In the course of our lives we all meet a number of people – some readily forgettable and others we might just remember. But there are a select few we can never forget. In this category I would put Norm Liddle!
Norm was that type of Australian, particularly a Queenslander, who I’m afraid to say are now pretty thin on the ground – a man with a wide and varied experience of life and readily adaptable to whatever circumstances he found himself in – whether it was the Australian outback, cutting timber, fixing machinery, serving in the RAAF and the AIF, and living along the Sepik River and the Highlands of PNG; he took it all in his stride. Truly a character!
I first met Norm in 1966 in Angoram. At this time he was living in what was known as the Ex-Service Camp in the far extremities of the town boundaries on the banks of the river. It was there that he had the beginnings of a saw mill.
He arrived in Angoram in 1963. His first interest was to ascertain the timber potential in areas near the Keram River. His junior partner in business at the time was Jeff Liversidge – a man who is still living in Wewak, and is well-known as a sculptor.
A friend of mine once described Norm: ‘as an accomplished musician, skilled taxidermist, reptile hunter, ex-serviceman in both the army and the air force, and pioneer forestry surveyor.’
I well remember Norm in the Angoram Club giving us a rendition on his accordion of Rolf Harris’s The Court of King Caractacus. I must also admit, that on some rare occasions the members hoped that Norm would be like the ladies of the harem of the Court of King Caractacus and just pass by! But seriously we all enjoyed his playing.
Norm was a man that could and would speak with authority on most subjects. In many ways he had an encyclopaedic mind – his facts were not always correct, but in discussions he had few equals. On one occasion he engaged a Spanish speaker in the correct pronunciation of the word, President – Norm insisted that it was El Presidento, the Spanish speaker said it was, El Presidente – I’m afraid the Spanish speaker was correct!
Norm fitted in with the prevailing atmosphere, and the life of Angoram. Some who were less than friendly towards him may have described him as bone lazy. But all credit to Norm, he did survive, even if at times he may have appeared to be only subsisting!
He would make himself available to the odd tourist around the town, and this brought in the odd dollar. One young American woman whom Norm had helped with arranging transport and hiring canoes, showed her gratitude by sending him a packet of marijuana seeds from the States. This was at a time when New Guinea was blissfully ignorant about the drug. Norm planted the seeds near his setup on the river bank and they grew like wildfire. Some said that for a year or so Norm kept himself pretty well stoned! I was told that he was careful not to let the locals know anything about the plant and what it was doing for him.
Norm was a great advocate for a number of local people in the courts, and was instrumental in getting many off after representing and giving legal advice to them – indeed a man of many parts!
His interesting and varied life came to an end in Kainantu in 1986. It was there that, I believe, he thought he was onto a sure thing having found a gold mine that he figured would yield great returns.
Sometime prior to this his personal life took a very happy turn for the better. He met Monika, a woman from Kambaramba, and they became partners. Monika subsequently gave birth to Vivian, their daughter. Norm by all reports was so proud of Vivian.
What else can I say about Norm, he was a character, but a very likeable one, a human man with more virtues than vices!