A fortune so tantalizingly close

October 21, 2009 at 4:30 am (Angoram, artifacts, expatriates, Fiction, Short Story) (, , , , , , , , , )

Sam Bell sat on the verandah of his house in Angoram on Tobacco Road facing the Sepik River and he contemplated the future and the past. He had reason to be reflective as he was, just now, recovering from a rather virulent dose of clap thanks to the penicillin injections given by Jamie Ward, but life went on, and a man had to make a bob and the future offered interesting possibilities in this respect.

Angoram in the 1960s had its fair share of dreamers and schemers with little to sustain them but the hope of better things to come. Sam, who arrived in New Guinea shortly after the Second World War had put his hand to most things from Airways employee to gold mining and trading but never had he been so hopeful of making a fortune than he was just now.

When he first arrived in Angoram he could see that there was money in running a trade store and in buying crocodile skins, and with his partner, Bill Clayton, a pretty penny had been made. But Sam wanted big money and the events of the last couple of days held out the prospect of this.

A couple of weeks previously Sam had sent Carlos Ruiz, a mixed-race employee, to the Amboin area up the Karawari River to check out the kwila or ironwood stands. In this endeavour, his information was of little value. All he could really say was that he had seen the occasional kwila and that the people would cut them down and float them down the river to Angoram, but they wanted axes, saws and an outboard motor to do this as well as an exorbitant amount of money for each tree.

Sam thought to himself that Carlos was a bit of a useless bastard, he’d been up the river on good wages and this is all he can come back with. He knew that he was a bit of a piss-pot and he had become more so after some of those do-gooders had allowed him to become a member of the Angoram Club, as Sam said: “A man’s got to work with them I can’t see any reason why you have to relax with them.” These words of precaution were offered in the soft tones of Sam’s Scottish brogue and became more meaningful in observing the expressive Hemingway look-alike face of his.

But then life is full of surprises, for the good Carlos went on to reveal and show Sam something of earth-shattering importance. Sam, an inveterate art fancier, was all ears after Carlos showed him a piece of woodcarving he had collected while in the upper reaches of the Karawari River.

Carlos could detect that Sam was not too impressed with what he had to tell him about the timber and its availability. As an afterthought he said: “Sam, I did get as far up the river as Inyai, ol yangpela there kept on talking about some caves they wanted to show me. I could tell that the old blokes were not too keen to show me where these caves were. This made me think that there might be something good to see there. Well, I did go to the caves and all I saw was a whole lot of old junky carvings. I bought this one for $10 from the young blokes. A bit of rubbish as far as I’m concerned but I thought you might be interested.”

To say that Sam might be interested was the understatement of the century. What Carlos produced was a wooden carved female figure standing at about 5 1/2 feet and made, as far as Sam could tell, from ironwood. The figure was in the frontal position with upraised arms and the head was crowned with a spiked elevated adornment. Sam, who had been collecting on the river for years, had never seen anything quite like it. It appeared to be very old with an indefinable quality about it.

An appreciation of so called primitive art is an intangible quality that grows on some expatriates without them necessarily being very knowledgeable about the culture that produces such art. What is the difference between a curio and a piece of carving that radiates and gleams to the aware? Sam knew, but could probably not give you an answer. In his years on the Sepik River, Sam had seen piles of good and bad carvings and he had a very good idea what was an artifact and what was just fairly good carving. He had no doubt that what he was looking at now was important aesthetically and financially. Or in Sam’s terminology, “there’s a bob to be made here.”

He knew he had to conceal and disguise from Carlos how impressed he was with the carving. Otherwise, the whole town would hear about it and what was left in the Karawari would be collected by others. He thought to himself, “that bloody Pietro will be up there like a shot and as for that German doctor this would be just the excuse he needs to go on a medical patrol up the river and get as many carvings as he can.” John Pietro was a trader very often in competition with Sam for a good carving. Jan Speer, the German doctor, Sam accused him of building up his own museum and selling artefacts in Europe, all at government expense by collecting on so- called medical patrols.

