Some thoughts prior to my PNG visit

February 5, 2008 at 3:24 am (Uncategorized) ()

My trip to PNG starts early next week.

Malarone, I hope, will protect me against malaria. As I’m not into sex these days, safe or otherwise, protection in this area will not be needed. Though then again, I could only find a double hammock mosquito net to buy instead of a single one so the very spaciousness of this apparatus might lend itself to possibilities and you can never tell your luck in a big jungle.

My safety when I’m in PNG will depend on my friends and I shall be in good hands. But should I croak through misadventure or otherwise, just plant me where I am. In the words of my great aunt, Em to my grandmother, Alice prior to the funeral of my grandfather, Charles in the family house, ‘Merton’ in Brighton, Melbourne “Don’t be bringing anymore of your corpses here.” He had returned to Melbourne after living in China. So don’t be bringing my corpse back if I die in PNG.

Perhaps my sentiments are not as profound as Somerset Maugham’s fictional character, Warburton, who “stated in his will that wherever he died he wished his body to be brought back to Sembulu, and buried among the people he loved within the sound of the softly  flowing river.” That being said, the drift of my meaning is clear.

My main motivation is to save the expense of a body removal but if people want to come to PNG for the funeral, this would be very costly. Maybe I should just leave any decision as to what happens to my body in the hands of Deb.

I’m sure I shall return all hail and hearty with many tales to tell.

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Hooked on cyberspace

February 4, 2008 at 11:02 am (Uncategorized) ()

There are those who like to be immortalized in cyberspace and others who detest to be so placed. A former colleague of mine is one of the latter. He considers that I need to find other “interests away from that wretched computer.”

He suggests the following diverting pursuits: “Philippines discussion groups, film groups, travel groups, you could start your own course at the University of the Third Age or at TAFE. You could subscribe to The Australian for only $6 a week.”

He was upset about references I had made about his work of fiction and his fictional characters in my blog and he told me to confine my comments to my own characters.

Of course, I respect his views, however, I did want him to know that his work had been immoralized in cyberspace and it would be a great shame to reverse this.

He ended his missive to me on a rather sobering note: ‘You once told me, “we have everything here in Sydney.” Well, make use of those facilities then.’

Perhaps I shall subscribe to The Australian.

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Back in time

February 3, 2008 at 4:03 am (Uncategorized) ()


Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1958 

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Bob McDonald appreciates his classical education

February 3, 2008 at 12:13 am (Fiction) ()

Bob McDonald was perhaps the most famous of the rivercombers at Angoram, and his story could fill the chronicles of any post-war history of the Sepik District. His father was a distinguished South Australian barrister, a King’s Counsel prominent in Adelaide’s legal circles in the twenties and thirties. Bob attended St Peter’s College, an elite independent Church of England school, and left just before his final year. He volunteered for the army at the outbreak of the Second World War. This caused a bit of a stir at home, but his father finally gave permission. Not that he could have done much about it as Bob was eighteen years old, and anyhow he was somewhat proud that Bob had answered the call to arms. 

During the war Bob served with the 6th Division AIF in Greece, Crete, North Africa, Papua and New Guinea. In telling James Ward about his war experiences, he was proud of possessing the Africa Star, a campaign medal. But one of the highlights of his war was a romantic interlude with a Greek woman within sight of the Parthenon.

He told James Ward the story: “We had a bit of leave in Athens and I intended to make the most of it. I was having a few drinks in a café and I saw this girl in the corner giving me the eye and I figured that this was a bit of luck and I gave her a nod and over she comes. I buy her a drink and indicate that I could be very generous. She didn’t have much English but we understood each other. While this was going on a mate of mine, Smithy, a corporal with transport came in, and said that he had the use of a truck for the next couple of hours and he would take me and the girl for a small tour.

“The girl agreed, and off we went. I said to Smithy that he could leave the girl and me on a track that led up to the Parthenon, and we would walk from there. He did this.  By this time it was getting pretty dark, and the girl and I were getting on famously. I indicated that there was a spot near a cluster of trees just down from the Parthenon that was fairly private, where we could cement Greek-Australian relations. I slipped her a pocket full of drachmais and she was happy with this.

“Well, away we went and I can tell you she was worth every penny of it. The best of it was that just before I came to the ‘vinegar stroke’ I could just make out that old Greek ruin and it seemed to give meaning to all those classes at St Peter’s on Classical Greece, this was really the Alpha and when I came, I could think of no better Omega.

“When the 6th Division returned from Africa, the troops were given a short leave prior to being sent to Papua and New Guinea. Bob took his leave in Sydney and while there got married. Before the war ended the marriage was virtually on the rocks. Bob said: “When I came back from New Guinea I found another bull in the paddock.”

Excerpt from Sepik Blu longpela Muruk

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Ron Watson: Lover, connoisseur, inveterate collector and dealer in Sepik Art

February 1, 2008 at 11:52 pm (Fiction) ()

Dunstan McMillan, near the bar in the club, was talking to Ron Watson and a tall young woman. Ron was a regular visitor to Angoram and was often accompanied by a woman assistant but rarely the same one. Ron came from Denver, Colorado and over the years he had done quite well shipping Sepik carvings to the States, where he had a ready market.

He was a healthy man in his early forties and an inveterate patroller in pursuing rare pieces of carved art. Ron was in many ways your typical enterprising Yank, but he was also socially charming and on occasions the life of the party.

He had some contacts with the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Department of Cultural Anthropology. This is where he recruited his assistants from, who were good-looking, young, educated women. The current one was Susan Flynn, a graduate student in her late twenties and at least a runner up in any beauty contest you may think of. Their duties included cataloguing, classifying and documenting the collected pieces. In the course of these duties all seemed happy enough to share Ron’s bed. 

