Nostalgia Feed

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.


Bananas without worms

This is an abridged version of Janine Paterson’s remarks to the ASOPA reunion dinner on Saturday night.

Barry_janine What are the most memorable years of your life? I represent the ASOPA Class of 1963-64, very poorly represented here tonight. This makes me think my Class might rather consider their years at ASOPA as being ones they would rather forget, not the most memorable.

However we feel now, each Class came to the School having accepted a ‘Career with a Challenge’. It was a decision to step out of the mould, change boundaries. Life in our comfort zone wasn’t enough. We wanted more – adventure, challenge. ASOPA meant a major turning point ves.

Indeed it might have been the first significant decision we made and that makes it memorable. We rejected a normal humdrum existence, left home and met up at ASOPA. Perhaps we wanted to ‘touch the real’. And, as Peter Plummer has said, we all took ‘the road less travelled’ not the broad highway like our most of our friends. And the first steps along that road were at ASOPA.

At ASOPA they taught us well. We learned about monogamous, polygamous, matrilineal and patrilineal. We realised the endless permutations and combinations of rules and traditions in societies. The numerous combinations of words, sounds and tones in languages that formed in all parts of the mouth. We took delight in making strange sounds. We learnt not to call our cat ‘Puss’ and if we did, never to call it at night.

At the end of two years we continued on the ‘road less travelled’ and went to PNG. Now, after many years, we are back in Australia, for tonight anyway. Have you rejoined the broad highway? Or are you back home but still out there on the ‘road less travelled’, ‘touching the real’ and taking up the challenges? We’re not in PNG any more, but for me, I have the next best thing. FNQ – same climate, same scenery. And bananas without worms.

[Photo: Janine and Barry Paterson]


Colin and the Presbyterian women’s union

My guess, in an earlier post about Ken McKinnon a few days ago, that Kwamalo Kalo was one of the unnamed people pictured at a 1968 senior education officers meeting, stirred up some memories for Colin Huggins.

I met Kwamalo at Dregerhafen. I can't remember whether at that stage he was on staff or was training as an inspector. However I recall inviting him to my humble home for refreshments and dinner in order to display my epicurean brilliance.

The cookbook I used was given to me as a 21st birthday present by staff members of the Girls’ School, Edith Hatt, Judy Peters and Joy Tremayne. The notation inside the book reads, ‘From you know whom and you know why’. I’ve never fathomed out why this was written - was it affection or sarcasm?

I had no idea how to cook and was often seen at meal times wandering the school perimeter in a state of hunger. They must have been sick of so generously sharing their food.

Pwmu_cookbook The book was ‘The Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union of Victoria Cookbook’, first published in 1904; my 1961 second edition indicates it was not a great seller. Naturally the book contains no recipes with any hint of alcohol. I still have it - much the worse for wear - but I always use the batter recipe when making fritters.

Kwamalo was a charming and unassuming person even if I did inadvertently try to poison him with my early culinary efforts.

[Photo: The PMWU Cookbook published its centenary edition (above) in 2004. It is now into its fifth edition, so Colin’s stained and worn old volume has become something of a collector’s item]


This was the beginning, such a good beginning

Rob Dehaan, on the yacht Arita, wrote the following – and more – for his erstwhile ASOPA classmates. ASOPA PEOPLE reproduces this small slice of Rob's wonderfully crafted prose. It really deserves to be shared.

Streetsign It was only yesterday I walked into the common room at ASOPA between lectures to see Haggis and his clan playing cards on that low coffee table as they always did, laughing and joking. During the lunch break I walked down the road past the Navy barracks to sit on the edge of the Hawkesbury sandstone cliffs overlooking the breakers, marvelling at the power of the ocean as the waves bombarded Middle Head.

It was only yesterday, my head still in the clouds and dreaming of the wild places I’d see in New Guinea. I’d always wanted to go to New Guinea, as my dux book prize at my high school graduation in Wollongong attests. You know that book, the one by Colin Simpson, Plumes and Arrows, full of feathered highlanders. Magic colour with none of the odour. I was wrapped before I attended even my first lecture in Anthropology.

