by WO2 Dan Winkel (1966-69)
Here is a little story of the Charter Flights I organized in TPNG from late 1966 onwards. I was involved in organizing and supervising as many as thirty, one day and weekend excursions to various parts of TPNG and beyond during my 3 + years in TPNG.
A couple of months after the first group of National Service Education Sergeant Instructors arrived in Port Moresby, I received a Directive to organize opportunities for those who so desired to extend their TPNG experience by viewing certain areas away from the Murray Barracks area. One of the venues to be visited was Port Moresby itself. All of those who were posted to Murray Barracks will be aware that there was no public transport from the Barracks to the Port Moresby business district, indeed to anywhere at all. The Directive came to me from the DADAE (Lt Col Allen Payne) where it had originally come to the Commandant, Brig Ian Murray-Hunter from the then Minister for the Army (Rt.Hon. Malcom Frazer). Those who were there at the time will be aware that the first organized trip was a fishing trip out over the reef in the Army work boat. Lt Col Payne himself came along and enjoyed some good fishing. I certainly don’t have a clear recollection of them all only of the highlights and problems which arose. I can also assure you that each one involved a considerable amount of time and effort frequently outside working hours to set in motion. On most occasions the easiest part was hiring a plane and filling it with paying passengers. (It was my general rule as far as possible, to hold fares between 1/3 and 1/4 of comparable commercial flights). The time consuming and frequently difficult part was to organize accommodation, transport and excursions at the other end.
At a later date, one of my WO friends who happened to be posted to the PNGVR as a Depot Instructor, advised me that the Mt Hagen Show was coming up and that it would be a great opportunity for the NS Sergeants to see something of the Highland culture if I could organize a means of getting them to Mt Hagen. At that time in 1966, there was a RAAF Detachment stationed in Port Moresby with its staff located at Murray Barracks. I frequently passed the time of day with the Squadron Leader in charge and so one day I stopped to ask him if there was any possibility of one of the RAAF Caribous being available for a flight to Mt Hagen. The reply was negative but if I could hire a DC3, he or one of his staff would probably be willing to fly it for us thereby allowing the Pilot to spend the day at the Show. After quite a bit of phoning and inquiring, I was able to hire a DC3 from TAA ($90 per hour + fuel). Bookings filled all the 40 seats within a few days. (Most were NOT NS Sergeants but ARA people and wives). When the Saturday of the scheduled flight came around, I was very surprised to see the Sqn Leader and a Pilot Officer at the Airport when I arrived. Ferris Leischer from TAA was there and once the formalities of my signing for the aircraft and handing over the $1200 for aircraft hire, Ferris allowed the Sqn Leader to take possession. The Pilot Officer and I organized the loading of the “hot box” breakfast that we had collected from the Sgts Mess kitchen and then it was “All Aboard”. By the time the P.O. and I had everybody seated side saddle the Sqn Leader had both engines up to running speed and it was “down the runway into the sea breeze”. Once in the air, we did a lazy circle and gradually climbed to clear the Owen Stanley Range. After approximately 1½ hours we had seen Lae in the distance on our Starboard and had turned another right angle to head almost due west up the Markum Valley to our final destination, flying at around 10,000 feet most of the way. We touched down and parked amongst numerous other aircraft (some bigger, some smaller) at around 9.30 am. For the next 3 hours we were delighted to take in and photograph the exotic sights and smells. At around midday, I took as many travellers as I could round up off to the Mt Hagen Club for lunch. By 1 pm we had to be in the air again. Because we dallied at the Club and then had to wait in a queue for permission to “take off”, the Sqn Leader made the decision not to follow the same route he had taken in the morning because of the possibility the gap in the Owen Stanley ranges would be clouded over. He flew directly west until he reached the head of the Fly River and then followed the Fly to the Gulf of Papua. Once in sight of the sea, the pilot made a 90 degree turn to port and then back to Moresby. It was a long tiring day and I had to wait until Tuesday to get the final account for fuel used. The fuel used was less than anticipated which allowed us to have a slide night party at my married quarter a few weeks later with the funds left over.
