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Reflections on growing old: Those were the days my friend

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970sPHIL FITZPATRICK

MANY Australian readers of PNG Attitude trace their association with Papua New Guinea to a time before and maybe shortly after independence in 1975.

Those were halcyon days, not only because of the unique nature of that experience but also because it was when most of us were in the prime of our life.

Now we are all getting old and becoming reflective, no longer looking forward as much as backwards. We are now a collegiate of elders.

For many of us not a month seems to go by that we don’t hear of the passing of someone we knew back in those good old days.

Another one has fallen off the perch, another one bites the dust or, in the case of kiaps, another one has set out for the patrol post in the sky.

Some of the more colourful departures get a mention on PNG Attitude, while the Ex-Kiap website maintains a special section for reporting such transitions.

Strangely enough, there’s nothing especially maudlin about these observations, it’s more a hint of regret: a last beer missed, concern for partners left behind, some reminiscing with mutual friends. On those occasions, we remember only the good times.

Of course, none of this is confined just to our Australian friends and acquaintances because there were many bonds forged with Papua New Guineans, fellow workers and, quite often, domestic servants.

The latter sounds terribly patronising in these modern times but, for many people, long-lasting friendships developed out of what were originally economic arrangements.

Sometimes the news of these deaths takes time to filter through. I recall learning about the passing of my old cook when I came across one of his wantoks in a mining exploration camp.

I enquired about him and the response was, “Oh, he’s dead!” It was quite a shock.

When I got back to Australia I dug out my old photographs of him and sent copies to his wife. A few months later I received a letter from his daughter, the one I remember dangling on my knee when she was a few months old. She was now a pilot flying for Airlines PNG.

These old friendships gain a different perspective and value with age. One of the significant aspects of getting old, at least for thinking people, is a re-evaluation of the things that matter in life.

Whereby in our younger days we tended to be pre-occupied with material things, age brings a re-emphasis, especially if we are reasonably comfortable without undue financial pressures.

No longer do we worry about status, the size of our house, the brand of our car or the amount of our income. Instead a realisation dawns about the irrelevance of such pre-occupations against the real value of personal friendships and relationships.

For many Australians Papua New Guinea is an old friend.


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Arthur Williams

I recently received a sad call from Kavieng about a good old friend dying. Along with 10 others he had been part of Lokal Environmen Faundesen -LEF – that we started in 1990 to try and stop the loggers spoiling the remains of Lavongai's rainforests.

SABL legislation eventually saw 80% of the island lost for two or three generations to its people.

He was an ex-school teacher who lived on one of the Tsoi island chain that skirts the north of the bigger island. He lived out his environmental lifestyle by even designating part of the foreshore near his beautifully sited home as a sea grass reserve.

Distance is a bastard when a friend dies, but I managed to show a little of my respect to his wife by getting a few bags of rice or other food for the burial feast.

As Phil said it was yet another reminder of time passing for us old fellows.

Only this morning there was one of those 'come-on' storyline ads on Yahoo home page entitled, 'Why Time Feels Like It Passes Quicker as You Get Older' written by Thorin Klosowski.

As often is the case rather than the article itself I enjoyed more some of the comments on it.

One suggested a reason: 'Try to remember what happened to you every day last week. Chances are that nothing extraordinary happened, so you will be hard-pressed to recall the specific things you did on Monday, Tuesday, etc.'

Yet another: 'compare off road to highway driving: off road driving is going to be hard going as you forge a new trail - it slows you down; on the highway, it's a smooth easy trip over a well established route - a quick and easy ride.'

People say or at least their eyes cannot hide their thoughts that I never cease talking about PNG and life there. It's true and perhaps I make it worse by reading both daily newspapers Mon-Fri along with not to be missed Ex-Kiap and PNG Attitude.

Why not? A least I can relate to many things I read there than here because I feel I don't really belong in Cardiff. Yet I can appreciate my long-suffering friends attitudes as well as knowing they now know PNG is not in central Africa or northern South America.

I do get out and even have physical moments as I help a very old friend with his 25 year old charity Support for Romania. One way or another our team mostly manhandles several tonnes of assorted items every month. No gym fees for us oldies.

The work is an eye opener of the differences between Wales and PNG. It reflects the throwaway nature of British society.

I could load a full sized container from the assorted goods that are donated to us and my Lavongai family and friends would empty it in minutes to make use every item in it for years; well perhaps not the expensive fur coats – though might make good padding for a mattress.

So life goes routinely by at an apparent fast pace- it is nearing end of summer; even frost last weekend in Scottish glens and then downhill to Xmas.

But as another blogger wrote: ' Enjoy the moment while you can, one day it will just be another memory' for me to add to my other 2½ billion seconds of experiences.

Sun comes up and the sun goes down.
The hands on the clock keep goin' around.
I just get up an' it's time to lay down.
Life gets teejus, don't it?

My shoe's untied but I don't really care.
I ain't a-figurin' on goin' nowhere.
I'd have to wash an' comb my hair.
That's just wasted effort.

Water in the well's gettin' lower an' lower.
Can't take a bath for six months or more
But I've heard it said, and it's true I'm sure,
That too much bathin'll weaken' you.

I open the door an' the flies swarm in.
I shut the door an' I'm sweatin' again.
I move too fast an' I crack my shin.
Just one durn thing after t'other.

My old brown mule, he must be sick.
I jabbed him in the rump with a pin on a stick.
He humped his back, but he wouldn't kick.
There's somethin' cockeyed somewhere.

There's a mouse a-chawin' on the pantry door.
He's been at it for at least a month or more.
When he gets through there he's sure goin' to be sore.
[Chuckles] There ain't a durn thing in there.

Hound dog howlin', he's so folorn.
Laziest dog that ever was born.
He's howlin' 'cause he's a-sittin' on a thorn —
Just too tired to move over.

Tin roof leaks an' the chimney leans.
There's a hole in the seat of my ol' blue jeans.
An' I've et the last of them pork an' beans.
Jus' can't depend on nuthin'.

Cow's gone dry an' the hens won't lay.
Fish quit bitin' last Saturday.
Troubles pile up, day by day —
Now I'm gettin' dandruff.

Grief an' misery, pains an' woes.
Debts an' taxes, an' so it goes.
And I think I'm gettin' a cold in the nose …
A-choo! Ah, life gets tasteless, don't it?

Peter Lind Hayes -1948

Daniel Kumbon

Phil, your youthful smile makes me highlight this quote: "You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing" - George Bernard Shaw

William Dunlop


`Robin Lillicrapp

Well said.

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