Ron had a wife in Denver but this did not seem to inhibit his trips to PNG with his various assistants. Ron’s personal life had all the hallmarks, in Bill Clayton’s words, of “a freewheeling situation.” Bill once asked Ron how he managed to get all these good-looking women to come to PNG with him.

Ron was quite ready to explain: “Well Bill, I’ll tell you. I put a notice up in the Department of Anthropology, Colorado University alone these lines:

 A collector of significant cultural and anthropological artifacts in the Sepik District of New Guinea, an area made famous by the work of Dr Margaret Mead, seeks the assistance of a student or graduate of anthropology to classify and document acquired items. This would be for a period of two months. Interested applicants please leave your name with Dr Edward Glover.        Ron Watson 

“Ed is an old friend and a lecturer in anthropology. He helps with the culling of the applicants, and you would be surprised at how many apply. First of all, the men are eliminated, then the innocent and unattractive. We end up with three or four likely ones and I take each out for a meal and if I particularly get on with one of them, she gets the job.” 

Susan and Ron were staying with Bill Clayton prior to going on a collecting trip up the Karawari River.

Ron Watson continued his artifact buying trips to the Sepik, though perhaps not as regularly as in his younger years. On the trips that he did make more often than not he was accompanied by his wife, Barbara. The bevy of young women, who were his companions of the past, faded away.

Susan Flynn became a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Primitive Art in New York.

Excerpt from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk


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Fr Michael Casey SVD: Missionary and bon vivant

February 1, 2008 at 6:42 am (Fiction) ()

One of those waiting to meet the plane was Fr Michael Casey, a member of the Society of the Divine Word or an SVD, initials that Michael described as “smoke we don’t but drink we do.” This stemmed from the Order’s ban on smoking for its members. Needless to say, Michael did a bit of both, with more than a bit of the latter. A singular character in many ways, he had arrived in the Territory shortly after World War II. A Bostonian of Irish descent whose grandfather had immigrated to the States to escape the Irish famine, Michael was proud of his “bog Irish” heritage. His grandfather laboured on the Boston wharves and gave his five sons a good education, with two becoming lawyers and the others going into business. Michael’s father ran a successful furniture business, and liked to say: “Our origins, unlike the Kennedys’, are bog Irish rather than lace curtain Irish.” Michael himself combined the charm and suppression of violence of the Irish with the urbanity of an educated American.

As well as his priestly qualifications, Michael also had a law degree from the University of Chicago, which helped in dealing with government officials and defending his parishioners from time to time in the local courts. In theology, he was strictly pre-Vatican II and saw his sacramental duties as the raison d’être for missionary activity. Though he admired the humanity of Pope John XXIII, history, he contended, would see the Pope as a “clerical fool”.

 For the small expatriate group in Dreikikir, Fr Michael Casey was effectively the church, in spite of the fact that the Sub-District was overwhelmingly Protestant. 

Meanwhile the plane had landed, and passengers and cargo had been attended to. Fr William McAuley, the pilot, who had just alighted, was in close conversation with Fr Michael Casey. Michael was making his confession. He saw this as an essential spiritual exercise that he would be deprived of if the priest pilots stopped flying into Dreikikir. His sins, one suspects, were the more robust kind, of overindulgence in alcohol and displays of temper. Once this encounter was finished, Father McAuley checked that the few passengers in the plane were secure and, with a last wave to Jock and Michael, climbed into the pilot’s seat.

One could be forgiven for imagining that Fr Casey and Mr MacGregor would be as compatible as fire and water. However, their common interest in good booze was a wonderful equaliser, and outstation life was considerably enriched by the contribution of these two personalities.

 Annie’s presence in Jock’s house was a bone of contention between him and Fr Casey. A young woman of obvious mixed-race antecedents and few apparent domestic skills, Annie was a quiet, obliging and easy-going person. Her father was said to be an Angau officer stationed in Dreikikir near the end of the war, and who now served as a high-ranking officer in the Administration. Whatever Annie’s domestic capabilities, Michael Casey felt that her presence in Jock’s house compromised Jock’s impartiality. Of course, Casey assumed that MacGregor’s interest in Annie went beyond the merely domestic. When the subject of Annie was brought up, MacGregor told Casey to mind his own business and let him run the station as he saw fit.

 This situation had on occasions led to discussions that were as lively as they were ill-informed 

The conversation quickly turned to what was happening in Maprik. At this time, the United Nations Mission, under the leadership of Sir Hugh Foot, was visiting Maprik. None realised how significant this was for the Territory. Casey maintained: “This UN group don’t understand the uniqueness of Papua New Guinea.”

 MacGregor bellyached about “bloody socialists”. It seems that he had met Sir Hugh’s brother, Michael, at some function at Glasgow University, and was not impressed with his political views. Jack Murphy said: “The United Nations’ money could be better spent on health activities.” George Smith had heard a rumour about a supposedly glamorous-looking Brazilian, who was said to be travelling with the Mission as a secretary, and said he would like “to check her out.” Ward had spent a little time travelling in Africa, and realised that dramatic changes happened to colonies. He had just managed to get out of the former Belgian Congo before it fell apart. 

The group would have had little sympathy with the Mission’s subsequent recommendations to establish a university, and move towards self-government with an elected house of assembly, as a matter of urgency. The group’s prevailing mood was to get on with the drinking, which they all did, except Ward. After they had reached a high degree of intoxication, Annie served a meal of curry and rice, following which they returned to their respective houses. 

Casey had come by motorbike, and much to his credit, he managed to leave by the same means, though he did find cranking the motor by foot a daunting challenge. The farewells were heard in the night air. Ward said: “Good night Father, watch the downhill slope of the airstrip.” This was his track home.

Excerpt from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk  

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