Published  P.N.G.  Articles & Letters


by  Anne  McCosker


What about Rabaul?
Return to Rabaul, 2007
Letter responding to Max Hastings book "Nemesis"
Letter to Editor, Una Voce, 1.3.09
Letter to Una Voce, 18.7.09


The dead about my childhood
Wait still.
They cannot be dismissed,
Live in my art –
Twice now expendable.

Any one interested can study my book Masked Eden and A Very Long War. They can judge for themselves the quality and quantity of the original, written material published in both books. They can see the amount of first hand material I have from the period under discussion - always of course the most valuable to a historian. For example there is first published in Masked Eden original material from three people who lived in Rabaul during the Japanese occupation. None of this is, of course, in A Very Long War. MUP have stated, September, 2000, they were previously unaware of the ‘existence ’of Masked Eden. Do they feel no responsibility towards their readers?

Those concerned to find out the truth about the Fall of Rabaul and subsequent events may also be interested to study the way Reeson and I have handled our material, in particular documents from state archives, for example, the facsimile on page 279, Masked Eden. This document is not mentioned in A Very Long War.

In her book Mrs Reeson gives a list of names, mine included, of people she has decided have researched the Fall of Rabaul and its tragic consequence. Page 110. One wonders what value there is in presenting a list of names such as that with no yardstick as to why they have been selected.

In the paragraph below this list she writes ‘each has assumed that they were the only ones interested in the subject’, This statement could apply to the writers of books published in the 1990s. Most of these people appeared to see the Mandated Territory of New Guinea as a means whereby they could achieve further academic or financial gain. (Could one perhaps include Margaret Reeson among these.) However none of these books were from the core pre WWII New Guinea families.

Reeson continues, ‘It also appears that families tend to be more likely to have read Scharmach or Mary Murray than historians Wigmore, Sweeting, Hasluck and Nelson.’ Who exactly did she have in mind when she makes that statement? If I was one of that number I suggest she read the NOTES in Masked Eden, all 35 pages of them, my SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY and RECOMMENDED READING. However I hazard a guess that many pre WWII residents have read her named historians.

Many ‘beforers’ knowing facts from personal experience and private information knew and know the inaccuracy of much academic work on the subject. So often mistakes are just repeated in the next book. Until academia finds the generosity to accept I do have valuable original material and am a historian and poet in my own right, they will continue regurgitating inaccuracies over and over again. Margaret Reeson’s and MUP’s ignoring of my work confirms ‘beforers’ suspicions.

I write this article well aware of what some readers might say. They may tell me I have missed the point of A Very Long War. Perhaps I have. But I do not believe anything of value; spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, can be achieved without basing it on facts. One has to understand the Fall of Rabaul before one can understand the controversy of the ‘Montevideo Maru’. Only then can one began to make sense of, and heal, traumas of a life time. Margaret Reeson’s book is continuing that trauma.

I give three examples from A Very Long War.

Page 17. In one paragraph Reeson has used material from both the Navy Dept. and the Managing Director of Burns Philp. The Burns Philp letter was sent to the Prime Minister’s office. It was eventually forwarded to the Navy Dept. Reeson quotes from the Navy Dept. reply of the 14th February [to the Dept. of Defence Co-Ordination ] and misquotes from Burns Philp. The Navy Dept. reply she includes states ‘as no one knew where any escapees might be located’. She does not quote the Burns Philp words, ‘it seems reasonable to suppose that they [escapees] would make their way to the South Coast of New Britain in the general direction of Wide Bay.’ See Masked Eden pp.209, 210. This was exactly what happened. There was much first hand knowledge available to would-be rescue forces. During this same period an unknown number of civilians and soldiers were murdered by the Japanese while waiting for rescue - in the Wide Bay area. See Masked Eden. Chapters 10. 11.

Readers may like to compare the two sets of NOTES. Masked Eden pp. 332,333. Chapter 11 Part 1. Note ll and A Very Long War p. 173. Note 14. Reeson gives the date of the Burns Philp letter as the Navy Dept. letter date. She gives no details for the Burns Philp letter. I used the documents to show just how out of touch and uninterested the authorities were, in regard to New Guinea, in early 1942. It apparently took over two weeks for any response to that most important of New Guinea companies, Burns Philp. Reeson has mishandled this material, brushing away one of the most contentious aspects of the Rabaul debacle.

