Port Moresby: the worst city

January 29, 2008 at 5:54 am (Uncategorized) ()

In 2004 Port Moresby was classified by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) as the worst city in the world to live in.

Unfortunately today the EIU again places Port Moresby last, sharing this position with Algiers. I wonder if this indicates that there has been no inprovement in the levels of poverty, crime, and health care in the city since 2004. 

Why is Port Moresby consistently considered so bad? Why does a nation with some of the finest people on earth produce a capital like this? It is certainly true that we should not judge a country by its capital.

In a week or so I shall be visiting PNG but only stopping over briefly in Moresby, before preceeding to the Sepik, so I probably won’t get a chance to  know what the city is really like.

I can’t help remembering my first visit to Moresby in 1955 when one was able to walk around the town in perfect safety at all hours, but then again, I do recall the curfew imposed on the local people and I realize that everything perhaps was not so rosy for everyone.

Mi man bilong wara Sepik tasol. Mi no save pasin bilong Port Moresby.

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Sydney: 26th January 2008

January 26, 2008 at 11:28 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Invasion Day, Australia Day or whatever day; all I can say is what is wrong with Waltzing Matilda? It should be our National Anthem; not that dirge that we have.

Poor old Paddy McGuinness died today. I notice that he was reported to have attended St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, which is true, but he finished his last two years of schooling at Sydney Boys’ High.

 Now that Paddy has gone this means that Phillip Adams is the sole man in black left in the Australian media.

Someone said to me the other day that Paddy had not always been an arch-conservative in his views. This must have been in the days when he was Bill Hayden’s economic adviser, whatever,  the print media is the less with the passing of Paddy.

Some thoughts on our National Day!

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Sandra, a memorable person from the old Angoram days

January 19, 2008 at 4:41 am (Angoram, Commentary, expatriates) ()

Going through some old photos I came across of one of Sandra King taken in the Angoram Club in the late sixties. Oh, what memories floated back, and I asked myself: “Where are you now, Sandra?” 

Sandra and her husband, Geoff arrived as teachers at the local primary school and as far as I know carried out their duties well but they both moved on from teaching to managing the Angoram Hotel. As host and hostess, manager and manageress, they were a team without equal.


A highlight of a visit in those days was to come to Angoram and drink a brandy with Sandy. This was hospitality at its best. Sandra often said that she only allowed her friends to call her Sandy. I was one of the few to be extended this privilege on some rare but memorable occasions.


You were there for me, Sandra when I was thrown out of the Assistant District Commissioner’s house during a party in a state of extreme drunkenness and you drove me home.


You were there with Bert Counsel and me, drinking Brandies Alexander in a boutique bar in Moresby dressed in the height of fashion and you were the life of the party.


You were a feminine spark in an old colonial town and as Suckling wrote many years ago:

                             She [was] pretty to walk with,And witty to talk with, And pleasant, too, to think on. 

Sandra, if you should read this, get in touch.

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Friday’s daydreams

January 11, 2008 at 5:01 am (Uncategorized) ()

All, I’m sure, feel sad at the passing of the great Sir Edmund Hillary and if there is an afterlife, we can imagine him being welcomed by Tenzing Norgay and George Mallory. His first words to Mallory were perhaps: “George did you get to the top?”

I would love to know what Mallory said in reply. I suspect it would have gone along these lines: “Yes, Ed, but unlike you I didn’t get back.”

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald I noticed an obituary to a remarkable scholar, John Strugnell. Perhaps a little late as he died on the 30th of November last year.

He “read, wrote and spoke nine languages.” I’ll leave it to the reader to follow up on his achievements and failures, but his death accentuated, in my mind, the quality of a passing generation of intellectuals, steeped in languages both ancient and modern with degrees in Greats. In old terminology, they were described as ‘educated men’. There were some women too.

 It’s years since the great universities required matriculation in Greek and Latin for entry and we now see a proliferation of PhDs who have many fine qualities but would we describe them as educated? I wonder!

Within the designation of educated men, I recall two of my past bosses in the PNG Health Department: Dr Jan Saave and Dr Shelley Durham.

The above ideas are going through my mind while I worry about what is going on in the building site next door. Questions like: How much longer will this noise go on? Is the builder following Council regulations?

This only goes to prove that we can’t entirely intellectualize life and I’m sure that while John Strugnell in the past was reflecting on the uses of the Greek particle, he also faced the problem of whether he should have another drink or not.

And so ends the lesson on this 11th day of January 2008.

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Sex Rears Its Ugly Head

January 9, 2008 at 4:04 am (Short Story) ()

Peter Davies was seventy years old when he developed an overwhelming desire to visit a house of ill repute. This sudden surge of virility came like a shot out of the night and his desire to be serviced by the ladies of the night took on erotic dimensions with a compulsion that was hard to control. Dreams of French knickers in black chiffon and suspenders with females ready to provide a sensuous and tantalizing service filled his waking and sleeping hours. His occasional viewing of phonographic sites on the Internet only added fuel to the fire.

One of the troubles of old age is continuing sexual desire when the old themselves are no longer sexually desirable. Somerset Maugham considered this “one of the misfortunes of human beings”. He further supposed that “it is not improper that they should gratify [these desires] but… they would do better not to talk about it.” Poor Davies, alas, was landed with the difficult and unfortunate mix of human nature and a Catholic conscience which would in time induce talk to others or to a priest in confession.

