NINGERUM on the OK TEDI

by 2Lt John Stringfellow

In June 1967 Delta Company of the 1st Battalion of the Pacific Islands Regiment, under the command of Major Colin Adamson, flew to Ningerum to conduct military training and to win the hearts and minds of the local people by carrying out civil aid.

Colin was a graduate of the Office Cadet School, Portsea and a professional soldier who was preparing himself for a tour of Vietnam. He left the Regiment in September and in 1968 was in Vietnam as a company commander of the 1st Bn RAR during the Battle of Coral. He trained 1PIR’s Delta Company as if it was off to war. Often we were sent to the hills near Taurama Beach to prepare defensive positions by digging rifle pits into the hard rocky ground, which was a difficult and worthless task. We did an 80 kilometre route march at night from Rigo back to the barracks at Taurama, ordered to carry only a tooth brush in our battle gear. Another favourite was night shooting. We would go down to the 25 metre range by platoons and blaze away with our rifles at the hip at empty tin cans strewn over the butt. I became quite adept at hip shooting. It possibly ruined my hearing and it kept all the children in the camp awake at night, for a lot of the women in the married quarters complained about the noise. It had another disadvantage in that, if you were going to conduct a night shoot, you could not have a beer at the regular five o’clock sun downer.

Ningerum was an administrative town situated in the western district of PNG approximately 15 km from the border of what was then a Dutch colony administered by Indonesia under a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority. Surveyors were taking measurements of the border during our stay. It is located on the downstream bank of a large S bend in the Ok Tedi River, which at Ningerum was about 100m wide and flowing swiftly. (All the rivers in the vicinity shown on the map were prefixed with the word ‘Ok”) The downstream river bank was a white and brown clay cliff face some 10 metres high whilst the upstream bank was low and the jungle went to the water’s edge. An airstrip ran parallel to the downstream bank. At the landing strip some humorist had painted and erected a sign that displayed about ten of the town’s statistics. Everything was 365: Elevation in feet above sea level; population; distance in miles from the ocean; distance in miles from the District Regional Office; and so forth. But most significantly, 365 inches of rain a year.

Preparations began early with the issue of new clothing and equipment. Insect repellent was liberally sprayed to all clothing to prevent mite penetration and equipment checked and rechecked. All this was done with great excitement as the area was remote and D Company had spent the previous November in the Western District in the Lake Murray region. It had come back with two great tales and numerous adventures had been recounted in the mess and gave me a sense of excitement for the adventure to come.

My platoon told me the story of a ration resupply that was made to them in a native village. My predecessor had arranged for the Army’s Cessna airplane to carry out a ration drop in a village open area. He had cleared the area of people, but at the crucial moment an old man had wandered across the drop zone and had been hit by a dropped package which knocked him senseless. This caused great excitement amongst the locals and they came out of their houses equipped with bows and arrows to get revenge for the possible death of one of their kin. The platoon commander had to somehow pacify the mob, which he did, and then attend to the old man who had still not regained consciousness. The old man’s relatives took him into a smoke filled grass house and began singing for his soul. The platoon made camp near the village and stayed in a defensive position until morning as they feared the villages would attack them during the night should the old man die. Fortunately this did not happen as the old man regained consciousness and was compensated for his injuries by being given some of the ration packs. The patrol then gave a demonstration of the fire power of military equipment compared to bows and arrows by shooting at and destroying wooden targets. It then departed on its way.

Brian Green, who led the 10th platoon, told me of his adventure. His platoon was walking between two villages and came across a place on the track where they could see a lot of blood had been spilt. When they arrived at the next village the locals had on display in the village clearing seven bodies of their enemies and were most happy. Brian got the villagers to take him back to where the killings took place and they showed him how they had ambushed and killed the people. Brian said he was amazed as the tactics they used were identical to those of the Australian Army’s infantry jungle warfare manual.

Colin also had a great story to tell of a patrol he led when he was a lieutenant on an earlier posting to the Regiment. His patrol was in Kukukuku country when they met a large group of the local warriors. Colin noticed that they all appeared to be limping, so he signalled them to stop before they got too close. He then pointed to his foot and had men aim their rifles at the warriors. The Kukukuku stopped in their tracks bent down and picked up the bows, arrows and clubs they were dragging by their toes.

