The black swan has arrived
Chief Covidiot blocks health unity

Taim bilong masta i spak

With my long-suffering manki masta Di Siune, Goroka, January 1964


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.


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Jane Rybarz

I have just read the comments above and it was lovely to hear stories about my Dad Stan Rybarz.
If anyone is having difficulty obtaining a copy of the book The Bridge Builder let me know and I will try and access a copy for you. My mother the author only has a few copies left but we should be able to obtain copies from Wakefield Press. Jane Rybarz 24/1/21

Daniel Kumbon

I had a couple of drinks with a couple of friends in the Wabag Country Club in the 80s. Among us was one expatriate didiman who always wore a cowboy hat. He was married to a local girl.

We took turns to buy rounds. When the didiman bought his round I said to him: 'Tenyu tru tambu.'

He turned around, looked at me strongly and said: 'Where were you when they distributed the bride price?"

I told him the question was irrelevant because I was not entitled to any of it.

"Then why did you call me a 'tambu'? he asked"

"Because the girl is from Enga, you are a 'tambu' to all Engans.

'Don't call me 'tambu, tambu' and finish my beer,' he said..

Had he seen me in the group from the start or did he think I had just joined the group for a free beer(and there were many like that around)?

I left sensing that he was already drunk..

Robert L Parer CMG MBE

The first semblance of a club at Aitape was in the 1950s beside the liklik dokta's home on beautiful Aitape Hill.

Grace & Frank Neville were very hospitable and had a small haus wind which was where the three or four single government men would go after 4pm to have a few drinks with them.

There a was a guy who was working for Emile Glaus Wewak and living on the beach near Tadji airstrip and he was buying non-ferrous metals from the local people and would always meet the weekly Gibbs Sepik Norseman on Fridays.

The importance of meeting the aircraft was that Emile would send him a carton of bottled beer. And, as he stayed with me, by the time he got to our place he had consumed many bottles.

Nice enough bloke and he just continued drinking so by 8pm he was quite drunk. I didn't drink so would go to bed and he would put on the radio and talk to it for many hours all the time taking notes of important things and by morning had enough stuff to write a book.

One night plantation staff came to me as they were worried about him as he was sleeping in the middle of the road.

About a year later Dad was on his way to Australia and, at Sepik Club in Wewak, the police master John Purcell said that Stewy Brown an alcoholic was under the Dog Act for the third time so was to be deported.

He told Dad that he was a popular guy and if kept off the grog he was a nice fellow.

Dad said that as there was no alcohol at Aitape he could go there and we would look after him and find something for him to do. But as there were no phones he couldn't let me know.

I met the Gibbes aircraft next day and a short guy with red hair comes up to me and introduces himself and gives me a letter from Dad. It said Stewy Brown was an alcoholic and he could not drink and that I should find something for him to do.

So, as Stewy had been an officer during the war and could handle a compass, I showed him an area of of 300 acres of jungle across the Raihu River from the leprosarium and he staked out 16 blocks.

He lived with me and the only alcohol we had was a bottle of Dad's Red Label whisky. I wrote to Dad and said he wasn't drinking except when we would go to the Nevilles and they loved him and poured it into him.

I then found he was taking some of the Red Label and replacing with water. He would always be drunk by the time we got home late at night and he would head to the copra dryer to make sure they had the furnace fired up.

He had nothing to do with plantations, but had been on a plantation on New Ireland when he was sacked from the Rabaul RSL Club. He would scream and rant and the workers didn't mind just laugh and say "Masta em spak". If I had carried on like that they would have resigned.

Anyway other than the grog he was a really fine man and had decorations from the war as had escaped from the Germans twice.

Eventually he had to leave as he had TB and was admitted to the Army Hospital in Brisbane. I went looking for him and was told he had passed away. Very sad as I don't even know where he is buried and he had no relations that I know about. An officer and a gentleman if ever I have met one.

