Firstly, a little background to my story about my Grandfather. I spent the first thirteen years of my life living in Port Moresby in Papua and New Guinea.
I have spent a considerable amount of time scanning negatives that my Grandfather took during the 1920's. Over the past 95 years these negatives have remained in the bottom of suitcases and storage boxes and not stored in ideal conditions. I have tried over the past eight months to bring them back to their original condition using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The most remarkable thing about these negatives is that they were taken using a Kodak Box Brownie and the negatives were produced using river water in the wilds of New Guinea.
My Great Grandfather Herbert William Champion arrived in Port Moresby in 1898 at the age of 18. He arrived aboard Burns Phillip and Company's first steam ship the Moresby, working for them supervising the unloading of the company's vessels.
His character and ability were soon noticed by Governor George Le Hunte who offered him a position with the Administration at the Government Store. His boss Henry Chester passed away after an accidental fall and my Great Grandfather was given his position. Some years later he married Chester's widow and brought up her children. He subsequently had three sons with her Ivan, Claude and Alan.
In 1916 he was promoted to the position of Government Secretary and in 1940 he was appointed Acting-Lieutenant Governor of Papua. He was awarded a CBE and his three sons carried the family name with great distinction through the war years and in the new civil administration that followed.
He planted and cared for most of the trees growing in the city centre including the tamarinds in the parade that bears his name.
My Grandfather was born in Port Moresby in 1904 and at the age of ten attended the Manly Public School in NSW. He finished his schooling at the Southport School in Queensland before returning to Papua in 1923 as a Patrol Officer.
In 1926 the Administrator Sir Hubert Murray asked two patrol officers to try to cross New Guinea at its widest point, from the source of the Fly River in the south to the head of the Sepik in the North and follow this river to its mouth. The patrol officers were,
In December 1926 they were transported upstream by the Government ketch Elevala 500 miles from the mouth of the Fly River to the Alice River from where they would set out.
At this point Karius decided he would take half the police and head in a north east direction to try and find the Sepik and that my grandfather should take the remaining police and carriers back to Daru at the mouth of the Fly River.
My Grandfather however decided he would explore the mountains to the north-west before returning. He had taught himself navigation and always carried a sextant with him, he told Karius he was heading in the wrong direction. This decision was the turning point for the expedition. My Grandfather met friendly natives who led him beneath the limestone walls to the Bol River which was a tributary of the Fly, and then to a native village called Bolovip at an altitude of over 6500 feet. In those days altitude was measured by boiling water in a Hypsometer. My Grandfather became very friendly with these natives and picked up on their vocabulary by holding up items, saying their names and having them say their name in return.
The Chief Tamsimara, using sign language described a river that flowed to the north. It was the Takin, one of the headwaters of the Sepik. These natives had never seen steel before so my
Grandfather presented them with a tomahawk and axe and then showed them how to use them. They were taro eaters and used stone adzes to ring bark the trees so they could plant their crops. This was the first encounter that they had with white men so they were truly amazed when my Grandfather took of his hat because they thought it was part of his body.
Headhunters from the Fly River:
A second attempt began in September 1927. They made their way back to Bolivip, and the chief led them over ridges of needle -pointed limestone, through moss covered scrub and across bridges made of vines that were over 40 feet above rapids and bottomless chasms. At an altitude of over 9000 feet Tamsimara pointed out a great basin surrounded by mountains. In the valley they could make out a wide, muddy and slow moving river.
My Grandfather had from an early age wanted to join the navy but his poor eyesight put an end to that career. When war broke out he was inducted into the army and became a private in February 1942. Days later he was summoned to the Naval Base and told that he would become a Lieutenant in the Navy. He knew he would fail the medical exam, but Commander Hunt had arranged for the Air Force doctor to pass him, no matter what. It was his navigating and surveying skills that enabled him to achieve his boyhood ambition.
He was given command of the Laurabada, which had been the Governors yacht. It was fitted with Lewis machine guns and became HMAS Laurabada. He would go in under cover of darkness deep in Japanese held territory and rescue troops. One such operation he rescued 150 troops, and set sail into a violent storm which made excellent cover from Japanese warplanes. He was ordered to search for survivors after the Coral Sea battle and found two navy pilots from the lost aircraft carrier, USS Lexington. He also made many voyages taking army units and coast watchers to island posts. He was tasked with piloting Allied ships into Miline Bay and was lucky to escape the Japanese battle fleet as it made its way to a Miline Bay landing.
His most important task once the Japanese were repulsed, was to survey a route from Miline Bay to Oro Bay. After completing this survey he was tasked with piloting Allied ships between these two points before being flown back by the Americans to pilot the next vessel. He piloted the first US Liberty ship into Buna, before coming under command of the Royal Navy towards the end of 1944. He was sent in command of HMS Challenger to survey through Torres Strait so that the British Pacific Fleet could go through at full speed.
He was discharged in October 1945 and returned to Port Moresby before taking over as the District Officer at Daru. His only injury during all his explorations, and during the war was being gored by a wild pig while he was looking through a theodolite on the Admiralty Islands.
In 1951 he was in charge of the relief operations that followed the eruption of Mount Lamington volcano, where over 3000 Orokaiva people perished and 35 whites.
He left the Public Service in 1964, as Chief Commissioner of the Land Titles Commission before again commanding the Laurabada for private owners in Papua and New Guinea waters.Before he finally retired and moved to Australia, he worked as a surveyor for oil companies along the Great Barrier Reef and was involved in contract work in South East Asia surveying for new harbour developments.
In 1967 my Grandfather was told a story by a Bishop from a Canadian Mission who had visited Bolovip. The steel axe that my Grandfather had given Tamsimara in 1926, was hanging on a wall in pride of place in the men's house. They told the Bishop that it had been given to them by the first white man they had ever seen, being my Grandfather.
In April 1961 TAA Douglas DC3 named in his honour:
Ivan Champion aged 22 years:
Strickland River natives:
Distributing carriers rations:
Our Aivara village camp:
Our Ivivi village camp:
My Grandfather published a book in 1932 entitled "Across New Guinea From The Fly To The Sepik."
In 1988, James Sinclair published a book entitled "Last Frontiers" The Explorations Of Ivan Champion of Papua.
Ivan Francis Champion O.B.E. passed away 12 August 1989 in Canberra.