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My father’s last moments on this earth

I spent a bit of time in New Guinea


So what did you do for a crust?
Oh, the usual, public service and all that
Me too, I was in health administration
Before that I was a kiap in Papua New Guinea
That’s interesting, who do you barrack for?

I walked the high mountains and deep valleys
I reckon the Eagles will make the finals this year
I met men who had never seen steel before
Go on, is that right, is that your car out there?
And I saw men fighting with bows and arrows

I’ve got a Falcon, I’ve always been a Ford fan
I built roads through those wild mountains
Mind you, some of those Korean cars aren’t bad
And bridges and airfields, all by hand
My mate’s got a bobcat, it’s really handy

People got to keep the shovels as payment
Should’ve used a bobcat I reckon
I was also a police officer, it was part of the job
Bloody coppers, I got pinged last week
Each patrol post had a contingent of police

Said I was doing seventy in a sixty zone
They accompanied us on patrol
Cost me three hundred bucks, the bastards
We were a team, the kiaps and the police
Yeah, teams are good, I played in lots of teams

We had a few close calls but it was mostly good
My two sons all played in footy teams
The place changed my life
We’re going on a cruise next year for a change
It made it hard to settle back in Australia

BoredomNo place like home I reckon
People didn’t understand or care
Yeah mate, I know what you mean.
It was sad
Dumb bastards.

I don’t talk about it much.


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Geoff Holmes

I grew up in New Guinea, engendering a similar conversation:

What did your parents do?
-- Well, my father was a kiap.

I had an uncle who worked in the bank in Port Moresby, Do you know him?
-- No, I don't know everyone who lives in Moresby, but there was a time when my mother did. Anyway, we lived in lots of small places.

What was it like?
-- Well, it was .... never mind.

Michael Dom

Kiaps et al had a unique opportunity in life.

Papua New Guinea afforded kiaps et al the opportunity to become extraordinary and do more than the average 'white-man': and most of you did.

Most people today don't get that opportunity.

Of course no one cares or understands, nor even bothers to take an interest: you are part of history, and no one wants to attend that lesson.

Today people count themselves exceptional by their brands, baselines, buddies, booties, bravado and bullying victories.

We are probably all less than half the value of our predecessors, for all the socio-economic and political growth we've had over a lifetime.

If that's the case, then it's no surprise that people don't want to be reminded of how short of stature we are become, while kneeling for a flag.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Interesting about the stray mail Arthur.

When Pukpuk Publications was still going (it's sort of dead but not quite yet) I was shipping books from the USA to people in PNG, including the Crocodile Prize anthologies and books by PNG authors I'd published.

Apart from the ones that were being knocked off at the Boroko Post Office or PNG Customs and sold at the markets others were sometimes shipped via Indonesia by Amazon.

You can imagine how battered they were by the time they got to PNG.

I eventually wrote to Amazon and pointed out that the eastern end of New Guinea wasn't actually in West Papua.

They duly took notice and began shipping the books via South America.

Arthur Williams

I was on the phone to one of my half-caste, sorry mixed-race, sorry bio-national daughters recently.

As usual she said I should get out more and spend less time at the computer. I told her that I hope when I throw a double six she and her sisters will not throw away my little bits of PNG memorabilia but especially my disk containing 2,198 jottings on 46 folders taking up over one gigabyte.

All of that I have written over the last 20 years since I acquired a computer.

“Oh dad I won’t be reading all those things!”

Wow, that brought it home to me. She was born in PNG and left when she was 15 yet has already decided that her motherland doesn’t really matter. So if she doesn’t care a hoot about the place why should anyone else.

Phil your clever poem set me wondering what would the average person in my city know about PNG?

A philatelist would know of it through its colourful tribal costume or scenery on postage stamps.

A volcanologist would know of Rabaul and its volcanoes.

A seismologist would possibly have heard of Aitape.

A military buff would possibly wrongly say it’s famous for Guadalcanal.

A political type might know that PNG like Australia are two nations using the proportional representation system at elections.

A medico because he may have read about laughing sickness (kuru).

A farmer may have heard of CJD (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) when his herd got mad cow disease.

An aviation buff would know about Amelia Earhart's last stopover at Lae.

A Christian interested in the history of missionaries would know about Chalmers being eaten by the Goaribari people.

I still have somewhere a letter from the UK to me that went via Guyana; others just disappeared in the international and PNG postal systems.

Anyway today’s 16th September so happy anniversary to PNG.

Chips Mackellar

You think Aussies don't know where PNG is? Try Americans who know where Australia is.

We were on long service leave together in Germany: three kiaps, John Cochrane, Barry Holloway and me. We were having a snack in a US PX autobahn stopover, and an American sitting on the other side of me said, "Say. Where you guys from. I can't work out your accents."

I said, "We are from Australia."

He said, "Australia? What part of the States is that?"

I said, "It is in the South. You know, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Australia."

"Oh yeah," he said, "I remember, it's in the South."

So you see, not everyone knows.

Philip Fitzpatrick

In the first draft I had a comment about cannibalism but decided to delete it Garry.

Bernard Corden

Okay Tedi

Jim Moore

Back in the day, the glazed eyes said it all. "New Guinea, oh yeah, dad was there in the war" or "New Guinea, I bet it was hot there, eh?". I never heard anything sensible, just gave up trying to talk about it.

In 1998, after coming back from a sojourn that included the Aitape tsunami, I tried talking about the aftermath of the tsunami to someone I considered educated, concerned and across world affairs.

His only comment? "New Guinea, eh? Do they have television there?"

Truly dispiriting.

Garry Roche

Phil, on a positive note, your companion in the verse at least did not interject with some terrible negative comments about New Guinea.

Raymond Sigimet

I can hear the conversation, Phil. Yours sounded real.

Dan Claasen

True story Phil! After an attempt at settling in Oz I ended up dashing off again to Fiji and Kenya. Still not settled!

William Dunlop

Phil, you mean Equatorial Africa.

Richard Jones

Quite right, Phil.

Only one person in our extended family - a son-in-law - has expressed any interest in our PNG days.

No one cares. As long as the border patrol people keep illegal crossings north to south through the Torres Strait under strict control.

And as someone who worked full-time in the print media for many years it's quite depressing to see the lack of knowledge about our closest neighbour.

At least Sean Dorney has done his best to keep PNG-centric yarns rolling along, but his health is failing rapidly.

The ABC, to its credit, has a TV (and radio) reporter based in Moresby. Dunno whether any other news corporations have the same presence.

Only Radio New Zealand, Richard - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Come on Paul. Don't be so naive. Everyone knows that New Guinea is in Africa!

Paul Oates

Oh, New Guinea? Isn't that somewhere up north?

Chris Overland

Phil, you have told my story too.

Craig McConaghy

Good one, Phil, I have another line.

PNG people have fabulous costumes and headdress.

Yeah, my hair is thinning. Never been bald before.

Kev Roberts

When I first "went finish", I didn't realise how naive and nationally egocentric the average Aussie was.

It wasn't long before I returned for a total of 17 years to soak up the incredible lifestyle that will never be repeated.

I have visited 54 countries so far and PNG is certainly part of my life and hopefully where part of my ashes are spread.

Lukim yu.

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