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…”


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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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Collected Short Stories

January 25, 2009 at 6:45 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

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The phone rings!

January 14, 2009 at 11:01 pm (Short Story) ()

The phone rang at four in the morning and I thought to myself, ‘who the hell is that? Maybe it will stop ringing and I can go back to sleep.’ But it didn’t and I had to answer it:

Hello and a vaguely familiar voice answered: James here, I thought I’d better get in touch. I’ve been away for a while and I want to catch up. In my still sleepy half conscious state it came to me that I’d not heard James’s voice for years. Well he went on: I’ve been about quite a bit since I left and I’ve run into some interesting people. Dad and Mum are fine. Joan said that if I meet you to say she is thinking about you.


By this time I was wide-awake and I was starting to think that the voice sounds just like James or Fells as we used to call him; but could it be? Fells, where are you now? He answered: I’m half way to Canberra from Melbourne; Uncle and Auntie asked me to check on something they left in Merton. Which I’ve done and I now want to get to Canberra and fill Geraldine in about a few things. What was it you had to check on in Merton? I asked him. Oh, it was just a pigskin sidesaddle that Em was worried about.


Em was our great-aunt and the toast of Melbourne as a horsewoman but when was this, I wondered. Merton, the family house in Brighton had long since gone. So I said: Fells, you’re not making any sense. Oh, yes, I am, it’s all in the poetry of essence, which you’ll know about eventually.


By this time the conversation with my brother, James, was taking on a surreal character and I didn’t know why. I said to him: Where exactly have you been and how is it that you saw Mum and Dad? He answered: Well, I’ll tell you. When you are completely free you can see and meet whom you like. You know our great grandfather, Thomas Mason, the one who lost his finger, he wasn’t too pleased when he heard about the photo of him being burnt. Mum’s brother, Reg, is still into growth and he told me he has more money than he knows what to do with.


You can’t tell me, James, that you have spoken to all these people. The next thing you’ll be telling me is that you have spoken to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Without any hesitation he answered: Yes, I have. You can’t avoid them! To which I said: So, there are three of them? No, he said. But I can’t expect you to understand that. To help you, I can tell you that the power is as one.


By this time I was inclined to agree that the moon was made of cheese and that pigs can fly, but then James came out with a long dissertation-like flow of rhetoric:

David, imagine you are in a state where you don’t need to know anything. Every question you may care to ask has been answered. You know that almost everything you have been told before is at  best incomplete. You remember my book? What do we know, what can we believe? Well I can now tell you, sweet bugger all. It’s not that everything is wrong but all people with their closed minds can’t see the forest for the trees and they can’t see the trees for the woods. You’re not on the red? I asked. No way! There’s no time. I’ve met hundreds of people who have come into their own. Like poor little kids from the slums of the world, the aborted and the mistreated, and many others.

Was Fells some sort of an oracle? Before he left I always thought that he was the most intelligent one in the family and his years away could have only improved his mind, or that is what I figured. I asked him had he spoken to our father lately. Oh, yes, I saw him speaking to Hilaire Belloc recently. Belloc seems more than ever convinced that he was right many years ago when he wrote:”The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.” The Faith is, of course, the Catholic Church. And Europe must return to it or “perish” You can imagine that Dad would have been in complete agreement with this though their ideas on the Faith are not so defined these days. Oh, I almost forgot to tell that your houseboy, Kami, from Papua New Guinea wondered how you were. He was telling me he had received a lot of credit for the thousands of cups of tea he had made for you. Anyhow, he’s doing well now. But he is a bit worried about his family in Torembi, a village in the Sepik. While talking about the Sepik; our brother-in-law, Kevin was telling me about those Indian prisoners of the Japanese that he rescued in 1945. He has run into most of them around here and they were very pleased to see him.

James, what do you mean by around here’? He answered: Here is here and there is there and around here is something of little importance.

