Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Trip To Port Moresby...Final...Chapter Five.

For some reason, which I’ve since forgotten, a couple of my merry band of tourism “experts”, together with the PNG Avis host and his wife, returned to my hotel room after we completed dinner, a dinner during which we had been treated like royalty and one we had thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps the knowledge that I had an unopened bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label that I’d purchased at the Cairns’ Duty Free Shop, in my room, rather than my inspirational company was the bait! Settling in, we did damage to that bottle, the soda, ice and cold water from my bar fridge. I had intended taking the Black Label back to the island with me for leisurely sipping on after a long day and night’s work, but that plan was thwarted, rapidly and all that was left of it after my guests had left was an empty bottle...a "dead marine"! Over animated conversation and much laughter, the bottle and all its accompaniments had been demolished.

We visitors to the far north, however, did learn a lot about the lifestyle of ex-pats in Port Moresby that evening and early morning. It wasn’t a glamorous life. It was an existence surrounded by danger and alertness. Lyn, the wife of David, Avis’ Area Manager, told us, even though she was “accepted” amongst the Nationals’ womenfolk, she felt an underlying animosity at all times. We talked and enjoyed “Johnnie” until both he and us were depleted. An early morning was ahead, as was a long day, with our planned trip to the start of the Kokoda Trail and our return flight to Cairns later in the afternoon, so our little party broke up about 3 am!

Rising early, heavy with the effects of the previous evening, I was feeling very dehydrated. Raiding my bar fridge produced no results as all the water, ice and soda had disappeared, a result of our late-night frivolities. Deciding a long cold or lukewarm shower would restore my sensibilities, I relished the thought of standing under the shower nozzle and letting the water rush over my weary body in an attempt at restoration.

No such luck! The water pouring forth from the shower was boiling hot. It was impossible to stand under it. I tried everything, but there was not a drop of cold water to be had the taps or nozzle! After our shenanigans of the previous evening, I didn’t even have any cold water in my fridge to splash on my face. Darting my hands back and forth under the boiling water in the shower, I managed somehow, with great difficulty, to have a “spot” wash. I was by no mean refreshed, but I think the shock of the steaming water managed to wake me up a little. Quickly dressing, I hurried down to the lobby to meet up with my fellow motley crew. Everyone, I discovered, had suffered the same problem as I had. The whole hotel had no cold water! No cold water! I’d heard of running out of hot water, but never cold water! So, there we were…a hung-over, bedraggled, bleary-eyed, unwashed band of banditos, sort of ready for the day ahead. Once we were all together, and saw the funny side of it, we decided nothing was going to faze us! We remembered our “one for all, all for one” creed! Breakfast was a hurried affair and soon we were on board the “Avis Bus”, headed for the hills/mountains behind Port Moresby.

But before we left Moresby, our host took us to the historic Bomana War Cemetery, just outside the city limits on the road to Sogeri, our destination 46 kilometres away.

Arriving and disembarking at the war cemetery, our high spirits immediately lulled. An atmosphere of deep respect and sorrow took over. I was not alone in my reverie as we wandered somberly throughout the beautifully maintained cemetery, a memorial to those who lost their lives fighting for the freedom and lifestyle we enjoy today. Not one of us had dry eyes. It’s difficult to describe how I felt. The best probably is to say, it was an “out of body” experience. We didn’t talk amongst each other. We broke away and wandered alone with our own thoughts. There were no words to be spoken. Words would be redundant.

A rotunda stands proudly and serenely on a hill behind the cemetery. It is the memorial to the men of the Australian Army and the Papua New Guinea forces, the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives during the Papuan operations, the brave men who have no graves. The total number of burials at Bomana Cemetery is 3,779. This war cemetery commenced in 1942. Bomana War Cemetery is a credit to those who lovingly, respectfully and carefully tend to it.

I feel honoured to this very day to have experienced the unexpected time I spent at Bomana War Cemetery amongst the spirits of those brave men.

Climbing up the winding range, the views all around us were stunning. Down low behind us was the dry, dusty savannah of Port Moresby. In the valleys below us on either side on the winding road, were deep crevices covered in dense foliage the shadows formed dark, metallic blues in their hidden ravines. It’s only forty-six kilometers from Port Moresby to the Sogeri Plateau, around 800 metres above sea level, (I think!), but it seemed much longer. It was definitely cooler than down below. Sogeri is the starting point of the Kokoda Trail.

