NOOSA – This confinement to barracks, lock down, home isolation or whatever the authorities term it, occasions plenty of opportunity for reflection on past adventures.
The early 1960s was another era, Papua and New Guinea (as it was called) another place and, for a young man, the highlands a new frontier.
In the Chimbu there were two single white women, both strait-laced, non-nonsense nurses, and 80 single white men – kiap, tisa, didiman, liklik dokta, mekanik, kuskus na ologeta. It could be a rough, drunken, brawling culture.
I was just 18 and, before I'd been there three months as a novice schoolteacher, I'd had three fights, lost each of them and decided there was no headway in this behaviour.
Except in the sense that my head kept getting in the way.
I also discovered the therapeutic benefits of sharing a bottle of Old Kedge before breakfast.
Here’s how I made the discovery.
My hauspig (single men’s quarters) co-tenant, plant operator John Jones, offended that I declined his offer to join him in a small social drink at half past six of a Sunday morning, hurled me off the back verandah clad only in my underpants.
The local church-going public, wandering up the hill to lotu, were bemused by this vision non-splendid of a bawling, half naked white man.
I’ve never been known to knock back a drink since.
In early 1964, I began publishing a stencilled newsletter, the Kundiawa News, which, in a roundabout way, was to later lead me to Port Moresby, Yokomo, the ABC and journalism.
The KN could be scurrilous, publishing gossip, opinion and fact in an undifferentiated way. Bit like Facebook.
Each fortnight's issue was dumped on the respective bars of the Chimbu Club and Kundiawa Hotel and avidly fallen upon by the punters.
As they absorbed the scuttlebutt and mischief, a little niggling would start, then a bit of verbal smearing and, occasionally, fisticuffs.
Attempting a hard-hitting style of prose, I referred to a bloke as a “dissolute reprobate”, which was really beyond the pale.
Later, he caught up with me in the front (whites only) bar of the pub and asked what ‘dissolute reprobate’ meant.
I could tell by the look on his face that he didn't imagine it was a compliment.
I volunteered its definition as a ‘term of mild reproach’, whereupon he grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me.
Given that there was a fair bit of him and not much of me back then, it was like a Rottweiler taking apart a wet tissue.
At this point, my great mate Murray Bladwell entered the fray, placing a restraining hand on my assailant and saying mildly, “Hey, leave him alone”.
My assailant, wanting real sport, king hit Bladders, knocking him to the floor.
Now, unlike me, Bladders was a pretty popular guy around Chimbu, so a bunch of other fellas joined in.
And before you could say, “I'm outta here and off up the Club”, all 20 guys in the bar had decided this was the night to settle old and new scores and were hoeing into each other.
The bar staff screamed, the lights went out, tables toppled, glasses broke …..
Afterwards, publican Dick Kelaart threatened to ban everyone for life except he would have gone broke.
I took Bladders to the haus sik and we watched Dr Tim Murrell finish a Caesarian section in the pitpit operating theatre before he stitched up my hero.
It had been a terrific brawl.
Those implicated boasted of their involvement for months and those who missed out expressed disappointment and felt cheated.
I was quietly pleased that something I'd written could have such a spectacular impact on the local community.
In 1965, kiap Max Orken and I, humble chalkie and newsletter tycoon, started the Central Highlands Cricket Competition, which brought together teams from Kundiawa, Kerowagi, Chuave and Minj.
Our home ground was Kundiawa airstrip that projected into the surrounding valleys like an ironing board.
Whenever we heard the whine of an aircraft, we’d rip out the stumps, leave the coir matting to its own devices and hare off the pitch.
We tired of MAF Pastor Doug McGraw’s habit of arriving like a bat out of hell and landing halfway down the runway.
Having bested the all-Papua New Guinean Minj 2 team one Sunday, I invited the players to the Chimbu Club for a beer.
Their captain was taken aback and - looking hard at this deeply tanned youngster with curly Mekeo-like hair - protested, "Nogat, Kit, dispela haus itambu long ol kanaka" (‘No, Keith, we natives aren’t allowed in such places’).
In the sixties the Chimbu Club was one of very few in the then Territory to have a multiracial charter and I was able to reassure him all was OK.
The Minj team was delighted and the captain bought me a rum. I would've preferred beer but a drink’s a drink.
When I went to return the shout he jumped up and bought again.
When this happened a third time, the one-sidedness began to embarrass me.
Eventually I stirred myself to ask, “Olsem wonem yu baim buka meri long mi na no laikim mi baiim yu?” (‘Why are you buying the rum for me and not let me return the shout?’)
“Aaah,” he said slowly, staring at my hair, “Mi gat sori tru long ol yupela hapkas” (‘Oh, I feel really sorry for you mixed race people’).
I had a deep sense of being patronised.