The physiological and psychological causes for his sudden increase of libido were perhaps related to a rigorous exercise program, he had undertaken, and a treatment for a benign prostatic condition, that he suffered from. The formula of natural herbs, he was on, was said “to support normal male physiology and sexual function.” Anyhow, with this toxic mix it took all of poor Davies’s will power to keep his hand away from his manhood.

The big question for Davies was, was he to take the bull by the horns, as it were, and plunge himself into the commercial delights of a high class bordello?

It has been said that in most stories of the human condition sex rears its ugly head but, of course, its attractiveness is the very honey pot that moralists would say was set to trap the unwary. Is the Song of Solomon a trap? Or the seductive words: “I am black but comely”?

The speculative rights or wrongs of Davies visiting a house of pleasure had a strong objective reality but subjectively he was still felt unfulfilled physiologically and this is the problem he had to cope with.

Davies decided that action had to be taken. He made a phone call to the House of Liaison, a rather unusually named bordello, near where he lived. The phone was answered by a friendly woman anxious to be as helpful as possible: “Hello, this is Gloria, can I help you?” Davies answered: “Yes, I’m wondering when Almira would be available.” He had read about Almira on a computer advertisement for the establishment. She was described as “a woman talented in many fantasies; that she would love to share with you.” Her other attributes were that she came from the West Indies and had coffee-coloured skin with a gorgeous figure and a sensuous manner. This alluring mix was almost too much for Davies. He always had a fascination with black women which probably sprang from the years he had spent in Papua New Guinea. Gloria informed Davies that Almira was available from 7pm to 12 midnight on Mondays to Fridays. She then asked Davies where he had heard of Almira and he said: “A friend spoke very highly of her.” Gloria said: “She’s great!” Davies then made a tentative appointment to meet Almira on Wednesday of the following week.

As the reader, what is your bet that Davies would go ahead and keep the tentative appointment with Almira? At best there was only a fifty-fifty chance of this happening. A lot could happen in a week: The surge of libido could end without fulfillment. His Catholic conscience could get the better of him. The payment of $300 for Almira’s services could become a problem.

The Biblical passage from Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. For Davies the juxtaposition of this quote was, the flesh was strong – or he imagined it was – and the spirit was faltering.

Well to make a long story short, both in the figurative and literal bodily sense, Davies didn’t visit Almira, but did visit the confessional; revealing to the priest his inner most thoughts and desires.

Following the usual formula: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s a year since my last confession and I accuse myself of the following sins.” In the post-Vatican II confessional some of the old methodology of the ritual was retained but the rite had increasingly taken on an informal conversational mode. The penitent no longer knelt before the priest behind a screen but sat on a chair and, as it were, carried on a conversation with him.

From Davies’s point of view this had its good and bad points. He felt that the informality of the contact made it harder to reveal one’s inner most secrets but, he guessed, it was a better atmosphere to engender the giving and receiving of spiritual and psychological advice. However, for him, the process of a person confessing and been shriven of sin was as much magical as sacramental. The words of absolution uttered by the priest articulated mystical powers of forgiveness.

The sins associated with lust, and his craving for sexual pleasure, were duly confessed, together, with doubts he had about the Catholic faith. The priest said nothing about his carnal sins and he told Davies that all thinking people have doubts. He gave him absolution and, for his penance, he told him to tell the next person coming in that he would pray for them.

Leaving confession, he felt that a burden had been lifted from him. Maybe, he was on the straight and narrow again and sexual desire was firmly back in its box, or he hoped it was.

Davies liked to think that the happenings in this narrative were a one-off episode in his life. It has not been mentioned before but Davies’s wife of some twenty-five years had died ten years previously. The memory of her, he hoped, should keep him pure in the Catholic sense.

But deep down there was in Davies a craving for a woman.

Contrary to his traditional Catholic beliefs Davies retained a vague belief in reincarnation and he said to himself once: “If it’s true, I want to come back as Hugh Hefner.”

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Kitahi: Cargo Cultist to Father of the House of Assembly

January 6, 2008 at 6:18 am (Fiction) ()

Jock was unsure what to expect, as the only report of trouble had come from Fr Shultz’s brief message. He knew of the existence of a cargo cult, but until now this had not concerned him much. If anything, he thought it encouraged development as its leader, Kitahi, had got the villagers to plant extensive gardens.

 Fr Shultz’s note had said only that there had been trouble with Kitahi, and Bongos village was very unsettled. 

 “Mr MacGregor, for the last few months I’ve been very worried about the general situation in the village. A number of my regular Mass-goers have not been turning up for services in the church. The practice of confession has completely fallen away, and Kitahi has been holding large village meetings where mission workers have been religiously, please excuse the pun, kept away.” 

  “The other evening at about 6:30 pm I was returning to my house, after talking to a group of catechists. When I got inside the front door, there was Kitahi and he came at me with a bush knife. His first swing got me on my arm. At first I was taken completely by surprise. He gave me a substantial cut on my arm and blood was flowing. However, I quickly regained my composure and I realised that this was a life and death struggle. Kitahi was intent on killing me.” 

