Kambubu's  Dilemma


David Behrens 




Recent issues of the South Pacific Record, and Sanco News, both held articles and pictures that caught my attention and off some interesting memories. I am referring to the reports of the good work carried out last year by the team of Members from all the Sanitarium Branches who joined their efforts and skills to help build a much-needed library at the Kambubu Adventist High School in New Britain. There was a very real need, if the High School was to remain in action, which it could not meet from its own resources, or the funds allocated to it. Under God's guidance and blessing, that need has been satisfactorily met.


My thoughts flew back through the years, To another time when the Jones Missionary college, as it was then called, had been heading for very real trouble. But God had been planning ahead, and I was privileged to have a minor part in solving the problem, for which I am grateful. Searching through some of my much travelled possessions, since reading the articles, I brought to light some photos, which are somewhat the worse for the approximately 37 years that have passed. They were taken with a very basic little camera. However, I hope they will serve to make my account of what happened more understandable and interesting. I should point out, that owing to the loss of much written material during many of the intervening years, the dates I give are only approximate.  This is not really of any great importance to the overall picture.



The sawmill was mainly dependant on a David Brown crawler tractor, for the hauling of the logs from the bush to the mill. This machine, unfortunately, was a very good agricultural tractor - but not at all suited for working on rough ground where rocks and tree roots often protruded. It smashed track-roller bearings with great regularity. When its driver had to take it around the side of a hill, it would sometimes roll right out of its tracks -which meant much tribulation for the College maintenance men - and more down-time before it could be mobile again. The special timber needed by the sawmill, had all been cut out on the fairly level ground in the vicinity, and to keep logs coming in, the David Brown had to go up into the hills - and this meant trouble. But once more the machine broke down, and we knew there would be quite a delay before new parts could be procured. The supply of logs at the mill was dwindling lower every day. What could be done?






Around 1953/54, Pastor Lester Lock, the principal of Kambubu, and his staff, knew they were heading for financial trouble.  The only means the College had to make money for its operation, beyond the students' fees, was through the sale in of sawn timber for building, and furniture. These were produced in the college woodworking shop, and were of a very high standard. One reason for this was that the special types of timbers used, were rough sawn, and then stacked for months, to season, and to warp. This meant that when the furniture was finally constructed, it remained true to its design - which was a feature greatly appreciated in Rabaul.






There was one thing the Kambubu mission staff and students were very good at, and that was prayer. They did plenty of that, in view of the problem! Later, when all the pieces of the puzzle were fitted together, it became apparent that God had been taking steps to meet the need - long before it had even arisen!

A couple of years before, I had worked with Jack Radley, shifting the Marine Workshop from Batuna in the Solomon Islands, to a new site on the shore of Rugen Harbour, roughly between the Kambubu Mission land, and that of Matala Plantation, a coconut and cocoa business run by a Mr Stan McCosker, who had been a great friend to The Mission over the years. Stan and I formed quite a strong friendship, during the months that followed, until in 1952 I had to resign from the Mission's employ for health reasons and return to Brisbane. Later, as I picked up health, after working at a couple of engineering jobs around Brisbane, I was employed by Mr Lionel Unwin, then Manager of Brisbane SHF, as an engineer at Roma Street. Having purchased a house through the War Service Scheme, I was anxious to pay it off as soon as possible. About a year had passed, when Stan McCosker came to Brisbane, where his wife and two school-age daughters were living, for a holiday. While my wife and I were visiting him at his home, he explained a plan he had in mind, and asked if I would be interested. He planned on harvesting the great amount of useful timber on the big hilly section of Matala Plantation, which was very heavily forested. He offered me the job of buying suitable sawmilling equipment in Brisbane, and shipping it to New Britain. He would order a Caterpillar tractor from America, and when it arrived – in some months - I would use it to bring in a supply of logs, then set up the sawmill and get it running, with suitable trained labour.



I would have charge of the logging and milling. The sawn timber would be taken by ship to Rabaul - about 6 or 7 hours away. He offered a very interesting salary. After talking things over with Mr Unwin (who knew my wish to pay off the house quickly) he said he would keep me on as long as I needed to fill in time, until the tractor arrived, and that if I ever wished to return to Brisbane, to come and see him about work. My wife and I felt very grateful to him for his understanding and helpfulness. I accepted Stan's offer, and he placed the order with the Caterpillar agents in Brisbane.

It took some months to get the machine to New Britain, and a few weeks before it was due to arrive, I returned to the Island and did some surveying of the timber resources, and planning of snig-tracks to bring the logs out to the sea at Rugen Harbour. After the D2 Caterpillar arrived, I built a logging-arch somewhat similar to some used in the timber industry. One advantage was that it kept the front end of the log well clear of the ground, and stopped it from getting caught behind roots or rocks. This was of considerable importance, as the D2 was only a relatively small tractor. (Looking back on all this, it still amazes me how God was influencing events in so many ways, to bring about the best for His work at Kambubu.)

