On returning from leave we found that Tony Rees had finished his assignment and resigned from SMEC. He had originally been given a government house in Centipede Alley, opposite Hans Fischer and lived there until one of the new houses at Moa Moa became available. His wife Josie was much overweight but had a happy and attractive nature and we liked her. Soon after he arrived in Samoa he became very friendly with several Samoans who worked at the workshop complex. As time went by Tony became enamoured of the Samoan way of life and spent much of his time with his new friends. This was his first overseas job and I thought he was being foolish in becoming too familiar with the locals. It seemed to me from observation of other expatriates who had been integrated into the Samoan community that the Samoans tended to impose on them; their extended family culture may have been admirable but our culture of individualism had grown away from a communalistic life style. About half way through his assignment he started a liaison with a young Samoan girl and it soon became obvious to us that his marriage was under severe strain. Josie eventually got sick of his comings and goings at all hours; one night she bundled up all his clothes, drove to his girlfriends village and scattered them around everywhere!
His resignation was unexpected to me as I thought he would pull himself together when he got home and realised he had been living in a somewhat unreal lifestyle. It certainly showed that his marriage bonds were not very strong and further proof to me of the strain that SMEC work placed on marriages. However I was particularly shocked to hear that he had resigned to get his superannuation and termination payments. We advised Jo to make sure she got a share of his assets. Tony immediately returned to Samoa on a tourist visa and set up house with his girlfriend in a rented house. I ran into him a few times at Aggies. There were many expats around doing as he was, some even living in fales as Samoans and working for PWD as skilled leading hands under incompetent matais and on impossibly low wages. They were dropouts from western lifestyles and typical of hundreds of people who had done this over the past century, as witnessed by the common occurrence of European surnames from mixed marriages.
Tony had aspirations to become a business man and, with another expat did succeed in importing a batch of drums of bitumen for SPDC. However, business wasn't good, his finances eventually ran short and his visa was withdrawn. He returned to Australia, married his Samoan girlfriend, and got a job as a trainee manager with Woolworths.
Eugene Costello was another whose marriage was tested by SMEC. He worked on the Le Mafa Pass road exclusively with Samoan machine operators and labourers. I didn't think much of Eugene. One Sunday afternoon he took his family, wife and two small boys, to the Yacht Club at Mulinu'u and got himself pretty plastered. As he drove home through town he turned his long wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser over. I saw him soon after and in his shock was sobbing his head off. His family wasn't hurt fortunately, and Bernice was obviously upset at his hysterical state. On a couple of other occasions he reacted to a crisis in the same way. Some time after his arrival one of his children had a health problem which couldn't be cured by the local facilities. He sent Bernice and the boys home for a month to resolve the problem. He immediately started an affair with a teen age school girl, daughter of a local Le Mafa Pass matai, to whom he had given a lift to Apia from the works site. He would borrow Ron Wollan's room at Aggies for the purpose. (Ron was single and had replaced Tony as workshop stores officer.) Bernice was away longer than expected, and the girl became pregnant. Some time later Eugene got word from one of the workmen that the women folk of the girls village were upset by this event and wanted the menfolk to do something about Eugene recognising his responsibilities.
The men were still chewing over the problem when Eugene, realising the danger of his situation and sobbing uncontrollably, asked John Iles to get him out of Samoa in a hurry. (Two or three years earlier at the girls village the umpire at a "kirickiti" (cricket) game had been decapitated with a bush knife by an unhappy batsman!) Eugene made excuses to Bernice that the Samoans of the Le Mafa area were after him for a work-connected problem. John flew him out to Pago to catch the Pan Am flight, but the village women, who were disgusted with the prevarications of their menfolk, heard of his flight and rang relatives in Pago to intercept him. Fortunately for him Eugene evaded the vigilante posse at Pago airport and successfully boarded the Pan Am flight. Both Tony and Eugene were stupid in situations where they had some measure of privilege and didn't have the sense to know their responsibilities. Many years later I heard that George Meredith, while in Australia for a Rugby football tour, had visited Eugene in Canberra and brought a message from the villagers asking him to contribute to the upbringing of the little red headed girl at Le Mafa, but I can only guess at the outcome.
A little before I took my annual leave Ieti Taulealo, a young Samoan engineer started work with PWD. He had been living in New Zealand and was married to a New Zealand girl. I had talked to the Director about him becoming involved with the work of the lab as I had had no intimation that I would be given another assignment. I thought that if Ieti became responsible for the lab my work in upgrading the construction technology might at least be maintained. His presence was much in demand, but I succeeded in having him take over the lab when I left for Europe. He started work in the lab on 9th June 1977 and I spent a lot of time bringing him up to date with what I had been doing. He was called away a lot to do things for the Director and as soon as I knew that my time in Samoa was extended I could see that I had little hope of getting an engineer like Ieti working solely on laboratory work. However it was good that Ieti was there occasionally and took an interest in the improvement of technology to save time, money and human resources.
With the taking over of the SPDC lab I now had the services of Mose (Mossy) Lata, intermittently for a start, but permanently from 17th October '77. He spoke fairly good English and I had hopes of him taking over the day to day routine work under the overall control of Ieti. At that time I was asked by the Director if there was anyone in the lab who would benefit from a 3 month course which was on free offer at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. I nominated Mose for this and he left at the end of October. I made sure that he knew something about everything we were doing in Samoa before he left, from the winning of coral to the blasting technique in the quarry.
