A word of caution on PNG’s growth in 2011
Yerima Taylor dies in the Eastern Highlands

Gatsby, Boroko & those sweet colonial times


LIFE FOR ME IN BOROKO started in March 1968 in a multiplex Single Officers Quarters in Gavamani Road.

On the first night my young wife, like me just arrived from a cold Tasmania, spread-eagled herself naked on the bed under the ceiling fan, too hot to be modest.

A husky voice proclaimed through the louvered window, “Mi lukim iu, Misis”, with the consequent scream causing the voyeur to detach himself from security wire and drop to the ground.

“Bloody woman’s scream; caused me to bloody miss,” complained our disgruntled neighbour, who, bearing a squash racket, had been stalking the miscreant.

So, welcome to the tropics, and in some people’s opinion, paradise.

After using the universal household “emergency” kit provided by our employer for some time, our belongings arrived and, replete with purchases from the local Chinese trade stores and Beeps and Carpenters, we set up home.

Whereupon metal parts began to rust, books, linen and leather started to mildew, and grilli – unseen and unrecognised at first – began to grow on our skins. This latter infliction occurring despite multiple showers and changes of clothes each day.

Squatters were encamped in their tacky shacks just below us in the gully, and the antics from nocturnal raiding parties from diverse tribal groups proved to be somewhat entertaining.

In time, with some work seniority, a better address at Pruth Street evolved, with its view over Koki and the Basilisk Passage. 

While we missed the delicious harmony of groups walking home up Gavamani from the pubs, singing songs from their villages in exquisite tongues, it was pleasant not to have to wait, every night, for the second boot to drop from the foot of the inebriated kiap upstairs.

We became conditioned to the monsoon, mosquitoes, geckos, tree frogs in the washhouse, fruit bats, SP Green and waiting for the “ship to arrive” to purchase good meat and imported items like chocolate and toiletries, frequently in short supply.

It was sometimes piquant to have fruit stolen from your trees and sold back to you by astute entrepreneurs just a day before you had intended to harvest the crop yourself.

Then along came children, conceived in the heat of the night, both girls and ten months apart. No television, then.

And a move to family accommodation in Tanatana Street, followed by a full upgrade to a three-bedroom house in a compound off Waigani Drive at Six Mile.

These were the heady days of being a Territorian in a country with 850 tribal groups and a few thousand intrepid expats, the latter all seemingly of similar age and background, most on contract, assisting a budding nation to statehood. We worked hard and we played harder.

A typical week would be five eight-hour days in harness and lots of nights and weekends to miss our Australian homes and families.

The calendar looked something like this:

Monday night - Hash House Harriers running through the “shiggy pit” and lots of coldies afterwards at the “bucket”.

Tuesday night - Training at PNGVR* till 2200 hours and “blunting a few” till all hours of “grenade pin” pulling and “burials at sea” over the barracks railings into rose bushes and in starched Junipers.

Wednesday night - Quiet time at home after a trip to the library.

Thursday night - Maybe an Apex dinner meeting and the odd convivial refreshment amongst young men of good intent. On other Thursdays, a dining visit at home by the boss, where a few pre-dinner beers were followed by a couple of good wines and cards (illegal) over a whole bottle of rum.

Friday night - After work drinks at the Aero Club, Yacht Club, RSL or wherever. The children entertained by an open air movie whilst parents unwound from a week of toil and had a counter tea and more “greenies”.

Saturday night - A trip to the Drive-In to park at exactly the same spot each time (and with the same neighbours) to share a picnic tea (with drinks of course).

Sunday night - The roving barbecue circuit, where the party trick was to do a jug of claret, solo.

And some of us built boats, flew light aircraft, walked into the jungle to explore World War II wrecks, did the Track, helped people with disabilities at the Cheshire Homes, danced at social does, gumi raced the Laloki, and swam at the beach (on high tides).

We drove up to Sirinumu and the Rouna pub, visited coastal villages, holidayed in the Highlands, got bored with the sameness of the road circuit within the district and counted the days to the “going on leave party”. Then, as our contracts expired, the ultimate go-pinis do.

We came, we saw, we left and now we just hope it was not for nothing.

But, hang on! Haven’t I banged-on about all of this before? Maybe I should pen an article about the naming of a Motu child.

* Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles


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Henry Sims

Colin - I had a stint at Finschhafen in the 70's with PNGVR and thought it was Heaven on Earth. Mind you it rained for the first couple of days and even the coronous ground flooded throughout our camp.

We were meant to build a barge landing ramp and put in a "digester" system of fish and algae ponds plus a methane gas collector for the local school, but because of poor administration major components did not eventuate and extremely high tides left our ramp short of ideal.

Quite a shame, as the platoon was boiling over with energy.
My article was in response to another writer asking for comments on life in Boroko.

Colin Huggins

Henry - You should have come up earlier and enjoyed the water skiing at Finschhafen and the fun and games of "serious" tennis at the Finschhafen Club. They even chartered planes for the weekend to fly out from Lae!

Where they all slept, if they did, God would only know.
Then in 1969, you may have enjoyed the "Wimbledon a la Pindiu" lawn tennis championships! Very, very serious competition - and we upheld the tradition - we wore white attire.

Cards were a big thing also, but we were breaking the law - so all very hush, hush! Strange that the upholders of the law, seemed to enjoy playing also.

Of course, if we were very, very early we could have enjoyed the soirees for the weekends of Scott Fitzgerald bliss at wonderful Salamaua.

Arthur Williams

Henry I liked your reminiscences.

When my wife and I were reunited after she and our two young girls had to cool their heels in a flat at Mosman while I did my Kwikila thing, we couldn’t get a quick trip to Kavieng.

So were shunted to the Mapang Guest House - our first taste of territory lifestyle with its ageing furniture, fittings, fans.

Then on to New Ireland; offloaded at Rabaul for an enforced but enjoyable overnight at the Kaivuna, before next day to Kavieng and few nights there before setting out on Captain Busch’s 'Theresa May'.

Mind, the same mattress is in the cheaper rooms at the Kavieng Hotel in 2008 as it was in 1970. When asked, the current manager suggested my observation was correct.

Later, after I left the Kiap life, I was the Catholic Mission’s manager at Metekavil Plantations. Occasionally I would make a seven-hour trip, on our seven-tonner MV 'Dolphin', to town to place orders etc. Quite often US Bishop Stemper would provide me with a room at his large house overlooking the Kavieng harbour.

One day after our evening meal, he turned to me and asked, “Do want a game of cards Willy (my Catholic name whereas United Church people called me Arthur)?”

I quickly replied, “Yes!” as I have always enjoyed its various games ever since my paternal grandfather taught me crib too many years ago. Mind I cannot stand the PNG favourite of ‘Las Kad’ which drives me bonkers.

I wondered if I should have said yes because perhaps the Big Man didn’t know of the then ban on the playing of cards. He didn’t wear a mitre for nothing. “Don’t worry Willy, I’ve got a licence!”

I thus found out that it was still possible to import and play cards as long as you obtained a licence. Anyway he picked up the domestic phone and rang across to the nunnery.

“Sister - send over a couple of your ladies to play Rummy!” he ordered. Soon four of us were sitting down for a few enjoyable hours.

Mmmmm memories…..

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