“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever women in this humour won?”

November 5, 2013 at 3:29 am (Fiction)

Many are the stories told of expatriates who lived and worked in the former Australian Territory of Papua New Guinea.

Some always remained foreigners in a foreign land. Colonials forever, with all the negative qualities implied in this description.

On the other hand, there were those who took to the land and its people like ducks to water. This is a little tale about two such people.

In the far off days of the 1960s there lived two expatriates in the East Sepik District of PNG. Both were employed by the Australian Administration.

Jim Jones was a teacher in a remote coastal village, and Greg Smith was a field officer with the Department of Health.

In many ways both were typical Aussies. Jim came from Adelaide in South Australia, and Greg from Sydney in New South Wales. But on an examination of their backgrounds there were interesting aspects to them both.

Jim’s father was an orthopaedic surgeon, and Jim had received all the benefits in educational and social terms from his upper middle class background.

Greg’s father was a Baptist Minister from the Western Suburbs of Sydney. He always spoke well of his father, but he found his home environment stifling, and he was anxious to move on and far away as soon as he could on leaving high school. His chance came when he answered an advertisement for field officers to serve with the newly created Malaria Service in the Department of Public Health in PNG.

Greg was interviewed in Sydney by a specialist in tropical medicine, Dr Jan Sienkiewicz, and offered a position. He proceeded to Rabaul, and did a three months’ course with others, and was then posted to the East Sepik District.

Jim’s journey to PNG followed a stint with the RAAF as a ground officer. He applied to become a teacher in PNG in the E-Course Scheme, and he was accepted, and sent to Port Moresby to do a six months’ course, after which he was posted to the East Sepik District.

Before our two heroes actually met they had heard a lot about each other. Jim was making a name for himself as a fine teacher in a remote village in the Murik Lakes area, and Greg was conducting extensive medical patrols throughout the Sub-District.

The headman or luluai where Jim’s school was a man called John Kalba, and he brought Jim and Greg together when they were all in the town of Angoram.

To any outsider it was obvious that Jim and Greg got on very well with the local people. Both in a very short time had become fluent in Pidgin English.

As far as Jim was concerned there was no such thing as a colour bar, fraternisation particularly with the local women was part of his race relations. In this particular respect Greg was a bit slower, probably because of his rather strict Protestant background, but in time this broke down, and he too saw the beauty of the PNG women.

Jim in his dealings with the local village people always followed a communal approach. When he got his supplies from Wewak he always shared them with the locals, and when his food run out, the people fed him from their own gardens.

Greg was never quite as generous as Jim in this regard, but he made up for this with the wonderful first aid and medical treatments he gave to the people.

The readers of this PNG tale might be tempted to ask what it’s all about.

Well, it’s got something to do with circumstances and the way events turned out.

Let’s say in the vicinity of fifty years ago in the late afternoon, Jim and Greg were sitting on the verandah of Jim’s house near the village school overlooking the ocean, and a young man approached them saying: Apinun masta, mi mekim gutpela tok,tupela meri wetim yupela long nambis. (Afternoon masta, I’ve got some good news, there are two women waiting for you both on the beach.)

There is no intention here to make any sort of a judgement about what happened or to accuse anyone of anything. To make a long story short, Jim took up the offer and Greg gave it a miss.

A bit over a year later Greg happened to be in the village of the same area and the tultul (Number two village man) said to him, pointing out a baby that the child was Jim’s. Jim sometime before had been posted to a school in Wewak.

Later in Wewak Jim filled in the details for Greg. He told him that when he heard about the child he sent word that the boy, he was a lad, should be brought into Wewak with the mother so that a discussion could be made about his future. Nothing happened! Jim heard that the mother was to marry a policeman and he was happy about the boy, and he did not want any further talk.

Jim next said to Greg: “You bastard, Greg, that meri was meant for you!”

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that we never know how things will turn out!

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