A TALE OF 5 MARRIED COUPLES IN WEWAK
by John Humphrey
After 5 years of deferment, I was in the January, 1970 intake of National Service. We started with 3 months at Puckapunyal, which every guy here can relate to. As part of the interviews that we had to ascertain which Army Corps we would go to after Recruit Training, I remember being asked about my “romantic intentions”. Did I have a girlfriend? How serious were we?
Did I know that if I were selected to go to the Education Corps, which was the only Corps I nominated, I could be sent to PNG to work in the Pacific Islands Regiment, teaching native soldiers, to help prepare them for the future independence of PNG. Yes, all I wanted was to get in to the Education Corps and go teaching in PNG. Even before I was called up, I had often thought I would like to teach somewhere overseas, particularly PNG.
A major point emphasised was that to be eligible we could not be married as there were no places for wives in PNG.
Time passed via 3 months Infantry Training at Singleton, NSW, and then I was posted to the Ordnance Centre at Bandiana, near Albury. Here we looked after a library and had a variety of teaching duties. Because of my teaching background in Maths and Science, I ended up taking a series of lectures to mainly Officers, on such topics as The Chemistry of Explosives and The Path of Projectiles or rockets.
It was during my time at Bandiana I discovered a few other teachers heading to PNG were in fact married. Upon making further inquiries, I was told that, ”Yes, you could be married, but don’t expect for you to be able to bring your wife to PNG”.
This got Marg and I thinking – if we got married, we could be separated for 12 months, but we could get the Army married allowance. (I think it was $27 a fortnight – Marg often quotes that I married her for the money). So we went ahead and got engaged and married in 6 weeks, which certainly got people talking!
I left Marg after 6 weeks of married life to go to PNG. I had 3 weeks of acclimatising in Port Moresby, before heading over the ranges and far away to Wewak and 2PIR at Moem. I think there were 9 of us who settled into the Army life in the Sergeant’s Mess’ including 5 blokes who were married – David van Pelt, Ian Taylor, Rod Cassidy, Bill Larsen and myself.
It didn’t take long for us to discover that there were at least 5 European Married Quarters available within the Barracks.
Naturally, we all applied for, and got granted, a European Married Quarter, each. We didn’t realise it at the time how lucky we were. All of us were able to welcome our partner before Christmas. My wife, Marg, has written of some of her experiences in Darryl Dymock’s book, “The Chalkies”.
Our houses were all fairly close together – we had Taylors beside us, Cassidy’s on the other side, van Pelt’s behind us with Larsen’s over the road. We all got along together very well and did a lot of our social entertaining together.
Played tennis at night, went to movies down at the Sergeant’s Mess, spent time at the beach (within walking distance) and had lots of impromptu parties. Three of the wives worked in town, a 15 minute drive away – it amazed us when on a few occasions the Barracks were in lock-down due a native disturbance, the wives were still allowed to head off into town for work, while we were all confined to Barracks. Other wives were teachers at the primary school in Moem Barracks. We remember these wives being paid something like 10 times the salary of the native teachers, for doing exactly the same work.
Because of the tropical climate, both side walls in the main bedroom, at the rear of the house, consisted of floor to ceiling louvre windows, normally kept open to catch any cooling breeze. Remember, these houses are built up on concrete piles. Well, sound travels easily between houses and you had to be careful what was said in the bedroom. One night after we were in bed, we heard a loud comment from one of our neighbours,” Oh, bugger, I forgot to take the pill!” One thing one got used to was the earthquake rattles when the bed would move around by itself – a weird feeling.
What a fantastic way to start our married life – living in a tropical paradise, away from the in-laws and the out-laws!
When our time was up in December, 1971, the Van Pelt’s and Marg and I decided to come home by ship. We flew from Wewak to Lae, then on to Rabaul, where we boarded P&O “Chitral”. We all enjoyed the cruise back home to Melbourne, via Brisbane and Sydney.
Since 1971, we have virtually no contact with any of our Moem friends. We did keep up with David and Libby Van Pelt for a few years, and have met up with Rod Cassidy from Brisbane, when he has been in Melbourne on business.
Since the advent of Nashos-PNG, we have had email contact with Bill and Jill Larsen in Perth and Rob Scott, our “didiman” at Moem . We also caught up with John Speekman, who is now a Catholic priest, and had lunch with Ron and Joy Inglis when they were in Melbourne, I think for footy finals.
Finally, does anyone know anything of the whereabouts of Ian Taylor, who was with us at Moem. Rod Cassidy and I have been trying to find him for some time, to no avail.
And that’s part of my story of our time in PNG in 1970-1971.