 Kitahi was a tall man for a Melanesian, standing about 5 feet 10 inches and built like an ox. He was also a good 15 years younger than Karl, though he did not have Karl’s expertise in unarmed combat, learned in his German Army days. Kitahi’s line of attack mainly consisted of him swinging and thrusting the bush knife at Karl, and expending a lot of energy yelling. Karl demonstrated some brilliant maneuvering, and eventually closed with Kitahi, disarming him by putting him flat on his face with his arm twisted behind his back.  Karl then called for assistance from the group of catechists who were just outside his house, having come in response to all the noise emanating from the Father’s house. Together they took Kitahi, after binding his hands, to a nearby shed, where he had been kept under guard. Since the fight, he had been remarkably docile, and had given no trouble. Karl had been able to talk to him and find out more about what had been going on. 

 In the morning, the village leaders came to see MacGregor. MacGregor had already decided that his activities would be confined to an investigation, as the nature of Kitahi’s offences went beyond his jurisdiction. He intended to send him under guard to the Sub-District Office at Maprik, where the Assistant District Commissioner could decide if he had the jurisdiction to hear the case, or if he would refer it on to District level, where it could be heard by a visiting judge.

The following account, which Jock pieced together in investigating the witnesses, formed the basis of his report to the Assistant District Commissioner.  The Catholic Mission Station had been in Bongos for twelve years. Whatever Fr Shultz thought, in Jock’s opinion it had had very little influence on the people. Kitahi, in the early days of the mission, had been quite enthusiastic and was baptised a Catholic. Jock thought that he had never been much more than a ‘rice Christian’. His view was confirmed when Kitahi talked about the teachings of the mission as the rot bilong kago (the way to get goods). A number of years previously, Kitahi had become increasingly disillusioned with Catholicism, as the cargo did not seem to be coming, in spite of the fact that the teachings of the church said that all men were equal.  This, he felt, was rubbish as the whites obviously had so much more than everyone else. He did not reject the teaching as such, for he believed that Jesus wanted all men to be equal. So he could only conclude that Jesus’s intentions to distribute all goods equally were being thwarted by someone or something.

With this in mind, Kitahi decided to try the Protestant Mission.   The nearest Protestant Mission was not far away. He was given an enthusiastic welcome by Miss Helga Schwartz, a forceful German woman in charge of the South Seas Evangelical Mission. Miss Schwartz was very eager for converts, and was only too happy to save Kitahi from “Roman entrapment”. Kitahi was accommodated at the Mission Station, and Miss Schwartz gave him personal instruction in the Evangelical version of the reformed faith.

Everything appeared to be going well for about six months, but Kitahi was still confronted with what he considered a fundamental problem with the Christian message: the idea of the equality of all and the blatant inequality, in terms of possessions, between the blacks and the whites. Even in Miss Schwartz’s community of believers, the whites had it all. The blacks were left with very little. Kitahi still believed that Jesus wanted a fairer society, and the ancestral spirits, he considered, supported Jesus in also wanting this. 

  Kitahi considered that the abundance of the natural world depended on supernatural goodwill, and in his limited knowledge manufactured goods also depended on supernatural benevolence. After all, the goods, as far as he knew, came from nowhere in ships to Wewak and in planes to outstations. His thought processes increasingly became more and more anti-white. He had no sympathy with the concept of whites as ancestors, an idea advanced by some of the elders.

 In Jock’s opinion, these ideas were all very well if they stayed an inward-looking cult idea, but when interpreted as a philosophy of action leading to violence, they were quite unacceptable. Jock saw it as his clear duty to bring Kitahi to justice for his attempt on Karl Shultz’s life, and to do what he could to discourage the cult. 

  James had detected increasing disillusionment in Bill with the political goings-on in Moresby. In Bill’s words: “You have to associate with some real ratbags in the House of Assembly. That Peter Kitahi from the Dreikikir area is one of them. You know of him from your Dreikikir days, James. Jock, I think it was you who put him in the kalabus (gaol) for cargo cult activities, and attacking a Catholic priest.” 

  Peter Kitahi was knighted and was recognised as the father of the House of Assembly because of his years of service as a member. However, he lost his seat in the early 2000s and left politics under a cloud. There was a scandal about the granting of timber leases to a Malaysian company and accusations that Kitahi had been given money to facilitate this. He was not charged but strong suspicions remained that he was guilty. 

Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk

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Dr Yuriko Kamae: Anthropologist, Academic, UN Bureaucrat and Humanitarian Coordinator

January 4, 2008 at 11:56 pm (Fiction) ()

Bill Clayton thought to impress Yuriko Kamae with his knowledge of Japan and he was voicing ideas he had got from reading Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Yuriko was not impressed and said to Bill: “Ruth Benedict does not speak Japanese and she did no field work in Japan. Her book is full of circumstantial evidence.” Yuriko’s highly intellectual approach did not quite fit Bill’s ideas of female oriental submissiveness and her attraction for him somewhat diminished.

This gave James a chance to charm the fair Yuriko but he proved equally unable to attract her or so he thought. After a month in the bush, collecting and researching, the group returned to Angoram. They arranged a “thank you” celebration on board the houseboat they had hired from Bill Clayton, and the drink flowed. James Ward managed to arrange a very intimate tête-à-tête with Yuriko and they were getting on famously. Unfortunately, James was too far gone, alcoholically speaking, to realise how well he was doing and when one of the local maidens arrived, he switched his attention to her, and dropped Yuriko.

The next morning, Bill Clayton told James what an idiot he had been. “James, a trip to Japan sounds like a good idea,” he said.  “How about coming with me? Don’t worry about the money. If you are short, I can lend it to you. We wouldn’t spend too much time with the old Professor. But Masanori Sato intimated that there was a good time to be had in Kyoto and other places. He said he has his contacts, and you never know your luck. Yuriko might be pleased to see you again. Jun Kato told us that Kyoto would be our city if we came. Anyhow, think about it.”

