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Making a dictionary for your own language

Noken Simuk (Robert Eklund)
'Noken Simuk - Smoking forbidden. Leave the matchbox and inflammable matches inside the box' (Robert Eklund)

| Edited & updated

First published in The National, February 2018

PORT MORESBY – All of us probably remember dictionaries from when we were at school.

They had a long list of English words and explained them in English. This is a monolingual dictionary. Words and explanations in the same language.

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Sick, crippled & besieged by con artists

Illustration by Kal (The Economist)


TUMBY BAY - Hang on, what’s up? The world wasn’t supposed to turn into custard until my generation was safely six foot under.

As Stan Grant eloquently put it, “We are miserable, getting poorer, afflicted with disease, on the verge of blowing ourselves to smithereens and facing a climate catastrophe”.

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Bleak & black year shook Land of the Respected

Big Pat  Fatima Secondary School  Banz
During the year Big Pat turned right instead of left and ended up at Fatima Secondary School in Banz

| Papua New Guinea Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY - In all of the meandering years in the life of Papua New Guinea, 2021 had to be the big meander.

The colours were there, the love and laughter were there, the sadness, emotion, losses, highs and lows, the bleakness of our long-suffering population and blackness of ethereal poor governance were all intertwined to make 2021 stand out.

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Woody Guthrie’s New Year resolutions

Woody Guthrie (Michael Ochs Archives)
Woody Guthrie - The work of one of the most significant figures in American folk music focused on themes of American socialism and anti-fascism. His music has inspired several generations politically and musically

| New York Review of Books

NEW YORK - Woody Guthrie wrote the heartfelt and playful resolutions below on New Year’s Day, 1943.

From 29 December 1942 until 1 January 1943, Woody filled a 72-page composition book with a letter to his love, Marjorie.

This little gem, in the middle of the book, provides insight into his daily concerns at the time — the large and the small.

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The wreckage they left behind

Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia. Phil Fitzpatrick found this country more to his liking than a city teeming with consultants


TUMBY BAY - After leaving Papua New Guinea I went to work for the South Australian Museum in a new unit responsible for Aboriginal heritage legislation.

There were less than a dozen of us and shortly after I arrived we were shifted from the museum to a warehouse with attached offices out in the suburbs.

It was a decidedly casual arrangement and on most days when I wasn’t doing fieldwork I turned up at the office in shorts and tee shirt.

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Perspectives on building a successful society

Bougainville seascape (Simon Pentanu)


KIETA – It is said that some of the best personal and political successes in life have followed great adversity and disappointment.

How many of us have come to the best of times when the worst of times has taken us to the brink?

I have some personal perspectives on this from the Bougainville contest, where we have individuals, businessmen, political leaders, church leaders and women and youth leaders who have the opportunity to change things for the better.

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Some useful advice to a young person

Gary Juffa (left) shares a joke with two constituents


ORO - My dear young person, I have some thoughts formed from not a few experiences gained along the way in my last 49 years.

I decided to share them to mark the 46th Independence Day of our great young nation, Papua New Guinea.

I offer them to you in the hope that perhaps they will be of some use.

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Can you trust a politician with high BMI?

“The Bosses of the Senate”
'The Bosses of the Senate', 1889 lithograph from the collection of the United States Senate


TUMBY BAY - For Australians, and other people with a close interest and involvement in Papua New Guinea, there is a curious dilemma that revolves around trust.

This is the result of the rampant corruption and lawlessness that seems to permeate everything that happens in our near neighbour and good friend.

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It's that ingrained Calvinistic stoicism


NORTHUMBRIA – Keith Jackson writes and I too have begun to worry that many people under the age of 40 have lost resilience, stoicism replaced with almost permanent protestations of victimhood.

Or who exhibit grievances with so much of what is said to them or by being exposed to unavoidable circumstances like the Covid pandemic.

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The difficult road to modernity


ADELAIDE – In an insightful piece, ‘A Place, A Time & Lessons Learned, Jim Moore writes that “we humans share so many common traits and characteristics that transcend time and place [and] we need to recognise that we don't know it all... that we’re not members of an exceptional tribe”.

