COLIN MIDDLETON | Edited extracts
NEWCASTLE NSW - Jon Bartlett was a country boy from Wagga, whose family antecedents were Irish and Chinese.
Asked why he spelt his name without the ‘h’ of ‘John’, he said he liked swimming and was an admirer of Jon Henricks, the Australian Olympic and world swimming champion and changed the spelling of his name to match.
Jon was a self-effacing and caring family man of considered thought. He loved music, food, cooking, beer, fun and laughter. He had a keen sense of humour and had an infectious laugh.
After school, Jon worked for a time with the Dalgety wool company in Wagga. He enjoyed his time with them in the saleyards which taught him many things about stock and especially working dogs.
Jon joined the Papua New Guinea Administration in the last permanent patrol officer intake of 1963 – probably completing the one month ASOPA course before a month-long orientation in Port Moresby before his initial posting to the Kainantu Sub District.
His first patrol as a cadet patrol officer was with Peter Broadhurst in April 1963. Jon related how he was attacked whilst relieving himself at night on the bush toilet. Broadhurst later put his hand up to say he was the culprit, not the local people.
I first met Jon in the Western District when I was posted to Daru in 1972. Jon had transferred from the East Sepik to a newly created position of welfare officer. Daru and the Western District had the reputation of being the last posting you would want to take but we were fortunate to have a great district commissioner, Ken Brown, who had been in the Western District as a patrol officer in 1951-52.
Daru at this time was a great and lively place to be living. Jon met up again with kiaps he had worked with in Chimbu in 1966, Fred Parker and Paul Bourne. The community - ranging across kiaps, business development people, PWD, police, trade store owners, high school teachers, crocodile shooters and professional fishermen and the local Kiwai people - got on well.
Weekends entailed a number of going out in a highly unstable ‘banana boat’ to the nearby reefs for fishing, snorkelling and spearfishing. Warriar Reef was particularly favoured. Jon and Paul Bourne became constant companions and soon very adept spearfisherman, bringing back catches of crayfish and fish that were shared with us all.
Cooking was a passion of Jon’s. We used to have ‘progressive dinners’ which were a lot of fun. On dinner nights we would go to upwards of five houses for the different courses. Night caps were at the ‘liklik kiaps donga’. There was one rule, Jon was made to cook the rice as he was the only one who could make the rice fluffy and not gluggy.
Bernie Seeto, the local Chinese store owner, would be bribed to bring his delicious Singapore chilli mud crab dish and Hazel Beckett, the wife the officer in charge of the marine workshop, would be pressed upon to bring her famous battered fish fingers. When Jon was asked the secret to cooking the rice he would say it was the absorption method. It wasn’t until years later we discovered that he had an electric rice cooker.
Jon loved music and had an eclectic taste ranging from the old standards to modern and popular. He loved singing and had a good voice. On returning to Australia he took up singing and joined the local branch of Australia Sings. He also enjoyed dancing and, later in Newcastle with Tin Tin, took dancing lessons. They were a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor.
I left PNG at the end of my contract in Christmas 1974 and returned to my parents sheep and cattle property, Buckanbe, in Western NSW on the Darling River at Tilpa. But I continued my friendship with Jon. We would swap the traditional Christmas missives on our year and sometimes spoke on the phone.
By this time Jon was Assistant District Commissioner at Misima in Milne Bay. I sent him a large batch of taped music of all the hit records I had recorded at the local community radio station, 2WEB in Bourke, where I used to compere a Saturday morning show called ‘Mids Morning Mania’. Jon told me he really enjoyed it, good music for the station parties and it was a break from local string band music.
Jon and I had a mutual interest in Spain, its food and bullfighting. One night I received a call from Jon asking me to get myself organised as he was in Spain and wanted me to meet him in Cordoba at the end of the week as he had arranged to see the famous bullfighter El Cordobes. Unfortunately we were shearing at the time and I couldn’t get away.
On coming south in 1981, Jon based himself in Potts Point where, along with ex kiap Mike Eggleton, he dabbled in the stock market and the Kings Cross night life. It was at his apartment in Potts Point in early 1982 that I met Tin Tin, a lovely Chinese Indonesian woman from Bandung who Jon was courting.
At Easter 1982 Jon and Paul Bourne flew to Bourke to attend my wedding. They had both had a very heavy night of partying the previous night in Sydney. The flight was the milk run route that landed at Dubbo, Nyngan, Brewarrina and Bourke. It was a rough trip and both Jon and Paul had occasion to go for the brown paper bags.
On arrival in Bourke the Rev Keith Sandars, my school chaplain at Trinity boarding school in Sydney, who had come out to officiate at the wedding on the same flight, remarked to the boys, “We didn’t think you two were going to make it.” They made a remarkable recovery and Jon was the official photographer for the wedding and took some great shots.
Jon also married not long after to Tin Tin and we both went on to have families. Our children were all around the same age and there followed a long family friendship. This saw the Bartletts visit our Tilpa property and the Middletons visiting Narrandera where by this stage Jon was returning officer for the Riverina-Darling Electorate.
I saw Jon’s kiap census taking skills come to the fore when he rang me one day and questioned why I was registered as a station hand of 1 Darling Avenue, Tilpa. and not a property manager of Buckanbe Station, Tilpa.
I told him that the local postmaster Fred Davidson had asked me to put my name down as a resident of Tilpa as he needed one more elector on the roll to keep the polling station open. Jon, being a pragmatic ex kiap, duly made the necessary adjustment and the Tilpa booth remained open for the next two decades.
Jon was very proud of his time as a kiap and the achievements of the Administration of Papua New Guinea. He encouraged get-togethers and reunions and went out of his way to maintain contact with his kiap mates.
One of the reunions was on my sheep station, Buckanbe, at Easter 2005, where there was a gathering of about 30 people, mostly from PNG’s Western District. It was spread over the long weekend and included tours of the property, locally killed roast mutton dinners, beer and wine, fishing and the mandatory trip to address the bar at the Tilpa Hotel. Jon said to me afterwards that it was the best reunion he had been to as the venue, Buckanbe, was just like a PNG government out station!
Jon, Tin and the children visited us on numerous occasions. They came for the annual shearing and for the Tilpa sesquicentenary celebrations. We also visited them regularly once they moved to Newcastle where Jon had his last position as Electoral Commission returning officer before he retired in 2005.
In 2011, along with many ex kiaps and friends, we attended Jon’s 70th birthday and I seem to recollect that again I was the last to leave.
Jon encouraged me to join the PNG Association of Australia in order to receive ‘Una Voce’ which he read avidly. He also encouraged me and fellow kiaps to apply for the Police Medal which he believed was a deserved acknowledgement of our service to Papua New Guinea.