Kapuna Hospital - A Brief History

I said the previous brief history was temporary...but like many temporary things, it has stayed awhile. It has now been sent to the bottom of this page in favour of a summary by Lin Calvert, from her knowledge and perspective:

In 1949 an Australian man, always referred to as the "anonymous donor", gave a large sum of money to the work of the London Missionary Society in PNG. He suggested it be used to buy a coastal boat, as the society worked along the long southern PNG coastal strip, from Daru to Samarai (equivalent to the English "from Land's end to John of Groats")

A few words about this old and unique mission society. It was originally supported by four church denominations: Church of England, Methodist , Presbyterian, and Congregational,  and accepted workers from other churches too. They worked all over the world. By the time we joined, the LMS was supported only by the Congregational church, although they still accepted workers from other churches.

The founding principle of the LMS is unique among mission societies. It LMS stated clearly that any churches arising from its work were to choose their own structure and organisation that  would
best promote the Kingdom of God in their area. This principle had a profound effect on the structures of the new churches. Naturally they varied from country to country, and within the country too.

In considering the monetary gift, the LMS decided the greatest need in PNG was to provide health care, greater than their own need for transport. The place considered the most needy was the Purari Delta area.

Three rivers make up the large Delta of the Gulf of PNG: the Purari, Era, and Kikori rivers. These rivers wind in and out of bush-clad mud sediment islands too many to count, let alone name. Some of the island areas are large enough to support 2 or 3 villages. Finding your way through the labyrinth is a nightmare, even for us old timers, especially because they keep changing.

The LMS built on the Wame river, an east-west connecting link between the Purari river delta and Romily Sound, the only deep water river in the area. There was a sawmill across the river from
the site the could supply the timber for the buildings, and local carpenters trained at Kikori worked under a NZ builder to erect the hospital. When the first buildings were complete, Dr Neville Anderson and his wife Pat arrived to begin the medical work. English nurses Avis Martin and Paul(Constance) Fairhall, and Samoan nurses, Pamata and Olioli, all assisted at various times.

The Andersons returned to Australia in 1953, and new doctors, Peter and Lin Calvert from NZ, arrived in 1954. Peter carried on the enormous pioneering task of setting up the hospital and nursing school.

Peter and Lin left NZ in February 1953 with one-year-old daughter, Valerie, and traveled to Sydney where they both gained post-graduate qualifications in tropical medicine. Son, Edward (Ted) was born in Sydney, conveniently during the study break. The family then boarded "The Bulolo", the regular shipping service to PNG.

During the trip, which took 6 weeks, they met other missionaries also travelling to PNG. Being missionaries, they travelled second class, but one day made the mistake of climbing to the first class deck to see if they were allowed to use the swimming pool. They were very quickly hustled back "to where you belong"!

Their first view of Port Moresby included a famous Hiri Lakatoi (ocean-going house canoe), anchored in the harbour, before they were met by the extremely hospitable Eric and Gwen Ure.

One of the first questions asked was "Do you have a white coat to wear to meet the Governor General?" In those days the pioneering work done by the Christian missions was actively encouraged by the Government, and all new missionaries were welcomed personally by the Governor General.

Kapuna was quite a different story. In contrast to Port Moresby, which was a modern and very Western orientated town, Kapuna was 'in the bush'. There was no outside communication at all, except for a coastal boat every few months. There were few schools, no one spoke English, and few had travelled outside their tribal area. Travel was by dug-out  paddle canoe or by 'Martha',  snail-paced chugchug launch.

The 200-plus inches of rain a year kept everything as mud, especially during the winter wet season. In the dry season, lawns were cut by sariff (long sharpened strips of metal). Snakes abounded in the long grass. Lighting was by kerosene lamp, and there was a kerosene fridge for vaccines and cold water. The local language was the Baimuru language group (comprising 5 very different dialects). Hiri Motu (then known as Police Motu) was also common as the trade language.

The hospital staff consisted of 1 temporary English ward sister, 2 Samoan sisters, 4 girls who had reached standard 2 level (year 3 primary), and 4 married men.

The Calverts quickly settled in and Kapuna soon became the home they loved. Peter set up and supervised 15 village aid posts, and also wrote a manual for their training. He set up a radio network to communicate with other mission stations, in particular to help them with their medical problems. For many years he gave medical  advice as best he could over the air waves. He expanded the village health 'patrols',  and achieved immunisation coverage that rival any Western country, using canoes for transport, and later using the MAF float plane to reach villages more efficiently.

