Nostalgia Feed

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.

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A privileged life with adventures to be had

Exploring the high hills in the early 1950s. The late Harry West OAM   war veteran and kiap
Adventures to be had. Exploring the high hills in the 1950s. Kiap Harry West OAM on patrol

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - I enjoyed Henry Sims’ recollection (‘Blunting a few, grilli & gumi races’) of the 'glory days' in Port Moresby.

Of course, life in Moresby was quite different from life on an outstation. The social whirl was rather restricted when the entire European population could be counted on one hand.

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When the green eagle flew

Gagl Primary T School
Gagl Primary School in 1966 - playground, three classrooms, Wahgi Valley and Kubor Range

KEITH JACKSON
| From the Archive

NOOSA - My school teaching career lasted three years, entirely conducted in Papua New Guinea between the ages of 18 and 21.

It began late in 1963 with a memorable month-long fragment at Mandi in the Sepik, where at lunch a schoolboy would shinny up a tree with a machete, quickly extracting a choice coconut and then expertly slicing a penny-shaped drinking hole.

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Blunting a few, grilli & gumi races

The Moresby Hotel,  1964
The Moresby Hotel, 1964

HENRY SIMS
| From the Archive

MARCH 1968 – Life for us in Papua New Guinea began in a multiplex Single Officers Quarters in Gavamani Road, Boroko.

We had just arrived from a cold Tasmania and on our first night my young wife, like me, spread-eagled herself naked on the bed under the ceiling fan, too hot to be modest.

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Uphill & down along the Black Cat Track

Map of the Black Cat Track and surrounding landmarks
Map of the Black Cat Track and surrounding landmarks

MOSES ANDRIAS
| Ples Singsing

LAE – Morobe, November 2018, a blend of everything Papua New Guinean, from the cool mountainous ridges that step from the majestic highlands to the endless plains of the Markham and onwards to the shoreline of the Huon Peninsula.

A walk around Eriku and a visit to Lae Market remains no exception to this, fruits and vegetables of variety, faces and languages of throughout the country, all in chaotic-harmony of economic exchange.

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Precious land & the good life on Block 168

Gov Gary Juffa
Governor Gary Juffa - "I am beginning to truly understand my grandfather’s deep joy for working the land"

GOVERNOR GARY JUFFA
| Asia-Pacific Anticorruption & Human Rights Advocate Group

KOKODA - Finally my cocoa trees are growing and bearing fruit. Kokoda Block 168 is slowly coming back to life.

As a child I used to wander this small portion of land so treasured by Victor Juffa, my grandfather and adoptive father.

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Land Rover, the prince of vehicles

New chalkies hit the road near Wewak  November 1963  aboard the Land Rover we came to know so well
New chalkies hit the road near Wewak,  November 1963.  Yes, there were 10 of us aboard the Series 2 Land Rover. That was fortunate. It took all of us to get it out of a bog later in our journey (Keith Jackson)

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - When Prince Philip married Elizabeth, the future British queen, in November 1947 my mother was two months pregnant with me.

Like a lot of English women besotted with the handsome prince she decided to name me after him. My Irish father had little say in the matter.

Apart from that tenuous and rather embarrassing connection, Prince Philip has otherwise been entirely irrelevant in my life, as no doubt I have in his.

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Wayne & the power of friendship

Gary  Wayne and friends
Gary, Wayne and friends - "We are all fortunate to know good people and have great friendships. They are precious gifts. Until we no longer have them"

GARY JUFFA

ORO - Some years ago - in the mid-eighties, I was this skinny kid growing up in Arawa on Bougainville.

I had a great friend at school, Wayne Grieshaber. I met him the day I entered Bovo Primary School.

I’d just transferred from Kokoda, where I spent three years schooling and living with my grandmother on our small cocoa plantation. No electricity and a hefty dose of challenge and difficulty.

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When the last old kiap dies….

Harry West OAM
Exploring the high hills in the early 1950s. The late Harry West OAM,  war veteran and kiap

CHIPS MACKELLAR

They're all old now, their hair turned white as the years went rolling by,
And with every year that passes now, we see more kiaps die.
Their children scattered far and wide, grand-children further still,
And who will care when the last kiap dies, whose memory will he fill?