Page 28. Reeson writes, ‘military intelligence collected information from each survivor as he arrived.’ [ in Australia after escaping from New Britain.] They did not. See Masked Eden. Chapters 10. 11.

Page 95. Reason writes ‘If the government had granted an inquiry into the events of Rabaul 1942, they would have been obliged to offer the same courtesy to the relatives of Australian victims of Timor, Ambon, --- Singapore, Malaya and other places’---. There is no comparison between the Fall of Rabaul and the loss of Australians in places such as Timor, or Singapore. Rabaul was under Australian administration, governed from Canberra. The other countries were governed by different nations from different capital cities. It would have been pointless having an inquiry about them in Canberra. These countries were not Canberra’s responsibility! Rabaul though was.
In the mid 1940s men such as Stan McCosker, John Gilmore, Keith McCarthy, Rombin, would have gladly testified. Gordon Thomas and John Murphy would have been questioned in open court. It was, and still is, a monstrous scandal there was no official inquiry into the Fall of Rabaul.

A Very Long War is based on a M.A. thesis supervised at ANU, Canberra. In this thesis/ book Margaret Reeson has ignored my published work and manipulated the material I personally sent to her. Was she trying to discredit me and destroy my reputation as a serious historian? See Masked Eden.

I suggest that the Canberra establishment to which Mrs Reeson belongs, is continuing to behave to those most involved in the Fall of Rabaul much as it has ever since 23rd January 1942. A Very Long War has not offered us anything. Words must have Truth to have any power or meaning. We may be a ‘wounded people’ but we will not be mocked and patronized by others, who, fearing facts, play with our history.

John Leeuwin-Clark has ended his Foreword to Masked Eden with the words. Anne McCosker has most fittingly dedicated Masked Eden to ‘All who have loved New Guinea’ and in their hearts and minds there will always be a memorial.

I suggest too that Australia will only face the facts of the Fall of Rabaul when it is understood what actually happened. In this respect the following poem may help.


Two WW1 veterans, and friends of many years, met for the last time on Namanula Hill the afternoon before the Japanese invaded Rabaul, capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, in 1942.

R.L. (Nobby) Clark, M.L.C., Chief Civil Warden, hoping to protect civilians left behind, formally surrendered them to the Japanese in Rabaul, 23rd January 1942. The manner of his death remains a mystery. Stan McCosker escaped to Australia. He, and many facts regarding the Fall of Rabaul, were for long ignored by the Australian nation.

I’ll stand and guard Australia’s soul,
You, Mac get away.
We’re surrounded by stupidity,
Australians should be told.

Years of work destroyed.
Our plans for Rabaul
Killed now by a few
Men who have no vision.

The army’s gone, the airforce too
Much of Administration.
Mac, you must leave,
Record all this confusion.

I’ll stand and guard our nation
In the dreadful hour before me
Some one must face these Japanese,
With pride and dignity.

Go, Mac, get away,
Remember what you see
Word this into the future,
Keep faith in Memory.

Were two men with one will,
Moulding history
For country and kin
On Namanula Hill.

1.  In a letter to Anne McCosker.
Poems in this article taken from Witch Doctor published 2003.

Copyright © Anne McCosker  2000

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Noel Barry was an Englishman.  He was a graduate of Cambridge University.  Studied also in France and Germany.  An officer in WWI in the British army.  In 1927 he went to Rabaul to work as translator of German documents.

He was translator/intelligence officer in WWII, working among other places in the Middle East.  One of very few European men of Rabaul to survive WWII he returned there after the war.  Member of the Legislative Council, a street was named after him in Rabaul.  He died in Rabaul 1960. 

Noel Barry was well loved and respected by all races of the Rabaul community both pre and post WWII.  He was a man of substance, integrity and scholarship who had influence on the intellectual/cultural environment.

This information and more of his background and the milieu in which he lived and worked, can be found in my book Masked Eden, A History of the Australians in New Guinea, ISBN 0 646 35289 X.

