Yangtze Sepik Swim

October 29, 2009 at 5:02 am (expatriates) (, , , , , , , , )

“At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the Chinese press reported that Chairman Mao Zedong (then age 73) swam across the Yangtze River at Wuhan. The story was intended to quash rumors that Mao was either gravely ill or dead.”        WuhanTravel Guide

When did the Birdman swim across the Sepik? 

“Now the Birdman, it was when Trueman was building the club toilets etc.   I can’t recall the year, but I distinctly remember that it was between smokes!”

Peter Johnson (Former Secretary of the Angoram Club):

“I would say from memory that Adrian Birb swam the Sepik River in 1969.

“The Chairman’s swim, in a sense, ushered in the Cultural Revolution and the Birdman’s swim coincided with revolutionary changes in the social and political life in Angoram.

“Both were significant revolutionary figures.”

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The Sepik Solution

October 23, 2009 at 5:22 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Keram River

Keram River

It has come to my notice that a prominent East Sepik Province businessman, Mr Peter Johnson, C.B.E., has approached the Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, for authorization to offer his estate, Yip, on the Keram River, to the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd as a haven for asylum seekers on their way to Australia.

He is just awaiting Sir Michael’s approval and the OK from Mr Rudd to embark on a massive building program to accommodate the refugees.

It has been further speculated that Mr John Pasquarelli is considering a return to the Sepik to manage the Yip establishment. Senator Barnaby Joyce is said to be enthusiastic about the Yip idea and of Mr Pasquarelli running it.

Mr Pasquarelli sees himself as an Australian with courage “to become  [a flag-bearer] in these challenging times.”

In this brilliant concept there would be winners everywhere: Christmas Island will not become overcrowded. The Australian navy would benefit by improving their navigational skills by collecting refugees wherever and shipping them up the Sepik and Keram Rivers. The asylum seekers would be well-housed in the palatial accommodation planned by Mr Johnson and managed by Mr Pasquarelli. PNG would get wanted revenue. Mr Rudd would stop the boats coming to Australia and would not be embarrassed by adopting a Pacific Solution, for this would be the Sepik Solution. In accordance with United Nations regulations, Mr Pasquarelli promises a quick turnover of the bona fides of the asylum seekers – good looking females, of course – will be given preferential treatment, which is only fair, given we are thinking of future generations in Australia.

So, my advice to you, Mr Rudd, would be, take it, for: On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.”

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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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Bill Eichhorn, MBE

September 27, 2009 at 4:58 am (Papua New Guinea) (, , , )

Bill Eichhorn, successful entrepreneur and politician in his home ground on the Keram River

Bill Eichhorn, successful entrepreneur and politician in his home ground on the Keram River

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Visual Images of My East Sepik Visit (Descriptive captions will be added soon.)

June 19, 2009 at 6:39 am (Angoram, 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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Dr A.D. Parkinson

May 2, 2009 at 1:37 am (malaria control, Papua New Guinea) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


Photos  from David Parkinson’s Collection

Arthur David Parkinson 1935-2009

Always known as David rather than Arthur, his untimely death ends a life of service and dedication. He first came to Papua New Guinea in 1956 as a Medical Assistant or in the terminology of the time an EMA – European Medical Assistant. These young men and some not so young were the frontline medical providers in much of PNG in those days.
   David did extensive medical patrols in the Sepik and the Highlands. He subsequently attended the University of Adelaide qualifying in Medicine and Surgery, and he returned to PNG working as a Medical Officer and eventually Assistant Director, Malaria Control.
   After leaving PNG in the late 1970s, he did post-graduate studies in the UK and afterwards worked for WHO in the Solomon Islands and Samoa. In Australia, he joined the army and worked in a Malaria Research Unit with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. For the last years of his life, he was in general practice in the Western Suburbs of Sydney.
   At his funeral service, Michael, his son, spoke of his father’s humanity in a varied career of service to others. Over the years, David’s contribution to the health of others has been immense. The people of PNG have particularly lost a true friend and benefactor.
   David’s first wife, Ruth, predeceased him and he is survived by their children, Michael, Fiona and Jamie. His wife, Vaiola and their children, Nathan, Ricky, Tanya, Corian and two grandchildren, Charley and Georgie survive him.

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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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Goya Henry (Steve Meacham’s article)

January 15, 2009 at 3:46 am (expatriates, Papua New Guinea) (, , , , , , )


Once a jolly daredevil … pilot’s legacy is museum’s trophy

    Pride of the fleet … Ian Debenham with the Jolly Roger, which the Powerhouse Museum bought for $125,000.Pride of the fleet … Ian Debenham with the Jolly Roger, which the Powerhouse Museum bought for $125,000. Photo: Brendan Esposito
    Sydney Morning Herald
    Steve Meacham December 21, 2007

    BETWEEN the wars Henry Goya Henry was the acknowledged pirate of the Australian skies. Not just because of the skull and crossbones painted on his bright red Genairco plane, nicknamed the Jolly Roger, which he used for joy flights over Sydney Harbour. Nor because, like Long John Silver, he had lost one of his legs – the result of an accident in July 1930, when his monoplane crashed at Manly, killing his passenger. His piratical reputation was mainly the result of his perpetual flouting of aviation laws – most dramatically in 1936 when he became the first pilot to fly (illegally) under the newly built Sydney Harbour Bridge, at a time when his licence was suspended. Henry – Goya to friend and foe – died childless in 1974. But his daredevil legacy lives on thanks to the Powerhouse Museum, which has paid $125,000 for the Jolly Roger, his most famous plane. According to Ian Debenham, the museum’s transport curator, the Jolly Roger deserves to be as much of a celebrity as the man who flew it. “Genairco VH-UOG is a very significant plane,” he said. It was one of nine designed and built by the General Aircraft Company in Mascot between 1929 and 1933, when the company folded. And that makes the Genairco the first aircraft series to be designed and manufactured in Australia. Only three Genaircos survive. Originally they were designed to house the locally made Harkness Hornet engine – the first Australian aircraft engine to be considered for airworthiness approval by the Department of Civil Aviation. Unfortunately, the Australian engine was not as good as its overseas rivals, so was never commercially viable. However, the original prototype is also in the Powerhouse collection. Henry’s father bought the Genairco for him in 1935, a year after his first conviction for contravening air navigation regulations. By July 1936 the authorities were so exasperated by his maverick ways his licence was suspended again. A few days later he flew under the Harbour Bridge to spite them. That same year the High Court ruled in his favour against the Commonwealth, which had sought to suspend him indefinitely. But his flying days were nearly over. After another crashwhen taking off from Mascot, Henry was bankrupted in 1938. He tried to join the Royal Australian Air Force at the start of World War II, but was ruled out because of his artificial leg. Instead he joined the small ships unit of the United States Army in 1943, based in New Guinea where he spent most of the rest of his working life.

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