He might think that but to me it was very important as I was trying to focus on a context of persons and places in the drift of our conversation. I left this as it were and went on talking: I suppose you’ve heard about Caitilin getting a PhD. Caitilin is James’s daughter. You don’t say, David. I knew she always had it in her to do well. Talking about degrees; Reg Morrison, you know the brother of Morrison of Peking, told me that he was most upset when he heard in the twenties that Melbourne University had not granted Dad an MD. Fortune does not always favour the deserved.


James asked me about his sons, Dominic and Jamie and I was able to tell him that they are doing well. I then mentioned that, Geraldine, his wife had been missing him over the past years. He then said: We’ll all be together eventually.  I then went on to tell him that at least he could have made a greater effort to keep contact but I suppose he had his reasons:

I certainly have my reasons. You be interested to hear what our sister Madie’s husband, Knut, had to say about the family situation. According to him he didn’t want any split in the family but for him things were so hard to handle s0 he more or less left it to Madie. The truth of the matter or otherwise no longer seemed to count. And it seemed easier not to talk about it. Sufficient to say on the matter is that he now regrets many things and is very sorry.


I told James about my family, sons, Andrei and David Augustus. Andrei teaching in Kuwait and Augustus writing a fancy story that has great promise. Deborah, my wife, is still very interested in social research into race and identify, especially of Aboriginal and Filipino people. James then told me that he had recently spoken to Charlie Perkins and exchanged stories about the old days in Canberra. Charlie said that he knows that a lot more work needs to be done for his brothers and sisters and by them but some good things had happened. He was heartened by the election of a black president in the USA.

Do you have any regrets about leaving, James? He answered: I didn’t have much choice about it, if you will recall. But as things have worked out it was all for the best. That film, “The Passion”, we saw together, you know Mel Gibson’s, in a funny way prepared me to leave. John Henry Newman and Augustine were quite complimentary about it. The Lord just smiled when it was mentioned.


Now I knew that James must have lost it. One does not just run into Newman, Augustine and the Lord. Fells, if you’re not on the red, you must be stoned. He came back and said: In a funny way you are right if stoned explains a heightened sense of awareness. You are limited by time and space, so all that has been is out of your reach. Why do you think it strange for me to meet people? I let this pass and just went on listening and talking.

I have to tell you about something great. Joan, our sister, Kevin, her husband and Adrienne are so happy together. They no longer get headaches. They want to be remembered to all their loved ones: Sarah, Becky, and Elaine’s family. Thienette de Berigny,our great grandfather, has a homoeopathic remedy for Sarah’s medical problem. He hopes to visit her soon and dispense some sort of mixture. Mum and all of us around here know that ‘The price of wisdom is above rubies.” Even Aunt Connie agrees with this.


 By this time the Bard’s thoughts came to me: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” By the way, James, while you’ve been away I wrote a novel: “Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk”. Not much really but I enjoyed writing it. Some expats from PNG like it. Well, that’s good, David. You always liked PNG.


 I looked at the clock, it was 4:30. We had been speaking for half an hour. I was reluctant to put the phone down. James when can we meet up? You say you are on your way to Canberra. Sydney isn’t far from from Canberra. And then he said a strange thing: Distance has nothing to do with time and space. It’s really important to give your heart to others. By helping others, you help yourself. We’ll meet up soon enough, maybe sooner than you think. A lot of my friends regret not living better lives while they had the chance.


James, you’ve been away for over four years; have you given your heart away and have you seen any women you fancy? David, life begins in your seventies but the answer is no. But I did recently talk with Margaret More, you know Thomas More’s daughter.

Now wait a minute, James, what are you on about? Do you mean Henry VIII and all that? Yes, yes, yes, that’s what I mean. All right, I suppose the next thing you’ll tell is that she gave her father’s side of the story. He than went on to say what Margaret had said. Her father really had no choice in the matter. He understood the dictates of his conscience. But his conscience was formed by considering the whole of Christendom; The King’s good servant, but God’s first. We don’t see much of Henry or Rich around here. He said.


I thought to myself; let him go on there is a bit of sense here but he is the first person I know who has spoken the Thomas More’s daughter.

Suddenly I became aware that I was watching television; someone was talking about Hillary Clinton and a new diplomacy on the Middle East. I realized that I must have been sleeping and on the table near me I noticed some writing in a journal: “James de Berigny Wall (1929-2004) The editor wishes to apologise that this important obituary was overlooked in 2004.”