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Drifters, dreamers and beachcombers

lagoon of the Aramia River at Balimo
Freshwater lagoon of the Aramia River at Balimo

PHIL FITZPATRICK

Brown Girl by the Shore

Dirty old hulk caught in the tide
Sun beating down on her battered side
Remember the days when she ran free
Out through the reef and into the sea

I’ve been up and I’ve been down
Round and round the village and town
Rum in my coffee and sugar in my tea
Or cool, cool water from the coconut tree

Under a wide and green clad bough
Soft deep shade for then and now
Whispering waves lapping the sand
And sleek red fish so easy to hand

Brown girl lazing by the shore
Go to the reef and catch me a fish
A dollar or two, whatever you wish
And we’ll be one for ever more.

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Bai yupela kam bek gen?

Mendi airport  1970s
Young men following the action at Mendi airstrip in the 1970s

PHILLIP HERMES
| The Cove

CANBERRA - Stepping out of my LandCruiser and stretching my legs after a long, bumpy drive up the Highlands Highway, I surveyed the misty town of Mendi, provincial capital of Southern Highlands Province.

It was early 2015 and I was on my first of many adventures during my two year secondment to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) Engineer Battalion, accompanying my PNGDF boss to a meeting with Chinese state-owned engineering group, COVEC.

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Will the old Lae please stand up again?

Bikes
Kids on bikes in the park - echoes of the Lae of old

SCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country

LAE – On Friday night when Lae MP, John Rosso, talked about what the city was like in the past, there were quite a few people who nodded their heads in agreement.

They remembered a city with popcorn and cinemas in Eriku, Town, East Taraka and other suburbs. There was a botanical garden, unfenced, with aviaries, ponds with goldfish, BMX bike tracks and ice cream trucks.

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The place that made so many of us

B&w Overland hline
Chris Overland - "My time in PNG made me who I am and I am supremely grateful for that"

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Phil Fitzpatrick has raised the inevitable dying of the light for those of us who served as kiaps.

I find it incredible to think that it is now more than 50 years ago that I first stepped onto Papua New Guinean soil as a rather gormless 18 year old Assistant Patrol Officer.

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The iconic patrol box

Patrol boxes (Graham Forster)
"Their endurance was awesome. Since the moment they could walk they had been trained to overcome every discomfort" (Graham Forster)

ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA, UK - Patrol boxes are embedded within the memory of every kiap and, indeed, anyone who went “on patrol” in pre-independence Papua New Guinea.

In difficult country they could be awkward, even brutish, burdens but nevertheless were toted, uphill and down dale for mile after endless mile by village carriers without whose help patrolling, a keystone kiap activity, could not have taken place.

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An unwanted Christmas present

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains  early 1970s
Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970s

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - In 1970 I received a Christmas present that I didn’t really want.

At the time I was the officer in charge of Olsobip Patrol Post on the southern slopes of the Star Mountains in the Western District.

Earlier in the month I had returned from a 31 day patrol into the rugged and remote Murray Valley.

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Fascinating, sweet, incurable PNG

Phil very relaxed on patrol north of Nomad  1960s
Phil Fitzpatrick, relaxing in the haus kiap on a patrol north of Nomad in the 1960s - "I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of civilisation"

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Kiaps were required to work for 21 months in Papua New Guinea before they were granted three months leave.

When their leave was due they were provided with a return airline ticket to Australia.

After 21 months in the field most kiaps looked forward to their leave. It was a chance to catch up with their families in Australia, see what had been going on in the outside world and enjoy a few luxuries not available in PNG.

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As our friends & comrades die, a bit of our lives vanishes

Chris Overland
Chris Overland

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE – In May 1969, exactly 50 years ago, I first arrived in Port Moresby, having turned 18 a bare six weeks previously.

To the best of my knowledge, with one exception who soon decamped south back to Australia, every other recruit to the service that year was several years older than me.

So I think that I am possibly the youngest former expatriate kiap still living and I turned 68 this year.

