“We are reborn,” say Bougainvilleans
The ways of our ancestors

Fascinating, sweet, incurable PNG

Phil very relaxed on patrol north of Nomad  1960s
Phil Fitzpatrick, relaxing in the haus kiap on a patrol north of Nomad in the 1960s - "I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of civilisation"


TUMBY BAY - Kiaps were required to work for 21 months in Papua New Guinea before they were granted three months leave.

When their leave was due they were provided with a return airline ticket to Australia.

After 21 months in the field most kiaps looked forward to their leave. It was a chance to catch up with their families in Australia, see what had been going on in the outside world and enjoy a few luxuries not available in PNG.

There were, however, a few kiaps, particularly those living on remote patrol posts, who were reluctant to go on leave.

In some cases it required a stiff direction from the District Commissioner to get them on an aeroplane.

The general conclusion was that they had been too long in the bush and had gone a bit ‘troppo’. That was true in some cases but in others it was more complex.

In modern day parlance, these reluctant individuals had been embedded in the places where they worked and had become so engaged with the local people they didn’t want to leave.

The colonial Administration recognised this as an occupational hazard and tended to move officers around every 12 months or so; the theory being that too much familiarity with the local people left officers open to a kind of cultural nepotism.

This was frustrating for many kiaps because, after working hard to learn about the local people and gain their trust, they suddenly found themselves moved on with a whole new scenario to master.

That aside, most kiaps absorbed a level of cultural knowledge and appreciation that literally changed their lives and their worldview.

This was became clear when they found difficulty adjusting to life back in Australia after they had ‘gone finish’.

The Rousseau myth of the ‘noble savage’ aside, it is remarkable how many Westerners have found solace in going to live in communities in the so-called third world.

Back in the 1960s hippy era, it was a rite of passage for many young people to spend time in places like India experiencing a different way of life. This sort of thing was pretty transient however and most went home to become accountants and shopkeepers.

The more profound experiences are a lot more interesting.

In 1836, 10-year old Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in a raid by native American Comanches in central Texas. Although beaten and abused at first, she soon integrated into the tribe. She became a Comanche in every sense, marrying a warrior and having three children with him.

She resisted several attempts to be integrated back into white society and, when she was finally forced to do so, spent the rest of her life pining for her Comanche friends and family.

In 1848 a 14-year old French cabin boy, Narcisse Pelletier, was abandoned on a beach in north Queensland. He was found by the indigenous Uutaalnganu people and lived with them for 17 years.

In 1875 he was forced to leave them and return to ‘civilisation’ where he had great trouble readjusting his life.

While those reluctant kiaps were not in the league of Cynthia Parker or Narcisse Pelletier, I’m sure that they could empathise with them.

I was reminded of this cultural conundrum when I read Daniel Kumbon’s article about the last of the ridge top kiaps.

In particular I noted kiap John Gordon-Kirkby’s love of kaukau roasted on a fire and eaten coated in ash and dirt. The very thought made my mouth water.

Over the years, as Western society becomes more and more frenetic and meaningless, those days in the distant past as a kiap take on a significance that very few people would understand.

I don’t think it’s got anything to do with rose-coloured glasses. It’s deeper and more profound than that and therefore harder to explain.

In my own case I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of ‘civilisation’. Stepping off the plane in hot and muddy old Daru after leave was a pleasant and relaxing feeling.

I suspect I’ve been running away from ‘civilisation’ ever since, both physically and certainly mentally.


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Bernard Corden

Most of the important aspects of life such as love, trust, peace, respect, learning and integrity cannot be measured quantitatively and any attempt often proves futile and generates many adverse social consequences. Indeed, what gets measured does not get done, it usually gets manipulated.

Humans typically resort to poetics in their quest for meaning and scientism with its inordinate focus on technology, algorithms and artificial intelligence extirpates many of these ethereal attributes, which destroys communities of practice and incidental learning.

Machines cannot dream, meditate, fornicate or imagine and because the arts, especially music, dance, literature, prayer cannot be measured directly and quantitatively it does not invalidate the experience.

In most developed countries the experience is often measured indirectly and corrupted via the revenue it generates.

Indeed as Paul Oates opined in another post the entire western economy is merely one giant festering Ponzi scheme underpinned by suprasurveillance, which is reinforced by aggressive and deceptive telemarketing with pyramid selling and resembles a house of cards built on estuarine mudflats. We no longer search Google, it searches us.

The beauty of PNG, especially in the remote regions is that its communities are not corrupted by credit and what you see is invariably what you get.

It is one of the few remaining countries on our planet with a genuine culture.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When we went to PNG in 2014 for the Crocodile Prize workshop and awards Trevor was asked whether he had any more PNG-based books in the pipeline and he said that he would only be writing Australian-based books thereon.
I think it was Francis Nii who asked him the question.

I don't think he's been back to PNG since then. He's written a couple of books in the meantime, one about a bushranger and another about some homeless kids. I reviewed the latter some time ago.

I've no plans to go back to PNG either. I think we ancients are now settling down with just our memories.

Chris Overland

Trevor Shearston wrote "Something in the Blood", in which he attempted to come to grips with the strange and enduring effect PNG had upon the Australians who lived there.

I remember reading the book and being powerfully affected by the story. It resonated so strongly with me that tears flowed unbidden.

Phil is alluding to the same phenomenon. I struggle to describe it but it seems to be an amalgam of emotions that include delight, mystification, frustration, sadness and nostalgia.

No one with the slightest intellectual or emotional sensitivity survived PNG unscathed. Its many wonders and delights, together with occasional horrors, seared themselves into our souls.

I am 68 years old, just over 50 years removed from the day I first set foot in PNG. Yet the experience of the country and its peoples never leaves me, not even for a day.

Trevor Shearston was right: it must be something in the blood.

It will not be visible under a microscope but it is there nonetheless.

Paul Oates

Sadly, our grandchildren are all too often seduced by the electronic so called 'smart phones' and Ipads that lead to isolation and non real life fantasy whereas we as a species evolved to live in extended and supportive family groups and converse around the camp fire at night.

'Mipela iolsem sipsip ibin lusim rot!'

Robert L Parer

For me there was nothing to compare with Taro brought around Tepier Copra Plantation in a half 44 Gal Drum at Noon for the workers.Cooked to perfection and eaten with a bit of coconut.My own cook had no idea that is the way I loved it and over cooked mine.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Funny that John.

After I left PNG I found myself working with Pitjantjatjara people in what was the North West Aboriginal reserve in South Australia documenting mythologies and sacred sites. The work was done through the SA Museum and followed a request from Pitjantjatjara elders who were worried about their young people losing their traditions.

The homelands movement occurred at about that time and then, of course the land rights movement that gave the Pitjantjatjara and Yunkunytjatjara title to the reserve.

John Gordon-Kirkby

Thanks Phil for articulating my feelings about melding into the communities in which we served in PNG.

My particular eventual escape from “civilisation” after 'going finish' from PNG was to find a home at Walungurru amongst the Pintubi people on the Western Australia border of the Northern Territory.

I’m now fully urbanised, but still have nostalgic dreams.

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