Entertainment as we knew it in olden times
08 March 2023
TUMBY BAY - Entertainment is a huge industry, especially in affluent countries like Australia.
In Australia, up-to-the-minute movies are streamed onto gigantic, ultra-high-definition television screens.
And music is downloaded from the web instantaneously, to be played on sound systems with a quality almost beyond reality.
Then there are the entertainment industry players whose fame outstrips even that of politicians, the rich and the royals.
Actors, musicians, directors and writers, celebrities given a godlike status and recognised in seemingly endless award ceremonies.
The banality of much of the material on offer continues its relentless dive into an intellectual abyss keeping a bug-eyed populous contained and subdued while generating immense profits for the companies that produce it.
At some point in the future, society will probably have to deal with the impact of all this stuff, particularly in relation to what it has done to people’s brains but also in the results of the sedentary lifestyles it has spawned.
In thinking about this I’m reminded of a simpler time when much of our entertainment relied upon some basic technologies or, like singing or storytelling, was self-generated.
The contrast is quite stark.
In particular I can go back to life in pre-independent Papua New Guinea and life on most of its patrol posts and outstations.
In those days our options were very limited but enjoyable.
Apart from socialising we had books, record players, scratchy radio reception and occasional old movies played on cantankerous 16mm projectors.
These entertainments were often enhanced by imbibing a bottle of SP lager or a glass of Liebfraumilch.
The public library at Ela Beach in Port Moresby loaned books to people in the bush but most of us ordered books from places like Dymocks in Sydney and then swapped them with other people on the outstation.
Everyone’s tastes being different it made for a fairly eclectic reading experience.
During social occasions it was routine to cast an eye over your host’s bookcase to see if there was anything worth borrowing.
I recall an occasion, after I was seconded to Port Moresby for a month, returning to the patrol post where I was officer-in-charge and discovering that the pikinini kiap (cadet patrol officer) who had been sent to caretake in my absence had opened my packages from Dymocks book store and read my books for me.
The poor bloke must have been pretty desperate but I could understand that he needed some entertainment for those long night hours and weekends when he wasn’t working.
Music, another eclectic item, was a big thing because records could be listened to in private or taken to social events.
Before music cassettes made it into the PNG bush, long play vinyl records could provide six or seven tracks each side, 20 to 25 minutes listening all up.
Many people had expensive tape recorders bought from places like Pings in Mount Hagen. They would painstakingly make recordings of all their own LP records and others they borrowed to produce tapes that could run for hours.
Kenwood made the best turntables while Akai was the favoured tape recorder brand.
Akai also produced a great portable tape recorder about the size of a beer carton along with boxy monsters three times as big.
And of course, whatever the tape player, speakers as big as washing machines were mandatory.
The movies we congregated to watch outdoors, or in court houses, council chambers or clubs where they existed, were another interesting experience.
I’m not sure where they came from, there was a commercial provider somewhere, and the films circulated from place to place in a relentless procession.
I recall that there was no choice about what we got or when we got it.
The films arrived in battered fibre boxes on the weekly charter. If we were lucky all the necessary reels were in the two or three boxes, and they had been rewound by the previous borrower.
Humidity played merry hell with the films. If it wasn’t mould, it was excessive fading. I recall watching the 1957 Elizabeth Taylor film ‘Raintree County’ in glorious pink.
In those days, Papua New Guineans loved to watch westerns. Occasionally we got something different.
One of my favourite was ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, a romantic movie set in post-war Italy and made in 1954 but still doing the rounds in the late 1960s.
When I was in Kiunga in those years, the Montfort Catholic Mission had the only projector in town and would show the films in the station courthouse.
The Montforts were a French Canadian outfit and not a lot of them spoke good English.
On one occasion we scored three well-worn reels of the 1966 Anthony Quinn movie ‘Lost Command’, set in Vietnam and Algiers.
The way it worked was that as each reel finished the next one in the sequence was loaded into the projector.
Loading a new reel was a very fiddly business with all sorts of cogs and wheels involved and often film with crumpled and jagged ends.
On this occasion we managed to watch reel one, followed by reel three and then reel two. The brothers from the mission couldn’t understand what was wrong when everyone started scratching their heads.
I think I enjoyed the confusion more than the movie.
Apart from books and records and, depending on the weather and sunspot activity, shortwave radio was often the only entertainment available on the really remote one or two man patrol posts.
At Olsobip in the Star Mountains, I had an elaborate aerial system that had to be gently tweaked to suck passing broadcasts from the air. Sometimes I didn’t hear news from the outside world for days.
I worked my way through several expensive transistor radios over the years (Zenith being the super brand), but eventually happened upon a cheap Taiwanese model housed in what appeared to be vinyl covered hardboard with a strange dipole aerial that outshone them all.
Nowadays I have low tolerance for television, haven’t the faintest idea what modern music is all about and am highly selective about what books I read.
It’s a natural reaction, I think, to the surfeit of what passes for modern entertainment.
Ah yes. Remember the changeover of the movie reels? At the Hagen Country Club circa 1956 the changeover usually signaled a rush to the bar to get a drink and sit down again before the next reel started.
The length of time for the changeover depended on how many patrons awaited bar service, and how exciting the movie was.
If the movie was really exciting, the non-drinking patrons demanded the next reel start without waiting for all the drinkers to be served.
If the movie was boring the number of drinkers awaiting service increased, sometimes to the extent that all sense of continuity was lost so that, by the time the movie ended, nobody could recall how its plot had started.
For some of those B Grade western movies it didn't matter because the plot was usually so banal that no one could figure out what it was all about anyway. It was just another night at the movies and everyone enjoyed it.
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 09 March 2023 at 11:04 AM
George Page Ltd in Port Moresby was the provider of films to the bush that I remember. There may have been others.
The Police Club at Tabibuga Patrol Post bought a projector out of the beer sales profits, and we had a weekly movie arrive on the mail charter on Fridays.
I vaguely remember George Page gave us a long list once a year, we could nominate movies we would like (mainly westerns, action shows and the like), but what actually turned up was very much pot luck.
Whatever the movie, they went down like hot cakes, the station kids specially loved them.
Ah, the Zenith super radio. I think I sold mine for a pittance, which was a pity.
Posted by: Jim Moore | 08 March 2023 at 07:54 PM