KUNDIAWA - It was no ordinary hauskrai. Under the mango tree at the Riverside Hotel it was special.
Special because there was much laughter, and fun, and also solemn moments. Young and old came from far off places in Simbu – many of them I knew, others I had never met. They were all friends of Bill Standish.
Angra Bill’s brothers and sisters. His namesake and his wife Sue’s namesake from Mindima village came. We all came together to celebrate the life of a great mate, a teacher, a mentor, a brother, a father and a namesake.
Bill Standish’s good friend Steven Gari came with his family from Asaro in the Eastern Highlands Province. They brought with them a big pig for the celebration.
Others came with vegetables, bananas, avocados, bread, frozen meat and more - everybody brought something for the barbecue. There was lots of food.
We displayed a blue trampoline as a sign of a true hauskrai. But unlike the usual crying house in Papua New Guinea that can go on for many days, this hauskrai only lasted just four hours.
Grown men broke down before they uttered a word and others who assembled could not hold back their tears.
We live in a society where emotions are never far from breaking point, especially at gatherings like this where we mourn the departure of loved ones.
There was laughter as many of us told of our special moments with Angra Dr Bill Standish. Senior Cletus Kuble rekindled his student days of being tutored by the young Bill Standish at the University of Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s.
He said Bill always got along well with highlanders at the university and had a soft spot for the small number of Simbu students around at the time.
Augusta Gari and Pastor Dominic Minga told of Bill Standish’s bold belief that PNG will only prosper when a Simbu becomes prime minister. Many readers may think this outrageous, but I can attest here that it shows the affection for our people held by the great man himself.
Pastor Dominic light-heartedly accused Bill of first coming to Simbu in pursuit of a Dinga girl, his sister, who was at the university at the time.
“But he ended up falling in love with the whole province for nearly five decades,” Pastor Dominic said.
“He became our best friend, our teacher, our mentor, our namesake. Bill Standish was everything to us. Ol famili yumi bung nau, Bill Standish i nonap kambek. Em trutru igo pinis. Mi wari tru.”
Between much outpouring of grief, his family from Mindima all spoke of their association with Bill.. They said his house is now empty and cold. They spoke of Bill Standish’s traditional marriage in the village where he shared boros pk’ (pig lard) with the wife Sue. His namesake from Mindima also spoke highly of him.
Philip Kai, who had worked with Angra on many occasions in Simbu, spoke greatly of his good friend.
“I want to send our condolences from Simbu to Sue, to Bill’s brother and all his family members and all his friends in Australia and in PNG. He is indeed a greater man. Today Simbu has lost a true friend.”
Augustina Gari thanked the people who had contributed in one way or another to the success of the gathering for their tears, their laughter and for the stories of their association with Angra, some stories which had never been told.
She especially thanked Bal Kama of the Australian National University and Robert Kama for their contributions in cash, Steven Gari for his pig and Mathias Kin for taking a lead role in the event.
Augustina also thanked the proprietor of the Riverside, Singu Yegiora, for allowing us to use the place at very low cost.
There was lots of food for everybody on the barbecue and drinks flowed freely among the people.
My personal times with Bill were memorable. I first met him at the Mt Wilhelm Hotel in Kundiawa in 1996 or 1997. I remember his frankness and down to earth manner. He loved kaukau cooked over the fire with avocado fruit and ground coffee.
He was a great listener, who always gave equal time to all seated around him. In these discussions it seemed to me he knew more about Simbu and PNG than we indigenous Simbus.
Many years later when I took up an in interest in history, he was the first person I consulted.
At that early stage, in 2013, my writing was not much, but Bill encouraged me to keep going.
When I wrote in PNG Attitude of the killing of my people at Sua by a colonial administration patrol, Bill worked with me by email sending me material nobody had seen before which he had collected from his studies in the area telling of these killings.
Later another likable Angra, Dr Robin Hides, also collaborated with me with much of the information contained in My Chimbu.
I am so saddened by the death of my friend, my Angra, that I had to go out of my way to do everything I could to repay his goodness to me.
And so I did all I could to ensure that the hauskrai was a deserving one to celebrate the life of this great man.
Philip Kai had the last words: “Angra Bill, you may be gone but your goodness will still linger among a people you called your very own. We will miss you.”