Mary Lucy Goelu - Oral History interview recorded on 25 March 2017 at Oinala, Milne Bay Province


In this interview, Mary Lucy Goelu describes how frightened she was as a child when the war came to her village in Milne Bay, and what her family needed to do in order to survive during the war.


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 an interview held at Oinala village on the 25 of March 2017 for Mary Lucy Goelu. Now you can tell your experience about the war.
I was already big but not matured yet. That's why I was screaming. I saw the war and it was scary. Our village was also used by the Army across there so when the war came, we ran away. We packed our things and ran away. A lot of planes were flying overhead. They came really low and I was really screaming because I was really scared. I was screaming and said, hey! They are going to bomb us. They are going to bomb us. And they told me to keep quiet. 'Shut your mouth' they scolded me. But I said, eh, 'they are going to bomb all of us as you can see the planes flying very low.'
My late husband was already matured than me. I was really screaming and could not stop. And he said, 'hey keep quiet. They will see us the more you scream.' But I said to him, 'what keep quiet for, see them, they will drop bombs and kill all of us. Have you seen them or not? They will bomb us. As I watched three planes flew up. I was with my late husband and he was the one scolding me to keep quiet.
My father was helping in the war. He was a cook for the American Army. We ran away while he remained to cook for them. Whenever he leaves, he would bring home trays of leftover food, plenty food and large tins of square meat-six pound meat. Six pound meat, long ones. When my father brings them home, I used to carry them and run off to the mountains. But as the war became stronger, we had to run away further down.
My mother was with us. And we were all running away. My father was also recruited to transport dead soldiers from the other side [Giligili]. He was working across there by transporting the bodies of dead soldiers from one place to another. My father's name is Goelu and he was helping in the war by transporting bodies of dead soldiers. He was transporting the soldiers that were shot and dead.
We all ran away. All of us from here. We ran away and went down there and they left us. And our mothers returned here and they were watching the planes. The planes here would fly up and down, and they were watching. I was small so when I saw the planes, I could not stop screaming. I was screaming. I was screaming only. I said can you all see the many planes; they are going to shoot all of us. They will bomb us. But the mothers said to me, 'hey they are not coming for you. They are going across to the other side for their enemies [Japanese]. But who cared about what they said, I kept on screaming. My mother was already very angry at me. Other children came and said, 'keep quiet. Ah, what keep quiet? There are plenty planes around.'
We all ran away and went down to Tilotilo [name of village] and were living there. But as the fighting got stronger, we had to leave for Suau. We went to Suau and lived there. The war was about to end when we travelled to Suau. So when we arrived at Suau, we heard that the war finished here. We were running away from the war and the war finished here.
Sikana was killed so the war ended. Their major brigadier. That's the one they killed. Americans killed him. They killed him and the war ended. Japanese main leader was killed. Americans killed him.
When the Americans came, they were very good to us. They did not chase us or scold us. They did not destroy our things. We were all living our normal lives. There was nothing we could fear. However, as the war getting stronger, they told us to move away to safety. Their brigadier's house was built up there, on the hill. The Americans were living here. They only go across to the other side for fighting with their planes. As for us we were busy running away.
That's why the elders call it 'kalau' and they would start war here. So we had to leave this village and go away. We went to Kilakilana.
The war was really bad.
But you know the Americans were powerful people and they knew what they were doing. The Americans were very good to the people. They helped the people. They helped the people by telling them to run away. They helped the people. They informed us to run away to safety because the war was coming. And we would return after the war ended. The war was getting stronger. The war continued until the big man was killed and the war ended.
The war big man was killed across on the other side at Rabe. You can see his graveyard there at Kainako and his name was Sikana. That's Silane's graveyard. Americans killed him. War was going on but ended suddenly when he was shot. Japanese big man. War ended then.
For us, we were still running away. We walked all the way to Suau. We walked by foot from here down to the end and then climbed over the range to the other side and walked to Suau. We all walked to Suau, my mother and other family members. My father was not with us because he was assisting in the war by transporting bodies of soldiers that were shot and killed. He was helping across at Giligili side. That was his job during the war. He helped to transport bodies of dead soldiers to and fro. I was small but I still remember.
The big cement block across there is where they built their kitchen. That was where my father was first recruited to work as a cook for the American army. He was helping by cooking their food. That's where their big kitchen was. Village people were not allowed to go to their camps. They used to throw away their leftover foods and we used to go and collect them as our food.
Americans were very good. They sometimes share their food, like square meat-six pound meat-whole ones, they used to give us. I used to take my food and go up to the mountains.
I only saw white skinned Americans, dimdims. They were dimdims. They had white skin colour. They were real dimdims.
As the war was getting stronger, the Americans told us to leave this place.
The girls here did not make friends with any of the soldiers. I do not remember of any. None of the women had close relations with the soldiers as their boyfriends. Do you think those women knew how to speak English so they would have relations with them? Nowadays, English speaking is widespread so women are marrying the white men anyhow. The women in the past were not doing this. Because they did not know how to speak English. And also the village elders did not approve of such acts and the punishments were harsh. Today, English is fooling the women to marry the white men.
That was my first time to see white skin people, although I heard of them. As I was growing up I did not see any until the war came and I saw them. When I saw them, I said to myself, 'oh, so that's how dimdims look like and they have white skin.' You know as children, we said to each other, 'aiyooi, what are these? Who are they? They told us that those were dimdims [whiteman]. Do you think they are your kind? How would you respond if they talk to you? They said to me.