It was only yesterday I’d jump in my car with the last lecture done and head to Balmoral and Walton’s boatshed and rent a Tupperware sailboat for a few hours. Go screaming to the Spit Bridge and back again just for the thrill of sailing, wind in my hair, salt water in my face. Yesterday I was probably as crazy as today, but life was just awesome. It still is. A little hard to believe forty years have slipped by. I guess I was too busy to notice.

I flew to PNG to be confronted at Moresby airport by a trillion look-alikes with fuzzy hair and temperatures straight out of the microwave. From there I went to paradise. To the patrol post on the Duke of York Islands. Travelling by speedboat in crystal clear water, over coral reefs, diving for fish, learning Pidgin, making a mess of it, night in local villages learning culture and customs, all the time being paid real money. Life is so fair.


Yokomo nominated for PNG award

Jackmetta Jack Metta is a columnist and feature writer with The National in Papua New Guinea.  More than that, he's one of the best English-language stylists writing in PNG today: acute in choice of subject; definitive in story execution; easy of prose. In his columns, Jack has recently covered a debate that has been raging in PNG about whether some  schoolday literary icons should be honoured with PNG's highest honour, the Order of Logohu. Front and centre in this debate are Yokomo and his dog Omokoy.

Now you may recall Yokomo as the fictitious hero of comic stories published in the PNG School Papers during the 1960s. I dropped a note to tell Jack that Yokomo was created by ex-Asopian [1957-58] Frank Hiob with John Lucas drawing the pictures. When transferred from my school in the bush to Konedobu in 1966 to edit the School Papers, I inherited Yokomo and, for a reason lost in obscurity, decided he needed a dog. So was created Omokoy. "I have often wondered where the origins of this duo lay," wrote Jack politely, "and now I know. There is practically nothing in the archives these days to follow up the past."

Yokomo_15 LITERARY ICONS DESERVE AWARDS

By Jack Metta

If Yokomo was to be awarded the highest Order of Logohu, would he be known through our history as Grand Chief Yokomo in honour of his contributions to the human resource development of PNG?

Perhaps, but then his trusty dog, Omokoy would be as equally qualified to be recognised as Grand Chief Omokoy, in honour of its canine antics which brought fun and joy to thousands of young Papua New Guineans.

By the same token, similar recognition would then have to accorded to such characters as Raka, Ranu, Malot, Tabu, Kinobo and the rest of the cast, who, during a phase of our life times, reigned supreme in the classrooms and our imaginations, and, continue to do so today.

That was the argument Iariva posed during a heated debate on how to acknowledge the contributions of these imaginary characters, who had figured prominently in shaping the personalities and the characters of hundreds of thousands of us today.

The fact that this column is writing about them; their names continue to ride our airwaves in school broadcasts; and, the language that we are now communicating in, English, attests to the reality that these imaginary figments of some expatriate officer in the educational system of the pre and post independence days, had never departed or erased from our memories.

[Source The National, Papua New Guinea]


Old Samarai

Valasi (Sparks) Hey was at ASOPA in 1960-61 and later married John Hey (1961-62) with whom I shared a memorable Christmas in Goroka in 1963. Valasi writes: I was fascinated by your descriptions of places on your trip around PNG. You mentioned Samarai and how things were falling to pieces. My rellies lived in the islands from 1912. The following is a description from my mum’s memoirs of Samarai in May 1932.

Samaraiisland "Two days later we approached Samarai having passed through Buna Passage -very rarely attempted by ships and only at high tide. As we approached a rain squall developed and all the people waiting on the wharf disappeared under large black umbrellas. The monthly arrival of the steamer brought all the island's inhabitants down to the wharf. My sister-in-law and her husband Norman Izod, an engineer, were there. Behind them were the houseboys who seized our luggage and followed us up the hill to their home.

“Samarai was very tiny - one could walk around it in 20 minutes, but it rose up into a hill like formation and the houses were spaced round the two hills. There was one wharf for the steamers and two very long narrow wharves stretching out into the ocean, with a small building at the end. The constant stream of natives along this roused my curiosity until Norman told me they were the natives sibodias or 'small houses’.

