Mr & Mrs Kenny

April 28, 2013 at 5:03 am (Biography, Commentary, East Sepik District, expatriates, Maprik, Papua New Guinea, PNG Health)

It’s a funny thing in life how past doings and friends long since forgotten suddenly return to your consciousness.

Well, the other early morning when I awoke from my night’s sleep thoughts suddenly turned to Jim and Madge Kenny.

It would be getting close to fifty years since I’d seen or heard of this captivating couple.

It was in Maprik, in the then East Sepik District, in 1964-65 that I became acquainted with them. We were then all employed by the Public Health Department. Madge was a trained nurse in charge of maternal and child health, and Jim was an EMA (European Medical Assistant) at Maprik Hospital. I was with Malaria Service.

With thoughts about them I had occasion to look at the PNGAA Obituaries, and I came across Madge’s name. She died in 2000 after a distinguished career in nursing and health service management both in PNG and Australia. She left PNG in 1975. For her service there she was awarded an MBE. In Australia she held senior nursing positions, retiring in 1980.

I found no mention of Jim in the said Obituaries. I think I can safely say that like the old soldier he was, he simply faded away.

The stories about Jim were and I’m sure still are legend. What an extraordinary fellow he was.

He was a fighting medical orderly in the AIF with a Mention in Despatches to his credit. Jim carried out his medical duties in many different postings throughout PNG with skill and dedication.

By the time I knew him, he was no longer a young man, but still the dapper, clean and spruce gentleman that I’m sure he’d always been.

I remember him arriving at the Maprik Hotel after work in a PHD chauffeur-driven Land Rover, and stepping out onto the path to the bar ready for a convivial drinking session. If only I’d taken a picture, but alas, I have no snap of him.

We had many meetings together discussing important questions of state and health, lubricated with alcoholic beverages. In fact we used to call these meetings conferences.

On one occasion a young trainee medical assistant was heard to remark that when Mr Wall suggests to Mr Kenny a conference this is not what it really is, but only another name for a drinking session! I dare not comment on this assertion.

Going back some years before I knew Jim, he was on one of his periodic leaves from the Territory, in, I think, Sydney. His mind turned to the medical needs of the Territory’s  Health Department, and he decided he’d visit some medical supply companies. But prior to this he had a card printed that went thus:

 James Kenny, MA LLD                                                                               

Department of Public Health

Territory of Papua & New Guinea

He then duly visited a number of medical/pharmaceutical suppliers, and made extensive orders of products and drugs that he knew were urgently (in his opinion) needed back in the Territory. He signed all the necessary papers for immediate despatch, and everyone accepted his signature as sufficient authorization. You must remember that Jim had the gift of the gab, and he looked the part of a distinguished medical administrator.

Well, after sometime the equipment and drugs arrived by ship in Port Moresby, and the Public Health officials there were amazed to see the wonderful, including x-ray machines of the best and latest, and drugs arrive. The doctors were overjoyed by the products, but then they read the paper work with the consignment, and noticed the authorization approval by the one and only James Kenny. After that there were frantic phone calls to the Sydney companies pointing out that there was no money to pay for the supplied items and no authorization. They were told in no uncertain terms from Sydney that if there was no payment legal action would be taken out against the Health Department.

To make a long story short there was no way the doctors were going to send the supplies back because they were indeed items that were really needed.

At this time Dr John Gunther was the Director of the Health Department, and one of his senior officials had Jim up as it were on the mat.

It was pointed out to Jim that he’d put the Department in a very embarrassing position, and he had no permission to make these purchases, and then one of the officials said to Jim: “What’s this James Kenny, MA LLD?” Jim informed him in so many words that James Kenny was his name, and the MA LLD stood for Medical Assistant liklik dokta.

Being of Irish descent Jim was always eager to make a visit to Ireland. He did make a trip to Dublin, and meet up with some distant relations, and off they went to a pub.

When at the pub one of the customers after hearing Jim speak was reputed to have said: “What’s that Englishman doing in the bar?” – referring to Jim, to which one of his relations answered: “He’s no Englishman, that’s Jim Kenny, the son of Daniel Kenny!” After this a great night was had by all.

In his school years Jim attended Xavier College, Kew, Melbourne. I could not describe him as a fanatical Catholic, if indeed he practised at all. But I never heard him critical of the Church. I suppose his Irish blood was thicker than water, and there’d be inbuilt residual loyalty to Catholicism in his veins.

