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Rabaul - Before the War - by Rhoda Coote

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Rabaulmap
Surname/tag: Coote, Burns Philp, Rabaul
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The following is a copy of a garden talk that was made by Rhoda Coote on the local Rabaul ABC radio. When: 1960's?? (relates to the period 1939-1945)

Before the war, this small but attractive town was called a garden.

Visitors arriving by ship would first drive along what is known today a Coast Watcher's Street and exclaim at the lovely pink and yellow cassia trees lining either side.

Turning right, one drove along shady Malaguna Road with its canopy of giant Rain trees, passing comfortable homes with wide verandas set in large colourful gardens - many with tennis courts and neatly trimmed hedges.

A favourite hedge in those days was the Lantana, red, pink and yellow and the tree Allamanda with the small yellow, bell-shaped scented flower, not to forget the yellow and orange bird-of-paradise hedges.

One of the tennis courts I remember was surrounded by an embankment massed with vivid blue Monkeyface flowers. There were archways over entrances to many gardens and quisqualis indica in those days was a popular creeper.

Turning right into Mango Avenue one was impressed by the shade cast by the huge Mango Trees lining both sides, and in the season the mangoes hung in profusion.

The streets leading off Mango Avenue were all tree-lined and some of the trees remain today. For example, the mauve white and pink flowering giant Lagerstroemias near Rabaul Trading Company. Court Street was lined with trees with scented flowers which the school children were tempted to pick. Central Avenue had lovely pink and white frangipani trees growing in a long line down the centre.

After driving along one of the streets branching left from Mango Avenue, a visitor would perhaps turn left into Casuarina Avenue with its two lines of tall sighing Casuarina trees, past the colourful garden of Mr B.B. Perriman, manager of W.R. Carpenter & Company, then through Chinatown (as it was known then) admiring the Lau Lau Trees (Eugenia megacarpa") when in season, making bright pink carpets of fallen flowers - and on to the Botanical Gardens where the Commonwealth Department of Works is now.

Inside the gardens were many interesting varieties of tropical fruits imported from other countries, spice trees, and many other examples of plants which can be grown commercially in tropical countries. One could stroll along an avenue of large red tulip trees (which were not as common as they are now) or through a walk of avocado pear trees.

There were many seats in the shade of large trees - a fern house with orchids - cages of exotic looking birds of paradise, and even a large crocodile in a fenced pool.

On Sundays, the Police band played in the Rotunda.

I remember a little creek in the gardens which we approached through a grove of cinnamon trees. It came from a spring in the side of the hill. Behind the spring were winding paths leading up the hills through the bush, with kunai houses provided for picnickers at points we called "lookouts". from which one could look down on the town and harbour or over towards New Ireland. The more energetic walkers could follow a path as far as Namanula.

The home of the director of Agriculture was situated within the gardens and was approached along an Avenue of Casuarina Trees. In it, I remember great splashes of deep purple bougainvillea's and Mr Murray's orchid house, containing many varieties of beautiful orchids which he had imported from Java. Pre-war Government House was a large two-storeyed house built by the Germans with a magnificent position on Namanula Hill overlooking the town and harbour. The road leading to it was hedged on both sides with closely planted Bird-of-Paradise as far as the entrance, where the sentry stood at his post and then the drive - lined on one side by Peltophorum trees - swung around a circular lawn planted with several varieties of Palm trees, some of which still remain.

Wide white steps led up to the house and from the verandah, one looked out into a garden in which white flowers predominated as the Late Lady McNicoll liked to see them at night.

To the right of the house were some Mango Trees providing shade for the deck tennis parties which Lady McNicoll often gave.

Another unusual garden was the one on the side of Sulphur Creek. The Pagoda Shaped two-storeyed house there belonged to Nord-Deutsche Lloyd Company and later to Burns Philp.

It was approached by a steep drive through an avenue of tall Tulip trees and was perched almost on the lip of the old crater which erupted fifty years earlier.

On one side one could look down a steep cliff to the murky yellow creek below and could often see crocodiles basking on the banks in the sun.

On the side facing the town, the garden fell in wide terraces on either side of the broad red steps leading from the house to the lawns and large trees. During the eruption of 1937 and for some weeks afterwards, this garden made a very sad picture of leafless trees and shrubs standing in slate grey pumice about 2 feet deep. Then - much to our surprise - the trees began to flower profusely. Frangipanis, cassias, Poinciana's - still with no leaves; and many, many pink lillys thrust their lovely heads through the wet grey pumice doing their best, so it seemed, to cheer us during our difficult days.

The frangipani trees all over Rabaul a picture and we still have a Ball once a year at the New Guinea Club to commemorate the time "when the frangipanis bloomed again".

Burns Philp's manager in later years lived at Tavui Point or the Submarine Base as it is called today. There was a very large garden there incorporating some of the more attractive bush trees which were there originally. The long circular drive was entirely covered with white coral brought from the beach from which the garden rose in flower edged terraces.

If I haven't said enough about individual gardens it is only because, in my eyes, Rabaul itself was a garden.

There were fewer people and life was slower but it had great charm.

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