Nostalgia Feed

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"


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)


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


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"


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

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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


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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The allure of those trusty old Papuan work boats


WHEN I was transferred to the Western District in 1969 I assumed that my previous misdemeanors had simply caught up with me and I accepted my fate with no real misgivings.

Apart from the opportunity to get to some very out of the way places, there was another potential benefit to my banishment not readily available in my previous posting in the Western Highlands. That was the opportunity to patrol in boats.

I had spent many enjoyable days on the River Murray in South Australia as a boy pottering around in old clinker built boats around Swan Reach and Blanchetown. 

These were the days before the carp invaded and muddied the water.  In those days there were many native fish to catch, including giant cod.

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The distinctive dress code of those old colonial days

Colonial dressED BRUMBY

ONE of the minor benefits of being an expatriate male public servant in pre-independence Papua New Guinea was that we didn’t need to think too much about what to wear each day.

There was no worrying about which tie would work best with which shirt, which shirt would go best with which suit and which suit to wear in the first place – as was the case when I worked in corporate Melbourne.

The official dress ‘uniform’ for us schoolies back then, as for most expatriate Administration officers, was a collared shirt - usually white and short-sleeved; dress shorts (that is, worn with a belt); long socks - almost always white, and lace-up shoes – frequently of the suede variety.

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Forget your McMansions – my AR10 was heaven on earth


IT wasn’t until I reached the exalted rank of officer-in-charge of a patrol post that I had a permanent materials house all to myself.

Until then I had either lived in shared accommodation or in various bush material abodes whose architecture ranged from pigsty rudimentary to spectacular, depending upon the extent to which the designers had advanced along the road to becoming troppo.

I remember one such edifice that would have put the Sydney Opera House to shame.

I think that first house was an AR10, which I presume meant it was an Administration residence of 10 squares, small but cosy.

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Narapela kain man na meri – the pre-independence expatriates

Expatriate officers, 1960sPHIL FITZPATRICK

DURING one of his sorties to Papua New Guinea, the Great Reformer, Gough Whitlam, opined that the expatriate population was decidedly inferior and second rate.

Some of the people who jumped on that bandwagon added that the expats were in Papua New Guinea because they couldn’t get a job in Australia.

Of the women, the more cruel commentators expressed the view that they were invariably ugly and only in Papua New Guinea to snare a husband, the theory being that limited numbers would make them more attractive.

When I was at ASOPA (the Australian School of Pacific Administration) one of our lecturers told us we were there because we were social misfits, something he happily conceded was exactly what Papua New Guinea needed.

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Forget the politics; give me the pastoral


PNG pastoralMY BROTHER-IN-LAW has just sent me the draft of a book of photographs and text describing his 18 years involvement in oil and gas exploration in Papua New Guinea.

Barry and I go back a long way.  We first met in primary school and have been best mates ever since.  We both went to Papua New Guinea as Cadet Patrol Officers at the same time in 1967 and, of course, we ended up marrying sisters.

I followed him back to Papua New Guinea in the 1990s, working for the same field services company but he has a much vaster experience in the game than me.  Now in our mid-sixties we are both fit but I have been hamstrung for the last 30 years or so by the exigencies of managing type-two diabetes.  I have to plan my day and eat on time, so it hampers bush work.

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I sought the summit & arrived; now I think of the leopard


Kilimanjaro - Kibo 'a piece of cake with icing on top'“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai,’ the House of God.

Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude”

- The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway

I DON’T KNOW IF HEMINGWAY ever got to the top of Kilimanjaro but he immortalised the frozen carcass of the leopard and the eternal question of what this creature was doing at such an altitude in his wonderful work of fiction.

For me, since my ascent of the peak of Kibo, one of the three volcanic cones of Kilimanjaro (or Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze, the highest point of the old German Empire), some would say it has all been downhill.

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“The ramblings of a regretful old fool…”


The title of this post is taken from a comment left anonymously by a fan of my blog.

ON HIS DEATHBED George V asked, “How is the Empire?” Our present Queen on her deathbed will be hardly able to ask such a question.

Gough Whitlam, I suspect, on his deathbed, won’t ask, how is Papua New Guinea anymore than he’ll express any concerns for East Timor.

However, I suspect, there will be a number of expats from the former Australian administrated PNG who on dying will have many thoughts about the former Trust Territory.

For those of us who lived for sometime in PNG, the saying is apt, you can take the man or women out of Papua New Guinea but you can’t take PNG out of them.

The uncanny attachment some Australians had and have for PNG came home to me many years ago when I used to listen to my late brother-in-law, Kevin Walls, talking about his war experiences in the Territory.

