NOOSA – In November 1966 I was transferred from my school in the bush to Port Moresby to edit the School Paper.
At 22, I felt it was my big break. An opportunity that put me on the doorstep of journalism.
It was far from a major newspaper; but it was paid, full-time writing job.
Also in Port Moresby in November 1966, a new magazine was launched by a bright, charismatic and pugnacious young journalist, Henri Lachajczak.
Henri had quit his job as a journalist with the South Pacific Post (now the Post-Courier) to establish what the masthead exclaimed was ‘Black and White: the Territory’s monthly magazine’.
It was a satirical magazine aimed at the expatriate community and illustrated by the talented cartoonist, Gordon Tripp.
In the first issue, Henri said the magazine “set out to prove that the people of this Territory are capable of having a laugh at themselves”.
In February 1967, when I got back to Moresby from leave in Sydney, I got in touch with Henri and asked if he could use another writer. He could, Henri said, as long as it didn’t cost him any money.
I’ll do it, I said, as long as he didn’t publish my name. After all, I had a respectable job.
So for the next monthly issues in March, April and May, I wrote three articles – one a serious commentary and two satirical articles on a night at the Konedobu Tavern, the other on a local beauty contest.
Henri and I also chummed up. I’d help him a bit with production and we’d cross the road to the Aviat Club and have a few beers.
Black & White made increasingly vehement attacks on the Territory’s Administration, for which I worked, and its commentary on race relations also began to unsettle me. So I bailed.
When Gordon Tripp died in 2009, I wrote an obituary in the blog that he may have also left because of Henri ‘s journalism.
Immediately a furious comment appeared from Henri, who I had not heard from for well over 40 years.
He vehemently denied that Gordon had left because of some disagreement.
man’s he also wanted to give me a spray.
“The reason for this note is to dispel any fantasy you may have ever had about being associated with my magazine,” he wrote.
“As I say, I don't know you, I've never met you, and I don't think I'd like you if I did.”
Henri joined quite a numerous club in that respect.
And then, unrequited, Henri also wrote a second comment which shed light on how he saw Black and White’s role:
“(Gordon Tripp) and I were a team who used satire as a tool to soften the rigours of life in PNG at the time.
“It took an Act of Parliament to close down the mag, by people ignorant of what freedom of speech and satire means.”
Henri was referring to legislation passed in the House of Assembly aimed squarely at his magazine that effectively banned it and forced its closure in July 1969.
If Black and White had offended a few people, then this legislation was far worse.
It had architected a law to censor and shut down a man who had simply offended a few people in high places.
It was a seriously ugly piece of legislation.
The well-read proprietors of Archives Fine Books of Brisbane take up the story.
“From the beginning Henri Lachajczak, the editor of this self-declared ‘completely independent’ magazine, intended it to be a humorous exposé of both black and white culture in the Territory.
“However the humour, especially when directed at the indigenous population, was particularly savage, and … a piece of legislation approved by the House of Assembly amended the Discrimination Ordinance and banned written matter that could be construed as threatening, provocative or offensive to people of other races or tribes.”
In his final editorial in the last issue, Henri had the last word:
"The death of BLACK and WHITE is not just a case of another venture falling by the wayside.
“BLACK and WHITE has been murdered. Murdered by a poison in this Territory, a poison which is eating away at the very core of democracy on which this country is said to be founded.
“An eleventh Commandment has been added to the Good Book here: ‘Thou Shalt Not Criticize Thy Neighbour, especially if He's Black’.”
And so a bold project was terminated.
Black & White was gone and Henri left for Australia but the impact of the magazine has continued to resonate with people who were in PNG during that now far off time.
Ex-kiap Gary Luhrs wrote in 2017, in the course of a longer memoir:
“Percy’s last utterance before crash landing and passing into oblivion was ‘remember Henri Lachajczak’.
“Now that was a name I hadn’t heard in 40 years or more.
“As I looked at Percy’s crumbled form I recalled that he had been in Port Moresby in the late 60’s and early 70’s, employed by a construction company, and he would in all likelihood have been familiar with the popular Black and White magazine as well as its personable editor.
“Old New Guinea hands will recall the demise of Black and White magazine that was forced to fold up and disappear after a particularly vitriolic campaign against it conducted by John Guise and The Age/Post Courier (sic) culminating in legislation prohibiting satirical comment in the Territory.
“The last issue of Black and White included Henri’s immortal ‘Ode to Our Leaders’.
“Black and White Magazine RIP.
“I was in Angoram when to last edition of Black and White was published; in July of 1969 if memory serves me.
“That was about the start of the realisation that the Territory was entering its transition from colony to nationhood.
“The belief that self-government was 20 years away was rapidly fading and the acceptance that the political roller coaster was speeding towards whatever the ultimate uncertain future held.”
This is not the whole story, it is only a part of the story. It is a shame Henri Lachajczak does not seem to have published his own account.
If you want to see a little more of this notable magazine, the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau which holds a collection of all issues, has published images of covers and some other material on its website.