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November 2006

 

 

NEWS


That Orion PNG trip

By Ingrid Jackson

Three weeks of utter bliss and now the holiday is over! The MV Orion was an absolute delight and the many PNG destinations absolutely spectacular! But our pictures remain to tell the tale. We’ve dedicated our whole Jackson Family photo website to share photos from our PNG cruise. See http://jackson.bigpondhosting.com - and don’t forget to click on the thumbnail pics to enlarge them.

Murray Bladwell - A note to say how much we enjoyed the daily blog on your PNG island soiree. And Ingrid’s tour pics brought back warm and fuzzy (excuse pun!) memories. The shots of Rabaul, one of my favourite townships with many happy times, brought a touch of moisture to my eyes. Very sad to think that many of the locations in my memory - Queen Elizabeth Park with its teeming markets, Malaguna Tech College (our E Course location), the swinging dances at the Quo Men Tang Club and many enjoyable hours at the famous Cosmo pub beer garden - are all no more!

While I did not attend the maternity wing of Nonga Hospital (unlike your daughter Sally), I spent about three weeks in an original war-time tar-paper covered ward being ministered to by a number of attractive Australian nurses. Needless to say, on leaving hospital, I made many visits to the nurses quarters located atop Namanula Hill! These visits were made in hire cars rented from the famous Mick Foley, who kindly allowed me to build up a 240 pound debt, to repaid at my leisure when I got a real salary with my first posting. Thanks for the memories.

Andrew Horsley – This blog is magnificent stuff. Quite nostalgic. In 1976, after law school, before AGSM, and as the first leg of my overland expedition to Europe, I did a passage from Port Moresby to Bali. It was on ‘Stormvogel’ a superb 72’ ketch. It was the yacht Sam Neil and Nicole Kidman were on in ‘Dead Calm’ some ten years later. My uncle, Malcolm Horsley, was the skipper and doing his 2nd circumnavigation.

We sailed from Moresby to Baxter Harbour, Samarai, Milne Bay, a little island nearby, Daga Daga Bonalua, Tufi, past Goodenough Island. Left the yacht at Lae and the nine of us in the crew hired a minibus and drove to Goroka, Mt Hagen and Baiyer River. The Chimbu were friendly. Back to the yacht at Madang. Motored up the Sepik to Angoram and Timbuke. Wewak. The further north we went the slower things got. But it was peaceable, given it was only a year after independence. Then a long passage to Ambon in the Moluccas Islands. Detained there for two weeks by the Indonesians because we didn’t have a navigation clearance. Got that sorted then onto Bali through the Banda and Flores Sea.

Left the yacht there for the overland trip: Malay Peninsula, Thailand, Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia etc etc. Ah, the stuff memories are made of. Keep the blog coming!

Nick Booth - PNG does not seem to have changed beyond recognition, although I think Rabaul was the only place I have seen of those you visited. I imagine the eruption will have changed it quite a bit. In my day, of course, there was only one radio station: "This is the ABC in Papua-New Guinea: 9PA Port Moresby".

Ingrid Jackson - A large proportion of Rabaul is covered with basalt ash, which is what destroyed most of the buildings in 1994. Only the Hamamas (Rabaul) Hotel remains because they kept shovelling the ash off the slanted roofs. Most people and commerce have moved to Kokopo. The Rabaul wharves are still OK, as is the home where Keith used to live on Second 22nd Street. All in all it's a sad sight, with Tuvurvur and Vulcan, plus another underwater volcano, Togirgir, looking threatening. The World Bank and other aid agencies will not invest in rebuilding Rabaul, so Kokopo is where the development is happening. And that looks fairly prosperous. The rest of East New Britain is verdant and fertile.

Ian McLean – I loved the photos on Ingrid’s site. Some brought back memories. My only disappointment was that you went all that way and neglected to get a photo of Keith among the geysers, which would gave borne the caption: ‘Olde Geezer Among the Geysers’ (sorry Keith, I know it takes one to know one, ha ha).

