‘People’s Power’ army turn back a false dawn for Tiananmen hopes

They were images that would have frozen the blood of China’s hardliners.

A 10,000-strong contingent of the People’s Liberation Army humiliated – by the people.

The fate of the Tiananmen Square protest was sealed in a sea of ‘victory’ signs overnight of June 2-3 in 1989 – caught in my small camera snapshots (photos above) of the so-called People’s Power turnback and the footage of our ABC cameraman Sebastian Phua.

The soldiers were brought to Beijing from the distant Sichaun province in China’s southwest and forced to march for hours to the city’s outskirts. They were unarmed. Their goal was to take Tiananmen Square.

We’d raced out into the night and the commotion. Large chanting crowds had blocked the troops just short of the square. There was no violence. The dishevelled young soldiers – many with sweaty tunics, caps  and even boots discarded – looked busted, bewildered and beaten.

Some were carrying their comrades too foot sore to continue on their own.

Protestors were clapping the retreating troops and calling out : “Long live the People’s Liberation Army” . “The people are the same as you” . “You have been used; you are innocent”.

Sebastian had a small footstool and climbed up to get some of the most memorable scenes recorded that night. It was an intoxicating atmosphere and all of a sudden it got even more heady as the people started singing The Internationale. Some might find this odd given that it’s the socialist anthem and was the de facto China communist party song. Democracy was the demand. But the core message of enslaved masses making a stand was a good fit, they explained.

Sebastian panned across the line of young, glistening faces as they sang the chorus. I’ll never forget that scene. It gives me chills every time I play it back, even now. If anything sums up the idealism that would be shattered within 24 hours , that piece of vision does.

Another image from the night that resonates so sadly: A protestor triumphantly holding up his trophies for the night – a pair of soldier’s boots and an army cap. 

Terror, not trophies, lay ahead.

The Goddess of Democracy … the flame of Tiananmen Square

From our ABC footage May 30, 1989

Thirty years ago today – May 30, 1989 – the Goddess of Democracy changed everything in China when she was erected in Tiananmen Square.

We were there; right at the very front with the students as they hauled the four giant pieces of plaster – head and torch segment in front – from the Beijing Technical College down to the square. People surged out of the darkness from all points. The procession became one million plus. Heart, hope and torches lit the route. 

We were ten days into martial law.

But rebellion, idealism and democracy fever cut through the air.

Chants went up: “People of China stand up” “Long live democracy”

The students began singing The Internationale. Spine tingling.

Doing my PTC as students sing The Internationale while hauling the Goddess to Tiananmen Square

ABC cameraman Sebastian Phua and cousin Chang on sound quickly motioned to me to do a PTC – trade for Piece to Camera. Reporting down the barrel of the camera. (*Their uncle and head of the ABC crew the legendary Willie Phua in coming days would film the Tank Man on June 4).

I did my PTC – which will be part of ABC Four Corners 30thanniversary special this coming Monday, June 3 – and Sebastian panned off to a rousing chorus of The Internationale anthem.

Sebastian Phua on camera with his cousin Chang

Everyone had thought the weeks-long Tiananmen protests had fizzled out. But the Goddess made sure it wasn’t – and made sure the end, when it did come, would be bloody. They erected the 10-metre high statue right in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao. Wise old Willie told us: “The Generals will not like this at all.” How right he was. For Sebastian – our talented, exuberant friend who we’d lose so damn early to the cancer curse – and for Chang and me, there was something surreal about the Goddess taking form in the square. Piece by Piece. You could almost smell the Politburo’s collective chagrin.

We filmed her with a giant rosy sun, almost an encouraging flame around her torch, as student sculptors clambered quietly on the scaffolding making the finishing touches. The crowds came back. Young mums and dads pedalled in, with their babies and toddlers in baskets in carts behind their bikes. It was quiet. Too quiet.

Photo: Max Uechtritz
The Goddess brings back the crowds

NEVER FORGET THE PNG COAST WATCHER HEROES

“Guadalcanal saved the Pacific, and the Coast Watchers saved Guadalcanal” – American Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey

Australians rightly are proud of the famous Coast Watchers for changing the course of the Pacific War  in WW2 – but too few know that some of the bravest of that illustrious group were Papuan New Guineans.

On ANZAC Day, let’s not forget Paramount Luluai Golpak MBE , Sir Simogun Pita MBE and their fellow PNG heroes.