In both of us I detected some sort of affinity which may have been moulded by our shared Jesuit education – I went to St Ignatius’ College, Riverview. Be that as it may, but in many areas we both saw eye-to-eye, perhaps the drink helped a bit.

Madge, I would suspect was traditional C of E, Jim & Madge’s son, Michael, was sent to Trinity Grammar in Sydney.

Madge was a particularly generous hostess and one was often asked to the house for a meal or a party. Jim was also very generous, but he often found it difficult to stay awake for the arrival of guests.

On arrival at their house it was not unusual to see Jim fast asleep on a chair, and remain so for the duration of the social gathering, and just as the guests were about to leave Jim would wake up thinking the party was just about to start.

Poor Madge once said to me that it would be far easier to be married to a philanderer than to one who drank too much.

Jim, no doubt like us all had his faults, and perhaps at times he was in the grip of the booze, but from my perspective he was always a gentleman.

As I write this piece I’m listening to a recording of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, and I think back to those Maprik days, and the remarkable Madge and Jim couple. Both contributed a lot, and expats and the people of PNG are the better for their contact with them.

I think of the young Jim in his military days carrying a loaded 303, and a medical kit bag into battle, ready to fight and render aid – the EMA Jim, and Nurse Madge, in Misima, battling against a polio epidemic. Both rendered so much over the years to an emerging nation.

I often think even to this day that I’d love to again be in conference with Jim, and to be received so graciously by Madge at a dinner party given by her.

Madge Kenny MBE, and James Kenny MID, like Vaughan Williams’ lark, you two are ascending in my consciousness and appreciation.

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Judge William Desmond Thomas Ward 1920-2012; his former associate, John E Bowers, writes about him.

April 25, 2013 at 2:56 am (Biography, Commentary, John Bowers, Judge Ward, Papua New Guinea, Photos)

Judge Ward


His Honour Des Ward

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William (Bill) Peace 1913-2011

March 23, 2013 at 12:56 am (A.C.T. Marke, Anglican Church in PNG, Biography, Commentary, expatriates, Fiction, Funerals, Love in a hot climate, Papua New Guinea, Temlett Conibeer)

Bill Peace comments, March 25, 2010


When Bill sent me his remarks about A.C.T. Marke’s novel: LOVE IN A HOT CLIMATE, he told me he had written them rather hurriedly, and he requested that I proofread them – this I didn’t do!

In the above link I have now attempted to do this.

Unfortunately, Bill died in the following year, and in his memory, I would like to record the following:

On the 14th of June, 2011, Bill died of a massive heart attack at his home in Wagga Wagga. His funeral and burial service were conducted by the Rev’d Septimus Foreman at St John’s Anglican Church, Wagga, on 17th of June, according to the full burial rites of the Book of Common Prayer. This would have pleased Bill very much as he was a dedicated Prayer Book man!

The assembled mourners were inspired by the reading of Psalm 23 in the King James Version: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In a tribute to Bill, David A. de B. Wall spoke glowingly of his many years of service with the Department of Treasury, in Papua New Guinea.

A short message, of love and condolences, was read out from Bill’s partner of many years, Sakura Mori, known endearingly to Bill as ‘Moonface’. Sakura expressed her deep sorrow that she was unable to attend the funeral because of her failing health, and the travel difficulties entailed on a journey from her home in Osaka.

From the church the funeral procession moved to the War Cemetery for the burial. At the graveside a member of the local RSL spoke of Bill’s war service, and he was honoured with the playing of the last post.

The Rev’d Septimus Foreman then committed Bill’s body to the grave while reading from the Prayer Book:

“… we therefore committe hys bodye to the grounde, earthe, to earthe, ashes, to ashes, dust to dust, in sure, and certein hope of resurrection…”

This day marked the passing of an esteemed Australian and PNG expatriate.

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Dave’s Life

March 19, 2013 at 1:34 am (Biography, Commentary, David Wall, expatriates, Papua New Guinea)



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Norm Liddle, an engaging and likeable character!

February 23, 2013 at 5:31 am (Angoram, Angoram Club, Biography, East Sepik District, East Sepik Province, Kainantu, Mining, Norm Liddle, PNG, Sepik River)

The remains of Norm Liddle's saw mill in Angoram

The remains of Norm Liddle’s saw mill in Angoram

In the course of our lives we all meet a number of people – some readily forgettable and others we might just remember. But there are a select few we can never forget. In this category I would put Norm Liddle!

