This photo shows my Papuan and Australian travelling companions topside on the Dredge, admiring the valley scenery as the Watut River meanders by. Note the heavy steel cables and reels used for controlling the various booms on the rig. All eight of these gold dredges were assembled from pieces flown in by Junkers G-31 tri-motor airplanes. There were four of these aircraft with 500-HP engines, one engine located on the nose and one on each wing. Cargo was lifted into their fuselage from the top by a crane and off they went on the short hop over the mountain range. Three of the airplanes met their end in 1942 when they were caught on the ground and destroyed by attacking Japanese forces in World War 2. The fourth one was in the air and managed to escape. However, it too was lost about a year later in the service of the Royal Australian Air Force when one of it's engines failed on take-off. The second photo shows one of my guys inside the dredge control room manning the levers used to run the dredge.
This is a back-end view of the No. 5 Dredge, which was completed in 1937 and finally ceased operations in 1965. The large conveyor belt boom sticking out this back end was used to carry the material scooped up at the front end by a series of buckets. On the left side, the cable that is visible running up to one of the upright pillars was used to deliver the power needed to run the large electric motors on the dredge. On the ground, beside the lower right corner, one of my team is standing looking at the rig, giving you some idea of the size of these things. The brown blob on the ground in front of him, and also on the other corner of the rig, are pontoons used to float these structures on the Watut River as they did their work.
This photo was taken from 2300-ft elevation on the road leading up to one of the hydro generator stations (Upper Baiune) used to supply power to the industries here. It shows part of the mountain range that had to be dealt with, along with some sandy parts in the top left where the dredges had done their work. The small white blobs in the centre is where we stayed during our visit, at the residence of the local power system manager. To the right, the tubular penstock for carrying the water from the dam down to the generators below can be seen.
Oh it was a great job, getting to fly all over this amazing country and meet with both the locals and expatriates who had been here for years. I knew I had it good flying off to the coral atolls, volcanic harbours, rain forests, snow-capped mountains and wide, lazy rivers to deal with whatever the problem was this week! Here, I am just enjoying being in this 'off-the-beaten-path' part of Papua New Guinea before we head back to Moresby for the next assignment.
The Baiune River is one of the tributaries flowing into the Watut River, and it had been dammed many years previously to provide for hydro-electric power. This photo shows the interior of the Lower Baiune Power Station with its five 750 kWatt General Electric generators that had been installed in 1946 to supply the gold dredges. The company was now owned by logging interests and was being used to supply the lumber mills. This privately-owned generating station was interconnected with the Elcom system out of Lae in case they needed extra power or in the event of a drought. The problem they were experiencing was preventing them from connecting to our Elcom system, so we brought a spare device with us from Lae and fixed things up for them. The second photo shows the inside of a second power house further up the mountain side, the Upper Baiune, which was also operated by Harry and his staff. This was also built in 1946, using Westinghouse generators.
Bulolo is located in the Watut River valley, with a small mountain range separating it from the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. It rose to prominence in the late 1920s when alluvial gold deposits were found in the river bed. However, the lack of roads presented a major obstacle to the development of this new found resource. Because the capital of Papua at that time, Salamaua, was located on the coast just over the mountain range, roughly where the 'G' is in 'Gulf', a bold plan was hatched to ship the parts needed to dredge the gold into this small port. From there, they would be flown over the mountain ranges and assembled on-site. In the end, it became the world's largest peacetime airlift with 40,000 tonnes of equipment and supplies being delivered between 1931-1942.
I got there by flying over the main mountain range from Port Moresby on the south coast, landing at Lae. From there, I drove into the site via a fairly decent highway that will take you beyond Bulolo as far as Wau (refer VT-member 'tapis_volant' for some great views of Wau!)