Saturday, 28 July 2018

Pre-Independence and the role of Michael Somare in Wewak - writes Barbara Short who was in Wewak at the time.

By Barbara (Neasmith) Short
I visited TPNG in 1969 and 1970 and learnt a lot about the country but I finally arrived to teach in 1971 and was sent to Brandi High School Wewak.

Brandi had officially opened in 1953 and since that time had slowly grown into the main government high school in the ESD. There were also the Catholic High Schools, St Xavier's for boys on Kairiru and Yarapos for girls in Wewak, and Maprik High School was just starting up at Bainyik.

By 1971 at Brandi there were 26 staff, which included a few nationals, and 550 students, 480 boys and 70 girls. Many had to leave after Grade 8 and in 1971 only 55 were left in Grade 10. But they were the extremely gifted and talented students and many were destined for very important roles in the running of PNG after Independence. If they were older they went on the University Prelim Year while the younger ones went on to Sogeri or Keravat Senior High Schools to do Grades 11 and 12.

Most of these students came from families whose parents had not been to school and could not read or write. They were the generation of students who were "torn between two worlds" - the world of the village with its traditional ways and customs and the new western world, the world of advanced education. They were destined to become the doctors, engineers, accountants, soldiers, ambassadors, university lecturers, school teachers, agricultural scientists, and so on, after Independence in 1975.

The Administrator of PNG at that time was Les Johnson, an educator, who realized the importance of these students so he brought the Administrator's Executive Council (AEC) to Brandi for the day. Lessons stopped and we all assembled in front of the open stage and had a well run Question and Answer session with the AEC. The students were being primed up for their future role.

The National Flag and the National Anthem appeared in 1971 and a great spirit of Nationalism was developed amongst the students. On looking back I imagine that because the local member Michael Somare played such an important role in the whole process meant that these top students were also made to feel part of the process. Somare also became a regular visitor to the school and soon came to know them.

Job Kasa, the Head Boy in 1971 went on to become Lt. Col. Job Casa MBE of the PNG Defence Force. Many of the students during my four years at Brandi went on to run government departments, to become top civil engineers, top agriculturalists, university lecturers, high school and primary teachers, and just about every other important job imaginable.

I realize now that the same thing happened to the top students from St Xavier's and to some extent, Yarapos students, from that time.

I have been asked to tell you something about Wewak at that time.

Beautiful Wewak, the administrative and commercial centre, was a happy busy town with well over 1000 expatriates, mainly Australians, running the place. The residences for the top administrative officers, old large timber houses, were located on Wewak Hill and were surrounded by beautiful gardens and green lawns shaded by many huge umbrella-like rain trees, poinciana trees and frangipani.

Many Australians only came for a year or so e.g. teachers, bank officers, but many were long term residents like the Martins, Frank and Norm and Laura, the J&H Crawford who ran Wewak Engineers -the only well-equipped private engineering workshop in the Sepik District. ,

There were many other identities in the town such as Emil Glaus, a gold prospector pre-war, who returned to Wewak and had a furnace and broke up and melted many of the wartime aircraft around the Wewak area.

There was Sno O'Shannessy, who came up with the Catholic Mission and went on to run a saw mill and became an MP for Wewak Open. Mr. J.R. Cattermole, ran various businesses and Seden Motors sold Massey Ferguson equipment and Yamaha motorcycles.

There were also over 50 Chinese who ran the large stores e.g. - Tang Mow P.L., George Seto & Co., Leong Bros., Ping Shee & Co., David Poon & Co, and Siek Jong who ran the local Picture-show, the Garamut Theatre. Some had been in Wewak before the Second World War when the place was bombed.

The biggest supermarket was run by the Australian company, Burns Philp, and the main bank was the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the main airlines were Ansett and TAA and there were numerous Australia insurance companies.

The main place for buying fresh fruit and vegetables was the Wewak town market, near the site of the new Wewak Markets. Here local farmers from the surrounding district brought plentiful supplies of fruit and vegetables, sago, buai, coconuts, fresh and dried fish, flying fox and cuscus to be bought by the expatriates and the locals who lived and worked in town on various jobs. It was a very busy place on Saturdays and fortunately the town was not overcrowded in those days, the streets were kept clean and there were few problems.

Other companies included Breckwoldt & Co P.L., Sepik Coastal Agencies P.L., South Pacific Brewery Ltd., Sepik Air Charters P.L., the Wewak Pharmacy, a Wewak catering service for parties balls etc, the Wewak Christian Bookshop, and Wewak Transport Services L. which sold vehicles, poultry and pig farming supplies, sand and gravel, were copra buyers, did road construction, had earth moving equipment, ran trucking to Yangoru, Pagwi and Driekikir, sold fresh eggs to all Wewak stores, and were customs and general agents. A lot of building in Wewak had been done by Madang Contractors P.L

There was also Muchu Butchery, Wewak Timbers P.L. which built timber 2-3 bedroom houses. There was Don Waldon, a builder, Appollo 5, a danceband with Joe Much as its singer, Wewak Plumbing - tank makers, drainage, owned by Les Farr. Wewak Cordials P.L. factory produced 17 different flavours of fizzy drinks. B&G motors - sold cars including Datsun.