Diane Bohlen - Your trip, which I followed on the blog, sounded exciting. What a fabulous trip down memory lane and in 5 star comfort. It must have been very emotional for you. I'm glad to hear Madang is still a nice place. I have very fond memories of Madang as that is where Bill and I had our honeymoon in 1969.It was very romantic. We've just returned from four weeks in Europe: London, Cannes, Spain, Portugal and a few days in Tokyo on the way home. The highlight was a week on the Riviera with our daughter and son in law. We had a wild experience touring the wine areas and historic towns in Spain and Portugal with a Brazilian tour guide who didn't know where she was going half the time and had poor English. Now its back to work for another few weeks.
Phil Charley - Great stuff on the web log, Keith. I was in Goroka in 1970 and my second posting to Madang occurred in 1971. It was a brand new station and I was the first manager. We loved the place - a real tropical paradise.

Colin Huggins - For four years I looked out from Dregerhafen towards Tami, so it's quite a surprise that it has taken so long to see what the place actually looks like. I remember the locals in their long canoes with sails coming across for purchasing food etc from the mainland. I often had weird thoughts of getting a mainlander with a canoe to paddle/sail me across for a weekend on the mysterious isle! Perhaps I was slightly troppo! The only memento I have left from PNG is a Tami carving! Great travelogue news, Keith.

 

The isles are alive with the sound of music

By Les Peterkin

Thanks for the story about Maria von Trapp. I remember Maria on the 4th E course (April to September 1963) because I’d been seconded from ASOPA to lecture in Phys Ed and Music. Maria was a very quiet and unassuming lady,but to everyone's delight and enjoyment was a brilliant recorder player. So I put her in charge of teaching the recorder to the rest of the students.

Much of my Music course was to impart to the students as many suitable folk and camp songs which they could in turn teach out in the schools. One of these was ‘Do Lord , Oh Do Lord (Oh do remember me!)’. Most of you will remember these songs from ASOPA days. We also tried to learn some of the local songs and songs in Pidgin. ‘Liklik kanu’ was one.

As you know they were fantastic singers. We taught the songs to the kids at school and they went home and taught their parents. My great thrill came towards the end of my stay in Rabaul when a two-ton truck full of local natives were singing ‘Do Lord’ in full voice on their way to the Saturday morning markets.

Incidentally while I was there I was given to task of training the Malaguna Boys Tech school choir for the big choir festival held every year. That's a great memory, too. A hundred boys who could all sing in perfect pitch and four part harmony. I taught ‘Jamaica Farewell’ as a free choice song. I had to write it out on the blackboard in Sol-fa and they sang it by numbers! This was the way the missions taught singing. Can you believe it?

 

Just about as far from PNG as you can get

By Jane Belfield

Here’s a commercial for the girls. I’ve written a book, King of the Castle, under the name ‘Jane Hill’. You can find it on the website www.alinarpublishing.com. Reading it will cost you $US4.95. Or you can read the first chapter for free!

Author profile: English-born ‘Jane Hill’ lives in Victoria, Australia, in a house on 10 acres by the sea. Jane - who lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for 25 years - is a former radio and print journalist, now writing and editing freelance. Her work, published and broadcast in several countries, includes short stories in the Romance genre, but this is her first attempt at a romantic novel.

Book summary: Emma Bancroft is beautiful and spirited. Flynn Dexter is handsome and arrogant. When they meet, the sexual chemistry is palpable. But, finding his arrogance insufferable, she's determined not to succumb to his charms...and he's determined not to fall in love with anyone at all. Or so they say. Set in the beautiful English countryside, the action is enlivened by a supporting cast, which includes a doting father, a foolishly garrulous mother on the lookout for wealthy husbands for her daughters, and a predatory cad. Sounds familiar? Of course it does. "Any resemblance to Pride and Prejudice is quite intentional," says Jane, author of this modern take on an age-old theme.