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An encounter on the shores of Lake Victoria

January 13, 2009 at 11:13 pm (Short Story) (, , , , , )

Many years ago, in my younger days, I spent a bit of time travelling and hitchhiking around Africa. Most countries in the continent were still under colonial rule and one could still travel in relative safety and sleep cheaply here and there. Along the way I met interesting people of different races and creeds. But it would be hard to meet a more likeable and charming fellow than Patrick Cassian, an old boy of Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school in Lancashire. Pat exuded all the charm of the Irish with the refinement of an English education. His handsome black Irish good looks and his polished manners were like a magnet to expatriate colonial women. 

    I ran into Pat while trying my hitchhiking luck outside Nairobi in Kenya. I waved to a grey Peugeot 403 and it stopped. I explained to the driver, who was Pat, that I was making my way to virtually anywhere in East Africa. He informed me that he was going towards Uganda and he could give me a lift. I jumped into the car and we ended up travelling together for about three weeks. 

   It transpired in the course of our conversation that Pat was a travelling salesman for Marshalls East Africa, selling Peugeots and heavy equipment. At this time I would have been in my early twenties and Pat would have been in his middle thirties. I mentioned to Pat that I was Australian, to which he replied: “I can see that.” Then for some reason the question of where I went to school came up and I told him I went to a Jesuit school in Sydney: St Ignatius’ College, Riverview. “Ah, do you remember your school’s motto?” He asked. Not being a terribly bright student and by no means a classical scholar it was a bit of luck that I did: Quantum Potes Tantum Aude “As much as you can do, so much dare to do” “Strange, ours was similar but not in Latin, in French: Quant Je Puis, which translates: As Much As I can. The same old Jesuit mark, I guess. I went to Stonyhurst.”

    Not that our old schools formed much of the topic of discussions, from memory the main subject of conversation was women. 

    Travelling around East Africa, one is struck by the natural beauty and contract of the scenery. The mountain stretches and deep drops of the Rift Valley in Kenya, the tropical splendour of Uganda and the savannah stretching to the immensity of Tanganyika’s Mt Kilimanjaro; all surrounding great Lakes like Victoria and crowned, as it were, by the Mountains of the Moon or Mt Rwenzoni, located between the border of Uganda and the Belgian Congo. All the great mountains of East Africa are snow-capped: Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and the Mountains of the Moon. 

    Pat had to visit dealers at a town called Bukoba in Tanganyika on Lake Victoria. After he had conducted his business we decided to spend the day by having lunch at the local hotel on the Lake and then just to play it by ear; visits to local African, shall we say, beer drinking stores. 

    By mid-afternoon we were both pretty well primed. We had started drinking with an Englishman who was leaving Bukoba by a Lake Victoria steamer/ferry for a port in Uganda. We were both determined to see Fred, I think that was his name, off in style.

    This consisted in Pat driving him to the ferry and having a few more drinks with him on board. This was duly done and Pat and I, at one stage, decided that we would dive off the deck rather than disembark in the normal way. Fortunately this course of action was not followed as I’m sure we would have been killed in the attempt. 

    It was early evening by the time the boat left. Our friend was waved off with gestures of eternal friendship. After this we made our way to Pat’s trusty Peugeot. 

    We did get to the car, but Pat was only able to drive it for about 50 yards, and then he more or less collapse at the wheel. 

    The car was still parked near the lake and I decided to put the seats in a reclined position, and in this makeshift bed two intoxicated gentlemen passed out. 

    The next thing I became aware of was the sound of sniffing and nosing around the car. I looked out of one of the windows and all I could see were gigantic animals peering in.

    At first I wondered if I were suffering from delirium tremens. The dawn was just starting and my senses were returning and I realized that what I was seeing was hippopotamuses or hippopotami, whatever you prefer. Pat was still dead to the world. 

    Looking at the size of these animals I wondered if their sniffs would become shoves and the car and we would go rolling over; but in time they lost interest in us and the car, and moved on. 

