white country black boy 

Papua New Guinea has left an indelible, lasting imprint in the mind and soul of the author. He arrived in this primitive, war-torn Australian Territory in 1947, a few months shy of his second birthday. The tell-tale signs of war were everywhere. After the war his father became a Patrol Officer whose task it was to pacify and rebuild a country that had been torn apart during years of war. As a result his job would take him to many different parts of the Territory over the ensuing years.  

This enabled Colin to experience the growth of an insular, primitive colony to a youthful, independent country in less than 30 years. As a young boy he grew up on outstations in the bush where he spent much of his time among the local people learning their languages and culture. When the time came to “go south” to boarding school he made a solemn promise to himself that he would one day return to live and work in the country he called home – the same country which had provided him with such a rich heritage of early memories. 

Christmas vacations from The Southport School would provide him with the opportunity of accompanying his father on a number of his more interesting patrols. Following his appointment as an Education Officer in 1966, he made good his promise to return to the country he had known and loved. He goes on to tell about his experiences as a teacher during the years leading up to Papua New Guinea’s Independence in 1975. 

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-39-7  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:174
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Colin Richard Webb
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English


Author Bio


The author of “White Boy, Black Country” arrived in the Trust Territory of Papua New Guinea very early in 1947. Just two years old at the time, he was to spend much of the next 28 years of his life living in many different parts of this fascinating, emerging country. 

His father Royce, began his career as a patrol officer in PNG after serving six years in the 2nd AIF during the World War II. During this time he served with the 2/13th  Battalion in North Africa. He was part of the Siege of Tobruk for eight long months before the 9th Division was dispatched westwards as part of the allied push to defeat Rommel and his Afrika Korps at El Alamein during November 1942. In January 1943 the 9th Division was recalled to Australia to face the invading Japanese in New Guinea. They were sent to Milne Bay, and after retaking Lae and Finschhafen, Royce’s unit was returned to North Queensland for specialised Signals training. He was then sent back to New Guinea where he spent the rest of the war using his newly acquired signals skills in the continuing war against the Japanese. After returning to Australia he was to receive the MBE in 1946 and on leaving the army, applied to become a patrol officer in PNG. 

His mother, Marge, had been in the Signals Corps in North Queensland from 1943 as part of the Australian Women’s Army Service. She later became one of a special group of women whose husbands were posted to lonely outstations in PNG. She had to do everything from raising a family in the bush to running the outstation when their husbands were away on patrol, on occasions for months at a time. 

In 1951 his brother Derek was born, and he also spent much of his early life in this emerging country.  

The author watched and experienced the growth of a country from an insular, primitive colony to a youthful, independent nation in less than 30 years. 

As a young boy, he grew up on outstations where he spent much of his time with the local people, learning their languages and culture. Then as a youth, he was sent to boarding school in Australia. It was during this early period of his life that he spent much time thinking of the country he had always called home. Within days of starting boarding school he made a conscious promise to himself that he would one day return to live and work in the country which had provided him with such a rich heritage of early memories. While at boarding school he was still able to travel home each year for his Christmas vacation. These vacations provided him with the opportunity to spend as much time as possible with his father on some of his more interesting patrols from which he has recorded a number of fascinating highlights. 

At the conclusion of his boarding school days, he kept good the promise he had made to himself many years before by applying for and accepting a scholarship to be trained as an Education Officer at the School of Pacific Administration in Sydney. On completion of this course he finally returned to PNG during which time he tells about his life and experiences while teaching in the national capital, Port Moresby, during the years leading up to the country’s independence in 1975. 

The book cover features the mask of a male Tumbuan from the Kilenge area of West New Britain. The Tumbuan is considered sacred and is revered and respected by all members of the Kilenge society. The people of Kilenge, and indeed other parts of New Britain, must observe obligatory rites and taboos associated with the Tumbuan.



Humble Beginnings


I came into this world on 29th April 1945. This was a very auspicious time on the other side of the world because it coincided with the end of the Second World War in Europe. Just a few short days later, on 7th May, the German High Command authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts. The following day, 8th May, was declared Victory in Europe Day, and at the time was celebrated by millions of war-weary people throughout Europe. On our side of the world however, the war with the Japanese was still being fought in many countries in the Pacific. Although some information about the numerous Japanese raids on Darwin, Townsville and Sydney had been heard by most Australians by 1945, there was little similarity between what was officially released to the Australian public about these raids and what really happened. Very few people realised just how vulnerable Australia was at that time or how close it had come to being invaded by Japanese land forces. On the other hand, stories of Japanese barbarism and cruelty had been well documented and at the time of my birth, there were still thousands of Japanese troops fighting desperate rearguard actions throughout many of the islands in the Pacific.

