Hawala Laula - Oral History interview recorded on 4 July 2014 at Kagi, Central Province, PNG


Mr Hawala Laula shares his own story of being a teenager during the War and what it was like living in a village during the Kokoda Campaign.



Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.

In 1942 the war reached Buna and Gona during the months of June and July and pushed to Kokoda. In the month of August it reached Templeton Crossing and in the month of September it pushed from here in Kagi to Efogi and then to Menari.
On the date September 1942 the war retreated at Ioribaiwa ridge and came back. During that same month in the year 1942, the Japanese army commander by the name of Itla was killed by the Australian soldiers on the ridge of Ioribaiwa. The supplies and rations were running low at that time of the year and the Japanese couldn't do more and were pushed back.

The war on the track lasted for 3 years from 1942 to 1945, when I was a young man at the age of 14. When the war ended at the year 1945, people from here such as Dimuda where recruited to join as carriers in 1942. All these stories are not forgotten, they are all fresh in my mind.

The labourers and carriers recruited from here from the clan group Somari were Matama, Dimuda Niligi and Leleva. Lomola Melai and Euki Emue were recruited to fight the war. So they were all assigned to help during the war and moved to Kokoda.

These group of people worked during the war in Popondetta for one year, within that period 3 people had passed away or were killed by the Japanese soldiers. These people included the policeman from Menari, Minama and Euki from Kagi and also Benson.

When the war ended in 1945, the guys recruited from Kagi all returned home. Dimuda Niligi was given the uniform of police to look after peace and order programs in Kagi. By that time, we were all still hiding at a place called Hagali. That was in 1945 with our parents.

The policeman from Kagi went over to Hagali village and brought us all back to Kagi. We started building our homes, making gardens at Somali village.

At Somali village Mr Selu was given this clothes that I am now wearing in September 1946. When Selu passed away these clothes were given to me in memory of my brother to look after the Kagi people. I was invited by the Isurava people and the Australian Government to go for battlefield memorial opening at Isurava in 2002.
And again in the year 2007, I was invited to go to the Isurava Battlefield Memorial opening to get photos with the Prime Minister of PNG and Australia.

The two recruitment officers who did recruitment for the program were Mr Kienzle and Mr Bob Gordon from 5 mile Port Moresby. Bob Gordon and Mr Kienzle were the frontliners given tasks and responsibilities to the local people during the war campaign here. They started recruiting people as far as Moresby from here up to Buna and Gona.

These young gentlemen from Australia put heavy responsibilities on local recruited people to become carriers and labourers moving things up and down. Bob Gordon was the person in charge of supplies from the ship and one of the whiteman by the name of John was in charge of the supplies along the track.

The brave young Kagi men who were recruited for the campaign were Matama Kekeve and Eleva Meleni and Dimuda Niligi. Euki Emue, Lomola Melai. At Naduri village they recruited Kakai Sola, Kora and Benson.

People who were recruited for labour from Kagi were Aleki Duna, Budiki Duna, Susuve Orena, Sae Maere, Amuli Gomoli. These people wer basically recruited as labourers and dispatched to various commanding sections along the track working from 1942, 1943, 1944 & 1945. The war ended in 1945 when the village constables were picked from each village and they organized a very big party for the locals and white people. That's the story I can remember to tell you.

These feasts were held at Menari village where all the people along the track gathered together to commemorate what has been done to the Japanese and Australians and local native people.

When the war reached Isurava and the nearby villages, our messengers came to us informing us about the war and how terrific it was for the people of Isurava. He reminded us about running away and hiding us in the secret places. If we don't follow these instructions, our heads would be cut off by the Japanese soldiers like they did to the people of Isurava. I can remember at that time of the year, I was a small boy maybe during my teenage years and my mum was very frightened to hear that story. So she dragged my hand and pulled me all the way to the other side of the mountain for our safety.