My first visit to the site showed that the construction gang had problems which they were dealing with in their own ad hoc way. Firstly they were using batch boxes which were too large, 16 inch square by about 12 inches deep. The mix would be typically 2 boxes of 1½ inch aggregate, 1 box of ¾ inch aggregate, 2 boxes of sand and 2 bags of cement. When the boxes were loaded to the top with stone the men charging the mixer found they were very heavy to lift, so there was a tendency for them to be under filled. I had the carpentry shop make new smaller boxes which two men could lift with ease. I also found that shovelling 1½ inch aggregate was hard work and so that material was skimped on. Eventually I changed the mix to use the smaller ¾ inch coarse aggregate only. There was then a tendency to pile the boxes high instead of striking them off level. Also, as I had found in the laboratory, the fresh mix tended to stiffen quickly as the coral absorbed water. The water meter on the mixer was broken so I allowed the men to measure water into the mixer in a gallon paint can. However they tended to throw in a bit extra for luck, and if the men placing the concrete complained that it was too stiff, i.e. it would not flow easily in the formwork, they would call for more water. Consequently there was little effort on the part of the concreting gang to stick rigidly to the mix. I had to take the man in charge aside and, with Ieti's help, advise him that if the mix wasn't adhered to the concrete strength might be too low. I told him that if they had to put more water in the mixer they should also throw in a shovel full of extra cement.
There was no point in trying to rigidly enforce mix control; the men didn't understand the technology of concrete, they didn't speak much English and they regarded themselves as experienced workmen. It was better to make their job easier, adjust mix proportions to allow for human nature, and where possible, to teach any receptive workmen by discussion on site.
I tried to get to the site for every pour and to take samples in cube
shaped moulds for strength tests at various ages ranging from 3 to 28 days.
After the blocks were stripped from the moulds they were marked and stored
in water to cure. They were crushed in a hydraulic compression machine
and the load on them at failure was recorded. The 28 day strength was most
important as the structural designer specified the desired concrete strength
at this age. I closely monitored the variations and watched for problems.
I had been somewhat worried that residual salt in the coral might be deposited
on the surface as the concrete dried out and would make it unsightly. However
I saw no sign of this happening and when I saw the building 10 years later
it looked much as when it was completed.
After I was relieved of the pressure to get the quarry operating I had time to think about the next step in improving the construction materials technology of Samoa. The shortage of materials for concrete and pavement materials had been alleviated by the rebuilding of the dredge "Palolo". I had defined the properties and limitations of coral detritus for pavements and there had been an immediate and eager demand for its use. Indeed there had been times when I felt the danger of being over-run by the demand, while I raced to prove the limitations. I particularly felt the need for caution in the use of coral sand in concrete and was relieved to find that despite its poor quality in absolute terms there was a valid place for its use. Now I felt an urgent need to educate those responsible for the engineering processes. I discussed the matter with Graeme Falconer and the Director of Works and suggested that perhaps we should have a symposium on coral to disseminate all the information we now had on the subject. They thought this was a good idea, but I couldn't see how I could get it organised. How could I get everyone involved, from the Director to the foremen, together at the same time?
Finally I decided to try putting it all into print and if possible to have it translated into Samoan. This I proceeded to do, as I found time, in the form of bulletins. The subjects covered were on the use of coral in concrete and as pavement material, the method of pavement design, proper methods of rock blasting for quarrying and supply of crusher feed, and notes on explosives. I made 50 copies and distributed one to everyone I could find who was involved in construction work, including consultants. The Director was very impressed with the work I had been doing but whenever I talked to him I found that his concentration span was very limited and his eyes would soon glaze over. He thanked me for the bulletins and put his copies away in his book case where I guessed they would be pushed to the bottom of a pile of sundry papers. With the constant turnover of staff there was virtually no continuous system of records and I guessed that my bulletins would be filed in the bottom of drawers etc., hence my decision to distribute them widely and hide them away in places where they might be found in future years.
John Iles took responsibility for the planning of the crusher layout and eventually production of crushed and screened aggregate had been achieved. Dennis Reardon supervised the quarry and crusher. A few months after he arrived he started to complain of pain in his leg and on occasions was absent from work. He had little satisfaction from the doctors at the hospital, but the rest of us reckoned it was gout. Nula was a good cook, he was fond of his grog, a heavy smoker and not inclined to much physical activity. He went on leave to Fiji, returning on 1st October but his health troubles continued. I kept an eye on the quarry and crusher and ran production tests there on a couple of occasions. Jim Passi came to me and asked me to look over the explosives situation, saying he had been approached by the Pago based agent of a Japanese explosives company. In general I kept in touch with the situation without disturbing or offending Dennis. On a couple of occasions while he was away John asked me to keep an eye on Alufua operations. I involved myself in odd jobs such as widening parts of the access road and improving drainage.