 

Highs and lows on Asia Minor pilgrimage

By Dave Kesby

Elissa and I have completed a great holiday. We visited Dubai, Oman, Turkey, Greece and Thailand. Rather than giving a complete commentary, I’ll provide a few highlights and lowlights. The highlights were visiting Anzac Cove and realising how stupid we were ninety years ago. And we still haven’t learned. We also enjoyed wandering around Istanbul where we stayed in cheap accommodation for five days. We drank beer underneath the Attaturk Bridge at sunset, looking out over the Bosporus. We camped on isolated beaches and listened to the call to prayer in Oman, which is a true Arab state. With my son and his girlfriend we watched turtles lay eggs in the sand and saw mother turtle stagger down to the sea after laying hundreds of eggs. Another highlight was getting on every flight we tried for, which is not easy when you are on standby.

The big lowlight was Elissa falling about six feet at the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Artemis was the goddess of Fertility. She had seven breasts and six testicles - quite a lady! Anyway I was taking a photo of Elissa sitting on a marble slab when she slipped and fell into the temple. It was high drama - stitches to head and arm, ambulance lights flashing, and a day and a night in a southern Turkey hospital. We got through it all right and stayed about a week in a hotel in a place called Kusadasi, where mine host got full as a fart each night and forgot to prepare breakfast. Lucky it did not cost much but we got to know his kitchen. There were other lows involving taxis but I feel reluctant to put dirt on my erstwhile colleagues.

 

Indigenous story website launched

By Janine Paterson

Many thanks for all the work you are doing with The Mail. I bet when you began it you didn’t think that it would last so long. Barry and have spoken to Colin (HuggieBear) Huggins. He is doing a fantastic job with the latest reunion. It fact it’s so good, that I have been persuaded to come to it too.

Apart from relaxing in FNQ, which is like having a holiday every day and not having to go somewhere else because it’s never as good, Barry and I have travelled north to Bamaga and the Torres Strait and then down to Leigh Creek in South Australia, where our son David lives with his wife and our grandson Henry. Although PNG is a deliciously beautiful place, Australia is amazingly stunning too. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful rocks and arid plains can be when flanked by the Flinders Ranges or how brilliant the phosphorescent seas are around the Torres Strait.

What am I doing? Many things, both paid and unpaid. I have a website for my special Indigenous stories for children project. There are three stories so far with another 2-3 on the way. Perhaps you might like to hit on my site. It’s colourful and all singing and dancing.

You can visit Janine’s new website at http://snipurl.com/indigenous_stories.

 

REUNIONS


1962-63 reunion news

Brisbane, 12-14 October 2007

Brisbane ‘07 might still be eleven months away but 30 people associated with the ASOPA Class of 1962-63 (21 former cadet education officers and nine partners) have already registered for the third reunion from 12-14 October next year.

They are: Henry & Janelle Bodman; Bill & Diane Bohlen; Colin & Wendy Booth; Jeff & Robyn Chapman; Bob Davis; Sonia Grainger; Rod Hard; Colin Huggins; Keith & Ingrid Jackson; Richard & Judyth Jones; Dave & Elissa Kesby; Peter & Margaret Lewis; Ian McLean; Rory O'Brien; Barry & Janine Paterson; Roger Philpott; Howard & Glenda Ralph; Val Rivers; Roger Stanley; and Bill Welbourne.

The Brisbane organising committee appointed Colin Huggins to secure top value accommodation – and he delivered in full by striking great deals with Brisbane’s Sofitel and Novotel Hotels:

Sofitel [$195] - To book your room and get the deal, quote booking code ASO1007. Bookings through Jade Thompson by email H5992-SB06@accor.com or telephone 07 3835 3535 or 07 3835 4959.

Novotel [$150] - To book your room and get the deal, quote booking code ASOPA2007. Bookings through Laura Ousby by email H1749-RE01@accor.com or telephone 07 3309 3309.
You catch up on all the current information about Brisbane ’07 on Bill Bohlen’s reunion website at http://www.bohlen.com.au/Brisbane.htm.