    Shortly after this Pat awoke and we drove to the hotel where we were staying. 

    I was later told that hippos are very aggressive animals. When one considers that they can be 2 tons in weight; the Peugeot would have been little protection if they had decided to attack us. 

    After this eventful experience we drove back to Nairobi, and from there I parted company with Pat and continued on my travels, however, we did meet up briefly once again in Mombassa just before I left by ship for Europe and the UK, but that is another story.    

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Short Story by Deborah Ruiz Wall

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

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The Recruiter – Robert Cowan Mackie

August 30, 2008 at 5:14 am (Angoram, Angoram Club, Biography, Bob Mackie, Commentary, East Sepik District, expatriates, Maprik, Papua New Guinea, Sepik River, Wewak) (, , , )


Sue Treutlein & Bob Mackie at the Angoram Club

Sue Treutlein & Bob Mackie at the Angoram Club

(  Photo provided by Sue Treutlein )

By all the rules of sages and psychologists Bob should have been dejected and unhappy having lived a life that they would have considered futile and worthless.

To claim that Bob experienced no deep night of the soul would only confound our moralists and theologians, but perhaps the truth does lie at the bottom of a well. Bob himself would have agreed that at least it lay at the bottom of a bottle.

Robert Cowan Mackie was born sometime after the end of the First World War on one of the Scottish Islands to good Presbyterian stock, shortly after his family emigrated to South Australia.

To say that Bob had come a long way since his 6th Division days in Greece during the war would be the understatement of the age. The highlight of this campaign for Bob was making love – if that is not a too elaborate a word to describe what went on – with a Greek girl within sight of the Acropolis.

Whatever Bob’s faults, many agreed with me, his friend, that Bob’s attraction lay in the way he squandered the treasure of life with a seemingly disregard for the future.

At the end of the war Bob took his discharge from ANGAU in Port Moresby. He had some idea of returning to Australia to see what happened to his wife, whom he had married just before the war, to discover on returning from the Middle East to Adelaide that she had decided to end the marriage because she had taken up with someone else, or as Bob so delicately put it, he found another bull in the paddock.

Bob did in fact arrange to go to Australia shortly after taking his discharge, but he made the mistake of contemplating this move in the bottom pub at the Snake Pit Bar. Needless to say, Bob never made the plane.

His deferred pay was coming to an end, so he concluded that a man with a drinking habit needed a livelihood. He decided to try his luck in the Sepik, and so, he went to Wewak. Over a beer there with an acquaintance it was suggested that recruiting labour for the plantations was all the go, and the best thing to get into.

With this in mind, Bob moved inland and settled in a place just outside Nuku, a patrol post. From here he set out on recruiting patrols over most of the inland Sepik, including journeys on the Ramu and Sepik Rivers.

Over the next few years Bob became a legend in his own time with hundreds of natives being taken by him to Angoram and Wewak to be signed on for work on plantations around Kavieng, Madang, Rabaul and elsewhere.

Most other recruiters didn’t have a chance in getting recruits as Bob became so popular in the various villages that the natives would wait for him to come. Or as they used to say : Mi laik wetim Masta Bob.

On his own account thousands of pounds passed through his hands. One can imagine with him getting 10 to 20 pounds per recruit. With a doctor friend of his he bought a plane which unfortunately crashed off the coast killing the doctor. About this event Peter Skinner writes: “Whenever I hear the words Vanimo, Auster or John McInerney, I have almost instant recall to Wewak, March 1953, and being told by my distraught mother, Marie, that the single-engine Auster owned and piloted by Dr John McInerney, medical officer, had crashed into the sea off Vanimo. McInerney had been killed and my father, Ian, at that time an ADO, was alive but badly injured. Also injured in the crash was ADO George Wearne.”

Perhaps this was a turning point in Bob’s life, as John, the doctor, was a great friend of his and he felt his loss greatly. It must also be stated that I have no proof of Bob’s financial interest in the plane , but this is strongly suspected to be true. When Bob had a trade store and a recruitering setup near Hayfield airstrip, between Pagwai and Maprik, Mac, as the doctor was known, very often flew out to spend time drinking and socializing with him – they by all accounts were great mates! John McInerney, an ex-commando medical officer, was a flamboyant and interesting character!