While I was stationed in Oro Province from early 1972 to mid-1974, I cannot recall meeting Doug Robbins, who has just died, although I certainly knew his mate Drew Pingo quite well.

Also, I had the privilege of doing patrol work both around Tufi and, on one occasion, at Safia, so I know a bit about the sort of country Doug wrote about in PNG Attitude.

His death, at what I think these days would be regarded as a comparatively young age, is a cause of sadness to me, first and foremost because of the impact it will have upon his family. To them I offer my sincere condolences.

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History as a fuzzy photograph in a box in the wardrobe

Kiaps
Young kiaps in their prime (right to left) Don Reid, Phil, Charlie Brillante, unknown, Mt Hagen 1968

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Over the last year or so, quite a few old kiaps have been setting out on that final journey to the patrol post in the sky.

And many of them have come from that last generation of contract officers to be recruited prior to independence.

This is quite unnerving for those of us of that generation who are still upright and breathing.

I’m getting a distinct feeling that part of Australia and Papua New Guinea’s joint history is rapidly falling away into the past.

Doug Robbins passed away earlier this month and I’ve just heard that Don Reid has followed him. I didn’t know Doug but Don was someone I encountered early on in my own kiap career.

I don’t know whether it was official policy or just how things worked out but when I was a cadet patrol officer I was teamed up with Don to learn the ropes.

I’m not sure whether he drew the short straw or simply felt sorry for me. In any event we became good friends and he taught me what I needed to know to survive.

Among other things he was great at detecting my bullshit.

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This Christmas rekindles thoughts of a memorable trip

Kumbon 4 - Nii & Kumbon
Francis and I sign our books for buyers at the Brisbane Writers Festival

DANIEL KUMBON,

WABAG - Two years ago, Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong, Rashmii Bell, my wife Julie and I attended the lively Brisbane Writers Festival.

It was a rare opportunity for the prolific, wheelchair-bound writer Francis Nii and Julie to travel from the confines of their ridge top homes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Our trip was made possible by the generosity of our sponsors – Gudmundur Fridriksson and Stanley Kuli Liria of Paga Hill Development Company, Keith Jackson of PNG Attitude and Ken McKinnon and his wife Sue in Sydney.

I would like to thank them all again this Christmas for their generosity, human understanding and encouragement.

I also thank all our friends like Rob, Murray, Phil, Ed, Bob, Ben, Jim, Lindsay and so many other cheerful people who made us feel welcome and ensured our stay in Noosa, Brisbane and Sydney was memorable.

It was also a rare opportunity for us to meet politicians who were keen to meet writers from a former colony so used to being ignored by their own government.

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Those were the days my friend. They ended & this is where we are

Write drunkPHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - During my high school years I hung out with friends who were interested in art and literature. A few of those with longer and hairier arms also had an interest in sport but culture was the main thing. And the opposite sex was also of interest. Of course.

We were all going to dedicate our lives to pursuing the finer things in life. We also intended to be millionaires by the time we were 30.

It was only in later years that we came to realise that art and literature were not necessarily compatible with wealth.

When this reality dawned, most of us compromised our ambitions and opted for wealth over art and literature and set out to achieve financial success.

Now that I’m in my seventies I’ve got enough spare time to contemplate how this worked out.

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Last week I was a teenager – but just look at me now

AgeingPHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - About eighteen months ago a friend and I were talking about walking the Heysen Trail in South Australia.

It runs for a mere 1,200 kilometres from the bottom of Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, through the Mount Lofty Ranges and on to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Range.

It’s not an arduous walk, nothing like the Kokoda Trail, just a bit longer. There is, however, some magnificent scenery along the way and, fortuitously, some great wineries.

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The essential Chips Mackellar

Chips Mackellar
Chips Mackellar - master storyteller, anecdotalist and, by definition, historian

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - I’ve been reading the words of Malcolm ‘Chips’ Mackellar for many years now.

I first came across his writing in ‘Una Voce’, when it was just a journal dedicated to the interests of retired officers and superannuants who had served in the Territory of Papua New Guinea.