Australians and Americans owe them a massive debt. Many owed them their lives. We all owe it to them to never forget.

Golpak and Simogun risked their lives – and that of their families – operating behind Japanese lines, fighting the enemy and gathering critical intelligence for the Allies. Between them they’d saved Diggers escaping the Fall of Rabaul and numerous downed US and Australian airmen.

They’d been recruited by legendary coast watchers Malcolm Wright, Peter Figgis and Les Williams.

Photo by George Oakes: 1961 unveiling the Memorial to Paramount Chief Golpak

Golpak was from Sali Village in Pomio (New Britain) where there’s a school named after him. In 1961 one of the pilots Golpak rescued, Wing Commander Bill Townsend, was on hand as a special memorial was unveiled in Sali. Townsend is pictured below with Golpak’s son Kaolea .

I am indebted to former Pomio Kiap George Oakes for these marvellous colour photos of that event.

Photo by George Oakes. Wing Commander Bill Townsend with Kaolea, son of the man who rescued the airman, Golpak.

Author Peter Stone (Hostages to Freedom, the Fall of Rabaul) wrote about Golpak: 

 “Golpak showed tremendous loyalty, initiative and ingenuity in resisting the Japanese, and in assisting downed airmen and Allied Intelligence Bureau units in East New Britain.”

The incredible bravery of men like Golpak and Simogun is highlighted in various other books including Patrick Lindsay’s excellent The Coast Watchers, Malcolm Wright’s If I dieand this special tome on the two men by Eric Johns.

Forged under fire, the bond between the Papua New Guineans and Australians was unshakeable and the latter group ensured the courage and service of their brothers-in-arms was not forgotten higher up in the army and establishment. Both men were honoured as Members of the British Empire.

Simogun was born at Bargedem in East Sepik and had connections to Salamaua. He’d joined the mandated Territory  of New Guinea police force and was a sergeant at Nakania in New Britain at the outbreak of the war. 

In December 1942 in Australia Simogun joined a coast watching patrol destined for West New Britain and led by the naval officer Malcolm Wright. After preparations near Brisbane, on 30 April 1943 the patrol was landed from the submarine USS Greenling at Baien village, near Cape Orford. An observation post was established, from which Japanese aircraft and shipping movements were reported. In October 1943 the party crossed the rugged interior of New Britain to Nakanai, where they operated as a guerrilla force. Simogun led local men in attacks on Japanese troops. About 260 were killed for the loss of only two men. The party was withdrawn in April 1944. Simogun is credited with having maintained the morale of the group under often very difficult circumstances. Warned that the operation would be dangerous, he had replied: ‘If I die, I die. I have a son to carry my name’. He was awarded the BEM for his war service. Later he entered politics.

Simogun was the only Papua New Guinean to serve on all four Legislative Councils, from 1951 to 1963. Elected to the first House of Assembly (1964-68) for the Wewak-Aitape electorate, he was an active and influential member and under-secretary for police. Dame Rachel Cleland observed that he was a natural orator, whom no one could equal in style.

Appointed MBE in 1971, Simogun was knighted, recommended by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1985. He had married three women: Wurmagien from Alamasek village, Wiagua (Maria) from Boiken, and Barai (Bertha) from Kubren village at Dagua. Wurmagien had two children, Wiagua one, and Barai eight. Sir Pita Simogun returned to Urip in the 1980s and died on 11 April 1987 at Wewak. He was buried with full military honours at Moem Barracks army cemetery.

Ah Chee: Gentleman hotelier and Gem of the Pacific

A rare photo of Ah Chee (centre) outside his hotel with two Australian friends who no doubt benefited from his famed generosity. Photo kindly supplied by Adam Peripatus Liu.

If Rabaul in its halcyon days was the pearl of the Pacific town, then the human gem of the Pacific was its famous hotelier Ah Chee.

A small man with a large heart, Ah Chee’s innate kindness, generosity to those in distress and quiet dignity made him deeply admired, respected and befriended across racial lines in a time when that was sadly uncommon.

On his death in 1933, The Pacific Islands Monthly published an extraordinarily moving tribute – titled A Chinese Gentleman – saying he would ‘be mourned around the world’ and on reading it (see below) you can understand why.

