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Last letter from Kurt Pfund: Eminent artist chose PNG as his home

Chimbu Warrior (Kurt Pfund)
Chimbu Warrior (Kurt Pfund)


SYDNEY - Kurt Pfund (1935-2017) was born in Switzerland and lived, worked and played in Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean before finding his way to Papua New Guinea.

He was lured there by the ambition to become a crocodile hunter. Instead he developed an abiding love for the country and its people which he expressed through his paintings and his writing.

Kurt was already a significant artist and had held several successful exhibitions at an international level when I first met him in 1973.

He had also published two books, ‘Islands of love: portrait of the Trobriand Islands’ (paintings and text by Kurt Pfund) and ‘Legends of Papua New Guinea’ (paintings by Kurt Pfund, text by Jack McCarthy). His studio was on a five-acre property at Sapphire Creek.

We saw a lot of Kurt until we went our separate ways after Independence in 1975. Kurt returned to Switzerland and we returned to Australia for a while. The Sapphire Creek property became an official residence.

We kept contact over the ensuing years, exchanging letters, emails and telephone calls. We visited Kurt in Switzerland several times and he joined us in Sydney for the millennium celebrations in 1988.

In 2012, Kurt published a collection of anecdotes, ‘Titbits von damals: Zeiträume-Zeitträume’ (‘Titbits of yesteryear: Periods of time’) and he continued to worry about the threats to PNG of global warming and rising oceans. He had lived on the Mortlock Islands off Bougainville for a month in 1973.

Islands_of_LoveWe should have seen the warning in email which he sent on 17 October last year, but it was buried in an obscure paragraph and the meaning was not clear.

“Our friend Kurt the pianist is beginning to worry me somehow. The great ten-year love affair with the one generation younger women is coming to an end, and I think he too sees dark clouds coming up on the horizon… It shows that the woman hasn’t been in his flat at weekends anymore. The mess has become so enormous that a duster wouldn’t fit anywhere in between.”

The hammer blow was delivered by email at the end of November.

"For me over here it looks like the last season of the year will also be the last season of my time. Trouble started with a collapse because of a salt deficiency of the blood and ended with the hospital verdict of cancer. I had felt things coming and had completed arrangements with the Swiss death benefit organisation EXIT quite some time ago. I won’t have to tell you that I haven’t had a bad life. The year with the unique Trobriand Islanders may well have been the most valuable of the past 82…

“I’ve told you before that my mind is (gratefully and now of course also sadly) stuck to the South Sea; I cannot remember one bedtime over a very long time when I didn’t sit down on the piano to play my short prayer for all islanders in form of the Isa Lei melody. … Yet unless you will get the one of my fifty (already with stamps on the envelope) 'last letters' to my best friends all over the globe, I am still on this side of the Milky Way."

Kurt Pfund died as he lived: quietly, considerately and thinking of his friends. His last letter arrived in January. He had departed for the other side of the Milky Way. Travel well old friend.


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John Lauricella

Hi Bill - You do not know me, but I worked in PNG from 1970-1973. For some strange reason Kurt and his artwork came to mind the other night out of the blue.

I knew Kurt only in passing, but he was very much part of the larger-than-life fabric that made PNG such a uniquely formative place to be, partcularly at that time.

I recall thumbing through old books in the library in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, and coming across Kurt's 'Islands of Love' which sat comfortably alongside 'Sketches of Ceylon History'.

I also the post from Janet Grimaldi, who I believe may have been a neighbour of ours in Port Moresby.

If you are in a position to do so and Janet is agreeaable, I would appreciate it if she could contact me by email.

Thanks for your post, Bill.

Albert Mayer

I have been a school colleague of Kurt.
I am preparing an exhibition here in Romanshorn and I am looking for artistic works from Kurt. If you know works, I eventually could show in the exhibition, or if you have informations about his biography, i am happy to get them!
Albert Mayer Romanshorn, switzerland

June Harrison (ex-wife of the late Graeme Morton)

Dear Bill - We were close friends and neighbours of Kurt at Sapphire Creek (though it wasn’t called that then) in the late sixties and seventies.

We had memorable times together: crocodile capturing on the Laloki River for his home zoo, which included pythons, Siamese fighting fish and a donkey named Sweet Pea; finding titles for pictures prior to exhibition; a practical joke with an ambulance he was sign painting during the ‘flu epidemic; and too any other activities to mention.

I have two of Kurt’s paintings. 'Warrior and Pupil' from the 1969 exhibition and 'Maternity Garb' which is reproduced in 'Islands of Love' where I am cited in the acknowledgements, “June Morton, who with patience modified the accent in the text”.

Sadly we lost touch after leaving PNG but I send my deepest condolences to his widow. Her loss must be immeasurable.

Kurt was a a special person. Talented, philosophic, and great fun.

Janet Grimaldi

Hello Bill,
I know you but you don’t know me. I live in Sydney and would like to contact you. I knew Kurt very well..

Myriam Olivier | Paris

Mr Bill Brown, you do not know me. But after months during the last two years trying to contact Kurt Pfund by his phone without answer, through your note found at internet now I know why he did not pick up the phone as he always used to do during more than 20 years, neither answering my emails and letters.

I was sure something happened but since I did not know who to contact to learn what happened, I just tried to find call him again and again. And today I got the answer reading your post 'Last letter from Kurt Pfund'. It is so sad to learn that I had lost the best friend I ever had.

My name is Myriam, I was born in Brésil and I met for the first time Kurt at Paraty in Brésil, and during all these years we always keep the contact between us.

Today I live in between France and Caribbean and all the changes in my life, the good and the sad things that came into my life, I could share with him.

I remember him playing piano, joking, making magic numbers, talking with everybody and smiling, talking about his dog Laila, the wolf, life in PNG and his paintings during his several trips.

I got some of his books and he sent me his last one. The last email I received from him was when he had been in a hospital at the end of November 2017. Today unfortunately I know he will not answer any more of my calls, my emails, my letters and a very important part of me is now on the other side of the Milky Way as he mentioned.

I had also the opportunity to meet Marlies in Paraty, maybe she does not remember me anymore. But I know also all the love he felt for her, and you can share this email with her if you wish, and my email address.

For a while I’m staying in France, but as nomadic as I am, I will probably move to go to work in the Pacific or Indian Ocean in the future.

We never met, Mr Bill Brown, but I’m grateful to finally find the answer why Kurt did not answer my calls, and I read your post wonderfully well written in tribute to a great artist and great friend Kurt Pfund was a more sweet way to learn it.

Many thanks and best regards.

Marlies Widme | Switzerland

Dear Bill and Pamela - Thank you so much for your words.

I lost a very, very good friend, and the love of my life.

I miss him so much. Thank you, love Marlies

Barbara Short

Thanks Bill. I have a copy of Islands of Love somewhere and I have enjoyed looking at it many times during my life and I'm sure it has inspired me in my paintings.

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