I rather enjoyed that old journal. It was produced on the smell of an oily rag and pretty rough and ready. It somehow mirrored the make do, jack of all trades, master of none TPNG culture.

Some of the reminiscences and stories in the journal were classics and Chips was there in the thick of it with his wry sense of humour, colourful descriptions and the ability to bend what some might regard as the truth right to the edge of breaking point.

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The long conversation: I miss it Kurt, & I miss you my friend

Kurt Pfund  Switzerland 1993
Artist Kurt Pfund at home in Switzerland, 1993. He established a close, long & perhaps unlikely friendship with eminent kiap Bill Brown

BILL BROWN

SYDNEY - Professor David Goodall’s assisted death in Switzerland on 10 May was a searing reminder of my friend the artist Kurt Pfund’s similar departure from this world late last year.

Kurt was suffering the ravages of incurable cancer and he too died at the time of his choosing courtesy of Swiss Exit.

Goodall's death brought the memories flooding back to me: Kurt’s long, thoughtful letters carefully typed in English; his short, pithy emails; and the sporadic “Switzerland Calling” telephone calls.

He was a better correspondent than I but he ignored my lapses and kept our exchange alive and flowing.

One particular memory kept recurring. At the end of 1999, Kurt and his lady, Marlies, came to stay with us in Sydney.

We had watched the turn of the millennium fireworks at midnight from a penthouse overlooking Sydney Harbour and, in the afterglow, Kurt reminisced about his sojourn on a Polynesian outlier about 220 kilometres north-east of Bougainville.

The Mortlocks are 22 small atolls—some only small rocky outcrops—with a population of some 465 people including a number of men absent working on ships at sea.

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The death of Victor Juffa, Private 100, of Kokoda Block 168

Death of EverythingGARY JUFFA

ORO - Have you ever lost someone so profoundly intimate you cried yourself wretched so your heart ached and your entire being was soaked with such misery that you felt you were losing yourself?

And did you ever feel life was no longer worth living and you cared for nothing at all and there was this silent emptiness in your soul so heavy you could not breathe or walk or talk?

I’m sure many people have been there. I certainly have. Too many times.

My earliest recollection of such a moment happened at age five when I lost everything. I have often said I was seven or eight but I was five. I stretched my age because part of me refused to believe I had spent such a short time with Victor Juffa, my beloved Godfather, Grandfather, best friend and everything.

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Memories of Togoba – natural beauty & wise leadership

Togoba – looking across the Nebilyer Valley to the limestone cliffs
Togoba – looking across the Nebilyer Valley to the limestone cliffs

GARRY ROCHE

DUBLIN - A recent article by Helen Davidson in Guardian Australia included a photograph of the beautiful landscape of the Togoba area in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

In the foreground one can see clearly the neat gardens with a variety of crops and kunai-roofed houses.

In the background are the grand limestone cliffs, and hidden in the middle distance is the Nebilyer River. In more recent times the area beyond the river is referred to simply as ‘Hapwara’.

If you stand at Togoba facing the limestone cliffs and shout loudly, you will hear an echo coming back strongly. The people of this area said this was a kur (spirit) answering back. In the local language it was known as ‘Kur Wenwen’.

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The marvellously engineered cane bridges in the Jimi

Cane bridge over the Tsau river
The cane bridge over the Tsau River

GARRY ROCHE

DUBLIN - Sometimes on bush journeys in the Papua New Guinea Highlands it was embarrassing to witness five or six year old kids running freely - and safely - back and forth across a single tree-trunk bridge over a rushing river.

The embarrassment was that I then had to be assisted by many hands as I gingerly inched my way across.

Luckily in the Jimi Valley of the then Western Highlands there were many cane bridges, much easier to traverse, which somewhat alleviated my anxiety.

The cane bridge shown in this 1971 photo, was constructed across the Tsau river in the Jimi. The Tsau flows into the Jimi River which progresses into the Yuat and then the mighty Sepik.

In 1971-72 I was based at Karap in the Jimi, which is now part of Jiwaka Province. The Jimi Valley runs parallel to the Wahgi Valley, but there are major differences.

