieng … Part Two

Lissenung Island, Kavieng … continues

One late afternoon two boats took us to a spot in “Eickstedt Passage in the middle of a triangle formed by Nago, Edmago and Usien islands” (from ”The Kavieng Massacre” by Raden Dunbar).

My grandfather John William Bell was one of the survivors of the Kavieng PoW camps garrotted by the Japanese, their bodies weighted with concrete and dumped in this deep water. Convicted at eventual war crimes trials, the camp commandant who issued the execution order was duly executed, others involved sentenced to varying gaol terms.

I wanted our family’s younger ones to be aware of their family’s history in PNG from 1926 to 1951, encompassing the destruction of WW2.  Too few Australians have much awareness of Australia’s close involvement with the country so near to our north.

A quarter century of family history, the wartime deaths of three out of five male family members, the dislocation of so many lives by the Japanese invasion, all given impact and immediacy by being where it all happened.

 

 

 

 

 

Dietmar and Ange organized two wreaths, one frangipanis, the other heliconias weighted down with bits of shell and coral collected by our group.

Under a dramatic sunset sky, clouds changing from pink to purple, we lowered the wreaths into the glassed-off darkening sea. I said a few words covering the Japanese invasion, evacuation, my grandfather’s incarceration, and the massacre.

I touched on the Montevideo Maru, and the loss of my uncle Don Bell on that ship, as well as my father Lincoln’s role as a Coast Watcher, his work in the evacuation from Rabaul, and his death behind the Rai Coast in 1943. Bruce played The Last Post on his bagpipes, the plaintive notes setting a sombre mood, then followed with a bracket of pipe favourites. An emotional time, a poignant history lesson. Wet eyes all round, even the boat boys. A history lesson to be absorbed and remembered.

 

 

Kavieng markets saw a visit. A new experience for the younger ones – and some of the older – who checked out the local artifacts and produce, especially buai. And of course that night at dinner everyone inspected the day’s haul of carvings and ornaments.

We’d booked for a week, but when Dietmar and Ange mentioned a gap before the next guests were due to arrive, we didn’t hesitate. Unanimous decision to stay a few extra days.

Unfortunately, Stuart and Sharyn with Maggie and George, as well as Lucie and Dan, had work commitments, so couldn’t stay over. They left us in the middle of a blinding rain shower, perfectly timed for a wet trip in an open boat. A trip they will remember.

I’d arranged to catch up with Jim Ridges, and he kindly joined us for a half day bus trip. The bus was ours, and headed off down Boluminski Highway after Kavieng, with Jim pointing out where Les Bell’s engineering (read “New Guinea Engineer” by Gillian Heming Shadbolt) had been, where the hospital I was born in had been until the devastation of war, and other landmarks.

And oral history, delivered from Jim’s extensive store of knowledge, the best way for young (and old) people to absorb. We visited and paid our respects at the memorial to civilians, which includes the names of my grandfather (Kavieng Massacre) and uncle (Montevideo Maru).

We called in on the eels, still run by the same lady as in 2002. Cathy, once a senior air hostess for Air Niugini, had flown all over the world until she came back to New Ireland to raise children village-style. Sixteen years and the eels don’t seem to have changed!

At a stop for lunch, our bus owner driver John Knox (see Knoxies Place Kavieng – accommodation, bus etc) had a razor sharp machete fall on his foot, cutting deep into his big toe.

Our in-house nursing sister Penny had a supply of bandages and medications, and she operated, while Carol held the skin together, and the uncomplaining Knoxie stoically stood there using his mobile phone to photograph the damage.

On our 2002 visit we’d stayed at the Kavieng Hotel and remembered that the food then had been excellent. So on our overnight stay at Kavieng Niu Lodge for the return trip, we booked into the hotel restaurant. Again, the meal was excellent. A lot of changes to the hotel in sixteen years.