Norm was that type of Australian, particularly a Queenslander, who I’m afraid to say are now pretty thin on the ground – a man with a wide and varied experience of life and readily adaptable to whatever circumstances he found himself in – whether it was the Australian outback, cutting timber, fixing machinery, serving in the RAAF and the AIF, and living along the Sepik River and the Highlands of PNG; he took it all in his stride. Truly a character!

I first met Norm in 1966 in Angoram. At this time he was living in what was known as the Ex-Service Camp in the far extremities of the town boundaries on the banks of the river. It was there that he had the beginnings of a saw mill.

He arrived in Angoram in 1963. His first interest was to ascertain the timber potential in areas near the Keram River. His junior partner in business at the time was Jeff Liversidge – a man who is still living in Wewak, and is well-known as a sculptor.

A friend of mine once described Norm: ‘as an accomplished musician, skilled taxidermist, reptile hunter, ex-serviceman in both the army and the air force, and pioneer forestry surveyor.’

I well remember Norm in the Angoram Club giving us a rendition on his accordion of Rolf Harris’s The Court of King Caractacus. I must also admit, that on some rare occasions the members hoped that Norm would be like the ladies of the harem of the Court of King Caractacus and just pass by! But seriously we all enjoyed his playing.

Norm was a man that could and would speak with authority on most subjects. In many ways he had an encyclopaedic mind – his facts were not always correct, but in discussions he had few equals. On one occasion he engaged a Spanish speaker in the correct pronunciation of the word, President – Norm insisted that it was El Presidento, the Spanish speaker said it was, El Presidente – I’m afraid the Spanish speaker was correct!

Norm fitted in with the prevailing atmosphere, and the life of Angoram. Some who were less than friendly towards him may have described him as bone lazy. But all credit to Norm, he did survive, even if at times he may have appeared to be only subsisting!

He would make himself available to the odd tourist around the town, and this brought in the odd dollar. One young American woman whom Norm had helped with arranging transport and hiring canoes, showed her gratitude by sending him a packet of marijuana seeds from the States. This was at a time when New Guinea was blissfully ignorant about the drug. Norm planted the seeds near his setup on the river bank and they grew like wildfire. Some said that for a year or so Norm kept himself pretty well stoned! I was told that he was careful not to let the locals know anything about the plant and what it was doing for him.

Norm was a great advocate for a number of local people in the courts, and was instrumental in getting many off after representing and giving legal advice to them – indeed a man of many parts!

His interesting and varied life came to an end in Kainantu in 1986. It was there that, I believe, he thought he was onto a sure thing having found a gold mine that he figured would yield great returns.

Sometime prior to this his personal life took a very happy turn for the better. He met Monika, a woman from Kambaramba, and they became partners. Monika subsequently gave birth to Vivian, their daughter. Norm by all reports was so proud of Vivian.

What else can I say about Norm, he was a character, but a very likeable one, a human man with more virtues than vices!


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The perils, and aches and pains, of self-publishing!

November 21, 2012 at 11:44 am (Biography, Book review, Commentary, David Wall, Jim Wall)

Recently I had published a shortish biography of my father:

Jim Wall An Australian Life 1893-1965, to be released in a batch of 50 copies.

The publishing and printing costs came to $28 per copy, and to post a copy within Australia is about $2. This means that to charge $30 per copy there is no profit made. Of course, added to this one is also inclined to give most copies away for nothing!

I have to admit that the quality of my work is nothing compared to the books written by my friend, the Commander! He also self-publishes, but it is rumoured that his latest novel is being looked at with interest by MGM!

In the line of authorship I’m talking about; after the actual work has been printed, one often finds mistakes that one has made – be they grammatical, factual, or other ability lapses, much to one’s embarrassment!

How much more so must I suffer if ever the work I’ve produced should come to the notice of a legal friend of mine, a noted grammarian and specialist in the uses and abuses of ‘whom’ and ‘who’ in written English. He is said to have an eagle eye in spotting  split infinitives – never would he allow one ‘to boldly go’, but only ‘to go boldly’! He might say that he heard a reader express an opinion that he or she could have written better!