Also the Boutique Bizarre - latest fashions for men and women, Corrigan Contractors for LP gas supplies, A.C.M.E. Bakery for fresh bread, Sepik Joinery run by H. Dzuheric who built houses, furniture, boats, etc and Mariwa Wainungu who had taxi, bus charters,and Island Fishing provided Fresh Fish for Wewak market.

Wewak was a lively town and had many social groups similar to an Australian country town and most expatriates belonged to a least one of these groups. There was a local Golf Club and a Sepik Club where expatriates with a long history of working in PNG could spend time with their old friends, having a drink and reminiscing. There was a Sepik RSL Club, a Lions Club, a Rotary Club, and Apex Club - service clubs that did things to help the local people in various ways.

Wewak sports included, tennis, golf, cricket, Rugby, darts, and yachting, For the children there were very strong Boy Scout and Girl Guide groups

There was a Sepik Drama Club and they put on good performances each year, in 1972 it was the musical "Salad Days" at the Sepik Club.

There was a local newspaper called Papua-New Guinea Scene, which was published at Wirui Press in 1970 and of course Radio Wewak and later Father Mihalic started Wantok newspaper which told all the Sepik Nius in Tok pisin. In 1972 The Wee Whack also appeared.

Wewak was also a place for tourists and in 1970 the local Tourist Association were preparing for a tourist boom, The main hotel was Wewak Hotel on the Wewak Hill. Here during the 1970s many groups of Japanese stayed, some retrieving the remains of their relatives while others were obviously looking for business opportunities and to some were known as "economic animals".

Somare had impressed Sasakawa, from the Japanese Shipping Foundation, and he gave the Pangu Party a jeep and a small bus which Somare kindly let me hire in 1974 for one of my geography excursions to Maprik and Pagwi.

The Sepik Motel, was much smaller but was the place where you might find very rich, millionaire American tourists who were going to "Do the Sepik River" with Wayne Heathcote on his small Houseboat or bump into John Pasquarelli who ran a crocodile skin business on the Sepik River and had helped to set up a beautiful tourist hotel, Karawari Lodge.

The Lodge was built by John Pasquarelli and Frank and Norm Martin and the business was known as Sepik Expeditions (N.G.) P.L. and they provided jet boat tours of the Sepik River.

The Windjammer was the popular place for the locals and I remember meeting up with Somare down there and sharing his galip nuts as we listened to the evening news before being fed by the owners. All guests sat together at a big table and there was a great atmosphere.

On the beach at Boram was the Boram Tavern for drinks and snacks. There were also many small Chinese Trade Stores lining the main road.

Although many of the people in charge of running things in Wewak were expatriates, including Ted Hicks, the D.C. and Kerry Leen, the A.D.C., nationals were starting to be appointed to various important roles in the administration such as Nason Paulias and Mali Voi in the Education Office and Nason Kiapim down at Public Works. Gradually local people were being trained in various jobs in the administration and there was a good racial mix taking place.

If you got sick the nurses were local girls but the hospital was run by Dr Gobius and Matron Purcell and the Wewak School of Nursing was run by Sister Taylor with Sister Armstrong her great helper.

In 1972 Michael Somare was appointed to the Brandi Board of Governors and was starting to appear more often around the school. Elizabeth Simogun was also on the board, part of the great Simogun family.

Wewak had eight different Christian denominations, all with multi-racial congregations. They included the Catholic Mission with its famous Bishop Leo Arkfeld and St Benedict's Teachers' Collage, Wirui Press, St Joseph's Trade School, and their huge Sound Shell amphitheatre were we held the annual Choral and Drama Festivals.

Then there was the Assembly of God (AOG) Church, the Wewak Christian Fellowship with a Baptist minister, the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) with their small planes that did a vital job in the Sepik region. and the South Seas Evangelical Mission (SSEM) and CMML.

Both Wewak and much larger Rabaul, pre World War II, were towns, surrounded by plantations which had originally been set up during the German rule pre World War I. Both towns were heavily bombed during the second World War and after the war it appears on the Gazelle the plantations were resurrected while the huge Boram plantation and the Moem and Brandi plantations, in the Wewak area, were not.

On the Gazelle you had a different set of social circumstances that led to the rise of the Mataungan Association in 1969 and various racial tensions. As far as I could see, the Wewak area and the East Sepik did not have these tensions and there appeared to be a very good relationships between Somare and the Australian administration.

In those pre-Independence years Somare spent a lot of time in Wewak. He mixed well with everyone, was seen at private parties, at the movies with his family, in the supermarket, and holding court at the Windjammer. 

Looking back on these times one can see how Michael Somare, a young man who was to be placed in a position of great responsibility, also played such a vital role in Wewak as the time approached for TPNG to be given it's Independence.

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