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.


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.

John - - Don

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 …——


John Bell Books

John Bell Books on Amazon



M2MvM – China’s One Child Policy

Met an impressive Chinese bloke, mid-30’s probably. So proud of his country. If he’s representative of the new China, then hang on world for the China Century.

He told us that the 35 year-long one child policy is no longer in force. But the hangover continues.

imagesHis wife was the second daughter of an ordinary Chinese family. As such, she was illegal.   Her parents were fined much more than they could afford for having more than one child and took decades to pay it off. They had to get their daughter away from easy reach of authority, so they moved to Inner Mongolia.

Such children could not get passports, I.D. cards, any sort of official recognition that they existed. Like the black economy, they were called “black” people.

The young man’s marriage to his “black” wife could not be officially recorded. Their children could not be officially citizens.

There were ways.  Many years and a lot of money, years of petitioning authorities, while the wheel was slowly turning, official attitudes softening. The repeal of that policy enabled our friend to “legalize” his wife’s very existence, their marriage, their children. They now live in Beijing. With passports, ID cards.

He spoke with an openness on matters political that surprised me. His love for and his pride in Mother China so evident. China’s future rests in the hands of his generation, and I hope there are many like him.

Very impressive.

A perfect template for a character in a novel. I’ll work on it.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – JohnBellBooks

PAYBACK – by John Bell – Book 1 | Williams Series


“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

John Bell Books

John, where and when can I buy your books?

I’ve been asked this question a bit of late.  Yes, the sequels to Payback have been written and published!

FB cover copy

Payback, Puri Puri & Melted Wax are available in ebook form through Amazon – download directly to your Kindle or via the Kindle app on your iPad or similar device – or purchase and read the ‘old fashioned’ way.

I also have a supply of print books if you’d like to contact me.

Follow the links below:

AMAZON – John Bell Books


EMAIL – John Bell Books

UNBELIEVABLE? … Probably. TRUE? … Definootly! MELTED like WAX? … Absolutely!

1968, a bumper Gulf of Carpentaria prawn season prompted “gold rush fever” for 1969. More trawlers, new players, a Russian super trawler. A small syndicate from a little Queensland town  saw an opportunity and went for it, sparking an unlikely adventure in international shipping.

A great Aussie yarn? Fanciful plot line?  NO! Amazingly – TRUE! 

MELTED WAX is a fictionalized version of that story.

Others invested in trawlers or processing plants. Z - men on deck looking into hold - uuinions shut downOur heroes decided on a vessel to shuttle between catching grounds and processing plants. Frozen prawns one way, fuel and supplies the other.

Great idea, good plan.

Found a ship in Europe, borrowed from a Dutch bank, incorporated a company in Holland. Brought the ship around Africa to newspaper headlines “Million dollar prawn ship in Townsville!”

Huge learning curve. Massive cost differential, slipping out to the reef for a spot of fishing and running a real ship half way around the world.

Big problem – 1969 was a season disaster. Only two prawns in the Gulf. One caught by the CSIRO for research, the other died of loneliness.

What could they do, no prawns and a 500 ton ship? Dutch flag meant it couldn’t operate on the Australian coast. Our heroes were desperate.

Money flowed out like a 4 metre Whitsunday tide.

Months of twisting, turning, ducking, hoping. Not opening window face envelopes.

Almost accidentally, they secured a charter to shuttle between Bougainville and Sydney, transporting food for the Conzinc Rio Tinto copper mine.

The charter was lucrative, but the syndicate was not skill-equipped to manage a foreign flagged ocean going ship. Or the sudden inflow of big money.

Z to slip for paintingWhen the opportunity for another ship, another charter, they succumbed to the 1970’s… More money from the Dutch bank? No worries.

Another Dutch company? Easy peasy. Repaint the new ship to match?   Yeah, why not.

So now they owned a fleet. Well, two. One 500 tons, one 1100 tons.

Pretty impressive stuff for a few blokes from a tiny rural town. And there’s more…

To find out how they made it to that point, and what happened after, read the third book in my Williams Series, MELTED WAX.