My 11th platoon left Port Moresby by RAAF Caribou and flew to Ningerum via Mt Hagen where the plane was refuelled. It was my first flight in a Caribou which I found fascinating. We flew at 10,000 feet altitude with the back door partly open for ventilation as the planes were not pressurised and in the highlands I was able to look out of the windows and see mountain sides surrounding the plane without being able to see the mountains’ peaks. We landed on a dirt strip at Ningerum that was classified as a Category D landing strip and about 300 metres long, just big enough for the Caribou to land on. The strip was situated on the level ground alongside the southern bank of the Ok Tedi River. We were greeted by the company 2IC Captain Tim Britten and an Army pilot who had arrived early in an Army Cessna 180 airplane and were told where to make camp. After the Caribou took off it left wheel tracks in the mud of the landing strip causing the Cessna pilot to express his doubts on the strip’s surface holding out.

The platoon made camp on the flat ground between the landing strip and the Ok Tedi. Tim and the pilot had the use of the district officer’s (Kiap’s) guest room which was very comfortable with hot and cold running water. Our bathing facilities were a 100 metre walk down to the cold and flowing Ok Tedi where we all enjoyed the communal atmosphere of soaping yourself up before plunging into the cold water and floating down stream for ten or so metres then stumbling to the bank over the round rocks that covered the river bed. That night the young kiap and his bride, who was an extremely attractive blue eyed blonde, entertained us three white visitors with a home cooked roast meal washed down with beer and tales of his adventures in the region. I believe he was the government official that collected the copper samples on one of his patrols and bought to the attention of the government the mineral potential of the area that eventually led to the discovery of the OK Tedi Mine in the Star Mountains to the north. As he told of his patrolling activities, I was thinking how brave was his wife living in such a remote area by herself for up to six weeks while he was away. She was guarded by a small police force and as I later found out had the company of a German couple who managed a Lutheran mission at Ningerum.

The rest of the company arrived the following day in three Caribous at about half hour intervals taking turns to land and depart from the strip. John James commanded the 12th Platoon but the 10th platoon was without an officer as Brian Green had been promoted to a full lieutenant and reposted as the battalion intelligence officer. His replacement officer, Dick McEvoy, had not yet arrived. The light drizzle continued on and off during the day and the strip now had multiple wheel tracks in its soft muddy surface. The Army pilot was so concerned that he now expressed doubts as to whether his Cessna would be able to take off if the rain persisted. This became Colin Adamson’s worry as we were all dependant on his judgement. My platoon, under the direction of the sergeant major, helped set up the company headquarters’ tents and dug latrine and rubbish pits for the company.

During the day curious locals came to see what was happening and if they could exchange fruit and vegetables for our ration pack food. Tinned meat, sugar and salt were the most demanded. Not having seen such primitive people in the flesh before I was fascinated by their “clothing” and the way the women (meries) carried large bundles of goods in string bags (billums) that they draped across their backs supported by the handles across their foreheads which left their hands free. The women only wore grass skirts, which could be described as “minis”. The grass skirt was about 15cm long and was very thick giving it the appearance of a straw street broom which kept the ladies modesty intact. The men wore a gourd on their penis kept in place by a piece of hair twine and nothing else other than a string necklace with a shell attached. The gourds were also small and resembled a large walnut shell.. They all had tattoos, body scar markings and pierced noses. Most of the children and some of the adults had a skin disease (Grilli Grilli) caused by poor nutrition which led to the skin flaking in small patches, about the size and shape of a five cent coin. It gave them a frightful appearance.

Their village was about a kilometre from our camp so I decided to pay a reciprocal visit. The first grass hut I discretely peeked into on my walk had a relatively young woman breast feeding a piglet just inside the doorway. I was both shocked and fascinated. The breast to which the piglet was attached was longer than the other. Later I noticed that one breast longer than the other was quite common amongst the women in the village with some of the older ladies having a breast up to 15cm longer than the other breast and, having withered with age, gave it the appearance of the barber’s brown leather razor strop. My men later informed me that a woman’s age was described in Pigin as to the uprightness of her breast. “Susu i pall down” was an old woman; “Susu i stan up” was a young woman. Susu is also the pigin word for milk. It was a great experience to walk through such a primitive village but I was disappointed that several of the men when they saw me coming dashed into their houses and came back out wearing European shorts, obviously provided by the missionaries to cover their private parts. Pigs in PNG are a valuable commodity as meat protein was rare due to the lack of wild game and most of the grass and bush timbered houses in the village had pigs lolling around under their elevated floors.