When we all returned from our temporary hiding sites, we found out that all our garden crops were all gone. All the houses were burnt into ashes, garden houses were also burnt down and there was nothing at all remaining. We suffered for some months and we had a plan to go back to our temporary hiding sites to get our food to eat. Within these 3 years of fighting, we had made gardens to feed ourselves so we thought of these foods and returned back to find them. Thanks for today's generation that they are now using our suckers which were brought from that area. We brought in yam seeds, kau kau, banana suckers and others. These seedlings help us to grow our food and we made a very big feast out of that at Menari village.
The original war track came through Templeton Crossing up to Mt Bellamy and down to Sosa and then to Laili creek and then to Kagi village. From Kagi village it leads down to Efogi creek and up the Mission Ridge to Brigade Hill.

In July to August 1942, Billy and Misinga ordered the people to carry the food supplies at Myola. Then when the war reached us, everyone collected their supplies and dispatched into the bush. Misinga escaped from the war and ran to Menari village where he was hidden.

There was a heavy battle at Brigade Hill where some many Australian soldiers were killed, the Japanese outnumbered the Australian troops in getting back at the other side of the mountain walking towards them in firing.

The Australians saw that they can't defend the Japanese force so they had to move further down to Menari and Naoro. The policeman at that time of the war where Hove, Sasi and Idiki were given the command from Bill and Mr Kienzle to separate the two villages Naduri and Kagi to go and hide.

So these two villages went on hiding and in the month of September 1945 they were informed that the war was over, so they came together.

When the people came together at the end of the war in 1945, our homes were separated into two clan groups. This clan groups are called Samori and Egulu. Mr Selu Kekeve has a policeman who looks after Samori clan. The policeman Mr Dimuda Nigili looked after the Egulu clan.

The separation of these people was commanded by Mr Misinga.
I was a little boy in 1942 at the age of sixteen the war was about to reach Kagi. I insisted to go with my fathers but due to my age, my father did not allow me to go with him.

The reason why I was held behind was that my father in his time knew stories about what was happening in the war. So he did not want me to join the other recruits.

My father used to work for Mr Kienzle in which Mr Kienzle told him about the war and how bad it will affect the people. From these stories my father stopped me and the young blokes not to take part and he only selected the strong young men for recruitment.

My mum took me over to our hiding place but I escaped with the other men to collect supplies. On our arrival at Kagi village, I met one Australian by the name of Mr Snow. He commanded and gave me an order to be in charge of all the supplies that were dropping at Myola. From that time as a young man, I started my journey doing the carrier as a supplier for the people. I commanded people far and near who came asking me for supplies to make good use of the supplies and preserve some for later use. We also collect firewood, water and gave food to the soldiers along the Kagi area to Templeton Crossing that was the year 1943.

During that time we use horses to transport the supplies to and fro. The first horse was shot at Alola village while returning from Kokoda. Our second horse was shot at Voloa Hill just outside Kagi and our third horse was killed at the start of the Mission Ridge Hill. Due to the horses being killed the transportation services from one point to he other was very difficult for us. I selected young locals again for the transportation of the supplies.

The Japanese also came with their horses and these horses that we were using were stolen horses from the Japanese that Mr Kienzle used for transporting food supplies.

Due to this I have to recruit more people to do the job as the horses had been killed. One of the Japanese horses was used to transport the commanding officer's son who was killed at Ioribaiwa to get the body and brought him back to Buna where he was shipped to Tokyo for burial.

Upon arrival in picking his son's body, he called back to PNG informing all the station commanders to wait for the reply of his message tomorrow morning. Early in the morning he made an announcement, 170,000 soldiers in PNG informing them that that's the end of the war, goodbye.
There were 12,500 killed within the Kokoda track. That is the figured I quoted at that time of the war. The father called back and told the Japanese commanders informing them that the war is over. There will be no more supplies such as food, ammunition and any other help.