Halfway up the range, we noticed a Papua New Guinea “warrior” in all his decorative glory standing out on a small escarpment. Pulling the vehicle off the road, we jumped out and went over to him. Standing there in his make-up and colourful, feathered head-dress, he told us we could take his photograph for 5 kinas. (Don’t ask me what the exchange rate was, as I haven’t got a clue now). We each paid him 5 kinas as was his rate and each of us took his photo. The trick was, we used our cameras and our films (the days before digital cameras) and he had no expenses other than his vibrant regalia!

With a broad smile on his face, he waved as we drove off. We waved back, cheerfully. We were feeling no pain, a result of the previous evening. No wonder he had a broad smile on his face, he was probably thinking, “Sucker tourists!”

One of our astute passengers said, “Did you notice his watch? It was a Rolex! He’s probably got his BMW parked around the corner hidden in the scrub!” Never a truer statement had been made probably! No wonder the “warrior” had a big smile on his face! All he had to do was stand there looking “pretty gruesome”, at no cost to him, while he reaped in the kinas!

We continued up the range, awed by the stunning, magnificence of the scenery surrounding us. Finally, we reached the “Kokoda Inn”. There we, naturally, after all, we were pretty thirsty, headed to the bar for a cold, cold beer! Stuck or pinned to the wall behind the very primitive, rustic, but atmospheric bar were hundreds of paper monetary notes from throughout the years and from many countries, mainly local, Australian, British and the United States of America. These became the hub of our conversation as did our myriad questions about Kokoda and its history.

Outside was a primitive zoo holding all forms of bird and animal life, most of which I’d never seen before.

By this time, our merry band of wanderers was hungry, that included me. The after-effects of the previous evening had given us a hunger, which needed to be sated, and quickly! Finding a long, wooden outdoor table, we promptly sat ourselves at it and ordered from the luncheon menu that consisted of steak and salad and steak and salad. Our chatter around the table was lively as we’d enjoyed a most interesting trip up to our destination. We were also enjoying our destination, where the air was crisp, clean and refreshing.

Our meals arrived without much delay. The steak (?) was the toughest meat I, and the others had ever eaten! We didn't know what animal it derived from and we dared not ask. However, our high spirits weren’t going to be dampened by a piece of “meat”! We made no complaints as we chewed and chewed our way through whatever beast it represented. The salad was garden-fresh and lunch was fun.

Finally, as all good things do, our happy jaunt came to its end. It was time to return back down the range to Port Moresby and to our hotel. There we gathered up our belongings and headed out to the airport for our return flight to Cairns. Who would have guessed? Once more, we had a two-hour wait for our delayed flight! I bought another bottle of Johnnie Walker Black to take back with me to Hinchinbrook Island, this time intending to take longer to savour its mellow contents! I think not one of us minded the delay in our flight, because it gave us time to come together as one as we cheerfully discussed the events and the laughter we had shared over the past couple of days and nights.

I never did see Graeme, our self-appointed expert tour leader, again during my time in Papua New Guinea. While I think of it, I can’t remember ever seeing him again! Perhaps he’s still up in the Highlands somewhere, bellowing at some poor body!

My trip to and from Port Moresby, the short period of time I spent in Papua New Guinea will always remain in my memory. I remember the fun and laughter, the camaraderie, the bond we all formed and felt equally. I will never forget “Manuel”! I will always remember the emotions I felt when I visited Bomana War Cemetery.

I can’t finish this story without sharing with you the poem written by Australian digger, Bert Beros at 4am one morning, on the Kokoda Track, after having been in a stand-to. Bert Beros wrote his poem in honour of the wonderful “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”, who helped and guided our brave young men on the Kokoda Track during that horrendous battle. The New Guinea “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” were answers to the prayers of the mothers of our diggers. It is recorded that an officer sent a copy of the poem to his mother. Impressed by the poem, she had it published in the Brisbane “Courier Mail”.

The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels

Many a mother in Australia,
When the busy day is done,
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
For the keeping of her son,
Asking that an Angel guide him
And bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
On the Owen Stanley track,
For they haven’t any halos,
Only holes slashed in the ears,
And with faces worked by tattoos,
With scratch pins in their hair,
Bringing back the wounded,
Just as steady as a hearse,
Using leaves to keep the rain off
And as gentle as a nurse.

Slow and careful in bad places,
On the awful mountain track,
And the look upon their faces,
Makes us think that Christ was black.
Not a move to hurt the carried,
As they treat him like a Saint,
It’s a picture worth recording,
That an Artist’s yet to paint.
Many a lad will see his Mother,
And the Husbands, Weans and Wives,
Just because the Fuzzy Wuzzy
Carried them to save their lives.