Somebody in the village must have put a curse on me as the next day I came down with a fever. Tim took my temperature and said it was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Another degree and I could have been dead. Anyway he somehow got hold of a woollen jumper which I put on, gave me two anti malaria tablets washed down by a stubby of beer from the Kiap and put me to bed all fully dressed and wrapped in a blanket. 24 hours later I woke up without any side effects and felt as fit as a fiddle. Since that day I have sworn by beer as a medicine.

Our war games commenced with a briefing by Colin. Tim Britten was to lead 10 Platoon and act as the enemy and we were to cross the OK Tedi and carry out search and destroy operations for a fortnight looking for Tim and his men in an area where three local villages were located. Crossing the OK Tedi involved a 10 man canoe ride in which the local paddlers would paddle up stream close to the river’s bank before swinging out into the mid stream current and the steering diagonally across the river to the other side to where the track started. If they missed the track they had to paddle up river again to the landing point. The canoe inevitably had 5-10 cm of water sloshing around in it which meant to stay dry you had to sit on your haunches. On the track heading off to our designated area by map and compass I saw at least four of the deadly Papuan black adders trying to get out of our way. They were only about 50cms long when fully grown and as thin as a pencil. Stupidly I gave the first three a hit with my machete as the soldiers were, for good reasons, terrified of snakes and I felt I was doing the right thing by the soldiers. After the third snake I let them pass by as there were too many of them. After this first day I never saw another snake in the Ningerum area. It was disconcerting at night to think of them crawling around about you but I was so physically tired I soon feel asleep on my inflatable mattress.

During these exercises, whilst we were searching for Tim’s enemy camp, there were a few incidences that broke the boredom of wandering through the jungle in tactical formation. On one occasion we came across a foul stench just off a track. On investigation I was relieved to find the carcass of a large wild pig that had died recently and was crawling with maggots. After Brian Green’s experience I was so glad it was not human remains.

On another occasion we came across two women with their faces painted white who were sheltering in a small grass hut in the middle of nowhere. They had what seemed to be their worldly possessions in the form of two chipped enamel bowls, various digging sticks and articles of clothing and adornments. The ground in the shelter had been disturbed with the red soil showing. I asked my batman what this meant and he advised me that it was a new grave for one of the women’s husband and the women were in mourning for a short period of time before they could return to the village.

Another made me remember Dad’s warning from his experiences in Dutch New Guinea during WW2. He had told me to beware of making camp in the jungle near trees as they often fell at night. Sure enough one night we were awakened by the crash of a tree falling 10 metres from where we camped. It fell because its centre had rotted out but its appearance was no different from all the other trees. Dad also told me to be aware of falling coconuts, but that is another story.

In another incident we were walking in a deep eroded creek bed and came across a place where water was seeping out of the steep bank. One of the soldiers in the section ahead had placed a narrow palm or bamboo leaf into the earth wall where water was seeping. The leaf had created a lovely stream of clean water gushing 15cms out of the wall as if it was a hose pipe. I refilled my water bottle as obviously had the soldier before me. It was jungle plumbing at its best.

One of our tactical tasks was to seal off a small village and search for “enemy buried supplies”. Tim had planted empty kerosene tins that were supposed to represent enemy supplies amongst the village houses. I had my platoon deployed around the village to ensure no one could escape whilst I, platoon headquarters and three other soldiers with an accompanying interpreter conducted a search amongst the houses to find the buried tins. There were a large number of disturbed earth sites mostly away from the peoples’ houses which had obviously been dug recently. We excavated these places and recovered a number of tins. Under the houses were also freshly dug shallow pits and several pigs which I assumed was responsible for most of the pits. There was one that looked deeper than the others so I asked the interpreter if a pig had dug this hole. He replied that it was a burial hole for the house occupants’ dead child whose spirit would live with the family. I accepted his explanation. We finished our search and returned to company headquarters with the recovered tins. I got a blast from Colin as I had not recovered all the tins and was two tins short. I felt rather uncomfortable searching amongst the village, for to me, it was a great intrusion on their privacy. I was later told by one of the soldiers, but it was not confirmed, that company headquarters went back to the village and extracted a child’s skull from a hole under a house..

