Simbu Courtship
Garo Matana, the blue-eyed child – Part 2

What an odd life

...and so we take our leavePHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - When I left Papua New Guinea at the expiration of my contract as a kiap in 1973, I did so with a quiet sense of achievement, both personal and professional.

At a personal level my experiences had been unique and life changing.

When I climbed the steps of the aeroplane to take me home to Australia I was a completely different person to the one who had arrived six years earlier.

Even though my professional achievements were small and largely insignificant in the grander scheme of bringing a new nation to self-government, I felt a great deal of pride in what I had done.

Back in Australia I got a job working in Aboriginal heritage. That too was a unique experience, allowing me to spend time with the last of the tribal nomads of Central Australia.

Unfortunately, as the years went by my work with Aboriginal people devolved into a series of frustrating administrative and political battles which I and my fellow workers invariably lost.

After 20 long years I finally decided I’d had enough of banging my head against a brick wall and left.

I set myself up as a private consultant doing what is generally referred to as social mapping.

That eventually took me back to Papua New Guinea but also to places in the South Pacific and parts of Australia I had not previously visited.

Although social mapping is usually funded by private enterprise there is still an opportunity to act as an advocate for the people among whom the mapping is carried out.

Seeking compromise agreements between resource developers and local landholders, for instance, can be satisfying work.

However, because developers, aided and abetted by governments, tend to ignore social mapping studies, as do local landowners eager to get their cut of the action by any means possible, the whole process can become decidedly messy.

I was recently reminded of these challenges when I was approached to write a history of the agency involved in administering the laws related to Aboriginal heritage in South Australia.

It seemed like an interesting project, and I had my own personal experiences to relate to, so I began some initial research.

That was not a good move because I found myself revisiting all the unpleasant political and other battles in which the agency had been involved.

I also discovered that what had begun as an advocacy agency had evolved into a rubber stamp for government staffed by sycophants and yes-men (and women) whose allegiances were firmly in the court of developers.

I politely declined the project and went back to writing novels.

Along the way and out of curiosity I stopped to review my working life and realised that apart from those first few years in Papua New Guinea it was mostly a history of effort and failure.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy large parts of it. It was by any stretch a most unusual experience and quite out of the ordinary.

Most of all in all those 50-odd years of work I had pretty much done my own thing.

And I had never once had to deal with such deplorable prospects as time clocks, repetitive work, dress codes and a host of other debilitating requirements.

Having to be at a certain place at a certain time for a certain period each day is for me the stuff of nightmares.

It is on a par with having to wear ridiculous suits and ties and having regular haircuts.

What is interesting now is to measure that part of my life against all the other things that have happened in the wider world over the same period, including what might be termed my own peer group cohort.

The most singular emotion that such contemplation evokes is a sense of luck. Luck to have been born at the right time in the right place.

I also can’t help thinking that lucky break was admirably kicked along by my early experiences in Papua New Guinea.

It was there that I learnt a very fundamental fact – there is more to life than most people will have you believe.


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Daniel Kumbon

Phil, You rekindle my memories to think how lucky I am, to have been born to the right parents at the right time and in the right village.

My village has a rocky mountain and two rivers flowing through it. I grew up climbing the mountain and hunting small game in the forest.

Other times me and my peers would go fishing in the river and liked to cross it in the dry season, especially at the mouth of a low waterfall called Aipul Uu.

Then we would lay in the flat rocks until we were warm again. In the afternoon, we would collect dry debris along the riverbed for firewood and yodel our way home.

Then kiaps and missionaries began appearing and introduced schools. I was about the right age to attend class. How lucky I am to have had parents who felt education was good for me.

They walked me long distances along bush tracks to attend school until I was old enough to walk the distance on my own.

Today, a sealed highway runs through my village. I just step off the transport and walk straight into my house in the village.

Again, I pay homage to my ancestors who had settled down at the right spot where the future 'me' would be born and call it my village.

These thoughts often cross my mind from thousands of feet in the air. when I look down from an Air Niugini F28 jet at untouched dense jungles, isolated villages and scattered islands where people struggle on, racing with time to catch up with the world.

But who knows if those people down there are happy and free just as they are?

Bernard Corden

Jacques Ellul wrote a fascinating book entitled The Technological Society, which focuses on the difference between technology and technique:,%20%20332%20%205%20more%20rows%20

Philip Fitzpatrick

Shortly after I got back from PNG I walked to a bridge over the River Torrens in Adelaide and dropped my wristwatch into the water Joe.

I haven't worn one ever since.

Bernard Corden

Plenty of wind in Haus Tambaran, Waigani.

Joe Herman

Phil, at primary school, one of the coveted items were the watches on the wrists of our Australian teachers.

Eventually I saved every penny and bought myself one. It did not do me any good because I often got into trouble for being late for school.

Like everyone, we followed the sun from dawn to dusk and approximated all our activities in between.

The lasting impact of the symbol of a wristwatch is how it is used as a measure of control over people’s freedom. We have even moved further from a simple wind-up wristwatch to sophisticated electronic devices that track every movement in our lives.

Many employers have their employees on electronic leashes.

The world has become extremely complex, more than ever before. I feel grateful for the simple life I enjoyed.

Harry Topham

The south coast of the Northern Province is a pretty windy spot. I spent six months there and the louvres facing the south-east were always shut and rattled continually. I reckon the constant wind speed would have averaged 10 knots.

Paul Oates

Hi Alexander,
One of the best places to locate wind generators is in the Vitiaz Strait between Sialum and Umboi Island. It's a natural choke point for the Trade Winds.

For 6 moths of the year the NW Trades blow unceasingly through the Strait and then for 5 months the SW Trades blow back in reverse after the nominal equator moves up and down. The coconut palms at Sialum are either bent one way or the other.

Mentioned in my book 'Small Steps along the way' about Sialum' and that can be downloaded from this site for nix by referring to the heading at the top of the site.

Let me know if you want more information. Do I now get 'finders rights'?

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not really sure where the winds blow strongly in Papua New Guinea. Perhaps the islands and coastal areas and maybe the higher peaks of the highlands.

A lot of winds in PNG are seasonal, as in the south-east (laurabada) and then the north-west (lahara) trade winds along the Papuan coast.

Maybe some of PNG Attitude's readers could help.

If you would like to provide a short article on wind generators and their potential I'm sure Keith would publish it and anyone interested could contact you.

Alexander - I'm happy for you to take up Phil's suggestion - KJ

Alexander Papenberg

Philip, hello - I left PNG in 1985 as a journalist for the Times of PNG, having achieved nothing that much, but the place gave me a turnaround in my personality.

Actually, when I returned to Europe I had difficulties adapting to its reality and got out of the rat-race with dress codes and so on. I wanted to have the time I needed: slower but with much better thought, instead of being imposed upon.

So life passed and I am 69 now. But recently a company in Belgium approached me to propose what they offered: medium sized (not all that small) wind generators.

They are off-grid and can go where nobody else wants to go. You set it up where there is a bit of wind and anyone can hook up to it: people with a small local aid or with no power at all.

Actually, I think this could bring PNG a little bit forward, also because wind power is green and fuel cost for generators are pollutant and expensive.

In your capacity as a social mapper, can you give me an idea where to place the wind generators in PNG? I am aware of the wind generating areas (, but not where exactly to place them for those who need power either off-grid from PNG Power with a small local grid, or those who do not have power at all.

I you want me to, I can send you a short presentation of the wind generators - 30 meters high, prop-blade 21 meters in diameter.

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