In early October while Denis Reardon was incapacitated with his leg, I worked a deal with Fred Wetzell. He needed rock for crushing while we needed transport for coral to maintain the Alafua quarry road (our trucks were tied up with work on the WESTEC plantation roads.) He hauled coral sand from the screening plant behind the laboratory at Vaitele to repair the quarry road which was suffering from the heavy traffic, and back loaded quarry blasted rock to his plant a short distance down the road from the workshop complex. There was only a mile or so of non-productive travel involved in each trip. I spent all day in the quarry supervising the rock loading and suspected that Wetzell, unwatched, helped himself to a few free loads of coral.
It was fine weather and the sun was relentless. I had nothing to drink all afternoon and arrived home at 5-30 with a raging thirst. I grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and as I opened it Jackie said I'd better not have a drink now. We had been invited to a cocktail party at the Tusitala Hotel, given by a visiting aid officer from the Australian High Commission in Suva. I cursed having to go out and after drinking half the bottle had a hurried shower. Before we left for the party I finished the bottle. I still felt dehydrated and as soon as I could get past the diplomat and his wife who were greeting guests at the door of the reception room I looked for another drink, preferably a soft drink to further slake my thirst. I spied a waiter with a tray but all he had were small glasses of spirits. I couldn't even get a glass of water, so I settled for a scotch on the rocks. I gulped this down and started looking for more fluid. Eventually I cornered a waiter and took two glasses of beer, found a chair in the corner and hoped Jackie was looking after herself. I managed to bring my internal moisture content back towards normal, but in the process reduced the normality of my thinking processes. I dodged the host and hostess and tried to have conversations with other guests without showing that I was too drunk to scratch myself. Eventually as others were starting to leave Jackie dragged me up to the host and hostess who had lined themselves up at the door to farewell their guests. I muttered my thanks, and, moving away a few feet, started to emulate the host who I had taken a dislike to, (Jackie and I both had a generic dislike of diplomats) saying to my workmates in a toffy voice "Glad you could come!"
Jackie was worried whether I could drive home but I was aware of my limitations and proceeded slowly with my trusty back seat driver helping. She wasn't too impressed with my performance but I explained that I'd nearly died of thirst. The next day the man from Suva inspected the workshops and lab. I apologised for my actions of the previous night, and tried to explain but he was pretty stiff towards me so I didn't bother worrying too much about him. Stuff him and his cocktail parties!
Part of the lab work involved concrete block making. I was prompted to take an interest in this as PWD and other organisations were using blocks more and more for office, school and business buildings. Fred Wetzell had been selling blocks made of crushed lava sand and I had noticed a large Mormon church being built of blocks. I did a lot of trial mixes and discussed block making with Wetzell. He was a Samoan of German descent with sharp business tendencies and I took some of his blocks for strength tests. I found I could make blocks of good strength with coral and gave him the results. He started to use a dragline to win coral sand from the lagoon behind his factory and this saved him crushing costs. The growing demand for blocks prompted him to get a government subsidised development loan for the purchase of a modern block making plant from Italy.
My investigations showed that blocks required somewhat more cement in the mix than was used in Australia, both for the coral and crushed lava sand. Wetzell was inclined to save on cement if possible. There was no system or equipment for testing blocks to maintain quality standards for building and I considered that this was a particularly undesirable situation. I asked for SMEC to supply special attachments for our compression machine to establish a testing system. Also I started the routine in the lab of making blocks for PWD use when we were slack for work. I circumvented accounting problems, once we were in regular production, by swapping the blocks for an equivalent amount of cement to replace them.
On October 22nd Wetzell had an official opening of his new plant, attended by the Prime Minister and various interested people including John Iles and me. As the new industrial area was now being established at Vaitele adjacent to the PWD workshop area and only a kilometre from Wetzells plant there was good potential for growth in his business. The new brewery alone would need a large supply of blocks.
While we lived at Vaivase we had good television reception direct from Pago. There were two channels; one broadcast was from tape recordings of complete daily TV programming of a Californian TV station, commercials, news and all. These were flown to Pago every few days and broadcast one week later than originally put to air. The other channel broadcast local news and events and showed old films. When we moved to Moa Moa we found that we were in the television shadow of a long ridge which descended from the top of Mt Vaea towards the centre of Apia. Reception was very snowy. One day in mid November I was talking to Tom Bratton, an English aid worker at the post office. He said he thought it wouldn't be too hard to rebroadcast the TV signal from high on the ridge, directing it towards our houses in the valley below.
On a Saturday afternoon in November we drove up a track to the post office radio transmitter complex, which contained the inter-island radio telephone system, and base relay stations for the various car radio systems, including the police and ours. This was at an altitude of about 600 feet above sea level. Tom had an oscilloscope which could measure the TV signal and he found that at this complex it was quite strong. He erected a TV antenna on the eastern side of the steep spur and connected a long coaxial cable to it to carry the signal across the spur to another antenna erected out of sight of the first and pointed down at the houses below. The cable was connected to a small booster of the type used on antennae in fringe areas. He first detuned it to provide only small amplification of the signal; he explained that as we were rebroadcasting the signals on the same wavelength it could "howl" or cause interference to the first signal just as a radio would if a microphone attached to it was pointed at the speaker. We didn't want the first antenna to pick up the signals coming from the second. Indeed this tended to happen and it would have been desirable to separate the two antennae further. After a while we achieved excellent results. I was able to talk to Jackie down at the house below us on the car radio.
