SYDNEY -The annual Christmas lunch of the PNG Association has become something of an institution.
It’s the regular reunion that draws together a rich blend of people who once lived in or were closely associated with PNG – kiaps, teachers, traders, planters, missionaries, the lot.
Yesterday’s event at the verdant Killara Golf Club was the first one in 20 years not to be held at the seedy central city Mandarin Club, which is about to be demolished.
The lunch, well designed to minimise speech making and maximise catching up, was attended by a record 240 people, 60 more than last year.
It’s clear that the ‘younger generation’ of people who first went to PNG in the sixties and seventies is now beginning to make its presence felt, as we have seen at the recent huge reunions of kiaps and chalkies.
This is a welcome development, as it will underwrite the continuing energy of the PNGAA, which remains an important institution in terms of maintaining strong relationships at the individual level between Australia and PNG – a relationship that has been very strained at the political level over recent years.
In a shock announcement, long-standing president Harry West and treasurer Ross Johnson said they were just about ready to hand over the reins to younger officers, not that it seems possible to find younger people who could be fitter than either of these two stalwarts.
I first met Harry, who’s now 86, when he was District Commissioner in East New Britain during the Mataungan uprising and he doesn’t seem to have aged a day since then.
I also met up with Neil Desailly, former PNG kiap and magistrate, whose daughter Peta I taught as a nine-year old at Kundiawa Primary A School in 1964.
Peta’s now a grandmother, Neil tells me, and nothing delivers a blow to denial that the years are flying by more than that dose of reality.