Sunday, March 18, 2007

In January this year Radio National presented a programme by Tim Bowden titled Prisoners of War: Australians Under Nippon. It was a wonderful programme with interviews with and about POWs in Japanese camps. One episode featured a Captain J J Murphy who was a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea before the war and became a coast watcher during the war. He was captured by Japanese troops and taken to Rabaul as a prisoner. The Japanese thought they had a high ranking officer and through Tokyo Rose and later German propaganda broadcasts told the allies that they had our man. Murphy was one of the few Australian servicemen to survive in Rabaul. After the surrender of Japan, he was charged with treason and brought before a court. Six American Air Force Officers; fellow prisoners, testified on his behalf and he was freed.

He went on to become District Commissioner in the Gulf District of Papua and that is where I met him in 1961. JJ was a small man who was larger than life....a bit of a ladies' man and had done a couple of dodgy deals here and there. I recall a story going around about the time he was DC of the Western District of Papua, stationed in Daru. It seems that he and a few others used the government trawler to skip down to Thursday Island to get cheap beer and lolly water. Someone 'dobbed' and he was reprimanded. Before the war he wrote a comprehensive text on Pidgin English. I lost my copy in the return to Australia.

We had a few conversations over beers and I am sorry that I didn't know of his wartime exploits at the time. One day he was cruising past my school in the western end of the Gulf in the Government boat Magila and dropped the pick, was rowed ashore with a bottle of Johnny Walker red and stayed overnight in my one-room donga testing out my tank water. He died in 1993 and is survived by his wife.

Here are two pages from the Papua New Guinea Association journal Una Voce which describes the man far better than I could.

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