However we found that our improvised (and illegal) broadcasting system also picked up other signals as well, including our car radio conversations which could be received on the TVs. Tom went up the ridge again on the Monday and pulled the system down when someone complained that "Days of Our Lives" from Pago TV was being heard also on 2AP radio station! So we sold our TV and found other entertainment!
On Friday 25th November John Iles organised a golf day. This was most unexpected for we work oriented people. He invited the Head of State, who was a keen golfer, various political and departmental people, diplomatic staff from NZ high commission and business people we had associations with. It was an afternoon social tournament with a lot of prizes, including at least a golf ball for everyone. The golf balls were a sore point for Jackie and me; when we came to Samoa we carried a box containing four dozen for the project, all marked with the SMEC logo. Being handed to us at the last moment before departure they had been a considerable nuisance on the journey. The golfers amongst us used to needle Werner about handing them out us, but he said they were not for us. There were many good golfers among the Samoans, particularly those who had lived in New Zealand. John Iles and Kay Hughes were the best players of our crowd, the rest being able to play to the maximum handicap. Except for Bryan Bush who had never played in his life. I played in a foursome with the wife of the NZ High Commissioner, a top grade player and two quite good local players. It was a hot day but enjoyable. Bryan Bush won the booby prize with a score of about 170.
Harry Morris was replaced after about a year as manager of SPDC, by Olaf Falsted. There had been rumours that Harry was a womaniser on the quiet but I never found out why he left Samoa. He was a strange, paranoiac, rather surly type and not a very cooperative or friendly man, though I got on well enough with him. Olaf was a tall, likeable Australian of Norwegian birth and, I think, had come to Samoa to have a working retirement as many others did. His last job had been the construction of a big bulk storage shed for sugar in Mauritius, where I would also work a few years later. He was competent enough but I always felt that he thought work in these little countries was not something to become too worried about.
During 1977, Electric Power Corporation commenced putting in a new diesel generator to augment the power supply for Apia. They let the contract for the building and foundations of the motor and generator to SPDC who called on me for foundation testing, and advice on the concrete for the machine bed. The latter was to be a very large block of concrete which would withstand the vibrations of the machinery. I had to do bearing tests on the foundations to ensure a solid footing. This I had done many times at home by placing a very heavy truck over the site, and jacking against this on a steel plate which was one foot square. Various loads were applied to the plate with a large hydraulic jack having an accurately calibrated pressure gauge. The settlement or deflection of the plate at various loads was measured with a sensitive dial gauge. On this occasion I used a bulldozer to jack against.
Incidentally on the track into the power station, Elitise Road, there was a fale with a large tomb in the front garden. It was a not uncommon practice for families to bury their relatives at home and due to the presence of rock close to the surface burial was usually in a concrete tomb on top of the ground. This tomb was roofed over and decorated with garlands of flowers. Hanging below the roof was a sign, "Merry Xmas Dad and a Happy New Year!"
A few days before Xmas John Iles decided to give a party for the workers at Le Mafa Pass. We weren't too enthusiastic about this as we had seen on a couple of occasions the behaviour of some Samoans when there was free beer around. However John insisted and it was arranged to have the party in the afternoon on Christmas eve. Eugene had the half dozen workmen build a bush gazebo in the morning, and transported chairs and trestle tables to the site. Pat Iles, supported by Jackie and the other ladies, made sandwiches, cakes etc., and Ron Wollan and Bryan Bush brought soft drink and two dozen bottles of Steinlager, the strong New Zealand beer that the Samoans fancied. The elder Iles children, 16 year old Colin and 13 year old Louise, had come for the school holidays. When we arrived for the party the Samoans respectfully seated themselves cross legged on the ground and waited for proceedings to start. John wanted us to entertain the Samoans, it being usually the other way around, so Bryan Bush showed a couple of training films. One was from Caterpillar Tractors, showing dozer work in steep country which didn't seem to amuse the Samoans; they sat quietly and watched but a couple of them seemed to be having a quiet discussion. I guessed that it was something like "I wonder when they're going to produce the grog!"
Then we talked Ron Wollan into doing his party trick. He would set up on a table a flat tray with three glasses lined up on it. Over the glasses he would put a piece of flat cardboard so that one edge protruded beyond the table. Above each glass would be placed a hollow plastic champagne stopper and on each of these would be placed an egg. Then holding a broom stick against the edge of the cardboard and restraining the bottom with his foot and the top with one hand he would push strongly against the middle of the stick, at the same time carrying on with an amusing patter. Eventually he would let the top of the stick go and it would push violently against the cardboard and hit the table. The cardboard would go flying and the eggs would drop into the three glasses. We had seen him do this successfully several times, with ostentatious and amusing showmanship. Alas, poor Ron, he failed on this occasion, to our great glee, in front of guests who couldn't understand what all this was about. After all what was so funny in turning a table over and breaking three eggs and a glass. The quiet discussion became audible muttering and I told John he'd better start doling out the Steinlager quick.
