Jack Oga - Oral History interview recorded on 7 July 2014 at Karakadabu/Depo, Central Province, PNG


Mr Jack Oga tells the story of his father, Oga Bobogi (Jack) who worked as a carrier and cook for the Australians.



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.

This is interview number 1 at Sogeri plateau. We have here Jack Oga, who is going to talk about the story of his father, Jack Bobogi. Now Jack, yes, you might like to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, and then briefly, and then introduce your subject, that is Oga Bobogi. You may start now.
Thank you Barnabas. I am pleased to I think come out here and I think, what we have been expecting, maybe some of us have not been forced to talk about it. But I think it was something on behalf of the Koiaris here, at Sogeri, this is the core place where initial start of the war started and went towards the Kokoda trail. So I think from the number that is given by Hiari, I think it's a huge number, 192, I think carriers were, .. this is a huge number, I think that part of that the conditions my father was also involved in that, not as a soldier but as a carrier, and also as chef or cook, what they call it, for the army, the allies.
Then it is also important that I will have to mention that .. our people who have been volunteered to do that job have been ignored I think ever since up until today, that opportunity for us to open up so that people outside will hear and know what happened here. My father was the carrier himself with the others. He use the name of, he couldn't use his proper name Oga Bobogi because fearing his two elder brothers who were also the carriers. He was only the last born in the family, so they said you won't take part in that but being a grown up person, he felt that he wants to be because the war was on and he wants to be in that.
He used his traditional adopted mother's name in the war, so he used the name by the name of Laila Kokoni. Laila [or Gaila].. Kokoni. Laila is the first name, second name is Kokoni. That name he was using it during the war while he was carrying cargoes for the Allies. He came, he was resident at the Sirinumu Dam. Now, the Dam is under the water, and then all the airstrip, the aerodrome he was looking after there.
The allies horses, they changed from the water, they had to courier mail by horse back to come all the way up the mountain to Bemo I think, so it's on the dam, you can see there's a gap, they have to come through there, and they leave the horses, they change horses, they travel up to .. down here. He was doing that and then at the same time he has been called up to go up to volunteer just to carry cargoes. That's what I know about what he said. And then I can not go further than that because the list of those involved in the area, Sirinumu Dam area, has been listed by my other.. sister who will present upon all this.
So I think that the other thing is that I just want to emphasise is that I want to say, I don't want to talk more but I want to say, there was no recognition with the war veterans, the carriers so I would like to put to the organisers of this search, I think they should have, some have the medals but they lost them. They lost them during the water so they should have recognition. It's an overdue thing for us, for my father, I mean my father, we are here, we are present here, there should be something, I will just leave it up to you, how you can put that into reality for the children of those, whose fathers who have been in the war, what are you going to do, what is going to happen to us, government to decide that our fate for this census [?] coming in.
I'm the first born and maybe the last one, but the tubunas will still carry on, they will still struggle to find where they could know their histories. So I think I won't go further, but I think the group here, it is a starting point, but I would suggest that anything you address plus whatever, ideally I you give it to us so we can maybe write, so we are in a better position to provide everything for you guys. That is all I have to say here. Thank you.
Jack, are you able to give us actual details of your father's war experience? For instance are they sort of difficulties or hardships that he experienced that might give us some insight into the experience that has formed part of his stories going to be passed down the generations.
Thank you, yes I think at the time, he was maybe 17 or 18 years old at that time when the war started. So he has got a sore here, in our tok ples they say bataramai, is about his two legs joined together, so he was carrying a sore, the only place he could get the treatment, is at old airport, it's under water now, where the soldiers, where they had a medical care house. And he used to jump with a stick and run across, not run across but jog around get a little bit of pineapples and bananas and come to them in return for the treatment, the medicine on his leg. He was content with that until he joined with them.
And it is true that when the people heard the huge bomb, the bombs come firing, he heard this from the ridges on the Kokoda track, the noise is so big that everybody was scared, even the soldiers woke up there, people were scared and they didn't want to stay, they were scared of these people. But then the soldiers came and tell them, 'We on your side', that sort of things. And at the same time, he also remind he was there working there, not working but looking after the animals, and without realising one of the beast or animal went over the dynamite, I think accidentally they must trigger without realising that, blow it up into piece, he was surprised at how this bombs can kill people, totally blow the animal into pieces.
This how they do with these things.. the machines, the bullets. He also said that he came with other village people, a woman they came to Donadabu, that's another 2 or 3 km back up there, they came, sold their goods, woman carry food come to the camp, the soldiers there and all that, there he met some of his friends, I mean they were, they go back home. That's what they do.
And then at the same time, it is a big issue at that time, people heard that, nobody stayed, even they heard rumour that the soldiers were coming, they hide, that's what they heard. At the same time, the way the soldiers treating them, they feel part of them, they feel they fighting together they had support coming and then I think that's the little bit, out of that story, that's what I heard. [He was] only a carrier.
Jack you said that he lived in the region where the Sirinumu Dam is now. What was the name of the village at that time.
He was living at Giniginitana [?], small village, hamlet, which is also underwater. After the war, we moved away. Our old village was Berebe [?], the old Berebe, we had been using that place, but after the war, world war, we all come down to the valley, the place is called Gebudabu. Gebudabu, that's our big place.
You said that he was afraid of his two elder brothers so he decided to use a different name, Laila Kokoni, can you tell us the name of the clan where Laila Kokoni came from?