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Beautiful Manus – idyllic to ruinous in less than four years

Manus as seen from the tip of Los NegrosPHIL FITZPATRICK

VERY many years ago I came under the spell of James A Michener, Louis Becke, Frederick O’Brien, James Norman Hall, Robert Dean Frisbie, Beatrice Grimshaw and other wonderful sojourners in the South Pacific.

And I have been fortunate enough to indulge my passion for the delightful backwaters of those myriad islands scattered diagonally across the unending ocean east of Australia and Papua New Guinea.

I am, in short, a sucker for swaying palm trees, white sandy beaches, warm tropical breezes and languid lifestyles.

I have two favourite places in the South Pacific. The first is the Cook Islands, which are sprinkled north of the Tropic of Capricorn and the main island of Rarotonga.

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Tales from the kiap times – An expatriate Christmas

Chiristmas with the Clelands, Balimo. 1959BOB CLELAND

THE first Christmas I spent in Papua New Guinea, as an unmarried Cadet Patrol Officer, was wild and best forgotten.

But I did learn about one of the common Christmas practises amongst the Australian expatriate population.

In 1953, Goroka was a small outstation with an expatriate population of 100 or so. Perhaps half of that number consisted of married couples with a few children. There were two single women. And the rest of us were single men.

Six other single men and I – kiaps, didimen and a kuskus – were invited to share a family Christmas with Syd and Beth Nielsen and their two children. Syd was District Education Officer. It was a fabulous day, much of it, as I said, best forgotten.

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A new kiap’s first Christmas

Kiap Phil on the trusty HondaPHIL FITZPATRICK

AT ABOUT this time nearly 50 years ago I arrived in Mount Hagen as a callow 19 year old cadet patrol officer. It would be my first Christmas away from home.

My father was Irish but my mother was English and we lived near her family in Suffolk before coming to Australia.

They were farmers and they celebrated a traditional English Christmas. They fattened a goose for dinner and they began making the Christmas cake and pudding months before the event.

When we came to Australia, my mother brought all these English traditions with her and, despite the usually blistering heat on Christmas Day, insisted on serving lashes of hot, stodgy English Christmas fare.

My sisters and I revelled in the bounty of that day, which ranged from opening our stockings on Christmas morning and discovering sixpenny pieces in the Christmas cake and pudding.

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Me and Bobby McGee – farewell to an old friend

McGeePHIL FITZPATRICK

ON THE remote patrol posts where I worked as a kiap before Papua New Guinean independence there was always an established pecking order.

First was the officer in charge, usually an assistant district officer or a patrol officer.

Next – in order - came the station clerk, police corporal, police constables, interpreter, station dog and, last of all, the cadet patrol officer.

Somewhere between the station clerk and the police corporal there might have been an aid post orderly, a teacher or two and occasionally an agricultural officer.

I have fond memories of all the occupants of these various offices from the patrol posts where I served. Except perhaps for a couple of errant cadets who tried everyone’s patience.

But I guess we were all cadets once and it wasn’t really their fault if they occasionally rubbed the boss kiap up the wrong way.

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I rejoiced in working amongst a tough & resilient people

Somare and admirers 1970sCHRIS OVERLAND

LIKE Phil Fitzpatrick (‘Crafting a Life’), I ran away to the jungle of Papua New Guinea at a young age because I was repulsed by the idea of a career in retail or a bank.

The advertisement accompanying his article drew me irresistibly towards PNG, much to the horror and amazement of my friends.

Why on earth, they said, would I wish to go to a faraway place, full of hideous diseases, crocodile-filled swamps and mountain ranges swarming with headhunters and cannibals?

The simple answer was because I could see and live in a world like no other on earth.

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A meditation on ageing & fading Australia-PNG links

Minister Charles Barnes & kiap Barry Holloway at Aiome, 1960s (Aust National Archives)CHRIS OVERLAND

AS I enter what are sometimes called the autumn years, I increasingly begin to see what Dylan Thomas was on about when he wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For example, I find myself increasingly annoyed by advertisements for retirement villages or, as they are now more commonly called, “lifestyle villages”.

