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Norm Liddle, engaging, likeable, occasionally stoned


Site of Norm Liddle's sawmill, Angoram (Photo - David Wall)IN THE COURSE OF OUR LIVES we meet people who are readily forgettable but a select few we never forget. In this category I put Norm Liddle.

Norm was that type of Australian, particularly Queenslander, now pretty thin on the ground – a man with a wide and varied experience of life who was readily adaptable to whatever circumstances he found himself in.

A friend of mine described Norm as "accomplished musician, skilled taxidermist, reptile hunter, ex-serviceman in both the army and the air force and pioneer forestry surveyor". That sort of man.

Whether in the Australian outback, cutting bush timber, fixing machinery, serving in RAAF and AIF or living on the Sepik River and in the Highlands, he took all in his stride.

I first met Norm in 1966 at Angoram. He was living in what was known as the Ex-Service Camp at the far extremities of the town boundaries on the banks of the river. It was there he had the beginnings of a sawmill.

Norm had arrived in Angoram in 1963. His first interest was to ascertain the timber potential near the Keram River. His junior business partner at the time was Jeff Liversidge – still living in Wewak and well-known as a sculptor.

I well remember Norm in the Angoram Club giving us a rendition on his accordion of Rolf Harris’s The Court of King Caractacus.

I must also admit that on some occasions club members hoped that Norm would be like 'the ladies of the harem of the Court of King Caractacus' and just pass by. But we enjoyed his playing.

Norm was a man that would speak with authority on most subjects. In many ways he had an encyclopaedic mind – his facts were not always correct but in discussion he had few equals.

On one occasion he engaged a Spanish speaker in the correct pronunciation of the word, President – Norm insisted that it was El Presidento, the Spanish speaker said it was El Presidente – I’m afraid the Spanish speaker was correct.

Norm fitted in with the prevailing atmosphere of life in Angoram. Some people who were less than friendly towards him described him as 'bone lazy'. But credit to Norm, he did survive, even if at times he may have appeared to be only subsisting.

He would make himself available to the occasional tourist around town and this brought in the odd dollar. One young American woman, whom Norm had helped with arranging transport and hiring canoes, showed her gratitude by sending him a packet of marijuana seeds from the States.

This was at a time when Papua New Guinea was blissfully ignorant about the drug. Norm planted the seeds near his set-up on the river bank and they grew like wildfire.

People said that for a year or so Norm kept himself pretty well stoned. I was told he was careful not to let the locals know anything about the plant and what it was doing for him.

Norm was a great advocate for local people in the courts and was instrumental in getting many off after representing and giving legal advice to them – a man of many parts.

His interesting and varied life came to an end in Kainantu in 1986. It was there, I believe, that he thought he was onto a sure thing having found a gold mine he figured would yield great returns.

Sometime prior to this his personal life took a very happy turn. He met Monika, a woman from Kambaramba, and they became partners. Monika subsequently gave birth to Vivian, their daughter. Norm by all reports was so proud of Vivian.

What else can I say about Norm? He was a very likeable character; a human with more virtues than vices.

Photo: Site of Norm Liddle’s sawmill, all gone but for some debris and a lovely vista


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Phil Fitzpatrick

I spent part of last year working with Jeff Liversidge's son Hank.

Hank is also a fine carver and I have a few of his pieces.

If you know the family David an article on them would be very interesting.

Michael Dom

Another interesting anecdote of an expatriate who blended into PNG. Thanks David.

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