Family and friends gather for a matriarch’s 80th birthday celebration

January 20, 2011 at 2:58 am (Fiction, Short Story) (, )

The feast was set and the guests and relations had met to celebrate Claire de Witt’s 80th birthday.

On a sunny first of January in suburban Sydney this occasion got off to a lively start in the house of Claire’s daughter and son-in-law, Margaret and Konrad, they were known for the lavishness of their hospitality, and the spread they provided on this occasion rendered most of the adults inebriated shortly after their arrival.

A friend of Margaret’s, a divorcee in her forties, arrived with a partner, and was well under the weather on French Champagne shortly after. In her inebriated state she began flirting with the male guests. Her partner created a bit of a stir by announcing after each visit he made to the lavatory that he had been pointing Percy at the porcelain. The host and Claire’s eldest son were seen at various times in the company of the divorcee. Towards the end of the evening ‘Percy’ became intensely jealous of the divorcee’s behaviour and wanted to fight a number of the males, he even threatened Margaret.

The food and drink were going at a great rate with numerous grandchildren running about, and largely unsupervised. Music, dancing and swimming all created an atmosphere more akin to a splurge in Ancient Rome than to middle class suburban Sydney.

A fly on the wall would wonder what Claire de Witt thought of it all – the near adulterous liaisons and even worst still, the sexual and physical abuse of a little five-year-old by a teenage boy.

There were a few poor and inarticulate speeches given supposedly in praise of Claire’s eighty years of life and achievement. Margaret had to leave the proceedings early to drive a Melbourne guest to the airport and upon returning she was threatened by ‘Percy’.

You couldn’t really say that a good time was had by all, not at least in the moral sense, but perhaps there were some who attended felt that the event honoured Claire.

Claire’s long deceased husband, an admirable man and a devout Catholic in life would have been outraged by the whole event and absolutely appalled by the abuse of his grandchild.

As the Bard said: “ Men’s evil manners live in brass…”


Permalink Leave a Comment

“Search for Mrs Right”

December 9, 2010 at 4:14 am (Fiction, Love on the Run, Papua New Guinea) (, , , , , , )

THE EXAMINER, Saturday, December 4, 2010

Permalink 4 Comments

Brother George faces the Judgement of his Lord

November 18, 2010 at 2:11 am (Fiction) ()


Brother George had died but he didn’t as many expected go straight to the bosom of  Abraham, but was met at the pearly gates by St Peter who greeted him with the words:“welcome, George, but before I let you in I’ve a bone to pick with you, why did you spend so much time down there denying the rights of my successors occupying the Chair of St Peter?  In answer George put his point very well by explaining to St Peter that he was of a reformed faith and had no time for the popes of Rome. St Peter then sked him directly by what authority he had authorized the re-baptism of Brother John, an Anglican? George said that only total immersion following the custom of the Baptist and the Lord was a legitimate initiation into the Christian community. St Peter said he would give him a chance to put this directly to the Lord later as Our Lord had a lot of questions about George’s Baptist community in suburban Brisbane, one of which was the apostasy of Sister Cheryl to the Arian creed of Islam, and you can imagine how little sympathy Our Lord has with this belief as the Second Person in the Trinity. St Peter then informed George that if he had his way he would give him a good burst in Purgatory before he allowed him into the presence of the Lord, this outraged George, and he said to St Peter that there was no such place as Purgatory, to which St Peter replied: “we’ll see about that.”

 He then informed George that the judicial processes in Heaven had lately become almost impossible with Mary MacKillop speaking up for every Australian that comes this way: heretics, atheists, schismatics, Muslims and various other neo-pagans. According to St Peter, the Godhead in the persons of the Father and the Holy Ghost had about had a gut full with Mary of the Cross’ advocacy on their behalf, but the Son was still ready to listen to her. St Peter himself liked straight decisions – to Heaven or to Hell with maybe a little Purgatory in between. In the old days before St Mary of the Cross the Holy Trinity more or less left things up to his recommendations and proclaimed in a truly Almighty fashion their final judgment which usually accorded with what he had told the Three Persons. She, Peter considered was fully as bad as the Blessed Virgin Mary was in the old days, wanting every Tom Dick and Harry to make it to Heaven. The Holy Ghost was forced to put his foot down, and rein in Our Lord’s Mother so that the Trinity’s unimpeded judicial decisions could go ahead, but now with the Australian MacKillop’s interference things are going back to the bad old days again, at least in the case of justice, being given to her fellow country men and women. 