 

We flew out of Kavieng for Rabaul the next day at 0630. Not without drama – again just to remind us that this is, after all, PNG – when Carol and I, Lincoln and Diana presented our confirmed tickets at the counter we were told “you aren’t on the manifest” and so couldn’t board the aircraft. After a lot of talking and telephoning, they waved us through.

This was repeated in Port Moresby, where time was an issue due to a 55 minute connecting flight and a busy terminal. Jacquie left us to the luggage and ran to the ticketing counter where she talked us onto the Cairns flight. We made it onto the aircraft well after boarding was called. Not so lucky were Stuart and Sharyn, Maggie and George, when they left a couple of days earlier. On the return trip their plane was diverted to Lae, causing them to miss their Brisbane flight. They were able to get a later flight to Cairns before continuing.

So that was my 80th birthday. Very emotional, and so very satisfying to see all the family enjoying themselves, their company, and the island.

Every night was a “Happy Birthday” night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eighty Years, Bookended by Kavieng … Part One

June 1938 – I first arrived in Kavieng via the hospital, aged 0.

June 2018 – I last arrived in Kavieng via Air Niugini, aged 80.

Where did all those years go?

Early this year several family members decided to celebrate my big 80 in Kavieng. Seventeen were able to attend, a formidable logistical exercise. Transport, accommodation, activities, meals for three generations, only a few of whom had ever been to PNG.

 

Lissenung Island – www.lissenung.com – is 15 minutes by boat from Kavieng. A dedicated dive resort on a stunningly beautiful island, we took over all its accommodation and booked the island for a week. Then the planning began, ten coming from Queensland (two flying out of Cairns, two out of Townsville, seven Brisbane), four NSW, one Victoria , one from the USA and one from Tahiti.

Jacquie shouldered the unenviable burden of coordinating all the flights into POM and on to KVG and return, making sure everyone had their travel documents in order. The ladies at Air Niugini were so helpful in their friendly laid-back manner, and assisted with accommodation in Kavieng pre- and post-Lissening. But this is PNG after all, and the inevitable few hiccups added to the sense of adventure for the younger ones.

The staff at Kavieng Niu Lodge were excellent, collecting us from and returning us to Kavieng airport without fuss and within time. Arriving on the daily late afternoon flight, we stayed there overnight. Next morning they delivered us to the wharf to be collected by the Lissenung boats.

Despite confirmed tickets, Penny, Matt and Bodie didn’t make that flight, being bumped in POM, unlucky enough due to baggage delays to be at the wrong end of the queue to board the onward flight. They had to overnight Moresby, so arrived at Lissenung in the early dark of the following evening.

  

 

Delivered by the boat boys from Kavieng wharf to the island’s beautiful sand beach and crystal water, we were welcomed by Dietmar and Ange, the resort owners, who proceeded to spoil us for the next week. Accommodation was clean, cool and tropical. Elevated and flyscreened, native materials, ensuites, we could not have wished for better. Each hut has two bedrooms and is separated from the others for privacy. Thankfully no television and only limited internet. Sand paths, raked continually, link the huts and the restaurant, office, other buildings.

Everyman’s idea of a tropical island paradise, Lissenung is a jungle covered atoll, surrounded by reef and sandy beaches. You can swim around it, snorkelling over beautiful coral and masses of coloured fish, or walk around it, stepping into the sea here and there to negotiate leaning jungle trees festooned with orchids, ferns and Ant Plants. Every day a large school of Big Eye Trevally patrolled the main beach and the house reef, maybe a thousand (you ever tried to count fish?) or so. A pet Eclectus parrot flits unrestrained through the trees, drops into the office to say hullo and cadge something to eat.

All those suitably qualified went diving, everyone snorkelled every day, Dietmar organized a fishing trip for those keen, and even a crabbing expedition.

All the younger ones had dive tickets, and their excitement after each dive was contagious. Crystal clear water, ship and aircraft wrecks, glorious coral, colourful fish and streamlined sharks, what more could a diver want?

I’ve spent a lifetime diving, and watching the next generations enjoying the pastime in such a setting made a special birthday even more so.