He further stopped warplanes, ships and the Japanese were helpless and couldn't do anything so they had to retreat all the way back to Buna. Some of these soldiers were lucky to get on the ships, some were not.

Some of these people were unfortunate to board the ship and were killed at Buna. Captain Kitone from Goaribari, Kikori was called to come to Moresby and his office was built at 5 mile. He has got a medal here which was presented to him just recently from his service during the war.

Captain Kitone and Captain Omara they fed us with tin fish, meat and rice. They also bought some clothing for my mum and fed us very well. These people were Captains from some islands where I'm not sure which islands. But they were brought to Buna in July 1942.

On the month of July, August, September and October these captains were with us and that's how I know them.
Some of the labourers and carriers recruited for this campaign as I knew came all the way from Kiwai, Daru, Goaribari, Kikori, Koriki, Kerema and Baimuru. Kerema, Maiva and Kairuku areas. They all came to us due to the fact that we can understand each other's language. My father was a police officer at that time feeding them with all what we have.

The recruitment for the coastal carriers and labourers started at Daru and finished at Abau and Samarai. And also recruitments were made at from Samarai to Baniara then to Buna and Gona which is in Oro Province.

This group of people was the only strong holds for the shipment of food supplies and ammunitions within the 3 years of war moving up and down.
People as far as Binandere and Mambare areas also took part during the campaign. My father at that time returned back and became the village chief in looking after the well being of these carriers providing them with food and shelter.

The two whitemen by the name of Gori and Guy told us to do all the clean up along the track. We collected bombshells, buried the dead and put the unexploded bombs together in a secret place. This workforce took place at the end of 1945.

We also collected telephone lines, empty bullet shells and other remains of the war. It started from Ower's corner to Kokoda and then to Buna and Gona. That was at the end of 1945.

One of the planes that crashed one was torn into pieces. The wreck was taken down to Australia with the help of the soldiers. The body of the plane was burnt and only the melted liquid was collected and sent down to Port Moresby. By the end of 1952, a person by the name of Mr Bena from Australia came over to our village and collected 6 dollars from us and got our details, brought the money to Port Moresby and opened the account with the Commonwealth Bank. This part of the program in collecting tax was done across the whole entire Southern Region areas.

We opened our account with the Commonwealth Bank with the amount of 6 dollars. Myself, Kakai and everyone else paid in 6 dollars to open up this account but to this date I'm not sure where the money is, it's very hard to get this money from the bank.

I want to know now from you is this money still existing, how can I find out if I have access to this account.
What are the Papua New Guineans doing with this money? I'm growing old now and what will be the use of that money sleeping in there? I've opened the account with Commonwealth Bank and Development Bank. Where is that money now?

I'm now waiting for that money and crying, when will that money reach me?
In 1942 before the war came in a person by the name of Misinga came here and told us to put lines to set-up radio. We cut down the trees and cleared the track for the wire to connect to the radio station which was built at Myola 1. When the war retreated at Ioribaiwa, the same guy opened an airstrip at Myola 2. This airstrip was used for supplying food and war ammunition and evacuating of bodies of dead wounded soldiers to Port Moresby.

Before the war came, the whiteman told us to get all the necessary gears ready such as campsites, hospitals and other houses for resting to accommodate for the carriers and the whietman soldiers. We built 3-4 houses here and people from Efogi also built some. Likewise people from Naduri have moved to Myola 1 and started building houses to accommodate everyone both the soldiers and carriers. After finishing the houses at Kagi, we moved over to Templeton Crossing to build more houses to cater for the Australian soldiers and all the carriers. This preparation went on for nearly 6-7 months under the command of Misinga.

In that year a person by the name of Charlie from Australia started visiting the houses at Deniki, Isurava, Alola and then to Templeton Crossing to make sure the houses had already been built.
We finished building the house at Templeton Crossing and moved to Myola 1 and built more houses throught the advice of Charlie. After the war in 1945, the whiteman told us to bring all the remainding supplies to Kagi. We distributed many meat cans, rice and other rations to people near and far.

