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.
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