Saturday, October 23, 2010

The untold and emotional stories of the Wau-Bulolo gold-rush


For most of this week, following its Papua New Guinea launching at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Port Moresby last Friday, I have been reading Michael Waterhouse’s spectacular and emotional new book on the Wau-Bulolo gold-rush of Morobe province over and over again.
Michael Waterhouse showing a copy of his book at the Crowne Plaza in Port Moresby.-Picture by MALUM NALU
My mother, you see, was from Laukanu village in Salamaua while my father was from Butibam village in Lae and I’ve grown up hearing stories about the Wau-Bulolo gold-rush and the pivotal roles that both Salamaua and Lae played.
Later, as a starry--eyed young journalist in Lae, I travelled up to all these places (and still do), as well as Menyamya (which borders Bulolo), far-off Morobe patrol post (which borders Northern province and was once the capital of Morobe province during the German colonial era before Salamaua and Lae came along) and have also been the first journalist ever to walk, write about and takes pictures of the infamous Black Cat Trail between Salamaua and Wau in 2003.
It goes without saying that I’ve always taken an avid interest in the history of the development of the Morobe goldfields as well as its World War 11 background.
Coincidentally, my good mate, Bulolo MP Sam Basil, bumped into me at last Friday’s launch of Waterhouse’s Not A Poor Man’s Field and asked me to walk with him and Queensland transport minister Rachel Nolan over the Bulldog Trail, which stretches between Wau and Gulf province the following day (all expenses paid, of course!), but alas, I declined because of short notice (and Sam knows only too well that I’m a single father of four young kids!).
Anyway, this powerful new book on the history of the famous Wau-Bulolo goldfields of Morobe province, launched in Australia by renowned PNG friend Prof Ross Garnaut at the state library in Sydney on Aug 19, promises to tell the story of the goldrush as it has never been told before.
The PNG launch couldn’t have come at a better time too, given last month’s official opening of the Hidden Valley gold mine, this year’s intense ethnic conflict between the local people of Bulolo and Sepik settlers, last year’s tiff between the Biangais and Watuts and the many ongoing developments, a virtual never-ending story.
Not A Poor Man’s Field explores Australia’s colonial experience in New Guinea before World War 11 – a unique but little-known period in PNG and Australian history.
Waterhouse, who has been in contact with me since 2008,  has close family ties to the pre-war goldfields, his grandfather Leslie Waterhouse having been a pivotal player in their development, as a director of the largest gold-mining company, Bulolo Gold Dredging, and the biggest airline, Guinea Airways.
First copies are on sale at the University of PNG Bookshop.
Waterhouse and his wife came to Port Moresby on Oct 4, overnighted, and then travelled on to the fabled Morobe towns of Lae, Wau, Bulolo and Salamaua – in a sensational tour de force - before returning to Port Moresby for the book launch.
He tells me that Not A Poor Man’s Field is not simply another “white man’s history”.
“For the record,” Waterhouse expounds, “while the sub-title refers to it being an ‘Australian colonial history’, this is because the main market is in Australia and the book has to be positioned as ‘Australian history’ to be commercially-viable.
“However, I’ve gone to considerable lengths to bring a New Guineans perspective to the history.
“This is not simply another ‘white man’s history’.
“I do feel strongly about this – it is your country’s history as well, and I’ll make this point at every opportunity.”
The book discusses early encounters between villagers and Europeans from both white and black perspectives, as well as the indentured labour system which drew New Guineans to the goldfields from all over the country.
Other themes include the camaraderie of white settlers in an alien environment, race relations in a colonial society, the ineffectiveness of Australia’s administration of New Guinea under a League of Nations mandate and the Japanese invasion and its consequences.
The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach, analysing the colonial experience from economic, social, ethnographic and political/administrative perspectives.
One particular incident which I have been interested in for many years now, and which is well covered in Not A Poor Man’s Field is what historians call the ‘Kaisenik killings’ of the Biangai area of Wau.
In November 1926, some villagers asked a visiting kiap (patrol officer) to hold court and compensate them for garden robberies by carriers.
They said they had asked acting mine warden Ward Oakley three times but he had done nothing.
Nor did this plea for help produce any action.
Assistant district officer Sam Appleby later reported that: “At last the women on Wandumi village went to the house set apart solely for the use of the adult males of the village.
“Here, they abused the men, calling them cowards, ‘saying ‘you are not men, you are only women. If you were men, you would not allow the carriers to treat us as they are doing; you allow them to rob us and our children of the fruits of our labour’.
“Stripping themselves naked, they threw their pul-puls (grass skirts) into the men’s house, saying at the same time, ‘you are not men, you are only women; here are our pul-puls, wear them’.”
Appleby (continued: “Several days after the above incident, which occurred early in December 1926, two men of Wandumi village, Yanduik (whose betel nut trees had been cut down and whose wife and sister had each lost a pig) and his full brother Kauwi, together with a half-brother from Duari village (of the Winima area) set out from Wandumi village towards the Biololo River where they waylaid and killed two carriers who were returning to Salamaua from the goldfield.”
When word reached Salamaua, a patrol officer was sent to investigate.
Unable to locate the murderers, he followed normal practice of arresting anyone in the general vicinity.
He managed to induce 30 men from Lambaura village to come to Webaining on the pretext of building a rest house.
However, when he tried to proceed with them to the coast, 17 escaped, including the tultul of Selankora village.
On Jan 10, 1927, three more carriers were killed between Wandumi village and Wau and their bodies thrown into the Bulolo River.
The mining warden at Edie Creek, JD McLean, radioed Rabaul for authority to lead a patrol against the villagers and he set out on Jan 12 with eight Europeans and 20 native police, including a number of ‘special constables’ chosen from labourers on the field, and all of whom were issued with rifles or shotguns.
Over the next three days, McLean burnt Lambaura village on the pretext that “it was so indescribably filthy and infested to be a serious menace to the health of the natives” and also destroyed their gardens.
Two Biangai were shot dead and their bodies carried to Kaisinik by the others, while another was shot in a separate encounter.
Again, without offering any evidence, McLean identified Kaisinik as having been a “hotbed of rebellion” for some time and when it refused to surrender the tultul and other “murderers”, he ordered the police to attack.
McLean claimed four men were killed in the ensuing melee; the tultul escaped but was shot in a gorge some distance from the village.
Kaisinik was then burnt to the ground, and the party returned to Edie Creek, believing justice had been delivered.
The ‘Kaisinik Killings’, of course, could have been avoided with a little foresight by the administration.
·        Next week: The indentured labour system and how Sepiks ended up in Bulolo and Wau

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