After an hour and a couple of bottles of beer I noticed one or two of the Samoans casting an eye at Louise who was showing signs of filling out into young womanhood. They were also becoming noisier and less deferential, and an argument wasn't too far in the offing. I drew Pats attention to this and advised her she shouldn't stay too much longer. They had started doing their dances and singing. The two dozen bottles didn't last long and the Samoans obviously expected us to provide more. Ron and Bryan went off somewhere to find more, and when they returned Pat took advantage of the preoccupation of people with rationing out the bottles to slip away with the kids. Jackie and I weren't much longer and I think the others saw the writing on the wall, leaving while there were a few bottles left. I had seen a fight at a party at the workshop between two young men, which was savage, but no less so than the summary punishment meted out to them by a couple of mature matais. How someone wasn't killed that night I don't know and I was glad to see everyone get away home from this "party" before a similar incident occurred. The Samoans working on the job had been unhappy from the start at the wages, which were fixed by PWD, and John's effort at Xmas cheer was well-meant to show our goodwill.
During the Le Mafa job which involved widening the road in very steep country, there was an accident which further illustrates the volatility of the Samoan country people. A pickup from Aleipata, in the south eastern corner of Upolu, with a big load of taro in bags was travelling down the steep road. It was driven by a young man and beside him was a matai of mature years. It had stopped earlier in its journey for two girls in their late teens, student teachers, who climbed on to the top of the load of taro. The brakes weren't very good and the driver was cutting the corners. A loaded PWD truck travelling slowly up the steep road rounded a corner and was confronted by the pickup on the wrong side of the road. The pickup swung sharply to the correct side of the road and the hitchhikers were thrown off into the path of the truck. One of the girls was killed. When the vehicles had stopped and the consequences were perceived, the matai said to his driver "Get him!" The truck driver ran away down the road followed by the pickup driver who was wearing a lava-lava only and swinging a bush knife. The latter, urged on by cries of "Kill him!" from the matai, lost his lava-lava and tripped as he ran and the truck driver got away. What would a visitor to Samoa, seeing a nude man brandishing a bush knife and chasing another man down the road, think was going on?
We decided to stay in Samoa for the end-of-year holidays; we had spent the last two year-end holidays in Honolulu and had only 6 more months living overseas before we returned to Australia. We were entitled to a paid leave break in Fiji and intended to go to Suva in February. We spent the holiday quietly. On Xmas day we visited the leper ward at the hospital with Nula and Dennis. Most days I would go to the lab for an hour or two, to test concrete samples as they came due for crushing at 7 and 28 days and 3 and 12 months. We lazed around the swimming pool, went for picnics and snorkelling to the Hideaway and Salamumu, and enjoyed the most relaxed time since we arrived in Samoa.
During the next four months I concentrated on finishing the trial mixes using various combinations of aggregate and sand derived from Alafua quarry, beach and river deposits, lava boulders, and coral detritus. These were for various compressive strengths and purposes, containing various cement contents per cubic metre. In all we carried out more than two hundred trial mixes using a 2 cubic feet capacity electric mixer, six inch cube moulds and 6 inch diameter by 12 inch cylinder moulds for the test specimen. The results were tabulated and included in reports to SMEC as well as being incorporated in the technical bulletins which I distributed around Samoa.
Jackie and I spent a week in Suva at the beginning of February 1978 on leave break. We stayed at the best hotel and did a tourist trip or two. I was keen to visit the University of the South Pacific and try to interest somebody there to do a more academic study of coral for engineering use. Mose was still there on his training course and I was also interested to visit the Fiji cement company which was making cement from coral. We went to the university one day and found Mose who was nearing the end of his three month course. This course was of general interest for technical employees of governments of many small countries in the south Pacific and included general basic educational subjects such as English, maths, science and geology.
Mose introduced us to Dr Richard Solly, a lecturer there and he invited Jackie and I to visit him at his home. He was in his thirties and was from Canberra. The house was bedecked in colourful bougainvillea with a lush lawn. Jackie got on well with his wife and enjoyed the brief insight into private life of expats in Fiji. I brought up the subject of research into the engineering use of coral and gave Richard a copy of some of my reports. I particularly drew his attention to the relatively high setting temperatures attained in concrete when using coral sand. Also to the remarkably good road surfaces we achieved with coral which some people thought might be due to self cementing properties of coral. I suggested that this might be a fertile field for academic research as most small South Pacific countries had the same sort of infrastructure problems as Samoa. He said he would look into the reports. I gathered that the prime object of the university was general education with some research in agriculture. I told him I would make a proposal to SMEC to involve the university in our research and perhaps I could get him some aid money for the work.
We also visited the cement works. I talked to the manager Peter Smith who told me something of the manufacturing process and his sources of supply for the ingredients. He imported coke and shale from Australia and got coral from a dredge and a quarry. He was too busy to spare me much time, saying it was a private company, and referred me to his chemical engineer and laboratory officer, Kees van Vleman. Kees showed me over the plant while Jackie sat in the car and waited. He was obviously committed to his job, and referred to cement as concentrated energy because of the amount of coal involved in its manufacture. The business was apparently delicately poised economically and dependant on relative exchange rates, coal prices, freight charges and imported cement prices. I felt from what he told me that there wasn't a good future remaining for this company. Japanese trade around the Pacific was growing fast; how could a little island country business compete with the giant industries of Japan? My main reason for visiting him was to find out if his company had done any research on coral in concrete but he said they hadn't.
