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It was the Aussies who drove PNG to drink

Arthur Williams
Arthur Williams - "The American Bishop of Kavieng asked me to ring the Convent and invite two of the Sisters to join us to play Rummy"


CARDIFF - Phil Fitzpatrick often writes about subjects that capture what many of us ex-New Guinea types think about now we have more time on our hands having left behind the daily commute to work.

His Power, Hedonism & the Best Years of Our Lives’ was one such essay.

During the latter part of my 30 years in Papua New Guinea, I often felt that the life of expats who were off duty influenced the local people.

Phil listed these proclivities.

“Australians unconstrained could drink to excess, engage in dubious sexual adventures, create outrageous lies about one’s past, indulge in excessive swagger and engage in riotous behaviour largely without fear or consequence”.

Perhaps as a lifelong teetotaller I’m biased but believe problem of drunkenness PNG has experienced in the 60 years its people could legally consume alcohol should be laid at the feet of those expats who devoted most weekends to excessive drinking accompanied by raucous parties.

That lifestyle was a template for the post-independence elite. My sojourns in Port Moresby during my years in PNG happily were short but my experience of living there was full of terrible drunken events.

While working for Pasuwe Ltd I lived in Boroko. Every weekend, sometimes on all three nights, my family was disturbed by expats indulging to excess.

On one memorable night a neighbouring expat decided to smash every piece of glass in their home starting with the glass-louvre windows followed by crockery and mirrors.

And who there to observe can forget the sights of the infamous ticket-only Bank of New South Wales annual ball? I cannot.

My immediate neighbour, an Australian, daily calaboosed his young Papuan partner while he took off every morning dressed in immaculate tropical attire.

She was forbidden to leave their compound and the gate was locked and chained. My New Guinean wife would talk over the fence to sympathise with the young woman about the restrictive rules.

What the wanker didn't know was that she would easily jump over his fence and enjoy a swim in our small above ground pool.

Mind you, she had to make sure her costume dried on our clothes line as she always had to be back home before the lord of the manor came for his lunch and perhaps to check on his bed-slave.

The pair gave us some noisy nights with lots of shouting accompanied sometimes by screams. She would show my wife the black eyes and bruises.

There was a happy ending as one day a wantok drove up in a ute and took her away from this unhappy life.

Contrast this with ethos of the mission stations run by God-botherers, Popies, Pentes etc. Our local communities and workers saw that we appeared to enjoy life: we laughed, told jokes and had parties on weekends.

Even the more restricted SDAs had good times without liquor. I look back on the events hosted after the short Sabbath closing service which began at dusk every Saturday night.

There was moonlit volleyball at Konkavul Mission, which adjoined our hutted compound, a cool refreshing stream just down the hill at the boundary with our settlement.

Most missions had film nights, sports carnivals and even dances.

One night the American Bishop of Kavieng asked me to ring the Convent across from the compound and invite two of the Sisters to join us to play Rummy.

I questioned him about the playing-card ban and apparently there was an exemption that allowed 'suitable or respected person’ to apply for a licence, which he had obtained.

Despite being a Welsh Baptist I’ve always enjoyed playing with what some Christians call The Devils Cards. Perhaps it’s an inherited gene from my paternal grandfather who was one of the best cribbage players I ever knew.

So yes, I feel that the behaviour and lifestyle exhibited by many expats was a contributing factor to the drunkenness that plagues PNG today.


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Peter Rhodes

There is no standard human. Your life and outcomes are what you are dealt with. Live with it.

Alcohol has been drunk, so I understand, for many thousand years in some way shape or form. Wowsers are continually objecting to this flagrant enjoyment by what is a very large percentage of the global population.

If you don't enjoy alcohol... don't drink it. Don't espouse that being a non-drinker makes you any better. You're not.

Domestic violence can be triggered by alcohol use. But it is not the only reason. I won't bore you with a list.

Philip Kai Morre

The mankimastas (domestic servants) were the first to taste this magic drink, later known as alcohol.

The natives were not allowed to drink but those mangimastas may have tasted the magic drink after their mastas hade gone for work.

They thought alcoholic drinks were the secret to build up wealth and cargo.

I have been told that Archbishop Louis Vangeke from Mekeo was the only person allowed to drink before 1962 because of the religious ritual the Eucharist (also called Holy Communion) in Christianity, the tasting of wine (known as altar wine) and bread that is a central act of Christian worship.

Richard Jones

I can’t recall precisely who the writer was but don’t believe it was Ogden Nash.

Maybe it was Dylan Thomas.

But it’s resonated with me down many decades.

“You have to feel really, really sorry for a teetotaller. When he (or she) wakes up in the morning that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day" (Dean Martin) - KJ

Dean Martin

Chris Overland

Phil, as a point of clarification, I did not mean to suggest or imply that obesity is the only cause of type 2 diabetes.