If there were more like this piece, Sam thought to himself, then I’ve struck it. He could talk of gold, heavy yellow gold. Of course, the very thing he intended not to do was talk about it. He would imply to Bill Clayton, his business partner that he was on a good thing.

“OK Carlos here’s the $10 for this piece and what you’ve found out about timber in the Karawari could be useful. I think I might check it out for myself in the next few days.” He got the carving back to his house pronto, and got his houseboy to brew a very strong pot of coffee. While drinking, he reflected, and tried to suppress his excitement and he decided to share and show Bill Clayton the carving. After all, Bill and I are partners, he figured. But the truth was that he couldn’t help but tell someone of what he considered his good fortune.

Bill when he saw the piece was equally blown away by it. Together they made plans to get up the Karawari River as soon as possible. “We’ll not take that blabbermouth, Carlos, with us.” The lure of gold was now firmly planted in Sam’s psyche and he saw his El Dorado on the horizon. “Bill, we’ve got to get to those caves as soon as possible.”

Sam and Bill made to the caves. Up the Karawari past Amboin to the headwaters of the Arfundi River to Inyai and Awim village territory and beyond to limestone escarpments, where caves were discovered full of the most extraordinary artifacts. Sam nearly had a heart attack on the trip as the going was so hard; tramping through swamps and bush tracks to finally reach the treasure.

The pieces consisted of hooks in a complex style and female figures like the one that Carlos had shown Sam. Sam managed to persuade the locals to sell ten pieces to them and they were up and out of there as soon as they could leave. When they arrived back in Angoram Sam had no trouble getting an export permit from the Assistant District Commissioner.

He decided he would send them off to a contact he had in the Museum of Primitive Art in New York, merely to get them priced. This is what was done but alas, alas, they never got to New York. According to Sam, “some rotten bastard in Madang nicked the lot of them.” For years after Sam and Bill scanned museum catalogues and displays and talked to private collectors, but had no success in tracing their pieces. All that Sam knew was that similar pieces had come on the market and were conservatively priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sam and other collectors did subsequently collect from the caves much to their personal profit. But the ones that were taken were always a source of grief to Sam.

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Did Chairman Mao Visit Angoram in 1966?

October 1, 2009 at 2:52 am (Angoram) (, , , , , , , , , )

Long Life To Chairman Mao by Oldtasty.

Poster source: Flickr

Sixty years ago Mao Zedong declared the beginning of the People’s Republic of China.

For years it has been rumoured and gossiped that Mao visited Angoram in 1966. The Angoram Club’s visitors’ book did bear the name of the illustrious Chairman – a record that alas is no longer with us, being cast to the wind with many other relics and vestiges of that fine institution at its demise after independence.

Mao’s visit is a question among many others: Was there a Maoist cell in Angoram? Did the Postmaster in Angoram at the time alert Special Branch to a letter posted from Angoram to the Chairman? Was a prominent expatriate resident contemplating marriage to the daughter of a Nationalist Chinese Army General? Did a Patrol Officer at Angoram join the Special Branch, the intelligence unit of colonial PNG, some years after the supposed visit? Was the health of Mao proposed and drunk to in the Angoram Club? Did a senior Administrative Officer in Angoram have a connection with the Hong Kong police, and was he a person of interest to the People’s Republic of China? Did an entrepreneur, and fine art dealer of Scottish lineage present to Mao a priceless piece of cave sculpture from the Karawari River area – an artefact that can now be seen in China? Was Mao’s love of peasant rustic women pandered to by a fair Kambaramba lady of the night? A final question is, was Mao borne on the crest of a tidal wave up the Sepik River and deposited at Angoram in 1966?

A known fact is, that at the time, the Malaria Control Officer at Angoram was the proud owner of the “Little Red Book”, Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and was apt to freely quote from this work when in his cups at the Club.

Mr Donald Bosgard, the then venerable President of the Angoram Club, was reported as saying that any visiting head of State would be accorded the respect of his or her office should a visit be made to the Club.