Masked Eden was published in Australia, June 1998.  By September 1998, the book was selling to public libraries, was in the National Library, Canberra, was known about by amongst other interested people, the PMB, Hank Nelson ANU, the Pacific Book House.

As regards the various questions and statements that are made in 'The second edition and the Barry translation', I make the following points:

1.  As is obvious from the above information, Barry made the translation (a) because he was a translator of German documents, and (b) because he was a Cambridge scholar.

2.  Surely caution should be shown nowadays regarding Margaret Mead.  How can one assume she, with her short time in Rabaul, or anyone else, was privy to much actual information regarding Barry's future plans? It is most unlikely Barry did not know about the original edition of Parkinson's book.  He probably read it before he ever went to New Guinea, in Germany.  As an official translator, he would have had access to ALL the German records etc which would have made mention of the original edition.

He was also known to have for use a battered but complete copy which probably belonged to Effie Kaumann.  This was almost certainly a 1907 copy.

3.  Barry and Phoebe Parkinson had hoped to get the book published.  As to why he gave it to Phoebe Parkinson.  Noel Barry would hardly start carrying this translation around with him when he went to war! Who more appropriate for Barry to give his translation to than Phoebe Parkinson?
Phoebe gave the typescript to the Archbold expedition just before the Japanese invasion.  This should show yet again what a remarkable woman she was.  In a fast changing desperate world, she was able to choose one man who would care for the translation she and Barry had worked on for so long.

Phoebe Parkinson would have been known to Noel Barry for many years and would have discussed the book with him.  She may even have been hoping to improve on the original in some respects.  She after all had worked closely with her husband, had catalogued much of his material, and was the interpreter between him and the subjects he wrote about.  A man of Barry's sensitivity would have listened to Phoebe.  (There was therefore no need to give it to her 'to check and correct the translation' in 1940.)

Much of this information could have been gathered from Masked Eden.

As regards the various statements made regarding Barry's translation:

There is no recognition given to the possibility that Barry actually chose the 1926 edition to translate for a variety of reasons.  One of them being that he was working in a pioneer environment.  It also was possible that Barry working in a period so close to that of Parkinson, and with Phoebe's help was aware of some of the irrelevancies and mistakes in the original.  This may have outweighed the disadvantages of the second edition. 

To make such a point about the difference between 1873 and 1878 is surely quite unnecessary.  Anyone who has worked on old typewriters knows very well that 3 and 8 could easily be mistaken.  It needs only a dirty, smudged print character.  Barry did not have the advantage of modern word processors or computers! It is also unnecessary to mention another probable typing error regarding numbers as if it were Barry's stupidity.  Especially when the same essay makes it plain that there is uncertainty regarding what copy is what and how many times it had been retyped!

I wonder if this would have been given such prominence if Barry's background had been known.  I wonder too what John Dennison would have done if he had known of Barry's qualifications.  Obviously Dennison has read Barry's translation.  How much use did he in fact make of it? Noel Barry had no other English translation to work with.

I would hazard a guess that no matter how good the new translation of Parkinson is, that of Noel Barry even if it is not from the complete copy, will prove in the long run closer to the spirit and truth of the times, the people involved and the facts.

It is also unfortunate that without knowledge of Barry's education, the possibility that he was planning more than a mere translation is not even apparently imagined.  It is just assumed he was exerting 'little editorial control of his translation'.  Could no-one consider he was intending to write more, a long introduction etc, build on what Parkinson had done? He had completed only the core of his work.  Barry's papers, with the exception of the translation he gave Phoebe Parkinson, were lost, as were, of course, most other written records of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.  Could no mention have been made of this fact?

There is no mention in the essay of the great sadness Barry must have felt when after the war he returned to Rabaul to find Phoebe dead, most of his friends murdered, and much of his life's work destroyed.  To state in the New Title Information that 'remarkable….  never been fully translated into English and published' shows a lack of any knowledge of the tragedy that happened in Rabaul in 1942.  It belittles Noel Barry and all he, and others, were trying to achieve.

