Wau, Papua New Guinea

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NASA image Wau, Papua New Guinea.png
A satellite image of Wau and her mines, looking towards Bulolo
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Location within Papua New Guinea
Coordinates: 7°20′20″S146°43′00″E / 7.33889°S 146.71667°E / -7.33889; 146.71667 Coordinates: 7°20′20″S146°43′00″E / 7.33889°S 146.71667°E / -7.33889; 146.71667
Country Papua New Guinea
Province Morobe Province
Elevation1,080 m (3,540 ft)
Population (2005 est)
  Rank 26th
Time zone UTC+10 (AEST)
  • 74 km (46 mi) from Lae
  • 241 km (150 mi) from Port Melvin
Climate Af

Wau is a town in Papua New Guinea, [1] in the province of Morobe. It has a population of approx 5,000 and is situated at an altitude of around 1100 metres. Wau was the site of a gold rush during the 1920s and 30s when prospective gold diggers arrived at the coast at Salamaua and struggled inland along the Black Cat Track.

Papua New Guinea constitutional monarchy in Oceania

Papua New Guinea, officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Morobe Province Place in Papua New Guinea

Morobe Province is a province on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. The provincial capital, and largest city, is Lae. The province covers 33,705 km², with a population of 674,810, and since the division of Southern Highlands Province in May 2012 it is the most populous province. It includes the Huon Peninsula, the Markham River, and delta, and coastal territories along the Huon Gulf. The province has nine administrative districts, and 101 languages are spoken, including Kâte and Yabim. English and Tok Pisin are common languages in the urban areas, and in some areas forms of Pidgin German are mixed with the native language.

Gold rush new discovery of gold that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune

A Gold Rush is a new discovery of gold—sometimes accompanied by other precious metals and rare earth minerals—that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.


At the Battle of Wau [2] in January 1943, the Australian Army stopped an advance by the Japanese. A road was established soon after World War II to Lae and this fostered the further development of local timber and agricultural industries that were originally established in support of the mining industry. While much of the mineral reserves have been extracted, industrial gold mining continues at Edie Creek and at the newly established Hidden Valley Gold Mine operated by Morobe Goldfields (a subsidiary of Harmony Gold - South Africa).

Battle of Wau battle

The Battle of Wau, 29 January – 4 February 1943, was a battle in the New Guinea campaign of World War II. Forces of the Empire of Japan sailed from Rabaul and crossed the Solomon Sea and, despite Allied air attacks, successfully reached Lae, where they disembarked. Japanese troops then advanced overland on Wau, an Australian base that potentially threatened the Japanese positions at Salamaua and Lae. A race developed between the Japanese moving overland, hampered by the terrain, and the Australians, moving by air, hampered by the weather. By the time the Japanese reached the Wau area after a trek over the mountains, the Australian defenders had been greatly reinforced by air. In the battle that followed, despite achieving tactical surprise by approaching from an unexpected direction, the Japanese attackers were unable to capture Wau.

Australian Army land warfare branch of Australias defence forces

The Australian Army is Australia's military land force. It is part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) along with the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. While the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) commands the ADF, the Army is commanded by the Chief of Army (CA). The CA is therefore subordinate to the CDF, but is also directly responsible to the Minister for Defence. Although Australian soldiers have been involved in a number of minor and major conflicts throughout its history, only in World War II has Australian territory come under direct attack.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

The Wau Ecology Institute is a biological research station situated near Wau.

The Wau Ecology Institute (WEI) was established in 1961 near the town of Wau, Papua New Guinea, in Morobe province, as a field station of the Bishop Museum. In 1973 it became an independent environmental organisation. It has laboratory space for visiting scientists, a herbarium and zoological reference collections. The Institute ceased operations around 2007 and is now run as a local coffee plantation by former employees and area gold miners.

Gold mining history

Gold rush

The first strike at Wau, the start of what would be known as the Morobe Goldfield, was made at Koranga Creek by William ‘Shark-Eye’ Park, probably towards the end of 1921. Park and his partner, Jack Nettleton, ran a clandestine mining operation for twelve months from April 1922 until a new Mining Ordinance enabled them to get their gold out legally. Nettleton, it is known, took out 6000 troy ounces, or about 190 kg, of gold in August 1923.

The Morobe goldfield is in Morobe, Papua New Guinea, and mined gold. It was the largest employer of indentured labour on the island at one time, employing many Biangai people. On 30 June 1936 there were 13,121 labourers in Morobe as a whole, 6816 of whom were classified as involved in mining at Wau and Bulolo. But that was the limit of local involvement until 1957 when the Administration began to issue miner’s permits to Papua New Guineans. By this time the peak of alluvial production was past, but from this point the proportion of the total in local hands rose to 80% by 1975, according to a 1975 analysis of buying records.

