BY BARNEY ORERE
The ships of the Burns Philp fleet played an important role during World War II.
They evacuated the civilian population to Australia and returned to Papua and New Guinea (P&NG) with troops and supplies.
Some of these old stories keep coming back because they describe our history as we encroach on Papua New Guinea’s Golden Anniversary.
What is really of great concern is that connectivity is lacking in many areas.
This manifests itself in the lukewarm interest in history which is supposed to be the best teacher.
The Macdhui wreck is still visible 80 years later as you drive down the secondary road past Gabi village and enter Iduabada.
In 1971 the idea of a suitable memorial arose and the mast of the sunken ship was salvaged for use as a flagpole by the Royal Papua Yacht Club (RPYC). When driving through the RPYC, you cannot miss the towering flagpole at the entrance to the clubhouse. This may be the only such mast in PNG; a real ship’s mast on the ground!
Like the wreck that refused to disintegrate or sink lower underwater, the salvaged mast keeps Macdhui’s story alive and for good reason; it was the pride and joy of the Burns Philp band. The wreckage is still visible and it was not a small vessel as you can see in the photo.
It housed 138 first class cabins and was only 11 years old when it was destroyed.
The sinking of the Macdhui in Fairfax Harbor is what made the port more historic than ever; the port has become the grave of a pride lost in an act of war.
Although the harbor might not be as pristine as it once was, the coastline could somehow be preserved as the ship sought shelter from an air raid.
Fairfax Harbor is protected by low, half-horseshoe hills.
But the Japanese bombers arrived from the northwest at 21,000 feet.
It took two attacks in two days to put the Macdhui completely out of service and damaged beyond repair.
It was to be one of the most dramatic incidents of the war.
With the declaration of war on 9 December 1941, Macdhui and other merchant ships like MV Bulolo, also of Burns Philp fleets, became involved in government duties transporting P&NG women and children to Australia.
Until the day she was sunk, Macdhui made five voyages between P&NG and Australia. Our ridiculous decline is clear when we mispronounce the name of the Australian High Commissioner or misunderstand Milne Bay.
Those in charge allow this to happen because they themselves are sunk.
On the fateful day of the first attack, the ship was unloading the spirit of aviation on the main wharf which formed part of the first central business district of what was known as Granville.
Downtown Port Moresby isn’t a real name; It’s Granville.
The Rotary Club clock that seemed to mark the center of town is long gone.
Geographically, the Post Office still marks the center of the city but this has been ignored by town planners.
Port Moresby then became a place that has no starting point or ending point, which means that visitors cannot tell that they have arrived somewhere.
We are a city that is only growing.
An idea was suggested to turn the main wharf area into a cruise port, but nothing more came of it.
A city without history is like champagne without bubbles and there are WWII sites and wrecks that have been ignored for so long.
The bombing of the MV Macdhui took place on June 18, 1942. Shouldn’t there be an event to remember from this day? We are losing connectivity everywhere.
People are forgotten and records are not kept of the people and the service they rendered.
The result is that negative things emerge from this indifferent attitude or neglect.
An example of this is families of deceased persons seeking recourse against the state.
It’s a bottomless pit and should be avoided with a more sensible approach.
Macdhui was built for the South Pacific Island trade and launched on December 23, 1930. Perhaps there should be Macdhui II and the trade brought back to life.
The spirit of adventure is lost if we cannot rely on experience.
The Hiri Moale celebrates the past and has become increasingly insignificant because the focus on the relationship has been completely lost.
When we talk about trade and commerce, PNG has no systems in place with its 22 provinces and this is the missing link in development.
When ships or local vessels sail from coast to coast, goods and people are moved that concern transportation.
The big problem is internal revenue, but prospects are ignored while handouts are relentless.
The facts are quite simple, but we seem to be looking for technical solutions to problems that are hardly technical.
This is the wrong solution and we will never find it.
With just a shift in perception, many things could be resolved.
The facts are: The Highlands have the population to produce things that can be traded.
There is a massive freeway running through the city center.
This hinterland is served by the port city of Lae.
Coastal locations can connect with Lae to trade with the Highlands. And a very good product that can enter the Highlands is fish.
But there is no infrastructure and systems to support this.
The mountain people want to eat fish and you see them trying to start fish farming and all the fish go into boxes or swim freely in the ocean.
As we watch the costs are always on the rise.
If we continue on this trend, we will never develop local industries and trade routes.
Let’s put on our thinking caps. Otherwise, we will be accused of being lazy in our thoughts.
There is no place in PNG called Millin Bay.
If you want to change your name because of this gross exaggeration common among young people outside the province; you go straight ahead.
But that’s where we’re headed to our next batch of stories. This is the construction of a base in Gili Gili.
The Australians wanted to call it Gili Force but the Americans canceled it. They felt the title was too revealing from a security perspective and chose Fall River Garrison.
The problem was; there was a place of the same name in Massachusetts and the equipment for Milne Bay ended up where no one knew what to do with it.
Air attacks in Port Moresby delayed the delivery of equipment for the construction of the wharf near Maiwara which is close to Gili Gili; now a jail.
A four-ship convoy eventually left Fairfax harbor with Karsik and Bontekoe carrying the men and supplies escorted by HMS Warrego and HMS Ballarat. A Beaufort bomber followed the ships.
When the convoy arrived, Karsik didn’t like the idea of going inside because he didn’t know what was inside. When Warrego pointed his guns at Karsik and threatened to sink her if she did not enter, Karsik changed his mind.
The first job of the dismounted troops assisted by more than 250 local villagers was to manage supplies ashore, which took three days. Before being permanently installed, the anti-aircraft guns were initially positioned around the quay to protect vulnerable ships.
The first plane to land on the No. 1 strip was a Tiger Moth even though the Americans had only laid 300 feet of Marsden carpet. The Tiger Moth came from Townsville via Horn Island, flew to Kerrima Gulf and landed there on the beach before reaching Port Moresby.
The Seventh Brigade was able to report that No. 1 strip was now 4,400 feet long; 65 feet wide and still nothing was in place. The total job had taken 22 days from start to finish. The RAAF could come whenever they wanted.
If you’ve been lulled into this turn of events, the best is yet to come.
Continue reading; these are the leftovers. An old woman from Wagawaga (not that one in New South Wales) but near Gili Gili, said when she saw a plane flying: “I wish this object fell from the sky so that I could use parts of it to smoke my pork and my fish”.
In the 1970s an Australian businessman started buying scrap metal and villagers between Wagawaga and Gamadoudou stripped down the aluminum jungles.
The Australian only stayed for a year. In 1992, Grums, a New Zealand logging company, practiced selective logging in the area for about a decade. When Grums left, Saban Enterprise came and started clearcutting.
We’re looking for fingerprints.