It is recorded that Mao was most impressed with Norm Liddle’s rendition of The Court of King Caractacus on the accordion, and he even invited him to visit China, and play with the Military Band of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Mao was particularly interested in Bob Mackie’s fool-proof method of venereal disease prevention. As Bob said to Mao, “it always works.”

We get back to the basic question, did Mao visit Angoram? Of course he did. You may as well ask me, did George Mallory summit Everest? Of course he did.  It is even said that the Chairman sent Michael Somare a letter about his visit to Angoram.

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Wewak Yacht Club, Sepik Ironman Dinner, 7 June,2009

June 18, 2009 at 2:50 am (expatriates, Wewak) (, , , , , , )

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Sepik Iron Man Competition in Wewak, E.S.P., June 7, 2009, Mainly Focused on the Lapun Team

June 18, 2009 at 12:47 am (Wewak) (, , , , , )

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Mr Alwyn Davies Weds Miss Barbara Wilson, Angoram, 1956

May 7, 2009 at 12:59 am (Angoram) (, , , , )

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Barbara’s daughter, Tanya, wrote: “I was talking to my mother… she said the jeep was built by a man in Angoram by salvaging scraps left in the jungle by the war, and then he spray painted it silver. My mom … was a real adventurer for a woman of her day. She has the most fantastic stories about being out on the Sepik for days at a time. One of the ministers who came to Angoram for the service apparently never made it back. He fell overboard and never surfaced.”

Barbara mentioned that it was Sepik Robbie who put the jeep together.

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Pax Australis: the return of the Raj!

April 1, 2009 at 2:24 am (Angoram) (, , , , , )

d-d.Photograph: courtesy Mrs Johnson

Sir Donald Bosgard and David Wall Esquire, Angoram,1969


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Kev Baby and Sue step it out; can you name the surrounding people?

February 15, 2009 at 8:04 am (Angoram, expatriates) (, , , , )


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Komuniti, monthly newsletter, Angoram Community Centre

September 8, 2008 at 7:32 am (Bob Mackie, Commentary, David Wall, East Sepik District, Fr Fons Ruijter, Norm Liddle) (, , , , , , , )

Vol. 1 No. 1 January 1973

Angoram- – – then, today, tomorrow     Paul Niaga

Too little is known about the sub- district of Angoram. The expatriates who have lived in Angoram come and go barely leaving notes and records that could go down in the sub- district’s history. As a human interest feature, Komuniti  has interviewed four old-timers who have seen the growth of the town over the last ten years.

Bob Mackie, a labor recruiter in his heyday has seen Angoram in the ’50s; Norm Liddle, a sawmiller and trader has been here in the ’60s; Fr Fons Ruijter, Angoram parish priest and Dave Wall, malaria area supervisor who both came here in the ’60s.

The stories of these men have found their way in the archives of Angoram’s past carried on today and perhaps tomorrow.

Bob Mackie:  In the ’50s, there were no motor boats and motor vehicles. There were only one or two stores which sold brown rice, tin fish and other general merchandise goods. I remember in those days, the locals were not allowed to drink beer. And one of the most prevalent crimes was rape. Other than that, the town was relatively peaceful in the ’50s.

As for racial discrimination, I have not seen any such thing.


Norm Liddle:  I have been here since 1963 and I have not seen many changes take place. Economically, Angoram is still the same. I think the people should be trained and given skills in producing basic products.

I have no opinion on racial problems. I think such problems come from people who teach hatred for each other due to trivial differences.

Political awareness in this country to day is still nil. In the first election, Bill Eichhorn stood as a candidate and lost. If he had campaigned well, he would have won easily. Until now, the people have no idea what elections are all about.


Fr Fons Ruijter:  Angoram has improved a little since the ’60s. The trade stores have improved and increased in number. The public servants’ houses are far better than in those days. The airstrip has been renovated. We in the ’70s have a local government centre now. The artifacts and crocodile industries have now grown to surpass the sawmill industry.

