MARSDEN MATTING

Continuing with the theme of modern history and the role played by Papua New Guinea, today’s post looks at one of the most prolific and enduring pieces of military hardware used in PNG during World War II – Marsden Matting.

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Referred to as Perforated Steel Planking (PSP) by NATO, Marsden Matting (named after the town in North Carolina where it was first constructed in 1941) is a type of standardised steel sheeting that was used for making temporary airstrips.

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As the sheets were made from steel with a high manganese content, the matting was also highly resistant to corrosion. As a result, decades later, Marsden Matting may be found all over PNG.

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Here, Marsden Matting has been used to construct a bridge:

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The sheets are three metres long, and have 87 holes in them. A row of hooks along one edge slotted into a row of holes on the next sheet – locking them together.

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Here, Marsden Matting is used as a retaining wall.

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A small team of engineers could build a runway 1.5 kilometres long in two days by using PSP. This gave the allies a tremendous tactical advantage. They could take an island and turn it into an unsinkable aircraft carrier in 48 hours.

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This photo from 1942 shows an Australian Air Force (RAAF) Curtiss P-40 Warhawk travelling along Marsden Matting at Milne Bay in southeastern Papua New Guinea.

A Curtiss P-40 Warhawk of No. 76 Squadron RAAF taxiing along Marsden Matting at Milne Bay in September 1942

One sees Marsden Matting regularly when out and about in Port Moresby. It has been recycled for countless other imaginative uses.

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Most commonly as a form of fencing.

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Walking around, I spotted this creative use of Marsden Matting to build a bench seat.

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At the Port Moresby Car Club, some recycled matting is used to cover the sides of the finish line used for car races.

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A pedestrian bridge made of Marsden Matting:

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The entrance to the office of this building is made from Marsden Matting:

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The steel does eventually corrode, as seen in this fence:

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At a smoky bar in Moresby called the Weigh Inn, they have a room called “The Marsden Room”:

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Complete with a piece of matting painted in camouflage colours adorning the entrance.

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The people working in the factory producing PSP were striving to do their jobs well because they wanted to contribute to winning the war. Little did they know that the legacy of their work would be that the PSP continues to provide value to people on a daily basis half a world away, 70 years later.

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ANZAC day was celebrated with gusto in Port Moresby.

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The Australian Governor General, Quentin Bryce attended a dawn service at the cemetary outside of town.

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At the Royal Papua Yacht Club, patrons enjoyed “Two Up”, a gambling game practiced by Australian soldiers in World War I.

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And ‘traditional’ Australian food like meat pies…

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…and sausage rolls. Personally, I would rather chew on an old boot, but to each their own.

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Sunset over Port Moresby, ANZAC day, 2013. Lest We Forget.

Yacht club

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