Kevin served in New Britain and the Sepik. As an officer with the Allied Intelligence Bureau in the Sepik, he was decorated with the MC. His regard for the native people was made obvious to me, together with the strong desire he had to make a return visit to the country, which unfortunately, he was never able to do.

His regard for the country was a strong motivating factor for me to move there after I left school.

Dreams and thoughts about PNG and its people are an important part of my psyche. This is why I’m concerned that the Wewak Hospital hasn’t had a working X-ray for a number of months.

I often think about Kami and his family. In the old terminology Kami was my mankimasta (domestic), and he looked after me for 13 years. He was famous in Angoram for his donkers - a mixture of flour and water fried in oil, and served with butter and jam.

Kami came from Torembi village and he’s buried there. His wife, Anna still lives there. Members of my old malaria control team often come to mind – William, Thomas. Henry, Abraham, John, to mention but a few. Gawa, Bopa, Potoman, Agri, and others I remember.

The local medical staff at the Angoram Hospital were a credit to the Department of Health, men like Tobias, a senior medical orderly, who gave years of medical service to the community.

I could go on mentioning many others, but I suppose there’s a limit to ramblings, but there’s no limit to my feelings about PNG.

As a “regretful old fool” I would like to end on a poetic note from Thomas Moore: “Oft, in the stilly night, Ere Slumber’s chain has bound me, Fond Memory brings the light Of other days around me.”

Was the centrecourt at Pindiu all that great?

Pindiu Tennis Court 1969 
“IN ORDER TO dispel any further debate over the Pindiu Lawn Tennis Club,” writes Paul Oates, “I attach this photo taken in 1969 just after Colin [Huggins] left.

“You can see the ‘court’ actually had fairly limited facilities,” asserts Paul, clearly looking for some action on the rhetorical front.

Which has, as you might expect, drawn a prompt response from said Pindiu tennis aficionado 'Pancho' Huggins.

“My dear Paul - It is obvious that the court surface has been maintained, however, the lawns from my donga to the court have been left in some disarray.

“What memories to see those delightful low clouds coming up the valley again.

“I hope that you were not starved with no planes being able to come in from Lae?”

Gatsby, Boroko & those sweet colonial times


LIFE FOR ME IN BOROKO started in March 1968 in a multiplex Single Officers Quarters in Gavamani Road.

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

A husky voice proclaimed through the louvered window, “Mi lukim iu, Misis”, with the consequent scream causing the voyeur to detach himself from security wire and drop to the ground.

“Bloody woman’s scream; caused me to bloody miss,” complained our disgruntled neighbour, who, bearing a squash racket, had been stalking the miscreant.

So, welcome to the tropics, and in some people’s opinion, paradise.

After using the universal household “emergency” kit provided by our employer for some time, our belongings arrived and, replete with purchases from the local Chinese trade stores and Beeps and Carpenters, we set up home.

Whereupon metal parts began to rust, books, linen and leather started to mildew, and grilli – unseen and unrecognised at first – began to grow on our skins. This latter infliction occurring despite multiple showers and changes of clothes each day.

Squatters were encamped in their tacky shacks just below us in the gully, and the antics from nocturnal raiding parties from diverse tribal groups proved to be somewhat entertaining.

In time, with some work seniority, a better address at Pruth Street evolved, with its view over Koki and the Basilisk Passage. 

While we missed the delicious harmony of groups walking home up Gavamani from the pubs, singing songs from their villages in exquisite tongues, it was pleasant not to have to wait, every night, for the second boot to drop from the foot of the inebriated kiap upstairs.

We became conditioned to the monsoon, mosquitoes, geckos, tree frogs in the washhouse, fruit bats, SP Green and waiting for the “ship to arrive” to purchase good meat and imported items like chocolate and toiletries, frequently in short supply.

It was sometimes piquant to have fruit stolen from your trees and sold back to you by astute entrepreneurs just a day before you had intended to harvest the crop yourself.

Then along came children, conceived in the heat of the night, both girls and ten months apart. No television, then.

And a move to family accommodation in Tanatana Street, followed by a full upgrade to a three-bedroom house in a compound off Waigani Drive at Six Mile.

These were the heady days of being a Territorian in a country with 850 tribal groups and a few thousand intrepid expats, the latter all seemingly of similar age and background, most on contract, assisting a budding nation to statehood. We worked hard and we played harder.

A typical week would be five eight-hour days in harness and lots of nights and weekends to miss our Australian homes and families.