We humans do indeed share many common characteristics, and simultaneously our different cultures create endless opportunities for misunderstanding and conflict.

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Lessons we might have missed

Ol narapela kain man
Ol narapela kain man. Young kiaps, 1960s


TUMBY BAY – Culture shock. It was one of the things expatriates were warned about at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) before departing to take up positions in the then colonial Administration of the Australian Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

Culture shock describes those feelings of excitement, anxiety, confusion and uncertainty when you find yourself in a new and unfamiliar environment.

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PNG people unlikely to reclaim birthright

Democracy will have to do better than this
Democracy will have to do better than this... Panicked Afghans storm an aircraft as they try to leave Kabul after its seizure by the Taliban


ADELAIDE - While I endorse Governor Gary Juffa's sentiments in ‘The world is ours, let’s act that way', I am afraid 'ordinary people' will not retake possession of their particular worlds any time soon.

In places like China, theocratic Iran and newly Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the world will belong to armed minorities who will impose their world view upon the great majority.

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The world is ours, let’s act that way

Gary Juffa and friends
Governor Gary Juffa and friends relax after a meeting of the People's Movement for Change


ORO - I say this often, but it cannot be said enough, although I’m confident that eventually many people will understand, and act upon their understanding, in due time.

I pity those who do not wish to understand and cannot see this reality, so let us focus on helping them understand.

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Further adventures in Tok Pisin


NOOSA - My romp through Tok Pisin the other day brought some amusing embellishments from readers.

I've packaged these into this brief piece, along with other information about how you might pursue an interest in this most eloquent language.

When Phil Fitzpatrick returned to Papua New Guinea in 1997, more than 20 years after he had finished his service as a kiap (patrol officer), he worked in oil and gas exploration and, later, in social mapping.

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What might have been could yet be


ADELAIDE - I agree with Phil Fitzpatrick who observed yesterday that Papua New Guinea should have become a state of Australia.

If this had been done, several predictable things would have happened.

First, there would have been a steady inflow of migrants from the Australian mainland lured by PNG’s almost limitless opportunities in agriculture, mining, energy, tourism and so forth.

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China. First Daru. Then Queensland?


WARWICK - The expansion of China’s influence into the Solomons, Vanuatu, Samoa and Kiribati is of increasing concern to us in Australia.

But it is as nothing compared to the mischief to happen if the Chinese move into Daru.

This is because Daru - together with its mud and mangrove neighbour, Bristow - is the only island in the Torres Strait which is part of Papua New Guinea.

Every other island is Australian territory.

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Maybe all we can do is apologise


TUMBY BAY - Do we older folk need to apologise to our children and grandchildren for the sorry state of the world we are bequeathing to them?

I guess the answer to that question depends on how culpable we feel and how complicit we think we have been in bringing the world to the edge of the catastrophe so many scientists believe it faces.

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On winning whatever the price

World War II Japanese gun on Kangu Beach  south Bougainville
World War II Japanese artillery piece on Kangu Beach, near Buin south Bougainville

|  Edited

‘Only the dead have seen the end of war’ – Plato

KIETA - These are my thoughts from looking around Buin in south Bougainville every time I travel there. It is a great place, like other regions on the island.

It is also where I first saw, in 1964, the menace of war in the relics that all wars leave behind. The relics of Buin are from World War II, when Bougainville came under Japanese control.

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Words that mean more than they say


TUMBY BAY - The articles featured in the Anzac Day edition of PNG Attitude had a common theme related to the corrupted mythology of Australia’s leading commemorative event and its emergence as a caricature of reality.

The comments by various authors reflected on the inconvenient truths revealed in the articles or sought to defend some of the mythologies thought to be questionable.

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A true musical treat this Easter


NOOSA – Well here’s a pleasant something for Easter. You can read about it just below or listen to it first by linking to it here.

I recommend you listen first.

This 'pleasant something' is a choral collaboration under the guiding hand of my son, Simon, in Auckland, New Zealand.