On the occasions when I was able to get the use of a PNGVR Drill Hall and a truck, that helped a lot. I can recall that very few complaints arose. It was common that several levels of accommodation were requested to meet the requirements of the participants. On most excursions, only around 50 to 75% of the participants were NS men. The remainder consisted of officers and their wives, public servants and almost always a sprinkling of missionaries, either clergy or A.V.A.s. The churches patronized the flights because they were cheaper and frequently the only alternative available was a flight by one of the small planes owned and operated by the churches. I vividly recall one weekend excursion to the Banz horse races. There was no shortage of takers, one of whom was Brig Murray-Hunter’s wife, Catherine, with the wives of several Lt Colonels. They requested 5 separate rooms each with its own ensuite. Because the event was very popular and lots of bookings had been made in advance, the best I could do was to offer twin share with single beds. (2 rooms, one with 3 beds) I had been alerted to the coming race meeting, (a rare event in PNG) by WO2 Arthur Heard who was the ARA WO at the Banz PNGVR Depot. Arthur arranged for all the serving soldiers and myself to sleep at the PNGVR Drill Hall. He even organized PNGVR soldiers to cook and serve an evening meal and breakfast on the Sunday morning. I had organized and drawn rations for all serving soldiers from the Murray Barracks Ration Store on the grounds that ALL RANKS were entitled to 3 meals a day while away from home. As well, the Quartermaster had given me about 500 cans of tinned corn beef which he wanted to get rid of before it went out of date. Arthur gave each of the PNGVR soldiers who had assisted in setting up our beds and prepared and served our meals, a dozen cans of “bullamacow”. Arthur had made the Army “3 tonner” (covered lorry) available for our transport. Non army people had to attempt to obtain the services of the very few taxis in Banz. Catherine Murray-Hunter was very happy to accept a lift in the front seat of the 3 tonner. I have no idea how the other officers’ wives got to their hotel or the races.
One trip in particular that brought some loud and long complaints was the initial one day trip to the Trobriand Islands. A few of the officers’ wives who had gone on the Banz Races flight complained they found the long flight “side saddle” a little undignified sitting opposite a man and not being able to sit legs apart for so long. (I think their real problem was they had a round of “bubbly” before we left.) Hence for the Trobriand Island trip, I hired a Pat Air DC3 which had conventional airline seats and an on board toilet. That limited the number of passengers to 25 and kicked the price up quite a bit. Not surprising, not so many Nashos went and the seats were filled by more civilians and officers with their wives. Their complaints were mostly about the lack of variety of food and the poor quality of the transport. That was one of the few trips I didn’t go on. One officer and his wife (Maj Allan Nolan O.C. of the RAEME Workshops) were quite critical. I suggested that my instruction was to provide trips for NS Sergeants to see the Country and perhaps if he felt the need and the demand existed then he should organize trips for the officers and their wives. He and his wife never came on another trip, nor did he organise competing adventure tours similar to my own. On the other hand Lt Col Allan Roberts (Deputy Director Engineers) came on quite a few trips with his wife Isabelle. They always attended the debriefing at my married quarter the following week and showed their slides and they seemed to enjoy seeing other peoples’ slides and movies. When I was able to get RAAF pilots to do the flying that cut the cost of the flight considerably. (I seem to recall the first flight to Popondetta where the Sqn Leader flew the DC3 for the trip, the total cost was less than $10 per person.)
Another memorable weekend was an excursion to Goroka. My neighbour at that time was Major George Kearney and his delightful wife Jacky. The Major suggested “over the fence” one day he could organize accommodation at the Goroka Teachers’ College for a group if ever I wanted to organize a trip there during school vacation. I set about organizing such a trip. The logistics of that weekend was probably the easiest of any and involved very little effort on my part. I contacted the college registrar and he did the lot. We were met at the airport by the college bus, and then taken to the college where all meals and excursions (bus trips) were organized by the Bursar at minimum cost.
Not too long after the initial flight to Mt Hagen, I was able to organize a flight over Mt Lamington, an active volcano near Popondetta with an organized bus excursion to the Martyrs’ School in Northern District. (A high class boarding school where Prince Charles had spent 4 weeks while attending Geelong Grammar.). This was another flight where we had the services of RAAF flight crew. Other venues which come to mind are Lae, Bulolo, Banz Races, a sing-sing at Kainantu, Rabaul (at least 3 times), Yule Is, Lake Murray, Kaviang, Tapini and Cape Rodney.
Most of them were visited more than once. As well, there were some notable trips outside the Territory. (Cairns in a DC9, Darwin in a Viscount, Singapore in a BOAC Comet Mk4, (the only Comet to ever come to PNG.) About a year before I was due to come home, TAA approached me to offer me a job organizing tourist flights around remote parts of Australia. Because of my commitment to the Army, I was unable to take the job (Bill Peach got the position). Fortunately for me the flights lasted only about 2 years and then I would have been out of a job. Most of you are aware I remained in the RAAEC until mid-1973.
These are my recollections after 40 years and if others who participated remember different details then that’s to be expected. Currently it’s a bit difficult for me to recollect all the details in the exact sequence of events. I visited most locations at least 3 times or more. Cheers for now, Dan.