The expatriate legacy; part of the history of PNG

November 19, 2007 at 11:33 am (Uncategorized) ()

 “Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk” is a novel about characters formed by the time and place they lived in. BAEAU TAI writes.

“Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk” is a novel written by Australian writer David Wall about PNG in the 60s and 70s.
The novel was launched on Sunday 11 March 2007 at 152 Wilson St Newtown in Sydney by John Bowers, retired British Army Officer and ex PNG Patrol Officer, Police Officer and Judge’s Associate.
David Wall, a modest thoughtful and perceptive narrator, draws upon his Papua New Guinea experiences spanning some 18 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.
David’s good friend, Peter Johnson, an Englishman, who has lived in Papua New Guinea for over 47 years as a trader and agent, and who still lives in Angoram reviews the novel in his own words.
“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.”
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 greatly enjoy this book, 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,” Peter said.

About the author
David Andrew Wall was born on 29 February 1936 and came to Papua as a plantation assistant. He later worked in New Guinea as a Lands Officer and as a Malaria Control Officer with the Department of Public Health in Maprik and Angoram.
He left after Self Government, gained a degree in Sydney and worked as librarian at a prominent Sydney school until his recent retirement.
David still thinks of his wonderful time in PNG. “The most memorable time for me were the years in the then East Sepik District and particularly the time in Angoram on the Sepik River. I made many friends among the expatriates and the New Guineans. I think looking back, wara Sepik na blut bilong mi tanim wantaim”.
In 1972 he married and Deborah, his wife, worked for a short period in 1973 as Press Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition (with Matthias ToLiman and then with Tei Abal).
They left PNG shortly before self-government in 1974. They both became teachers in New South Wales.
They are now retired from teaching and Deborah is involved in many projects with the Aboriginal and Filipino communities around Sydney.
Their two children, Andrei and David Augustus are grown up. Andrei works as a teacher in Kuwait and David Augustus as a graphic designer in Sydney.
After leaving PNG, David thought for many years he had forgotten about the place. He did make a brief visit back to the Sepik in the late 1970s but in more recent years, memories have been constantly flooding back. “The many characters among the expatriates and many outstanding people of PNG from the past increasingly jolted my memory and I returned to the East Sepik for a visit last year.
“The returning consciousness I had of PNG and its people motivated me to start writing a novel last year. This experience is perhaps encapsulated in the next paragraph.
In some ways the writing of the novel was a journey down memory lane. A nostalgia for the past and a wish to create a fictional story based on recollections. In the twilight of one’s life, sometimes the past takes on new dimensions and appreciations and the years I spent in PNG have left me with an emotional commitment to the country and its people.”



The National, Friday, March 16, 2007




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