Did anyone involved in this translation bother to try and find out about Noel Barry? Was it just assumed, as is invariably the case in academic work over the last 20 or so years that the European men of Rabaul were uneducated ruffians, and the European women pathetic creatures who behaved at times like animals?

Surely as Barry's translation was, if nothing else, a guide to the present translation/book and use has been made of his intellectual property, some action could and should have been made to find anyone concerned/connected with Noel Barry.  One of the chief characteristics of the European pioneers of Rabaul was their generosity of spirit.  Today this characteristic is not apparent in most academic circles concerned with research into the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, and such a characteristic is denied those they research.

It should have been easy for anyone to discover my connection with Noel Barry.  Although Masked Eden was published only last year, I have been in contact with any number of academics/publishers since the late 1970s and warning these people that it was irresponsible folly to ignore me and my work.  The translation of the Parkinson book is just one more in the long line of those with inaccurate/misleading information, that any reading of my work could have rectified in a scholar of integrity.

Apart from everything else, my booklet New Guinea Waits, ISBN 0 950287652, was published in 1993.  It was available in several of the main Australian libraries.  It was eventually, December 1995, given some prominence in 'Una Voce' the magazine of the ROAPNG.  Barry's connection with my family and Parkinson was mentioned in this.  It was, should still be, available in the Mitchell Library, among others.  This booklet also gives some background information regarding Masked Eden.

Publishing any book is an achievement and from the information I have regarding this one, it has taken much time and effort.  I congratulate everyone involved.  However, how much more could have been achieved if credit had been given to others such as Noel Barry.  No one could gather at all the man of substance Barry was from the rather condescending few words in Specht's essay.

I - again - received no recognition.  Masked Eden, which has received much praise from the few still alive who really know about its subject matter, and is of such obvious importance to any background understanding of the era Noel Barry worked in, has been ignored.  I hope that this will be rectified in any future publication, and some Note that reflects more closely the real Noel Barry be written.  Is it really too much to hope for that some of those involved in modern day research into colonial Papua New Guinea will bother to read my work, and make sure copies remain or are placed in key libraries for future scholars?

Anne McCosker  1999. 

Anne in  MASKED EDEN  was the first to publish any of
Thirty Years in the South Seas
in English.
The following is an extract from Noel Barry's translation

MASKED EDEN  pages 99 to 100


'A little north of Cape Palliser there is a small bay, protected by a coral reef and two little islands, forming a good harbour, but only for small ships.  The natives name the place Mutlar and come there occasionally to catch turtles…

A little further north there is the small, concealed harbour of Rugenhafen (the native Put Put), which I discovered in 1884.  The entrance is narrow and only one ship can enter at a time; the branches of the huge forest trees which stretch out over both sides of the passage brush the ship's sides in paces.  Thirteen metres is the minimum depth in the passage and once in the basin there is room for a great number of ships to anchor at a depth of 11 or 12 metres: and as Rugenhafen and Mutlar are the only safe harbours on the east coast of the Gazelle Peninsula, they are sure to become of considerable importance in the course of time when the hinterland is opened up for plantations.  About four kilometers north of Rugenhafen, where a deep wide valley cuts into the land for a great distanced one of the biggest rivers in the Peninsula flows into the sea, the Warangoi.

In the dry season not a great quantity of water flows down it; but in the rainy season it changes into a roaring mountain torrent and can only be navigated with great difficulty.

Some years ago I went up it in company of Bishop Coupp, and a surveyor, from the mouth to a point just south of Vunakokor .It took us four days to do this stretch, and that not without very strenuous efforts; in places the canoe had to be carried over mudflats, or fallen trees that barred the way from bank to bank and over which the dammed up water rushed like a roaring cataract; now and again we would come across open stretches with deep water in which paddles could be used, but even here progress was slow on account of the strength of the current.

As the scenery was one of extreme grandeur and changed cm each of the many turns, the four days we took to rake our way up sleeps seemed soon to pass.  .But the return journey passed quicker still for the stretch which had taken us four days of the most strenuous work to negotiated we covered in four hours downstream.

