Nostalgia Feed

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.

Continue reading "A meditation on ageing & fading Australia-PNG links" »

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.

Continue reading "You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone" »

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.

Continue reading "Reflections on growing old: Those were the days my friend" »

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.

Continue reading "Reflections on a great man & some of Moresby’s very best days" »

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.

Continue reading "Saksak mix: my lovely moms & the men they married" »

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.

Continue reading "The night the lights went out" »

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.”

Continue reading "The rare commodity that is grassroots knowledge" »

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.

Continue reading "Something in the blood – the enduring magic of PNG" »

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.

Continue reading "After 25 years, an emotional return to Bougainville & Panguna" »

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.

Continue reading "White man dreaming – the romance of the South Seas" »

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.

Continue reading "Never go back" »

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.

Continue reading "Ephemeral gift: The wonder of a place with no human footprints" »

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.

Continue reading "The allure of those trusty old Papuan work boats" »

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.

Continue reading "The distinctive dress code of those old colonial days" »

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.

Continue reading "Forget your McMansions – my AR10 was heaven on earth" »

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.

Continue reading "Narapela kain man na meri – the pre-independence expatriates" »

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.

Continue reading "Forget the politics; give me the pastoral" »

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.

Continue reading "I sought the summit & arrived; now I think of the leopard" »

“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.

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."


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 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]


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.


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.]


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.


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]


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.


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.