From mortar or machine gun fire,
Or a chance surprise attack,
To safety and the care of Doctors,
At the bottom of the track.
May the Mothers in Australia,
When they offer up a prayer,
Mention those impromptu Angels,
With the Fuzzy Wuzzy hair.

Sapper H "Bert" Beros

- Bert Beros...1942

The End


  1. That was a special ending to a special story. Very moving post, Lee.
    Thank you

  2. That was a great post, Lee, just before Anzac Day, too. I remember learning about the Kokoda Track at school, and especially the poem.

    It's such a shame that, after their heroism of the war, the Nationals are at war again, this time amonst themselves. Different generations, I guess, and lack of employment as you say.

  3. Lee, Thanks for this whole series. I never knew the WWII history of Austrailia's involvement. You guys did a bang up job of both defense and attack. I would have been proud to serve with them.

    Your troops continue to perform with excellence.

  4. Lee,

    Click on my name at LST and you can see my Photo ( Yep, I'm an old coot now ) and my (our) Email addy. Stormy says Hi also.

  5. G'day jmb, Robyn and Marc...thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this story and were able to share some of the emotions of it with me. :)

    Marc, I most certainly will have a gander at you when LST is back up again from maintenance! I've never been backwards at perving at a fine-looking guy! ;) Pass my good wishes onto Stormy, too. I visit her blog regularly...but tell her she's been lazy lately as she's not put up any new posts for a while! Hehehehe! Take good care, both of you. :)

  6. Btw, Robyn...the same thought about Anzac Day entered my head as I was writing the fourth and fifth writing the story about Port Moresby just came about for the sake of wring a story about something and coincidentally, without intention, other than perhaps subconscious, it fits in perfectly with Anzac Day...25th April. Maybe I was "meant" to write it now! (Written to the beat of some eerie music!) ;)

  7. Lee, Stormy is not being lazy!!!!

    She now has three jobs. She real busy.

    Job 1-Marc

    Job-2 Old job-Training development and scheduling/presenting classes.

    Job 3 New-add on job with people working for her again, and hiring new folks.

    Getting crazy around here, but she is jumping on it.

    Dang, I am glad I am retired. My bad day is when I try to nail one of our pesky squirels and miss.

  8. lol Marc...I reckon the hardest job Stormy has is trying to keep you in line! ;)

  9. Hi Lee, great post/series just love that poem, we learned it very soon after it was written.

  10. Hi Lee ~~ Womderful series and I had tears for those lost boys' lives, but
    the cemetery looks so nice and cared for. You must put these stories into a book and I will buy the first copy.
    Thank you for the welcome back after
    my holiday. It's great to be back.
    Wondering what your next story will
    be about - - you never disappoint !!
    Take care, Love, Merle.

  11. Thanks Peter and be honest with you, Merle...I had tears in my eyes while I was writing that last chapter.

    Thanks to you both for your very kind comments. :)

  12. Anonymous3:11 AM

    A perfect ending for a marvelous post. Apology offered for the comment at WL site.

  13. Thanks, Steve...glad you enjoyed this story.

    No need to apologize. :)

  14. All those graves! Grr...

  15. Yes, was a very emotional sight.

  16. another great story Lee.. you sure have total recall!

    glad this time all the photo's show.. today 1/2 of the ones on the other post show...

  17. I uploaded some again on the previous post, Deslily, but not all...but at least some now show. :) Thanks...I'm glad you enjoyed my story. I appreciate your comment, as always.

  18. For some reason, all these posts about whiskey, the Japanese in WW2, the local characters and the like remind me of that movie Father Goose with Cary Grant. One of my favorite movies too. I swear that they mention "Port Moresby" in that flick.

  19. Hi Lee

    Goodness I had to print out your blog so I could read the Port Moresby adventure in its entirety to settle back and absorb your wonderful adventure. One of your best efforts yet!! I think it gave you also a great insight into a fledgling nation, sadly to see first hand the problems of integration into the cities by the youth who may resort to gangs.

    I loved the section on the Kodda trail, what a memorable time to consider the tremendous efforts of our troops. MacArthur was initially critical of our efforts at the time, much to the dismay of General Slim. Slim never forgave MacArthur for his error in judgment (he had no idea of the shocking terrain at first) and refused to ever sit along side him later at subsequent official functions later in the War, even though MacArthur apologised and begged him to do so.

    The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were legendary; the poem about them is a most appropriate finish to your story.

    best wishes

  20. Yes, a lovely and moving post indeed. That war memorial is similar to the one in Cardiff, btw. I cried when I read the poem. Love the story of the "warrior" with a Rolex! What's the next serial to be, Lee?

