THOUGHTS on IAN TOWNSEND’S ARTICLE in FRYER FOLIOS November 2017
by Anne McCosker
Is it not unfortunate that Ian Townsend was unable to read my book Masked Eden, a history if the Australians in New Guinea or any of my poetry on New Guinea before he wrote his book Line of Fire or his article published in FRYER FOLIOS November. 2017?
In this November issue of FRYER FOLIOS Townsend correctly writes ‘war, trauma and grief’ have affected evidence regarding the Fall of Rabaul. I have touched on this problem in Masked Eden and in more detail in some of my articles, published and unpublished, written over the years.1
I myself and my work have suffered from the tragic consequences caused by the death of so many of the men of Rabaul. One of these has been the resentment shown towards me because my father escaped, by some of the daughters of men lost. However, surely the main reason for the curious state of knowledge regarding the Mandated Territory of New Guinea is guilt.
There is personal guilt, I have been told by Beforers ( pre-WWII residents ) that reading Masked Eden made them feel guilty as they realised how much more they could have done to make facts known and support me and my work. And then there is political elite Establishment guilt. The seeds of this guilt were sown in the months leading up to and in the months after the Fall of Rabaul. As the years went on these seeds germinated and flourished into a network of branches that seem to have taken over most of the academic and media Establishment too.
John Gilmore, an important figure in Australian New Guinea history, wrote regarding the behaviour of the various establishment organizations towards the disappearance of so many civilians, many of whom he had known throughout his childhood.
“Officialdom will never admit they refused to let these people leave Rabaul and virtually gave them to the Japs. They were non combatants & largely ancient..... I suppose it was better for all [of] them to go at once than it be found out they were whittled away over a long period”.2
And so it still is to this day.
I think Townsend underestimated the number of people who witnessed and survived the Fall of Rabaul and /or had very good knowledge of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. European men did escape from New Britain and the surrounding islands in the first months of 1942. Few in contrast to the number lost, but some of these men were long time New Guinea residents, with expert knowledge in a wide variety of fields and good relationships with the local New Guinean and Chinese populations. Then again women with connections to men who did not return heard first-hand from survivors like Stan McCosker much of what actually happened in those days around the 23rd January 1942.
John Gilmore, 2nd AIF, AIB and John Leeuwin Clark, RAAF, were born and brought up in New Guinea. At the outbreak of WWII they enlisted and having survived the war returned to the Islands. They remembered the Mandated Territory of their childhoods as well as fathers and friends lost. All these men and women’s children, grand children, great, grand children - all who loved their close relations - are still remembering. As John Leeuwin Clark wrote:
“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”.3
Another important point regarding the collecting of evidence post war, often overlooked these days, is that some of the men who did escape, like Stan McCosker, returned to the Territory of Papua New Guinea in 1946 and there heard from the New Guineans they had known well before 1942. These men and women had personally witnessed the war. Then, too, a few of the European women - from all age groups - of the pre-war Mandated Territory, both widows of the men lost and those whose husbands had survived, returned. A few single women also returned to Rabaul. Some of these women had good contacts amongst the local population to whom they talked.
Does not Ian Townsend also underestimate the number of books written about New Guinea when he writes “Happily for writers and researchers the field remains uncrowded and there is much to discover”? Of course as in all periods of history there is room for more detailed research into specific individuals and incidents. It is interesting to read more than previously known about the rather unsavoury life of Harvey and those connected with him. However, should not all such individual histories if they are to be taken seriously, have accurate historical backgrounds?
Few books indeed have been written by authors with both academic training and good personal knowledge of the Islands and its people but there is a large library of books, news papers, magazines, articles about the Australians in New Guinea from 1914 to Independence in 1975. These books come in all sizes and shapes written and produced by all manner of men and women. There are books from writers with academic training and no first-hand knowledge of New Guinea, books whose authors have a little understanding of both, or none, to writers with little formal schooling but vast personal experience of the Islands. The books were written for a great variety of reasons too. Some authors wanting to obtain academic qualifications wrote what their universities expected of them, others were written from love, a deep need to tell of their personal tragedy or a desire to tell the world of their adventures.
There are also excellent manuscripts whose authors could not find a publisher for them, now held in private hands. There are a few too on websites.
I am pleased Townsend recognizes that there is a problem regarding the Australian nation and its memory of the Fall of Rabaul in 1942. There is a problem too with how Australians see the pre war years. I do not agree with him though, when he writes this is because so much evidence was damaged.
The information men like John Gilmore provided was no more damaged than any other material coming from a war zone. The 6 page REPORT, February 1942, sent to Base Headquarters, Northern Command, written by Stan McCosker and two of his friends was accurate and important.4 It seems to have been ignored. Interestingly a letter by Stan McCosker, NEW GUINEA WAR ZONE was given prominence in the Bulletin, 1950. Of course there would have been more evidence if many more men had survived but then there would have been no guilt complex in the Establishment. I too would have had much more public support. But I believe any historian can, if they want to, by working with all the evidence available, give a more accurate picture of both the Mandated Territory and the Fall of Rabaul than is usually published these days.
Poetry is of all the Arts the custodian and creator that keeps a nation’s memory alive. It can speak to the spirit, the soul of a people beyond that of even the greatest prose, academic or otherwise. I have been writing poetry about New Guinea since the late 1960s. At Birth I heard the Drums the first published poem in book form. The latest a 22 page cycle EasterTide Rabaul published in 2017.5 These poems contain material on very many different New Guinea subjects, including a number of WWII poems. All are written from personal knowledge; that of my father or other pre war New Guinea residents. A few are based on material in State archives.