It’s the stuff of potential documentaries and feature films about one of the most colourful destinations in one of the most fascinating eras of Pacific history. Ah Chee (Chee Jour Chee) should be better known. He sits easily among the pantheon of early settler characters in New Guinea including Emma Forsayth, Richard and Phebe Parkinson, Ah Tam, Governor Albert Hahl, George Brown, Rudolph Wahlen, Jean Baptiste Mouton, Bishop Coupé and Peter ‘the island king’ Hansen.

Credit CHM Group, Papua New Guinea

But like Ah Tam (himself an inspiring story for another time), Ah Chee had a tougher path to success than the others, simply because the overt racism of the time against Chinese who’d been brought to the islands as ‘coolies’. Rather than harden his heart, this discrimination had the reverse effect on Ah Chee, who opened his doors and, by default through his generosity, his wallet … to all and sundry.

*Ah Chee was decorated by Germany for his kindness to Germans awaiting deportation during WW1 and honoured by Chiang Kai-shek for his many donations to Chinese causes. Many down and out Australians benefited from the generosity of the man who started life in Rabaul as a cook. He’d served as a boy steward with the British Fleet before being brought to Rabaul in 1912 under indenture to the NGK.*from author Peter Cahill Needed but not Wanted, Chinese in Rabaul 1884-1960

Ah Chee’s Hotel eventually became the Cosmopolitan Hotel and the establishment under both names spawned generations of experiences and legends. Errol Flynn was but one of the colourful guests.

Here is the PIM article, which appeared in ‘North of Twenty-Eight’ column, probably authored by RW Robson who later wrote the Queen Emma book.

A   Chinese   Gentleman  

“The   last   papers   from   Rabaul  tell   of   the   death   of   Ah   Chee,   who   will be   mourned   round   the   world.   Old   Germans,   of   the  Hasag- Hernsheim   era,   grieving   in   Hamburg   for   their   lost   estates   in  the   Mandate,   will   pause   sadly   to   remember   him,   and   hundreds   of   Australians  who   knew   him   will   join   them.  

 “‘Ah   Chee   kept   the   hotel   opposite   Ching  Hings  in  Rabaul,  on   the   corner   of  Chinatown.   Other   hostels   came   and  went.   The   new   post-war   Mandate   Administration   formed   three   clubs   and   a  “white”  pub   opened   its   doors,   but   “Ah  Chees’   survived.   

“There   was   a   large   bar  on   the   ground   floor   and   a   dining-room   in   which   an   old   German   musical   box   with   a   peculiarly   sweet   voice   played   “When  Irish   Eyes   Are   Smiling”   over   and   over  again. 

 “The   hotel   of   Ah   Chee   was   built   of  wood   and   set   on   volcanic   ground,  so   that  every   sound   in   it   was   amplified.   The   walls  of   its   bedrooms,   which   opened   through  French   lights   on   to   a   broad   verandah,  had   been   cut   off   a   foot   or   so   from   the   ceiling   for   ventilation.   Each   room   was  furnished   with   a   specklessly   clean   bed   with  a   sheet   and   a   mosquito-net,  a   washstand  and   one   chair.  

“Bed   is   the   coolest   place  in   Rabaul,  and   to   lie   there   in   the   evening   a   decade   ago   was   a   cosmopolian  adventure,   for   nothing   was   hidden   in   Ah  Chee’s.   You   could   hear   every   sound   in  the   bar—the   “prosits”   of   the   sad   expropriated,   the   “Ludwig-two-bottle-beer-he come”   of   the   Civil  Service,   the   arigatate  kamisen   of   the   visiting   Jap   skipper,   the  lusty   “Whisky   soda  along   King   George—  quick-time”   of   the  arrogant   police   in   for  their   free   “nine  o’clock”;   the  whispered   love   tale   on   the  verandah  ;   the   domes  tic   discussion   three  doors   down   ;   the   sage  debate   between   committeemen   as   to  whether   the   salary   of  you,   a   stranger,   would  be   £6OO   a   year,   which  would   make   you   eligible   for   membership  of   the   Rabaul   Club.  Somebody,  perhaps,  would   be   playing   a  concertina   round   the  corner,   not   loudly  enough   to   mute   the  malarial   sobbing   of   the   sick   Teutonic  planter   just   bereft   of   the   results   of   his  life   work.

 “Above   all   the   medley   song   would   rise.  

