Heroes of modern PNG literature
Forest loss increases violence against women

A full day for a fulfilling life


TUMBY BAY - My maternal grandparents lived in a house without electricity, running water or sewerage.

Their lighting came from paraffin lamps, they cooked on a wood stove, their water came from an outside well and their toilet was a big bucket set underneath a wooden seat in the barn outside.

They grew their own vegetables, kept chooks for eggs and meat and often made their own clothes.

The goose-down quilts on the beds came from their own birds and they made their own soap and candles out of tallow from their farm animals.

When I stayed with them I climbed the stairs to bed clutching a brass candle holder after having bathed in a big copper tub placed in front of a glowing hearth.

Getting up in the morning and stirring the ashes of the night fire with kindling to make a cup of tea was a sort of ritual that preceded the rest of the necessary chores that seemed to fill the day.

The finally closing of the flue on the stove was the precursor to what was usually a deep night’s sleep.

In many ways this routine wasn’t dissimilar to what I later experienced on remote patrol posts in Papua New Guinea. Nor is it dissimilar to how many people in Papua New Guinea still live.

Nowadays no one has time to make their own candles or cut their own firewood.

Those chores that were a necessary part of my grandparents’ lives are now largely relegated to an ever increasing army of electrical gadgetry or paid services.

Cooking dinner often means punching the number of the local take-away on a smart phone, or heating up a ready-prepared meal in a microwave.

All of this modern convenience is supposedly designed to allow us more time for leisure but it is really a ploy to make us spend more time at work and cultivate a dependence on those expensive time-saving gadgets.

Except we never seem to have any of that spare time the gadgets promise.

For many people, leisure equates to sitting in front of a television set while guzzling beer and potato chips and watching mind numbing garbage intermittently interrupted by commercials imploring them to buy junk to cram into their overly large houses.

The current lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus, however, are prompting an unusual awakening among people who have been temporarily divorced from their jobs and stranded in their homes.

Not least among these awakenings is the realisation you can’t spend all day watching inane television and guzzling beer and chips without going slightly mad.

These people are now venturing into their backyards and wondering about planting a few vegetables or even making something with the expensive electric tools they’ve got sitting idle in their garage.

And when they do that, they are discovering something even more remarkable - doing those things can be deeply satisfying.

But that’s not all. Along with the satisfaction comes the filling of the day and the absence of boredom and the anxiety that accompanies it.

So remarkable are these revelations that some people, if their jobs allow it, will in future be able to work from home so they can juggle the necessary with the enjoyable.

Other people are even discovering that they have interesting spouses and children.

My grandparents knew all this of course. Those necessary chores so crucial to their daily lives not only provided for their needs but gave them great satisfaction. Their days were filled and boredom and anxiety was never an issue.

It kept them healthy too, both physically and mentally. Isolation and loneliness were never issues because they had to interact with each other to get things done. A full day was generally a fulfilling day.

While many people define their lives by the sort of job they have, most people still derive meaning in life from relationships.

It’s just that in these modern times it is extremely difficult to have a job and a healthy relationship at the same time. It’s something that has to be consciously worked at to make it happen.

Finding a balance between the two is a fine art.

We've also become less capable of dealing with empty time. This has been emphasised by the forced isolation of coronavirus.

Our governments are promising us a return to normal but some people, based on their new experiences, are thinking about a ‘new’ kind of normal.

What the governments are talking about is a largely economic normal. What many people are thinking about is a social and life balance normal.

It will be interesting to see which view prevails.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Interesting article from the ABC. I concur with Mary's opinion about rabbit stew.


Roger Simpson

Stirring some warm ashes and adding kindling to get a fire going to make hot tea? Luxury. We used to dream about warm ashes.

We had to get up before dawn after being lashed with a stock whip by our Dad, walk two miles into the forest, chop down a tree with a piece of blunt tin we had fashioned into an axe, drag the wood back home, saw it into pieces with the serrated barb of a stingray we'd stolen from the local museum fishery collection, carve the bits into chips with the sharpened end of a rusty nail, rub two sticks together to light some dry grass to make a fire, carry a bucket we'd made from clay to the swamp a mile away to collect a pail of water, go up to the hill to pick tea leaves from the bushes in the plantation, dry them over the burning grass, stoke the fire to heat some water from the clay bucket and make tea for Mum, Dad, Granny, Auntie Florence, Uncle Desmond and the 15 other family members living in the house.

Paraffin lamps and brass candlestick holders? Luxury.


Philip Fitzpatrick

While my grandparents' house lacked any modern conveniences Ray, my parents house had electricity (lights but no power points) but no running water. We collected water from a common tap that served about 10 village houses.

This was in the early 1950s in England but I recall that in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Australia that situations similar to yours still persisted.

That was only 60 years ago. It makes you realise how much Australia has changed in that time. In the settled areas at least. I was still seeing houses with dirt floors and no power in the outback well into the late 1990s.

Imagine asking a modern child today to live like that. The reaction would be churlish at the very least. And how would you explain the idea of a good life being a simple life?

I wasn't old enough to have a rifle but I joined elder boys following the harvesters in summer clubbing rabbits for the pot. I can also recall men driving around the suburbs in South Australia selling dressed rabbits that they had trapped. I wonder how many people owe their nurture to the bunny rabbits.

Martin Kaalund

Where were your grandparents?

Where and who is the photo of ?

The photograph is a generic image of an Australian family of the 1920s - KJ

Richard Jones

When I lived in the Sogeri area in the 60s Phil I had an 'outside long drop' toilet as you've described here
But it lasted the full year and never filled up
Down at Amazon Bay four years later we had a septic system
That needed some attention but fortunately the Tech School head Bob Boardman was very handy
A weekend's work and plenty of shoveling from willing teenage students fixed the problem.

Bernard Corden


Ray Weber

Grand parents? That is how I started life on a small farm. My room had a dirt floor, no electricity, no refrigeration. I remember when the first power pylons were brought up to our house - what an improvement? We had two draft horses instead of a tractor to plough our potato field, orchards etc. We provided our own potatoes, milk, eggs, honey, fresh and dried apricots, plums and currants, vegetables. For meat I would take my trusty .22 BSA single shot and roam through our neighbours' paddocks shooting rabbits - these days I would be regarded as a potential serial killer by the likes of Johnnie Howard. Almost fully subsistent farming - a simple but good life.

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