TUMBY BAY - When living in the moment it is hard to be analytical. It’s only in retrospect that people start thinking about what they did and what they experienced.
For Australians in the pre-independence bubble that was Papua New Guinea in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the exotic lifestyle was fascinating and all-enveloping, particularly for those in Port Moresby and some of the bigger towns.
For those in business there was money to be made and for those in government there was a level of power and privilege that could never have been enjoyed back in Australia.
And for both groups there were all the added benefits such as a low tax, tariff free goods, cheap labour and the luxury of personal servants.
Added to that was the opportunity to misbehave. Living in what was largely a transitory community without familial constraints, the baggage collected could be easily left behind upon leaving New Guinea’s shores.
In this version of Australians unconstrained, one 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.
Papua New Guineans interacting with Australian expatriates during this time must have come away with strange impressions and mixed feelings.
Did they admire and lust after such lifestyles or did they find them crass and abhorrent?
What lasting effect, for instance, did the experience have on mature men employed as house boys and described as thus?
Was the development of the selfish lifestyles of the Papua New Guinean elites in any way influenced by what they saw of expatriate behaviour?
It is tempting to attribute, at least in part, Australian opposition leader Gough Whitlam’s ill-considered description of the Australians he encountered in PNG as ‘second rate’, to this behaviour.
This aside, it could be argued that life on the outstations was more objective and that, as a consequence, hedonism was constrained.
This is a matter of conjecture but it is part of a distinction that many people like to draw.
Town or bush, as memory erodes the rough edges of those self-indulgent years, the period resonates with many people as the best years of their lives.
For those not prone to retrospection that’s probably as far as the matter goes.
However, for many others wondering what it all meant has become a significant preoccupation.
Not least among those preoccupations is the uncomfortable feeling of being part of something that was not as simple or, indeed, as honourable as one was led to believe.
Reading many years later about the sometimes sinister machinations of the Australian government during that period - particularly as revealed in declassified documents and revealing accounts by people like Bill Brown MBE - can make one uneasy about what might have been compliantly or unwittingly executed in the service of country.
Added to expatriate hedonism, it makes for a complicated can of worms.
It also puts a new twist on otherwise innocent activities like getting pissed at the Aviat Club on a Friday night.