Colin Huggins: Great Orion odyssey reports which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. In addition to the 30 people already registered for the reunion, Joe and Kathyn Crainean, Dennis and Ros Burrell, Justine Finter and Barry Flannery are definite starters. To my surprise, when speaking to Rory O’Brien recently, he put on Jeff Chapman who with wife, Robyn, was enjoying Northern Territorian hospitality. I informed Jeff to make sure his caravan park location for October 2007 is as close as possible to the Brisbane CBD and close to a railway station.

 

1961-62 reunion news

Cedar Lake Country Club, 24-26 August 2007

The organising committee has negotiated accommodation at good rates at Cedar Lake Country Club, Advancetown via Nerang. Accommodation for two nights in a two-bedroom apartment costs from $70 share to $280 one person exclusive. Other costs include $130 for 2 days catering and $110 for participation services and an ASOPA gift pack. 1961-62 Asopians need to make a deposit of $100 per person when confirming attendance and advising accommodation. If you have arranged share accommodation this should be advised when you forward a $100 deposit. Cheques to 61/62 ASOPA REUNION to David Keating at PO Box 73, New Farm, QLD 4005.

 

1960-61 reunion news

Brisbane, 12-14 October 2007

The 1960-61 group will hold their first Friday night get together independently at the Novotel but will share the Saturday night official dinner with the Class of 62-63. Further details will be available later.

 

PNG JOURNAL


These extracts have been taken from Keith Jackson’s journal of his recent PNG trip and were originally published on the ASOPA PEOPLE weblog.

 

IN PAPUAN WATERS

Coral Sea, Sunday – There’s something very calming about the irregular motion of a ship ploughing across a long rolling swell. Wakening as usual at 3.30 am for some night time pondering (like ‘why do I keep waking at 3.30 am?’), I feel Orion moving around me. It’s like being gently rocked in a giant cradle.

Yesterday evening, after Australian Security, Customs and Migration conspired to render meaningless the word ‘efficiency’, Orion slipped casually out of Cairns with the city and its embracing hills slowly drifting from view. With Beethoven’s seventh on the stateroom CD revving me up, I was overflowing with anticipation.

 

SWEET DUSTY ALOTAU

Alotau, Monday - I was fortunate to awake early enough to catch a first shrouded glimpse of the Papuan coast 30 years after taim igo pinis in 1976. It was a sentimental moment, which recalled my first arrival in TPNG in 1963: a mysterious and misty coastline holding promise of great adventure. Promise, I hasten to add, which was fully redeemed.

We berth at Alotau, the Milne Bay provincial capital, at 11 am to be greeted by a local singsing group belting kundus like there is no tomorrow. An hour later Ingrid and I are ashore, walking around the dusty streets of what at first appearance is a poor and run down township. The prominent presence of guards around any building related to banking, petrol and beer evidences security concerns, although the people have a customary friendliness.

After an hour’s walk we end up at Napatana Lodge, on the edge of town, where manager Edna honours her claim to “serve the coldest beer in Alotau” and I quench my thirst on my first SP green in three decades. We trudge back to Orion with the afternoon heat starting to stake its claim. Along the road we encounter scores of warm and welcoming people. The sweetness of the welcome lingers. The dust washes easily off my shoes.

 

I WENT BACK THERE, BP

Trobriand Islands, Wednesday – At seven this morning Orion anchors off Kitava Island in the Trobriands. Seventy passengers and crew board seven Zodiacs which, en masse, as local custom dictates, head for shore and a traditional dance welcome from the islanders, including a group of pubescent boys who are so embarrassed by the whole thing they flee into the bush the moment their dance concludes.

Ingrid and I then walk for an hour into the hills to pretty Kumwagea village – clean, neat, scores of blossoming frangipani forming an avenue through its centre. At the village entrance is Kitava Primary School, established in 1962 and with the original head teacher’s quarters rather decrepit but still in use.

It is here that John Peter, a man from nearby Lalele village, befriends me. We talk about the school, which he attended in the late 1960s. “It’s not the same now,” he complains, “they don’t teach in English anymore. The kids don’t learn it and they get pushed out before high school”. “Who taught you?” I ask. “At first an Australian,” he replies. “What was his name?” “Mr White.” “Mr Brian White?” John Peter looks at me surprised. “Yes,” he says, “that was his name.” When I mention I knew Brian well and that he died just a few months ago, a single fat tear rolls down John Peter’s cheek.