These adverts, usually shot in soft focus, invariably show a fit looking grey headed couple playing with their grandchildren or walking hand in hand along the beach or engaged in some other highly idealised activity.

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You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

PHIL FITZPATRICK

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

(Joni Mitchell, 1970)

I SPENT most of the first eight years of my life in a small village in the southeast of England. A motor car in the village was an unusual sight.

It was an insular existence; there was no television then and the local shop didn’t sell newspapers. Our knowledge of the outside world came mainly from the wireless.

At school we studied the large world map on the wall and marvelled at the vast expanses of pink, denoting the mighty British Commonwealth of Nations.

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Reflections on growing old: Those were the days my friend

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970sPHIL FITZPATRICK

MANY Australian readers of PNG Attitude trace their association with Papua New Guinea to a time before and maybe shortly after independence in 1975.

Those were halcyon days, not only because of the unique nature of that experience but also because it was when most of us were in the prime of our life.

Now we are all getting old and becoming reflective, no longer looking forward as much as backwards. We are now a collegiate of elders.

For many of us not a month seems to go by that we don’t hear of the passing of someone we knew back in those good old days.

Another one has fallen off the perch, another one bites the dust or, in the case of kiaps, another one has set out for the patrol post in the sky.

Some of the more colourful departures get a mention on PNG Attitude, while the Ex-Kiap website maintains a special section for reporting such transitions.

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Reflections on a great man & some of Moresby’s very best days

Phil Charley, Carolus Ketsimur & Keith JacksonALAN GRANT

IN A pathetic enforced retirement there is more than enough time to mull over the past.

In Papua New Guinea I had been a didiman (agricultural officer), arriving in the 1960s and posted all over the country. I had come as a £10 migrant to Australia in 1965, bringing with me a deep love of traditional jazz. It is with me to this day.

Anyway, there came a time when seniority and commitment to projects brought me to Port Moresby.

Between busy rural development tasks and building a 40-foot sailing craft, I allowed myself to be talked into being the banjo player in a series of ad hoc jazz bands that proliferated for a time before and just after independence in 1975.

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Saksak mix: my lovely moms & the men they married

Saksak MixALEXANDER NARA

ON THE left is my mother Judy and on the right is my other mother, Elizabeth. Both are married to my dads.

These two different women never knew they would be growing old together, nor in their wildest dreams did they imagine they would marry my two dads. They never had the slightest clue of each other.

Those marriage decisions were made in completely different places and at entirely different times.

My mom, a breathtaking K-Mori from Kairimai village, Baimuru, in the Gulf Province, fell in love with a striking young gentleman originating from a Dagua on the west coast of East Sepik Province.

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The night the lights went out

Hagen Ball InvitationBOB TURNER

IN MAY 1963 my late wife Garda together with John and Margaret Paynter went to the Mt Hagen Show.

At that time, we were all schoolies in Goroka.

It was a pleasant and uneventful trip made in the Paynter’s small Toyota Tiara car.

On the Daulo pass, we stopped to say G’day to Sparrow Clinton who was on a grader repairing road damage.

At Hagen the four of us slept in the District Commissioner’s office, I believe without his consent.

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The rare commodity that is grassroots knowledge

Goodenough Island outstation (NLA)PHIL FITZPATRICK

ON A bright sunlit morning in 1969, I was walking down from my house on the hill to the station office and airstrip below.

A couple of children from the village further up the hill were happily gambolling along with my dog a few steps ahead.

I stopped abruptly.

The little poppet in the tiny grass skirt put her hands on her hips and stared up at me. “Wanem samting?” she demanded.

I looked down at her and smiled. “Maski, mi tingting tasol, yumi go.”

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The slow, sad death of my wonderful PNG memories

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970sPHIL FITZPATRICK

I first went to Papua New Guinea in 1967 when I was 19, a real babe in the woods. I’ve been going back ever since. Sometimes for work but often just to catch up with old friends.

I’m now close to 68, still a babe in the woods compared to some of the living fossils who went there long before me. Some were there before I was born and are still going strong.