It’s not all gloom and doom in relation to the above work. Some have paid me handsomely to receive a copy. Many readers have made interesting comments, which I’ll attempt to summarize.

From a reader:

“I’m afraid I found your father … well, not the saint you attempt to portray him as. The picture on the cover shows a nervous boy totally out of his depth. What were they thinking allowing him into a women’s hospital? He marries a first cousin, knowing the risks, and then he keeps her permanently pregnant! He says ‘how absurd’ when he is told his wife has an exhausted uterus. By now, I was, really disliking him. I thought the cartoon your mother copied and sent to him was telling … ‘Mussolini says so.’ It obviously went right over his head. Perhaps a more honest portrayal would have humanised him more?? All I could see was a reason for you to be a very long way away and out of touch. Whatever happened to you and why on the plantation? Keeping your mother in the dark is not protective, it’s controlling! I hope the writing helped you… what is the saying? To damn by faint praise??? Have you ever read Christina Stead? The Man Who Loved Children… Thank you for sharing, and I hope the critique does not wound.”

A comment from a relative:

“Thank you very much for the information about our family, and especially about Uncle Jim. It makes me proud to feel one comes from such a substantial family.”

From a reader:

“You could have called it: The life of a Catholic doctor in Australia, 1893-1965. Although a lot of it is for the benefit of the family, you can’t write a biography without raising a lot of wider issues and brushing the socio-political background. This short bio factually and succinctly paints the life in the country at the beginning of the 20th century. A bit like the impressionists: little brush strokes that, together, create the feel of the time and place, even though most of it is left to the imagination. I quite enjoyed reading it and looking for context that was hidden behind, such as diseases, education, religious and moral issues or surprising facts such as the nuns of Chambéry in Norway, which puzzled me. I worked in Chambéry, France, but I did not know that St Joseph of Chambéry had opened in 1865 and spread throughout Europe. I often walked to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s house of Les Charmettes, at night at the light of sodium lamps piercing the ubiquitous fog; and admired the famous Elephant fountain “des Quatre-sans-cul” celebrating Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps at that place. Thanks for bringing the past back to life so vividly. I also enjoyed the many old photographs.”

From a would-be reader:

“I think I’ll wait till I’ve finished this novel before acquainting myself with the delights of Jim Wall’s life. Wonderful picture on the front, though I hope the setting isn’t some Catholic baby farm or punitive home for unmarried mothers.”

From a well wisher:

“I’m sure those 50 copies will be gone soon! (meaning bought by friends)”

From a thrifty and hopeful reader:

“The book would be fascinating, but I will decline. I’ll borrow it from a library!!”

From an impressed reader:

“Thanks for the book it’s so great!! Congratulations.”

From my sister:

“Thank you for the book. I enjoyed reading it & thought it was well written & a good account of Pa’s life. He would have been upset with the scandals in the Church.”

Deborah, my wife, thinks this article is ‘ridiculous’, and she wonders about what I’m trying to do! I guess she’s right, and I wonder too!

By the way, there are 20 books left at $30 a copy!

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D A de B Wall — A disorderly life!

June 27, 2012 at 8:27 am (Biography, Commentary, David Wall)

How does that sound as a title for an autobiography? I think about 200 pages of revealing information — from Melbourne, Sydney and the back blocks of NSW to PNG, Africa, Europe, Canada, Asia and other places of interest — a cultural and emotional journey.

I’ll keep you posted, contributions and information welcome — or maybe so!

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An autobiography

June 23, 2012 at 4:55 am (Biography, Commentary, David Wall)

I’m toying with the idea of writing an autobiography, but I must admit that I’m a bit scared. Looking back on my life I see a lot of a man behaving badly.

I know that confession is good for the soul, but perhaps it’s not the soul I’m thinking of so much.

“It is public scandal that constitutes offence, and to sin in secret is not to sin at all” Molière .

The question is do I want to create a public scandal by writing my autobiography? I have sinned in secret and openly. It’s no good saying that mum’s the word, one has to be honest and tell all.

At times I’ve stepped into a heart of darkness.

Of course I could write something to be published only after I die, which can’t be too far off at 76! And I’m assuming that the public at large would be interested in me and my life.

It’s a problem that I’ll leave to my readers to decide what I should do. If I get a lot of yes replies I’ll go ahead, or maybe I shall.

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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!


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!





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