 

MAROVO MEANDERINGS

Marovo Lagoon, Friday - Jill and Grant Kelly have spent 25 years developing their small, exquisite resort on Uepi (you-pee) Island in the Western District of the Solomon Islands. Being in a remote part of the country, almost at the end of the line, they don’t make a lot of money but live a fine life catering to the requirements of scuba divers, expedition travellers and people who simply want to drop out for a while. And, after more than a quarter of a century, they feel a close connection to the natural environment and to the native people who live on the tiny coral islands arranged necklace-like around Marovo Lagoon.

I talk with Jill and Grant about Solomons’ politics, asking them about the usefulness of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s megaphone diplomacy in addressing the serious problems Australia finds in its immediate neighbourhood. They are ambivalent: saying Downer’s remonstrations against the poor governance of PNG and the Solomons is understandable but that it isn’t clear exactly how this will fix relationships that Australia has allowed to deteriorate over many years.

 

THE DIRECTOR WRITES

Off Bougainville, Sunday – It’s a good day to spend at sea. As Orion makes her passage from Gizo to Rabaul the clouds are low, visibility poor and it’s raining. Somewhere to the east is Bougainville - home to my family and me for three years in the early seventies, when I was managing Radio Bougainville.

Around 1972, PNG Director of Education, Dr Ken McKinnon, visited Kieta and, through the radio station, I did him a small favour, after which he quipped: “I’d expect nothing less from an ex-teacher!” The other day my daughter Sally, a journalist with The Australian newspaper, interviewed Ken, who is long-standing chairman of the Australian Press Council. Sally mentioned ASOPA PEOPLE to him and Ken wrote:

“Until Sally sent me the ASOPA URL information, I had no idea there was an active Internet blogging facility for ex PNG people, so I am following your travels with interest. I can beat your thirty-year reunion with PNG, having first landed in Port Moresby in early May 1954 after an ASOPA course between January and April. My Sydney sojourn came after two years at Oodnadatta, so was mostly a time for savouring the offerings of the city - not neglecting the ASOPA luminaries such as James Macauley and Camilla Wedgewood.

“Anyway, at the beginning of 1955 I was posted as Area Education Officer in the Milne Bay District based at Samarai (Alotau did not exist) and got around the Trobriands, Misima etc. I see you are going to Rabaul and meeting Sam Piniau there. Remember me to him as I have strong memories of him initiating me into the Duk-Duk society, which cost me a fascinating afternoon of dancing and later several fathoms of shell money.”

 

THE REMNANTS OF RABAUL

Rabaul, Tuesday - Ingrid and I are on the forward deck just in time to see Tavurvur erupt. As Orion approaches Simpson Harbour at 5.30 am, a dense column of black ash spirals rapidly through the cloud layer reaching about 8,000 feet before being pushed away and diluted by the prevailing south-easterly. Fortunately for Rabaul the ash is directed away from the town.

After some stuffing around with an overloaded local telephone system, I catch up with my old mate Sam Piniau – the first chairman of the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation. Sam now trades around the Gazelle Peninsula in cocoa and vanilla and is a long-time member of the PNG Sports Commission, a job that takes him to Port Moresby four times a year. At 68, he’s in good shape and the 30 years since we’d last seen each other haven’t blunted our relationship.

Sam drives us through the bleak wasteland that is the new Rabaul, the occasional skeletal structure being the only sign that, before Tavurvur and Vulcan erupted simultaneously in 1994, a town once stood here. The once splendid boulevarde that was Mango Avenue is a goat track. What was the only three-storey structure in town, the District Office, has been obliterated. Radio East New Britain is a roofless shell. “I told Tom Pearson [one time NBC director of engineering and construction] not to give it a flat roof”, Sam jokes.

 

THE END FOR RABAUL?

