Don Bell – Recruiter and Schooner Master

IMG_5213Seventy five years. A life time for many.

A life time denied to 1053 – mostly Australian – soldiers and civilians,  locked below decks on the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru, torpedoed and sunk on 1 July 1942 by the US submarine Sturgeon.

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) team have published a superb book, When the War Came which addresses the personal issues of loss in a collection of stories by relatives and friends, humanising this important piece of Australia’s history.

I am proud to have several personal stories included in this publication.

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Don Bell

The first of these I’d like to share with you commemorates my uncle, Don Bell, whose name appears on the manifest of the sunken ship Montevideo Maru.  Please click on the link to be directed to John Bell Books – Don Bell

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, and the PNGAA have worked tirelessly to have this bit of Australian history included in the nation’s education syllabus.

The Japanese freighter, en route Rabaul to Hainan, bore no markings to indicate its cargo. Just another enemy vessel. A legitimate target.

Wartime censorship and perhaps a government – successive governments – wanting to not publicize the sinking has clouded Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

MONTEVIDEOweb1Largely excluded from school history curricula, that sinking and the Australian planning for and response to the Japanese invasion of New Guinea don’t reflect well on the government of the day. Successive governments appeared similarly reluctant to admit to the poor and inadequate planning, the atrocious decision making that sent an inadequate force of ill equipped military personnel to face a massive invasion force, and left civilians stranded in a hot zone.

Even when the Administrator in Rabaul tried to organize emergency evacuation using a ship then in harbour, permission was refused. The ship had to stay and load copra!

And was bombed and sunk.

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The author with Elizabeth and Don Bell, 1941

If you would like a copy of the PNGAA’s publication “When the War Came” (with over 460 photographs and 540 large format pages)  go to … admin@pngaa.net—www.pngaa.org/site—www.memorial.org.au.

 

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And Home!

We enjoy a whale and calf near Square Reef, then a 15 knot bobsled ride inside the reef towards Mackay and the setting sun.20160824_175510_hdr

By nightfall the wind swings from north westerly to a cold 20 knot south easterly, bringing with it rain, sometimes heavy. We push through the sharp chop in the shallow water approaches to Mackay from the north, finally getting into the marina just after midnight.

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Next morning, we clear back into Australia through immigration and customs, and take on fuel.

Then out through the entrance and head north for the Whitsundays.

Hardly any wind at all, calm all the way.

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20160825_172936_hdrOff Cape Conway another whale with calf.

Overcast conditions, the light fades quickly and we work through passing showers.

Too dark to locate the mooring, we anchor overnight in Funnel Bay … and home!

Brian delivers us by dinghy to our doorstep – literally – and disappears into the rain to Drumbeat and Linda.

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Blue Water at its best

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Don’t get me wrong …  blue water sailing is mostly enjoyable.

Now out of the storms and in the sou’east trades, Drumbeat skips along, eating up the sea miles.

20160822_180139_HDR.jpgWe enter the shipping lanes between east coast Australia and east of New Guinea. A lot of ships traverse this bit of ocean. At one stage we have seven ships on our AIS screen. On sunset we pass the Chang Wah, 900 feet long. We’d been on collision course, until he turned to port and we did the same to our port.

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You can see why they call it blue water when you check the escape hatch out in the hull below waterline … this really is a loo with a view!

 

 

Brian plots our course through the Reef to our new clearance port of Mackay.

By the time we reach the Reef, the wind has eased, and we ghost along between the reefs. Flying fish and seabirds – one booby hitched a full night time lift with us, perched on a rail.

We stream a couple of lures, but no success.

 

 

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Egholo Extended

Heavy showers overnight, the distant sea shows through the entrance all whitecaps and grey, pushed along by 30 kts of sou’easter. We sit motionless in this protected anchorage. Brian locates a small low developing immediately north of us. With any luck, it’ll move off to the east and leave us alone on our westwards journey. But we should wait a while – great! I love Egholo.

Chief Ngana takes us today on a stroll through neat and tidy houses and paths, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, of all sorts. Nut trees too. Similar names to Kavieng for a couple of the nut trees. Crab holes everywhere. Solomon Islands name for Abiu is Portera. They grow well here.

Ngana’s wife gives us a demonstration of recovering coconut oil. About 80 coconuts and a lot of work go to make about ten half litre bottles of clear oil. A lot of time and effort.

20160818_071759_HDR.jpgA walk past village houses and gardens takes us to the local school. We meet two of the teachers, young and dedicated Solomon Island girls.