Laila Kokoni is from his adopted mother, when his mother died after the birth the mother died, his mother died, so they took turns into looking after the boy, the father, so used the name from the Tuia [?] clan name, Tuia, so Laila, Kokoni. So that's the name he got from that. But our clan is Wanwari clan, Wanwari.
Sogeri has horses nowadays- do you think the horses that were brought during the war have stayed on and become part of your lifestyle here? Can you tell us about that Jack?
Thank you very much that I wouldn't know because I was only a small boy, not even born, or something like that but horses were here. I think I don't know much about that. But it was after that at the war, the cattle, that the project that we have farms were here and horses were used for that, and I think horses were here, but the horses during the war I'm not sure if they were here or those are the horses, they were here, they are still here. The horses are still kept here.
Who exactly introduced the cattle after the war?
I think one of the cattle owners, a plantation owner, there was a rubber plantation, and within that plantation there was cattle, Terry Johnson, was the one who introduced the cattle, plus rubber.
Any idea of the gentleman that you named, Johnson, any idea if he was actually involved in the war in some way?
I don't, I believe he must have, but the other guy who was at the Ilovo estate, Ian, someone Ian, Douglas?.. he as the plantation owner there, I think he was the what they call, by the time the father was even on the age of working, he he had been employed, he was trained as a pilot, and Ian Lowman I think that's the name, he was at Ilovo plantation, he was working with us and we stayed with him.
The reasons why I am raising this question is to try and form a picture of how the war has affected the lives of the people and lifestyle today. You might like to tell us in your own way what you think about the war itself and life of the people on the Sogeri plateau today, especially from the point of view of the children of war carriers.
I think that during the war, I think because our fathers were young, when the soldiers came to collect the carriers and soldiers or whatever, they were there .. after that during the war, and after that, the impact of that was that some of the villages have to move, they have to move out, they have to move out of the area, some went to the coast.
Some stayed back because fearing that it wasn't a big impact here, it was on the trail. There was no marching order but at least they been there. They heard the guns firing and huge cannons firing, they heard that firing so they were a bit scared about that. The planes they get shot from the air, they can't land they fell from the sky and land here in the bushes so when people saw that they were scared because the war was coming. And then there was huge number of soldiers and people moving towards that way, so they have experienced that one, that's what the old man was telling us, and we feel that if that has happen, in our time a different story, at least I shared there was a huge ..
Soldiers .. were up there at Koitaki, people were trained they go up to fight, carry cargoes and all that. And then the aftermath of the war, we still have the war debris or the planes, and the airstrips, the remains are still there. Now some of them under water, some they grow rubber on top of it, but they haven't even heard anything in regards to what they would do, how they would be recognised as some of this people who have been involved in contribute towards the Kokoda trail fight.
Now Jack this issue of recognition seems to be cropping up everywhere we have visited so far. How will the people feel, say if there was another conflict that came here, what do you the people would do – would they help in the war again if it ever came back? Or how do the people feel nowadays in realtion to the issue of recognition? .. What is the core issue there?
I think the people do not realise, something, get them together once we have the independent people together they have something there.
So with that, with the aid that has been coming from Australian government they get something, so they have feeling that they should protect their lives, their country at the same time. That's the main thing I think the people down here. I think, that comparing to the current situation in the world, I think we are just a small country, towards the big powers, so we are just sitting there looking at how can we help, I think in the broader way, I think the government of our nation is acting like what is issue now, so assist and all that, contribute towards, I think our young people should contribute towards helping by our sending soldiers or even maybe some services we can provide towards the people.
OK finally Jack what is the reaction of the younger generation towards war history? Are they interested? When I look around I only see the older people, very few youths are here.
I'm very sorry for our young people here. They need to look back and see the history, they think they forget, like us I think I always think about how my father's gone through, I came late, I don't know how he felt and how the others felt. It is something, the war has bring the other centres together, this has brought some unity during that war. And then I feel that our young generation today they should think about the history, of our stories, because their children, they have to educate them, because if they don't, the children won't know anything about the history of this war. I think that's very important. I think this place is very important. I think the next speakers who are coming they will talk about this place.
While their fathers were here and they pass the information to their children, they tell that. And then I think that I would like our young Koiaris, especially those who are most involved, the Sogeris and the Koiaris here, they the ones who were involved, they get the soldiers up the front line there, they're the ones .. and I can tell in those days we used some of the traditional medicines to heal up the sick people, the soldiers, this the place, and our people, our carriers, and even the local people who help the soldiers.
And I think more of the speakers who come and present and that's how, even in the bullets that shot the people, the spot they were rescued, these something that's very unique thing that our people at Koiari had, and that's the way that I would emphasise that our people managed to penetrate through the big track up there. With that I think I should I thank you for this, I think the most of the information I will put in a paper and then I'll send to you later on.
Thank you very much for your time Jack, thank you very much.

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“Jack Oga - Oral History interview recorded on 7 July 2014 at Karakadabu/Depo, Central Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024, https://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/266.