 The lure of the East was a compelling attraction for our two travellers. One would not go so far as to describe them as amateur anthropologists, but Dr Yuriko Kamae had certainly aroused their interest. Masanori Sato’s description of the Pontocho District in Kyoto with the cafes, pubs and love hotels was certainly of anthropological interest and a motivating factor in their decision to go to Japan. 

The dinner went off very well and all the group who had been in Angoram was there except for Yuriko. She was feeling unwell and sent her apologies with a message that she hoped to meet up with James and Bill as soon as she was better. 

While Bill was meeting the bank official, James called into the university in the hope of seeing Yuriko. At the university desk, he was told that Dr Yuriko Kamae was in her office and would be pleased to see him. He was directed to her office on the door of which he saw written: Dr Y. Kamae, Department of Anthropology, in English and Japanese. James knocked on the door and Yuriko opened it. She held James’s hands and said: “Oh, James, it’s nice to see you again.” James enquired about her health and she informed him that she was now quite well. “Come in, James, and sit down. First I want to say how happy we are all to see you and Bill again. Professor Akagi is most grateful for the help you gave our party in New Guinea.” “Yuriko, it was our pleasure,” replied James. “We were only sorry you could not stay longer.” Yuriko was dressed in western clothes. She wore a miniskirt. The miniskirt was very popular in Japan after the model Twiggy visited Japan in 1967. James could not help thinking how self-assured and confident Yuriko looked. She went on to talk about the New Guinea trip.

“The university is most happy with the collection we made on the Sepik River. Professor Akagi mentioned you and Bill to the Vice-Chancellor and how helpful you both were.” James said this was very kind of him. Yuriko went on to say:

“We were very fortunate to have Akira as the leader of our group. I don’t know if you know, but as well as his Japanese qualifications, he has degrees from Oxford and Yale. At the outbreak of war, he was conscripted into the army and eventually attained the rank of colonel serving in infantry and intelligence units. He was with the Japanese army in China and the Philippines. He is one of the most liberal-minded and intelligent men I have ever met. He has told me privately that right from the start of the war, he was against it. Apart from seeing little justification for it, he realised that Japan would have no chance of winning. 

“The trouble was, he said, that most Japanese leaders did not understand the British and American people. Even at the very start, he did not believe that the Germans could defeat the British. Japanese people misjudged the British and criticised them as empire builders who were all hated by their subjugated peoples. They often talked of Gandhi and how he was supposed to hate the British. To Akira the survival of Gandhi said a lot for the magnanimity of British rule. He wondered how someone like Gandhi would have fared in our colony of Korea. “There’s something else I want to tell you about Akira. He is, in many ways, a very sad man and unlike many Japanese, he is conscience stricken by many things he was forced to do during the war. You know what happened in Timbunki during the war. Well, when we got there, he asked to see the village officials. I don’t know exactly what was said, as he had a private meeting with them, but from what I heard, he apologised for the unforgivable part the Japanese army took in the massacre. He said his apology was as a human being and he regretted that he could not make an official apology. Out of his own private funds, he arranged to purchase an outboard motor for the village.” James said that he always knew that the Professor was a gentleman. Yuriko then said: “James, there’s something more personal I want to talk to you about. Early in our stay in Angoram, I told Akira that I liked you. He was not worried about this but he did advise me to be cautious and discreet. He considered that we were visitors in New Guinea and we should be careful not to upset anyone, but on the other hand, he intimated that he was happy to see nature take its course. With you, James, I must say it’s very hard to read the signs of nature. Every time I sent out messages that I liked you, you seemed to step back, so I could only conclude that you did not want to develop a relationship with me.” 

James was quite abashed by what Yuriko had said. He could only offer a weak explanation. “I’m sorry Yuriko, but I’m basically shy and sometimes I fail to act when I really want to.” 

“James, there is a saying in English, to strike while the iron is hot, but that’s all in the past.” Yuriko was charming and delightful but naturally, she was still somewhat aggrieved at what she perceived as a rejection by James. He was now to experience something of the reaction of a woman scorned.

“James, I hear that you paid a visit to the Pontocho District. I hope you enjoyed yourself, and I’m sure you’re not always shy.”

Yuriko achieved what she wanted as James was now totally embarrassed. But she softened the blow by pointing out to him that Japanese women knew the ways of men. James wondered how she knew about the Pontocho visit. He was thinking: “Masanori must have told her. Maybe he fancies her himself and he wants to ruin my chances.”

They parted on good terms with Yuriko promising to attend a farewell dinner that Professor Akagi had arranged next week for Bill and James.

Bill and James left Japan not long after Professor Akagi’s farewell dinner for them, with everyone swearing undying friendship for each other and promising to meet up again.

Yuriko said goodbye to James with a plaintive look in her eyes.  Both concluded that the trip had been enjoyable and worthwhile. Bill had some assurances from potential investors but his greatest joy was the prospect of Rie coming to Angoram. James was sad that things had not worked out with Yuriko but he realised that she required high standards of the men in her life. He suspected that her admiration for Professor Akagi’s qualities was a measure she used in evaluating other men.

 “After our experience with Yuriko, you should have known that not all Japanese women are like that,” James told Bill. .

