Jones files: All aboard for the South Pacific Games

By Richard Jones

BACK in the 1960s and ‘70s inter-Territory and inter-island carnivals were the high points of the sporting calendar for Pacific countries.
The emerging island nations to the north and east of Australia contested a wide range of sports disciplines in the event known as the South Pacific Games.
The Games were first held in Suva, Fiji, in 1963. In August 1975, when the American territory of Guam (in the Micronesian archipelago) staged the sports fest, we celebrated the fifth South Pacific Games.
They had been staged roughly each three years from 1963, although the gap between the Port Moresby Games in 1969 and the event held in Tahiti in 1971 had been just 24 months. This had been arranged to avoid a clash with the 1972 Munich Olympics.
My wife and I flew from Port Moresby to Guam on a chartered Air Micronesia jet. We were with members of the Papua New Guinea team and a bevy of officials, timekeepers and hangers-on.
More PNG people arrived on a second chartered jet.
The capital city, Agana, had a lot going for it. Apart from a ring of five-star hotels just north of the city which seemed to cater to a never-ending stream of Japanese honeymooners, Agana had the cleanest McDonalds we’d ever seen. Not a French fry on the floor. Not a misplaced paper napkin to be seen.
Then the man on the hire car desk told us our vehicle would accept only lead-free gas.
Pardon? We’d never heard of this form of fuel. Since that time, of course, unleaded petrol has become the fuel of choice for most Aussie drivers.
The geographic glitch concerning Guam’s hosting duties had not gone unnoticed. Pacific Daily News sportswriter Tom Gould noted in a column that, according to Guam’s latitude of 13 degrees north, the American territory was actually in the north Pacific Ocean.
“However, we have been a member of the South Pacific Games council since teams were sent to Noumea in New Caledonia in 1966 for the second Games,” he wrote.
Thirteen Pacific territories contested in nine sports at the first Games in 1963, with track and field compulsory. At Guam the roster was 16 disciplines.  The same number of competing countries arrived for the Guam games.
For reporting duties, PNG Post-Courier colleague Tarcissius Bobola and I had divided up the 16 sports between us – eight each. One of the sports was an absolute doozy: underwater fishing.
I didn’t cover underwater fishing but I did mosey down every second day to the Agana harbour to cover the laser class yachting races. That was my only foray into aquatic pursuits.
A total of 1205 athletes converged on Agana: 907 men and 298 women. It was a great occasion at the opening ceremony to watch the athletes’ parade despite occasional torrential downpours.
Guam’s Governor Ricky Bordallo, a Democrat we later discovered, made light of the rain. It was his contention that we were standing in “liquid sunshine”, a view not shared by some delegations.
These athletes and officials had been forced to stand for an hour in an adjoining small, baseball park as visiting dignitaries were introduced to the crowd in the main stadium.
Overall, though, the mood was light-hearted. The traditional lighting of the SPG torch went off without a hitch. A young Tahitiian runner, representing the 1971 host territory, circled the baseball stadium before handing the torch to Governor Bordallo.
He in turn passed the torch to a Guam runner.  This athlete made the climb up the hill behind the stadium, past the Governor’s official residence and lit the flame at the island’s highest point: Fort Apugan.
Down below the assembled athletes, officials and spectators let out a roar in the rain — before dashing to the buses to get home for a change of clothes.

ONE of the eight sports I had been assigned to cover was golf. This was played on the delightful Country Club of the Pacific course, in the northern section of the island.
Many of the competing nations had large expatriate populations so contestants in golf, tennis, yachting and archery were largely of European origin.
Consider the PNG medallists in men’s and women’s golf. Gold medalist John Keating shot the best individual score in the four-round event: a 73.
He saved his best for the final round. Keating, Greg Fennell (silver) and Phil Frame (bronze) overtook Guam’s Gus Gogue, the men’s leader after three rounds, on the final 18 holes to hand PNG a clean sweep of the medals. Gogue shot a final-round 87 to finish fourth.
Ismay Trevena won gold in the women’s individual event by two shots although her PNG teammates Judy Johnstone and Carol Thomas finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Still, the PNG women managed to snare the golf teams’ event with the men comfortable winners in their teams’ section.
The Samoas, Western and American, won three golds each at the boxing. Papua New Guinea took gold in two of the lighter weight divisions — bantamweight and featherweight — and three golds and a silver in weightlifting.
Expatriate Chinese Edward Seeto (flyweight) and Geoffrey Hui (lightweight) were two of PNG’s winners in the strong men’s lifting sport.
There were some lighter moments in all this sports coverage. One day at the swimming pool my wife, Judyth, was asked to act as a sort of impromptu lane marshall.
“Stand at the pool edge, look down and see that the swimmer in your lane touches before starting the next lap,” she was told.
Just a few heat races were adjudged this way. We were never sure whether a rostered official had slept in or had lost the sheet setting out each person’s tasks.
Veteran Pacific Daily News columnist Joe Murphy had a long talk with Judyth at a cocktail party to launch the Guam Games.
She told him she was impressed with Agana’s superstore supermarkets, remarks which found their way into a Saturday story.
Murphy explained that with a large US military presence on Guam — the Anderson air force base was sited on the island — there was no shortage of customers at the huge shops.
But it was the way Bobola and I filed our stories with the Post-Courier news and sports desks back in Port Moresby which was a story in itself.
When we had first arrived in Agana we were taken to a Government office. There I was handed the first credit card I’d ever seen. The then global telecommunications giant, RCA Corporation, issued it.
So, at the end of a busy day and with our reports ready to roll there was a little ritual to perform back in our hotel rooms. Dial the front desk, quote the RCA card number and ask to be put through to our Moresby office.
Apparently the telecommunications link of the mid-‘70s took the signal from Guam across to Hawaii, thence to California and bounced it back across the Pacific Ocean to Port Moresby.
When we were connected to Moresby, veteran Herald and Weekly Times journalist Angus Smales would type out the stories word by word as they were read to him down the line. It was a laborious task and occasionally another reporter at the Moresby end would relieve Smales.
On reflection it seems excruciating. But we did it night after night for the 10 days of the Guam Games. Quite frequently the longest wait came while waiting for the hotel receptionist to answer the call from our rooms. Thereafter, despite the thousands of kilometres involved, the telephone link seemed to materialise instantaneously.
No doubt we had the US military to thank for first-class linkages. But Tarcissius and I never did find out what charges the Post-Courier incurred for all those hours and hours of trans-Pacific communications.

NEW Caledonia won the medal standings at the Guam Games with 102: 37 gold, 31 silver and 34 bronze.
French Polynesia (or Tahiti) was second with 94 medals. Papua New Guinea finished third overall with its 22 gold, 24 silver and 18 bronze adding up to 64 medals in total.
Three of Tahiti’s medals came in the Games’ real doozy: underwater fishing. Francis Nanai topped the table with 170.05 points from compatriots Mauri Ateo (116.8) and Georgia Ateo (75.85).
I have no idea how this event was judged. But I do know that the illustration accompanying each day’s results section in the Pacific Daily News showed a contestant wearing flippers and clutching a simple spear (no mechanical devices allowed, apparently).

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