George made it known to St Peter that he had a number of questions that he wanted to ask the Lord Jesus. Why did he have to wait until he had died on earth to meet Him? George insisted that he had accepted Jesus as his Saviour,  as a true and abiding Baptist in the expectation of the Rapture and the Second Coming, and he had fought the good fight against the forces of evil, and at the very least, he could have expected to be raptured; not,  to be questioned by a pseudo Papist before he even gets to see the Lord. St Peter said to George: “I’ll remind you I have the keys and not too much of that pseudo Papist stuff.”

St Peter escorted George into the presence of the Second Person of the Trinity and introduced him to Our Lord. The experience quite overwhelmed him, and he went down on his knees exclaiming his astonishment that at last after a life of faith he had met his Lord, in as it were, in the flesh. Our Lord lifted him to his feet and embraced him saying:  ”your faith has saved you, but I’ve always been with you not only in the word, but also in  my transubstantiated sacramental presence which unfortunately your theology does not recognize. At my Last Supper you were given the power to have me with you always, George, there is no need of a Second Coming.” George was tempted to argue, but he thought better of it on considering that this, after all, was as it were from the horse’s mouth. He instead uttered a cry begging forgiveness for his past heresy and a willingness to embrace the teaching of the Universal Church and pray for the souls of the departed at a Mass in Rome or even a Eucharist Liturgy in Athens. The Lord then informed him that there was no need for that now as he was one of the departed in the presence of the Heavenly Kingdom and Jesus explained to him why he was saved. 

He told George that he had indeed been true to the word, and with Brother John, a soul still on earth, he had battled against the forces of the New Age, but why had he not used John, an excellent Pidgin speaker, in his mission to the New Hebrides? He told George about the problems that arose in his Baptist community – the loss of Sister Cheryl to Islam and the entrusting of the mission to the inland to a Christadelphian. Our Lord commended George’s mission to the Jews but he had some concerns. The old Covenant has passed and the new Covenant is with the Church – the body of believers is the body, and this is the Church. There are now no Jews and Gentiles, but only believers, who accept the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Lord told George that the Church was his body. The new Jerusalem, is just that. Israel is not the Church, be it spiritual or Covenant inspired. Jesus said, “George, your theology of Israel was just a muddle.” George expressed his sorrow and told the Lord that he now saw the error of his ways. The Lord went on to explain to George that his good wife had made it, and now sat the feet of the Father. She was quite right in her concerns about the hours that Brother John and Sister Cheryl spent together, especially in the caravan at the back of the manse, but of course, we now know that there was no hint of Eros in their relationship and Brother John was correct in saying that they were only working on the New Age for you. The Lord went on to say, to George: “as you know,  John  is of the Anglican persuasion as you yourself were once, a church in schism but still with valid baptism. You had no right to re-baptize him,  but I do know as an elder and a shepherd of your flock your guidance was well intended and you are now forgiven. Anyhow, throughout the years Brother John has been directed by his reading of  Cranmer’s  Prayerbook, a man who incidentally is still in Purgatory for his part with that rogue Henry in depriving my mother of her dowry. I won’t tell you where Henry is,  but he is with his daughter, Elizabeth, the one born out of wedlock among others, in a place fitting to their state. The Holy Ghost tells me that Cranmer’s Prayerbook is basically free of heresy and this is why he’s in Purgatory and not the other place. Your Sunday luncheons with the family and inner-circle of the congregation were, I’m pleased to say, more than just a meal. As the shepherd you carved the fatted lamb and shared the fruits of the earth with a group who saw me as their Lord, and because of this, the Father, Holy Ghost and I am inclined to reward you. There are still some doubts in our minds, but at least we’ll get Mary MacKillop off our backs by letting you in, and as you know we are three persons but one spiritual being, and your devotion to the Trinity has saved you, but there is one condition,  you are commanded to continue your prayers for Brother John. The Father and the Holy Ghost have insisted that John is to be tested. Mary of the Cross is upset about this. It is known that John’s Christian love of others has been noble, in the qualities of Philia and Agape he displayed. But is he able to resist the attractions of Eros? With this question in mind, he is to be placed in situations where he comes into contact with beautiful pagan Asian women, and his faith will be tested, as steel is strengthened in the blast furnace so John’s faith will also be tested and improved. St Peter approves of this, he wrote as much in 1: 6-7 in the New Testament. He will not be tried beyond his limits but we all have to pray for him.”