Our three boats raced down the river in the wildest haste, driven only by the stream which had swollen considerably from the torrent rains which had overtaken us at our last camp.  The paddlers sat idle, the whole of the work falling on the steersman who required a sharp eye and a strong arm to dodge the boulders and tree stumps and skirt the projecting cliffs.  We were all very relieved to hear the booming of the surf which told us that the mouth of the Warangoi was near and our wild journey at an ended'

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COMMENTS   on  A Very Long War by Margaret  Reeson.

Melbourne University Press, 2000.

This book is offered on behalf of those whose lives were shaped by events in the islands of New Guinea in 1942-45 and who feared that those losses and their aftermath in the lives of their families would be devalued and forgotten.

Thus writes Margaret Reeson in her Preface to the above book.

Masked Eden, A History of the Australians in New Guinea by Anne McCosker, was published, June 1998. The Foreword was written by John Leeuwin-Clark. Anyone with knowledge of the history of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea will know the above two surnames have some importance in that history.

Masked Eden was, as legally required, given to the National Library, Canberra, at the time of its publication. Soon afterwards copies were acquired and people aware of this book’s publication in libraries such as ANU, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Australian War Memorial - all in Canberra where Mrs Reeson lives. By the following year, 1999, there would have been few pre WWII Australian residents of New Guinea who were not aware of Masked Eden’s publication.

However Margaret Reeson stated September, 2000, she had not ‘sighted’ Masked Eden.1   Considering the claim she and Melbourne University Press (MUP) have made, offering their book to those whose lives were shaped by events in New Guinea during WWII, many might think this an unsatisfactory acknowledgement.

In A Very Long War, Mrs Reeson, discusses and dismisses my work in one paragraph, page 167. As she has chosen to do this in a published work I will now respond.

She first quotes one line from a letter I wrote to her while in Canberra, March 1995, telling her the [name]‘Montevideo Maru’ had ‘echoed throughout my childhood and ever since’ She has acknowledged receiving my letter of the above date in her NOTES. In this letter I also said that New Guinea Waits was in the National Library, Canberra, having seen it that day myself. She had previously implied in a letter, February, 1995, it was not there.

I suggested again – in this Canberra letter - she read this booklet. My first letter to her, February, 1995, also suggested she read New Guinea Waits. However in September, 2000, she stated she had not ‘sighted’ New Guinea Waits. There is obviously some confusion here as she quoted from it in her February, 1995, letter to me. She was interested in my comments about the ‘tragic consequences for the Australian women caused by the death of so many of the men of Rabaul.’ This was taken from my review of Chilla Bulbeck’s book, Australian Women in Papua New Guinea in the magazine ‘Una Voce’. AT BIRTH I HEARD THE DRUMS, the review in question, was from New Guinea Waits. A fuller extract of this article was later printed in ‘Una Voce.’ (Mrs Reeson and I were then members of the Retired Officers Association of Papua New Guinea whose magazine is ‘Una Voce.’)

After quoting the lines ‘echoed throughout my childhood ’ Reeson then writes the following, ‘as a young child she heard her father’s account, told with pain and passion’ This information she has taken from my poem THE TRACK TO MATALA. I enclosed a copy of that poem with a letter to her, September, 1995. Why could she not acknowledge this poem, called by Hank Nelson‘ timely’? I quote some lines from it.

[Stan McCosker ]
In Queensland he recorded facts
And passionately told
The anguish of that day.
I - a small child – heard.------

And I, heir to my father.-----

I hear the silence of those men
Bear the burden of their voices
Shouting in a void.

Margaret Reeson claims to be offering A Very Long War to people such as myself. She has given space to other lines of poetry. Why not to any of mine?

She has also ignored the prose material at the beginning of THE TRACK TO MATALA.

In 1976 John Gilmore wrote to the poet

Officialdom will never admit they refused to let these people leave Rabaul and virtually gave them to the Japs. They were non combatants and largely ancient… I suppose it was better for all of them to go at once than…(the families find out) they were whittled away over a long period.

Did she not think Gilmore’s words of any interest? John Gilmore is an important figure in any discussion on the Fall of Rabaul and the ‘Montevideo Maru’ controversy. If she had responded to that material I could have given her details of the quotation from John Gilmore. See Masked Eden. NOTES page 338. Chapter 13. Part 1. Note 3. She might also, if she had responded, kept in touch, and known of Masked Eden’s publication.