The kids decided that “Lissenung” means “Paradise.” Fabulous setting, hosts and staff wonderful, weather perfect – blue skies, calm water, occasional afternoon showers, breezes came and went. Evenings delightfully cool for a group including third, fourth and fifth generations born north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Clear water. And no stingers! No Irukandji, no Chironex Rex. Nor any sandflies, and we struggled to find a mosquito. Paradise indeed.

The sand floored dining room is a great setting for a party…  every night! Our hosts turned on a magnificent birthday dinner, complete with chocolate cake and candles.

All meals surprised us in quality and variety, especially considering the remoteness of the island and the logistics of feeding so many. Lobster, fish, crab, salad, veggies – we have two vegans, yet they were catered for too.

Every meal was excellent. The shy kitchen girls must have been on a mission to fatten us up, because second helpings appeared unrequested for the insatiable 20-year olds.

There wasn’t one meal of the nearly 400 that deserved any form of complaint. And my chocolate birthday cake disappeared like snow on the beach.

A visit to nearby Enuk Island, the home village for Lissenung staff, enabled us to meet and mingle. Holiday time, many locals had gone to Kavieng to watch the football, so the school was closed.

We didn’t get to meet the kids in their classroom, but touch footy games were running, and we joined the watchers.

We’d brought with us some fifty-odd tennis balls, eagerly caught by laughing children. We’d tested our AirNiugini baggage limits with a heap of school supplies – books, pencils, erasers etc – and left these with our hosts for later distribution.

In 2002 Carol and I and son Lincoln went to Kavieng for the PNGAA memorial establishment. While there we took a banana boat with Scott and Margaret (also Kavieng born) Henderson, to Enelaua where my liklik dokta father Lincoln Bell as district GMO in the 1930’s established a leper station. I’m indebted to Jim Ridges for his research paper detailing this. Then over to Ranmalek on Lavongai, where Margaret’s father Tom Simpson (“Yours Sincerely, Tom” written by Margaret) ran a mission prior to WW2. We passed Lissenung back then, never imagining we would one day stay there.

Sixty-eight years separate me from grandson George. With no one else in our group under twenty, he busied himself creating a video from edited stills of his sand-built race track, and struck up a friendship with Elijah, the young son of Boston and his wife Margaret from Enuk.

 

Both parents work at Lissenung, Boston on the boats. He was in charge of our mudcrabbing expedition. “Women’s work,” he claimed.

 

 

 

 

Peni, another of the island’s boat/diving crew, ever helpful, kept everything running smoothly during tank dives.

Possessed of a wonderful ability to calm the over excited nerves of our newbies – and some not so newbies – for the deeper dives, his natural air of calm confidence turned each experience into something magical.

 

 

 

 

continued in Part Two …

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HIROSHIMA

An evocative name in 20th century history.

The first atomic bomb obliterated this city. August 1945 changed the world, and wiped out thousands upon thousands of people in a few seconds. The blast, the enormous heat and destructive shock waves was a turning point in man’s history on this planet.

The Peace Park provides a sombre reminder, the museum details the orgy of destruction, while everything is hoping for a future without nuclear weapons.

An admirable  wish, shared by millions the world over, but seeming more unlikely by the day as more nations acquire the technology, and men with no thought for history – when will they ever learn – poise their fingers over nuclear buttons.

Buttons that can summon weapons hundreds of times more powerful that the two that finally halted the carnage of the Pacific war.

This blue white sign, in origami cranes, means “peace”

 

 

Sombre. That’s  the feeling Hiroshima left with me.

Yet the cherry blossoms still burst forth every spring for their 7 to 10 day life, while young families putter along their river in curious circular outboard powered boats. The word “boat” doesn’t seem to fit these strange craft.

By the way, pronunciation is optional. The Japanese alternatively use it with the accent on the “o” or on the “i”.