Brother George assured Our Lord that he would pray for John and he was then ushered into the presence of the Father and the Holy Ghost.

Permalink Leave a Comment

A serialized novella in weekly chapters:

July 30, 2010 at 7:22 am (Fiction) ()

“Because I could not stop for Death” Emily Dickinson

A Novella  by David Wall


A medical diagnosis                                       

Jack Mason came out of the doctor’s surgery with a piece of shattering news. Dr David Campbell, his GP and his old friend, had just informed him that he strongly suspected his recently deteriorating health was due to pancreatic cancer. He’d done a number of  preliminary tests and what with his symptoms of abdominal pain, anaemia, fever, vomiting and stool discolouration, he could only come to one conclusion. But he would have to refer him to an oncologist for confirmation and treatment.

On being told of David’s diagnosis Jack said: “what does that mean and what is the prognosis?” David told him that things were not good but he did not want to go into details until the oncologist makes a diagnosis and anyhow his findings could be wrong. To which Jack replied: “don’t give me that bullshit, I know you David and your opinion is as good as any specialist and I want no goddamn referrals, so tell me what you think. “Well Jack, just remember we are no longer living in Papua New Guinea and what I can do for you as a GP in Sydney is very limited except pass you on for treatment. Which is exactly what I should do but you were always a stubborn and an opinioned bastard and I suppose if I give you a referral I don’t suppose you would go, anyhow. I’ll talk to you as I wouldn’t to my other patients. At the best you have about a year to live, but please, Jack, go to a specialist, I want you to have every chance. It could be that the cancer is confined to the pancreas and the tumour could be removed. People do recover after a Whipple procedure, which this type of operation is called.” “David you don’t believe it is, do you?” “I won’t answer that, Jack.”

This gave Jack all the truth he needed and he told David, he didn’t want to subject himself to a lot of useless operations and chemotherapy. At this stage he felt sick but not too bad and anyhow he knew that David would see that he did not suffer too much. By this he did not mean that David would assist him to end his life. David like Jack, were both still Catholics of a certain type but David as a physician was a master of pain control. And he would see that he didn’t suffer.

“Whatever you do don’t tell Mary about this.” Jack said to David. Mary was Jack’s wife and they both lived together in the Sydney inner suburb of Newtown. David told him he should inform his wife but he would respect his request. David knew in the normal course of events Mary would find out anyhow.

What goes a person do when faced with a death sentence? Jack thought to himself, everyone is faced with death. It’s when it’s going to happen is the important thing. If it was to be tomorrow he would probably be shitting himself but from his point of view things weren’t too bad. He went through his situation. He was sick but didn’t feel too bad. He was in the parlance of the day a man of a certain age. That is in his seventies. He had no dependants and Mary would have no trouble coping without him. In fact throughout their marriage she had always been able to stand on her own feet both psychologically and financially. Their two sons were employed and living away from home. So they would be OK. The big question for Jack was, what was he going to? He had some ideas.

He was recently retired from his job as a school librarian and had a good pension coming in. Mary was a recently retired university lecturer and now fully involved in social action groups. She also had a good pension. David had given him about a year or this was his interpretation of what had been said. There was no way he was going to sit around and gradually die. To employ the old saying he would die with his boots on, but then again, what were his options?

To hide his ill health as long as possible and live a normal life. He could take his doctor’s advice and be referred to a specialist or he could travel somewhere. But then again he could just stay at home and hope for the best.

