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.