The amazing, absurd & shocking story of Port Moresby

The first printed plan of Port Moresby was compiled from surveys made in July and August 1886 by Walter R Guthbertson

| From a story originally published in
  the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier

Eda Moresby: Our Moresby by John Brooksbank, K250 each (K200 each for five or more). To Australia: $100 + $15 post. Link Facebook and find Eda Moresby here or email here

PORT MORESBY – ‘Only in PNG!’ People might think this catch-all phrase for our country’s extraordinary quirks is a relatively recent addition to our lexicon.

But if the outrageous stories in John Brooksbank’s new book, ‘Eda Moresby’ (Motu for ‘Our Moresby’), are anything to go by, the expression would have applied way back to before Papua New Guinea existed.

Author John Brooksbank has compiled extraordinary stories, many of which never made it into the standard history books 

Only in PNG would Papua have been declared a British protectorate no less than four times before the British Crown finally ratified it wanted to protect it in 1888.

Only in PNG would zealous LMS missionary James Chalmers be eaten upon landing at a village in the Kikori River delta in the Gulf.

And, when young governor Christopher Robinson, who authorised a raid in retaliation for Chalmer’s death, was criticised, he shot himself in 1904 in front of Government House. (The same Government House that still sits above Konedobu.)

“Strangely, his memorial is at Samarai,” adds Brooksbank. Perhaps another ‘only in PNG’ moment?

There are many more facts littered throughout ‘Eda Moresby’, with the same mix of curiosity, amusement and surprise.

Early-day government official, George Hunter, after whom the street in downtown Moresby was named, was suffocated in 1890 by his female lover and her conspirators.

Moresby Hotel,  early 1970’s

The enterprising founder of Steamships Trading Company once sold goods through the bathroom window of his bungalow on Douglas Street (where the present-day Nasfund office stands), making – in just one day – a record £1,300 (K300,000 today).

And notorious Tabari Place, sometimes described as the Vision City of more than 50 years ago, was a place to avoid.

All these anecdotes are colourfully ‘PNG’ in nature and Brooksbank, for the sake of posterity and our collective insight, has collated them into a coherent narrative in his part-tribute, part-textbook publication.

The cover of ‘Eda Moresby’

You can think of this hardback as a compilation of the stories that never made it into standard history books – either in PNG or Australia.

Readers of Air Niugini’s inflight magazine Paradise will be familiar with Brooksbank’s humorous style as well as his specialist knowledge.

He blends these elements nicely in ‘Eda Moresby’ to deliver a work that is at the same time informative and quirky.

It includes a section devoted to the failed pikinini kiap (cadet patrol officer) who became the larger-than-life Hollywood actor, Errol Flynn.

Flynn, who thought he might make a fortune on the Morobe goldfields, made a pest of himself in New Guinea before heading to the United States and swashbuckling fame in the early 1930s.

The Kontikis playing the Four Mile Club, early 70’s (from left) Carolus Ketsimur,  Joe Lavett,  John Dawanicura,  Sam Clunn and  Steve Ramos

Brooksbank also makes an appreciable start on explaining the complex web of intermarried mixed-race families.

And in a five-page spread, he recounts the achievements of nation-building entrepreneurs like Sir Brian Bell (Brian Bell Group), Chin Hoi Meen (CHM), Sergey Mosin (Mosin Plaza) and Mahesh Patel (City Pharmacy Group).

Brooksbank has an unsurpassed eye for unusual detail as he traces the mostly-ad hoc expansion of the city from pre-colonial beginnings to when the outsiders arrived permanently in the late 1800s.

Anti-aircraft gun at Wards Strip,  February 1943

From there he takes the reader through the two world wars and on to Independence in 1975, when a nation was born and began to form a distinctive national identity.

Other chapters cover ancient trade routes, early churches, the gold fever of the 19th century, street names, suburbs and settlements, beer and breweries, current landmarks and muse on Moresby’s future prospects as people continue to migrate from other provinces – for work, play or trouble.

Brooksbank does not shy away from the facts, however taboo or controversial.

He knows these stories, many of almost incredible cast, make PNG’s capital city what it is today.

Hanuabada women making pots, 1921 (Hurley)

Because people don’t just say, ‘Only in PNG’, they also acknowledge PNG in all its vibrant complexity as ‘The Land of the Unexpected’.

Both history and lived experience tells us to expect more of the same, as Our Moresby – Eda Moresby – hurtles along its own bumpy road.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

2 thoughts on “The amazing, absurd & shocking story of Port Moresby

  1. Reblogged this on PNG ICT Meri and commented:
    Hope to soon get a copy of Uncle John Brooksbank’s book! I love reading his articles in Paradise and for sure this book is jam-packed with not only great detailed information but told in great style! Wow! Thank you Uncle John for capturing some of PNG (and Port Moresby) ‘uncaptured’ history and moments in your words and view point!

    Liked by 1 person

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