A privileged life with adventures to be had
The book that went missing for 50 years

Power, hedonism & the best years of our lives

Phil Fitzpatrick - Commissioned Officer
Power, privilege and office - Phil Fitzpatrick, like other kiaps, was a sworn commissioned officer in the field constabulary branch of the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

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.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Arthur Williams

As always 'our' Phil often writes about what I and possibly many ex-PNG types think about as we have more time on our hands having left behind the daily commute to work.

During the latter part of my thirty years in PNG I have often felt that the good life that expats appeared to suggest to the local peoples among whom they lived was seen when we were off duty. Phil listed them in his essay.

Perhaps as a lifelong teetotaller I am biased but believe that the problems of drunkenness PNG has been experiencing for most of the years since nationals were allowed to consume alcohol should be laid at the feet of those expats who devoted most weekends to excessive drinking accompanied by noisy raucous parties.

That lifestyle was a template for many post Independence PNG Elites to emulate. My sojourn in Moresby over my years in PNG were happily short but the few experiences of living there are full of terrible drunken events.

While working for Pasuwe Ltd I lived off Boroko Drive. Every weekend sometimes all three nights my family were disturbed by expats indulging to excess.

One memorable event was when a neighbouring expat's partner decided to smash every piece of glass in their home starting with the glass louvred windows then what must have been crockery and mirrors.

Another time around midnight sounds of a nearby expat party shattered the air and suddenly great hysterical screams as someone decided the naked bathers in the pool should be on display.

Who can forget the sights seen and experienced at the famous ticket only NSW Bank annual 'dance in the capital? I cannot!

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

She was forbidden to leave their compound and the gate had a lock and chain. Stupid Masta his block had a small fence between it and ours. My New Guinea wife would talk over this little barrier and heard of the young woman's restrictive rules.

What the Ozzie wanker didn't know was that she could easily jump over his fence and enjoy a swim in our small above ground pool. Mind she had to make sure that she let her costume dry on our clothes line as she always had to get back into her own home before the lord of the manor came home 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 possibly from the black eyes she would show my wife and some unseen bruises.

A happy ending though as one day a ute came driven by a wantok and took her away from her sad environment.

Perhaps the worst event etched forever on my memory of drunkenness was the weekend I had taken off from work as shipping manager.

I had given my small covered pick-up van to my understudying assistant to use as he managed the loading of a Steamship coastal ship delivering cargo to the distant Arufe Mission Station in the Western Province.

I was preparing for bed when I heard a vehicle stop outside my gate and tooted its horn to attract my attention. I looked out and saw it was the company truck. I went down and soon heard that my colleague had been involved in an accident with drunken cops near the Aviat Club.

“He is in a very bad way boss at the hospital. Your car is a write-off!”

I jumped in the truck and soon was in the Sodom and Gomorrah of Port Moresby General Hospital on a fortnight pay-day. Amongst the chaos I found saw the battered bloodstained face of my assistant. He was lying on a bloody gurney with one eye closed and the other almost so.

I soon found out he had not yet been seen by any doctor. Eventually a stressed nurse wheeled him of to be checked. To my surprise after about forty minutes of minor surgery he was wheeled back out to where I waited with the truck driver off-sider.

Poor guy he had some bandages around his neck and head and the nurse told me they had removed some splinters from his face but there a lot of others that needed to be extracted from his face and head. Then to my amazement she told me I could take him home and bring him back next day.

I asked,“ Has a doctor signed some form or letter discharging him and confirming he is safe to leave the hospital?” After seeing I was adamant to not be responsible for removing him from the hospital she went off and eventually a doctor came and told us he would accept him as an in-patient. As they both were about to walk off I stopped them.

“Excuse me but he is obviously in shock and needs a pillow and a bed-sheet to cover him during the night. Looking exasperated at this bossy whiteman they agreed and I soon was able to leave him drugged and covered for the night.

At 6am I returned and saw that during the night some persons had removed the pillow and bed-sheet. He spent a few hours in the surgery having the glass fragments removed from his face and head. I worried about the prognosis for his one eye which was covered by a bandage.
The company boss' wife took him to her home so that she could keep her own eyes on his daily treatment requirements until such time as he had been reviewed and released to his wife in one of the settlements around the city. Happily he didn't lose the sight of either eye.

The Sunday after the accident friends in Boroko United were pleased to see me fit and well in the congregation as they had feared the worst after having passed my wrecked vehicle, which had been pulled off the carriageway but abandoned at the side of the road, where it would remain for several days. It would make a good picture in the Post Courier on Monday. I never heard if the drunken cops got punished but with three cop witnesses in their cab my guy 'obviously' was in the wrong.

Contrast that with ethos of the stations run by God-botherers, Popies, Pentis etc! Our local communities and workers saw that we appeared to enjoy life: we laughed, told jokes and had reasonable parties on weekends. Even the more restricted SDA had good times without liquor. I look back on quite a few events hosted after the short 'closing' Sabbath service, which began at dusk every Saturday night.

One memorable moonlit evening I was on a 6 man team that beat my wife's at volleyball at Konkavul Mission much to her surprise that the only white who was her 'geriatric' spouse could summon up enough energy to play. A welcoming cool refreshing stream was just down the hill as the boundary of the Mission and our hutted compound. Most missions had film nights, sports carnivals even their dances were mostly in a controlled atmosphere.

One night in town the USA Bishop of Kavieng asked me to ring the Sister's Convent across the compound and invite two of them to join us for Rummy. I questioned him about the playing-card ban and apparently there was a exemption clause that allowed 'suitable or respected' person to apply for a licence, which he had obtained.

Despite being a Welsh Baptist I have always enjoyed playing with what some Christians call The Devils Cards; perhaps an inherited gene from my paternal grand-father who was one of the best cribbage players I ever knew.

So yes Phil I feel that the lifestyle exhibited by plenty or even many expats was a contributing factor to the drunkenness that plagues PNG today.

Chips Mackellar

They were certainly the best years of my life, and what made them so was the very generous leave conditions we had - three months leave after two years, and six months leave after six years, all on full pay.

It enabled me to travel the world several times around. So, while still a serving kiap, while on leave on various occasions, I saw London, Paris, and Madrid, before I saw Melbourne.

I passed through both the Panama and the Suez Canals, I visited Israel and Jordan and saw where Jesus had been born and where he died.

I floated in the Dead Sea reading a book, unable to sink because of the high salt content. I saw the Trooping of the Colour, the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London and I sat in the gallery of the House of Commons and watched Churchill in action (although he was very old then).

I drove down the Berlin Corridor and saw East Berlin before the wall went up and saw the horrors of life under Communism.

In the United States I visited Disneyland, Hollywood and the Grand Canyon, and I watched illegal immigrants cross the Rio Grande into Texas.

I got my BA in Anthropology from the University of Queensland, all on leave on full pay - and all because, at the time, I was a kiap.

I am grateful for the experience PNG gave me, not only while serving there, but also while on leave from there. It was a wonderful life, and I will always be grateful for it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)