“There were no vehicles just a pleasant wide path of coral going around the island from which went the paths to various houses. There was a hotel, a bakery, Norman Izod's engineering workshop, the Burns Philp and Steamships Trading Company's stores, a church and a hospital on one of the hills. The hospital was old and antiquated and the floors riddled with white ants.

“My sister-in-law’s garden was a wonderful setting of terraces and she had two garden boys working all the time. She also had a half-caste housegirl called Silitoi who kept the whole place spotless. They had a beautiful home and successful business. My brothers were the first white twins born on Samarai at the end of 1932 - they were premature, not expected to survive, but did.”


THE MIGHTY KIAP

“The Cadet (Patrol Officer) - who is usually aged between eighteen and 25 when he enters ASOPA for a grounding in such subjects as Colonial Administration, Law, Anthropology - gets experience soon enough. And if he goes into the field with a bright-eyed idealism, it is a good gleam for him to carry. Authority can so easily turn into arrogance - and even the Cadet is at once in a position of considerable authority over natives.

“The School also represents Australian realization that well-administered and well-assisted colonial peoples do not revolt and side with the governing nation in war… The School of Pacific Administration added modern training to a pre-war tradition. About this tradition there is nothing pukkah or military or old-school-tie. It was Made-In-New Guinea, and with it goes a spirit of belonging to something that belongs to New Guinea; and that means going through with a job when there would be reason enough to give up or turn back by ordinary standards - but not by New Guinea standards, of what men can do, or forbear to do, if they have enough of staunch wisdom and courage. It is a tremendously respectable thing in the eyes of the native people, this tradition. So it should be in Australian eyes and, indeed, in the eyes of a world which will have difficulty in pointing to anything quite like it anywhere else.”

[Source: ‘Recollections Of A Patrol Officer’, the story of Lloyd Hurrell, one of a fascinating array of Pacific anecdotes on Jane Resture's Oceania Page]


THE WAY WE WERE

Malagunabadgegr Richard Clark of the 7th E Course (1964) has written a fascinating account of his teaching career in Papua New Guinea, which you can find on the E Course website here. A couple of quotes that especially caught my eye:

“My first posting was Hood Lagoon Primary located about 150 km south-east of Port Moresby. The only access was by sea or a 5 km walk along the coast at low tide. The initial trip to Hood Lagoon was on the coastal vessel, MV Kobo. We left Port Moresby early on the Tuesday morning with a cargo of essentials including a load of teachers destined for various schools along the coast…

“…During the first year at Hood Lagoon I had to come to terms with the isolation in terms of regular food supplies, mail and the like. Thanks to Steamships Trading Company, we were able to receive weekly freezer supplies of meat, bread and vegetables. The coastal vessels had a huge esky packed with blocks of ice. The meat was frozen in Port Moresby, packed and sewn in hessian bags. Even if the vessel was a day late, the meat was still frozen... Beer was included in the weekly order. At first it was one carton a week but it soon went to two cartons…”

“My next posting was Daumagini Primary, located inland and about an hour’s drive from Port Moresby. The head teacher was Allan Jones, an ASOPA graduate and a crow-eater to boot! Allan was (and still is) a dedicated soul. He would spend countless hours at his work. He was a strict disciplinarian and had the school working like clockwork. He would never take no for an answer and instilled a great pride within the school. I learned a lot from Allan and implemented some of his ideas in later years as both a teacher and head teacher.”

Richard’s evocative piece is a thoroughly good read for people who went through similar experiences at PNG’s bush schools in the sixties and seventies and for anyone who may have wondered what those experienecs were really like. I commend it to you.


THE GREEN EAGLE FLIES

Gagl My teaching career lasted three years and it was only in the third that I got out of town and into the bush at Gagl, a Primary T School 15 km west of Kundiawa [see photo]. It was 1966 and it was the first time Gagl had seen a Standard 6 come through. Imbo Mundua, at 23, was the oldest student in the class. I was 21.

Ray Anderson, the senior educator in the Chimbu at the time, decided there should be a district-wide school athletics carnival. There hadn’t been anything like it previously that brought all the primary schools together. 