Bismarck Sea, Thursday - Since our arrival, Tavurvur has continued to belch a thick cloud of black ash leaving the town, and us, grubby and sulphuric. The ash grits between my teeth and a medical condition, ‘Tavurvur Throat’, can only be soothed by the application of ice-cold SP beer.

On Malaguna Avenue I again meet the middle-aged man from Matupit Island I encountered yesterday. Matthias had rushed to greet me yelling “G’day Bill! Where are you from?” To Matthias everyone was Bill. He is now standing alongside a pick-up truck parked in front of Seeto’s decrepit trade store. In the back of the truck squat a group of ten glum men. At their feet, a few bush knives, sarifs, kulau and other possessions. The only good cheer comes from Matthias. “G’day Bill!” he shouts. I ask him where they’re going. To the New Matupit, Matthias tells me, a resettlement area in the hills near Vunakabi beyond the Burma Road.

They are giving up on Matupit. The most recent eruption destroyed most of their canoes and generated a tsunami they feared might annihilate the village. No one was hurt but they’ve had enough, voluntarily taking a step that protracted government persuasion since the 1994 eruption failed to elicit. Demoralised, they’re abandoning Matupit for good. They are miserable – and it shows.

“You were in Rabaul, Bill,” barks Matthias happily. “They are leaving. Give them some words.” So I stumble my way through an inadequate speech in Pidgin about how sad I feel but I have driven past their new upland home and it is beautiful with rich soil and fine trees and I am sure they will find it a good and safe place. I do not feel, and I am sure I do not look, convincing.

Matthias, however, is pleased. “He was Radio Rabaul”, he announces to the men. I wish Mathias luck, we shake hands and go our separate ways. When the Matupit islanders start leaving, I think, that’s the end for Rabaul.

 

PHIL CHARLEY COUNTRY

Madang, Saturday – Yesterday Ingrid and I disembarked Orion, along with 60 other life-jacketed members of the seniors’ invasion force, to ride eight bucking Zodiacs for half an hour through a four foot swell and across a boiling reef. And I use the word ‘bucking’ advisedly. Our destination was Watam, a traditional village located a few kilometres east of the mouth of the Sepik River.

Having experienced such an arduous trip, it wasn’t hard to understand why Watam, a community of about 200 people, doesn’t see many tourists. Gliding into the small protected harbour, we were surprised to see over 30 canoes and banana boats and a village teeming with over 1,000 people - plus half a dozen police, some armed with AK47s. For a fee of 30 kina per group, the Watam people had invited neighbours from 50 km around to establish an impromptu artefacts market. With so many tribes intermingling, the police were there for obvious reasons.

I am escorted around Watam by a new found friend, Arnold, from whom I buy a few artefacts and who, with that spontaneous generosity of Papua New Guineans, reciprocates by giving Ingrid and me gifts. Spending an hour or so conversing with Arnold allows me to shake the cobwebs from my rusty Pidgin and, for his part, Arnold seems well pleased with the dialogue.

With the singsing going flat out, a 14-man pandanus and pitpit ‘dragon’ bouncing up and down at the village entrance and a lapun meri painting everyone’s face with an indelible red mark which will require a skin graft to remove, the ship’s passengers soon get into the spirit of the day.

Last night we sailed abeam of Manam, still in eruption and its population resettled on the mainland, and Karkar before entering Madang Harbour at seven this morning. Although its public infrastructure is deteriorating, Madang remains the prettiest of towns and tourism and agriculture clearly flourishes. The sweet smell of copra hangs in the air and Madang remains a most pleasant place to wander around.

Some 35 years ago Phil Charley ran the radio broadcasting station here after coming from the same role in Goroka. With these two postings, I reckon Phil had the best of it and, on visiting Madang for the first time in over 40 years, I see no reason to change my mind.

 

WHERE DOLPHINS SPIN

Tami Islands, Sunday Orion anchors just outside the reef and, as we head to shore, dozens of high spirited dolphins leap and spin around the Zodiacs in a magical display. Indeed, as I write this as we depart the islands and begin our passage to Tufi, through the stateroom window a large dolphin pod is racing alongside the ship.