It has been said that a drowning person is presented with images of his past life just before death. Jack could identify with this. On his way home after hearing David’s diagnosis his past flooded his mind. Things that he had done and things he hadn’t done haunted him. Theologians tell us that faith, hope and charity are the virtues most associated with salvation. The third one is said to be the greatest and Jack could well believe this as it was uncharitable acts of commission and omission that haunted him now.

He convinced himself that death itself didn’t worry him. In his youth he’d been half killed in a rubber plantation in Papua New Guinea after being set upon by a group of labourers. This from what he remembers was something that just happened. In a way a bit like the cancer he now had. He was carried to an adjoining plantation by Chimbu workers and cared for by a plantation manager who had picked up considerable medical skills while in the army during the Korean War. From this he recovered and he asked himself why not from cancer? But life was simple and complicated. Simple if you didn’t analyze it but complicated if you did. The plantation manager who treated him was something like life, simple on the surface, but complex and strange in many ways. Skilled in his practical medical knowledge, a good mechanic, illiterate in office skills, a fluent Pidgin English and Police Motu speaker, a closet homosexual and an unusual but kindly man.

Jack sought to explain to himself the meaning of life. In his younger years he had all the answers, or at least he thought he did or should’ve, as a believing Catholic. But time erodes certainty. The praxis of living confronts most theories of life. The obsessive bedroom morality of Catholicism he eventually concluded was far from the meaning of life. The movements of his privates in whatever direction were he concluded of little concern to the Almighty.

When he got home to their Victorian terrace house, Mary met him at the door. “Jack, where have you been?” “Oh, I’ve only been to the city and met up with Ernest Spender, we had lunch at Woolworths.” This he considered a good alibi as Mary had little contact with Ernest, a friend from his former Papua New Guinea days. Mary asked him how he was feeling and he said fine. “You should go to see the doctor as I don’t like that cough you have.” Jack brushed off this remark.

Would Jack, consult a well-known clairvoyant, Violet, a friend of Mary’s? She lived in Newtown and was said to have mystical powers, a vision healer who could dispel harmful entities from one’s body. He thought to himself that he must be desperate to be thinking of a New-Age remedy to his physical problems. His early indoctrination into Catholicism had left him with a spiritual exclusiveness and very little openness to other paths, even if he had come to doubt his Catholic beliefs. Prayer in the traditional sense still had some meaning for him and he was reminded of Tennyson’s words: “More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of.”

 “Oh, hell I’ve had a pretty good life and I’m old. What am I complaining of? Mary and my boys I’m lucky to have. Of course, I’ve got regrets about stupid things I’ve done. In my younger days booze was a problem but I suppose the thing I most regret is something I’d not admit to others, I didn’t get enough sex when I was younger. Lost opportunities are always painful.”

Jack was involved with his thoughts and he was reminded of what an old friend from his PNG days said to him recently about returning to PNG. “You can never recapture what is past.” But you can see old places if not too many old friends.

Cancer isn’t the worst thing in the world. This is what Jack said to himself without much conviction. He decided to do a Google search, and this came up: “Pancreatic cancer life expectancy is very low. Once a person has been diagnosed with the condition, general pancreatic life expectancy is only 5 to 8 months.”

But this didn’t discourage him too much, strange as this might seem. He felt if he didn’t let the doctors loose on himself his prognoses would be much better. Hell, he meant to be around a lot longer than five months and he was sure he would be. This sturdy approach was perhaps more bravado, on his part, than his true mental feelings. His rational mind was at work more than he would admit. The silly, the scandalous and the misfortunes of his past came back to haunt him. Why did he burn family photos of nineteenth century Mason relations, taken at Shepherd’s Bush, London, after his father died? Why did he allow the family to hand into the police his father’s First World War revolver? That full bottle of whisky he consumed many years ago in an island in Papua New Guinea, and the subsequent totally inappropriate behaviour on his part. His youthful racism in his dealings with the natives of PNG was something that made him sink his head in shame. Why didn’t he walk ten miles to render medical aid to a pneumonia sufferer, one night many years ago while serving as a field officer with the health department in the Sepik District, when he knew that an injection of penicillin may have saved a life? With these thoughts, and others, poor Jack felt depressed and unable to comfort himself with the good things he had done in the past.