About the only facts are those above. Please read and enjoy as fiction.

MELTED WAX, and all my Williams Series, available from:

Kemphaan kids

Kemphaan rusty




















They’ve Arrived!!

The PAYBACK, PURI PURI and MELTED WAX print books have now started to arrive!


I’m underway signing and fulfilling the initial round of orders.   Simultaneously humbled and thrilled at my underestimation of demand for signed copies.  Further supplies of books are on the way to cover orders now coming through.

If you’d like to confirm your order, or place an order for one , two or all three books in print version, email me at:  or go to:

For signed book prices go to:

To order e-books and print versions via Amazon, click here:  John Bell Books – Amazon

As an avid lover of printed books – the smell, the feel, the look – I find it almost disloyal to say that the advantages of e-book over hard copy are overwhelming, becoming more so.

I probably read more e-books than print nowadays.  Might have something to do with old(er) eyes and the ability to enlarge the font, read in poor or no light by varying screen brightness, etc.  And being able to carry in electronic form so many books when travelling.

Due to the exorbitant postage costs, especially within Australia, buying the books as e-books via Amazon – John Bell Books – Amazon – makes enormous sense.  Instant gratification/delivery, and of course much cheaper!  Amazon delivers books via Kindle, this app is available and free to download on Apple and Android devices.

I look forward to hearing from you with comments and reading your reviews … and I trust that you’ll enjoy reading these tales, some taller (quite a bit) than others, as much as I’ve enjoyed scratching them out.

Contact me with any queries at:

John Bell

Between A Rock and A Wet Place

From my books, you might think my fascination (obsession?) tends towards my country of birth, PNG. But as a seventh generation Australian, I still marvel at this big brown land. Its diversity, its beauty, its harshness.IMG_3601

I mean, how’s this for a rock?

And they tell me we only see the tip of it, the bulk is underground. Uluru, Ayers Rock, Northern Territory. That name fascinates me with its similarity to the South African word for ‘freedom’ – Uhuru. Something as a nation we must continue to protect.

To me freedom’s not a “right” granted anonymously, but something that needs to be earned, maintained, not squandered on the altar of PC.

IMG_2668Four nights recently at Uluru, Carol and I with son Link and girlfriend Diana, listened to the Sounds of Silence, dinner under the stars, shivered through a cold dawn with Desert Awakenings, heard the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo.



The young ones flew around the rock and the Olgas, rode camels into the desert. To Cave Hill for the cave paintings. Cold nights, warm days. A few sunrises, a few more ‘sundowners’.


To get there, we had to drive (a good 8 hours plus stops) to Cairns, fly to Uluru. Link lives now in the U.S., Diana was born in Colombia. It was wonderful seeing our country through her eyes, first time this side of the Pacific.

So we stayed at Port Douglas a few days, saw the koalas and kangaroos, drove to the Daintree across the ferry into the rainforest. (Diana couldn’t believe we drove all that way for an icecream!) A boat ride on the Daintree River to meet a few crocodiles, then Hartleys Creek for some up close and personal croc encounters.

Back home and the rock wallabies fascinated her (my fascination is tempered by their appetite for our garden, especially the orchids) and she shivered at the cry of the curlews. Not excited by snakes, scorpions and spiders!


Adding a few weeks at Airlie, a chopper trip to Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef, a night in Townsville and one in Mission Beach, a couple of nights partying with platypus at Eungella, Diana has had an intensive look at North Queensland.

Which is where the next book in the Williams Series is set, in the 1800’s. I’ve a long FNQ connection – father born at Wild River near Herberton, grandfather at Craiglee near Port Douglas. Great uncle was a bullocky between Mossman and the Tablelands, the Bump Road still has a Bell’s Hill. His name was Jim Bell, and is a character in “Back o’ Cairns” by Ion Idriess. Other relations on the Atherton Tableland. And I lived in Cairns as a boy… a bit different then.

John Bell Books on Amazon

John Bell Books