As historian as well as poet these poems are as historically accurate as I think it is possible for them to be. Australian New Guinea is there in all of them.
My poetry - all my work on New Guinea - tells a different story from that deemed to be correct by the elite Establishments. It appears to me as if the bureaucratic caste has mental descendents who feeling guilty for their forbears’ incompetence in 1942 determinately continue to cover up facts. And has it not helped their agenda to write, as is done, that Beforers were rather a ragbag lot, perhaps almost deserving what happened to them?
No, to me the curious state of Australian’s knowledge about their Mandated Territory of New Guinea and the Fall of Rabaul has not been caused mainly by damaged and/or lost material or even the loss of so many men. It has been by caused by manipulation of evidence. That, and deliberate ignoring of evidence.
I believe until the people of Australia are told the truth about the Fall of Rabaul, as well as the great achievements made during the 20 year Australian mandate before that, the nation as a whole will not remember. Indeed why should the Commonwealth remember manipulated evidence?
Tell them though a story - backed up with primary source material - of a community made up as all communities all over the world are, of good, bad and indifferent residents who in spite of pioneering difficulties and human faults, achieved a growing prosperity for all its peoples. Tell them too of the personal sacrifice, the courage, the endurance, the mateship of the ordinary, individual Australian and their New Guinean helpers - a saga worthy indeed of the ANZACs - after the Fall of Rabaul. A superhuman struggle made necessary because their own Canberra government so casually, ignorantly, abandoned them.
This is the story I try to tell both in my prose and poetry. Perhaps Ian Townsend will help me in this task.
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,
For country and kin
On Namanula Hill.6
1) Masked Eden. A history of the Australians in New Guinea 1998.
Masked Eden. Second edition 2016. See particularly the INTRODUCTION and the supplement New Guinea Waits in this edition.
Montevideo Maru Controversy. Quadrant on Line, 2010.
Each man is to fend for himself. A New Guinea Tragedy in two acts. 2010.
Comments on A very long War, Margaret Reeson, 2002.
What about Rabaul? 2002.
Critique of Voices from a Lost World, Jan Roberts, 1996.
Anne McCosker Collection, Fryer Library.
2) Masked Eden. A history of the Australians in New Guinea. page 263. Extract from letter, John Gilmore to the author 13/12/1976.
3) Masked Eden. ibid. FOREWORD by John Leeuwin Clark
4) Masked Eden. ibid. Published in full, pages 202 - 207. Written Brisbane, 6 February 1942.
5) ‘At Birth I heard the Drums’. Published Camp Fires 1973. ‘Easter Tide Rabaul’. Published Light 2017. UPNG Press and Bookshop.
New Guinea poems are also printed in Potter’s Clay, 1973, Beyond the Sunset, 1992, Witch Doctor, 2003.
Sea Watch, Camp Fires and Potter’s Clay were printed by Trinity Press, Rabaul.
6) ‘Namanula Hill’, Published Witch Doctor 2003.
I, daughter of Stan McCosker wrote this poem the morning after my first meeting with John Leeuwin Clark, son of Nobby Clark. I wrote it very quickly, a sure signal to me that it was inspired. Nobby Clark could easily have escaped on one of the small ships leaving Rabaul that afternoon of the 22nd January 1942, before the Japanese invasion.
In the Joseph Roca Statement to Allied Intelligence, Rabaul 18.12.45 AWM 336.1.367, Roca wrote, I have heard that the Japanese have beheaded many people. Second last page, para 5.
Then again, in connection with the betrayal of the Europeans at Harvey’s Lassul plantation. I knew when I sent this note that such a promise was false as I knew at that time the Japanese had already beheaded a number of people. Second last page, last para.
Has anyone who read this statement, wondered as I have, who were these people?
In Masked Eden, page 274 para 2, I write To any one reading the Official War Histories - even more so the original documents - several facts should very quickly become clear. The first fact is that some men seem to be have been killed twice -----.
There were, of course, only a definitive number of Europeans in New Britain in 1942 -----.
In Line of Fire, Ian Townsend quotes “A few facts on the evacuation of Pondo December 1941”. Unpublished and undated statement by Mrs L. M. Evensen”. Notes page 292, para 3. Townsend mentions in connection with this statement, El Tigre, Frank Holland, published 1999, edited by Peter Stone, with Mabel Holland and John Holland. My material on Lil and Albert Evensen is ignored in this book.
Masked Eden published Australia, 1998, has a detailed description of this evacuation by Lil Evensen (who the author knew). In Masked Eden, there are extracts from A FEW FACTS ON THE EVACUATION OF PONDO DECEMBER 1941. See NOTES and the two acknowledgements: Chapter 10, 328 Note 13, and Chapter 13, page 340 Note 16.
This document was written by Lil Evensen and enclosed with a letter to the author 6/10/74.
Masked Eden gives a detailed description of the Pondo party evacuation to Rabaul, December 1941. pp 174 – 5. Lil also gave relevant material published in Masked Eden about her husband Albert Evensen’s death in Japanese custody. pp 268 – 9. Officially she was told Albert died in 1944. In 1971 one of the four European survivors of the Fall of Rabaul told Lil that he was talking to Albert a few months before hostilities ceased. See letter to the author dated 24/8/77.
These two appendices are just giving a glimpse of the material available – some published – in connection with the Fall of Rabaul.
Copyright © Anne McCosker, 2018