The calendar looked something like this:

Monday night - Hash House Harriers running through the “shiggy pit” and lots of coldies afterwards at the “bucket”.

Tuesday night - Training at PNGVR* till 2200 hours and “blunting a few” till all hours of “grenade pin” pulling and “burials at sea” over the barracks railings into rose bushes and in starched Junipers.

Wednesday night - Quiet time at home after a trip to the library.

Thursday night - Maybe an Apex dinner meeting and the odd convivial refreshment amongst young men of good intent. On other Thursdays, a dining visit at home by the boss, where a few pre-dinner beers were followed by a couple of good wines and cards (illegal) over a whole bottle of rum.

Friday night - After work drinks at the Aero Club, Yacht Club, RSL or wherever. The children entertained by an open air movie whilst parents unwound from a week of toil and had a counter tea and more “greenies”.

Saturday night - A trip to the Drive-In to park at exactly the same spot each time (and with the same neighbours) to share a picnic tea (with drinks of course).

Sunday night - The roving barbecue circuit, where the party trick was to do a jug of claret, solo.

And some of us built boats, flew light aircraft, walked into the jungle to explore World War II wrecks, did the Track, helped people with disabilities at the Cheshire Homes, danced at social does, gumi raced the Laloki, and swam at the beach (on high tides).

We drove up to Sirinumu and the Rouna pub, visited coastal villages, holidayed in the Highlands, got bored with the sameness of the road circuit within the district and counted the days to the “going on leave party”. Then, as our contracts expired, the ultimate go-pinis do.

We came, we saw, we left and now we just hope it was not for nothing.

But, hang on! Haven’t I banged-on about all of this before? Maybe I should pen an article about the naming of a Motu child.

* Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles

Change for the better on this stretch of road


Road 1975 HERE ARE A COUPLE of photographs. They are taken roughly in the same spot on the Magi Highway.

The one with the old LandRover was taken in the early 1970’s, before independence.

The other one with the Landcruiser was taken last week.

The road (under the water) was what Australia left when it bailed out in 1975. Should have bailed out the road first!

The more recent photograph is of the road built by PNG.

Isn’t it terrible? The silly buggers have taken a perfectly good swamp and slapped bitumen all over it. No wonder the place is falling apart.

Magi Highway Today 

Is this the last Kevin Rudd Junior story?


AAP - KEVIN RUDD'S demise as Australian Prime Minister sent shockwaves across PNG today, especially in a remote village where a baby called Kevin Rudd Junior is lauded as a little prince.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Rudd visited the Eastern Highlands and new parents Esau and Lina Kitgi, from the isolated Degi village, named their newborn in his honour.

The family of two-year-old Kevin Rudd Junior was shocked by the news that his political namesake was no longer Australia's number one.

"We are very sorry to hear this; we are shocked," Esau Kitgi said, wishing Julia Gillard, Australia's first female Prime Minister, all the best. But he said there were no plans for a baby sister for Kevin Junior

"Kevin Rudd Junior's name will remain forever, we are not changing the name," he said. "The time Rudd was in government he brought white man and black man together.

"We support him because he brought PNG and Australia closer together. We hope the next PM does the same."

"This is too sad," said family friend Loven Forapi, who lobbied the Australian government to support numerous bilateral opportunities to leverage off the Kev Junior brand.

Kevin Rudd Junior was born in Goroka General Hospital on 7 March 2008, five minutes after PM Kevin Rudd visited.

The baby became PNG's favourite son, symbolic of rekindled relations between Australia and PNG after difficult times during the time of the Howard government.

On Rudd Junior's second birthday, the family told AAP that the toddler became a "climate change victim", just like Rudd Senior.

Late last year AAP also reported that Kevin Junior had reached a significant milestone in his life when he uttered the words "mum" and "dad", while continuing to struggle with his namesake's favourite phrase, "programmatic specificity".

Salamaua township was no dream: it did exist


Salamaua In the 1930s, there was a thriving social life among expatriates, mainly plantation owners, who travelled the territory in light aircraft.

A popular social venue was Salamaua. On some weekends the airstrip saw dozens of light aircraft land. Rows of aircraft would wait for owners to complete the weekend social whirl.

Men wore white trousers and shoes, sleeveless cardigans and boater hats. Women wore long white dresses.

It was an exclusive club at Salamaua. The riff-raff were kept away by the simple fact they did not have an aircraft. It was socially unacceptable to arrive by row boat.

The richer Lae expatriates had their own weekend houses at Salamaua in which they would hold dinner parties and play tennis or shuttlecock.