He asked himself, what should he do?


                                       Jack turns to the New Age 


The day after his visit to the doctor, Jack was at home by himself. Mary told him she was attending an Amnesty International meeting in the city.

Jack saw the shortcomings in his life as a consequence of circumstances. Such a thing happened because he had too much to drink. If he had turned right instead of left there would have been no trouble. If he had remembered something in an exam he would have passed and eventually got himself a better position. His failure to pass a medical examination was because of his honesty in filling out a questionnaire about the health of family relations. He mentioned that his grandmother had died of TB. This heredity malady, according to the examining doctor, disqualified him from service in the tropics. The rationale for his cancer he blamed on mortality. “We all had to go because of something.”

In his present state of ill health and with the certainties of life under question, he became like a drowning man gasping for breath in need of respiration.

Surfing the net one day he came across a site offering psychic readings by email. All he had to do was send a digital photo and ask questions to receive an accurate and honest reading. This would cost him about $50.

He reasoned, why not try, what except $50 had he to lose, so he scanned a picture of himself and got away the text of an email:

“I’m a seventy-plus- year- old man who has recently been diagnosed with cance. From what I’ve heard from my doctor the cancer is terminal. I don’t feel too sick but it appears I’ve about six months to live. And should I travel to Papua New Guinea, a place I spent a lot of time in when I was young? If you can’t give me an answer, tell me. I don’t want a lot of bullshit but just a bit of honest advice. I’ve transferred $50 to your bank account”. 

A week after he got his reply:

“Jack, I know that you are an honest man. Your photo tells me a lot and I know that you will fight the cancer and I know that you will succeed if you continue to trust your own intuition. You must make a trip to PNG. I know you are a very lucky man but your star is not just now shining. Just go with the flow. You need to make an appointment to come in to see me. What I’ve told you so far is spot on but a fuller and more insightful assessment can only be made if I see you”. 

Jack thought to himself, what a load of bullshit that was, so much for psychic readings, and what a waste of $50 that little idea was. He may as well go off and learn to play the African drums. But on second thoughts the psychic reading was at least positive and said exactly what he wanted to do anyhow, thus proving that ‘psychics’ know quite a lot about pleasing their customers and marketing their wares.

Whatever stage of life one is in meaning is so important. Jack considered that he still had a lot of meaning left in his life. The psychic advised him to return to PNG and he couldn’t deny that there was a powerful force impelling him to do this. He was reminded of an old friend he had known in his days in PNG who was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition and instead of settling down to as it were to die he rushed off to the Sydney office of Air Niugini and booked a flight to Rabaul. The story did not have a happy ending as he died before boarding the plane. But at least he was following his dreams and Jack considered this to be important.

So many of his friends had dropped off the perch and this, he was sure, influenced the way he looked at life. There was death and corruption all around him. The Church had gone to the pack with the sexual abuse scandals. Politics and politicians seemed little different from gangs and criminals. They lied and sent people to meaningless wars. Jack wondered if his cancerous body was just a sign of the times.

With these despondent and dejected thoughts, Jack decided to leave Sydney and escape to Papua New Guinea. He was a realist enough to know that he was probably following an illusion but a mirage would take his mind off his imminent death and he would travel hopefully.

Was this a running away from reality? He had often said in the past that death when it comes would be better faced in the jungle than in institutionalized care. The freedom of fading away like that of an old soldier was perhaps a dream but an appealing one.

Chapter 3

Jack returns to PNG

An old mate of his, Peter Smith, still lives in Wewak, a town in the East Sepik Province, and he’s sure he won’t mind putting him up for a few weeks or even more.

A phone call to Peter and a booking with Qantas and a few immigration preliminaries and he’s off to Wewak.





Permalink 2 Comments

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.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Free online copy of Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk!

December 28, 2008 at 11:21 pm (Angoram, artifacts, expatriates, Fiction, malaria control, Papua New Guinea) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

A critique that is a fair measure of the book.

