WHEN I first went to Papua New Guinea in the 1960s as a young kiap there was absolutely nothing noble about my motivations or intentions.
I was not enthused by any youthful zeal to help a developing country and its people. At that age I didn’t have an altruistic bone in my body. That only came later as a sort of retrospective and ultimately facile justification for my presence there.
Rather, my reasons were a combination of a testosterone-charged urge for ‘adventure’, whatever that meant, and the debilitating experience of having spent the first 18 months of my working life stuck in an excruciatingly boring job at the National Bank.
Apart for possessing a young man’s proclivity for risk, appalling advice from the bank that I had a sinecure for life if I wanted it was enough to do the trick.
Thinking about it, I don’t think I developed any sort of missionary zeal during the short time I worked as a kiap. When I left Papua New Guinea I still had an overwhelming desire for ‘adventure’, albeit leavened by then by a distinct taste for the exotic.
As I look back on my working life I don’t think I ever lost those guiding principles. In short, it took me a very long time to grow up, if in fact that has since happened.
After I managed to extricate myself from the highlands, where every third sentence spoken by the kiaps contained the word ‘development’, I found my forte in the remote wilds of the Western District.
It was in that muddy and mountainous border region that I slowly came to the realisation that missionary zeal and the ‘development’ mantra were mostly pointless. To be perfectly frank, they also smacked of presumption, arrogance and, worst of all, cultural superiority.
The people could live without them and didn’t need them. Apart from a little bit of law and order, a smidgeon of education and some half-reliable health services, I had little to contribute. The people were happy so why impose the impossible on them? Besides, I probably had more to learn from them than I could impart.
Once I had that sorted out things started to run smoothly. I got on well with the people, my bosses were dozens of kilometres away and there was a whole new world to explore and experience. Bliss!
Well, bliss for a few years anyway.
Like most things, even bliss gets tedious after a while. On leave in Australia people would tell me I had a fantastic job. Well, yes, I suppose, but …
And that’s why I left Papua New Guinea. It had nothing to do with impending independence, the need to get re-established in Australia or even a romantic attachment to anyone. I had no financial ambitions, that has always been a low priority.
No, it was simple boredom. I’d had my fill of Papua New Guinea and wanted to try something new. What exactly, I had no idea.
Curiously, it was the same motivation that took me back to PNG in the 1990s. I had spent 20 years in another ‘fantastic’ job wandering around the Australian outback with a bunch of Blackfellas, but that got tedious too.
Such is life.
I’ve been semi-retired for two years now and I think I’m starting to get itchy feet again. The Crocodile Prize has been an interesting diversion but that is starting to wear a bit thin I’m afraid.
There was no missionary zeal involved in helping to set that up either, merely a curiosity and interest in Papua New Guinean writing.
Lately I keep dreaming about being a full-time writer. I think I’m making my long suffering wife nervous again.