F is for Flying in PNG

This series of blog posts is part of the A to Z 2019 Blogging Challenge in which I will write snapshot memories of my early married life in the then Territory of Papua New Guinea.

My second flight ever is Brisbane to MoresbyAtoZ2019F

Leaving family and friends, and me, in tears

Days later the little Piaggio took us to my new home

An airstrip, a bush materials “terminal” aka hut.

A few months later

The sound of aircraft in the clouds

Searching for the missing Piper Aztec

Nine people dead, my husband there at take-off – the last to see them.

Gurney airstrip 1970s

Gurney airstrip in the 1970s.

Landing in Losuia with 5 minutes fuel

That confounded 100 metre hill

Lurking among the clouds.

Limited roads, mountainous terrain

Flying is like catching an urban bus

But with an element of Russian roulette.

TAA, Patair, Talair, MAF, Air Nuigini

183 Gurney airport

Not the bush material hut that we once knew. P Cass 2012

Piaggio, Fokkers, Twin Otters, Cessnas

Single engine, twin engines

Visual navigation

“There are no old, bold pilots”…

Submitting the statistics of the Talair fleet

Sometimes includes one less plane.

Mountain airstrips falling away

Clouds wreathe the mountains


You can imagine the hazards for pilots and their passengers.

Green skies, torrential rains

Tourists travel in stunned amazement.

Three near misses on one work trip

My husband decides he’ll leave that job.


My aircraft one-upsmanship on him

A charter on a Bristol Freighter, Goroka to Moresby

Counterbalanced by youthful flights on Catalinas and his audit flights.


Flying into Kundiawa, Chimbu.

Circuits and bumps in the Grumman Tiger

Watching the new 747 take off

A lumbering sight on the tarmac

A pelican when taking off

The pilot makes it look easy.

Landing at Jackson’s

The plane hurtles past the terminal


A RAAF Hercules in Goroka, bringing food relief to the Highlands during a famine. P Cass c1973.

Locals on board “hit the brakes”

We turn on the dirt, just off the runway

Lucky, since the next thing is a road.

Going finish – our final flight

Leaving PNG “forever”

Tears averted through the camera lens.

So many aerial views. So many memories.


A TAA Twin Otter at Gurney airstrip. The Catholic clergy from Hagita gathered under the wing.

Tok Pisin

Fly a plane – ranim balus

Balus – a plane

Pailat – pilot

An old Territory (of PNG) yarn:

Pailat tok long kirap “mi pusim ol baten, na ensin I kirap, mi legoim brek, na balus i ran i go, i ran i go, na pren bilong mi ia I singaut “Sitmi” mi pulim dispela diwai na balus I go antap”.

Rough translation: Pilot says, at take off, “I push the buttons, the engine starts, I release the brake then the plane runs up the runway, the co-pilot says “XXX” and I pull the stick and we take off”.

For those with an interest in flying in Papua New Guinea, this You Tube video talks about the social impact of the introduction of aircraft. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja0iMVgiAT4


Marawaka Airstrip.


Week 2 of Sharing Memories 2012: First flight(s)

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories – A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for Week 2 is “First flight”.

This seems like such a simple question doesn’t it, yet for me there were three flights that fitted this description. As this theme is intended as a memoir for my descendants I’m going to take some authorial licence and write about each of my first flights.

One of my first occurrences in the bureaucratic record as a married woman was my entry permit to the Territory of Papua New Guinea. This is the second one that was issued to me.

When I was at university a friend was in the Air Force cadets and as part of his training he’d been taught to fly. For some reason he invited me to take an early flight with him from Brisbane’s general-aircraft airport at Archerfield. This was the first time I’d ever flown and it was fabulous to be up in the air and see the world from above (Thanks Matt!). I don’t remember being scared at all as I’d always had a fascination with flying perhaps attributable to my mother’s enthusiasm – she’d been a volunteer aircraft spotter in Brisbane during the War.

A few years later I took my first “real” commercial flight. We had been married less than two weeks and were heading to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea where my husband had lived for many years and was just starting work with the government. Leaving Brisbane where I’d grown up meant leaving behind my family and many close uni friends so there was lots to be sad about, as well as excited about the life ahead. I remember there were many tears on all sides at that departure as we knew it would be likely be two years before I’d see them again. When I think about my ancestors setting sail from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, never to see their families again, my paltry two year absence is quite miniscule and irrelevant. But it wasn’t for me or my family. To my parents’ great credit they did not place pressure on me at this very difficult time of separation even though I know how much it cost them.

