TUMBY BAY - When writing about their experiences in Papua New Guinea, many old kiaps mention the special relationship they enjoyed with members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
Very often they highlight the sense of teamwork enjoyed with the policemen under their command – those wise old sergeant majors and sergeants get special praise.
These were the men who kept an eye on them – from being raw cadets and beyond - and made sure they learned the ropes and even the right decisions.
However, that teamwork extended beyond the police, especially when kiaps were on patrol into remote and, frequently, uncontrolled areas.
In these situations, the tanim tok (interpreter), dokta boi (medical orderly) and manki masta (a personal assistant employed by the kiap) were also indispensable members of the team.
A manki masta should not be confused with a haus boi. The latter were domestic servants employed for household duties by married officers. A manki masta was someone who generally looked after unmarried officers.
Those two terms, haus boi and manki masta, not to mention dokta boi, are nowadays considered cringe worthy but back then they were unremarkable terms without derogatory implication.
The first manki masta I employed was in Mount Hagen in the 1960s.
I was a cadet patrol officer sharing a house with a couple of cadet lands officers. The manki masta’s name was Paul and he was about our age.
He was a kind of apprentice manki masta learning on the job. We weren’t particularly demanding, all he had to do was fry a few eggs in the morning and some chops and sausages in the evening. Go to the market to buy whatever vegetables were on offer. Apart from that he also made the beds and washed a few clothes. Very much the role of a haus boi.
I don’t know what his Melpa name was but he didn’t last long. His undoing came when I went looking for a missing article of clothing in the laundry where he slept. Not only did I find my missing tee shirt but other stuff he had pilfered from our rooms.
His replacement was an old Chimbu man, Pus, who had been a manki masta for a long time. He shook his head when I told him about Paul and set to work straightening everything out. He stayed working for me until I left the highlands.
My next and last manki masta was an Awin man, Kure Whan, who I first employed when I was stationed at Kiunga in Western Province. He was a couple of years older than me.
In those days Motu was the common lingua franca in Papua so Kure was my kuki (cook) rather than my manki masta, which in retrospect sounds a lot more dignified.
Relationships with domestic staff tended to be a lot more informal in Papua than in New Guinea and I got to know his family, including his wife, Huna, who was a good seamstress.
I became particularly fond of Kure when he organised a strike of the cooks and domestic servants at Kiunga demanding higher pay.
Their ambit claim was unrealistic but I think we negotiated a few extra dollars and everyone went away happy.
Industrial action aside, there were some rugged patrols out of Kiunga and then Olsobip, Nomad River and Balimo, and Kure was in the thick of them.
He and my dog were great mates. I had given her a shonky doggy name but Kure and the interpreter at Kiunga, Simik Tetra (later the local member of parliament) decided she was to be referred to as Buka Meri and the name stuck.
When I was transferred to Port Moresby, Kure came with me and left his family behind. He lived in the settlement at Kaugere and I lived in a donga at Newtown. He walked back and forth between the two.
When it came time for me to leave Papua New Guinea, I bought him a pile of goods to take home to Kiunga with him, including a sewing machine for his wife.
He had been upset when Buka Meri was despatched to the quarantine station in Queensland to serve her time before joining me in Australia, but it was at Jacksons airport when we finally parted that the tears ran down his face. I was a bit teary myself.
When he returned to Kiunga, he got a job as an orderly at the mission hospital.
We exchanged letters for a while and then slowly and inevitably lost contact.
When I went back to Papua New Guinea in 1997 I enquired about him but it wasn’t until I came across some Awin blokes on a line cutting crew around 2001 that I learned that he had died.
And then this week I received an email from his grandson Patrick, who had read my book, ‘Bamahuta: Leaving Papua’, and enquired about me on PNG Attitude. We’ve swapped a few emails already.