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What to do about a big & ugly Amazon

Elon Musk has just edged ahead of Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world.  Each man is worth nearly $200  billion (K700 billion). PNG's total wealth is K80 billion 


TUMBY BAY - It seems that slavery is alive and well in the USA and is being perpetuated by one of the richest men in the world. He is Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon.

What began as Bezos’s innovative online bookstore in July 1995, which later assisted writers publish and distribute books, has morphed into a monstrous retail operation that is trampling all in its path, including its own workers.

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Danger! Fake news & conspiracy theories

John Menadue’s Pearls & Irritations

MELBOURNE - History has demonstrated that when people are fearful, believe they are powerless and can’t cope with threatening events they very often resort to conspiracy theories to explain their situation.

Equally often they look for scapegoats who are believed to be at the heart of the conspiracies – in the Christian world Jews and heretics; in the Muslim world heretics and Christians; and in the plague-ridden medieval times sins and sinners.

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Should Hanuabada be capital of Peengee?

From HMS Basilisk (left), the three-masted paddle steamer from which Captain John Moresby named many topographical features of southern PNG during an important voyage of discovery in 1874


TUMBY BAY - When you look at a map of Australia the precedence of its European colonial history is very apparent. If you run an eye around the coast, all the names of state capital cities echo that history.

Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart all owe their names to significant British places or personages.

It is only with the federal capital that any acknowledgement of the previous inhabitants occurs.

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The mysteriously blank face of DFAT


TUMBY BAY - It has always been a commonly held belief that politicians don’t run the country. That prerogative is exclusively the domain of the public service.

Anyone who has ever studied human relations theory will also know that managers always appoint people in their own image. This is particularly so among senior bureaucrats.

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Finding Mac: Search brought us together

Search party
One of the many search parties looking for Maclarence

| Academia Nomad

A student from the University of Papua New Guinea is reported missing. A week goes by and he is not found. Students conduct one of the biggest searches the city has seen. Mary Terriette Aseari is a third year student at the university.

PORT MORESBY - Maclarence Akua - a 22-year old third-year student, a good friend and a course mate of mine at the University of Papua New Guinea - had been missing for almost a week.

Mac is of mixed East Sepik and Bougainville parentage but grew up in Kimbe.

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The world today is encircled by distraction


PORT MORESBY - I believe distraction is the greatest hindrance to impede human potential to accomplish great things in life.

The world today is encircled by distraction. And no person is immune.

The clever inventions developed to help humanity in some cases take us captive as we become fully absorbed in them.

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Yeah, I know I’m getting on, but….

Phil Fitzpatrick recentPHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - We’ve only got one pharmacy in Tumby Bay. I believe it’s been in the same family since it began.

The grandfather passed it on to the father and now the father has just passed it on to the daughter.

I was in there the other day collecting some diabetic gear: a box of needles for my disposable syringes; a couple of packets of test strips for my glucose testing gizmo; and my blood pressure tablets.

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The village as a social battleground

Chiaromonte - once a dog eat dog nightmare, now a pleasant Italian township


TUMBY BAY - Edward Banfield was an American political scientist who studied a poverty struck Southern Italian village, Chiaromonte, in 1955.

There he discovered a self-interested society that put the needs of the family ahead of the public good.

He postulated that the backwardness of Chiaromonte could be explained in large part by the inability of the villagers to act in unison for their common benefit or for any other end not immediately related to their family interests.

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Old fogey cognitive deficit disorder


TUMBY BAY - You may have heard more than once persons of senior years proclaiming that the older they get the less they know.

That proclamation doesn’t mean a shrinking knowledge. What these aged folk mean is that the older they get the more they discover the vastness of human knowledge and the small part of it that they know or understand.

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I’m human first; not tribe

Keith Jackson -  You ever wonder about that point signifying where old age takes over from personal empowerment? It's when the world stops listening


NOOSA – Having just spent three weeks hovering between the drug-induced world of surreal images and the body-induced pain those images sought to drive away, it was with some pleasure that I edged into my emails.

