Letter from New Guinea
A week later we set off in a four-wheel drive jeep for Giri and were met on the way by the priest. When the jeep could go no further the priest asked me to ride a horse the rest of the way while he followed on a motorbike. After a while we changed over and I took the motorbike.
I am now stationed at Ulingan, on the coast, where I teach the second-top class of the mission primary school. The children are willing pupils and teaching is a satisfactory job.
New Guinea is a Mandated Territory entrusted to Australia by the U.N. and administered by patrol officers working under a District Commissioner. Political awareness is increasing and new political parties are springing up everywhere. Not long ago a flag was chosen and also a new name for the future - PAGINI, but it will be many years before independence. The Catholic Mission finances itself by its copra plantations, which stretch right along the coast. From the proceeds it has been able to establish a small airline, a hospital, high schools, primary schools and a teacher's training-college.
The climate of New Guinea is rather enervating - I should imagine relative humidity is pretty near saturation point. After a heavy rain, clouds of steam can be seen rising from the jungle. By 6.00 a.m. the temperature has usually reached 75 degrees and rises to 90 degrees by noon. In this part of New Guinea rainfall is in excess of 140" per annum, the wet season being from November to May. On November the first last year we had an earthquake - 7.1 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was 60 miles out to sea and the seabed has supposedly dropped two hundred feet.
Ever since, we have been feeling slight tremors periodically as the earth settles down again. At least eighteen people lost their lives in the earthquake. A team of experts flew out to check the two volcanic islands nearby - Kar Kar Island and Manam Island because they were worried about the effects of the earthquake.
Agricultural activity consists mainly of European-owned copra plantations, nearly all of which have cacao trees as well which are grown between the coconut palms to give them shelter and protection. All our cacao is sent to the Cadbury's factory in Tasmania. Coffee does not grow here on the coast, but a few miles inland there are a few small coffee plantations.
The natives rely on gardens for much of their food, practising shifting cultivation, and growing, for example, taros, yams, bananas, pineapples and peanuts. I have a small garden of my own and have grown successfully watermelons, cucumbers, peanuts, and native varieties of beans, onions and cabbage.
Next May I am aiming to reach the Adelbert mountains, about four days away. There is a map of the region but it is very inaccurate and I am going to rely on the people to guide me. The terrain is very difficult and no European visits there often. It should be very interesting exploring the region - and very different from field trips to Dorking!