My father, Royce, had just completed the second year of an engineering degree at Sydney University when he volunteered for service with the Australian Infantry Forces at the end of 1939. His first overseas service was late in 1940 when he was posted to the Middle East with the 9th Division. He was later part of the siege of Tobruk and the defeat of the German forces at El Alamein. He returned home on leave late in 1942 before being posted to New Guinea, this time against the Japanese. Following this action, he and his unit returned to North Queensland where they were trained in a Beach Signals course for future landing operations. This training took place at Trinity Beach near Cairns. It was during one of his visits to Cairns that he first met a young Signals woman by the name of Marge Cowderoy. I am grateful that they enjoyed each other’s company from that first meeting because she was later to become my mother. Marge had begun her army career in early 1942 by doing a Signals course at Ingleburn for three months. She was then transferred to Victoria Barracks in Brisbane for a further six months before being transferred once again, this time to Townsville, where she was based during most of 1943.

Towards the end of 1943, she was ordered to Cairns where, along with nine other young ladies, she was part of a new army signals office. It was shortly after her arrival in Cairns that she was to meet Royce for the first time.

They were married in July 1944 at Yandina, a small farming community just north of Nambour in southern Queensland. Marge’s family had owned a farm on the outskirts of Yandina and this obviously prompted the choice of this small country town for their wedding. Because of the demands of the war effort, many restrictions had been imposed on the population, and most goods were in short supply. One such example of an item that was virtually impossible to purchase at that time was film for cameras. As a consequence, there were very few photographers in business at that stage of the war, and the only photograph of the happy couple was taken by a family friend at the wedding with an old Box Brownie camera. They were both married in uniform and had a short honeymoon in Caloundra before returning to their respective units. Marge duly received her discharge from the army towards the end of 1944, and when Royce was sent to Bonegilla near Albury to do an officers’ course in December of that year, she was able to travel with him. In February 1945, Royce was sent to Seymour in Victoria where he topped his course as an officer in the regular army. It was during this time that Marge returned to Sydney to stay with Royce’s parents.

After completing the officer’s course, Royce took some leave in Sydney. This period of leave coincided with my birth at a small hospital in Haberfield in Sydney. Very shortly after my birth, Royce began his first tour of duty as an officer in the Australian Army. He was away for 10 months during which time he was posted to a number of Asian countries where the Japanese forces were still fighting desperate rearguard actions as the war was rapidly drawing to a close in the Pacific region.

During this time Marge and I spent some months staying with some of her extended family on a Merrimac farm near the present-day Gold Coast strip. By the end of 1945, peace had come at last to the Pacific region and my grandparents had sold their old farm at Yandina. They bought and developed a new dairy farm at Murwillumbah on the banks of the Tweed River just on the southern side of the Queensland border.

We were to move in with them as soon as they had become settled. Royce returned from Asia on leave in August 1946 and after some time with us he was to receive notice of his next transfer which was to be Japan. I believe he would have accepted this posting had there been suitable family accommodation at that time in Japan. It was during this same year that Royce was to receive the MBE for service to his country during the war. After much careful consideration he decided that being away from his family was not fair to Marge nor acceptable to himself, and so it was with some reluctance that he was to reject a promising army career in order to spend more time with his family.

It was while he was on leave and staying with us on the family farm in Murwillumbah that he saw an advertisement in the local paper which caught his eye and subsequently was responsible for changing our lives forever. During his leave, I might add, he had toyed with the idea of returning to university and completing the engineering degree he had been forced to abandon some seven years earlier. Logistically, however, it was not a practical course of action, there being little financial incentive for returned servicemen to complete their war-interrupted degrees. The advertisement he had seen in the local paper offered an adventurous and exciting career as a patrol officer in the Trust Territory of Papua New Guinea!

Following a written application and an interview in Brisbane, Royce was duly accepted into the Commonwealth Public Service and flew out of Australia early in 1947 to take up his duties as a field officer at Lae on the northern coastline of the main island of New Guinea. Marge and I were to join him as soon as he was able to arrange suitable accommodation for his family.

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