Life as an Army Wife in Papua New Guinea in 1970-71
As a 21 year old bride, I waited with much anticipation to the start of married life as the wife of a National Serviceman in Taurama Barracks in Papua New Guinea. It took five weeks for the ‘call forward’ to come through after suitable accommodation had been found in Boroko.
After the shock of the searing heat as I exited the plane at Port Moresby airport, the next shock was the ‘boi wire’ across the windows of our flat. I soon found it was necessary as we were broken into on one occasion while we slept. We woke to find the thief had left the front door open and my handbag’s contents strewn along the path. But, fortunately, the thief missed the wallet containing money we had withdrawn to buy a car! After that I was always a little on edge if I was at home at night by myself. Lying awake at night listening to the native house boys talking Pidgin around a fire on a vacant block outside was quite un-nerving.
I had been a teacher in Australia but was unable to get a teaching position in PNG at the time. Not long after arriving however, I obtained a job as the office manager for an American Survey company called Papua Nickel. There was a hut on the promises where the local groundsman and his wife lived. While there was the language barrier a friendly wave to the wife each day seemed to suffice. I was quite amazed when I had waved goodbye to a very pregnant lady one afternoon and was eagerly beckoned to the hut next morning to see a new-born baby lying on some leaves on the dirt floor of the hut.
Shortly after we arrived in Papua New Guinea, my mother passed away and my father and teenage sister flew up to spend Christmas together as my brother was already working there. Not long after they left my husband Kev was sent on Patrol for a month in Kavieng. While this proved to be one of the best times for him it was by far the worst for me. As I had spent most of the preceding weeks with my family, I had not built up any local support network and the other army wives were about sixteen kilometres away at Taurama Barracks. Our newly introduced neighbours had invited me to the movies with them. Because of the rain, you sat in the car during downpours with cut potato wiped across the windscreen to keep it clear. You kept cool on deck chairs beside the car for the rest of the evening. We arrived home to find our flats had been flooded. On opening the door, the first things to float out were our Wedding Album and the last photos of my mother. Luckily another tenant was a photographer and rushed these to his studio for drying.
The next morning I decided to drive out to the barracks to see if I could get in contact with Kev in New Ireland. I arrived at Colonel Lange’s office calm and collected but then burst into hysterical weeping and scared the poor man half to death. Like all good men in a crisis – he called his wife! A group of soldiers was sent to clean up the flat and, much to my amusement and dismay, I found everything washed in the washing machine – including my leather shoes and bags!! Every cloud has a silver lining and on Kev’s return we were given an Army House in the barracks.
Our ‘House Boi’ was James. His set wage was a grand total of $14 a fortnight to clean our house, wash and iron and look after the yard. It didn’t seem right to us at the time but it was an expectation that all married couples would employ a ‘houseboi’ to assist in providing employment. He lived in a small two room ‘boihaus’ behind our house. James spoke no English, was about twenty-eight years old, was Mission trained and washed, starched and ironed everything. He was most offended when I said I’d wash my own underwear. (I just couldn’t stand the starched bras any longer!)
My sister arrived from Scotland with her six month old son and James was delighted to have a baby to look after. It was quite a contrast of black and white. I remember our first big party in our new army house. I cooked all day and James cleaning up after me. Each time a spoon was put down I would turn around to use it again to find it had been washed up and put back in the drawer. James sat on the back steps looking in during the night and enjoyed the party food we took out to him. Kev explained that we would be sleeping in and that the house cleaning would have to wait until we were awake. I woke to clinking bottles and was a little cross until I realised it was 11 am! When I walked out into the kitchen, not only was all the washing up done but the lounge room was stripped of furniture. It had been carried out into the yard and the floor was washed and fresh polish applied with James impatiently waiting to start the polishing machine when we woke up. There were certainly benefits to having a houseboi!
I don’t think I ever got used to the nights alone when Kev was Duty Sergeant. On one particular night there had been a major problem with the ‘Labour Line’ men involving ‘payback’ for an axe murder near the Boroko Hotel. I knew Kev would have to assist in checking the Labour Line accommodation area outside the army compound during the night. I guess there had to be some drawbacks for a fairly idyllic existence.
We spent many lazy weekends at the beach lolling about on rubber mats until someone pointed out that there were deadly sea snakes all around. There were many parties and movie nights at the Mess and it was interesting to see the interpretations put on some themes by the native soldiers. The native wives never entered the mess proper and only viewed things from the outskirts while the men partied on.
On a picnic to Brown River Kev nearly opted for an early divorce by telling a group of natives who were selling sets of spears that “Missus laik baiem spias” and I was instantly surrounded!!
Kev seriously considered staying on after National Service was cancelled but I was getting a bit homesick. I had only one trip home during our time up there.
Most of my memories are positive and I consider it was an incredible way to start married life.
Hi, I have just found your site, and have fond memories of Goldie River as my now ex was Sgt Bruce Hartshorn, I spend 6 weeks in Port Moresby on holidays from doing my nursing degree as a 18year old just engaged when Bruce was called up for National Service. Jim Connelly ended up being our best man at our wedding back in Aust in 1973. Sgt Ron Lynch who was up there as well is godfather to our first child (daughter). The stories that we could tell were funny and interesting. For an 18 year old it was an experience out of this world, and spoken about to the grand kids. I have many artifacts bought from Brown River at home.
Having served at Taurama at the same time as Kev and Lindy, I remember the traunas that Lindy went through. Both my wife and myself appreciated the facilities, in the form of housing, that was provided by 1PIR. I would be interested in hearing what Kev and Lindy are up to now.
I enjoyed reading the story by Kev Horton’s wife about her start to married life in the early 70s. It was interesting to compare my mum’s recollections from her life in Wana, Weewak, Daru and Port Moresby from 1950 through 1957 and to see some similarities.
Thanks Frankie for your feedback. I recommend the book “Taim bilong Missis bilong Armi” which is written by former Army wives in TPNG, including Mrs Marlena Jeffery and others. My review of that Book will appear shortly in our Journal (and on this Website).