On the weekend, I took a road trip in the new car to a small town named Boera, about 30km West of Port Moresby.
There is an interesting historical site there – the remains of a World War II coastal defence battery.
This is a picture of the type of guns that were based in this battery, but the photo was taken elsewhere. I couldn’t find any photos from this specific battery.
Papua New Guinea was the end of the road for the Japanese juggernaut in 1942. They were repulsed in the Battle of the Coral Sea and then on the Kokoda Trail (I will write more on that later).
The allies made numerous preparations for an invasion of Port Moresby via the sea. The big guns at Boera formed part of the defence network designed to block the passage of Japanese ships attempting to attack the city.
At Boera we met a chap named Graeme who is a friend of Owen’s. He is enthusiastic about the history of World War II and in particular the activities in PNG.
Graeme took us in his four-wheel drive up a steep and rough track to the top of a large hill where the guns were situated.
They were huge, 155 millimetre guns designed to sink battleships and they were mounted on a tall hill with a 360 view of the surrounding area.
There are many structures in and around the circular gun mounts (they appear to be of the type known as Panama Mounts).
There are ammunition dumps, bunkers and machine gun nests to protect the guns from invasion by land.
There are star pickets driven into the ground in various places that would have been used to tie down camouflage netting. I found the place fascinating.
In the end, the guns were never fired in anger. The American Carriers made sure of that at Coral Sea, and saved both PNG and Australia in the process.
There are shells and fossilised coral all over the hill as it was once the seabed. It was pushed up by seismic activity. Nearby, there is an archaeological dig site that we saw that is apparently one of the earliest settlements in Papua New Guinea. Archaeologists found pottery and other artefacts on the site from the early inhabitants of the area.
Graeme has lived in Papua New Guinea for 25 years and he has had some very interesting experiences in that time. He has been held up at gun point three times. When asked what that was like, he said flatly, “It was a little bit uncomfortable”.
He explained that many such attacks were carried out by former soldiers – veterans of the civil war (when Bougainville was fighting for independence). The soldiers were treated poorly and upon their return they discovered that they had been made redundant. So some of them took to crime and became gangs of ‘rascals’ – armed criminal gangs that would hold up banks and such. They attempted some very daring raids, including one where they hijacked a helicopter and landed it on the roof of a bank. They robbed the bank and took off but were shot down by the police. The story goes that two of the criminals survived the helicopter crash but were then shot dead on the spot by one of the remaining gang members who then disappeared into the crowd. It is assumed that he was trying to protect himself from prosecution by killing the men who could testify against him.
Apparently, the violence peaked roughly ten years ago and then the police brought it under control. Of course, their tactics in doing so left much to be desired. The police became known for killing captured gang members, execution style. It saved a lot trouble for the court system, and word quickly spread that criminals had a short life expectancy. Kind of like an ‘Untouchables’ PNG-Style. These ‘Judge Dread’ tactics were effective and while Port Moresby remains quite dangerous today, such brazen attacks have become rare.
According to Graeme, after each of these shootouts, the police would always provide the same report: that one of the criminals managed to escape and he took all of the money. I believe it of course. The alternative story would be that the police killed all of the criminals and kept the money for themselves, but only a cynic would believe such tales.
We finished up at Boera and then went to a place called “Sunset Lodge” – a local bar on the beach, where some kind of family function was underway.
I went for a walk along the beach and saw a starfish.
There were lots of little squiggly piles of sand that looked like dog turds. I’m told that they are caused by worms that dig in the sand and create these little piles of sand above them.
We also drove past the massive Liquid Niugini Gas plant – a natural gas liquefaction project on the same site as an oil refinery near Boera. The plant is monstrous. The fence around it alone must have cost millions – two fences – an inner fence with three rows of razor wire inside a high chain-link outer fence.
The scale of the undertaking is staggering. They also built a pier that is 2.4 kilometres long to allow ships to dock near the facility for the export of the Gas. It was most impressive. The total investment was in the order of 5-7 billion dollars.
In closing today, I must tip my hat to the enterprising lads who have been spray-painting graffiti on the fence across the road from my house. I have been woken in the dead of night by the guard dogs barking at them a couple of times now. The reason I can be fairly sure that it was just juveniles having fun is based on what they wrote. One of them is presumably known as Laigie, since it was plastered across the fence in giant letters. I can just imagine young Laigie, the wannabe gangsta, in the dark, faced with a tall fence that is his blank canvas and wielding a spray can and the language of Shakespeare and Dickens. He has to decide what to write, so striving with every neuron his pea-sized brain, to cultivate the perfect phrase he has a flash of inspiration and comes up with the immortal words “Born to Fuck”, and spray paints them beneath his name. Is this his motto? His slogan? His mantra? One can only assume. I’m glad that the kid has found what he was born to do, because it certainly isn’t writing or art. Of course, this prompts the question: if Laigie is so convinced that this is his calling in life then shouldn’t he, in the middle of the night, be off fulfilling his destiny rather than spraypainting all over my neighbourhood? Now that his Sistine Chapel is complete, hopefully Laigie will find somewhere else to graffiti and I can get some sleep.