Before we returned to Samoa we took Mose to dinner at a restaurant. He didn't miss a trick. He brought another Samoan, from one of the other Samoan government departments, who was also on the course. They ordered the most expensive dishes and had repeats, but I didn't begrudge them the cost as they were staying in barracks on the campus, an old air force station I think. It was their first ever restaurant meal.
Before we went on leave we had had a letter from Jean and Erhardt Timmel who told us they were going on a cruise and would be going to Suva. Coincidentally we were there at the same time. We met the ship and spent the day with them. Jackie had met Jean first in Greenslopes army hospital in Brisbane during the war while working there. Later Jean was on the Snowy Scheme where she had met Erhardt. They hadn't known we would be in Suva and were highly surprised to see us.
The Director of Works, George Meredith resigned at the end of February to start his own engineering consultancy. He had long been dissatisfied with his salary, about $7000 per year. He had found a couple of kiwi engineers as partners and started an office behind his mothers shop near the wharf. George was very keen on Rugby Union football and trained the Samoan team. We thought that his new position as the senior partner would release him from engineering duties to give more time to football. George was a pleasant friendly man who seemed to know his limitations as an engineer, and was glad to delegate work. I think this was about the time that Samoa's fortunes at Rugby Union started to look up. At his farewell party on 24th February he bailed me up and asked me for copies of all my reports and bulletins on coral and other things for his new office. At my farewell five months later he again asked me for the same things. (On my visit back to Samoa in 1986 he repeated the request, and I think if I met him tomorrow he would do so again!) George was impressed with what I had done about improving the technology, and its importance, but I don't think he really understood.
Cecil Pereira, the Ministers adviser, from Sri Lanka, took over as the
acting Director. He was a tall courteous man. Like most senior Asiatic
engineers I had met he was experienced only at delegating work and responsibility
and I didn't detect much engineering skill. John Iles helped him with the
day to day problems of his office.
Towards the end of March, with John's approval, I handed the lab over
to Ieti so that I could clean up all the work I had been involved with.
This included the final reports on the concrete trials. John was keen for
me to investigate the lagoons for other possible sites where coral detritus
could be won. He was also keen to have a map of all PWD quarries and other
sites containing suitable pavement materials. I wanted to survey some of
the volcanic cinder cones which John Braybrook the geologist had recommended
I should look at. These were deposits of "spatter" from the boiling lava
in the cones, called ash and scoria. There were several of these small
cones near the West Cross Island Road.
Tamatoa, the former Minister of Works, had lost his seat in the last election and the new Minister was from the Aleipata area, the south eastern end of Upolu. At about this time the chiefs in the Aleipata area, decided they wanted the dredge to work in their area, to deepen an entrance into the lagoon near Samusu. I recommended against it but the political strength deriving from Aleipata was impossible to impose reason on. The dredge was moved but the accompanying pontoon barge with the spare cutting head, delivery pipes and other auxiliary equipment including a truck, foundered in the early hours of the morning in very deep water off the east coast. When the dredge finally got into action again it met with little material soft enough to excavate, mostly hard volcanic rock. I felt pretty sour about this business but the Samoan politics couldn't be argued against. However any coral to come from Mulinu'u now would have to be excavated with a dragline.
The Aleipata area was particularly beautiful and the villages, being isolated, had, to some extent, resisted the western lifestyle changes. The people were independent and resourceful. It was commonly rumoured that there was much smuggling going on from Pago to Aleipata and the desired improvement of the lagoon entrance was prompted by the contraband entrepreneurs. They had been keen to be connected to the power grid and by political means were successful in having the poles and lines erected but electricity supply wasn't available. During the three years of my assignment there had also been many requests to the Minister of Works for construction of a road from Le Mafa Pass on the East Cross Island Road direct to Aleipata, following the Richardson Track, a long established foot track. This would save a considerable distance by avoiding use of the steep road down to the south coast and the narrow road along the shores of the lagoon. One of the advantages of winning coral in the Aleipata region was to pave this alternate road, which was at last broken out by bulldozer and grader to form a fine weather four wheel drive route.
It was reported in the Apia paper while we were there that a fishing trawler had picked up a lone teen age Samoan in a dug out canoe halfway between Tutuila (the small island where Pago Pago is situated) and Aleipata. He was a high school student paddling his way home for the school holidays, a distance of 45 or 50 miles over open sea! On another occasion two gaol prisoners in Pago escaped and stole a motor boat. They ran out of fuel a couple of miles short of the lagoon in the Aleipata area and were picked up by fishermen. When the authorities in Pago were notified they said the escapees were from Western Samoa anyway, and they didn't want them back!
On 10th May I received a message at work through SMEC teleprinter messages that Jackie's father had died the day before. It was a sudden event and caused by a heart attack. He was 84 years old and although he claimed to have a bad heart I thought he was a fairly fit man for his age. He had hypochondriacal tendencies and we took his talk of health problems rather lightly. When I got home Jackie had guests there and I waited until they left before telling her. She was naturally upset that it happened while we were overseas but they had corresponded weekly, to my knowledge ever since we were married. We knew he had willed his body to a university for educational or research purposes and there would be no funeral. It was only a matter of 6 or 8 weeks before we were due to leave for home and we weren't immediately affected, except emotionally, by his demise. There were no dependants. Fred and Jon, Jackie's brothers lived in Sydney and would handle any formalities.