 “German   voices   in   the   dining-room   lifted  the   roof   with   “Ein   Pflanzer   auf   ein  Kiistenreis ”   The   musical   box   did   its  best;   the   picture-show   gramophone  across   the   road   blared   “Susie”;   the  stewards   off   the   Norwegian   boat   shouted  “Ja,   jeg   elsker   dette   landet”   without   blotting   out   the   insistent   “You   did,”   “I  didn’t”   of   two   Cantonese   engaged   in   a  long-drawn   quarrel   in   the   street   against  a   background   of   native   sing-sing   wafted   across   the   hot   kunai   grass   in   the   moist  square. 

 “Through   all   the   babel   and   turmoil  moved  Ah   Chee,   never   disturbed,   always  gentle,   kind   and   smiling.   When   the  young   Australian   girl   next   door   fell   ill  of   fever   and   the   oppression   of   the   tropic  atmosphere,   the   little   man   was   there   in  person   with   cool   drinks   and   comfort.  

 “When   the   drunken   sailors   on   the   steps  at   3   a.m.   were   moved   to   wrath   because  you   threw   water   on   them   as   they   sat  singing   “Ma,”   it   was   Ah   Chee   who  arrived,   placatory,   pleasant,   unruffled,  and,   looking   smaller   than   ever   in   a   pair  of   loose   pyjamas,   persuaded   the   outraged  mariners   not   to   knife   you   and  burn  the  house   down.  

 “Fights   in   the   bar,   attempted   suicides,  gurias   which   seemed   likely   to   shake  Rabaul   into   the   sea,   oppressive   ordinances,   cheeky   locals   —none   of   them  rattled   Ah   Chee.   

“And   the   poor   were  always   with   him.   The   German   deprived  of   his   property   by   the   fortune   of   war,  the  shell-shocked   youngster   ruined   by   high  living,   the   gambling   fool   with   the   empty  pocket,   the   weakling   taken   in   crime   and  in   search   of   bail,   the   hungry   and   the  thirsty,   deserving   and   undeserving—all  patronised   him.   Paper   and   pencils   were  cheap.   One   more   chit   would   be   added   to  the   pile   in   his   little   office   with   a   gentle  “Some   time   you   will   pay   me.”   But  nobody   ever   did.  

 “Ah   Chee   was   a   legend   through   the  Pacific.   He   even   got   into   the   songs   of  the   colorful   Bismarcks   in   the   days   when  “Willst   du   reich   werden”   was   still   sung:  

Will   you   be   wealthy?   Down   to   Rabaul   flit,  Stay   at   Ah   Chee’s   for   months   and   pay   by   chit;  

Fill   up   your   sleeves   with   ace   and   king   and  joker,Then   start   indulging   in   a   little   poker.  

Produce   those   jokers   from   your   sleeve—be  stealthy,  And   then   if   you   aren’t   caught   you’ll   soon   be  wealthy.  

 “A   fortnight   after   Ah   Chee   died, his  flowerlike   wife   and   his   fine   young   son  did   something   on   Christmas   Eve   which  must   have   pleased   the   spirit   of   the   little  hotelkeeper.   They   gave   a   banquet   in   his  memory.   Eighty   people   came   to   it.   Men   of   the   old   German   time,   civil   servants,  white   traders,   Orientals   joined   in   a   party  which   only   needed   the   Absent   Guest   of   Honor   to   make   it   a   representative   human  historical   gallery   of   all   Rabaul’s   past. 

 “But   I’ll   wager   that   a   good   many   of  the   guests   owed   Ah   Chee   a   lot   more  gratitude   than   is   represented   by   sitting  at   a   man’s   dinner-table   as   the   guest   of  his   estate. ” 


Ah Chee’s legacy continues to this day through his descendants in Papua New Guinea.

His son Chin Hoi Meen became a pillar of society, famous photographer and war hero who helped rebuild his beloved Rabaul after its destruction in World War Two.

*The hotelier’s son was given official recognition for his wartime bravery in 1949 when he was awarded the King’s Medal for courage and service in the cause of freedom.  This medal is intended to acknowledge those who perform “acts of courage entailing risk of life or for service entailing dangerous work in hazardous circumstances in furtherance of the Allied cause during the war.”

In 1954, Chin Hoi Meen was presented to the Queen as a war hero in Australia for his services to the Allied Forces and for risking his life to rescue two American pilots who were shot down. * courtesy Noel Pascoe

Ah Chee should be remembered as a Legend of Rabaul.

Photo courtesy of Adam Peripatus Liu

Shakespearean tragedy in Rabaul: the Earl of Chichester’s secret son and the famous priest who dared.