  21. Lee, Here is a toy for you.

  22. That did not turn into a link. we'l try this.

    you have to cut and paste in your browser.

  23. Lee, I just realized that you can click in my name here and then click web page and see my Mil page. Email is there also. I had forgotten that I updated my Blogger account a while back. Duuh.

  24. Dave...that was a fun movie and I think you may be right, from memory...I think Port Moresby is referred to in it, now that you mention it.

    Lindsay...there is so much important history tied up in Kokoda, that we and our children never should be allowed to forget or be unaware of. I don't know how our soldiers did what they did on that terrain and under the conditions they had to deal with, health and fitness-wise, provisions, rations, etc. It's mind-blowing. Those who do the trek along the Kokoda Trail these days, train for months beforehand and have more sophisticated gear and food supplements, not to mention not having to carry weapons and fighting for their own and their country men's lives. What our diggers did up there, is beyond amazing.

    Welsh...that was so funny with the "warrior"...he was having the time of his life! And good luck to him, I say! lol looks like you have too much time on your hands! ;) Why do you send me Queensland time, my friend? I do know what time it is, even though it may not appear to that way by my blog time! lol That is a mere bagatelle! ;)

    Thanks to you all...I appreciate your comments and thank you for them. :)

  25. I just view your pic, handsome devil, you! No wonder Stormy grabbed you and took you to that cabin in the woods! ;)

  26. Blushing/ Thanks Lee

    Bout time you were up and at-'em. Try that time clock. You can select Texas or where ever and see what time it is. There is a version that you can put on your Blog also.

  27. Marc, I've been up since 5am! lol

    And I know what time it is in Texas! And elsewhere...and even here at home! lol

    We do have clocks and time, down here, you know...even seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades and centuries! lol

  28. And further to,'re the one who needs the clock not you seem to be the one who is confused, not me! Hehehehehehehe!

  29. Hi Lee,

    I love that poem it was very nice, and it tied everything together.

    Nice post.


  30. Thanks, Janice...have you stopped tripping around the country-side yet? :)

  31. Great story, as always, Lee. Manual is my favorite character in it. I had a similar feeling when I toured the Arizona Memorial. There just aren't words to describe the feeling, but if you've felt it, you know it.

  32. Great series of posts, Lee. Thanks for sharing.
    Wonder why they pics won't show in the earlier post ... Blogger can be very strange.
    Hope you are well.
    Take care, Meow

  33. Hi there Don! Damn! I was aiming for me being your favourite character in my story! ;) Thanks for your comment. It's always nice to see you.

    Hey there,'re lucky you found some time to yourself this weekend! Thanks for popping in. :)

  34. Gidday Lee,
    Whew a long read, but I must admit I enjoy reading it all in one go. Yet again another great series of posts with the usual informative details of places and events since passed.
    It's good to see that more young people are becoming more interested in Anzac Day and what it all means to our freedom brought about by those gallent men and woman who defended our shores.

  35. I learnt a lot from this post too, it was quite moving and very interesting to read, I didn't know all this before.

  36. Hello is great that many, many young people are showing a great deal of interest in Anzac Day. A young lass I used to know went to Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service when she was overseas in the early nineties and she said it was an incredibly emotional experience and one she would never forget.

    Hi was a very important battle and integral to the security of Australia. I think only now more attention is being brought to is. This should have occurred long ago. Our men with the New Guineans alongside them fought under indescribable conditions. Their determination and strength of character is beyond comparison.

    Thanks to you both for your comments. :)

  37. lee,
    Been hermiting this week. Enjoying a two week bachealorhood.
    Got the laundry done and the house cleaned for tonight's arrival.

    War sucks. Always has, always will. 'nuff said!

  38. Hi Lee, very moving post indeed. My prior husband Tom O' Malley (deceased)went to New Guinea after returning from the Middle East. My eldest brother served only in New Guinea for the entire time out troops were there.
    Cheers Margaret

  39. Hi there Rel, I bet you have been hard at it, getting the house in order for the much-anticipated return of your good lady! :)

    Hello, Margaret...great to see you up and about again. I hope you're feeling a lot better. Thanks for taking the time to read my story and for commenting. :)

  40. You've outdone yourself again Lee. I could feel your emotions at the burial grounds. I'm glad the story ended well. Thanks for a great read.

  41. You are welcome, Cliff...thanks for your comment. :)

  42. Another great post and I loved the poem

  43. Thanks, Corn Dog...I didn't notice you sneak in down there! ;)

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