By Sgt Siggy Nowak
National Service training commenced, and I walked into Puckapunial as a raw recruit following the completion of my Economics university degree, my Dip Ed and then one year teaching in Shepperton. Following recruit training, I marched out as a sergeant and was then sent to the PNG Education Corp as an acting warrant officer. I was posted to Port Moresby in 1972/3 initially serving first at Murray Barracks.
Due to the higher rank allocation, I was therefore able to expedite (rubber stamp urgent) travel for my wife Heather to come with me. My role was secretary to the Assistant Director of Education at Murray Barracks campus. I also spent a couple of months out at Goldie River Training Depot (looking after the library and doing some teaching) towards the end of my stint after the Whitlam government put an end to national service. While most of my fellow National Service sergeants in PNG decided to go back to Australia immediately when Whitlam called time on the scheme, I felt the pull of the attractive benefits if I stayed on – an army war service home loan (with a ridiculously low interest rate), one year free tertiary education on full pay, free dental and medical benefits for 12 months. My fellow sergeants flew home because they were lonely/single and wanted to get back to normal life and their girlfriends.
I played for the Army soccer team and represented PNG in an Asian tournament. There was not much to do in your spare time (except drinking in the sergeants’ mess, playing pool, watching movies in the open air, listening to records and taking and processing your own photos). My wife and I were able to dramatically boost our savings because there was not a great deal to spend money on (and given I don’t drink alcohol) – a fabulous head start to married life (we purchased a new home and car with the war service loan when we got back to Australia). Our soccer team toured around PNG playing exhibition matches against regional sides. It was the only time I actually saw much of places like Madang, Wewak, Vanimo, Mt Hagen, Lae and Rabaul. Flying across the mountains with their “concretous clouds” was exceptionally dangerous.
Whilst all the sergeants chose to live in the army barracks at Taurama (1PIR), I decided, instead, to live in one of the outer suburbs and interact directly with our local neighbours. We had no trouble at all (we employed a boi to wash and iron which helped with security) unlike those living in the barracks who kept on getting robbed. The only possible danger was to accidentally run a local pedestrian down when driving in to work because of the ‘pay back’ system, a local custom. There were only 10kms of made roads around Port Moresby so there was not much around to drive to, other than the beaches and the uplands such.as toward the start of the Kokoda trail. We did walk a short early section of this trail from Ower’s Corner (very boring and particularly steep in sections) but some of my fellow sergeants did a longer trek halfway up to the very top of the range. Pretty hard going.
My posting to Port Morseby will always remain a highlight in my life. Pity I did not take more photos. But lots of fond memories – the misery of high humidity, the starched and immaculately ironed short sleeved shirts and army pants, the ultra friendly smiling locals showing teeth stained red from chewing beetle nut, the open air meat farmers market with the occasional worm infested cuts of meat, the exactly at 4pm afternoon thunderstorms, the hours of doing nothing except lying on the floor listening to loud music on vinyl records, and the mental gymnastics of trying to make out what the locals are saying in pidgeon English. Life in a bubble.