Peter died in 1982, but his family carry on God's calling. His wife, Lin has run the hospital on her own for the last 20 year, with son Colin and wife Barbara helping to improve the hospital, and to spearhead the Christian outreach in the area.

Sixty years on, Kapuna is still the same - yet very different. Electricity brought great changes to everything. Lights for night hospital work made a huge difference. One story of the pre-electricity days comes immediately to mind: a caesarian needed in the middle of the night; Peter had 6 nurses
to assist him...and one torch. Five (new) nurses fainted in the course of the operation. and had to be laid out on the floor. But thankfully, one torch-bearer nurse (and the torch) remained faithful for the duration.

Kapuna is now lit up, and easily recognizable from air or river (in fact, Kapuna used to be marked on jumbo jet flight maps from Australia to Asia because it is right on the flight path, and had a large area of shiny corrugated iron roofing that could be seen from 30,000-feet up)

Transport has moved from 7 knots to 27 as outboards took over. Communication improved with the advent of land planes to the airstrip at Baimuru (replacing the Catalina flying boats).

It was a landmark day when Kapuna got its first VF radio, but now telephone, fax and e-mails make communication easy.

Entertainment has also bounded ahead, with videos and CD. Beautiful music and films, but no TV, thank you.

A 3-class school helps to keep our married staff happy and their children learning, and large new classrooms for the nursing school with a library/conference room and an office have improved the training facilities. There are also a church, a chapel, and a much larger office area.

A lawn mower keeps the grass looking like lawn most of the time (petrol and parts permitting), and a large workshop with power tools and a maintenance team try to keep up with the work of looking after the fleet of vehicles and the aging hospital buildings.

Best of all was the wonderful revival of God that came in the 1970s, with life-giving changes to hundreds of locals, and God's hand seen in so many many ways. All the praise goes to him for helping Kapuna to overcome difficulties and problems
too many to rememebr, let alone describe. And the difficulties and problems have never been as many or as great as the many and great blessings and the wonderful gifts of God we have known and appreciated over the last 60 years.

Thanks to Doctor Lin Calvert for the above history of Kapuna.

For those interested, below is a basic timeline of events at Kapuna over the last 60 years:

Important Note! This is a very temporary and  very brief and not very accurate history of Kapuna to-date. My apologies for errors and omissions, which I hope will soon be corrected by those-that-can-remember-better.

Before we start on our brief history, there are two important points to note:
1. Kapuna is a Mission Hospital. As such, its medical history and its Christian history are intricately entwined
2. Kapuna is remote: no roads, to anywhere; river in front, jungle swamp both sides and behind; nearest dirt airstrip a day's paddle away; and 2 days from Port Moresby  by coastal trading boat...on a good trip. Remote. But people live remote, so remote needs hospitals...and the Good News...

 Kapuna Hospital is built
in 1950ish  by the London Missionary Society (the mission branch of the Congregational Church of England, who had a number of mission stations in the area already). Serving a number of local tribal groupings, it is important for the hospital to be 'neutral', hence, a greenfields site was chosen, rather than adding to an existing village, or even the local government station. It is built halfway between two villages: Kairimai, just up-river, and Ara'ava, just down-river.

Kapuna consists of 4 thatch-roofed 'Wards' and a connecting verandah, with various staff accomodation dotted around it and a log jetty jutting out into the river, except at low tide, when it doesn't reach the water. Heading up the medical team of local nurses is Sister Fairhall, from Australia.

1953: Doctors Peter and Lin Calvert (New Zealand) arrive after gaining Diplomas in Tropical Medicine from Sydney Medical School...during which time their second child (Edward) was born...conveniently between lectures finishing and exams starting.

Kapuna gets its first outboard-powered canoe...an Archimedes, boasting 4 huge horsepowers.

Electricity comes to Kapuna...for 3 hours every night...thanks to a Lister diesel generator, wonderful donation

Nursing training (male and female) begins, in part because there is a great need for trained nurses throughout the country, but also to ensure on-going staffing for the hospital itself (not surprisingly, many nurses, once trained, would rather work in the town hospitals than in the more primitive conditions of inaccessible jungles!)

