Christmas for atheists
Christmas in PNG – a time to reflect, rejoice & recommit

Tales from the kiap times – An expatriate Christmas

Chiristmas with the Clelands, Balimo. 1959BOB CLELAND

THE first Christmas I spent in Papua New Guinea, as an unmarried Cadet Patrol Officer, was wild and best forgotten.

But I did learn about one of the common Christmas practises amongst the Australian expatriate population.

In 1953, Goroka was a small outstation with an expatriate population of 100 or so. Perhaps half of that number consisted of married couples with a few children. There were two single women. And the rest of us were single men.

Six other single men and I – kiaps, didimen and a kuskus – were invited to share a family Christmas with Syd and Beth Nielsen and their two children. Syd was District Education Officer. It was a fabulous day, much of it, as I said, best forgotten.

After I married, I continued the tradition. And three of those events are still prominent in my memory.

At Balimo in 1959 there were no single people. I was the Assistant District Officer, the senior person at the post, so Julie, my wife, and I invited all government personnel for a Christmas drink. Our first daughter, Susan, was three and Julie was expecting our second.

In the photo above, moving clockwise from Susan, centre front; then moving left, Marcia White wife of the education officer with her daughter Christina; me; Barbara Petras wife of the medical assistant; my wife Julie; patrol officer Ian Gibbins, education officer Maury White and medical assistant Olda Petras.

Outstations were definitely places where, if you didn’t do it yourself, you did without.

Christmas 'tree'There were no pine trees for a fair dinkum Christmas tree but a branch of local banksia all prettied up looked good.

Ten years later, at Kokopo in 1969, our two daughters Susan and Kathryn were home from Australia for school holidays. We invited some of the single officers to our midday Christmas dinner.

Julie and I didn’t want the day to be just sitting around talking and drinking. What else can we do, we thought?

Julie, with pre-school experience, went shopping at the Chinese store and found some click beetles that you hold between your fingers and let go quickly. With a click, they jump as much as half a metre.

Imagine, full of Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and cheer, all of us on hands and knees on the floor with a beetle each, competing for the longest jump, opposed in teams in a knock-out battle or trying to lob them into a box. It was simple, hilarious and highly enjoyable.

The following year, 1970, we had been posted to Chuave. It was the same scenario only more remote and Julie continued the same idea. Susan and Kathryn had come for the holidays accompanied  by school friends from Australia.

We invited three kiaps and a didiman for lunch. Julie prepared early and found little tin cars with a flywheel that got spinning with some vigorous push, push, pushing on the wooden floor. Release them and they’re off at speed.

On our knees we had races, crashes, battles and hilarity. Setting those little cars going and having wonderful fun.

The clever bit is that nobody’s drinking while on hands and knees. All our guests went to their homes late afternoon a bit more sober than they otherwise might have been.

I wish all readers and contributors to PNG Attitude a happy festive season and a healthy and successful 2017 - Bob Cleland


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Bob Cleland

Hello Lynn. Of course I remember, and thank you for your comment. I've passed details to Susan who lives in an eastern suburb of Brisbane.

You might remember some time in the early 1970s, Julie and I visited you and Gordon in Glasgow.

William Dunlop

Memories of expat communications flaws in earlier PNG....

After the Chimbu Ball in 1970, when ADC Ernie Sharp returned home to Chuave, he didn't realise his domestic would place his crumpled dinner jacket and trousers in the newly acquired washing machine.

Living in Kieta in 1976, I made a trip to Buka and mentioned to magistrate Algy Besasparis that kukas (crabs) were good value at the market.

We each purchased enough at K1 each to fill two good sized bags.

I saw Algy the next evening at the Kieta Club and asked did he enjoy his crab feast.

Alas no, he said, when I got home I asked my domestic to wash the mud off them and went to my office for the rest of the day.

It transpired that Joseph decided to show off his expertise in the use of the new washing machine.

Lynn Bryce [nee McLeod]

Hello, I'm not sure if you remember me, I was Sue's friend from St Margarets, Lynn McLeod. I'm now living in Scotland and have two daughters of my own.

My husband, Gordon, and I were watching a program, Lost Land of the Volcano, and we started a conversation about Papua New Guinea and I was telling him about my visits to you and what a wonderful experience and place it was/is.

I went online and came across this website and couldn't believe what was written, it took me right back to your house at Chuave.

I hope you don't think I've been too presumptuous in replying to this, but it has brought back so many happy memories of your and Mrs Cleland's hospitality.

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