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PURI PURI – by John Bell – Book 2 | Williams Series

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00073]The Kokoda Track, a dense inhospitable jungle track across the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea, 1942 … a bloody battle fought by a small band of Australians holding off the Japanese invasion.  

“Ilolo, Uberi, Ioribaiwa, Nauro, Menari, Brigade Hill, Efogi. And Myola, Kagi. Yes, bloody Kagi.”  Angie turned to stare at Johnno, his eyes still closed, face white and sweating, jaw clenched. His mouth closed!  Lips not moving! … “Templeton, Eora Creek, Alola, Isurava,”  the litany slowed, the voice softened.  She heard the agony. “Isu-bloody-rava.”  A long pause, “and – oh Christ – Kokoda …” 

On the 1st of July 1967 two events are set to occur.  The first is a ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the Japanese p.o.w. ship Montivideo Maru, with the death of 1053 Australian prisoners.  The second is Angelique Condor’s 25th birthday. Both events are to take place in the township of Kavieng, a couple of degrees south of the Equator, on an outer eastern island off the coast of New Guinea.

Angie Condor, adopted orphan from war-ravaged Europe and now an Australian photo-journalist, is sent on assignment to Kavieng to cover the Montivideo Maru ceremony.  Full of the excitement and boundless enthusiasm that only youth can provide she accompanies an old warhorse correspondent, Johnno, into this ancient land.  As they lumber out of the heat of Port Moresby on a tired DC3, Angie is gripped by memories and feelings that are not her own.

Through the swirling mists travels the ancient tribal lore that distils the essence of New Guinea tribal spirituality, the lore of Puri Puri.  How can a blue eyed, blond girl from another land possibly have any connection to Puri Puri, an inherited gene found only amongst the tribal people of New Guinea?  And who is Meri Melera, why is she protecting Angie?   Why does the man Karl Frederiksen appear in her “trances”?

Angie finds herself attracted to the ruggedly handsome Nick Williams, who leads her into a dangerous treasure hunt.  Her old friend Giselle had stumbled across a map indicating a haul of Japanese ingots was left behind after World War 2 somewhere on the New Ireland west coast.  Filled with curiosity and excited by the possible discovery of hidden treasure, the friends venture on Nick’s sailing boat to the black, sulphur filled caves, stumbling across a dangerous Japanese Yakuza gang in the process of stealing the gold.

The pace builds as Mother Nature intervenes, and yet another party arrives looking for gold.

Will the love developing between Angie and Nick be enough to survive the temptation of the sensual Giselle, or the mysterious decades-long blood feud between the Williams and Frederiksen families?  A story told in the first book of the series, PAYBACK.

PURI PURI is an action adventure packed with hints of fact, making the fiction so much more compelling.

PURI PURI – Book 2 in John Bell’s Williams Series – Purchase by following the links below:

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PAYBACK – by John Bell – Book 1 | Williams Series

PAYBACK-COVER

“He leaned on an old bamboo cane, its carved handle smoothed by the years.  A sharp eye might pick out the Sepik River motif, but only a wantok could explain.  Eyes wet, the old man looked up to where the crows hunched … the movie suddenly stopped, then began to roll forwards … Ben Williams was once again seven years old.”

Paradise is shattered the night Lu, niece of a respected and proud Chinese merchant family, was brutally raped.  Such an act cannot go unpunished.  Payback is required, is expected.

And so begins the feud …

Ben Williams – The serious eldest child of Harry and Victoria Williams, leader of the pack, as wild as his adopted country.  From an early age Ben proved a quick study, displaying a raw toughness beyond his years.  While still wet behind the ears, he mastered knife, gun and explosives, not for sport but survival.  His strong business sense expanded the family’s interests beyond copra, into gold, crocodiles, timber and shipping.

Jack Williams – Ruggedly handsome, untamed and competitive.  His vivid blue eyes miss nothing over the bow of his schooner, Garamut. As formidable as his brother Ben in the art of weaponry, the glorious Jane Bifold presented his greatest challenge.  Spiriting her away at high tide against the furious protestations of her father, Jack and Jane find themselves caught up in a war that this tiny nation is ill prepared for.