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Egholo village school teachers

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Our friendly head man Gnana brings out his village visitor’s book, carefully wrapped in plastic.

20160817_074139_HDR.jpgWith two artists on board in Linda and Carol, the ladies work on a page for our visit.

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Village life flows on around us, canoes with kids, canoes with mothers and occasional men. This is much better than tackling that low-pressure system waiting outside for us.

We’re invited to leave Drumbeat for a while to check out a project of one of the villagers.

Can you imagine trying to build accommodation for backpackers when there’s no Bunnings handy? Local man Pesec, a Solomons entrepreneur, is building out over the water. All disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over

20160818_070236_HDRAll disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over

He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over environment.  I hope his dream becomes reality. Very basic, very beautiful, very friendly. If any backpacker reads this and has a sense of adventure, get yourself to Egholo and stay a while, living over water. Tell ’em I sent you!

 

 

 

all too soon, it’s back to Drumbeat to think about the weather…

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Sailing the Solomons

Right now I can 20160816_103004_HDR.jpgthink of nowhere I’d rather be. A bit of sun’d be nice, and those showers can go elsewhere, but motoring down the Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Island takes some beating.

The barge hauls off to somewhere else, and we’re passed by a local ferry as the narrows open up into a huge lagoon area dotted with islands and reefs.

The dull sky tries, but can’t hide the beauty.  We pass a canoe with fishing detail – how many can they fit in one of those things? A lunch stop near the fishermen, and feeling pleased we have an enclosed cockpit and bridge deck as rain showers pass through.

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20160816_113717_HDRWe work southwards along the eastern side of Rendova Island, heading for an anchorage at Egholo. If a sailor wanted to design the perfect anchorage, this is what he’d come up with. Deep water, plenty of protection, reef across the front, friendly villagers, laughing kids. Heaven on a stick.

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Drumbeat at Egholo

We drop anchor right where shown on the map. Not because of the map, but because the village chief met us in his canoe as we came through the narrows and guided us to that spot. Completely enclosed by jungle, except for the entrance – and a transverse reef guards that. The anchorage is watched over by a mountain shrouded in cloud. Misty rain falls on glassed off water. We mightn’t see the near full moon coming up due to cloud, but we’ll get a good night’s sleep on this calm water. How could we not nickname this delightful place “the egghole?”

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The village chief – a great man

The headman, Gnana, welcomes us to his village, and we become the centre of attention for the village kids in their canoes. Shy, polite and gentle, with flashing smiles they are born to canoes. Little ones 4 years old, even.

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Overcast and rainy, the forecast is  not excellent. 25kts ESE blowing harder outside, and weather seems to be deteriorating. We decide a few days here might be nice, as we close up for the night.

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Not exciting weather

A break in the rain and it’s all kids and canoes.

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these kids – the true King Solomon’s Treasure

 

 

 

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Life to the beat of a different drum

The beauty of this place isn’t diminished by the overcast sky and misty showers. We join Brian and Linda on Drumbeat off Noro, on the island of New Georgia, anchored inside a shallow reef separating us from the channel. I eye off the pass through the reef, and automatically compare the width of our boat. Hmmm…

A visitor drops in by canoe for a bit of “story”.  And maybe a bit of bartering.

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Soon it’s  dusk and the sun shows momentarily below cloud as it waves goodbye for the night.

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Tomorrow is another day, and the local market calls.

20160816_080638_HDR.jpg20160816_080558_HDR.jpgOur last chance for fresh stuff, so we stock up. Jakfruit? Yes. Coconuts, pawpaws, bananas, all types of fruit and veg.

Market bartering done, we dinghy out past a line of big fishing boats that supply the local tuna cannery, and back to Drumbeat after clearing customs and immigration. That took a while, lik lik longtaim, but hey – who cares? They certainly don’t and that’s a contagious attitude.

20160816_082648_HDR.jpgWe swing out past Noro houses, slide through the narrow gap in the reef and turn to follow the barge that just left the Noro wharf. It seems to disappear into the jungle as it turns into Diamond Narrows. On my last trip through here in a Beneteau 44, maybe ten years ago, it seemed too tight for boats to pass. Not so – deep water to the banks, and sufficient room as it twists and turns westwards. Overcast and windless, we motor on calm water.

Trying to pictur20160816_095137_HDR.jpge racing down this channel on a stormy night with a squadron of wartime US Navy torpedo boats. It was much easier to fictionalize in Payback than it could ever be in real life.

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These pics don’t do the narrows justice.

Check ’em out some time on Google Earth, it’s Diamond Narrows in the Solomon Islands, near New Georgia.

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