Assembling the 160 Gagl students before me one crisp sunny morning, with the mist carpeting the valley below, I explained what an athletics carnival was, how Gagl would compete against other schools and how we’d have our own contest first so we could choose a team. 

Then, deciding we needed a uniform, I found a source of cheap yellow tee shirts and a bolt of dark green laplap, adequate to the task of tailoring the logo of a soaring eagle, for which I provided a rudimentary template. And so was born the Gagl Eagles! Amateur seamstresses recruited from adjacent villages manufactured 30 sports uniforms. Ahead of the big day, we hired a truck to pick us up at Mingende Mission, the nearest point on the Highlands Highway, a 5 km walk. 

The athletes assembled in the Gagl playground on the morning of the carnival, surrounded by scores of chattering and cooing villagers. For the first time I saw the whole team in uniform. Not every eagle soared. Not every eagle was even recognisably avian. But the squad looked to me like the most thoroughgoing professional outfit ever gathered in those parts. 

Meg By the way, the carnival was an outstanding success. The Gagl kids, many of whom had never been to town before, were effervescing with excitement. Little Meg [see photo] convincingly put Gagl in front as she ran the final leg of the girls 4 x 100 metres relay. And big Imbo Mundua slew all before him in the boys’ long jump.

[David Keating [ASOPA 1961-62] is seeking your school sports reminscences from Papua New Guinea. Email him here with your contribution.]


ON NEVER GOING BACK

If you haven’t yet visited Albert Mispel’s website, you’re missing out on a treat. Here's an extract to whet your appetite.....

In the more remote posting I had in the Gulf, the previous teacher had shot himself in the toilet. The teacher who took my place at the same school was a pious Christian who spurned the demon drink. For that reason (and maybe others) the Patrol Officers and Diddymen avoided his place. He tried to attract them by getting in some beer. They still didn't visit him. I was told that it got too much and he drank himself into a such state that he had to be carried out with alcoholic poisoning.

The highlands had plenty of stories and were far more attractive than the Gulf. In the end I did get more European company. In fact I had 2 Europeans on my staff at my last school, Kapakamarigi in the Eastern Highlands. I finally went on long leave (6 months) and never went back.

I did not accumulate many European friends there because I didn't meet many. I keep in touch with only a few people such as Dan Mannix and Kevin Lock, whom I knew in the Gulf. I do not follow the fortunes or misfortunes of the country in any depth and am not sure who the Prime Minister is.

However, the 1st few years in the Gulf are stamped in my soul as the most formative years of my life. Most of my present attitudes towards people, art and the world start there.

I spent all my New Guinea superannuation on a full time computer course and have followed that path ever since.


GOUGH WHITLAM IS 90

OK. I think he’s a great Australian. One of the greatest in fact. And I was at Gough Whitlam’s 90th birthday today. Great day. Great man. Not that everyone thinks that.

Whitlam But Gough and PNG go back a long way. So let me share some of his thoughts. If you want to read more, go to this website.

….. “My first visit (to PNG) was on my way back to the Philippines, where I was navigator of the only Empire aircraft attached to MacArthur’s headquarters. I frequently saw the pioneer Mick Leahy, who was working for the American forces. I did not always share Mick’s views but I learned much from him.”

….. “In April 1965 my wife and I attended a seminar in Goroka. Nugget Coombs supported the assumption of some responsibility for the allocation of budget funds by elected members of the House of Assembly. I declared, ‘The rest of the world will think it anomalous if PNG is not independent by 1970.’ CE Barnes, Minister for Territories, opposed my view. John Guise, the leader of the elected members of the House of Assembly, did not publicly support me but privately conceded that he shared my opinion.”

….. “In July 1970 Prime Minister John Gorton made an extensive tour of PNG. He was greeted in Rabaul by an audience of 10 000 who were as hostile as our 11 000 (on an earlier visit) had been enthusiastic. Tom Ellis, head of the Department of the Administrator, gave Gorton a handgun. In a panic, on Sunday 19 July, Gorton called a cabinet meeting, which, without a written submission, agreed on the precautionary step of calling out the Pacific Islands Regiment. Tension between Gorton and Malcolm Fraser, the Minister for Defence, over this proposal was a factor in the resignation of Fraser in March 1971 and the replacement of Gorton by McMahon two days later.”

