PNGAA Library

Kay Cole's introduction to New Guinea: Bob Cole

(Published Una Voce, March 1993, page 16)

Bob Cole's career in Papua New Guinea spanned the years 1938 to 1968. Bob was in District Services and Native Affairs, serving in the Sepik, Bougainville, Western & Southern Highlands. He attained the position of District Commissioner and prior to his retirement in 1968 was Commissioner of Police. He now lives in retirement on the Gold Coast.

After reading the account of Candy Parrish's series of errors (or horrors) experienced during her first contact with New Guinea I thought members may also be interested to hear of my wife, Kay's, similar mix-up when she first arrived. Like Candy, and no doubt quite a few other girls, Kay had every reason to complain about the welcome she did not receive from the Territory when she first left Australia to join me. It also highlights the wonderful spirit and stamina of the outstation girls we talked into living with us in the bush.

Unfortunately Kay did not record her experiences (and we cannot get her to do so now because she passed away three years ago) but as I lived through part of it with her I feel that I can recall the details even though my own feelings may get more prominence than they should.

We were married in 1943, during the War, and after I had spent three years in the Middle East writing her letters. We married within a week of my return to Australia and only had two weeks together before I reported to Melbourne and then New Guinea two months later. These separations were the pattern until the end of 1943 when I was discharged. After the war we had a wonderful ten months together before deciding that I should return to work, which meant New Guinea where the Provincial Government was in operation.

Bougainville was my posting and there being no married accommodation available I was not able to take Kay with me when I returned. I was required to build my own residence before a permit would be granted for Kay to join me and this did not worry me very much because I knew I could knock up a suitable house within a few weeks, and so off I went to get started, giving Kay an assurance that she would be with me within a week or two and that the Territory people would look after her all the way to me.

I landed at Sohano at the end of November 1946 and was sent to Buin where I arrived two weeks later, and where Jimmy Hodgekiss was in charge as ADO. Jimmy did not like crowded stations (we had a Patrol Officer, Jim Humphries, and an EMA, Alan Pinkerton) and now me, who intended bringing a woman to the station. This was too much for Jimmy so he went bush to start Boku and left me in charge at Buin to build the house for my wife.

The house was built by the end of December, native materials throughout except for the floor which was constructed from Japanese bed-boards salvaged from the huge overgrown Jap army camp in the bush nearby. These boards were better than limbum, but only just, because they were very thin and gave way frequently underfoot. Our furniture was patrol issue to start with, no refrigerator, and a camp stove salvaged from the same Jap camp. Upon completion I convinced Raleigh Farlow, the District Officer, that it was suitable as a married quarter and he notified Moresby to this effect and asked for approval for Kay to join me.

Passages to Papua New Guinea, on aircraft, were at a premium in 1946 and baggage allowances were very limited so when Kay did get a seat on 27 January 1947 she filled her handbag with cutlery and the allowable baggage space was used for linen in addition to her own clothing. I remember Treasury hit me for £10/13/6 to cover excess baggage, and duly collected it.

Her first stop on the DC3 was Townsville or Cairns where they spent the night and the next day to Port Moresby, Lae and Rabaul and this is where she expected to find me waiting for her. Buin to Rabaul is only a few hours trip now, and easily arranged, but in those days with very limited air traffic it could only be by sea and was a one to two week's journey if and when a vessel was available, and there were none available for me to get to Rabaul, so Kay was not met there.

My old friend Guy Black arranged to meet Kay and booked her into the Production Control Board Mess and kept an eye on her, although he had his Customs business to run and could not give her much time.

As mentioned above there was very little shipping between Rabaul and Bougainville in those days and Guy Black tried his best to get Kay a passage, but it turned out to be six weeks before he was successful and managed to get her as far as Sohano. Outstation people can appreciate how soul destroying it must have been for her, a newcomer (not a 'Before') spending six weeks early in 1947 in Rabaul at the P.C.B. Mess and, believe it or not, no-one except Guy invited her into their home. I fully expected Administration people, particularly D.N.A. people,to welcome the wife of any outstation officer stranded as Kay was, but no-one did during these six weeks. Rabaul was a small country town in those days and everyone noticed a stranger in town.