In the ’60s, the majority were working for private enterprises whereas now, most are administration employees. This why I think Angoram has turned into an administrative town in the ’70s. The cream of the town’s income come from there.

There is a higher level of political awareness in the ’70s than in the ’60s. There are more political meetings now where people can watch and listen. Radio stations also hasten political awareness.

After self government, I think race relations will be pretty good in Angoram. Many jobs will be localised leaving just a few Europeans working here. Once self government is achieved, race relations will not be a great problem.

But after self government, Angoram will remain economically the same. Incidentally, I must say that the majority of Angoram  residents living by the river banks will have to move to where the source of income is. To have more prospects of economic growth, the local people I think should take interest in Gavien projects, cultivate the land gradually by growing rice, coffee, coconuts from now and onward.


Dave Wall:  I first came to Angoram in 1965. I have witnessed two House of Assembly elections, five different ADCs, four medical officers, three school headmasters and three old expatriate families who have gone away. Having assisted in the survey of the Land Settlement Scheme in Gavien, I have seen the development of some agricultural blocks in this area. And yet, I don’t think the physical growth of Angoram has been remarkable. It is only by remaining as a government station that Angoram can have bright hopes of prospering. It is only Angoram’s economic viability that will guarantee and insure its future.

As far as political awareness is concerned, I am optimistic that more and more people will participate in government activities. The increase in the Sepik student population is encouraging. One good example of the ability of the Sepik people is Mr Michael Somare who emerged as this country’s chief minister.

If the government will be run by sensible leaders like Mr Somare, the development of Papua New Guinea will be assured.

Deborah Ruiz Wall, Editor / Paul Niaga, Managing Editor / Pius Balai, Pius Kinok, Herman Leni, Reporters/

Catholic Mission, Publisher /    Komuniti is the Angoram newsletter published monthly to disseminate information and encourage discussions on important issues as a public service to the community. The opinions expressed therein are not necessarily of the staff.

See: https://deberigny.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/chief-minister-michael-somare-visits-angoram-feb-1973/#respond

Letter from the District Commissioner

Deborah Ruiz Wall looks at Angoram in 1973


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Love on the Run A Temlett Conibeer Story By A.C.T. Marke

May 31, 2008 at 2:21 am (A.C.T. Marke, Book review, Commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

  A.C.T. Marke criticizes the reviewer and the review.

The geographical expanse and character portrayal in this amusing tale makes for pleasurable and easy reading.

 From the rural West Country of England to a bleak sheep farm in the Falkland Islands, we are taken on a journey to Australia and Papua New Guinea. 

 Temlett Conibeer, a young Englishman, artlessly steers his life, with something of the innocent abroad about him, in manoeuvres and tactics in search of a wife: from his rather inept and clumsy socializing to advertising in the personals, to visiting coupling agencies- we jaunt with Temlett on a psychological and sexual adventure.

 We are told of a loving but slightly censorious mother who discourages Temlett’s romantic endeavours and a lusty possessive older Hungarian woman, Mayar, whom he keeps at bay sexually. There is a vast variety of women such as Evelyn in the Falklands and the Argentinian, Manuella, with her full figure and pretty looks in Brisbane. 

 A collection of strange, romantic and passionate women come and go in Temlett’s life. The world, as it were, was his oyster but the pearl he wants eludes him.

  The love scenes are always tasteful but they reveal more than mere hints of female cleavage and ample thighs.

  The reader will find the male characters in the book highly entertaining. ‘Farmer’, Temlett’s uncle with his snuff and mean and wily ways – Dr Petrolov, the urbane Russian medical doctor, and David Ware with his get- rich plans, with many others, are jocular and amusing. The accounts of conversations and life in the old Territory of Papua and New Guinea have a realistic tone about them. In fact, the whole novel is, I suspect, something of a roman à clef .

  This book is hilarious and is highly recommended for the suburban commuter or others wanting to enjoyably while away their time. PNG expats will find this novel especially amusing.



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