Mavis Manuda Tongia - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Mavis Manuda Tongia tells a story on her mother's behalf, about life at the Inonda Camp 3 care centre.



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.

My name is Madeline Dodou Uiari Manuda of Buna village. When the war came in 1942 we saw the big ships coming into our shores at Gona, Buna and Sanananda. We heard gunshots, we saw the planes flying in the air. It was something new to us, and it was frightening, and we all ran into the bushes and hid. At that time I was a young girl of about 13 years old. After some weeks gone, our village chiefs called and told everybody to come out from the hiding place.
The Americans and Australian soldiers took everybody into Inonda Care Centre and they put up a big camp there, and called that camp Inonda Camp 3. All the men were recruited as carriers to help Australian and American soldiers. Only women and children were left behind at that camp. The soldiers also looked at the number of people in the camp and the food they'll need. All the young girls were recruited to make a really big general garden to grow vegetables. I was recruited with the others.
We were scared of the soldiers but they told us they would look after us very well. We started to cut down bushes, trees, cleared the place, and started planting bananas, taro, sweet potatoes, beans, greens, corns and many more. We worked so hard so the food were ready. We harvested, loaded them in the wheelbarrows and took them to the food ration store where all the other store food were kept. End of every week women and children were given food ration as their weekly supply.
While we were in the garden and hear the noise of an airplane we were told to take cover. Some of the girls were confident but many of us were still feeling frightened of noise of bombs and guns. Those were some of the experience I had during World War II, I still recall and remember of what I saw, and it is in my memory until I die. Thank you.
[VS] Mavis you just read a story, your mother's story that she passed on to you when you prepared to read to read on her behalf to us, can you tell us a little bit about what kind of person your mother is, about her life? Where she came from?
My mother is the eldest daughter of Lincoln Uiari her father and Ilma Uiari, mother. She's from Buna Village and she has three brothers and two sisters in the family. She married my father when my father, after he graduated from the medical school in Port Moresby and he was posted to look after Buna Aid Post, the Buna Government Station and he was working, my father was working there and he met my mother and he married my mother and my mother told me the story how she met my father. ''I was one of those other young girls who are all trying to marry your father, I was so lucky that he chose me, the rest of the girls, he left those girls and he chose me. So he, I got married to your father''.
[VS] So what was your mother doing at the time that she met your father?
She was just a—
[VS] In the village?
Yeah. She was just a village girl, yes.
[VS] So they went back to the village after the war and after being at the camp?
Yes, after the war ended they were called to go back to their village at Buna, so she went back with her mother and father, her brothers and sisters they all went back to Buna village and they settled again at Buna.
[VS] Were they disrupted by the Mt Lamington volcano?
Yes, very bad. The mud, sand, the, everything was all covered by the mud and they were having a problem in making gardens but they tried their best, after sometime they managed to make new gardens.
[VS] Did they have to flee their homes again, when the volcano erupted?
When the volcano erupted she told me that because of the smoke and lava and everything was just rolling like, it was rolling all the way down to the sea, so the people had to get onto their canoes and thought they will escape in the oceans so they were all paddling right to the ocean but it covered the whole place so they couldn't go for that, they had to paddle back because the smoke and mud covered the place and people had to come back.
They had to hold mats in the air like this to cover the mud and ashes falling onto them, so they held the mats up like this so the mud and ashes and everything were falling on top of the mat, and they had to paddle back because the people were screaming and saying ''it's come to kill us in the ocean so we have to go back to the land'', so they had to paddle back to the shore.
[VS] So twice your mother had to run away from her home.
Mm, they had to do that.
[VS] And after the volcano did they settle back in the place where they had been before or in a different place?
In the different place, in the different place they settled, the old place they couldn't go back to the old place so they had to look for a new place to settle.
[VS] And so when you were a girl and growing up with your mother, was that, that was back at Buna?
Yes, I was born at Buna at the place called Mosida, that's the Aid Post where my father was looking after.
[VS] And did you stay there for your whole childhood?
My father stayed there and he was told to, he was called to help the doctors after the eruption, he was called up to Higaturu Government Station to help the doctors there so he left me there with my mother and he had to go up to Higaturu Government Station.
[VS] Do you remember your mother telling you stories about the war or about the Mt Lamington eruption when you were a child? Did she talk to you then or only later in her life?
No she just told me lately that how they ran to escape from the ashes and the mud falling onto the houses, and they had to get on the canoe and paddle out to the ocean, and it followed them so they had to come right into the shore.
[VS] The stories about the war? Are they just recent as well, that you have heard about her experience of the war?
Just recently because you wanted to interview her, so when I asked she told me, she never told me the story about the war, just my father was telling me about it but not my mother
[VS] But not your mother. Why do you think that is?
I wouldn't know.
[VS] Hard to tell. But she'd kept those stories to herself.
She kept that story to herself but my father he told me all his stories.
[VS] All right thank you Mavis, Margaret do you have any questions you'd like to ask?
[ME] I'd like to find out from her as to how many of you in the family and where were they born? Did you follow up with your mother to join up with your father at Higaturu a little bit later?
Okay I have, there are four of us in the family, two boys, and two girls, I'm the eldest and like I said I was born in Buna the place called Mosida and the rest, my brothers were born up in Saiho when my father was working there at the hospital and my younger sister was born in Tufi when my father transferred out down to Tufi and we were there in Tufi and my sister was born there, and going back to Margaret's question, I was left a baby with my mother in Buna while my father was up at Higaturu Government Station, from Higaturu he was sent to up to Saiho to build a new hospital there so my father actually was there at Saiho and that hospital was built by the village people and my father, and from Saiho he came down to Buna and took me and my mother up to Saiho.
At that time I was the only child they had so, and then later my two brothers were born also at Saiho. Then from Saiho he was called to go down to Tufi hospital to relieve an IOC down there who was on his, some course to be the—that he would attend, so he was called to Madang and he was only relieving at Tufi hospital and we were there and then when the IOC returned we came back to Saiho and that's where we were until, yeah.
[VS] Your mother now is in town?
Yes my mother is still alive, she's living in town, she's looked after by small sister.
[ME] You made mention of your mother having a couple of siblings would they be still alive? This brother and sister, you mentioned a couple?
Yes, her brother after him is dead and she lost the other brother after the second brother, we just lost him five weeks ago I think, and her two sisters are still alive. One is Lomas' mother that we met at Sanananda and the last one brother is married to a Central woman and he left, he never came back. He's gone.
[ME] So how old do you think your mum would be?
She'd be, I think she must be late 70s I think yeah, I think she must be in her late 70s.
[ME] I don't have any more questions.
[VS] Thank you Mavis for telling us about your mother and for sharing her story.

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“Mavis Manuda Tongia - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 22, 2024,