Another tactical task was to lay an ambush on a track between villages for Tim and his enemy team to stumble into. We set the ambush and waited for the enemy. The waiting was rather pleasant lying in the warm jungle hidden by the partly shady trees. The down side was that you were not allowed to move about so it became hungry and thirsty work without any toilet break for me. In the mid afternoon, after we had laid there for six or seven hours without any sight of the enemy, along came a group of about 12 of the locals on their return from their gardening activities. They had a picnic atmosphere about them being very jovial. We lay in silence as they walked past us talking and laughing all clad in their traditional dress and tools over their shoulders. It was a great sight to see them so happy and relaxed in their own environment completely uninhibited. Tim and his men never turned up.

Another tactical task was a dawn assault on an enemy position. Tim and his men had set up a camp on top of a small hillock deep in the jungle. My platoon mission was to find this camp and destroy Tim, his men and the camp. I had been given an area on the map where the enemy’s camp might be found so we headed off towards it creeping furtively through the jungle and found it late in the afternoon. My platoon sergeant (Guri) and I had to do an undetected reconnaissance of the camp and then work out a plan of attack. My platoon made camp about 150metres from Tim’s camp on a compass bearing and we made preparations for the next morning’s assault. Dinner that evening was biscuits as no fires were allowed. I had a restless night’s sleep as I did not have an alarm clock and we had to be on the move before “the number one balus he savvy cry out”, or in English “before the cock crows”. Somehow we managed to achieve this but in the dark I had trouble reading my compass bearing so every now and then, I turned on my torch to check myself. As I had gone down the route twice in my reconnaissance I was pretty confident of finding my way in the dark. After I had shone my torch in cupped hands, two or three times to read the compass Sgt Guri pointed out a line of phosphorescence fungi that he had laid out on his return from our previous day’s reconnaissance. From then on we followed this line up to the start point for the assault. We crept up the hill until we were about 20 metres from Tim’s camp before we made our charge on the surprised (?) enemy. All good fun like Cowboys and Indians games as a youngster. Tim was kind to me and said it was a good attack but that he heard me lining the men up for the attack. Next time I will be less vocal.

The military games ended with a company cordon and search led by Colin of a large village. The three platoons were assigned positions on a clock to get into in order to surround the village before dawn. We all crept into position well before day light and lay in wait. Like my encounter with the gardening party it was an experience to see the villages wake up and stir to life. The chickens started to crow, the smoke from the houses’ roofs became thicker as the fires were stoked up and every now and then a man would leave his house to relieve his bladder by wandering out across the village square. Then the dogs began to bark and the village came alive as Colin and his search party arrived. We lay in position and watched Colin and his interpreter talk to the village elders then after short time we were told to come out of hiding and make our way back to the Ok Tedi. I guess Colin would have recompensed the villagers for our use of their village in a material manner with the usual coin and tinned food.

On our return to Ningerum Tim departed and flew back to Port Moresby in the Cessna for a well earned rest. My platoon had our first decent bath for two weeks in the Ok Tedi. 30 naked blokes were frolicking in the cold water having a great time. I was always amused with the way white soap lather contrasted against the soldiers’ brown skins. After a day’s rest the platoons were given civil aid projects to carry out. My platoon was to build a bridge across a small creek so that the missionary could drive his tractor across for easier access to the Kiap’s office and the landing strip. I had never been given the responsibility to build a bridge before, or since, so I let Sergeant Guri take the lead. The other platoons had to build a community hut and to clear an access path through the jungle.

Not far from where the track crossed the creek were two remnant trees of a suitable size in a cleared area. A tree was allocated to two of the platoon’s sections to cut down and trim into large logs with the third section given the task of excavating holes into the creek’s banks into which we planned to place the tree logs. The tree fellers had great fun and soon had the trees on the ground and turned into logs. Transporting the logs to the bridge site was another matter. Like Egyptian slaves we fastened our joined toggle ropes to the logs, placed tree branch rollers under the logs and dragged them the three to four hundred metres into position. It was a bit fiddly but thirty pairs of hands make light work. Once the two logs were in place the men scoured the surrounding jungle for the sago (sacsac) palm to make a decking. This palm tree is relatively small and is hollow where the sago forms. The men used their machetes to split the palm into four sections each resembling a floor board and then placed the boards onto the logs to make a decking. The boards were firstly fastened with rope made from a jungle vine or bark and to finish the task, the missionary gave us a number of 10cm nails that were hammered into place. Three days after we started we had the pleasure of seeing the missionary drive his tractor back and forth over the bridge. The only thing missing was a hand rail.