Just send me your email address in ‘comment’ and I’ll send you an online copy. The link to the online copy:

For $2 you can get the book from Amazon Kindle Direct:

Permalink 67 Comments

James Ward goes to Confession

November 3, 2008 at 5:15 am (Fiction) (, , , , , )

The next morning, Christmas day, James awoke and his first sense was a strong awareness of Laura. He felt and smelt her presence around him. He looked at his watch, 9:15, and then he remembered Paul Kirshner telling him about Mass at 10:00. As it was Christmas, he considered that he had better go to Mass. So he got ready and made his way down to the wharf, where the Christopher was docked.


He arrived early and he noticed Paul hearing confessions on a secluded part of the deck. Paul was wearing his cassock with a stole around his neck and seated on an upturned box. The penitent was kneeling in front of him. This scene created mixed emotions in James. His first inclination was to run away. He was in no mood for confession and in his relations with Laura he certainly had no firm purpose of amendment. He was, as he said to Laura later, “suffering with grief about past sexual sins.”


While all these thoughts were going through his mind, Paul looked up after giving a penitent absolution, and his eyes met James’s for a brief moment. For some reason this look from Paul profoundly moved him. It seemed to be a saintly invitation that the nature of his being impelled him to accept.  It was as if Paul was extending a life-line to him. Almost as an automaton, James joined the line of those waiting to have their confession heard.


He kneeled in front of Paul and started his confession:


“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It is about two years since my last confession and I accuse myself of the following sins:

I’ve had sexual relations with a number of women and I’m now carrying on an affair with a married woman. I’m also guilty of self-abuse once or perhaps twice.”


Paul then said to James: “Are you sorry for these sins?”


James answered: “Father, that’s the trouble: I’m not sure that I am.”


Paul replied: “James, the mere fact that you have come to confession shows a desire for forgiveness and at the very least you are sorry that you are not sorry. Your sins are sins of the flesh. You have given in to desires that every man has. This is not to excuse you, but we must all put our lives into a context and perhaps where you have sinned against charity to others, greater sins have been committed and this is where sexual sins sometimes lead us. I’m sure that you are trying to do your best and I have no hesitation in giving you absolution. For your penance say the Our Father and three Hail Marys and now make an act of contrition.”


James proceeded to mumble the contrition: “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I resolve with the help of Thy grace, to amend my life. Amen.”


Paul gave him absolution: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”


James answered: “Amen.”


Paul said: “Go in peace.”


James answered: “Thank you, Father.”


James then heard Mass and received communion on board and shortly after the MV Christopher up anchored and went down river to Marienberg.


Excerpt from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk

Permalink Leave a Comment

Short Story by Deborah Ruiz Wall

September 12, 2008 at 3:24 am (Fiction, Short Story) (, , , , , )

Permalink 1 Comment

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!





Permalink 2 Comments

The downfall of Frank Gibson

July 22, 2008 at 5:42 am (Short Story) (, , , )


He awoke suddenly with a languid feeling, and the first thing he noticed was that the mosquito net was not tucked in at the side of the bed.

   Frank Gibson then became aware of a slight musky yet pleasant smell on his bed pillow. It then came to him that he had slept with Maria. If slept was the operative word, he thought, it would not have been so bad, but a vague feeling of emptiness and inaction in the region of his loins spoke for itself and told another story.

   With the full recognition of what had happened he became aware of complications and difficulties created by, what he thought to be, a moral lapse.

   My God, what a fool he had been, he thought. If only he had walked away, as he had many times before from similar situations. Even the extra glass of Negrita Rhume, he had had the night before, didn’t excuse his lack of self-control.

   The Territory of Papua and New Guinea gave little endorsement to miscegenation, especially if one were a government officer.

   Frank as a European Medical Assistant was fully aware of this. He’d seen officers suddenly sent South – as the saying went for deportation to Australia – on the strength of the Native Women’s Protection Ordinance, which virtually forbad cohabitation between expatiates and native women. He also knew the complications that having ‘a bit of black stuff’ created, and he thought with terror of how his authority would be undermined in the native hospital he ran. Maria was his head nurse and an influential person on the small government station of Dreikikir. A station situated in the Sepik District at the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains, elevated at a sufficient height to produce mild climatic conditions. Contact from Dreikikir was maintained with the district administrative centre at Wewak by radio and light aircraft.