Arthur Savage (far right) and my mother Mary Louise Harris (fourth from left) taking their bows after performing in the ‘Ghost Train’ play at the Rabaul Dramatic Society in 1952

Few knew the secret of popular former Rabaul character Arthur Savage: he was the son of English nobleman, the Earl of Chichester.

Fewer people still knew that one of Rabaul’s most beloved identities – Father Bernard Franke – ignored strict Catholic rules to give Arthur a proper funeral and burial after he committed suicide thinking he had cancer.

He didn’t have cancer. But tragically his “all clear” medical advice arrived a week after his burial.

The revelation about Arthur Savage being of noble blood and his tragic end came from my mother Mary Louise Uechtritz before she passed away last year.

Arthur Savage (left) and Mary Lou Harris, engaged that night to my father Alf (right)

Arthur was a close family friend. He’d had walked Mum down the aisle and given her away at her wedding to Dad (Alf) at Rabaul’s Francis Xavier church on April 26, 1952. He was godfather to their first child, my eldest brother Peter. In a favourite family photo, a grinning Arthur is pictured with Mary Lou and Alf at the Frangipani fancy dress ball. Typically, the passionate art lover and thespian dressed as a French artist at Montmartre .

Arthur also wrote plays and performed in them for the Rabaul Dramatic Society. The production pictured in the title photo above was ‘Ghost Train’ and features Arthur (far right), my mother , Keith Armistead in the group.

My mother Mary Lou Harris (second from right) in the Ghost Train play produced by Arthur Savage

“He was extremely well educated and had a real love of literature and the fine arts,” Mum told me. “Arthur was the ‘illegitimate’ son of the Earl of Chichester, who was very fond of him and insisted he had the very best education.”

Arthur went to Beaumont College and then the famous Ampleforth College in Yorkshire (left)

It’s not certain how he ended up in New Guinea but he eventually ran the plantation Asalingi on the north coast for my Dad’s stepmother Rita (Uechtritz then Roberts ) and her second husband Tex Roberts.

Mum recounted with great merriment – for a lady herself raised by nuns in  a French convent in Wales  – how Arthur and his great friend Ned Shields were particularly fond of a drink and stayed up all night imbibing and carrying on.

“He and Ned would be up at dawn, whiskies in hand, wandering down the beach and into the sea fully clothed quoting Shakespeare,” she said.

Then came tragedy. Arthur contracted cancer of the oesophagus. I am not sure whether it was a false diagnosis, or he had an operation to remove the cancer. Anyway, Mum said Arthur couldn’t bear the thought of dying a slow, horrible death with chemotherapy and took his own life. His ‘all clear’ message from Sydney sadly arrived in Rabaul a week later.

Father Bernard Franke, beloved by generations of people of all races and religions in Rabaul and the islands 
 

Father Franke was in every sense the ‘people’s priest’. He ignored the Catholic ruling that those who had committed suicide were unable to be buried on sacred ground or receive a funeral Mass. He performed what can only be presumed was a clandestine funeral and Arthur was buried in Rabaul cemetery.

Arthurs father was the Sixth Earl of Chichester, Jocelyn Brudenell Pelham (correct spelling) who died in 1926. He was awarded an OBE in 1918. It is unknown whether Arthur maintained correspondence with him during his New Guinea years. Given Mum’s account of him, somehow I think he did.

More from Ghost Train. My mother Mary Lou third from right.
Rabaul Dramatic Society: Photo on the right is labelled ‘Norma” but no surname. No label for man on left.
Rabaul Dramatic Society: Both these photos are labelled Wally Fishwick, so either father and son or a mistake

Phebe Parkinson and the little orphan girl Grete

There seemed no hope of life or love for little orphan Grete.

The newborn would be an indirect victim of the blood-soaked struggles – murders and punitive slaughters – between islanders and colonials in the Bismarck Archipelago early last century.

But she was saved by the compassion of my great grandmother Phebe Parkinson, who took her into her home at Kuradui plantation near Kokopo on New Britain and nursed Grete back to health.

Great grandmother Phebe Parkinson at Kuradui homestead in the 1920s

Grete would grow up to become “Head Meri”  – the senior female staff member – at the home of Phebe and her distinguished husband, the Danish anthropologist Richard Parkinson.