I’ve reached a stage in life when one tends to become reflective. That is, I think about the past a lot, what I’ve done and most importantly why and what it all might mean.

Having a memory that now has no trouble recalling what I did when I was 10 years old but cannot remember what I did half an hour ago powers this change of mental direction.

At least I think I can recollect what I was doing so long ago. I may, in fact, simply be having memories of memories, if you know what I mean. That means that while I can recall what happened back then I can’t really vouchsafe for its authenticity.

Continue reading "The slow, sad death of my wonderful PNG memories" »


Something in the blood – the enduring magic of PNG

Something in the BloodCHRIS OVERLAND

LIKE virtually all ex-kiaps I have met or whose writings I have read, neither time nor distance have diminished my fascination with Papua New Guinea.

Even taking into account the inevitable older man's nostalgia for his lost youth, and the associated tendency to re-imagine the past to edit out less appealing memories and replace them with something more acceptable, PNG exerts an unrelenting and unexpectedly strong grip upon me.

The five years spent in PNG remain the undoubted highlight of my life, excluding only the joys and, sometimes, tribulations of marriage, children and grand-children.

The memories of my time as a kiap remain, so it seems, as fresh and vivid as the day they were formed.

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After 25 years, an emotional return to Bougainville & Panguna

The old Panguna churchPETER COMERFORD

MARIAN and the kids and I left Panguna and the island of Bougainville in January 1990.

The crisis weighed almost as heavily upon us expatriates who worked there as it did on the Bougainvilleans themselves.

Nobody knew it then, but worse was to come with a terrible war, a 10-year blockade and loss of life estimated at 20,000 people.

I had been principal of the International Primary School at Panguna for six years from 1984 and Marian was sister-in-charge of the Panguna Medical Clinic from 1987.

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White man dreaming – the romance of the South Seas

White Man DreamingPHIL FITZPATRICK

SEVERAL years ago, my wife and I pottered down to Trader Jacks on the seashore in Avarua on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands to get some calamari and a coffee for lunch.

Trader Jacks is one of those places where the cook is likely to sit down with you to eat if business is slow and then forget to charge you when you leave.

Our mode of transport was one of those ubiquitous scooters that hold sway on the roads of the Pacific islands. No helmets, a leisurely speed, never over 40 kph, and usually ridden abreast to enable conversation.

On this occasion, sated by the best calamari we’d ever tasted and chuckling over the cook’s anecdotes we were trying to figure out how to spring the seat on the scooter to get to the stuff we’d put in the compartment below.

While we were puzzling over the devilish Asian mechanism an elderly and barefooted gentleman stopped to help and solve our quandary. The trick was to push down on the seat while simultaneously pressing on the catch.

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Never go back

Kundiawa Airstrip, December 1963 (Keith Jackson)PHIL FITZPATRICK

THERE are several Papua New Guineas.

The most obvious are the two different countries occupied by the educated elite and the rural-dwelling subsistence villager.

While these two different countries exist in real time, in the same place, and often merge into each other there is another Papua New Guinea, equally alive, that exists in an entirely different dimension.

This is the Papua New Guinea that exists in the minds of Australians and other expatriates who worked there prior to independence in 1975.

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Ephemeral gift: The wonder of a place with no human footprints

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970sPHIL FITZPATRICK

IN the early months of 1971 I was leading a small, lightweight patrol through the vast northern rainforests of the Great Papuan Plateau.

We were looking for a small and elusive group of people rumoured to live there.

Most of the day had been spent wallowing through a sort of everglade swamp. When we finally got out of it, by sheer luck we picked up a narrow forest path. That cheered us up because we hoped it might lead us to our quarry.

We proceeded stealthily, as quietly as possible. The two policemen and I were swapped the lead every so often, not for any particular strategic reason but because we had a small wager going about who would be first to spot the creators of the path.

So it was by pot luck that I was first to see the Coca-Cola can.

This was before Coke cans had ring-pulls or pop-tops. We used bottle openers. In those days the openers came with a V-shaped tip used for pressing drinking holes into the cans.

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