Bougainville’s referendum. Uncertain journey
Paul Oates: A kiap’s progress

Paul Oates: A look in the mirror

Arnold_Oates_280109
Former chalkie Dick Arnold with Paul Oates in 2009, about the time Paul first met Keith Jackson

PAUL OATES

GOLD COAST - I initially started writing about my Papua New Guinea experiences to contribute to those others of my line who also shared their experiences on websites like Ex-Kiap and, after Keith Jackson discovered my story about a PNG Christmas, I appeared regularly on PNG Attitude.

What started to become a catharsis over my long put aside experiences, then blossomed as I became a grandfather and wanted to relate what life was like when I was young.

The PNG experiences are virtually just one large chapter in my life’s story which is still a work in progress.

It fits in with my early life, our family tree, my first job and then the Army, PNG, Commonwealth departmental service, Cocos Keeling Islands, Queensland Emergency Services, cattle farming and volunteer pursuits.

I hoped that after I die my grandchildren and possibly their children might be interested in reading about what it was like to live in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

I’m sure my own children are totally sick of hearing about it. While they may be part of the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ generations, I find myself becoming part of the ‘D’ generation.

While I did complete a few ‘scratchings’ whilst in PNG, when these were sent to Readers Digest they were returned with a note saying they didn’t like my writing style.

Later, I was again chastised for not following the Defence Writing Style book when I attended RAAF Staff College. The comment in my College Report said in part, ‘He is not yet a writer’.

Small steps eBook Cover
The cover of the e-book version of 'Small Steps'

After I left government service and started writing comments and memory pieces on PNG Attitude, Keith helped me develop my writing together with my wife’s prompting in spelling and grammar.

While I have contributed to a number of magazines over the last few years, the slowly accumulating memoirs would have stayed mostly unseen until Phil Fitzpatrick recently prompted me to consider publishing some of them in book form.

It is solely due to his efforts and those of his brother in law that the book has now been published.

Phil and I thought the contents would be more understandable to the reader if my evolution as a TPNG kiap was first explained.

After being trained and then posted around the Morobe District, as it then was, other information about PNG having been accumulated along the way could then have shuffled between these postings.

After an intensive period of cutting and pasting and tick tacking with Phil, the existing chapters were sorted into approximate date order. There still remained the choice of an appropriate title, however.

As Phil suggested, the eventual title would appear once the book was assembled, and sure enough, it did.

During my first patrol, a senior PNG leader took pity on me labouring up a steep mountain and taking my arm, said in Tok Pisin, “Just take little steps kiap.” Taking this advice, I continued to climb the mountain.

What most of us at the time didn’t realise is that our New Guinea experience changed us indelibly.

When we returned to Australia, we had morphed into a stranger in our own land. We looked at things in a different light and often wondered why people couldn’t see things with a strange clarity that seemed to be lacking in most others we worked with.

Some people said behind our backs, “They gave them too much power up there.” Yet the only real power we had was that allowed to us by the people we worked with.

I hope those who read this book might pause and think about their own life’s challenges and how they can be different for everyone and yet, just like that first mountain I had to climb, with good advice and help these challenges are always able to be conquered if you just don’t give up.

Comments

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Robert Forster

I enjoyed your bush adventures Paul. So much of them like my own and then so many of them quite different too.

And you must have endured more hairy experiences in the passenger seat of a plane/helicopter than most other kiaps.
I'm glad you survived.

Lindsay F Bond

Perhaps it’s the creative urge that finds need to link Paul’s story with that of a NASA venture. It derives from an Australian ABC news item of this same day. I refer to a “story of Australia's first interstellar message.”
See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-11-14/hello-from-earth-10-years-on-interstellar-message/11701586

If coincidence is to be perceived by avid readers of PNG Attitude, it might be in the idea that the message sent is now halfway to its destination, namely “an Earth-like planet 20 light-years away.”

This idea of a mid-point is my ‘take’ on “the book [that] has now been published.” A saleable product is launched and is placed beckoningly to attract the reach of reader potential.

If I might venture comment on prospect for purvey, it would be in pointing to Paul’s contributions to this blog: ever informative, earnest, well scoped, of common sense and redoubtably direct.

Readers will be rewarded in acquiring and reading “Small Steps” toward aspiration and competent writing. Another half of the traverse is at the reader, between the sighting and the writing.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Paul for documenting your experience in my Mindik village in Finschhafen, Morobe, as we began taking our first small steps out of our village into the big brave world.

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