I did talk to Kay a few times by radio soon after she arrived in Rabaul but luck ran out when our set broke down and we lost all contact with Rabaul, Sohano and her. Then I had no idea what was happening, and neither did she, whilst Guy Black did the organising to get her to me, and after the six weeks she turned up at Sohano and the Farlows looked after her for the few days until, by luck, a British Solomons vessel turned up at Sohano. Colin Allan the B.S.I.P. District Officer was on board and making a courtesy call on his opposite number, Raleigh Farlow, our District Officer. Knowing me, and the situation regarding Kay he willingly offered her a lift to Buin.

After our radio went off the air I had no idea of Kay's movements and had half convinced myself that she had got sick of us all and returned to Sydney. I couldn't blame her because everything in the Territory was chaotic at this time and transport was the most unpredictable. It must have been a most inhospitable atmosphere for anyone to find themselves in, but here was a young bride on her first trip outside Australia in a very war-torn town (Rabaul) -- natives everywhere -- almost daily earth tremors -- the air reeking of sulphur and no-one other than Guy interested in her or her welfare, and wondering when, if ever, her husband would turn up to claim her. It must have been terrifying for her and she admitted to me later that for weeks her morale was as low as it could possibly be. She appeared to have no friends at all.

However eventually she arrived at Buin on the B.S.I.P. boat late on the 12 March 1947, but to find that again I was not there. I was on patrol and the only Europeans on the station were the two bachelors, Jim and Alan.

Appreciating this final jolt to Kay's morale, Colin Allan cursed me for being so inconsiderate, kindly suggested she remain on board overnight and face Buin, her destination, in the daylight. She agreed and moved ashore next morning where these two strangers, very embarrassed indeed, hovered around her trying to be helpful and making excuses for the absence of their boss, her husband.

The night before, Jimmy Humphries had despatched a Police Boy on a bicycle to find me and with orders to do so as quickly as possible - and not to worry about sleeping or eating until I was found.

Whilst the Police Boy was pedalling in search of me, the two bachelors continued to appear helpful but Kay, understandably, was browned off with New Guinea and everything associated with it, and this covered Jimmy and Alan. She was cross tumas!

Fortunately, earlier, I had employed a wonderful old couple to look after the house and the wife, Bienna, a lovely old lady, took over this young girl, Kay, and speaking English (Kay couldn't speak Pidgin) told her kindly, but firmly, when to eat, wash, sleep and dress for the three days until I turned up. She even slept on the floor alongside Kay's bed for those two nights and explained the intricacies of bucket showers, etc. She was a wonderful old lady and Kay grew to love her but at this early stage nothing was satisfactory and poor Bienna had a tough job.

The Police Boy found me on the second day with his message re Kay arriving, and I kicked him off the bicycle and hot-footed it back non-stop, arriving the next day and to a very browned off little wife. Nothing was right and I certainly could not, and did not, blame her for being cross. She had a lousy trip, with no assistance from me and the wonderful Territory friends I had told her about had not shown up either. Now she had arrived at a God-forsaken dump in the bush where there wasn't even a shop: nothing fresh to eat except bananas and paw-paws, not even bread unless you cooked it yourself and the heat and mosquitoes were something else, whilst the same three men showed up each and every day. It was quite unbelievable and all this to a young girl fresh from Sydney and at the end of the most miserable six weeks she had ever experienced.

I was sure our marriage was on the rocks and/or my New Guinea career finished because Kay wanted nothing more than to return to Sydney and Mumma. It was a very ticklish time for both of us but fortunately whereas there was practically no transport in to Buin similarly there was no transport out. Nothing of any kind in or out of Buin for months and she simply had to make the best of it whilst waiting.

I can't recall how long it was before her attitude changed, but for sure she was cut out to be an outstation girl and she revelled in tackling the hardships she struck so often and soon forgot that heartbreaking introduction to New Guinea life. Buin was a very pleasant station and Kay loved it, especially when it grew a little bit bigger and she was joined by dear friends like the Jackson, Kelly and Tuza girls (they could probably tell a good tale too!).

Many of our girls had it tough at times but God bless them for the ways they handled it, and we blokes did a better job and the Territory was the better for them having been there.