Peter starts a radio 'medical sked', giving advice to mission stations all over PNG. This quickly becomes a hugely popular service, used by many mission organisations. Advice has to suit the conditions, the medicines available, and the competence of those at the other end of the SW radio...if they can be heard through the hiss and crackle of static...the whole family soon learns the 'radio alphabet'...in fact, a local cat is named 'Bravo Victor' after the famous Kapuna call sign (call sign later changed to the more mundane 'Alpha Charlie')

A group of South Islanders (New Zealand) donate a jetboat to the hospital...the first ever jet boat in PNG. For many years it proves a speedy response to medical crises, but its Zephyr Ford 6 cyclinder engine is a gas guzzler...and it is never the same after one of the Calvert sons drive it into the bank and flips it up and over a leaning coconut tree...utterly miraculously, no one was injured in the incident, though a number ended up in the water.

John and Hazel (sorry, Hazel) Cribb move to Kapuna from Aird Hill (a day's dingy trip away), making it the centre of the LMS work in the Delta.

Lin, now fluent in one of the local languages, produces the Gospel of Mark in the Iai language.

Andrew  Dunn and famil
y take over the Cribb's role overseeing the local church.

Progressively, Peter and Lin's four children (Valerie, Ted, Alan, and Colin) head back for High School in Dunedin, New Zealand (experiencing temperature shock more than culture shock) . 

The United Church of Papua New Guinea is formed, being an amalgamation of the local Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. This heralds a gradual exodus of ex-pat (the local term for non-locals) missionaries, with many mission works taken over either by the government (hospitals and schools especially) or by the local United Church. Amidst all the change, Kapuna keeps on delivering babies, treating scabies, warring against malaria and TB and a thousand other tropical diseases and man-made injuries.

The Dunns move to Moresby to pastor the main UC church there.

MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) trials a float plane to reach areas only accessible by water. The Purari Delta is a prime target, and Kapuna Hospital enjoys its services for many years for blitzes on health trips to remote villages.


Christian revival breaks out all over PNG, Kapuna and the whole Delta district included. Hundreds of locals are saved and baptised, the latter being a source of contention with the United Church. Many years of great spiritual blessing follow, though often mixed with trials and tribulations.

Valerie Calvert returns to PNG to attend medical school in Port Moresby, later marrying Bryan Archer,  a New Zealander volunteer building in Moresby for various mission organisations.

Kapuna becomes an independent local Christian Institution, under the umbrella of Gulf Christian Services (GCS).

After a number of years working for Youth for Christ in Dunedin, Colin Calvert feels God's calling to return to Kapuna 'to honour his father and mother'. He gets involved in the Christian Outreach and Discipleship programs, and also helps with the hospital administration. God's provision becomes  evident when Peter is diagnosed with bowel cancer and returns to NZ for surgery. Lin and Colin hold the hospital together during his absence.

Unfortunately, the cancer returns, and in 1982, Peter dies and is buried at Kapuna. Lin continues the medical work, with Colin as Hospital Administrator.

Colin returns to New Zealand for a year to attend Faith Bible College...and to marry Barbara Dovey of Balclutha. He and Barbara return to Kapuna to continue the administration and outreach programs.

Doctors Neil and Bev Hopkins and daughter, Kirstin, come from New Zealand to help in the medical and Christian work.

Eric and Ruth Jack, and Warren and Mary Tapp (also from New Zealand) help with the hospital administration (Kapuna has grown significantly) and the local Christian work

Sister Kana, a graduate nurse from Kapuna, returns to head up the nursing school, freeing Lin up for more Medical work.


The Hopkins, the Jacks, and the Tapps progressively return to New Zealand, leaving good systems in place.

Computers hit the jungle...many of the early ones die, but their worth is proved, and better housing and better computers soon make them an essential part of the hospital administration.

Many short-term helpers arrive from (and depart to) many parts of the globe (Australia, New Zealand, Britain, USA. The medical and Christian work at Kapuna continues, with many ups, and sometimes it seems as many downs.

Sister Kana dies; Colin and Barbara adopt her daughter, Stephanie.

Kapuna (GCS) is asked to take over the neighbouring (and much bigger) Kikori Hospital. An oil company working in the area donate money to upgrade Kikori Hospital.

Colin and Barbara's children (Lavara, Janai, Jadon, and Shiana) progressively return to New Zealand for High School.

GCS is involved in many aid projects, funded by a variety of countries and organisations. These include:
...Installing water tanks, to provide clean drinking water to local villages (high rainfall, nil storage)
...Distributing treated mosquito nets to try and reduce endemic malaria (works very well)
...Re-treating of mosquito nets
...AIDS and drug awareness programs in local villages

Doctor Valerie Archer returns to Kapuna to help Lin with the medical work.

Lin (at 83) semi-retires to spend more time in her garden.



Peter and Lin Calvert
Kapuna Hospital TB Ward5
Child in Traditional Costume
Lin Calvert
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