IN MY estimation, Phil Fitzpatrick’s book Bamahuta – Leaving Papua ranks with Trevor Shearston’s Something in the Blood as one of those iconic books about Papua New Guinea written by Australians.
And it’s just been made available for free download courtesy of Pandanus Online Publications and the Australian National University.
I want to offer you two reviews of the book. The first dates back to March 2005 when it appeared in that month’s issue of the PNG Association of Australia’s journal, Una Voce.
Subsequently the review was censored and not allowed to be published on the PNGAA website.
I’m delighted to say that the PNGAA today, under the firm hand of Andrea Williams, has a very much more enlightened committee than it had back then.
Anyway, to the reviews….
This is a book you will not be able to put down.
JOHN KLEINIG (2005)
The adventures of Philip Fitzpatrick prior to independence are told with wit, humour and pathos. The style is refreshingly crisp and this makes for the telling of a compelling and intriguing series of stories.
There are some unforgettable moments.
Fitzpatrick reduced to his leopard skin jockettes leading a patrol in the oppressive heat of the Western District comes face to face with a group of nuns with their habits hitched up around their knees and wearing white rubber boots. One of the nuns, a French Canadian, who once worked as a dancer in a strip club, reacts in an unpredictable manner much to the consternation of the group.
The story of the contact with the border crossers on the West Irian border carrying the still conscious elder who has been disembowelled by Indonesian soldiers as an example to potential refugees, is heart rending and disturbingly real.
Seconded to the Security and Intelligence Branch in Moresby, Fitzpatrick is rostered for night surveillance duties around Government House during the visit of the Australian Prime Minister, John Gorton. What eventuates is a series of hilarious incidents.
Woven through these adventures is the question of the timing of independence. Fitzpatrick appears to avoid the temptation to overstate the obvious and instead skilfully canvasses the attitudes of others, although he could be forgiven for a little self-indulgence.
His relationship with Ihini, the young, attractive Papuan journalist on the Post Courier, is an integral part of the story. Fitzpatrick generally resists telling us the detail and leaves the reader to fill in the gaps. Perhaps it might have been better not to tell us of Ihini’s fate.
This story will be irresistible to those who have lived, visited or heard of Papua New Guinea. To those who have friends who only borrow from libraries or from others, do everyone a favour and buy an extra copy.
Bamahuta: gripping, wry, humorous read
BRIAN DARCEY (2009)
People who lived and worked in Papua New Guinea prior to 1975, when independence was prematurely thrust on an ill-prepared and largely unwilling population by the Australian Government, are becoming thin on the ground as the years roll on.
Most former colonies including PNG have coped with their new status with varying degrees of success, and a recently republished book by former Kiap Philip Fitzpatrick would be a welcome addition to any collector of stories written by the men who brought youth, stamina and dedication to the task of preparing a stone age country for political independence.
Rescued from its out of print oblivion by niche publisher Diane Andrews of Cairns, Bamahuta. Leaving Papua reeks of authenticity and personal acquaintance with the people of Papua New Guinea by a writer who lived and worked with them as a Kiap in the final years of Australia's occupation of Papua from 1967-73, two years before independence.
Like others who returned to PNG after 1975, including the writer of this review, Philip returned from time to time after the departure of the Australian administration, and was appalled and saddened by the shambolic and lawless depths to which the country he knew and loved had descended.
The opening chapter of the book has a vivid account of an armed payroll hijack at a remote airstrip which Fitzpatrick survived after his driver was shot and badly injured. It makes gripping reading.
There is much humour and wry comment by this percipient and acute observer of mankind, both black and white, some of it racier and more personal than in books written by former kiaps like Ivan Champion, Jack Hides and JK McCarthy, but it deserves a place alongside these in the Papua New Guinea