Edged into them because my focus and cognition are not quite stable just yet, weaving and wavering between some sort of comprehension of what you have written and what combination of words and voices I am able to understand.

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Telling a kiap apart from the crowd

Papuan kiap Geoff Smith
Papuan kiap, Geoff Smith


TUMBY BAY - I served as a kiap in both New Guinea and Papua. In New Guinea the kiap rig generally consisted of a khaki shirt and shorts, shiny RM Williams boots and a slouch hat.

In Papua, especially on the remoter stations, kiaps tended to get around in whatever took their fancy or whatever they deemed suitable for the climate and circumstances.

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Fit and healthy

TPNG Police Warrant Card
Phil Fitzpatrick - then. And now? Wouldn't be dead for quids


TUMBY BAY - Patrolling in the spiky top end of the old Western District in the late 1960s, particularly in the Star Mountains, made me so fit that I had to be chained up under the office for several days whenever I returned from the bush.

I was so fit I was dangerous.

Being young and fit and full of fizz is now an indistinct and fading memory shrouded in the mists of overindulgence in habits I should have known better than to even contemplate.

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On War


Yesterday, on Anzac Day, like many of my neighbours, my wife and I stood at the end of our driveway at 6.00 am to remember those who fell in order to preserve the way of life we enjoy today.

As if on cue, the Last Post rang out across the neighbourhood, followed by a minute’s silence and then Reveille. I assume that the bugler was playing at our local War Memorial, which is about 500 metres away.

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Don’t forget World Frog Day


TUMBY BAY - On Monday my elderly neighbour dropped by to report that he had just been to the Tumby Bay local council offices to pay his quarterly rates instalment and had discovered they were closed.

Mystified, he went to the local supermarket, which was open, and asked the people at the checkout whether they knew why the council offices were not open.

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Money talks in the US of A

Bernie (Nate Beeler  The Columbus Dispatch  USA)
Bernie Sanders (Nate Beeler,  The Columbus Dispatch,  USA)


TUMBY BAY - I wonder whether people in Papua New Guinea are following the run up to the election in the United States.

They go to the polls in November but are now enmeshed in the Democratic Party state ‘primaries’ that will eventually decide which leader will contest the presidency, probably against Donald Trump.

There is a hope among ‘progressives’ in the USA (and worldwide) that whoever wins will be able to oust Trump.

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The changing of the (mud)guard

New Isuzu before the driver got drunk and rolled it
Our wonderful new Isuzu truck  which promised great service before the driver got drunk and rolled it. Like our driver, it was great while upright


TUMBY BAY - When I arrived at my first posting in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands in 1967, the Australian administration was well into transitioning its largely British made vehicle fleet into a Japanese one.

The tough Series 1 and 2 LandRovers that had been stalwarts for field work were rapidly being replaced by BJ40 Toyota LandCruisers.

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Between two cultures

David Gulpilil - "A man caught between two cultures and two different Australia’s, the old one and the new one"


TUMBY BAY - I’ve got a bird feeder in my backyard. I built it out of scrap wood. It’s got a platform where I put bowls of seed, fruit and other stuff for the birds and a roof over it to keep off the rain.

It looks quite picturesque but the only customers seem to be sparrows, starlings and the odd blackbird.

An occasional galah drops by and a few New Holland honeyeaters go past on their way to the blossoms in my flower beds.

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Land ownership & disharmony

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) 
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) - "....the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"


TUMBY BAY - Scientists tell us that the first humans were hunters and gatherers who lived in roving bands. They cooperated with each other in their pursuit of game and bush tucker.

Through experience they learned where game was to be found and where and when certain native foods were available.

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Why are all these people so happy?

Brenda Samson and Lilly Be'Soer of Voice for Change (Gemma Carr)
Brenda Samson and Lilly Be'Soer of Voice for Change (Gemma Carr)


TUMBY BAY - One of the most striking things about Papua New Guinea is the profusion of happiness and laughter.

I noticed this when I first went to the then Australian colony in 1967 and the picture hasn’t diminished over the years.

Whenever I arrive at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby I am greeted by happy, smiling faces.

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