My hubbie's baggage tag from our first flight to my new home in TPNG. We flew in a Patair Piaggio: six seater from memory.

In those pre-security days Brisbane airport was just fenced and farewelling friends could stand at the fences to wave goodbye as those departing walked across the tarmac. I recall one of our very good male friends standing at the fence with two of my closest girlfriends draped on his neck, having a really good cry. I was no better and shed more than a few tears. For my husband, this was like taking a bus trip across town as he’d been doing the same flight a couple of times a year for about 15 years. As we disembarked at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby my first impressions were the wall of tropical heat and the ground crew with dark faces and curly hair and dressed in lap-laps or sulus with the initials of TAA down the side. My life had irrevocably changed in a few short hours. I had left my familiar life and family behind to start a new life…perhaps a tiny glimpse of life as an immigrant. It’s not the thrill of flying that I remember from that first commercial flight but the all-encompassing emotional rollercoaster.

This little book is my student pilot's licence. Currently in my archives, I hope it survives into the future.

By the time I took my final “first flight”, I’d notched up many hours on commercial flights in an array of aircraft. I’d had an urge to learn to fly for some time and as I headed into my 30th year, my husband decided it was time for me to take the plunge. I remember in my first lesson being inundated with diverse technical information before taking to the air. Do you remember when you first learned to drive and you struggled to assimilate all the skills required of you? Learning to fly was like that…I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would manage the controls, radio the tower and watch the skies, let alone get that little Grumman Tiger (code-sign VH-SPG) into the air or down to earth again safely. I vividly remember watching from mid-flight as an early Qantas jumbo took off into Moresby’s skies with effortless ease like a pelican getting airborne.  Although I enjoyed learning the skills and feeling slowly more competent, I eventually reached the conclusion that I would never be a natural pilot and gave up my lessons when I was pregnant. I have no regrets about giving it away, I was pleased I’d given it a go, but I don’t think I ever felt sufficiently confident or competent to be a good pilot. The 3D world is an unforgiving space as Papua New Guinea’s flying history testifies.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 23rd December 2011 – Christmas Sweetheart Memories

Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

The Christmas season has been pretty unpopular as a marriage time for those on my family trees: probably because it’s just too hot here, but only one in the European branches too.

Apparently we’re both far too unromantic since neither of us has a memory of what my first Christmas present was from my husband (my first sweetheart). Nor does he remember what I gave him. I think his present to me may have been the carved ornament of a Chinese fisherman but I’m not sure. Not too much should be read into this gift-amnesia, after all I remember many of the other gifts he gave me for no reason at all when we were dating, not to mention the bunches of violets and other flowers.

The wharf at Alotau in Milne Bay a few years after we lived there. This is just a small snippet of the Bay.

Our first Christmas together was the one after we married…all the preceding years he’d been far away in Papua New Guinea with his family with no means of communication other than very slow snail mail and radio telephone. We lived in a very small town in Milne Bay District and had limited shopping opportunities –just four trade stores in the town and a somewhat larger store on Samarai where “himself” used to work when they lived on the island. We bought our first family Christmas decorations and our first LPs of Christmas music from one of these trade stores. The decorations were very 1970s as they were in flourescent colours. We still have one or two that successive cats and children haven’t mangled and proving that what was “once old is new again”, a few years ago the colours even came back into fashion.

Our first Christmas Day nearly ended up being a repast of very simple standards – the planes hadn’t been able to land for some days due to the weather. Milne Bay is shaped like  a horseshoe with mountains surrounding it meaning that when it rained HEAVILY during the Wet Season the bay was filled with dense clouds and the mountains shrouded. It was a foolhardy pilot who took the flying conditions lightly..it was an unforgiving place to fly.

Anyway on that Christmas Day we sat at a friend’s place, with food to nibble on but with no main course as all our meat had to be flown in from Port Moresby. We listened optimistically as once again we heard the buzz of the small aircraft trying to find its way through the murk. Imagine our excitement when we could hear it below the clouds and heading for the runway at Gurney. Everyone jumped in a vehicle of some sort and took off for the airstrip some 20kms of rough road and a couple of un-bridged creeks away. We happily recovered our Christmas food orders and were joyful that our Christmas meal would no longer be such a simple repast. Ironically neither of us remembers what it was that we ordered – only that it arrived in the nick of time, thanks to the efforts of a gutsy pilot who was working on Christmas Day. Hopefully when he got home there was a nice meal waiting for him too.

We didn’t own a camera at this stage of our married life when funds were tight, so we have no visual record of our first Christmas together.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.