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The secret of enduring friendship

Fitz - Friends Tumby Bay 2019
Friends, Tumby Bay, 2019


TUMBY BAY - The ability to form friendships is an important part of the human character.

They extend our experiences into places they might otherwise not go.

How and why friendships form is often far from clear.

Sometimes the unlikeliest of people form such bonds. At other times it is common interests that bring them together.

When I was in Grade 7 at primary school I made friends with a young bloke who seemed to share many of my own interests.

We were both fascinated by the natural world and didn’t like organised sport very much.

We’ve remained close friends ever since, and went to Papua New Guinea together as kiaps.

I even ended up marrying his wife’s younger sister. It is a deeply cherished friendship and bond we both enjoy.

Why this should be so and why it has endured since we were in school together is an ongoing puzzle for which neither of us has a plausible explanation.

We both acknowledge that the world view we shared back in the days when we were hiking and camping in the bush has diverged quite significantly, particularly in the political sense.

There is no doubt there are die-hard conservatives and progressives in any society, particularly among the political class, but most people are a mixture of both.

Some people can be surprised at what lurks just below their level of consciousness and it is only when unusual circumstances, like the current coronavirus crisis, present themselves that these views surface.

Attaching labels to people about their political and other views is always a dubious business. More often than not we get it wrong.

One person’s conservative can be another person’s progressive, such is the subjectivity of the matter.

I always thought that my friend was naturally conservative but when I think about it he is no more conservative than I am progressive.

Our differences don’t lie at the extremes but are matters of degree, depending upon the circumstances.

However, these perceived differences in no way affect our relationship.

Instead of drifting apart and losing contact, as I’ve done with other acquaintances in the past, we still enjoy our friendship.

Fitz - School Friends in Elizabeth early 1960s
School friends in Elizabeth near Adelaide, early 1960s

(There was a second friend back during our school days who we both lost touch with only to get together nearly 60 years later). 

What has happened over the years is that we have both been exposed to different influences and the way we have interpreted them has coloured many of our subsequent and apparently opposing views.

I think this may have begun in those early days in Papua New Guinea. If that is the case it may be that while we shared similar experiences our reaction to them were different.

We both returned to Papua New Guinea and have both worked there, off and on, until a couple of years ago, he more so than me.

However, what I’m thinking about specifically is that earlier period when we were both kiaps, and the impact of the conservative kiap culture in which we were immersed.

That is a broad generalisation, and there were exceptions of course, but without doubt there were some extreme conservatives among that august body.

I don’t know why it happened but my reaction to what I perceived as conservative forces was to rebel against them.

Perhaps it was some sort of inbred Celtic trait. My attitude certainly got me into trouble on several occasions, both officially and unofficially.

My friend, on the other hand, seemed to take on board the kiap culture in a more sanguine way while still maintaining a healthy degree of scepticism about its more pronounced and unsavoury characteristics.

Whether our different reactions was the catalyst for how we interpreted things later on in life is difficult to know.

The experience working as a kiap had profound effects on most of us who served in that role. Many old kiaps will tell you the experience changed their lives.

We both acknowledge that we are now quite different people and have moved on considerably from what we both believed in the early stages of our friendship.

I ended up pursuing studies in literature and politics while he pursued an interest in the natural sciences.

Those studies, as they took place in the 1970s, exposed me to a range of left wing material, including Marxism. The more I studied the more my thinking was influenced by political contexts.

Outside of our friendship I tended to mix with like-minded types and engage in employment that necessarily exposed me to political issues, particularly in the indigenous world.

He, on the other hand, tended to mix with like-minded types in the natural sciences and engage in employment that wasn’t particularly concerned about politics.

His knowledge of the natural world continues to amaze me and he claims a similar thing about my knowledge of literature and, to a certain extent, politics.

I hadn’t thought much about any of this until just recently when we got to discussing current world events and the escalating standoff between the authoritarianism that seems to have replaced communism and the liberalism, in the true sense of the word, which seems to have replaced democracy.

We agree on big issues like climate change but disagree on many others.

We were recently discussing one of those other issues related to left wing and right wing economic expertise when I paused because I knew that whatever I said would fail to persuade him just as his counter arguments would fail to persuade me.

I know that we are both reasonably intelligent people but at this late stage in our lives getting us to change our views is not as easy as either of us might think.

I also know that in modern politics there is seldom a compelling argument about anything. Politics is, after all, mostly about smoke and mirrors. To many people, myself and my friend included, the various brands now all look the same.

So I desisted because our friendship is more important than petty politics and I don’t want to jeopardise it. Not that I think that would happen but one never knows, people fall out over the silliest of things.

Maybe I’ve gone soft and just want to avoid confrontation.

Now that I am in my later years the idea of a quiet life has a certain appeal.

Debating some of these hoary old chestnuts, even without rancour, seems to have become tiresome. Is that a terrible admission?

So, at the end of the day, to use an overworn cliché, it is probably wiser not to question why a friendship has formed and just enjoy it while it lasts.


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Michael Dom

But we always question why, don't we?

Even if only in light hearted musing.

I think friendships that last, even without close contact, are framed on mutual respect, maintained by commitment and nourished with love, specifically in that order.

Even the smallest kindness, when responded to with respect, has the potential to sprout a lasting friendship, e.g. PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize.

Does the friendship last? Query the three.

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