Stan and I talked over the situation, now that we had the tractor, and the completed arch. We decided not to do anything about our sawmill for the time - just leave the machinery in its cases in the store. I would build a very heavy-duty trailer, and we would use it to bring dead coral blocks from around the foreshore of Rugen Harbour to extend the stone jetty. We would use this as a holding area for the logs I would bring out of the hills, until we had enough stockpiled, to make it worthwhile getting a ship to call in and take them to Rabaul. Not a single log ever reached Rabaul!


Stan and I talked over the situation, now that we had the tractor, and the completed arch. We decided not to do anything about our sawmill for the time - just leave the machinery in its cases in the store. I would build a very heavy-duty trailer, and we would use it to bring dead coral blocks from around the foreshore of Rugen Harbour to extend the stone jetty. We would use this as a holding area for the logs I would bring out of the hills, until we had enough stockpiled, to make it worthwhile getting a ship to call in and take them to Rabaul. Not a single log ever reached Rabaul!

While the plantation workers were gathering coral and building the jetty, my timber-lines were in the bush felling the types of trees we needed, and clearing access tracks for the Caterpillar, to get through the jungle. There were many risks associated with working a tractor in those hills. The very steepness of them posed continual dangers. Another constant menace were the often heavily overgrown slit-trenches, fox-holes, and underground tunnels dug by the Japanese Army during World War Two. There had been an anti-aircraft battery on a hill overlooking the Harbour, during the Japanese occupation of New Britain, and these were part of the inland defences for the guns, in case of Australian or USA ground force attacks. I had reason to thank God on several occasions, when such traps which had been overlooked by my timber men, in spite of their care, caved in right beside the tractor, or else just after it had safely passed over them. God apparently had a further use for me, and He wanted those logs out!







When we just about had the jetty filled with logs for Rabaul, and were listening to the shipping movements on the radio each day, to decide which one we could signal to call in and pick them up - Stan heard a rumour from one of his men.

The "Seven-day Tractor" had broken down yet again!

Each Sabbath I used to walk the couple of kilometres from Matala Plantation house, to Kambubu, and spend much of the day there - thanks to the unstinting hospitality of the European families there. Therefore I knew the situation had been slowly worsening as far as the log supply for the Kambubu sawmill was concerned. Now, with Stan's approval, I went to the sawmill to see how things were. They were very low in logs in the holding area. Talking to Pastor Lock, I found out just how serious the breakdown of the David Brown tractor was.


Stan and I talked things over, and he decided that if I could make satisfactory rafts of logs, suitable to be towed out in the open sea from Rugen Harbour, to Tanga bay at the mouth of the Kambubu River, just near the sawmill, he would see if Pastor Lock would be interested in them. After giving some considerable thought to the problems involved, I devised a system of roping, bracing, and towing, that I felt should be successful. Stan then went and had a long talk with Pastor Lock, and a mutually acceptable price agreement was reached. All the logs I had stockpiled were made into a raft, in the deep water of the harbour. Some logs which were of a kind too heavy to float, were man-handled on skids over the mud of the foreshore. Then a very buoyant log would be rolled up against it and tied very securely to it. When the tide came in again, the pair would be floated out together, and added to the raft. It was about a six kilometre tow, from inside the harbour, out well clear of the reefs into Saint Georges Channel, and then in as far as the towing vessel dared go, at Tanga Bay. Sometimes this towing was done by the Mission's own ship, the 45-foot ex-Army work-boat, "Kambubu". At other times, when I had a raft made up, the "Kambubu" would be away in Rabaul. Stan would shop around on the radio to find a ship that would do a tow, while it was in the area.

Some of these ships were quite big, and drew too much water to get into Tanga Bay, which was fairly shallow. Then I would have to take a dinghy with a small outboard motor on it, and follow the big ship around the coast from Rugen Harbour, to offshore from Tanga. There the tow rope would be dropped while the raft was still well out in the Channel, and the ship would sail off and leave me. Towing a great tonnage of almost completely submerged logs, with a 2 1/2 horsepower Seagull outboard motor, was not a thing of joy, but it was the only means available to get those logs to the shore. During the months the Mission tractor was out of action, I would do what I have just described, when the "Kambubu" was not available, then walk back overland from the Kambubu River to the Harbour, and get the Caterpillar, which I had previously left hooked up to a timber jinker. On this would be one, two or three logs according to their size. I would then drive back to the sawmill across the river, drop the jinker there, and go down to the bay with the tractor, and haul up the logs which my men would have untied and pushed into shallow water, while I was gone. An old Japanese Army artillery tractor belonging to the Mission, which was useless in the bush, would then be used to tow the logs up to the mill. When the sea was too rough to allow rafts to be towed, I kept the logs going to the mill by transporting them overland, one or two at a time, covering approximately 4 kilometres each way, with the Caterpillar and the jinker. This was a slow and expensive business, and very wearing on the tractor. However, Stan McCosker was happy to stand that cost, to help the Mission. I certainly raised no objection!

We kept supplying Kambubu with all our logs, for many months after the David Brown was repaired. This meant the latter could be quite safely used around the sawmill - on flat ground. So many factors worked together over such a long period, to ensure the Mission never lost its so needful log supply, until a more reliable tractor could be obtained. I don't think any of those factors were mere coincidences, it was just God solving Kambubu's dilemma all along the line!


David Behrens.


Return to Empire & Commonwealth