But World War II brought Salamaua’s heyday to an abrupt end. There is little sign of the Shangri-la beach that saw mining in the 1920s and the social whirl of the 1930s.

American archeologists located the settlements of the early pilgrim fathers by identifying changes in soil caused by house posts. The town of Salamaua is still there under the sand and grass.

I have seen a photo of Salamaua. It’s no dream. It was there.

Writing this report makes me nostalgic. When I lived at Igam Barracks, the expatriate social whirl was so important. Now it is nothing. Just a memory.

“We had joy. We had fun. We had seasons in the sun. But the wine and the song, like the seasons are all gone” [Terry Jacks, 1974]

Of kulau, crabs & the Cocos Islands

Paul Oates

When I first arrived on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, I remarked to my then wife about how, ever since leaving PNG, I had pined for fresh kulau. Fortunately there are lots of coconuts in the Cocos Islands, which were named after the native coconut palms.

The Clunies-Ross family, after bulldozing almost everything else into the sea, had planted as many coconuts trees as the place would bear. Two ironwood trees had survived and started seeding, encouraging us to try propagate them further. Then, when the Australian Government bought out Clunies-Ross, the coconut trees went feral. By 1990, the island's vegetation consisted mainly of fallen coconuts, sprouting coconuts, mature coconuts and real old trees that dropped about a dozen nuts every month.

You could estimate fairly accurately how old a tree was by its height. Each successive hurricane levelled some trees and their replacements could never catch up in height. There were survivors that went back to the 1903 hurricane that were probably the best part of a hundred feet tall.

Robber_Crab_lr One of the other things these are famous for are crabs in all sorts of colours and sizes. Land crabs, coconut crabs, hermit crabs, sand crabs, mud crabs. In 1838, Charles Darwin had called in. The coconut crabs were so plentiful that you had to watch where you put your feet or you could get a nasty nip. Their flesh was so oily that when the sailors cooked them, the oil would be scooped off the surface of the kettle and used as a lubricant.

We didn't know it at the time that all the coconut crabs on the main islands had been killed and eaten by the locals. What we thought were crabs eating the fallen coconuts turned out to be rats.

Anyhow, enough background. We were sitting down to lunch when the inevitable thump occurred in the yard. "Quick!" said my wife, “Go and get it before the crabs steal it."

So away I dashed in my fearless hunter/gatherer role and grabbed the freshly fallen nut, shooing away scores of blameless land crabs. Now the hard part. After half an hour and a gallon of sweat, I managed to get the husk off using an iron stake someone had left in the ground. Breaking open the nut, I proudly produced the meat but of course this wasn't a PNG kulau. This was a Cocos Islands nut.

The results of my labours, upon being tasted, produced a rather indifferent, ‘Well, it’s OK, but nothing to write home about’. I returned to work in a lather of sweat and pondering my wife’s lingering disbelief about the taste of fresh coconut.

Living the Pacific life, and singing its song

Most times I came back to Sydney on leave from PNG in the sixties I’d meet and talk with an old family friend, schoolteacher Frank Topham, who with his wife, Berta, had migrated to Australia with my family on the ramshackle SS Georgic in late 1949. Meeting Frank was as regular an event as strolling into the New Guinea Bar at Ushers to get a quick shot of reality from whatever wantoks were clustered there on the day.

Frank was a dedicated Pacificophile. Every time we met he’d pump me for information and description of life in PNG. He yearned for the islands – and it was always his intention to visit, if not to work, there. But he died too soon, only in his forties, without realising his dream. It strikes me only now that I should have taken him to the New Guinea Bar; but that might have destroyed it all.

Nonetheless, Frank lived the islands life vicariously through the pages of the Pacific Island Monthly and whatever he could lay his eyes on in the daily press. And, from time to time, he put his thoughts in writing. I just ran across an extract from his droll poem, ‘Give Me Back My Daydreams’, when I was rummaging through an old PIM for June 1967.

Lithe-hipped doe-eyed maidens
With flowers in their hair;
Sun-kissed palm-fringed beaches
Magnolia-scented air;
Endless days of languid pleasure
Love and laughter without measure,
All I’ve longed for since my birth!

But now I read of education,
Labour strife and arbitration,
Airstrips, cartels, market prices,
Social service, rise in vices
Mining beaches, exploitation,
Independence, legislation!

By the way Frank’s son, also Frank, sort of shares a profession with me. He’s the long-time government affairs and strategic communications manager with Caltex Australia. And he was delighted that I was able to pass on to him his father's thoughts and feelings from 40 years ago.