Collection PHOTO 112 - Photographs of Dr Frank Forster, Papua New Guinea

Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District; approaching by boat, two ships near wharf, one the MV Malait... Samarai [Island;  Milne Bay District;  approaching  Samarai, boat with crew on deck] Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District;  approaching Samarai, boat Jessie with people and cargo on d... Off to Gesila [Island], Samarai, Milne Bay District;  looking down on wharf, boat Esaa’ala (?), r... Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District; looking down on wharves, railway line, vessels  tied up, car... Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District;  looking down on cargo being carried along wharf towards she... Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District;  Papuan police presenting arms on Samarai] Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District; Papuan police presenting arms on Samarai] Samarai [Island, Milne Bay District;  building displaying Australian flag and two flags of the Un... Gesila [Island, Milne Bay District]
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Photographs of Dr Frank Forster, Papua New Guinea


  • Dec 1949-Mar 1950 (Creation)

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39 digitised photographic prints

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Biographical history

Frank Menzies Cameron Forster was born in Sydney, NSW, on 21 September 1923. He moved to Melbourne with his mother, Jean Catherine Forster, a psychology graduate and later pioneering remedial teacher, and attended Princes Hill Primary School then Melbourne Grammar. In 1940 Frank went to the University of Melbourne to study medicine. While there, he underwent surgery for a tumour on his spine which left him with “spinal weakness and intermittent pain.” He graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in 1948 with honours in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology.

At the end of the following year, Frank spent the four months December 1949-March 1950 in the Australian Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Post World War 2, Australian health and medical professionals went to work there, but Frank did not stay there or return later as far as is known. He did keep a small collection of black and white photographs he took at the time which show that he visited Samarai, Lae, Goroka, Madang and Manus, travelling by boat and plane.

By 1951 he was a resident doctor at the Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH) in Melbourne. In 1952 he married Prudence Isobel Swan Edgar, a nurse, and in 1953 they travelled together to London where Forster worked at the Hospital for Women and gained membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The Forsters returned by 1954 to Melbourne where Frank worked again at the RWH. He became known for his bedside teaching and lively lectures, emphasising the need for care of pregnant women, and became a specialist in dealing with difficult pregnancies. In 1967, he gave the inaugural annual Tracy Maund Memorial lecture, honouring the memory of the two founders of the RWH. Not only was Frank Forster a practitioner with a flair for teaching and public speaking, he was also a collector of medical books, pamphlets and instruments, a researcher, archivist and writer of works related to medical matters, and an active member and financial supporter of several organisations such as the Medical History Museum and the medical professional body known as the Royal Australian College of Gynaecologists (RACOG) and later as RANZCOG when the Australian and New Zealand bodies amalgamated. Frank donated to RACOG’s library his collections of items relating to women’s health in 1987. The College renamed their library the Frank Forster Library in his honour when Frank died on 18 March 1995 age 71. Frank was survived by his wife, a daughter and three sons.

More information about Frank Forster is online at See also the article “A College Benefactor: Frank Forster” in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2004; 44: 3-5.)

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This collection comprises 39 images black and white photographs taken in the Australian Territory of Papua and New Guinea by Australian Frank Forster in the 4 months December 1949-March 1950.

The photographs record a trip made mainly by boat to the Territory by Frank, a 28 year old honours graduate in obstetrics, surgery and gynaecology of the University of Melbourne, who became as well a medical historian, bibliophile and benefactor. At the time, health care services provided for the local people by the colonial authorities were minimal. In 1947 there were 17 doctors working there, all of whom were expatriates. The first two trained surgeons arrived about 1950, and were based in Rabaul and in Port Moresby. In 1953 the Australian National University, through a government committee, began identifying “gaps in knowledge” in the territory.

Frank’s record of his journey starts in Papua’s Eastern District at Samarai Island and ends as he returns to Brisbane, having visited several other small islands including Kwato in Papua, then to New Guinea where he visited Lae, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Madang, and Manus Island.

Frank’s collection is literally a “snapshot” of the times. He shows various types of boats and light aircraft, local people at work, postwar buildings including wharves and railway lines, and equipment. Nine photos relate to the port and town on Samarai Island in the Milne Bay District of Papua, now the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Six of these show boats at the wharf, including MV Malaita of the Burns Philp Shipping Company, the wharf railway line and men working to move cargo. Two photos show members of the Papua and New Guinea Constabulary presenting arms, and one is of a building displaying an Australian flag and two flags of the United States, a clear reminder of the importance of Samarai to the Allies in World War 2.

En route to Lae in the Morobe District of New Guinea, now the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea, the boat passed Gesila Island and berthed at Kwato Island. On Kwato, Frank photographed the London Missionary Society (LMS) Church. In the port of Lae, Frank photographed landing craft AB2348 with many men, possibly labourers, on board, and the ship MV Malaita again.
In Madang District, four photographs are of the coastline and buildings, one possibly of the administrative headquarters of the district and business establishments, and a detailed scene of a wharf, including men working to move cargo. On the mainland, three photographs show beautiful trees including one of a long archway of trees, and at the cemetery, the 1914 grave of Willi Wohlgemuth, a machinist probably on the mission ship, for the Divine Word Mission at Sek (Alexishafen). In 1913 the Mission sub-divided for sale land on Doilon Plantation just south of Alexishafen, and Wohlgemuth got Block 3, 160 hectares, but died of appendicitis on 1 March 1914. (Amtsblatt 1914, 45, 91.) One photograph captures a well maintained corrugated iron building with “1913” clearly shown and another an aerial view of MV Malaita at a wharf.

Four photographs were taken in or near Goroka, probably at Humilaveka, in the Eastern Highlands District of New Guinea, and all relate to an airstrip – kunai (grass) buildings, fences, people watching and a biplane, a De Havilland 84 Dragon.
The four photographs taken of Manus Island are of the main port of Lorengau. Various types of water craft, possibly pieces of equipment left after World War 2, buildings and the main wharf, are shown in these photos.
Probably on his way back to Australia, Frank took a photograph in the China Straits showing three different types of boat, and one other.

The photographs were given to Helen and Ray Spark in 1976. They met him on a trip with their two daughters to Melbourne from Wewak in Papua New Guinea where they were living, Ray then working at the Wewak hospital. They got talking and Frank told them he had some old photos of New Guinea. He said he took the photos when he was a student doing an internship there in December 1949- March 1950. Under Frank’s care, a son was born to the Sparks in April 1976. Frank gave the photos to the Sparks in the brown manilla envelope. On it in pencil is the note “These pictures were taken Dec 1949 March 1950”: presumably the handwriting is Frank’s.

The brief descriptions on most photos are Frank Forster’s own. Additional information has been added to these descriptions, much of it based on the work Bill Gammage did in 2018 when asked to look at the images by the Bureau.

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Individual item titles are taken from supplied captions. The language is reflective of the period of captioning. Information added by cataloguer is included in square brackets [ ].

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Uploaded by Kari James 7 November 2021.

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