Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rabaul and the Ring of Fire

Sunset - Rabaul
The Rabaul that I knew in the late 1970's has changed rather dramatically due to a series of violent volcanic eruptions in September of 1994.  The entire population was evacuated as a result.

The town that I remember was an idyllic place with lagoons fringed with palm trees, friendly Tolai's and an environment littered with war wreckage. It is situated on the Gazelle Peninsular of East New Britain.

Rabaul was the main Japanese naval base for the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns during the War in the Pacific and the scene of bitter fighting (by 1943 there were about 110,000 Japanese troops based in Rabaul), so it is not surprising that so much wreckage still littered the place.

Bombed Dredge - Rabaul Harbour
Take the example of the dredge pictured above.  This was reputedly captured from the British with the fall Singapore to the Japanese.  The latter decided later to tow it to Rabaul to service their harbour there.  The Allies monitored the progress of this voyage to see where it was heading, but waited until it had reached its destination before bombing it.

Rabaul also suffered from a sustained bombing campaign in November of 1943 which was a prelude to the Allied invasion of nearby Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

I spent a holiday at Kurakakul which was on the coast near Rabaul and the scene of the sunset above.  The house was a government one belonging to an Expat fisheries expert and he swapped with me for a week while he stayed in my house in Goroka.  This was not an uncommon practice between contracted offices of the PNG government.  He left me a large bowl of prawns to enjoy on the verandah of the old bungalow -  I remember them still.

Since the eruption the prosperous Rabaul has been replaced by one beset with problems, not the least being unemployment and crime from bands of rascals.  What was once a jewel of the Pacific is now a shadow of its former self and I was lucky to experience it at its best.

Tolai Woman -  taken at the Goroka Show in Eastern Highlands Province
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