John and Fay Brace and their three children arrived from New Zealand at about that time and stayed with us for two weeks. They were probably our closest friends and we were glad to see them. (Rene Little and Lee Upton had been our only other guests in Samoa.) Their visit helped Jackie over the shock of her father's death, and she threw herself into ensuring that they went everywhere and saw everything. She hired a man with a pickup for transport and John and the kids rode in the back as the locals did.
I was fairly busy at the time and there were only two references to their visit in my diary. The first was on Saturday 13th May when we took them to the Hideaway hotel for the weekend. It was situated near the junction of the Centre Cross Island Road and the South Coast Road, on the edge of a wide lagoon, about 12 or 14 miles from home. We used to spend the weekend there occasionally when we wanted to get away from Apia. There were a few closed fales around a central dining room and entertainment area. Its main attraction was that it was the only commercial accommodation which had a beach of its own. The coral in the lagoon was mostly dead unless one went out to beyond wading depth, though there were a few patches of live coral attainable at low tide. We liked to snorkel there for shells. On Saturday nights a small group came in from the nearby village and put on a fia-fia, traditional Samoan songs and dances, and including a fire dance and sword or bush knife dance performed by highly enthusiastic local lads. How the boys avoided hurting each other was inexplicable to us as they tried to impress us with their youthful skills.
The second diary entry referring to the Brace visit was on 17th May when John came to the lab and took technical photographs for me of coral particles and various procedures for reports. John had some experience at photography whereas I was quite amateurish. Before they went home to Auckland we took them to dinner and afterwards an amateur entertainer contest at the Tusitala Hotel. The highlight of the latter was the same fire dance and sword dance by the same boys we had seen a week earlier at the Hideaway. They were very unsophisticated village lads and in the more formal atmosphere of the hotel strived even more than they had before. The sword dance involved wild swinging of their bush knives and the sparks flew as the knives clashed. One of the boys brought his knife down heavily on the stage and cut the power cord, putting out all the lights. This caused great hilarity among the audience, brought on no less by relief at seeing the lad unharmed, as by the unexpected event of being plunged into darkness. The cable was repaired and they did the fire dance, juggling the flaming torches and doing amazing things with them. Spurred on by the applause they became ever more daring until we saw that one of them had his thick mop of hair on fire. The audience yelled at him to stop but he continued with his antics until his mate realised what had happened and put out the fire. John who had been standing to take some flashlight photos had been so amazed by the act that he stood open mouthed and forgot to record the doings of these Samoan entertainers.
The extension building to the power station at Tanugamanono was built and the engine beds were ready to pour in mid May. Each block was, from memory, to be 8 m by 4 m and 2.5 m deep. EPC had stipulated that it should not have any cracks in it and should be formed in one continuous pour to avoid joints forming. I told them that as coral sand was relatively lighter in density than volcanic sand it could not be used, the beach and river sand from Solo Solo with coarse aggregate from Alafua quarry would be best. I gave them the mix proportions but said that a concrete block of this size would generate a lot of heat as it set and precautions to control the temperature should be made. I recommended that the aggregates be kept wetted with cold water, that ice should be used to reduce the temperature of the mixing water, and that the placement should be made substantially at night. Also it was desirable to have at least two mixers working as manually loading them was slow. The placement should be performed continuously and as quickly as possible to avoid "cold joints", i.e. placing fresh concrete on material which had already started to set. The EPC people were concerned about the danger of joints and cracking, which might open up under vibration of the machines, and instructed SPDC to take special heed of what I told them. I asked for permission to place a couple of thin tubes in the block to allow monitoring of the internal temperature as the heat built up and was dissipated.
I stayed on the job for several hours when the pour started at 12-30 pm, went there again after dinner, and at 5am, then stayed until it was completed during the morning. All of the 80 cubic metres was measured by batch box, and manually barrowed to the forms and dropped into place, then spread and compacted with vibrating probes. After the concrete was all set, which took at least 3 hours after the last was poured, I filled the tubes I had embedded with water and plugged them with corks. The next day I started taking temperature readings in the tubes. A young Japanese engineer (Jap. Overseas Volunteers) working with SPDC on the site saw me coming and going during the following days and one day about a week after the big pour asked me about the temperatures. I read the thermometer and then touched it to his arm. It was 64 degrees Celsius and he was very surprised. The temperature gradually reduced but at 6 weeks after pouring was still 30 degrees or 5 degrees above the ground temperature.
I gave EPC the results of the temperature observations and they then asked SPDC to take diamond drill cores from the block to prove there were no joints or cracks. This was eventually done at considerable cost in diamonds due to drilling through the reinforcing steel, but no problems were found.
Despite my efforts to wind down my work and finish everything I had begun, new work kept cropping up. A second engine bed block was poured at the power station. We had to be present to sample the ingredients and take several lots of concrete samples for compression tests.