Over time recruiting ceased to give Bob the financial stability it had in the past. He just didn’t seem to care much about going out to get recruits, only making the occasional trips to keep body and soul together.

He eventually ended up in Angoram in a houseboat that he referred to as his outfit. In Angoram he did manage to keep himself very often inebriated keeping the locals and expatriates entertained with stories of drinking sprees and sexual exploits. His faithful house boy, Yum, stayed with him looking after him as best he could, even when he was on the whitelady – methylated spirits. He also developed a market in stuffed crocodiles, becoming quite a skilled taxidermist.

Perhaps Bob’s life was a journey that was involved more in travelling than in reaching any destination. If he had been a botanist he would have spent his life in searching for the famed orchid – the Sepik Blue – but Bob was involved in the art of living, at least from his point of view, and the Sepik Blue had little interest for him. He was more concerned with stories about the blue throbber, the term he used to describe his genitalia, and even these, one suspects, were more in the imagination than in actual fact. He did work out an involved methodology that he claimed protected one from venereal disease! And yet stories about Bob are epic, to say the least, as an example, here are a few:

Early in his time in Angoram he took Douglas Newton, then the chief curator, and later the director of the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, on an artefact buying expedition upriver on his houseboat. The sleeping arrangements were thus: Bob was on the bunk and Doug was to sleep on a mat on the floor besside the bunk. After a few drinks and a meal they each retired to their respective sleeping areas. Later in the evening Doug awoke with the sense that some warm liquid  was flowing on his face. In the moonlight which was illuminating the inside of the houseboat Doug noticed that Bob was peeing on him – apparently Bob had forgotten that Doug was on the floor beside him, and he was following his usual custom of relieving himself! Doug it appeared took it all in his stride and boasted that he was probably the first official of the Museum of Primitive Art to be pissed on in the moonlight!

Peter Johnson and I were sitting in my house in Angoram in the late 1960s and Yum, Masta Bob’s boy, knocked on the door with a note from Bob. Johnson on the first superficial reading of the note said: “My God, Bob wants to shoot himself.” We then both looked at the note again, and what he really wrote was: “I’m desperate send me a reviver.” Not a revolver as was originally thought! He wanted a can of beer to get him over a hard night! I did send him a couple of cans.

On another occasion a note was sent to Bob requesting something or other – Bob’s answer was: “I can’t help you now, I’m on location !” This brings up another remarkable story about Bob. To quote what Sandra King, the former Manageress of the Angoram Hotel, wrote: “What about Bob and his star turn in the French movie, La Vallee ?? Surely, one of his highlights, and so he reamains captured in time!” I completely agree!


Sandra also mentions another account about Bob: “and… how he sat outside the hotel with his stuffed crocodiles, and an odd one or two lives ones. They sat ever so still with their little mouths open… until you went to pick one up…Old Rogue!

One supposes that in the final count Bob’s end of life was as he would have liked it, in the bar of the Madang Club with a glass in his hand. He lasted in Madang until the early 1980s!

Earlier there were some do-gooders in Angoram who wanted to get Bob moved to Australia in the interests of his health! Fortunately, some more sensible minds prevailed, and they managed to arrange to get Bob, the holder of the Africia Star, a man with an excellent war record in the Middle East, Papua and New Guinea, an old age/army pension, and accommodation in Madang. So, he could end his days in the land he loved and remain a man of significance!

Bob, once described me in Angoram as a silent heeler! I won’t bother here to explain what he exactly meant by this, but I’ll only say, here and now, that Bob was a great Territorian and a good friend.

I believe the RSL in Madang gave him a worthy send off!





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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.

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Progressive and reactionary mix, do opposites attract?

April 17, 2008 at 5:26 am (Fiction, Short Story) (, , , , , , )

Rachael and Andrew Mason resided in an inner city Sydney suburb and to all intents and purposes lived in matrimonal bliss to the wonderment of Rachael’s many friends.