Extract from Air Niugini’s Paradise magazine

She would have overseen the staff serving the banquet at the grand farewell given at Kuradui for Queen Emma, Phebe’s sister, in 1911 then Australian military officers in Kuradui garden parties after they seized New Guinea from the German administration in 1914.

Now, my family – Parkinson descendants – are searching for descendants of Grete.

This story all started in 1901 on tiny island in what’s now the New Ireland Province.  It’s part of a small archipelago group then called St Matthias Islands or Mussau islands.

Extract from Richard Parkinson’s Thirty Years in the South Seas

A well-heeled German traveller anchored his large luxury vessel Eberhard at  Mussau in what was supposed to be a scientific exploration called the First German South Seas Expedition. My grandfather Richard Parkinson was no fan and wrote in his famous tome Thirty Years in the South Seas wrote, “it became clear that science lay not so close to the heart of the owner of the ship as pleasure”.

The locals had been in continuous war with foreigners since 1864. Their only other contact with outsiders was when William Dampier ‘discovered’ the island on St Matthias Day, February 24 in 1700.

At first the locals seemed to accept the visitors. Then the Eberhardwas sent back to the mainland to fetch forgotten supplies. The camp was exposed and attacked and the Germans were speared. Herr Mencke and his secretary Herr Caro were fatally wounded while others escaped. Later, some traders of the Hernsheim Company were also killed. These attacks led the Imperial Governor von Benningsen to order a punitive, revenge raid by the German warship Kormorann.

Parkinson wrote: “A not insignificant number of St Matthias people were killed and several women and children as well as a teenage youth were taken to Herbertshöhe (Kokopo) as prisoners.”

Lilian Overell in her book A Woman’s Impression of German New Guineatakes up the story: 

Among them was a woman, who, before dying of fever and fright, gave birth to a baby girl.

The Governor sent for Mrs Parkinson and begged her to take the starving little baby. “I am afraid it will die,” she said.

“It only has one chance in life ,” replied the Governor, “and that is in your care.”

So Miti (as Phebe was referred to by locals in their word for Mother) took the wailing mite of humanity home and showed it to her husband.

“It is not going to sleep in our bedroom,” he said, looking at it with aversion.

“Very well,” said Miti cheerfully, “I’ll sleep with it in the rice house.”

Of course he gave way.

Overell wrote: Phebe (Miti) fed the baby by tying rag over the neck of a bottle of milk, and for three months it sleep in her motherly arms. It began to thrive and grew into a strong, healthy child. Grete was very jealous of anyone whom her mistress showed affection.

It is notable that Phebe had 10 children of her own and she had also taken in other ‘war babies’ who were destined for a life of slavery to those who’d killed their parents and seized the children in tribal conflicts.

The Parkinson family at Kuradui

The photos at the top of this article are both of Grete. The first one as a little girl is from the collection of Nellie Diercke, the eldest Parkinson sibling and older sister to my grandmother Dolly Parkinson. The second image on the right is from Overell’s book and shows Grete as a young woman.

Kuradui is still a sacred place for the Parkinson descended Uechtritz and Diercke families. 

In 2004 Phebe’s remains were buried there next to her husband in the family matmat or cemetery. My brother Gordon had found Phebe’s grave on New Ireland 60 years after she died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp during WW2. In one of the great moments of his life, our father Alf Uechtritz oversaw the ceremony where Phebe was reunited with her husband Richard. That’s a whole other story.

Our family is returning to Kokopo and Kuradui in September to place the ashes of our beloved parents Alf and Mary Lou in the Parkinson cemetery. With us will be the Diercke family who will also lay to rest the ashes of my cousin Chris Diercke alongside his brother Michael, father Rudi and grandmother Nellie.

We are privileged that the owners and custodians of Kuradui lands will welcome and host us. It is a very special relationship.

Phebe Parkinson in particular was renowned for her huge heart and love for the islands and their people. She was half American and half Samoan. But when Queen Emma urged her to move to a life of luxury with her in Sydney, Phebe declined: “These are my people,” she said.

So, the story of the Parkinsons is not your typical colonial, pioneer story. It is inextricably linked with the people of New Britain, Kokopo, Rabaul, the communities of what were Ralum, Malapau (Parkinsons first plantation), Karavi, Raluana and Kuradui.

It is also the story of those like little Grete and that is why we are keen to find any of Grete’s descendants and nurture and grow that story.