Dr Yuriko Kamae joined the United Nations, eventually becoming the special assistant to the Under-Secretary-General in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). She was the author of a report presented to the General Assembly on gender-based violence in Africa. At the time of writing she was serving as the Chief Humanitarian Coordinator for Africa, stationed in Khartoum, Sudan. Yuriko dedicated her life to her work and to date had not married.

Bill Clayton treasured a letter he received from Yuriko shortly after James disappeared. Yuriko wrote that she had fond memories of the time she spent in New Guinea and that she would never forget James. “Dear James’s loss has left me quite heartbroken.”  Bill was to wonder years after if there was more than a dedication to work that had prevented Yuriko from marrying. 

Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk

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Fr Bert Brill: Avant-garde theologian; a political and social progressive

January 4, 2008 at 5:38 am (Fiction) ()

The rest of the group was made up of Fr Bert Brill, the resident Catholic priest and avant-garde theologian; Dr Jan Speer, medical officer and zealous artifact collector; and Geoff and Laura Sheppard, the husband-and-wife team managing the hotel. 

Fr Bert Brill had no trouble comprehending social and political events. He was avant-garde in his approach to most things.

The Vatican II Church Council was sitting and Bert fully approved of it, but said it was sixty years too late. 

Sam was on a jolly rollicking journey of life in the quest of a dollar. Bert, on the other hand, was on a quest to engender a sense of renewal and social responsibility in humankind. 

Fr Bert Brill was a tall angular man in his late thirties with shoulder-length hair. He had an impervious and impenetrable look about him. He walked with an attitude of lofty exalted indifference to his surroundings. He reminded Bill Clayton of a cassowary and he sometimes referred to him as a longpela muruk. 

Bert came to the Sepik in the late 1950s shortly after his ordination. He had been in Angoram for most of the time since arriving in the country. He attended the SVD Mission Seminary at Steyl in Holland. Not a centre that would have been considered particularly radical and progressive at the time, but it must have been a seminary that opened its students to an awareness of new trends within the church. 

Bert had great admiration for the Protestant Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pastor and theologian killed by the Nazis during the War. He was attracted to Christian Socialism. He was in complete agreement with the Second Vatican Council and identified with the ideas of the theologians who wanted to bring the Church into the 20th century.

This updating or aggiornamento was strongly supported by Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Kung, two theologians who Bert thought provided the intellectual basis for a rapprochement between contemporary culture and the Church. Renewal in Bert’s mind was tied up with a rejection of legalism and dogmatism.

He advocated the liberation of the spirit guided by a Pauline interpretation, or what Bert considered was St Paul’s interpretation. He loved to quote Colossians 2:14 where Paul says that Jesus had come to abolish the Law and Prophets. 

Bert’s theological and scriptural approach had an individualist and collectivist thrust about it and was given a practical rationale by the writings of the secular psychologist Carl Rogers. He put great store on the concept of self-worth and the practical application of encounter groups. 

To facilitate the spread of his ideas, Bert built a large community centre where educational and recreational activities were encouraged. The community centre increasingly became the place where religious services were conducted. He phased out the practice of private confession and said Mass in non-clerical dress. 

James Ward, being something of a Catholic of the old school, was left in wonderment at Bert’s brand of Catholicism and one night at his house they got into a broad-ranging discussion. James’s house overlooked the Sepik River and was surrounded with planted eucalyptus trees.

On this particular night, there was a full moon.The only sounds heard outside were the occasional gong of a garamut or signal drum from a distant village and the hushed tone of various tropical insects. The discussion touched on the Second Vatican Council, personal morality, freedom and social responsibility. The attraction of native women, confession and international politics were all broached in an atmosphere of alcoholic conviviality.

 In a nutshell what Bert said to James went along these lines: “You are an Irish Catholic essentially and your black and white morality and mortal sin theology only undermines your self-worth and at best can only lead to an unimaginative dysfunctional way of living.”He went on to say: “I know after a few years in these outstations, there develops a sexual attraction to native women. This is only natural but what you have to ask yourself is: Is it socially responsible to be promiscuous? Of course, promiscuity is wrong, and especially so, given the ages of the girls with whom some of the whites are having sex. There’s nothing wrong with sex in itself. I remember in Amsterdam some years ago I came on a group of prostitutes. Now they were beautiful in appearance and I was tempted. But what stopped me was the commercialisation of sex and the social evil this had created.”

 Bert then went on to talk about private confession, and how unnecessary this was unless one really wanted to seek psychological advice. Bert maintained that every time you go to Mass there is a general penitential rite which is just as sacramental as a private confession. 

Sometime after this discussion with Bert Brill, James Ward said to Ernest Spender: “You know Ernest, Bert in some ways reminds me of Albert Schweitzer searching for the historical Jesus in a primeval tropical forest. Of course, I’m not saying that he’s in the same class as Schweitzer, but there is something ironic or incongruous about two essential Europeans in the tropics engaged in a philosophical search given their respective physical location.” 

Ernest said: “We seek the Lord wherever we are.”

Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae was noticed and commented on. The encyclical perhaps did not create the crisis of faith for non-Catholics that it did for some Catholics. Fr Bert Brill found it incomprehensible and a clerical disaster 

A memorial service was conducted by Fr Bert Brill at the Angoram Catholic Mission Church. Fr Bert spoke on the Bibical words: “O death, where is thy sting?” 

Fr Bert Brill eventually left his community in Gavien and returned to Holland where he was given a church job working with the unemployed.

Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk

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John Pietro: Animal to Humanitarian

January 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm (Fiction) ()

John Pietro, an Australian of Italian descent and a large brute of a man, was there in all his glory. He was a crocodile shooter and trader with a reputation as a formidable womaniser.

 Up to this point John Pietro had been pretty quiet, but then out of the blue he started on a diatribe against the Catholic Mission: “I can put up with Payne, but the trouble with this place is the Catholic Mission. It’s just like parts of Europe. The Popi (Catholics) are a mob of power hungry buggers, going around interfering in people’s private lives. Look at the mess Ireland and Italy are in, all because of the Church. Bloody priests, that mob down at Marienberg are buying shiploads of artifacts, that is the ones they don’t get the kanakas to destroy, and you can’t tell me they are not getting any sex.” 

 Bill Clayton, Sam Bell, John Pietro and others got in on the ground floor in collecting from the Karawari River.  John Pietro, on the strength of his profits, financed ventures in tourism in the area. The explosive interest in Sepik carvings also prompted him to take up carving himself and a growing market for his work among tourists showed the Angoram community that there was more to him than met the eye. He may have been known as “The Animal” to his friends and foes, but as Laura Sheppard said to James Ward: “The Animal certainly has an artistic side to his nature.” 

Wild parties were a feature for some living along Tobacco Road. John Pietro was known to excel himself and he invited selected government officers and some private enterprise people to his place from time to time. He often had visitors from other towns and overseas, both men and women, and he became known for the quality of the food and drink he offered. For those who wanted a little something extra at the end of night, this could be discreetly arranged, as he employed as his house boy the town’s most effective procurer, Patoman. This was a name given to him years ago when he looked after the ducks of an old-time resident, now long since dead, Shanghai Brown. In Pidgin pato man means a drake. The name stuck and Patoman became renowned in Angoram. He came from Kambaramba village and had many connections. He also loved a drink and bottles would come and go at a rapid pace when he was serving guests at Pietro’s parties. It took a while for Pietro to cotton on to the fact that half-full bottles of beer were being taken away by Patoman before guests finished them, and being replaced by full bottles. The half-full bottles were consumed by Patoman in the kitchen and he became increasingly under the weather at parties until Pietro woke up to him and watched him carefully. 

Many thought of John Pietro as the perfect host but there were limits on how accommodating he was towards his guests. A couple of middle-aged American men from New York were staying with him and they indicated to John that they would be interested in same-sex partners. This did not quite fit into John’s view of things and he ordered them out of his house. They managed to get a room at the hotel and did not stay around the town for long. So you could say that John had a gender bias, nothing but females, but within this category pretty much anything seemed to go. He was not known as “The Animal” for nothing. 

John Pietro was happy staying in Papua New Guinea as long as “the kanakas knew their place.” 

 “The talk I’m hearing is that very few locals are presenting themselves as possible candidates, but I hear that John Pietro is going to put himself up, and if we don’t get some likely locals to stand against him, he might even win. This I would consider an absolute disaster. I’ve also heard that Bill Clayton is interested. I could cope with him as he’s not a bad bloke, but what these Europeans have got to realise is that the First House should be to groom future native leaders.”

 Allen Warburton was presiding in a pontifical manner and talking to Jock MacGregor. Karen Barnes was in determined conversation with Ernest Spender. Sam Bell and John Pietro called in briefly.

Since MacGregor had arrived in Angoram, it was noticed that Pietro appeared to be far less aggressive and bellicose in his general manner. It was speculated that Pietro felt that MacGregor had got his measure and was not going to stand for too much “bullshit” and stand-over tactics. On this particular evening he was on his best behaviour. 

 In the coming weeks a number of candidates nominated. The front runners were considered to be John Pietro and John Kabais. 

What was surprising was the composed way John Pietro accepted defeat. The only significant disgruntled comment he made concerned the Catholic Mission: “Those bloody priests had it in for me. If we don’t watch it, this place will be as bad as Ireland and Italy.” 

Pietro’s ego perhaps had been considerably boosted recently with the arrival of a young assistant, Ray Mason. Ray was about nineteen years old and came from Queensland. He was full of praises for Pietro. He called him Jack and his conversation in the club and hotel was cluttered with references to “Jack did this” and “Jack did that”. Sam Bell said: “I think young Ray has got a dose of the jack.”

   Later in the club when James arrived, Laura Sheppard was there talking to John Pietro. Both wished James a welcoming “hello” and John excused himself and left to attend to in his words, “some pressing personal matter.” Laura said to James: “Thank goodness Pietro has left, he gives me the creeps, he has that look in his eyes that he would like to violate you.” 

There was a lot of aerial activity around the airstrip. Apparently, John Pietro had purchased a Piper Cherokee plane and was in the process of learning how to fly. The plane had been supplied with an instructor. This accounted for the landings, takings off and circling around the strip. Pietro and his plane were the talk of the town. Some thought that he would kill himself before he learnt to fly, others speculated on what he intended to do with the plane. Many had John flying down south to Brisbane and to places in South East Asia. One rumour was that he intended to run guns into West Irian and return with artifacts. All this talk added colour and excitement to conversations around the town. It was obvious that Pietro loved the added notoriety and he basked in his new found celebrity.

His cavalier self-assurance was on display in his dealings. Sam Bell, back in town, was heard to say: “John’s up himself.” . John Pietro loved his plane. He did, incidentally, get his pilot’s licence from the civil aviation authorities in Port Moresby and began formulating international trading ventures. 

