The Recruiter – Robert Cowan Mackie

August 30, 2008 at 5:14 am (Angoram, Angoram Club, Biography, Bob Mackie, Commentary, East Sepik District, expatriates, Maprik, Papua New Guinea, Sepik River, Wewak) (, , , )

 

Sue Treutlein & Bob Mackie at the Angoram Club

Sue Treutlein & Bob Mackie at the Angoram Club

(  Photo provided by Sue Treutlein )

By all the rules of sages and psychologists Bob should have been dejected and unhappy having lived a life that they would have considered futile and worthless.

To claim that Bob experienced no deep night of the soul would only confound our moralists and theologians, but perhaps the truth does lie at the bottom of a well. Bob himself would have agreed that at least it lay at the bottom of a bottle.

Robert Cowan Mackie was born sometime after the end of the First World War on one of the Scottish Islands to good Presbyterian stock, shortly after his family emigrated to South Australia.

To say that Bob had come a long way since his 6th Division days in Greece during the war would be the understatement of the age. The highlight of this campaign for Bob was making love – if that is not a too elaborate a word to describe what went on – with a Greek girl within sight of the Acropolis.

Whatever Bob’s faults, many agreed with me, his friend, that Bob’s attraction lay in the way he squandered the treasure of life with a seemingly disregard for the future.

At the end of the war Bob took his discharge from ANGAU in Port Moresby. He had some idea of returning to Australia to see what happened to his wife, whom he had married just before the war, to discover on returning from the Middle East to Adelaide that she had decided to end the marriage because she had taken up with someone else, or as Bob so delicately put it, he found another bull in the paddock.

Bob did in fact arrange to go to Australia shortly after taking his discharge, but he made the mistake of contemplating this move in the bottom pub at the Snake Pit Bar. Needless to say, Bob never made the plane.

His deferred pay was coming to an end, so he concluded that a man with a drinking habit needed a livelihood. He decided to try his luck in the Sepik, and so, he went to Wewak. Over a beer there with an acquaintance it was suggested that recruiting labour for the plantations was all the go, and the best thing to get into.

With this in mind, Bob moved inland and settled in a place just outside Nuku, a patrol post. From here he set out on recruiting patrols over most of the inland Sepik, including journeys on the Ramu and Sepik Rivers.

Over the next few years Bob became a legend in his own time with hundreds of natives being taken by him to Angoram and Wewak to be signed on for work on plantations around Kavieng, Madang, Rabaul and elsewhere.

Most other recruiters didn’t have a chance in getting recruits as Bob became so popular in the various villages that the natives would wait for him to come. Or as they used to say : Mi laik wetim Masta Bob.

On his own account thousands of pounds passed through his hands. One can imagine with him getting 10 to 20 pounds per recruit. With a doctor friend of his he bought a plane which unfortunately crashed off the coast killing the doctor. About this event Peter Skinner writes: “Whenever I hear the words Vanimo, Auster or John McInerney, I have almost instant recall to Wewak, March 1953, and being told by my distraught mother, Marie, that the single-engine Auster owned and piloted by Dr John McInerney, medical officer, had crashed into the sea off Vanimo. McInerney had been killed and my father, Ian, at that time an ADO, was alive but badly injured. Also injured in the crash was ADO George Wearne.”

Perhaps this was a turning point in Bob’s life, as John, the doctor, was a great friend of his and he felt his loss greatly. It must also be stated that I have no proof of Bob’s financial interest in the plane , but this is strongly suspected to be true. When Bob had a trade store and a recruitering setup near Hayfield airstrip, between Pagwai and Maprik, Mac, as the doctor was known, very often flew out to spend time drinking and socializing with him – they by all accounts were great mates! John McInerney, an ex-commando medical officer, was a flamboyant and interesting character!

Over time recruiting ceased to give Bob the financial stability it had in the past. He just didn’t seem to care much about going out to get recruits, only making the occasional trips to keep body and soul together.

He eventually ended up in Angoram in a houseboat that he referred to as his outfit. In Angoram he did manage to keep himself very often inebriated keeping the locals and expatriates entertained with stories of drinking sprees and sexual exploits. His faithful house boy, Yum, stayed with him looking after him as best he could, even when he was on the whitelady – methylated spirits. He also developed a market in stuffed crocodiles, becoming quite a skilled taxidermist.