I return to Mrs Reeson’s muddled discussion of my work in A Very Long War. page 167.

She next gives a vague, inaccurate description of Masked Eden. Some of the information is taken from my two letters, mentioned above. Surely also some is from material printed in ‘Una Voce.’

The poem MEN OF RABAUL was first published in New Guinea Waits.

On the fiftieth anniversary of this [Rabaul] invasion, the poet placed flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.

Fifty years fade into stone
That crafted arch by arch
Lead to an altar.
Time is silenced, distance inched
Spheres meet in vaulted order. -------

A sea of blue is red
I kneel now beside poppies
That guard a grave.
‘Unknown Soldier’.
Yet my parents knew those men betrayed.

Did Margaret Reeson read this poem? She certainly had the opportunity to do so. Or did she brush it aside as of no value?

Towards the end of her paragraph regarding me, page 167, she writes: Anne McCosker believes that the perpetuation of the story of the ship is ‘a sick fairy tale’----. This is quoted from my unpublished letter to Quadrant (also enclosed in the letter to her, September, 1995). The words ‘a sick fairy tale’, taken out of context, give a very distorted picture of what I actually wrote. I quote now from this letter.

I agree with Carl Bridge when he writes ----. I would add that honesty about WWII is needed not only between Australians and Japanese but between Australians and Australians.

On the 1st July a plaque commemorating the men of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles was unveiled in Anzac Square, Brisbane . This plaque states, amongst other things , that the men’s final resting place is the hull of the Japanese ship ‘ Montevideo Maru’. It is not. ------

Throughout the 1970s I collected written and oral evidence from survivors of the Japanese occupation, liberators of Rabaul and New Guinea residents who returned there immediately after the war. Records in state archives also suggest clearly the men were not on that ship [the ‘Montevideo Maru’] For the first six months of this year [1995] I again tried ---[to have] my evidence at least recognised by interested organizations and persons.----

To write out of hand, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary----

Whilst pleased ‘something’ has at last been done to recognise this, perhaps, greatest disaster in purely Australian history—that ‘something’ is only continuing the betrayal.----

No small group of people has any right to manufacture history to their own design. The leaflet distributed during that service has an element of a sic
k fairy tale about it. [Underline now added]

I said the LEAFLET had an element of a sick fairy tale about it. This leaflet credited the NGVR with such grandiose achievements (Few families connected with Rabaul knew beforehand of the service.) Can one not have a little more scholarly attention shown to written words, especially when dealing with such sensitive matters.

It is establishment figures – not private persons such as myself - that are dogmatic on the whole subject of the ‘Montevideo Maru’. It knows many of the men were certainly not on that ship when it was sunk. Why can it not say “we do not know what happened to most of these men. Let us place on our memorial plaques words such as ‘The manner of their death remains a mystery.’ ”

My short letter to Margaret Reeson that September, 1995, included the following words ‘ As you are doing a thesis on the subject and have been badly mislead in the past I think you should at least be given the chance to decide where you stand on the subject.’ Having written thus and enclosed several documents of interest, I find now she has misused them. She has also ignored my efforts to help her. One naturally wonders how much material in A Very Long War has been inaccurately recorded and information from knowledgeable people rejected if it did not fit into her designed thesis.

After her sick fairy tale Margaret Reeson then dismissed me from her thoughts and A Very Long War. None of my published work appears in her Bibliography. And in spite of telling me, September, 2000, that New Guinea Waits is mentioned in A Very Long War, I cannot find it. However she thanks me in her Preface! In view of the way she has treated my published work, information and material sent to her, I find this unfortunate . (I did not fill in her Questionnaire.)

I drafted a poem in Canberra during the days I was there in 1995.


In the 1990s academia allowed a little study on the Fall of Rabaul, 1942, and its ‘hostages to fortune’ inhabitants. The poet’s work of over 20 years continued to be ignored.

So all that suffering is to be
Tidied away in some degree.
It has been decided
Betrayal is fit for study –
But not by me.

Theses may be written
Books printed, published,
Tragedy whitewashed.
Facts brushed aside –

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