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Being an old kiap is good for you – so is reading PNG Attitude

Phil. early 1970s
Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains in the early 1970s - memories that keep us happier and healthier


TUMBY BAY - A lot of old kiaps, sometimes around 150, have a get-together on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland every two years. In between there’s a smaller gathering in Cairns.

I’ve never actually been to one of these events, mainly because I thought they would be about a bunch of old farts trying to relive the past while dribbling into their beer.

It turns out that my conclusion, like a lot of my assessments, was totally wrong.

The old buggers are actually doing themselves a lot of good and helping to improve their health and longevity.

I discovered this interesting fact recently while reading a book called ‘Brain Rules for Ageing Well’ by developmental molecular biologist, Dr John Medina.

According to Dr Medina, nostalgia has positive health benefits for the elderly.

Nostalgia is defined in the New Oxford Dictionary as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past”. That sounds something like my original take on the kiap get-togethers but is misleading.

Apparently nostalgia promotes something called “self-continuity, linking who you were in the past with who you are now”.

The theory is that when you wax nostalgic your self-continuity is enhanced and “good things happen to your brain”. Scientists have apparently used brain scans to prove it.

People who indulge in nostalgia are less afraid of dying, more generous to strangers, more tolerant of outsiders, closer to their friends and relatives and generally healthier and happier.

It seems that, as people reminisce, parts of their memory go into overdrive and particular neuro-transmitters in the brain (those involved in reward, learning and motor function) are activated.

These neuro-transmitters use dopamine, which is associated with activating good feelings.

That’s not all, however, there’s even more to it.

It seems there is actually a ‘retrieval bias’ when we reminisce that sits around our experiences when we were in our early twenties.

That period, according to Dr Medina, tends to be when people had the most meaningful experiences in their lives.

This is fascinating stuff. When I was in my early twenties I was doing some heavy duty patrolling and having one hell of a good time.

Of course, a lot of other people who weren’t kiaps were also in Papua New Guinea in their early twenties. No doubt the findings apply equally to them.

Taken further, it probably explains the popularity of blogs like PNG Attitude and the Ex-kiap website.

That they are therapeutic for all the old farts who read them has got to be an added bonus.

Will I be going to the next old kiap gathering?

I’m not sure, I’ll have to think about it.


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Chips Mackellar

You should go Phil, you will be amazed. At last year's Queensland Sunshine Coast reunion, the attendance was 306, not counting those who arrived late and did not register.

In addition to kiaps, some wives of deceased kiaps also attended. One kiap's widow came all the way from the UK just to be there. Also there were some children of kiaps, who although now middle aged, have bonded together because of a shared childhood in PNG maybe 50 years ago.

It is also interesting to know that the same nostalgia which binds old kiaps together also binds other former residents of PNG. Parallel to the Kiaps website is the blog "I used to live in Papua New Guinea" with daily contributions from former pilots of MAL, PATAIR and Qantas, former planters, teachers, mechanics, accountants, miners, business owners and so on, with photos of Samarai pre war, Ela Beach when the RSL was there, and so on, and scads of photos from middle aged expats of when they were kids at school in PNG.

It is amazing how former residence in PNG has bonded so many people together. It just shows how powerful nostalgia can be.

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