That said, there is a clear association between the two as any Endocrinologist will attest.

I suffer from coronary artereosclerosis despite having never smoked or been obese or been a heavy drinker and having done regular exercise.

Sadly, I chose my genetic background unwisely and so have an inherited predisposition to this condition.

So disease causation is sometimes down to luck but, more commonly, it is a function of our life choices.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I enjoyed a few beers (especially SP) and the odd red until the diabetes kicked in Richard.

Booze does funny things to my blood sugar levels and can be quite dangerous. I tend to fall over and have to suck barley sugar to get back to normal.

I ration myself to a couple of beers on my birthday.

Apart from that I'm as fit as a geriatric Mallee bull.

Bernard Corden

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do" - Dylan Thomas.

And he would have known.

Richard Jones

My commiserations and thoughts go out to you, Phil.

Not only do you stay away from the Tumby Bay footy club's matches, but even if you did go you wouldn't be able to have a beer or three in the clubrooms afterwards.

Not to mention a glass of red with the evening meal. Or a glass or three of champers at a family Xmas lunch/dinner.

I understand the genetic connection with your maternal grandfather. My maternal grandfather had a robust physique, despite his decades of running big pubs in Maryborough, Inglewood and Geelong.

In the Thirties he and a mate drove overland from Adelaide into the SA desert. He'd arranged for a Tiger Moth or similar to drop off a 44-gallon drum of fuel at a selected cattle station along their route. Not bad in the 1930s to have that amount of cash during a world-wide Depression.

So I've long been grateful to him and my mother for passing on great genes.

After our PNG stint ended, I worked for 25 years at the Bendigo Advertiser, central Victoria's leading daily newspaper, and never, ever had a single day off sick.

Sure I was a bit seedy on a few Sundays getting Monday's edition up and running after a big night out after that day's sport had been completed.

The 25-years-without-a- 'sickie' is still joked about at our regular Addy reunions and get togethers.

Philip Fitzpatrick

As someone who has had Type 2 diabetes for the last 37 years, I get thoroughly pissed off when people assume I am or once was obese and/or a drunkard.

I've always been skinny and I don't drink. My diabetes is a genetic condition inherited from my maternal grandfather.

Lots of people with Type 2 diabetes are in a similar situation to me.

To me the assumption is discriminatory.

Chris Overland

While I am sure Arthur is right about the poor example set by expatriates drinking to excess, I do not think that PNG's alcohol problems can be blamed entirely upon Australia.

Papua New Guineans for a very long time were banned from drinking alcohol in a well meaning but rather desperate and ultimately futile attempt to protect them from exactly the problems that Arthur has mentioned. The law on prohibition was repealed in 1962.

Ultimately, access to alcohol became a human rights issue, with a number of prominent Papua New Guineans protesting loudly and vociferously against what they saw as a paternalistic and racist restriction upon their rights.

So alcohol was duly made available and the human rights advocates got what they wished for at that time. Whether they would now be so keen on the idea is, I suppose, a matter of conjecture.

While I am no wowser and have drunk alcohol for much of my life, it is too often a social bane and curse.

In Australia, where 80% of the population drink alcohol, 20% drink about three quarters of all alcohol consumed. About 4.4% of the population are either alcoholics or problem drinkers (men twice as likely as women to be in this group).

Alcohol provides tax revenue of over $6 billion a year to the federal government and so the beer, wine and spirits industries are very influential in the halls of power.

As a consequence, serious attempts to deal with the problems that flow from alcohol consumption are not high on the political agenda.

As a rule of thumb, about 20% of hospital admissions in Australia are attributable to the direct or indirect effects of alcohol, with another 20% due to tobacco use.

Both of these drugs were introduced to PNG during the colonial era.

Many unpleasant and dangerous conditions are associated with excessive consumption of alcohol.

As an example, when I was CEO at the Repatriation General Hospital, I was startled to learn that our surgeons removed one or two feet or legs almost every day to deal with the effects of Type 2 diabetes.

This very prevalent disease is strongly related to obesity which, in turn, is closely associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

The sinister effects of this disease are greatly underestimated by the public who appear to view it as a minor condition.

Arthur mentioned the problem of domestic violence, which is hugely exacerbated by alcohol use.

This problem is very serious in PNG and, as in Australia, little seems to be done about it beyond some ritual political pontificating and hand wringing.

Anyway, PNG now has its own drinking culture and so people can fulfil their human right to get thoroughly pissed on a regular basis if that is their wish.

It is a pity that the likely consequences of this behaviour are, as in Australia, either not understood or regarded as trivial.

Overall, alcohol in all its forms is not a colonial legacy of which Australia can be proud.

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