   There were two other white men on the station besides Frank, Bernie Porter, a Cadet Patrol Officer and Fr John Ryan, an American Divine Word Missionary.

   Bernie was a fairly average Australian who just managed to pass the School Leaving Certificate which qualified him for entry into the Department of Native Affairs as a Cadet Patrol Officer. Frank knew that Bernie had been itching to bed a local woman but was just too scared to do anything about it.

   Fr John was a singular character who before becoming a priest had been a lawyer in Chicago. Frank knew that John had no time for expatriates who carried on with local women. Frank feared that if he found out about his affair with Maria – a state that could hardly be ornamented with the term affair at this stage – it would considerably strain their friendship.

   Frank’s friendship with John was important to him. John was the only real contact with an educated man who shared many of his interests, for indeed, Frank was not your average medical assistant. He had completed 4 years medicine at Sydney University and only left to come to New Guinea because he had insufficient funds to continue his medical course. The fact that Frank was a practising Catholic strengthened his friendship with John.

   After his fling with Maria, Frank could see problems with his weekly communion at Sunday Mass. The prospect of going to confession to Fr John did not attract him at all. Anyhow, Frank thought, I’m not sorry for the Maria episode.

   Maria, in any man’s book was a beautiful woman and even the word local did not strictly apply to her as she came from Kerema in Papua – an area noted for the beauty of their women and Maria lived up to this reputation with her long limbs and stately figure, and a face like a Pharaoh’s daughter, but the fact that Maria was not local also created problems.

   The police corporal, Kasimai, also came from Kerema and he had had his eyes on Maria for months. In fact he had told her that he was prepared to put aside his Sepik wife and marry her.

   Frank knew it would be impossible to keep an affair between a white man and a black woman quiet.

   While he was thinking about this and sitting in his bush material house, Bernie called in to ask his opinion about the health of his house boy. Apparently, Bernie’s domestic showed signs of skin discolouration and he enquired of Frank if this could be leprosy. Frank told him that this was possible as the disease was endemic around Dreikikir. Frank said he would have a look at the man later. He was tempted to tell Bernie about Maria but he knew he would probably tell the District Officer in Wewak and then the District Medical Officer would hear about it. Frank didn’t think that he would be dismissed as the quality of his medical work was too well known, but it would be a transfer for him.

   At least Frank did have the satisfaction at this time of knowing that his reputation in the Department of Public Health as a practical medical man was without equal – a doctor in ever way except for degrees. His reputation needed no justification. In Wewak the white community never seemed to tire of talking of how he saved the life of Joan Johnson and her baby.

   Joan was the wife of Les Johnson, the hotel manager, and Joan was rushed to Wewak Hospital for a very difficult confinement.

   Jan Vertias, the Hungarian doctor in-charge – a man more trained in psychiatry than general medicine, rushed Joan to the theatre and promptly passed out himself, when Joan started to come into labour. Joan’s condition indicated that a caesarean operation was needed. There was no one able to do this, what with Vertias passed out. One of the nurses remembered that Frank was visiting Wewak and staying at the hotel. A car was rushed to collect him and he came to the hospital and performed the caesarean successfully. Les Johnson always insisted that the drinks were on him whenever he ran into Frank.

   Frank knew he would have to go to the hospital for the morning out-patients and he also knew he would see Maria.

   On approaching the hospital, a short distance from his house, Frank could see the usual line up of mothers, children and old men with one or two younger ones – colds, malaria, yaws, tropical ulcers; the usual diseases presented for treatment. He gave instructions to the orderlies – 4cc penicillin, 3 tablets of chloroquine and so on and so on, but all the time he was wondering where Maria was.

   After a while she arrived and addressed Frank in the usual way: ‘good morning, sir.’ With this Frank gave a sigh of relief – she was not going to take any advantages, he thought. He could end it now and not continue with the affair but on seeing her he knew he would be unable to do this.

   When the day ended at the hospital Frank asked Maria to come to his house after dark and with her smile of acceptance he knew to expect her that night.

   On his way home he ran into Fr Ryan who asked him to come to the mission for drinks later.