So the next step was a hut built beside the oval and called the Aitape Sports Club and no alcohol but every Friday night dancing and singing. About 10 whites and so mainly PNG members. Visitors would come from around PNG and comment what a happy place it was and all races welcome.

Then a new law allowed PNG people to drink alcohol. So we started having some fights and the committee made a rule if anyone was caught fighting they were banned for three months.

At one stage some of our committee (whites) were fighting and one had part of an ear bitten off. So to have a committee meeting we had to hold it somewhere else.

But overall it was a happy place and visitors were so impressed with the spirit of camaraderie that they had not seen anywhere else in PNG.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've got a copy of 'The Bridge Builder' by Stan's wife Beverley William. It was published by Wakefield Press in South Australia in 2005.

ISBN: 1862546347. Wakefield Press is still going. It's in Kent Town at 1 The Parade West SA 5607. They've still got copies for sale and there are plenty of secondhand copies on the net. Go to

William Dunlop

Ross, Terry (Red Shell) Shelley was Big Jim McCourt's mate at the Chimbu Lodge incident.

In my 13 years in PNG, I can only recall throwing punches on one occasion, When a teacher attempted to glass the education clerk in the neck late one Sunday morning in the Chimbu Club. I missed him and got one of the roof uprights.

Chris - I last had an ale with Stan the Man and John Swanson in Redcliff Queensland in 1973. Stan was the subject of the book 'The Bridge Builder' published in America. I have never been able to get it.

Ross Wilkinson

I really enjoy these old stories and, as you so rightly planned, they really do bring back the memories. In reliving my Terry Shelley story I remembered another incident that highlighted the nature of these small communities.

One evening there was a medical emergency that required the patient to be urgently flown out to Goroka (if I recall correctly). It was after dark and the Kundiawa airstrip had no landing lights so the call went out for drivers to take vehicles down to and line the strip with their lights on for the charter flight to land and take off. It was at times like this that the old emnities were forgotten and everyone pitched in to ensure the operation was a success.

Probably quite a few of the drivers were already pissed but it all went well and then back to the club.

Lindsay F Bond

Chris, your Stan I never met. Sheltered life at Sasembata.
But I get your recount, as it being not Oro-bull.

Ross Wilkinson

Oh, some memories in this lot and an interesting name. Keith mentions the proprietor of the Kundiawa Pub as Dick Kelaart.

Dick, or Dirk as he was more formally known, was an ex-kiap who patrolled the Chimbu in 1950 so he must have seen something he liked to run a pub there.

Also, with the brawl that Keith described, maybe Dick delayed his intervention to be satisfied that some old scores that he wanted to see settled, were settled.

I had my own little Chimbu Club moment when, as a young “liklik kiap” or “spos” as Phil would say, I was transferred to the Chimbu on a special duties three month period.

Early on one evening in the Club, I was seated on a bar stool chatting with people when Terry Shelley came in, headed to the bar next to me and ordered a beer.

With beer in hand he turned in my direction and promptly declared, “So you’re the new big-mouthed cadet in town?” I replied, “I’m one of six new cadets in town.” To which he replied, “No, you’re the one I mean.”

This was interesting because I never met or seen this guy before.

I turned to the people I was with and asked to be excused whilst I dealt with this and turned back to this man. Terry then proceeded to berate me loudly and was obviously goading me to become physical to which I was not responding.

Finally, I put my beer down, put my arms in the air and said to him, “If you’re going to hit me, do it now because I’m not going to hit you back.”

At that point he called me “Weak,” tipped his beer over my head and stood back. I stood up and asked him, “Are you satisfied?” He again reiterated that I was weak and then turned to others at the bar and began talking.

I wiped myself down , finished my beer and said to the group I was with that I thought it best that I go home and they agreed.

The following day I was approached by several people who proffered the opinion that they thought I had put Terry Shelley back in his place and in the sub-district office my ADC, Lyle Hanson, who had watched the exchange, congratulated me.