Piles were driven at Apia Park for the erection of a spectators grandstand; we were called on to determine foundation conditions and depth. The piles had been made with crushed lava aggregate and coral sand, which I would not have recommended, as they had to withstand the forces of being driven by impact of a falling 600 lb weight. The strength tests showed acceptable strength of more than 4000 lb per square inch at 28 days. The piles were badly honeycombed in places indicating poor compaction when being made and I would have condemned at least one but it was successfully driven through coral to rock at about 13 feet. I took samples of the ground water to measure the acidity but found that no problems should occur to the piles.
PWD had to make some tetrapods (I think that's what they are called) to protect the underwater slopes of the ground fill adjacent to the wharf, against erosion caused by waves and ship movements. A young Japanese engineer designed the formwork. They were like a ball or block, weighing 2.5 tonnes, with 4 legs so that movement was impeded as the legs dug in to the material on which they were bedded; waves could not roll them. I provided mix proportions using crushed volcanic materials to give good bulk weight.
ENEX was building a new bridge to replace a flood damaged structure across the Namo River near Solo Solo beach. Their bridge man, Sid Drinkrow, was in charge and poured beams on site, a not insignificant feat in light of local conditions. I made special trial mixes for him and determined proportions for high strength concrete. His formwork and steel placement showed the marks of a very experienced practical bridge worker.
People from EPC asked if I would train someone to do blasting and if
I would develop a technique for excavating holes for poles in rock. I visited
the site of their immediate problem, a village called Samatau on the West
Coast Road. They had to put down holes for power poles in rock, not solid
rock but an old lava flow; this material is notorious for containing air
or gas pockets and is unpredictable in its properties and manner of occurrence.
Consequently it is difficult to predict the effect of explosives in lava
excavations. To make matters worse one of the holes was required only seven
feet from the corner of a church and there were several fales nearby. I
wasn't very happy at having to do this sort of work here as a "palagi"
or foreigner had been mugged in the area not long before; the people were
related to those on the nearby island of Manono and were an independent
lot. I realised I had to be particularly careful. Also as fishing
was a major occupation hereabouts I had to watch out for attempted theft
In place of a blasting mat to prevent flying rock I developed another system. I got hold of an old tractor tyre of about 5 feet diameter and cut some thick planks to put inside it, extending from one side to the other. These of course could move so I got some sand bags and filled them with coral sand to ballast the boards and tyre. Over the tyre I put a large sheet of "Bedin", a construction cloth used over soft ground under roads or culvert concrete and for similar uses. It was a synthetic fabric rather like half inch thick felt. The sheet was 60 feet by 16 feet so I doubled it.
I started at a pole site some distance from the village and, using the EPC compressor and jackhammer, drilled three holes. This was difficult as the drill would go well for a few inches in hard rock then fall a few inches in a hole and often jam. Blast hole drilling was the most difficult part of the job. I charged the holes lightly and connected them with Cordtex to ensure the three would explode simultaneously. I taped the detonator to the Cordtex and placed the tractor tyre centrally over the three holes. The sandbags were piled up on the tyre and the blanket of "Bedin" spread loosely over the top and weighted down at the edges. The vehicle and equipment was moved back a couple of hundred feet and the cable was attached to the detonator leads. We then cleared the site of people and gave plenty of warning. I touched the cable wires to the poles of the vehicle battery. The resulting noise of the explosion was disappointing to the Samoans as the blast struck downwards into more gas holes.
The blast cover I had improvised worked well and there was no danger from flying rock. We removed it and inspected the results. We picked off the larger broken rock and found we could dig down with a back hoe, clearing out the lower half of the hole down to six feet manually, using a crow bar. Poles would have to be concreted in. We blasted at several sites, all with drilling difficulty but with reasonably good results. When we came to the holes near the church and houses we took extra care and the local people didn't seem too worried but I made a big show of safety. I charged the holes lightly and carefully and hoped for the best. Everything went off well and the church foundations didn't seem to be affected. I found that a joke with the kids and polite greetings to the old people went down very well.
An Australian man came in one day and asked for advice on blasting stumps for land clearing. He was from a mission agricultural farm on the south eastern side of the island. I went out and visited the farm, hidden away in the jungle. They had cleared some land manually but had left a lot of stumps. I had memories of my father blasting a red gum stump when I was a small kid. Even with the less powerful black or gun powder he used there were pieces of wood flying in all directions. Trying to shift the multi-rooted figs and banyan trees which let down aerial roots to spread themselves would be a difficult job, and gelignite had no economic use in that direction. He needed a large powerful bulldozer with rippers.
John kept me on for an extra month to finish the survey of the lagoons for coral deposits and all the old road quarries. The lab would henceforth be on routine testing work only, concrete sampling at field pours, traffic counts, density and Benkelman Beam tests on roads and similar.
I was given a farewell at the workshop on 24th July at which I was presented with a kava bowl, as had all our people on leaving Samoa. Several speeches were made. When it came to my turn I emphasised the value of coral to Samoa and the importance of the dredge. Later John said it all went over their heads. The Samoans are very political people. Facts and material considerations take little weight against the opinions of people in cultural authority and power.
We flew out to Fiji on 25th July and arrived at Sydney late at night where we stayed at a hotel in the city. Next day we met Jackie's brother Fred and we went with him to the Public Trustee's office where Jackie had to sign papers relating to bequests under her fathers will. The following day we flew to Cooma and had medical exams and debriefing.
We took six weeks leave at the coast and relaxed into our Australian
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