For those reading this in East New Britain or who’re from the area , please do put the message out for any remaining members of Grete’s family. Unfortunately I do not know her family name. You can direct message me on facebook.

Reburial ceremony for Phebe Parkinson 2004

Our Wedding Day

April 26 (1952) was my big day! I was quite excited and very nervous when I woke up at the Cosmo hotel. My boi had ironed my shirt and pressed my sharkskin suit. After I had dressed, I ordered a taxi to come and get me to go to church.

Our friends were already gathering around the church plus some sticky beaks.

The only members of my family were Rudi and Gwen Diercke and their children. Mary Lou had only her mother. Though Father White was to say mass and marry us, I was met by Father Bernard Frankie.

He told me what we needed to do, where to kneel, etc. He was really beaming and kept telling me what a lucky guy I was to get Mary Lou Harris!

Father Bernard Franke

Bob (Sutherland) arrived with his mother and we were ushered into the church and told where to stand. I made sure that Bob had the ring! Soon Mary Lou arrived. She was given away by our friend, Arthur Savage. They came up the aisle and Mary Lou knelt beside me. She looked very beautiful. I just couldn’t believe that she was about to marry me!

Father White came into say Mass as attended by Father Franke.

So, OUR MASS started, and the time came for us to say all the things required to say to become man and wife.

I could see that Lou was also a little nervous. To be quite honest, I don’t think that I was able to follow the Mass as I should have, except when it came to receive the Sacrament. Then I really thanked God for giving me Mary Lou.

When Mass finished, we went to the Sacristy to sign the books. Then I had my wife on my arm and we walked down the aisle to the front of the church. There, the Girl Guides formed a Guard of Honour.

Guard of Honour by May Lou’s girl guides

The bridesmaids were Wynne Ann Legge and Pat Ives. The flower girls were Alannah Parker and Sharon Whalley, and the page boys Christopher Diercke and Anthony Parker.

The main wedding group posed photos were taken at the door of the church.

At left wearing hat is our Nana Ursula Harris … mother of Mary Lou

We then walked across the yard to the Xavier Hall. Soon all the speeches were being made, and I had to make my speech, and was very nervous as I had never made a speech before. I felt a bit tongue tied but it wasn’t too bad. We had a wonderful reception. It was great to have all our friends around us.

Father White and Ursula Harris in a champagne mood

Jack Thurston was very special as he had been a great friend of my father.

As mentioned earlier, he had made his boat Karlamanus available to take us to Sum Sum.

He was going to skipper it down himself, although he had his own captain.

When it was time to leave for the ship, we got into one of the new Chev cars to take us to the wharf via Lou’s home, where she had to change. Friends had tied tin etc. on the back of the car, so we made a big rattle leaving the reception whole.

Mary Lou changed for the boat trip to Sum Sum .. with Wynn Ann Legge

Incidentally, that hall had been beautifully decorated by John Carroll and his Boy Scouts.

The Karlamanus was tied up at ‘wreck wharf’. Most guests also came down to see us off. After lots of farewells and “Good Lucks’ we left for our trip to Sum Sum.

We must have left about midday or soon after as it took five and half hours at least to get to Sum Sum.

The Karlamanus was a fast boat so we got to Sum Sum just before dark.

All the plantation workers and their waveband children were at the beach to welcome the new Missus. Our baggage and cargo was unloaded and we went ashore.

All the plantation workers and their waveband children were at the beach to welcome the new Missus. Our baggage and cargo was unloaded and we went ashore.

As we went into the new house I observed the tradition of carrying a new bride across the threshold. Our new home was just about finished. 

I think one spare bedroom still had to be lined. We asked Jack to stay for a bite, but he wanted to get going. So we had a bottle of champagne and saw him off! We lit our kero lamps and had a bite to eat from the leftovers of the reception. 

Most couples went off on their honeymoon to somewhere other than they home. We didn’t. We had a wonderful honeymoon on the plantation itself, exploring and swimming up the Sum Sum river. Swimming along the passages in the reef. Collecting shells and food on the reef. Fishing. Driving in the jeep.

That was the start of our life together.

I wonder if on that day we knew what was ahead of us in years to come, how we would have felt!?

I am writing this 45 years later and have 10 children and 25 grandchildren.(*note in 2019 now 32 grandchildren , 23 great grandchildren with three more on the way)

There have been trials and problems and unforeseen situations, as the rest of this story will confirm. But all in all, we have been greatly blessed and have had so much to be thankful for.