My parents had given me boxing gloves and a training book when I was twelve years old and I had a number of fights and sparring sessions in PNG including the New Guinea Boxing Titles.

Terry was a friend of ex-Chimbu kiap John Biltris who I had become very friendly with. A couple of years after the Chimbu affair, I was staying with John on a weekend field break when Terry dropped in and spent the night.

John went to introduce me and Terry merely nodded to me and said, “Yes, I know Ross.”

We then went on to have a pleasant time and discussed my boxing ability. He had watched the Titles in which I was a semi-finalist. Nothing about our first meeting was ever mentioned.

Philip Fitzpatrick

All this drunken pugilism must have been setting a wonderful example for anyone within cooee.

Sort of puts the behaviour in the Boroko Tavern and the Bottom Pub Snakepit into perspective.

Peter Salmon

Are we talking about BP? Great times.

We are - KJ

William Dunlop

Keith, I can recall an incident in 1970 at the Chimbu Lodge on a Saturday.

Big Jim McCourt a Works Road Master and a buddy of his decided it was time to give me a workover bashing.

Unfortunately for them, in their workup process they trod on the toes of one Martin Braddock, not a good choice.

He was at the time the police inspector at Mt Hagen and formerly of the Rhodesian Constabulary - very solid rugby forward.

So they made a bad choice in deciding to use Braddock as a warm-up before getting around to me. They got thrashed to within an inch of their lives.

Bernie Reagon, the Works District Officer, remarked later that McCourt had pulled his horns in big time.

Chris Overland

Drinking was an integral part of life in colonial PNG. Way too much was drunk by many people.

I arrived as a very modest drinker and progressed, if that is the word, to be a person who thought nothing of having half a dozen SP's before dinner and a few more after.

On patrol, I drank nothing but tea, but on the station I drank rather more than was good for me far too often.

A severe attack of infectious hepatitis combined with malaria put an abrupt end to my drinking for nearly a year.

By the time I started again I had lost both the inclination and the habit of drinking to excess. Whatever else that ghastly experience did its one beneficial effect was to put me off excessive boozing.

I was only once threatened with violence in a bar.

It was at the Popondetta Club, when someone I barely knew apparently took some exception to something I said. He threatened to "glass" me.

My intended response to this threat was to hit him with the heavy barstool upon which I was sitting.

I had raised the barstool over my head and was about to bring it down on the guy's head when it seemed to stop in mid air.

I turned and saw that my occasional snooker partner, the massive and redoubtable Stanislas Rybarz, late of the Polish Cavalry and heavy equipment operator extraordinaire, was holding a leg of the chair.

He gently took the chair from my grasp, saying, "Don't worry Chris, I fix this bastard!".

Placing the barstool on the floor he loomed over my intending attacker and struck him a mighty blow to the jaw with a fist the size of a Grizzly Bear's paw and close to the same power.

My prospective assailant collapsed to the floor, where he assumed the foetal position.

His belligerence was unappreciated by those in the bar, so his periodic whimpering was studiously ignored.

Stan turned to me with a smile on his face and said "Now we drink cognac, eh?".

So we did.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I do recall that while working in Cowboy Land Western Highlands, next door to Chimbu, assiduously avoiding any social gathering involving tisas and other lower ranks due to their belligerent and drunken behaviour.

The only near incident of fisticuffs I encountered was at Baiyer River with an obviously deranged tisa whose beef with me was simply that I was a princely kiap and part of the local royalty.

The poor chap had to be restrained and doused with a bucket or two of water before he returned to sanity. Apparently rum and anti-malarials don't mix. That was his excuse anyway.

Ed Brumby

Aaah, Keith, the memories of men - and the occasional woman, behaving badly on outstations: all part of the rich tapestry of colonial life. Not to mention the physical and psychological scars that some of us still bear.

Lindsay F Bond

So, as Keith writes, that's how the wrest was won, with aplomb, not a whimper.

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