Perhaps Bob’s life was a journey that was involved more in travelling than in reaching any destination. If he had been a botanist he would have spent his life in searching for the famed orchid – the Sepik Blue – but Bob was involved in the art of living, at least from his point of view, and the Sepik Blue had little interest for him. He was more concerned with stories about the blue throbber, the term he used to describe his genitalia, and even these, one suspects, were more in the imagination than in actual fact. He did work out an involved methodology that he claimed protected one from venereal disease! And yet stories about Bob are epic, to say the least, as an example, here are a few:

Early in his time in Angoram he took Douglas Newton, then the chief curator, and later the director of the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, on an artefact buying expedition upriver on his houseboat. The sleeping arrangements were thus: Bob was on the bunk and Doug was to sleep on a mat on the floor besside the bunk. After a few drinks and a meal they each retired to their respective sleeping areas. Later in the evening Doug awoke with the sense that some warm liquid  was flowing on his face. In the moonlight which was illuminating the inside of the houseboat Doug noticed that Bob was peeing on him – apparently Bob had forgotten that Doug was on the floor beside him, and he was following his usual custom of relieving himself! Doug it appeared took it all in his stride and boasted that he was probably the first official of the Museum of Primitive Art to be pissed on in the moonlight!

Peter Johnson and I were sitting in my house in Angoram in the late 1960s and Yum, Masta Bob’s boy, knocked on the door with a note from Bob. Johnson on the first superficial reading of the note said: “My God, Bob wants to shoot himself.” We then both looked at the note again, and what he really wrote was: “I’m desperate send me a reviver.” Not a revolver as was originally thought! He wanted a can of beer to get him over a hard night! I did send him a couple of cans.

On another occasion a note was sent to Bob requesting something or other – Bob’s answer was: “I can’t help you now, I’m on location !” This brings up another remarkable story about Bob. To quote what Sandra King, the former Manageress of the Angoram Hotel, wrote: “What about Bob and his star turn in the French movie, La Vallee ?? Surely, one of his highlights, and so he reamains captured in time!” I completely agree!

See: https://deberigny.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/masta-bob-lives-on-in-la-vallee-1972/

Sandra also mentions another account about Bob: “and… how he sat outside the hotel with his stuffed crocodiles, and an odd one or two lives ones. They sat ever so still with their little mouths open… until you went to pick one up…Old Rogue!

One supposes that in the final count Bob’s end of life was as he would have liked it, in the bar of the Madang Club with a glass in his hand. He lasted in Madang until the early 1980s!

Earlier there were some do-gooders in Angoram who wanted to get Bob moved to Australia in the interests of his health! Fortunately, some more sensible minds prevailed, and they managed to arrange to get Bob, the holder of the Africia Star, a man with an excellent war record in the Middle East, Papua and New Guinea, an old age/army pension, and accommodation in Madang. So, he could end his days in the land he loved and remain a man of significance!

Bob, once described me in Angoram as a silent heeler! I won’t bother here to explain what he exactly meant by this, but I’ll only say, here and now, that Bob was a great Territorian and a good friend.

I believe the RSL in Madang gave him a worthy send off!

 

See: http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2013/03/robert-cowan-mackie-the-recruiter-of-the-sepik.html#comments

 

  

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Masta Bob Lives On In La Vallée (1972)

August 28, 2008 at 3:25 am (Commentary) (, , , , , , , , )

Bob Mackie appears with the beautiful Bulle Ogier playing Viviane in the film: La Vallée. On location, haus tambaran, Angoram,1972. It was said of Bob that as an actor he was “a natural”.

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Plot summary for
Vallée, La (1972)

“Viviane, a French Consul’s wife, is in New Guinea to find exotic feathers for export to Paris. She encounters four European travelers who are en route to “La Vallée”: The Valley, high in the Guinean mountains, is shown on maps as ‘Obscured by Clouds’ and is beyond their previous experiences. Viviane joins their trek to find rare feathers and soon becomes entwined in their journey. Their extended stay with the Mapuga tribe brings a denouement between western and indigenous values before their final quest toward the ‘Valley of the Gods’.” Written by Neal Wells {nealypie@yahoo.com}

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Deborah Ruiz

August 20, 2008 at 10:37 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

Deborah Ruiz

“Incidentally, I’m 20 years and 3 months old if that matters to you. I’m brown as a Malayan. Our family tree also reveals that we have Chinese and Spanish blood, but that’s only for the record. I’m first and foremost a Filipina.”

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Setting out on patrol and farewelling Japanese academic party 1969

August 20, 2008 at 2:27 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

 

Patrol 1969.jpg

This photo was taken by the Japanese visiting academic group just upriver from Angoram: “Mr Wall, Kyoto is your city.”

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A Riveting Read!!

August 20, 2008 at 12:46 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Highly recommended:  Father Joe  The man who saved my soul  by Tony Hendra, Random House 2004

It’s not often you get a book these days that you just can’t put down until you finish it.

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My cadaver or stiff left to whomsoever!

