November 19, 2007 at 6:23 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk   by David Wall  Paperback: 184 pages  Publisher: Swirl (January 23, 2007)Order from David Wall, 152 Wilson St., Newtown 2042 NSW Phone: (02) 95505053 Email Price $30.00 includes postage in Australia and PNG 


 If it’s Harrison Ford, blasting volcanoes or cannibals and crocodiles red in tooth and claw you are seeking, then don’t bother to read this quite excellent novel of the real life in out-station Papua New Guinea during the 1960s and 70s, as “colonials” came face to face with Self-Government and then, Independence.

David Wall, a modest thoughtful and perceptive narrator, draws upon his Papua New Guinea experiences spanning some eighteen years spent largely as a Health Officer in rural areas, to weave a tale based upon real and imaginary persons and situations and scattered with quaint but apt philosophical views and quotations.

In David Wall’s first novel we meet his enigmatic chief character, James Ward. James is an intelligent, questioning and perhaps fearful Roman Catholic, uncertain as to whether he seeks Lassiter’s Reef or the Holy Grail. His orthodox upbringing ill prepares him for his collision with the “freewheeling”, perhaps promiscuous life style of Angoram, the  factual Sepik River outpost which is the main setting for Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk.

James Ward’s would be lover, Laura Sheppard perceptively understands his psyche. When discussing their relationship, she says “It doesn’t do anyone’s self-esteem any good to be viewed as an occasion of sin and I wouldn’t want you discussing our sex life with some creepy old priest.” 

At Angoram and along the Sepik River, we are introduced to the residents: priests, patrol officers, traders and others whose occupations are less clearly defined — “a visiting sociologist from the USA described the Angoram expats as being sustained by some private dream of riches without labour.   This was perhaps apposite for some, but for others even the dream had gone.” This cast of eclectic characters is skillfully portrayed and was undoubtedly drawn from the author’s wealth of experience and shows his keen sense of observation and personality insight.

Around 1972, I met Keith and Jean McCarthy in Brian Bell’s Boroko store and it seemed that they were buying half the white-goods on offer. I asked Keith, “Surely you are not thinking of leaving?”  “Well,” he said, “it’s like this. We almost don’t know anyone anymore, so yes, we are going South shortly.” This was the dilemma faced by all long- term residents of “The Territory” and the dilemma faced by James Ward and his fellow expatriates in Angoram. Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk follows them through their difficulties and agonized decision making — to leave, or to stay! 

White Papua New Guinea residents will understand, appreciate and enjoy this book greatly, Australians devoid of the “PNG Experience” will perhaps be less convinced of its veracity but will be amazed if convinced that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Anyway, they will also enjoy it. Papua Niugini nationals may have even more difficulty, but for the older literate citizens, it may help to provide some explanation for the odd behavior of the expatriates they observed in their youth; some may even nostalgically wish to turn back the clock! 

David Wall, like Somerset Maugham was a medical professional; Mr Wall is not yet an author of W. Somerset Maugham’s standing…but with his raw talent and wealth of material, one day he just might be! 


  ·        Reviewed by Peter Johnson,  Wewak, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea                                                           


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