We did not buy the food, the whiteman gave it to us for free. Do you want to know how we eat this free food? We ate their food free and they ate our food for free. Today this has changed, money is on one side with the Australians. Therefore we keep very quiet and old our arms.

In the past, we ate together, we slept together and everything was so free. Today everything depends on money in which I've paid my last visit to Isurava battlefield and shook hands with the Australian Prime Minister and talked to him. As his forefathers did in the past, would this prime minister ever contemplate eating with us or and sleeping together with us?

In the past when the war was over, my father was a policeman here in Kagi. At Naduri they have Ovoru Indiki as their policeman together with Hovea Miria. By the time we grew older and our dad grew older, the whiteman came asking my father that since he was growing old, he should give his police uniforms to Mr Selu to wear.

By the year 1952, Mr Selu performed his duties as a local constable and served for 10 years and he died in 1962. When Mr Selu died, the people elected me to become the village constable. I worked until the change of the government from Australia to the PNG government. I still serve under the current government. In 1975 when PNG got its independence, the old rule of appointing village constables all changed. However my duties as a constable did not change. I still serve until the retired me. In memory of my duty, they gave me this uniform to keep it until today.

My very big worry to you guys is this, I got this uniform from Mr Selu and went down to Port Moresby. I went to Konedobu to follow up on my 6 dollar payment. Is this money? In 1968 I worked very hard until now, I want to know what happened to this 6 dollars. I thought that 6 dollars is not much, it's not much to me for the service I provided along the track during the war.
To this date I am still waiting and crying. Could you and you team every help me if I can ever find a way to earn a service in my life.
I want to share this worry problem that I usually have in my mind with you. I really want to tell you how I am feeling today, honestly deep in my heart. The story is my father is from Kagi and my mother is from Emu River, Northern Province.

I am crying every time about the airline service to Kagi. I want you and your team to organize a flight for me that can take me from Kagi to Emu river and back. I want a flight to be from Port Moresby to Kagi and to Emu river, my mother's land before I pass away. I have never visited my mother's area for many many years now. That is the reason why I want to set foot in that area and talk to my people before I can die.

That is my desire to fly to Emu river and then to Kokoda and Kagi. That is the desire I am thinking of and crying about all the time.
That is my plan and I am crying every time to go back to my mother's land. I once again want to thank you for coming so I want to put this plan in your hand to implement it for me. If you are strong I will go, if you are weak I will fall back and die in this land.

This is my final message that I want to leave it to you. You take it and pass it on to others. The message is I want the Australians to come and sit with me and eat with me and sleep with me before I go and find myself waiting to die. That's the end of my story

The name Kagi is derived from a place, where a tree grew by the name of Gabila.
The tree was named as Gabila and this area which is now Kagi is called Efogi in which so many whiteman knew. However the name Kagi was originally brought in by people from Maraba who settle here at Kagi and change the name Efogi to Kagi.

Today you came here thinking that this place is Kagi but originally it was called Odoho. My planted tree is called Odoho Gabila and Mr. Dimuda's planted tree is called Kudoi Gabila.

In the beginning when our ancestors all came here to settle, they brought with them sugar cane. The people settled in this area called Kaha and there was a very big feast going on. Each clan came with their own sugar cane from their own villages. Dancing and feasting was going on night and day. After that event, they called the place Kagi rather than Kaha. This is where the name Kagi is derived. However the original name recently used was Idoho but that name no longer exists.

I was 16 years old when the war started. In the year 1952 I got married. My first-born was born in April 1953 and his name is Esi Havala. And my second born son is Oti Havala who is now working for the Ombudsman Commission. And I have 3 daughters.

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“Hawala Laula - Oral History interview recorded on 4 July 2014 at Kagi, Central Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 16, 2024, https://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/259.