This is an article that appeared in the NAMBOUR CHRONICLE

on the 10th January, 1936 .

Memories of Samarai
Perfect Island Jewel
Active Trading Centre

Baby rainbows, then pots of gold almost within grasping distance at either end of the ship, welcomed the Mooltan with her full compliment of 580 Australian tourists to Samarai, that perfect jewel of a Pacific island that lies off the south-eastern tip of Papua, almost level with Cape York (Q). That memorable visit of 23 hours, which thus began in tropical colour, left the island and its picturesque natives the wealthier by several hundred pounds and enriched the tourists with strange memories and quaint mementoes, including a grass green carpet snake and a tussore-coloured kus-kus, or Papuan possum. Above all, perhaps, are the impressions of the Papuan natives, as courteous, dignified and kindly little people, whose opinions of the Taubadas ramping so eagerly over their lovely island were, fortunately, perhaps kept entirely to themselves.
Samarai Oval 1930's

Exigencies of a mailboat schedule restricted the Samarai visit to one day, and thus they left much of its beauty undiscovered. As Charles Darwin, on visiting Porto Praya in 1832, remarked – “The scene was one of great interest . . . if indeed a person fresh from the sea, and who has just walked for the first time in a grove of coconut trees can be a judge of anything but his own happiness.” Waving coconut palms fringing the eastern side of the island were the first features of Samarai discernible as the Mootan swung to her anchorage in glorious sunshine, and the last of her seen at night when the palm fronds gleamed in tropical moonlight. To walk among the palms was happiness indeed, unalloyed even by those “spicy garlic smells” arising chiefly from the fact that the native population seems to subsist largely upon coconut and betel-nut. But wonderful frangipani trees, 12ft high, grew in avenues along the coral strewn paths, and the flowers of the mango added their fragrance to the hothouse air. Samarai, which is said to be the most beautiful island in the world, on July 20th blandly and richly, lived up to that reputation.

Surrounded by Fringing Reef.
My lords of the Admiralty and the pilot who came aboard soon after dawn know all about the treacherous cross-currents and hidden reefs that that until Captain Moresby found it in 1873, for so many centuries kept inviolate the glory of this tiny island – for you can walk around Samarai in half an hour. Its rich area of about 60 acres has a population of 158 white people and about 200 natives. Kwat-Eina-Kaba-Kwasi rock, over which there is a depth of only six feet of water, lies off the north-eastern point of the mission island of Kwato, a mile from Samarai, and this hidden reef occasionally breaks, and can be seen at certain seasons, Similarly a reef guards Gesila Island, one of the quarantine areas to the east. Samarai however, has a deep channel on either side, though it, too, is surrounded by a fringing reef. Next to Port Moresby it is the most important settlement in Papua. Its administration is peculiar, for although a British port of entry it makes its own laws and levies its own taxes, while though not strictly within the mandated territory of New Guinea, certain of its services, such as that administered by Dr. F.J. Williams, district medical officer, come within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth.
            Dr. Williams and his wife occupy one of the prettiest houses on the island, perched on one of three hills on the eastern side, and overlooking the harbour vista which – and this is said with full responsibility for the gravity of the claim – has no equal in Australia. This busy medical officer who guards public health over 500 hundred square miles of territory, finds time to develop his hobby of Esperanto, and as accredited representative communicates with students of international language in every country on earth.

Campbell's Walk, Samarai









Practically every native “boy” on Samarai and the islands of Kwato and Gesila is, on appearance, a perfectly trained lightweight boxer. The boys carry little superfluous fat, and move like shadows and as quietly. A letter from the secretary to the Governor of Papua had been circulated among the Mooltan’s passengers, warning them against mendicancy and absurd by natives for services rendered. Tourists were warned that the natives, encouraged by American cinema producers who had visited the island, would probably demand 4/- each for the privilege of allowing themselves to be photographed. This letter gave an entirely wrong impression. Not one of the natives asked for a penny, and their behaviour was marked by a certain calm and puzzled dignity that was most attractive. If betel-nut chewing, and consequently black teeth and scarlet tongues had not been so prevalent, their smiles would have been equally charming.

Rotunda, Campbell's Walk Samarai
            Both on the playing fields of the island where native dances in full costume continued all day, and at the Kwato mission station, where canoe races and a native market were held during the afternoon, baby Papuans abounded. Upon these fascinating little folk at least 1000 amateur photograph films were expended during the day, some of the women tourists insisting on being taken with festoons of native babies hanging all over them. In spite of a certain anxiety on part of their mothers who wore nothing but bangles and grass skirts), every baby behaved perfectly with the strange visitors. Not one of them even cried for the cameras or because of them.

Prisoners’ Sentences in Road Works.
If there was a single shadow of unhappiness at Samarai on that brilliant day it was found at the native hospital and gaol. Most of the hospital patients were abscess and skin-grafting cases, while at the penitentiary, of a fine lot of “criminals” who crowded the verandah and gazed sadly upon scenes from which they were excluded, most were there for the evasion of taxes. “There but for the grace of God . . .” was probably the unspoken thought of many visitors. However, at sunset, these poor prisoners are released on parole and pad happily back to their families. They serve their sentences by working on the roads, and the tidiness of the island is a monument either to their industry or to the general unpopularity of taxation without representation.
            Two of the most exquisite isles adjacent to Samarai unfortunately fly the yellow flag of quarantine. That reserved for men patients is Gesila, a thickly wooded island with a mangrove swamp in which the Kuyaro River flows. Here bird life seems most abundant. The bush resounds with the melody of a bird that looks like an oriole, and sings like an Australian harmonica thrush, and the harsher cries of a large blackbird that is probably a grackle. “Willie wagtails” are everywhere. Mangroves and banyans project into or over a warm sea, swarming with coloured fish, and the beach is littered with pink and green shells. Lest the visitor forget and thinks that he is in Paradise, the doctor points to a leper sitting mercifully in deep shadow.


While Samarai was galvanized into rare activity by this cargo of joyous tourists, they in turn provided most welcome entertainment for the white residents at the island who said with feeling, that we were “Christmas Day a and Easter and Leap Year all rolled into one.” So while the youth among the Mooltan’s passengers, all resplendent in summer silks, buzzed merrily in motor launches over the island and danced till dawn, the residents of Samarai came across to the illuminated liner and reveled in the all British “talkies” shown on the promenade deck. Then while rockets flared and bon fires gleamed and music echoed from ship to shore, a certain motor launch set out to seek a green snake that the mission boys at Kwato seemed very glad to get rid of. That moonlit midnight expedition to find a snake seems a perfectly appropriate ending to a fantastic day. The snake remains as evidence that it was real.



Samarai Island