John Pietro faced bankruptcy. He had overreached himself financially in purchasing the plane. The manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Wewak was concerned with his failure to service his loan. He had neglected his commercial interests since buying the plane and learning how to fly. The word around town was that he was trying to drum up financial backing from anyone who might be interested in becoming part-owner of the aircraft. He had approached Bill Clayton, Sam Bell, Jim McLaren and Ron Watson, with what he described to them as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

 Bill, Sam, and Jim brought the subject of Pietro up one afternoon, when visiting James Ward. Sam Bell said: “Pietro’s harebrained scheme to fly to the Asmat in West Irian and buy artifacts is half-witted, in my opinion. He tells me he has a letter from some bishop, telling him that the mission would be happy to assist him in any way possible, if he was to fly in a planeload of medical supplies. The mission would arrange for him to collect the medicine in Port Moresby. Apparently, there’s a landing strip at a place called Ewer, which is about twenty minutes by outboard motor or two hours by paddle canoe from Agats, where the mission is.

 “From what he has been told, the Indonesians are madly burning Asmat festival houses and carvings. The bishop, it appears, wants to discreetly save as many Asmat cultural items as possible before the Indonesians burn them. He has arranged with the people to stockpile the artifacts in a secluded spot ready to be loaded on the plane for the return trip. All the artifacts have been paid for and Pietro will be given these in return for bringing the medical supplies. The chances of pulling this off are very good according to Pietro. It seems that the Catholic Mission authorities could be alerted in Daru and he would be able to fly to Ewer from there, keeping clear of Merauke when he crossed the border. Some mate of his in Moresby told him there is only minimal Indonesian surveillance in the region, so he should be OK.

 “He’s broke, you know, and he’s virtually asking others to finance this venture. You lot can do what you like, but he’s not getting any of my money. To start with, I don’t fancy his ability as a pilot. The only claim to fame he has is his membership of the mile-high club and he’ll need more than that flying around West Irian.” 

Early on a Saturday, John Pietro was seen carefully checking his Piper Cherokee plane. Ray Mason and Bill Clayton were assisting him. He revved the engine several times and Ray handed him a thermos flask of coffee and a plastic container of sandwiches. Before John left, he made radio contact with the Civil Aviation authorities in Port Moresby, stating that he intended to fly to Moresby and pick up medical supplies and transport them onto Daru for unloading. He informed Moresby that he was going to to stay in Daru for some hours and then fly directly back to Angoram. He was given the all clear to proceed. Just before he left, Sam Bell arrived. Ray, Bill and Sam all shook hands with John and he got into the cockpit and taxied to the end of the strip for take off and away he went. Among the three left on the airstrip, there was a feeling of apprehensiveness and excitement. Ray said: “Jack, he’ll be OK. He knows what he’s doing.” No one said anything. If all went well, John Pietro should be back in Angoram by late afternoon. He said that if he was running late, he would stay the night in Daru on his return. He thought it best to maintain radio silence as much as possible. He would inform Civil Aviation in Moresby if he stayed at Daru and make some excuse about engine trouble. He was most emphatic that should he be late, he did not want anyone enquiring about him on air from Angoram.  He said that while he was flying in West Irian air space, he would be in the lap of the gods. The few in the know in Angoram would just have to wait it out and hope for the best. Late afternoon and nightfall came to Angoram and there was no sign of John. Bill Clayton, who had the Post Office agency with the radio facilities, said that they would do nothing that night, but first thing in the morning he would get in touch with Daru Post Office and make discreet enquiries. In the morning, Bill, after a lot of trouble, because Angoram was not on Daru’s radio sked, managed to get through. He asked to speak to someone from the Catholic Mission and eventually he was put into contact with a Brother Michael. 

“Brother Michael, this is Bill Clayton from Angoram. Do you know anything about a Piper Cherokee that arrived yesterday?” “Yes, Bill, John came in yesterday and all I can say is we haven’t seen him since. If I hear anything, I’ll get in touch immediately.” 

“Thanks Brother, I’ll keep the radio on here so you can get straight through. Over and signing off.” Brother Michael answered: “Roger.” In two hours Brother Michael got through to Bill: “Bill, the news is not good. I can’t say much on air but the Crosiers Fathers, from you know where, have contacted our Bishop Henri Sautot on Yule Island and Bishop Alphonse van Baar of the Crosiers will contact Bishop Leo Blum in Wewak. I’m sorry, Bill, but that is about all I can say, over and out.” Bill responded: “OK Brother, I’ll say over and out.” 

Those in the know about John Pietro’s venture met late on Sunday at Jim McLaren’s place on Tobacco Road. The general consensus was that everyone should keep quiet. Bill Clayton said: “At this stage, the kiaps know nothing about it. As far as they know, John has flown to Moresby and will be there for a few days. We know that Bishop Blum in Wewak will be getting a full report from that bishop in West Irian. I would say sit tight and let Bishop Blum handle the situation. The Department of Civil Aviation in Moresby is sure to be looking into it, but if the Indonesians know nothing about it, you can be sure that the government here will want to bury the whole thing.” Ray Mason asked: “Should I write a letter to Jack’s parents in Australia?” Bill answered: “For now do nothing because you don’t know what has happened yet. I’ve got a lot of respect for Leo Blum and I’m sure when he gets a full account, he’ll let us know. So, mum’s the word.” 

