Activities in Goolwa in April 1943

APRIL 1943    This month 80 years ago - By Frank Tuckwell

In Papua New Guinea, a little referred to but will long be remembered, is the current Wau campaign which is being fought from Wau to Salamaua along the Black Cat track through the Japanese held territory.

It was along this track that gold miners in the 1920s and 1930s hauled up their food and provisions to their mining sites at several points including the village of Wau at the head of their golden enterprises in the mountains. Wau on this track is approximately twenty-five miles to the southeast of Salamaua, where once the coastal port was the only way into these remote jungle places. In 1927 a successful gold mining company constructed and opened the airfield strip at Wau.

In January this year, the Japanese made a strong endeavour to take Wau and its airfield from its Australian defenders but were beaten off and forced to retreat down the track towards the village of Mubo. Completing the clearing of the remnants of the enemy forces from Wau-Bulolo Valley, the Australians began to press the Japanese down the track on April 22nd .



The track is a formidable place to be, not only for the hunted but also the hunter. It is a place of indescribable torment. Hot, wet, with a constant stench of decaying jungle which in places closed in on both sides with impenetrable undergrowth and towering trees and vines roofing over the track and closing out the sun making it a place of dank dark silence.

Everything is wet and the mud of the path which oozes up on every step taken seeps liquid over the already wet boots, wet feet inside wet socks. It adds to the misery of wet underclothes, shirts, webbing, packs, and hats. Clothing becomes stained by sweat, mould and rotting, parting at the seams. Boots, gaiters, and trousers become caked with slimy mud while the trees and tangled vines constantly drip water down on them whether raining on not. The constant monotony of it all drains the mind and saps away energy.

Such are the settings in the high mountain ridges, but of course as the track descends, one set of miseries will quickly be offset with yet another variation of nightmarish conditions. In these surroundings never knowing where the enemy will be hiding in waiting in thick jungle keeps you under a state of continual tension, as he could be just a few feet from us allowing us to walk into an ambush.


Brief clashes occur but fighting cannot be sustained as in the case of both sides of the conflict, troops are constantly in need of supplies. Long lines of New Guinean porters are required to carry the most vital packs of food and ammunition, which are barely enough for immediate needs. Papuan porters must be relieved of their packs by troops at a point beyond the sound of gunfire, then the Diggers carry supplies forward themselves. The porters return to Wau base carrying out the wounded with them faithfully with attentive care. Air drops are impossible because of thick jungle and constant low cloud ceiling at this altitude.

The troops press on carefully so as not to outrun their Wau supply line as they descend toward their next objective, Mubo village. So begins the jungle and kunai grass covered sections of fighting along the Black Cat Track of the Wau – Salamaua campaign.


Local group grabs an opportunity to view Japanese sub exhibition

When a local farmer was able to purchase an old truck (a rare commodity these days) from a farm clearance sale at Murray Bridge recently, he invited a carload of Goolwa folk to accompany him to the Bridge on condition that one of the passengers would drive his car to escort him back as he drove the old truck on return to Goolwa. He had no trouble in getting volunteers as a bonus for the trip would be the opportunity to inspect one of the three Japanese midget submarines captured or destroyed during their night attack in Sydney Harbour on March 31 last year.

Mission to take possession and achieve the safe return of the much-needed old truck to Goolwa was completed successfully with no casualties in the party or vehicles reported. Everyone got to inspect the enemy sub exhibition while they were at the Bridge. The midget sub is on a morale boosting, fundraising tour of the southern states. The commanding officer of the tour group is Lieut. Commander J. Bovill (RAN), with transport responsibility being managed by Lieutenant Bromley (2/AIF), who just returned from a three-year tour of duty in the Middle East.

Every man travelling in the exhibition group of twenty-three service personnel, has at the very least had active duty overseas during the past two years. It took two men to operate the sub during the attack in Sydney Harbour waters, but it takes all twenty-three men to haul it over the country on its tour. Takings at the exhibitions so far has already raised twenty-four thousand, five hundred Pounds.




An official photograph of the captured Japanese midget Submarine touring around regional centres of Victoria, S.A. and NSW by an RAN-Army touring exhibition party.  Visiting SA during March and April 1943, the exhibition stopped off at Murray Bridge and seen by the Goolwa party.


Busy local older men now take on VDC home defence duties

Back home in Goolwa as more young men are released by Manpower authorities for overseas active service, gaps in the local labour force and the Home Guard need to be filled. What remains as a labour force in the district are either older men or youngsters not yet of military age.

The older men were committed to their farms, offices, or businesses already and had let their sons go on active service because now the Women’s Land Army service was available for seasonal work in seeding and harvest time. The young men left were below military age of eighteen, under apprenticeship, or were students or worked in shops and offices, but time was running out for them before call-up age applied to them.

When the call went out this month for more volunteers to fill the ranks of the Goolwa VDC Home Guard corps, three more men, already carrying the weight of their businesses and community responsibilities responded.

Edgar Skewes, 40, whose large farm extends from the town boundary north-west along the Strathalbyn Road, carries sheep and has sections for various crops including flax, which is a vital war product for manufacturing of webbing used by all the armed services. He and his wife are active on the Goolwa Primary School committee and in the work of the Methodist Church and now Edgar has added the Home Guard to his list of extra duties.

Arthur Neighbour, 50, Storekeeper of Cadell Street is a member of a well-known district pioneer family who has been active in the community all his life. A member of the Goolwa Progress Committee1, this group labours hard to clean up old river steamer wrecks lying along the town’s riverfront. He is also a founding member of the Goolwa Bowling Club and is an Elder of the Church of Christ. While Arthur takes on yet another duty with the Home Guard, he and his wife and family carry a concern for their only son and brother Keith (RAAF) who is now a prisoner of war in Japanese hands.

Syd Willmett, 47, Blacksmith and motor mechanic of Cadell Street is a WW1 veteran who has two sons, George (RAN) and Allen (RAAF) on service overseas.



Syd is one of two town blacksmiths still carrying on the old trade, the other is Alf Henley who owned and leased off the Goolwa powerhouse in Porter Street until it closed in 1940, but now concentrates mostly on keeping the older model cars on the road. Syd turns out a wide range of ironwork including horse drawn cart and trolley fittings, post fittings for gate hinges, gates, and fine ironwork of all kinds for home and farms.

Most motor vehicle maintenance service and repairs today in 1943, has been taken over by one of Goolwa’s newest residents, Jack Neaylon, of the Goolwa Motor House in Cadell Street who specialises in all makes of cars and trucks including the latest model vehicles.



Foot note:

1.     The Goolwa Progress Committee was formed prior to 1912 to promote tourism and improve the appearance and amenities of the town with shelter sheds, swings, and seats at the riverside. In later years it expanded its activities by setting up and administering an orderly camping site in what is now known as Richard Ballard Park during a period from the 1920’s until it was taken over by Council in the 1950’s.

Removing and salvaging old and abandoned sunken vessel wrecks was organised by the committee during the 1940’s which provided valuable red gum planking used by Council at its animal pound yards at the head of the cattle common reserve, now the water drainage reserve lying along Byrnes Road and for the construction of stock sale yards nearby by Bennett and Fisher P/L.