Rachael was at the forefront of most progressive social issues from saving the Aborigines to saving the whales. Andrew on the other hand spent most of his time, since retirement from paid employment, in front of his computer or walking around the house muttering about: “the spirituality of indigenous” and the “power of Islam”. To the superficial observer this might be interpreted to mean that Andrew in some ways identified with Aborigines and Muslims in Australian society. An impression that would be contradictory, to say the least. Andrew’s only real exposure to Aborigines had been to inner city types mainly around Redfern. For the most part he considered these to be anything but spiritual. The only hunters and gatherers among them that he could see were those lurking around Redfern Station intent on snatching bags from unsuspecting passersby or poor ravished individuals begging for “spare change”. As regards Muslims he did not know too many apart from the young Lebanese Australians he saw misbehaving on the trains. On a philosophical level he considered Islam a rather misinformed theological and spiritual way of life that if unchecked could undermine Western Christian values. Of things historical and political he whole heartily agreed with George MacDonald Fraser that the British Empire was “the greatest thing that ever happened to an undeserving world”.

Rachael practically gave up on trying to change Andrew’s views, however, she did point out to him the family values of Aboriginal people and the beauty of Islamic art but this was only occasionally as it lead to futile arguments. Instead she got on with her life of involvement, fighting for various causes. Her social action in the fields of indigenous and multicultural affairs and in battles for social justice in general were recognized by the Australian Government with the award of the Order of Australia Medal.

Rachael and Andrew remained practising Catholics. In later life Andrew still attended Mass on Sundays and kept to most of the rules. He often asked himself if he still believed in it all. Certainly questions of transubstantiation became meaningless for him in later life but he still occasionally went to confession and usually confessed sins of illicit sexual desire, not of action, as there no longer remained much physical sexual ability in him. He did often say that Catholicism had ruined his sex life. For the last years of his married life to Rachael the marriage bed had been given up. They both seemed content enough with this. Andrew liked to say that in his own bed he could fart with impunity. Rachael’s religious practice did not put much faith in doctrine but she strongly related a love of God to a love of humankind.

In his seventies Andrew developed a chronic heart condition. His health became so bad that he was rushed to hospital for bypass surgery. Unfortunately he expired on the operating table.

Rachael was quite devasted with Andrew’s sudden death but she was cheered up with the provisions of Andrew’s will: Andrew had left the bulk of his estate to her but he had also left money so that the services of an Aboriginal elder and an Islamic iman could be employed at his funeral. He said he wanted the Aboriginal elder to perform a smoking ceremony and the iman to read Muslim prayers for the dead.

Rachael found that she had no trouble getting an elder but it proved impossible to get an iman. Apparently, “in the Quran, God prohibits all believers from offering prayers for disbelievers or idol worshippers regardless of whether they are dead or alive.” She suspected that Andrew would have known this and his request would have appealed to his sense of humour.

Rachael arranged a traditional Catholic funeral with the smoking ceremony and to replace the Muslim prayers she insisted that only sausages, mash and green peas with sao biscuits and tea be served at the wake. Andrew, she thought, would have liked this as food had always been a bone of contention in their marriage. She always liked exotic garlic and ginger laced food while Andrew’s liking was for tradional Aussie/English food.

In a sense the last laugh was with Rachael and Andrew would have liked that!

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Sex Rears Its Ugly Head

January 9, 2008 at 4:04 am (Short Story) ()

Peter Davies was seventy years old when he developed an overwhelming desire to visit a house of ill repute. This sudden surge of virility came like a shot out of the night and his desire to be serviced by the ladies of the night took on erotic dimensions with a compulsion that was hard to control. Dreams of French knickers in black chiffon and suspenders with females ready to provide a sensuous and tantalizing service filled his waking and sleeping hours. His occasional viewing of phonographic sites on the Internet only added fuel to the fire.

One of the troubles of old age is continuing sexual desire when the old themselves are no longer sexually desirable. Somerset Maugham considered this “one of the misfortunes of human beings”. He further supposed that “it is not improper that they should gratify [these desires] but… they would do better not to talk about it.” Poor Davies, alas, was landed with the difficult and unfortunate mix of human nature and a Catholic conscience which would in time induce talk to others or to a priest in confession.

The physiological and psychological causes for his sudden increase of libido were perhaps related to a rigorous exercise program, he had undertaken, and a treatment for a benign prostatic condition, that he suffered from. The formula of natural herbs, he was on, was said “to support normal male physiology and sexual function.” Anyhow, with this toxic mix it took all of poor Davies’s will power to keep his hand away from his manhood.

The big question for Davies was, was he to take the bull by the horns, as it were, and plunge himself into the commercial delights of a high class bordello?

It has been said that in most stories of the human condition sex rears its ugly head but, of course, its attractiveness is the very honey pot that moralists would say was set to trap the unwary. Is the Song of Solomon a trap? Or the seductive words: “I am black but comely”?

The speculative rights or wrongs of Davies visiting a house of pleasure had a strong objective reality but subjectively he was still felt unfulfilled physiologically and this is the problem he had to cope with.

Davies decided that action had to be taken. He made a phone call to the House of Liaison, a rather unusually named bordello, near where he lived. The phone was answered by a friendly woman anxious to be as helpful as possible: “Hello, this is Gloria, can I help you?” Davies answered: “Yes, I’m wondering when Almira would be available.” He had read about Almira on a computer advertisement for the establishment. She was described as “a woman talented in many fantasies; that she would love to share with you.” Her other attributes were that she came from the West Indies and had coffee-coloured skin with a gorgeous figure and a sensuous manner. This alluring mix was almost too much for Davies. He always had a fascination with black women which probably sprang from the years he had spent in Papua New Guinea. Gloria informed Davies that Almira was available from 7pm to 12 midnight on Mondays to Fridays. She then asked Davies where he had heard of Almira and he said: “A friend spoke very highly of her.” Gloria said: “She’s great!” Davies then made a tentative appointment to meet Almira on Wednesday of the following week.

As the reader, what is your bet that Davies would go ahead and keep the tentative appointment with Almira? At best there was only a fifty-fifty chance of this happening. A lot could happen in a week: The surge of libido could end without fulfillment. His Catholic conscience could get the better of him. The payment of $300 for Almira’s services could become a problem.

The Biblical passage from Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. For Davies the juxtaposition of this quote was, the flesh was strong – or he imagined it was – and the spirit was faltering.

Well to make a long story short, both in the figurative and literal bodily sense, Davies didn’t visit Almira, but did visit the confessional; revealing to the priest his inner most thoughts and desires.

Following the usual formula: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s a year since my last confession and I accuse myself of the following sins.” In the post-Vatican II confessional some of the old methodology of the ritual was retained but the rite had increasingly taken on an informal conversational mode. The penitent no longer knelt before the priest behind a screen but sat on a chair and, as it were, carried on a conversation with him.

From Davies’s point of view this had its good and bad points. He felt that the informality of the contact made it harder to reveal one’s inner most secrets but, he guessed, it was a better atmosphere to engender the giving and receiving of spiritual and psychological advice. However, for him, the process of a person confessing and been shriven of sin was as much magical as sacramental. The words of absolution uttered by the priest articulated mystical powers of forgiveness.

The sins associated with lust, and his craving for sexual pleasure, were duly confessed, together, with doubts he had about the Catholic faith. The priest said nothing about his carnal sins and he told Davies that all thinking people have doubts. He gave him absolution and, for his penance, he told him to tell the next person coming in that he would pray for them.

Leaving confession, he felt that a burden had been lifted from him. Maybe, he was on the straight and narrow again and sexual desire was firmly back in its box, or he hoped it was.

Davies liked to think that the happenings in this narrative were a one-off episode in his life. It has not been mentioned before but Davies’s wife of some twenty-five years had died ten years previously. The memory of her, he hoped, should keep him pure in the Catholic sense.

But deep down there was in Davies a craving for a woman.

Contrary to his traditional Catholic beliefs Davies retained a vague belief in reincarnation and he said to himself once: “If it’s true, I want to come back as Hugh Hefner.”

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