Apart from bridge building I had to try my hand at dentistry. Sgt Guri got a bad tooth ache and was in a great deal of pain. Company head quarters had only aspirin to relieve the pain, but Sgt Guri needed something else. I sought the missionary’s help and he gave me some oil of cloves, a bud of cotton wool, a steel dentist’s pick and instructions on how to place the oil of cloves on the tooth. No matter how I tried I could not achieve a result to Sgt Guri’s satisfaction so I went back to the missionary and he did the job. As a consequence I have an admiration for the skills of dentists poking around in peoples’ mouths.

While we were carrying out these civil aid tasks light, rain continued to fall intermittently during the day and steadily at night. The evening we completed our bridge building we were entertained by a magnificent lightning display in the distant Star Mountains. The sky was being continually lit up but it was so far away we could not hear the thunder. When we awoke the next morning the Ok Tedi was in a raging flood. I had never seen anything like it before or since. Huge trees up to 30 metres long raced down the river with their foliage exposed above the water at one end and their root system at the other. The sight of these trees being swept by so quickly reminded me of the paddle pop stick races we had in the street gutters as a school boy. We looked on, spellbound, counting trees hurtling down the river. Every now and then a section of the clay cliff upstream would collapse into the river which the soldiers would all greet with a great cheer. Two days later after the river had subsided we had to clean up the aftermath. Across the Ok Tedi the missionary had set up a saw mill operation which had been flooded by the river overflowing the lower bank and his log stock pile had been washed away. Once again we toiled like Egyptian slaves and recovered the sawn logs, which were up to 2 metres in diameter, from the jungle where they had been swept from the mill site. It was an enjoyable task sloshing around in the mud, manhandling the logs back to the storage area and thinking at the same time of how powerful Mother Nature is to reap such destruction. The missionary was extremely grateful for our efforts. Having now spent four weeks at Ningerum and winning the hearts and minds of the Europeans with our civil aid we were looking forward to our return to Port Moresby.

The Army pilot returned in his Cessna, which made an uneven landing on the air strip, had a discussion with Colin about the suitability of the strip to take a Caribou fully loaded and then took off again. An RAAF Caribou landed the next day and unloaded rations for the company which were to keep us in supplies until the strip dried out sufficiently for a fully loaded Caribou to take off. It was disappointing and frustrating not to be loaded on the empty plane’s return journeys.

It rained solidly for the next six days and I began to think that the signage at the airstrip had under estimated the annual rainfall. Fortunately Colin had got hold of a large quantity of paperback novels, mostly Zane Grey type of cowboy yarns, and we killed time in the headquarters tent reading these books, looking out at the rain and eating bananas. The soldiers sat in their hutchies, told stories and ate banana. At the end of a week Colin made the decision to take the company to the town of Kiunga where an all weather airstrip had been built. As the crow flies Kiunga is 46 kms from Ningerum. Meandering along a jungle track it is more likely to be 60 -70 kms walking distance, but we set out in high spirits as our prolonged stay at Ningerum was at an end. Our route march training was to be put to good use.

My platoon was chosen to be the last to leave Ningerum which meant we could not travel any faster than the platoon ahead. On the first day in at morning tea time we came to a fast flowing creek about 10 metres wide and two metres deep over which a rope bridge had been built. The weather was extremely hot and humid and the water was so inviting that the platoon spent an enjoyable half an hour playing in the creek having a great time splashing about before we resumed our trek. That day we made good progress as the ground was firm and the trail easily recognisable and we went through two vacant villages along the way. While on this part of the track we passed a local family going the opposite way. The male in traditional dress carried a small child on his shoulders supporting him with one hand and his spears in his other hand. The woman struggled along behind carrying an enormous load in her billum. While the warrior looked unburdened, he must have been ready to defend his family if necessary.

The next day developed into a shambles. Tiredness was becoming apparent and the novelty was wearing thin. To make matters worst in the afternoon the track entered a swampy area which required walking in ankle deep mud. In the low levels where water lay, small and narrow boardwalks had been built above the morass underneath. A flimsy hand rail had been put in place to assist your balancing. These boardwalks extended up to 200 metres in length. However if you lost your footing and fell into the mud you would sink to knee level and it was a difficult task to extract your leg and get back onto the boardwalk. Crossing the swampy area took all afternoon and the platoon got strung out over a large distance. The quicker and fitter soldiers pressed on as fast as they could to end their struggle but there were three or four stragglers in my platoon who found the going too tough. Just before dusk I reached the area where the company had set up camp on a tract of dry land amongst the swamp area. The tailenders from all platoons were still arriving hours after dark having been shepherded by Sgt Guri in the pitch black of night. No bathing that night, just falling exhausted into a stretcher bed. The next day we cleared the swampy area and after a while the walking was easier, finally arriving in Kiunga late in the afternoon making camp in the jungle on the outskirts of the town.