Only a handful of miners worked the field, rich as it was, until 1924. From 1924 to 1926 perhaps 20 miners were on the field producing about 200 kg of gold a year. The real rush began in 1926 with much bigger discoveries at Edie Creek, above Wau. The new rush made air transport viable and Wau's airstrip opened in 1927 by the Parer brothers originally of Spanish descent. In 1928 there were 200 miners and production was about three tonnes a year.

The influx of miners was often in conflict with the area's indigenous populations, including the Biangai along the Bulolo River and the Watut along the Watut River. During the early gold rush (1924–1927) prospectors and carriers employed from the coast followed paths through some of the Biangai villages. Accusations of theft from gardens against coastal carriers resulted a number being killed. In response, miners burned a Biangai village, and killed three men and a woman who died in a house that was burnt down. The beginning of air transport reduced the need for lines of carriers. In 1972, in the 6000 hectares case, PNGLR 71 (19 July 1972) the Biangai won the restitution of the Morobe Goldfields in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea and compensation was awarded in respect of historical gold sales.

The Biangai people are an ethnic group living on the slopes of the upper Bulolo vally, in Papua New Guinea. In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, tribal violence is an ongoing issue. Biangais have been engaged in a land dispute with the neighboring Watuts and in 2009, five people were killed in a clash between them.. The watut registered a land mediation court with the Buolo District Court in November 2011, but the land matter remain unresolved.

The Watut River is a river in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, a tributary of the Markham River. It is known as rough river full of canyons and over 150 rapids, making it suitable for adventurous white-water rafting.


Unloading WWII transport planes at an advance airfield near Wau in 1943 Awm 015167 (Wau airlift).jpg
Unloading WWII transport planes at an advance airfield near Wau in 1943

Park quit Wau in 1926 as a wealthy man. After this properly capitalised companies were formed. New Guinea Goldfields, Ltd (NGG) was the biggest operator, but there were many others: for example, Koranga Gold Sluicing, Sandy Creek Gold Sluicing, Edie Creek Gold Mining Company, The Golden Deeps N.L., Upper Watut Gold Alluvials, Placer Development Limited, and so on. In subsequent years, NGG consolidated control over much of the mineral reserves using its large capitalisation to purchase the smaller leases.

Underground mining began with the Day Dawn mine in 1931; a number of similar operations were opened before and after the Second World War. These mines were very small by modern standards, the biggest being Upper Ridges with a total production of 2.9 tonnes over eighteen years.

Open cut mining was carried out at Golden Ridges mine between 1932 and 1941, and other pits yielded gold in the Namie area both before and after the war. Most were small and short-lived; the richest was Golden Peaks, producing about six and half tonnes of gold between 1962 and 1977. The Golden Peaks mill also processed ore brought to it by an aerial ropeway from new workings at Upper Ridges.

Bulolo Gold Dredging (BGD) began operations at the sister town of Bulolo in 1932 and was responsible for the bulk of pre-war gold production: about 40 tonnes in total. Seven of the eventual eight dredges worked the Bulolo Valley gravels; one only, No. 6, worked in the Wau Valley. Large operations ceased to be attractive after WWII, partly due to pegging of the gold price at pre-war prices and the last dredge ceased operating in 1965.

Alluvial mining

At peak production, the Morobe Goldfield was the largest consumer of indentured labour in the Territory of New Guinea. On 30 June 1936 there were 13,121 labourers in Morobe as a whole, 6816 of whom were classified as involved in mining at Wau and Bulolo. But that was the limit of local involvement until 1957 when the Administration began to issue miner’s permits to Papua New Guineans. By this time the peak of alluvial production was past, but from this point the proportion of the total in local hands rose to 80% by 1975, according to a 1975 analysis of buying records.

Most of the miners were, and still are, operating with the simple methods of dishing and boxing, or gold panning. They make little capital expenditure and have a limited ability to discover new reefs. Production has dropped steadily since a post-war peak in 1953, as the small-scale miners attempt to make a living from alluvial ground constantly worked over since the 1920s.

Timber mills

Timber mills in Wau were started by Roy Hyde in 1935, who arrived with his wife, two sons and a daughter. Timber was floated down the Bulolo river to the coast, which was used for house building in Lae and other resorts along the coast. Natives would guide the rafts to their destinations.

Notable people

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  1. "Wau | Papua New Guinea". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-07-13.
  2. "75th Anniversary of the Battle of Wau". 100 years of Anzac for SA. Retrieved 2018-07-13.

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