August 18, 2008 at 1:52 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’m facing a decision that my readers might be able to help me with. Should my mortal remains be left to the Anatomy Department of Sydney University or to the Australian Organ Register? The Uni it seems would cart the stiff off and there would be no expense for one’s relatives. The body would be used mainly in the education of medical students. On the other hand the Organ Register would make organs available for transplants, an idea I like very much. But ofter this the remains are returned to your relatives and presumedly they would still be left with the expense of a funeral etc. In the case of the university programme that is the end of it as far as your nearest and dearest are concerned. I also like this but I like the idea of the living using my parts directly. So herewith the problem. What should I do, a stiff to anatomy or parts to other humans?

Given all the above I would like some prayers said for me. To quote 2 Machabees 12: 46

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. 

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Angoram 1972-73

August 14, 2008 at 6:41 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

Angoram 1972-73

Club  Hotel  Haus tambaran

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News item August 27, 1942

August 10, 2008 at 2:50 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

News item.jpg

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“Love on the Run” reviewed by Maurice Thibaux

August 1, 2008 at 12:29 pm (Commentary) (, , , , , , , )

Comments on “Love on the Run” by Andrew Marke  Available from: Frogmouth Press, 187 Low Head Road, Low Head Tas 7253  $25 or $30 Posted
Having worked in Papua New-Guinea at the time of independence, I was curious to read this new book about this place and time, apart from the teaser about “a remedy for sex and romance”. The title and cover of the book hinted at a series of romantic encounters and promised to be quite exciting. Not surprisingly it starts as an account of an English expatriate’s life taking us from a farm in Somerset to the Falklands and Papua New-Guinea. The link to these remote and exotic locations is love, but it turned out to be definitely on the run. As soon as we hit PNG, love virtually disappears from the scene and we are immersed in the lonely life of a malaria eradication officer trekking through the Highlands. Having been to Goroko and Mount Hagen in the early 1970s, I was very keen to revisit this strange place, which I had enjoyed only too briefly, and read this vivid account of daily life amongst these tribes from another age in this most extraordinary landscape of snow peaks under the equator. But I kept looking back at the cover, which promised love and romance, of which there was precious little except for the reason for travelling – perhaps to escape or to forget. I felt a bit cheated, although I did not mind it that much since the story was quite exciting but not exactly as I had anticipated. Right from the first line, the book is very lively and the author has an uncanny sense of humour and ability to write gripping dialogues and short and sharp descriptions. Every detail is genuine in substance and in feelings. It never dwells on the missed opportunity or mistake and keeps taking us towards new sensations and adventures.
But midway through the book, after a delightful but too short episode back in England, the pace suddenly lifts when the hero decides to try his luck in mainland Australia to find a wife with a vengeance. The first part of the book was just the premises to his quest for sex and romance, which would have been meaningless without some understanding of loneliness in  these remote parts of the world, where alcohol is often the only consolation concentrating around the expats club. The author takes us through a whirlwind search for the elusive woman of his dreams. Each episode is more fascinating than the previous one and the hero seems to have endlessly imaginative and ingenious ways to meet women, although he sometimes gets more than he bargains for, leading to many hilarious situations. But, at other times, it is very moving. When he takes the young girl Molly on a trip to Tasmania where his new posting takes him, there is hope that he would eventually find happiness with the mother. She does reappear later, as we approached the end of the book, but the story takes a different twist and sees him back in PNG for another weird episode where the book leaves us gasping for volume two.
The first part of the book is substantially different from the second part and the two don’t seem to connect fully to the point where, as soon as I had finished, I started reading it again to catch up on the bits I had missed. The hints are there but it is easy to miss them, the book being so rich in images and sensations, especially for anyone who  has ventured in these parts of the world or has emotional connection to them. It is easy to let one’s imagination run wild. 
This book should be a candidate for the Miles Franklin Prize. It is rare to see a book that takes us around the world from England to the Falklands, PNG before decolonisation, Queensland, Tasmania and Capital Territory and expresses so well the solitude of expatriates stranded between their British culture and the void of their adopted colonies at the end of an era and all the way to Australia. A rare and delightful book that can be recommended unreservedly. Can’t wait for the sequel.
Maurice Thibaux         mtxtrans@aapt.net.au

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My grandparents’ wedding in Shanghai 1900

August 1, 2008 at 8:33 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My grandparents' wedding in Shanghai 1900
Just thought that this is an interesting photo. The wedding of my maternal grandparents: Alice Mason and Charles de Bérigny. The woman peering from the side is Em, my grandmother’s sister. Charles worked for The Imperial Chinese Customs. He died in Melbourne in 1911. Alice died in Leeton, New South Wales, in 1958. 

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