Kiunga was a large town situated on the bank of the Fly River. It was a large administration post with most of the buildings being made of sawn timber and corrugated iron. The Catholic and Anglican churches had established missions and schools in the town. A large grassed public park had been created next to the Fly River and a quaint jetty built to load and unload goods transported by boat. The Fly River at Kiunga was about 200 metres wide, brown, straight and flowing at a moderate speed. I can understand why it is considered one of the world’s significant navigable rivers.

Kiunga Campsite

A vacant house in Kiunga

Pte Andrew Wuafahaua, Kiunga

Pte Sambi at the campsite, Kiunga

At Kiunga packing up

Next day, John James and I had a rather lazy time wandering about and talking to the European residents which culminated in us being invited to the Catholic Mission for dinner that night. To my amazement the mission was staffed by Canadians and English people. It seemed strange to me that they had come half way around the world to live with primitive people and provide education facilities. Three of our fellow guests were from the USA. They had a valid reason for being in such a wilderness as they were on assignment from the National Geographic Magazine and were there to do a story on the wild tribes of Papua New Guinea. I felt privileged to be amongst such people of different nationalities yet sharing the same culture and the excitement of being in such a remote part of the world.

While John and I were relaxing, Colin must have been busy organising our extraction. At 8 o’clock the next morning I received orders to have my platoon ready to be airlifted to Port Moresby as a RAAF Caribou was due in a couple of hours. It was a case of first in first out. We hastily broke camp, packed up and went to the airstrip which received its category as an all weather airstrip as it was at least a kilometre long and 120 metres wide bordered on each side by dense jungle. I heard a rumour that it was built during the “Confrontation” with Indonesia that had ended the previous year and was designed to take Mirage jet fighters. Kiunga had received its fair share of rain too and despite the recent two days of fine weather the strip was wet and muddy. In due time, a Caribou appeared and flew over the strip at a low level twice before circling around to make its landing approach. When the Caribou lands the pilot puts its engines into a reverse thrust which causes a loud noise and slows the plane down rapidly. This the pilot did, after the plane had gone down the strip for some 200 metres but instead of slowing down, the plane skewered around and slid sideways up the strip for some distance so sending up an enormous spray of red mud which almost obscured the plane from our sight. The pilot corrected the skid and the plane resumed a normal landing and taxied over to where we were waiting with horrified looks on our faces as we had all anticipated the plane rolling over and crashing right in front of us.

The pilot that emerged from the plane was a squadron leader and no less than the most experienced RAAF man in Papua New Guinea. He got out and with his navigator walked around the plane a few times to look for any damage, had a chat to Colin and then asked me to get my platoon aboard. As I sat down near the cockpit the load master gave me a set of earphones to wear so that I could listen and talk to the pilot over the intercom if necessary. The ok was given for a take off and the squadron leader did as all Caribou pilots do. He revved the engine and held the brakes on until the plane was shaking all over then let her go. I will never forget the feeling of relief when the plane left the ground and I was amused to hear the squadron leader say to his navigator “Well that’s a relief. I was worried we would not get off”. Another of his remarks I shall never forget was him saying after about 20 minutes in the air “What’s for morning tea?” After a short interval he followed these words up by saying “Not ham and salad sandwiches again”. I would have killed for a salad sandwich after six weeks of brown rice.

We flew the 800 kms direct to Port Moresby and landed at Jackson’s airstrip. Another surprise awaited me where amongst the welcoming group on the tarmac were Brigadier Hunter, commander of the PNG army and our battalion commander Lt Col Hearn. After we disembarked and moving off I noticed that one side of the Caribou was military green paint and the other mottled military green and Kiunga red mud. It looked rather impressive and decorative but the RAAF ground crew would have a difficult task in cleaning the plane. I am sure the brass hats were equally impressed by the plane’s appearance.

The rest of the company flew home the next day via Daru on the south coast where the Western District administration office is located and a place I would like to have seen. The RAAF must have decided to land at Kiunga with less fuel to lighten the take off load and then to refuel at Daru.

Ningerum was a great adventure.

John Stringfellow
January 2016