At Tami we wade ashore from the Zodiac to be greeted by a singsing group which provides a rhythmic counterpoint to another ‘theatre’ group which, in music and dance, tells a series of stories about the Tami people. Local villagers drag rough-hewn desks and benches from the nearby schoolhouse to provide seating in the natural limestone amphitheatre. The rhythms and melodies are hypnotic. “I think I was here in a previous life,” murmurs a fellow passenger.

Then Ingrid and I clamber five metres up a rugged limestone sea cliff and pick our way through gardens pockmarked with rocky outcrops of ancient coral. We gingerly make our way down the other side and walk along a flotsam and jetsam strewn path (parts of thongs being the most common item) to a village of about 100 people. Here a new Lutheran church is being constructed – the only western material building in the place. “It’s cost 20,000 kina so far,” a villager confides, “and we’ve run out of money.” Alongside, the old bush material church is cuter, cooler - and cheaper.

 

DEATH BY FJORD

Fergusson Island, Tuesday – Yesterday Orion made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to anchor in narrow, reef fraught Tufi fjord. With a big swell running, the harbour bottom offers no purchase for a dragging pick. At one point, our stern hovers a precarious eight metres from the reef and Captain Peter Greenhow ultimately opts for prudence and anchors well offshore.

We surf back into the fjord on a Zodiac and, after disembarking at Tufi jetty, begin the uphill trek to Suicide Point, two kilometres away. The Tufi area is beset by drought and the coffee trees are dying but it isn’t lack of rain that bothers William, our guide. He says he feels ashamed of the decrepit state of the buildings at the old Tufi government station. “There’s no money, no maintenance. Sometimes we wish the kiaps were back,” he says.

Suicide Point lies on a prominent bluff overlooking two fjords; perhaps 300 metres above sea level. Infamous as a place where spurned lovers swallow dive into oblivion, it offers a panoramic view stretching as far as the Owen Stanley Range, silhouetted like a cardboard cut-out against the bright morning sky. Far beneath us a clutch of outriggers lazily track a school of fish.

Overnight we make passage to Fergusson Island in the D’Entrecasteaux group where Maria (‘Sound of Music’) von Trapp lived 50 years ago. The locals use the sulphuric geysers and hot springs of Dei Dei for cooking, washing and as a source of salt. Here, in bygone years, they would also boil captives alive before eating them on the spot, bones and offal tossed into another scalding pool nearby to be quickly reduced to consommé. There was an incident a couple of years back where a young village woman, upset after an argument, threw herself into the biggest geyser. Death by fjord; death by geyser. Add to the list of bizarre ways of ending it all.

 

THE LAST ISLAND

Samarai, Wednesday - After lunch we clamber into a Zodiac for a two kilometre ride from Orion to Kwato, the last island of this voyage. The Kwato settlement was established in 1891by Charles Abel of the London Missionary Society. From the sand spit where we land, we walk underneath a leafy canopy of rain trees and hibiscus up a wide, well-formed track which switchbacks to the top of the island’s one hill. Here stands a fine stone and wood church with a commanding view of Samarai and the China Strait. Just behind the church is a small graveyard with a monument testifying to the earthly remains of Charles Abel, his wife Beatrice (Bea) and many family members, the most recent who died just this year.

To my surprise, also in this graveyard are the remains of my onetime Government Broadcasting Service colleague, John Smeeton, and his wife Marjorie (Badi) Smeeton, an Abel daughter. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, since I knew that John (and his broadcaster son Ian) had come from Kwato. John, a gentle and avuncular man in his sixties when I knew him, died in 1991 at the age of 82. He rests in a truly exquisite place.

Earlier in the day, we walked around the decaying remains of Samarai. The 24 hectare island is a PNG heritage listed area, not that such nomination counts for much. Many of the original buildings and warehouses stand but been allowed to deteriorate for lack of money. The once fine wharf is broken and unusable. People continue to live in Samarai, and the power station still runs, but – apart from the faint promise of an embryonic cultured pearl business - the place, like much of the PNG we remember, is fading away.