But the Americans were good. They were kind and respectful to us. Like for instance if you are walking on the road, they will stop and load you in their truck and drop you off at your home.
They women were not allowed to go close to the soldiers. Why would you think the women would do that? We did not know how to speak English so we could not communicate with them so we do not go near them. Bush kanakas so how can we make friends and communicate with them.
My father was recruited to help the Americans as their boi. Their cook and later he assisted to transport the dead soldiers and dumping them in one place. They used to transport them from here to the other side. That was their daily routine during the war here.
While for us, we were trying to escape the war so we ran away to Suau. By the time we arrived there, we had that the war had ended here already.
When we went to Suau, we had to carry our own food and travel. We went to our relatives so we did not worry about food while living there with them. Our family members there were feeding us. They were our friends. They were my mother's relatives. My mother's clan members.
We stayed there for some time, although the war had ended here. And later we returned to this village.
The war was terrible. I was small and I saw the war. But the Americans were really strong and good. They were good that is why they asked us to leave this place because of the war. They said go away until the war ends. Then you all can return to your village, by then we will be gone. That's why we left this place until the war ended and we returned.
After the war, I was enrolled at Wagawaga to attend school. I went to school there . Later a school was established down here.
We returned home after the war. We came here because this is village.
There were numerous remains of the war, things like their tools and dozers .
I said to my friends, I wish we were smart enough and we would steal some of their things. They did not give any of the things to us but they destroyed and buried some of them. They buried all of them and only few remains left. There were plenty dozers and trucks, their tools and everything. They destroyed all of them. Things like machines, graders . There were some white men that come by to search for the remains for the war.
The war was about to end when we left our village. War ended by the time we reached Suau. So I said what a waste of time that the war ended and we travelled all the way to Suau.
My father would load the dead soldiers and transport them and off load them at one place. Then the dead soldiers would be identified by their relatives or friends and taken away and buried or cremate them. Places like at Kainako where they would bury the dead. They would collect some here and taken them over and bury them.
My father was the cook for the Americans. He was also assigned to transport by vehicle the dead bodies of soldiers.
During the war, the people who took care of them were called the Angaus, the Negroes. Not really from my mother and father but my grandfather. My daddy's father was one of those carriers. He helped the army to carry their things but the Army who looked after them were the negroes [black Americans]. Our old people call them the Angaus.
During the war, all the people from here were evacuated to Suau. All our people here were at Suau until the war ended then they returned home. Only a few people, the old people remained.
When the war came to Milne Bay, Japanese were on the other side and the Australians and the Americans were based here at Gamadoudou.
... they had to take them away and after the war, they came back.
Cooking is women's job but my how could my father complain when he was assigned to do the job. He did not complain about being a cook. After the war, he would not cook because it is our custom that cooking is the women's job. He does not cook. He only eats ready cooked food. Before that he used to cook for the white men. I was asking where my father was trained to be cook for the white men. I was making fun of him saying, 'my father since when did you train to be a cook and you are cooking for the white men.' Americans had plenty of food, trays and tubs and they used to dispose them every day. After the war he hardly cooks because there were plenty cooks in the house. His wife used to cook for him and he eats only. I made by fun by saying you used to cook for the Americans so try and cook for us too.
During the war and my bubu's story was that the Negroes were kind but the Australians were not. Because they [Australians] used to boss the men [indigenous helpers] a lot. They used to command them and force them to work. They used to bully them around.
At the end of the war, the Australians returned and removed all the dumps. They removed all the houses. In the 1960s, there were still some remains of the war but they came and removed them. We do not know what they did with them. They treated our village men like dogs. They sold some of them off.
[Mary Lucy Goelu]
If only the Americans remained a bit longer then they would have given us all those things. We would be already well advanced today. They good because they respected us.
I think in Oinala village, we had few women who had close relations with some soldiers. We can identify the offsprings by their white skin colour. They were memories of the war, for instance my aunty at Dombeu, whose mother was one of those. Because their husbands were away helping in the war while they were here and they had close relations with the soldiers. One of the women felt pregnant and when she delivered, the child had white skin colour. They do not know the name of the American soldier. My aunt is the child and she looks different. Her children too have white skin.
The woman [war offspring] was named after a doctor who was helping here during the war. The name Julia is that white man's name.
After the war, my aunty was born. My grandfather did not know what was happening here. [Later on he found out and he was angry but then he had to accept the child].
There are other war children like the ones at Sineyada, Japanese mix children. They live at Dobudobu. The children resemble Japanese features more clearly. For this Japanese one, the man married there and lived till he died recently.
The ones we told were by choice but we never heard of prostitution. The act of sex slaves by the Japanese might have happened in Milne Bay but we never heard of it. Because people do not talk about such stories and on custom wise we are forbidden to talk about them. But they may have happened on small scale. It's like a custom where with such acts, we respect the women and we prefer not to discuss about them. They probably have happened but because they did not talk about them so their children do not know about them either.
All right, thank you.

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“Mary Lucy Goelu - Oral History interview recorded on 25 March 2017 at Oinala, Milne Bay Province,” Voices from the War, accessed May 30, 2024,