….. “When PNG achieved independence our security agencies asked me if we should leave our bugging equipment in place as the British had done in Africa. I told them that we should not. The equipment, however, was still in place when the Hawke Government took office.”

…..“I still hear it asserted that my government was in error in pushing PNG into independence too soon. It is exactly the argument used 150 years ago against self-government for the settlement colonies of the British Empire. I simply assert that, had we delayed PNG independence, even for another year, we would have put the country in the gravest danger of breaking up.”

….. “The other thing that impressed me about Hasluck when I became a member at the end of 1952 was that young men in my local RSL Club – it used to be quite a respectable organisation and I used to attend it - who wanted to go on the land in Papua. I went to see Hasluck, who was very approachable in these things. He said ‘No, I see what has happened in Africa – Rhodesia and so on. I do not favour soldier settlement in our colony or our trust territory.’ He was quite unequivocal.”

“Ceb Barnes was a real gentleman, an honourable man. I pestered him with incessant questions, which he always answered candidly. The trouble was that the Country Party wanted the Territories portfolio because it did not want those tropical areas to grow anything that was not already being grown in Australia. Ceb was a prisoner of that.”

     "The real change came when Billy McMahon was Prime Minister. In February 1972 he appointed Andrew Peacock. Peacock’s people skills are very great. He is more than a show pony; he has gifts in diplomacy and of course he ingratiated himself with all the emerging people in PNG and he got on very well with them."

     "We had a lot of way to make up and we were far too slow in doing these things. There are people like Gunther and Les Johnson to whom I give very great credit for picking up the opportunity to use the teacher training colleges and then the universities to train the future governors, future leaders of PNG."

[Source: EG Whitlam, The Decolonisation of Papua New Guinea, Hindsight: a workshop for participants in the decolonisation of Papua New Guinea, Australian National University, November 2002]


PAPUAN DIDIMAN 1960s

Albert Mispel whose own account of his time in Papua New Guinea can be found here has told me of another excellent Internet offering authored by John O'Rorke [ASOPA 1959], focusing on life in the Gulf of Papua in the early 1960s. John tells some great stories and has put up some terrific pictures of that time. Here's an extract to whet your appetite.....

The recent opening of the New Guinea Highlands and the first contact with primitive people was front-page news and I knew that a number of Dookie Diplomates had gone there after graduation to work for the Department of Agriculture. Added to this, a good friend had recently been killed piloting a plane in the highlands. New Guinea was remote but it was in the news. There was a bit of romanticism, a need for adventure, plus the growing awareness that I had to find and assert myself as a person.

Without telling Dad or anyone, I discussed my thoughts with a friend of the family, Senator Harry Wade. He got me an interview for the position of Assistant Agricultural Officer with the Department of Agriculture, Stock & Fisheries under the Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Phew! What a mouthful, but it sure sounded exciting and adventurous! I was accepted, and told to present myself at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA), at Mosman, Sydney, in early June of 1959.


THE SOUND OF SUNDAY

As usual this morning, I'm out walking. A sunny Sydney Autumn Sunday with a fresh breeze encouraging me to keep the pace up. Then I hear a familiar sound. The low rich roar of the twin Pratt & Whitney piston engines of a DC3. A resonance that instantly transports me to that little school at Gagl nestling in the shadow of Mount Wilhelm where, 40 years ago, late each Sunday afternoon, a weekend of isolation nearly over and a week of teaching ahead, I sit in the garden in my 'chair, lounge, aluminium, webbing, one', brown SP in hand, gazing across the Wahgi Valley to the misty Kubor range beyond. And, around 4.30, I hear the low roar and catch sight of the silver DC3 making its way from Goroka to Mount Hagen, representing the promise of town life and all-night parties and leave down south. Always an evocative sound, always an engaging sight. And this morning, as the DC3 passes overhead, sun glistening off its propellers, I'm 40 years younger and back at Gagl.