Many people who have been long fascinated by the story of the gold rush days of the 1930’s feel that history is being rewritten with the resumption of Air Niugini flights to Bulolo on Monday, May 16, 2011.
|Arrival of Junkers G31 'Paul' at Wau, 23 April 1931.|
|Inaugural Air Niugini Dash 8 flight at Bulolo|
The first batch of passengers on board the Dash 8 flight to Bulolo – led by Air Niugini CEO Wasantha Kumarasiri and Bulolo MP Sam Basil - was greeted by management and staff of PNG Forest Products, which owns the land on which the Bulolo Airport is built; Morobe Mining Joint Ventures; Bulolo administration; as well as hundreds of local people who braved pouring rain to be present for the occasion.
The 45-minute Bulolo service, which will be every Monday and Friday, promises to greatly boost business and tourism in Bulolo, as well as the surrounding electorates of Menyamya, Huon, Markham and Lae.
With excellent opening fares at K265 per person, I can easily take my kids there, spend some time with friends in Bulolo such as Basil or roving Wau-based reporter Sampson Bonai, and later get on a PMV or take a drive down to Lae.
Air Niugini’s introduction of flights follows on from Airlines PNG in 2009.
“Bulolo is a very ideal destination with a high demand for air transportation from the local communities,” Kumarasiri said as the inaugural flight landed.
“Due to the current activities in Bulolo, we consider it is our duty as the national airline to provide the air services to the local and business communities in Bulolo.
“Apart from the mining activities, there are also other operations and activities that certainly call for further air transportation.
“To name a few, we have the PNG Forest Products Ltd, BSP, Post PNG, Bulolo Forestry College, the Micro Bank, the district administration, which certainly demands for an increase in air transportation.
“As the national flag carrier, Air Niugini has a community service obligation to serve the people of Papua New Guinea.
“Therefore, Air Niugini’s operation into Bulolo also means that the local people of Wau/Bulolo can now travel direct from Bulolo to Port Moresby instead of travelling via Lae.”
Basil said history was rewriting itself as Bulolo was once one of the busiest airfields in the world during the gold rush days of the 1920s and 30s.
He said his joint district planning and budget priorities committee would commit K50, 000 subsidies for vegetable freight and return airfares.
“We would also look at building the staff quarters and ticket purchasing office for Air Niugini to be owned by the district administration, which will benefit from the rental proceedings,” he said.
“I also call on Menyamya people, Wampar people and people from my district to utilise this service because extra seats are now available.
“We do not have to drive all the way to Nadzab to catch a plane, as it is now at our doorstep.”
THE new look Bulolo Airport apron and 1,500m runway was officially opened by Basil in February 2009.
The upgrading work was jointly funded by Harmony Gold, PNG Forest Products and NKW Holdings at a cost of K500, 000 and took about six weeks from replacing the road-base with engineered fill and then resurfaced.
The airport was closed in 1990’s due to lack of economic activities, forcing the airline companies to withdraw vital air services into the area, and left people to rely heavily on the road network for the delivery of goods and services to Wau and Bulolo.
The greatest airlift the world had ever known started from Lae to the Bulolo goldfields in the 1930s.
Built in June 1930, originally the Bulolo strip was 1,150 yards by 120 yards.
Later it was expanded to 1,300 yards in length, covered with grass.
This airstrip was used in conjunction with flying supplies and equipment for gold dredging at Wau and Bulolo.
On January 21, 1942, Japanese Zeros and bombers attacked Bulolo.
At Bulolo, they set fire to three of the Junkers G31 tri-motors on the ground, destroying them.
Gold dredging work ceased as most of the men employed entered military service.
Five days, later, on February 5, 1942, Bulolo was bombed at 11am by five twin-engine bombers.
The discovery of gold at Edie Creek above Wau in 1926 sparked off a gold rush which led to the exploitation of the rich deposits of the Bulolo-Watut river system by large-scale mechanised mining.
The rigours and cost of the eight-day walk into the goldfields and the difficulty of building a road from the coast led to the early introduc¬tion of an aviation service.
The driving force behind the develop¬ment of the goldfields was Cecil J. Levien, a former Morobe District Officer, who has been described as a “rare and formidable combina¬tion of opportunist, practical man and visionary”.
Levien persuaded the directors of Guinea Gold N.L. that startling profits would be made by any aviation company that could provide a service to eliminate the arduous walk between Salamaua and Wau.
He secured an option on a small DH-37 plane in Melbourne and engaged a pilot, E. A. ‘Pard’ Mustar, to bring it to New Guinea.
The aviation service was a success from the start.
After two unsuccessful flights around the mountains south of the Markham ¬no one knew exactly how to find Wau from the air.
Mustar landed at Wau for the first time on April 16, 1937.
He began the service the next day with a shipment of six 100 lb bags of rice, charging a shilling a pound, and, making two trips a day, five days a week, carried 84 passen¬gers and 27, 000 pounds of cargo in the first three months.
Rival aviation companies were not long in arriving to share the profits.
Ray Parer, the proprietor of Bulolo Goldfields Air Service who had been com¬peting keenly with Mustar to be the first to land at Lae, came from Rabaul after many delays, and A. ‘Jerry’ Pentland and P. ‘Skip’ Moody soon joined them.
There was ample business for all, and by April 1928, a year after the service began, Guinea Airways (the aviation company that grew from Guinea Gold N.L.) had acquired two extra planes and was employing three further pilots and two more mechanics.
Then in March 1929 a new company, Morlae Air¬lines, began a weekly Lae-Port Moresby run, meeting ships from Australia and bringing passengers and frozen foods across to Wau, Bulolo, Salamaua and Lae.
At first Bulolo Gold Dredging Ltd and its parent company, Placer Development Ltd, had thought of building a road to the goldfields, but the length of time it would take and the high cost of construction and maintenance persuaded the companies to accept Guinea Air¬ways' proposition that “skyways are the cheapest highways”.
On the advice of Mustar, Bulolo Gold Dredging purchased three all-metal, tri-motored Junkers G-31 aircraft from Germany, which Guinea Airways was to operate under licence for the gold mining company.
Guinea Airways also purchased a Junkers G-31 of its own.
They were huge planes, each capable of carrying a payload of 7100 pounds or 14 short tons together.
The airlift began in April 1931 and continued for eight years: the first dredge began work in March 1932, the eighth in November, 1939.
Another crane at the airstrip lifted the heavy machinery into the planes and a rail crane unloaded them at Bulolo.
Eventually operations became so efficient that nine round trips a day were possible.
The airlift was a remarkable undertaking.
It pioneered the use of aviation in the transport of heavy cargo and, in the words of one writer, “in every respect it constituted a world record”.