Twenty days after their meeting, Bishop Leo Blum flew into Angoram. The Bishop was an excellent pilot and was known in the District as “the flying Bishop”. He parked his plane just off the strip and walked over to Fr Bert Brill’s house. While there, he enquired of Bert if John Pietro’s business was being run by anyone. Bert informed the Bishop that there was a young man called Ray Mason who seemed to be running things. The Bishop said: “I wonder, Father, if you would send word to him that I would like to see him.” Bert answered: “I shall, My Lord.”  After some time, young Ray duly arrived. Bert introduced him to the Bishop. Ray was a bit overawed on meeting the Bishop and he vaguely knew that a bishop should be addressed as my something or other but he was not sure exactly what. So he went for broke and said: “How do you do and I’m pleased to meet you, My God.”

 This did not faze the Bishop and he sat Ray down and said that he would like to talk to him. He first asked Fr Brill to excuse them. The Bishop was a tall, lean American from Iowa, USA, and he had been in the Territory for about twenty-three years. He was a softly spoken man with a captivating personality and charming manners. In speaking to Ray, he treated him with the utmost respect and consideration. “Ray, I’ve got something very important I want to talk to you about, but before I start, I wonder if John Pietro had another close associate in town, who you would like to be present when I do this?” Ray answered that he would like Bill Clayton to be with him. The Bishop said: “Fine Ray, I know Bill. Would you be so kind to ask Bill to come here?” Ray answered that he would go and get him. Shortly after, Ray arrived back with Bill. Bill greeted the Bishop: “G’day, my Lord, it’s good to see you again.” “Likewise, Bill, I’m pleased to see you.” 

They then all sat down and the Bishop proceeded to speak: “I’ll assume that you are both broadly speaking familiar with John Pietro’s plans to fly to West Irian and have some idea what subsequently happened.” Bill and Ray answered: “Yes” to this and the Bishop then went on: “I’m now in a position to tell you exactly what happened. Bishop Alphonse van Baar, of the Crosiers in West Irian, has written me a full account of what occurred. His letter had to be carried by foot across the border to a mission station in PNG and from there it was flown to me in Wewak. That explains why it has taken so long for a full account to arrive. “You no doubt know that John arrived in Moresby. There his plane was loaded with medical supplies that the Catholic Mission had arranged. He flew onto Daru and from there to Ewer in West Irian, where the medical supplies were unloaded. He told a Brother Paul that he had no trouble on the way over. He kept well clear of Merauke. The local people than loaded his plane with artifacts from the Asmat, under the direction of Brother Paul. Brother Paul was a bit concerned that John was taking on a too heavy load, but John assured him that the plane could handle it.

 “After the plane was loaded, John took off without any trouble and headed out to sea. But while the plane was still gaining height prior to turning inland, suddenly the engine stalled and the plane plunged into the sea. There was nothing anyone could do as the plane dropped in a very deep part of the sea and submerged within minutes.” 

The Bishop went on to say: “The mission and the local people were all saddened by this tragedy. They are also extremely grateful to John for bringing the medical supplies. There is an influenza and malaria epidemic in the area and many people are dying. The penicillin and chloroquine and other medicines that John brought are saving many lives. The Bishop informed me that this is the first supply of medicines that they have received for a long time. It is hard to get permission and a clearance for planes to land from the Indonesian authorities. When there is contact with the Indonesians, it is usually with an army group, who have been sent in to subdue the village people and this often means burning their festival houses with cultural and ritual items in them. The Bishop arranged a memorial service for John at the mission. He is very anxious to know John’s parents’ address in Australia so that he can write to them.” 

Ray said: “I can give you that.” “Thanks,” Bishop Leo replied, “I’ll also write to them. Has anyone from Moresby been here enquiring about John?” 

 Bill answered: “Yes, Bishop, a couple of blokes from the Department of Civil Aviation were here last week trying to find out what they could. None of us here told them much.” The Bishop said: “That’s fine Bill. Now, I can say that our government will be very discreet in investigating this matter. Everything I’ve told you has been passed on to the Administrator, David Hay, and as long as the Indonesians know nothing about the incident, the matter will be largely laid to rest. Is there anything that either of you would like to ask?”

 Ray and Bill didn’t think that there was and they thanked the Bishop for all he had done. Ray told the Bishop that he would send John’s parents’ address up with a boy as soon as he got to his house. They said goodbye to the Bishop and they went their respective ways but first Bill said to Ray: “We’re lucky we’ve got a bloke like Leo handling things.” Ray answered: “You can say that again.” 

Sometime later Sam Bell remarked to Bill Clayton: “There’s a touch of irony in the way Pietro in death has been able to get all these Catholic Mission people running after him. If there is anything up there, he must be looking down and having a great laugh. We all know what he thought of Catholicism.”

 Jim McLaren, Bill Clayton and Ron Watson all lost money with the disaster of the West Irian venture, but they all proved philosophical about it. The consensus among them was that you can’t get blood out of a dry stone and John’s estate was relatively worthless. John’s parents had written to Ray Mason to say that he was welcome to keep whatever John had left behind in Angoram and carry on with whatever business was left. 

John’s death did have an unsettling effect in the town, but life waits for no one and the business of living went on as usual. 

Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk

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The way we were

January 1, 2008 at 6:48 am (Uncategorized) (, )


Young David in PNG.jpg        Debbie and David.jpg

Young David Wall            David and Deborah in 1972







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