   When he arrived at the mission Bernie and Fr John Ryan were sitting on the verandah and sharing a bottle of Victoria Bitter. John called out to his house boy to get a glass for a Frank.

   With the beer freely flowing conversation developed among the three men on the state of the country; the natives and the dishonesty of old Kimmins who ran a trade store outside Wewak.

   An outsider would have observed three men who were themselves outsiders in an alien land with little new to say to each other – thrown together by forces outside their control by motives and imperatives both mundane and sublime directing them to a place where some would say they had no business to be.

   The conversation got eventually around to sex as it is want to among men isolated from their own kind. The more bawdy aspects of the subject were avoided out of deference to Fr John, but in the final count it was all there, if in a somewhat dignified tone.

   The subject came around to relations with native women. John made his views clear in that he strongly disapproved of such behaviour. Bernie in so many words justified it along the lines of any port in a storm. Of course, he maintained that he would not indulge himself. One could be forgiven for thinking that he was only trying to impress John. Frank said that he had an open mind on this question. After all what could he say knowing that unlike the other two he would have the company of Maria in the night.

   After about an hour all three were two-parts-gone and well on the way to being inebriated. John asked them to stay for a meal. Frank and Bernie sent word to their respective houses that they would not be home to eat. Frank in his own mind thought this was a good idea as his house boy, Joseph, would be out of the house when Maria arrived later in the night. He was embarrassed about Joseph knowing about him having sex Maria. Why exactly he didn’t know as Joseph was anything but a prude but he suspected that he had a high opinion of him and he did not relish the idea of destroying this.

   By about 10 o’clock the gathering broke up with Frank and Bernie making their way home and Frank wishing Bernie goodnight at Bernie’s house. He then proceeded home guided by the full moon and the mounting desire of expectation of what was waiting for him. Sure enough Maria was there in his bed half asleep.

   What followed was a night of sensual and emotional pleasure made in some perverse way more intense by the illicitness of their union.

   Maria left Frank at about 4 am and he slept the sleep, if not of the just, but of the exhausted.

   Maria arrived back at her house just as Corporal Kasimai was re-entering his house after relieving himself at a tree. He saw Maria returning.

   The plot of the tale from this point on has all the elements of tragedy, melodrama and just plane bloody mindedness.

   Frank’s affair with Maria became common knowledge on the station and news of it soon passed to Wewak but for some time there were no official complaints so the powers that be and the natives by in-large chose to ignore it. That was before Corporal Kasimai driven by intense jealousy hinted to Bernie that the doctor (Frank) was causing trouble on the station and unless something was done he would have to make a report to the police in Wewak. Bernie told Frank that the matter might be taken out of his hands if this happened. He did not actually say that he knew that Frank was carrying on with Maria but hinted that he knew and more or less said half his luck but the time had come to stop whatever was going on.

   Frank it appeared was powerless to stop seeing Maria for added to his obvious infatuation he had taken to drinking to excess. He was often seen the worse for drink in the mornings at the hospital. He had given up attending Fr John’s weekly Mass on Sundays and seemed unable to maintain a conversation with John except in his cups. Fr John too seemed unable to help and give him spiritual advice. The camaraderie that the pair had, seemed to be of no account in this crisis that Frank was going through.

   Frank’s fate took on a life of its own with the twists and turns of a road eventually leading to disaster.

   In the whole affair Maria seemed the only one not affected, if anything, she seemed to blossom into life and sparkle with the parcels of dresses that arrived from Wewak at Frank’s expense.

   Everyone except Frank and Maria became an audience awaiting a climax in a drama of life. The principal actors were only two but a third emerged, the wildest card of all; Corporal Kasimai loaded his 303 rifle and shot Frank dead one evening on his way home from the hospital.

   Frank was dead by the time Fr John administered the last rites.   It took Bernie a three days patrol to catch the Corporal in the bush.

   Some would say that Frank died from love, others might say he was a fool, and still others that he was a victim who dared to cross the colonial barriers of race and propriety. Whatever might be said, Joan and Les Johnson never ceased to sing the praises of Frank, the medical assistant who was more than just that.

Permalink 3 Comments

Next page »

%d bloggers like this: