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DECEMBER 2005

DIARY

Things are on the move at the ASOPA site. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has allocated funds to bring the old college back to some form of respectability and work will take place over the next two years. The overhanging question is: for what purpose? I recently met Trust advisor and former ABC television producer, Gianpaulo Pertosi, who’s preparing a submission to try to answer this question. I’ll be helping him as efforts intensify to ensure that, whatever becomes of ASOPA, its history and traditions will be remembered.

Artist and sculptor Hal Holman OAM featured in the most recent Sun-Herald putting the last touches on a series of busts of PNG’s six prime ministers since Independence 30 years ago. Hal was commissioned by the PNG Government to sculpt figures of Michael Somare, Julius Chan, Paias Wingti (famously taught by Dave Argent), Rabbie Namaliu (with whom I shared a politics honours class at UPNG), Bill Skate and Mekere Morauta.

The annual south east Queensland Kiap’s Reunion was a great success, with 200 people turning up at the Kawana Waters Hotel just out of Maroochydore. I got reacquainted with Margret and Terry Doolan, whom I taught briefly at Kundiawa A School, as well as many other people who featured in my life as a teacher in Chimbu and a broadcaster in Rabaul and Kieta.

The ninth Les Peterkin Portrait Prize for Children, organised by Tyalgum Public School and supported by 25 schools in the Tweed Shire, has been exhibiting at Tweed River Art Gallery. The subject was ‘Family Portrait’ and entries were received from local students aged 5 to 13 including those with special needs. Les is to be commended on sustaining this initiative, which is a highlight of the Tweed and always well covered by the local media.

Clarrie Burke tells me that Meeting the Challenge – the book that takes the lid off school teaching in Papua New Guinea from 1955-75 – is selling steadily. Clarrie says: “One of the wonderful features of this project from the very beginning has been people’s willing and spontaneous cooperation. Maybe we're saying something about the kind of people implicated in the book.” You can purchase your copy of Gail Burke’s compilation of PNG pedagogue stories by writing to Gail at PO Box 1224, Kenmore Queensland 4069 enclosing a cheque for $25 which includes postage.

 

NEWS

DENNIS BURRELL [Whiteside QLD] – A note to thank you, Dave, Rod and others involved in arranging the Sydney reunion for the wonderful time we had. It was good to meet up with Pam Kruger and Dick Jones and their spouses and it was great to continue to conversations and relationships with the people who had attended the Port Macquarie reunion.

Since returning to Brisbane life has resumed its hectic pace but we have just had a very relaxing Sunday lunch on the back verandah with Joe Crainean and his sister, Veronica.

I found Ann Prendergast’s comment in The Mail interesting. I think ASOPA must have been a unique institution to have produced such a great group of people because it is almost word for word what Ros said after the Port Macquarie reunion. We are both looking forward to the next one and are willing to help out in any way we can.

ROS BURRELL [Whiteside QLD] –Thank you all so much for that wonderfully relaxing Sydney break. Dennis and I had a wonderful holiday - 3½ weeks in all. We reminisced and Dennis visited his youthful haunts and towns. Dad was a Sydney man – a choir boy in St James church. I think the only reason he wasn’t excommunicated was because his dad always put sufficient cash in the weekly envelope. I know he went to Fort Street School, which Dennis also happened to pass.

I have fond memories of Sydney. Being shouted to the new Opera House to see a Tony Barber special: the TV-based humour was lost on we people living in PNG. Then there was the bomb scare when we went to see Jesus Christ Superstar. Sydney! Two years back we drove to Sydney from a friend’s B & B at Hardy’s Bay and, unable to find a place to park, turned around and went home!

Still, this reunion was different. For one thing, the car got parked. And it was relaxing to walk around the city. Thanks again and looking forward to 2007.

BILL WILSON [Canberra ACT] - Congratulations on your latest issue -it was a great issue and was much appreciated. It both gladdened and saddened me ---Glad because all seemed to go so well and sad because I was not able to be with you to share in the friendships renewed in Port Macquarie

PHIL CHARLEY [Boronia Park NSW] - What a great newsletter, Keith! Thanks for the mention of Marie and myself -- and thanks for having us at The Oaks lunch on such a beautiful day. Good to meet some of your ex-ASOPA colleagues -- and good to catch up again with my mate, Phil Donnison whom I hadn't seen for some time. Congratulations on organising what was obviously a very happy and worthwhile reunion.

HENRY BODMAN [Fig Tree Pocket QLD] - You might have thought you were born to get Prime Ministers and the like out of deep holes. You weren't. You were born to put ASOPA on the map and to tender the little pot plants which ASOPA nurtured....and as one of our better known public figures has observed in the past, "Ya done good, we luv yez." What a mammoth newsletter The Mail 92 was and I'm confident it will ensure a hefty number 93.

I note Jean's frustration at not being able to classify her fellows and her challenge to my classifications. If the time is available I'll precis my classifications (a la Mosman Club address) for print and for the opportunity of others to influence the record.

Hopefully before Christmas, the Queensland Chapter of 62-63ers will get together to nut out how Event No 3 ( 2007) might be organised...who, when, where etc. All will be invited to 37 Norman St to make a mess of whatever poison they choose and, properly prepared, should come up with a survey to be put to all who are interested. The result of the survey will help us make Queensland 2007 as memorable as Port Macquarie and Mosman.

I think Dick's ‘Sir Roderick’ deserves to stick just as his 'Dubdy’ of yesteryear still hangs on in the minds of some of us.

So Keithy, Sir Roderick and Dubdy, just in case you hadn't worked it out, all who attended Mosman salute the planning and organisation of Event No 2 Memorable for us all and something we can add to our pool for those increasing occasions where we indulge in nostalgic moments.

COL BOOTH [Port Macquarie NSW] - No, we are not dead! Just a little slack. We need help. Wendy inadvertently deleted The Mail prior to printing, and we can't get it to print from the rubbish bin. So could you please transmit it again ... yes all 17 pages.

A big thank you to all three of you (and wives) for the fantastic weekend. We certainly thoroughly enjoyed it. After Mosman, we moved over to the city where Wendy's sister was having her 50 year reunion of her nurses group who all graduated from the original Camperdown Children’s Hospital. After that, we had a get together with Wendy's cousins, most of whom we hadn't seen for decades.

After returning to Paradise, spent a few more days with Wendy's sister and husband Jim, from Quilpie where they continue to farm dust. Then it was time to catch up on some sleep and work. Builder is putting finishing touches to another reno ... only carpets, fence and footpaths to go, then hopefully a sale. Ol samting istap gut long paradise. Lukim iu behain

BARRY PATERSON [Cairns QLD] - Greetings from the Far North. Janine and I are looking forward to a reunion in the SE corner of the state. November is a good time of the year as things are winding down a bit in preparation for the Christmas frenzy. The Port Macquarie venue was great in that we were all, more or less in one place. The dinner was a great climax to some really wonderful events.

As a person not so accustomed to big cities, could we get a better deal a little further out? Where everything is there and all we have to do is catch up, look around and dive into the occasional glass of red. Count Janine and I in for the event. Great stuff.

RODGER PHILPOTT [Perth WA] - Peter and Margaret Lewis may be visiting Perth in early 2006, something further to look towards. Admiral Westover uncharacteristically really sounded forth and held the floor at our final dinner at the Chinese restaurant ... an unusual experience! Judging by the response to the Westover oration we should consider having some discussion groups/speaker/seminar/workshop/ something at the 2007 reunion to reflect on what is happening and has happened in the Territories. The oration and discussion was interesting and informative.

I enjoyed Sydney although picked up pneumonia there and spent the next month in bed, some penalty for enjoying yourself. See you in Brisbane if not before.

ANN PRENDERGAST [Waverton NSW] - It was lovely to get The Mail with such great coverage of the reunion. All the writers seem to be in agreement that it was a great week-end. I'm trying to remember which names go with which faces.

Very best wishes Keith and Ingrid and once again thank you for making the reunion such an enjoyable occasion. Meeting all those people and trying to fit names and faces together, and especially meeting again Pam, Diane and Margaret who were with me on my first trip to PNG, brought back lots of good memories of a few years spent at ASOPA - which was far and away the most marvellous institution I ever worked in.

RICHARD JONES [Bendigo VIC] - We entertained 100-plus people at our Bendigo home on Saturday, November 12 to celebrate Judyth’s 60th birthday. Two of the guests might be familiar names to readers, particularly those who spent some time in Port Moresby. Dawn Gill (DDA; Department of Labour, Commerce and Industry) and Maree Coates (Taxation; Posts and Telegraphs) both shared dongas with Judyth during their single days and made the trip to central Victoria to party with their old friend.

Considering these girls were in their very early 20s when they arrived in Moresby, it was some adventure back in the late 1960s. Maree must have liked the experience because she nearly out-Jonesed Al Jones – she spent 22 years all up in PNG before returning to the Gold Coast.

During her speech Judyth outlined the various facets of her life, including by name the party guests who were there at the different stages. Her PNG days were her “salad days” she recalled – azure skies, learning to water ski, Ela Beach Sundays, boys and dinner parties …. in that order.

Then came the “baby days” in Bendigo, with play group, the baby sitting club, toddlers and bedtime stories. Primary schooldays followed (where Judyth was the School Council vice-president for many years), before it was on to the secondary school years.

She’s been a member of a neighbourhood book group for more than two decades and was also a keen bridge player for many years, so the guests from those activities were included by name in her speech. Judyth also named our neighbours who host the annual November/December street party in rotation and of course her workmates and volunteer guides from the Bendigo Art Gallery where Judyth is the senior administration officer.

The food platters, prepared by our chef daughter Miranda, just kept on coming out all night so no one departed hungry, and certainly not thirsty.

Judyth managed to last until 4 am Sunday but by that time had to collapse into bed. The four-man jazz band had packed it in at 11 pm, but our son-in-law took over and performed his DJ stint with an elaborate five-piece vinyl records and CD electronic set-up, entertaining the troops until the last ones left for their motel in the daylight at 7 am.

ROSS WILSON [Brisbane QLD] - I am interested in your site as I spent several years working in PNG and my wife Kathy is from the Lae area. Do you know if any of the old theses and manuscripts prepared by ASOPA students as part of their coursework were archived? My special interest is in a thesis which may have been written by a kiap known as Andy Anderson who attended a course at ASOPA in the early 1950s.

Andy had worked as a kiap in the Sepik and Lae areas of PNG before attending the course. My wife’s father (Polom/Porom Antipas Kasi) and her uncle Bai worked as carriers, teachers and policemen with the kiaps in the Sepik after the war. Kathy and her dad mentioned that Mr Anderson had written a history of the family. This may have been an assessment requirement of the ASOPA course and based on interviews with the family. Any thoughts on how to trace such a manuscript would be appreciated.

 

FEATURES

PROF DAVID GILLISON [New York USA] - The black and white photographs on display at Melbourne’s Watson Place Gallery were taken during my first stay in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (1973-75). I had come with my family to the village of Ubaigubi in the Crater Mountains looking for a place and people where ritual theatre might exist.

I came to this remote and cloud-covered land hoping to find a hint of that ancient past which lies hidden in all of us. But before touching the ineffable, that something beyond words, which all artists seek no matter what age they live in, I would have to arrive in the everyday present.

And not for a moment, when we were preparing to leave for the Highlands, did it occur to me that my first challenge in living in a village such as Ubaigubi would be me and that I was the mysterious one, the one who must explain himself. I soon learned that our hosts had very firm ideas of what an expatriate was and did, and I didn’t fit with them.

I was neither government official, missionary nor coffee trader. I hadn’t come to tell them why they must not fight, but must dig pit toilets and have their children inoculated. Nor was I there as a birua (enemy) of the American evangelist who lived two days walk from their village, ready to offer a competing brand of Christianity.

Ethnographers, people who sit down with villagers and record all aspects of their lives, had been active in and around Goroka soon after World War 2. However, knowledge of this kind of person who simply observed and recorded behaviour had not travelled to Crater Mountain. To the young men of the village (with whom we conversed in Tok Pisin) who were our initial conduits to the women and older people (who spoke only Gimi, the local language) the idea that outsiders might want to hear their stories, or watch their rituals, was almost an absurdity.

For these young men there must have been another reason why we came. But as we later learned – and this of course took time – many of the elders saw things differently from the young men. For the elders there was no hidden agenda. In their eyes our reason for being there was that we were seeking our past and thus we were a familiar type of ghost. We had come in search of our past – we were looking for our relatives.

After four months or so of mutual probing, the logjam built of misunderstanding began to break. This became clear when Bate, a leader among the women of her clan, stood up at a meeting and pronounced our local names. After Bate’s announcement we were no longer mystery people, no longer the red-skinned outsiders.

We had identities: we now carried names associated with the plants and animals in their world. Of course, as we later learned, Bate had her own hidden agenda (hidden from us) as she had already announced to the village that she was adopting our daughter, Samantha.

There is a rule to all this. If you wish to enter an exotic society, at least exotic to you, it is best to bring a young child. He or she will be a godsend. First off, they will learn an impossibly dense language with a speed which makes your own efforts seem like a painful joke. And in the process of daily living your child will make friends who in turn will humanise you to their parents, and through them, to the village.

Even before Bate’s speech and one subsequently given by her husband, a paramount leader in the village where he announced that from now on we were part of his clan, my planned photographic agenda was changing. Before arriving in Crater I had imagined my medium as being almost exclusively one of colour. One in which I would mail my assembled rolls of Kodachrome down to Australia and then wait for the processed film to come back.

This idea didn’t last long and soon I was shooting black and white film and developing it at night in our thatch-roofed house. I began to do this for several reasons. In the early stages I wasn’t seeing the thing I had come for: ritual theatre. And almost as importantly I wanted to show my hosts what I did with my camera and thus explain myself. Additionally, this was a just-in-case strategy.

Do this and I would have some sort of record just in case one or more of my batches of colour film lost their way on their journey out of the field and down to Australia. By developing film in the field I would be left with something: I would also be able to see whether I was close to getting what I wanted or not, as the case might be. And in one of those odd visits which continually surprise photographers one path ends up as another. The photos I made in part as an aid to dialogue, in which the subject was equally aware of the process of the making of the image as the photographer, and then processed under less than prime conditions, were not planned for a gallery wall.

It is more than 30 years since I took the pictures on show at the Watson Place Gallery and many of the people in these frozen moments are distant shades, long since passed away. As Kinige, an exceptionally old and scared man in Ubaigubi once told me: the faces of my childhood have faded from me like tracks in the morning mist. His clan was gone -- actors who made their entrances and exits in one sudden and terrible scene change. As a child, Kinige was a lone survivor. All of his family had been lost in a single night of bloody massacre. But when someone sang a song from the past they were living beings again, caught in the light of his eyes.

Like Kinige with his songs, when I again look at the images from 1973 to 1975 I often go back to an early morning in 1973, to a high ridge when the dawn sun broke over the mountain wall and shone down on the village with its tight mosaic of clan gardens and hamlets set in a bowl-like sea of deep green. The place is before me again as it was that very first time, and my dream of finding an ancient theatre which might still exist in that changing world is alive and all of its players are yet to cross the stage.

David Gillison (born 1936) is a Melbourne-born photographer, conservationist and educator. He travelled in 1973 to the Crater Mountain region of PNG to study sources of visual imagery in ethnographic art. After this two-year immersion in the culture of the Gimi people, Gillison returned to teach full-time at the City University of New York, where he is now a professor.

He has made many visits since the mid-70s back to Papua New Guinea with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society, exploring the relationship between nature and art among the Gimi. These studies led to concerted efforts to conserve the flora and fauna of the Crater Mountain area.

His exhibition of photographs is on show at Melbourne’s Watson Place Gallery from November 16 to December 10.

RICK NEHMY [Port Moresby PNG] - The 30th Anniversary of PNG Independence celebrations were amazing – and officials were pleasantly surprised at the large turnouts with one exception, which I’ll come to. They were also pleased at how well behaved the crowds were.

The Hiri Moale festival was being held at the same time and for a week we had traditional dancers performing in the one park across from my window. Sadly, the only spectators were public servants, obviously not at their desks.

But it’s a bit disconcerting seeing the blatant eroticism of the Manus or Trobriand dancers at eight o’clock in the morning.

The celebration also saw some very strong demonstrations of national pride, with estimates of up to 80,000 people passing through the Sir John Guise Stadium. Indeed, on the 16th many establishments had their staff (usually young women) in traditional dress … at one place we were served by a woman with traditional white powder all over her upper torso, traditional grass skirt and traditional black lycra bicycle shorts.

The supermarkets were particularly into it. At one, every single checkout operator was in traditional dress. I am sure, however, that there must be no health regulations about handling raw food while bare topped and oiled up, and I reckoned a few missionaries would have been turning in their graves.
We went to a very well attended charity ball on Friday night, September 16th, where the Australian Governor-General made a short but very appropriate speech, and Sir Mekere Morauta a short but very hard-hitting speech, mentioning some glaring shortcomings needing to be remedied. During his visit the Australian Governor-General won a lot of points by sometime speaking in Tok Pisin. He had spent several years in PNG in the 1960s.

But for us the highlight was the Kumuls v Kangaroos rugby league match on the Sunday. Arriving three hours early with our tickets, we were offered a police escort to get us past the lines of people trying to get into the ground. I started chatting to the very knowledgeable fan next to me, and eventually the penny dropped. He was Graham Ainui, former Deputy Police Commissioner and PNG’s first international rugby league referee.

A memory I will cherish for a long time is a Kumul winger racing for a breakaway try down the sideline being pursued and eventually mown down by a 30 cm taller Luke Ricketson of the Sydney Roosters’ club. Poor Kumuls’ winger …. he didn’t stand a chance.

There was an article in the papers recently about a young man claiming he was allegedly abducted from a PMV and raped by five women. In a subsequent Letter to the Editor the correspondent, a regular PMV user, complained that this had never happened to him. The letter writer noted that the complainant was stupid to have not been vigilant while on the PMV, stupid to have given in to a group of women armed only with a kitchen knife and stupid to have reported it as he didn’t put up a fight. Our correspondent “trupela man” then signed off by wishing the women a happy 30th anniversary.

We recently bought tickets to a dinner raising funds to send two young female weightlifters to a competition in Australia. But with not enough takers, the dinner was cancelled. Instead a farewell barbecue was arranged at our apartments. When the organiser rang the band leader, David Sode the Commissioner for Internal Revenue, he immediately said the band would be disappointed and offered to bring them along to our barbecue and play gratis.

And they were great – they even made the old Eagles’ classic Hotel California sound fresh.

Our next milestone is the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum in Madang, complete with Aussie Prime Minister John Howard.

Read all about it, next time.

This is the fourth in a series by Rick Nehmy, recounting life in present day Port Moresby. Nehmy is a member of Australia’s Enhanced Co-operation Programme staff, and in days of yesteryear was a patrol officer in PNG. This article is reproduced from the Christmas (December, 2005) issue of Una Voce, the official publication of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia. The PNGAA’s website is www.pngaa.net