Josh (Joseph) Williams – Highly competitive, his blue eyes would flash in challenge at his older siblings as he strived constantly to be the best.  Josh quickly discovered that quality crocodile skins were a much sought after commodity, and one he could produce well. He wasn’t prepared for Khanitha, the poised and elegant daughter of the merchant Wong Yuk Chong.  Were his skills enough to win the love of this most magnificent creature as well as the respect of her formidable family.

George Williams – The youngest of the William’s clan.   Born after the tragic death of sister Ethel, he grew up to be a solemn and quiet young man often shadowed by the imposing Ben, passionate Jack and impetuous Josh.  It was the freckle faced young Margaret who would be the one to crack the shell and bring him to life.  A life sadly cut short when captured somewhere in New Ireland, then lost at sea with over 1000 others with the sinking of the Japanese p.o.w. ship Montivideo Maru.

Gustav Hart – With a German father and Tabar Island mother he found himself despised by the Germans and disowned by the Islanders … he grew bitter as he aged.  This bitterness flowed on to his five sons to three mixed-race women.

Karl Frederiksen – A product of Gustav’s brutal parenting, his upbringing created a thug. Blond, cunning and clever.  He is forced to flee Lavongai in the darkest hour of the night following the discovery of his involvement in the rape of the Chinese girl.  Payback is heading his way.  He does not want this exile – for those who forced it upon him their time for payback would come.

Praise for John Bell

“Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.  A real page turner. Congratulations.” KL, NSW

“Payback is a great read, I couldn’t put it down.  A heartbreaking story especially knowing it is based on a true story.” LB, TVL

I have just finished my reading of Payback last night. This was a book equal of any that I have read … it was a novel that was hard to put down, and for some the epic would be seen as being profound in the history of Australia.” GB, QLD

“Outlandish, but has a ring of truth.  Payback is a true story disguised as a novel.  Based very closely on Bell’s family history, it is set in New Guinea … The temptation for the reader in this book is to try and work out what is true and what is fiction, but this is a fruitless exercise … Bell has produced a great read – tragic, funny, engaging and throwing a new light on our nearest neighbour, PNG.  In a word: ENGROSSING.”  Excerpt of review, Townsville Bulletin’s Weekend Extra

Purchase by following the links below:

AMAZON – John Bell Books

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Bit of a Trip Down Memory Lane

Still doing it tough in Cairns. Only 23 degrees today.

Royal Hotel Cairns

How can it be so long ago I was a paper boy in this this city?  Plenty of memories.  Here’s a pic of the Royal Hotel much as it was when I was a paper boy.  You’ll front up to its bar early in MELTED WAX.

Carins 40s-50s

And here’s an aerial shot of how I remember Cairns.  Bit different now.

Carins Post building

Today’s Cairns Post building doesn’t differ much from this old photo.  For several years I delivered the Cairns Post before school, the full length of Lake Street, once a week out to Aeroglen.  After school, Courier Mail around the wharves and pubs. And The Truth on Sunday.

IMG_2576Lived a few years in a flat at 70 Sheridan Street.  Now gone – part of Rusty’s markets. Our old home at 277 Lake Street is gone, too, now a block of units.

Cairns Central State school 50s

Even my old Cairns Central State School is no longer there.

class photo cairnsNor that Where’s Wally pic of a school class.

Dad cairns collageBut the ever-hopeful fisherman is still here, still hopeful!

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FOR ME TO KNOW AND YOU TO WONDER – PURI PURI written by JOHN BELL

Worthy of its own post… so you can wonder, just as I do.

This is the photo mentioned in my last post – Adventure, Greed and Rumours – that I received from my old friend. You’ll recall I’d sent him an article in the PNG paper about the legendary (?) Japanese World War 2 gold on New Ireland.

This is what he sent back.

So, what do you think? Did he or didn’t he?

EPSON MFP image