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Monthly Archives: February 2010

New Guinea recollections. (Part 3 of 8)

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Lumi cattle drive 1971

The infant mortality rate around Lumi in 1970 was officially recorded to be 50% to age 5 years.  This was the result of endemic malaria and other parasitic infections, along with acute protein malnutrition from the predominantly sago-based diet.

Part of our job as Didimen was to introduce additional and improved sources of dietary protein to the villages.  At the Lumi Extension Centre we bred and distributed ducks, chickens, pigs, gourami fish, guinea pigs, peanuts and high protein varieties of rice.

At the time there were also a few smallholder village cattle projects, each with no more than 10 head of cattle.  The original young stock had been airlifted from the coast at Aitape into one of the bush 'strips by small Cessna aircraft. 
These cattle were a ragtag mix of British breeds often unsuited to living in the tropics, so the Local Government Council enlisted our support to drove, on foot, a small herd of improved Brahman bulls and cows into Lumi.

Wewak is the major town on New Guinea's north coast, and was the scene of fierce fighting against the Japanese in World War 2. General Adachi, the commander of all Japanese forces in PNG, formally surrendered to Australia at Wewak in 1945 but not before 100,000 of his soldiers had died from starvation.

The Sepik Highway extends inland from Wewak to Lumi.  It is not a "highway" in the American or Australian context, but more a winding country road, bitumen sealed in places, but often just a gravel surface. 
In 2010 you can comfortably drive from Wewak to Lumi in one day.

It was not so in 1971 when the Sepik Highway fell short of it's final destination by some 100 kilometres.  That distance from the roadhead at Dreikikir to Lumi consisted of a disconnected series of road benches which had been constructed through the rainforest-covered mountainous terrain by villagers using nothing more than axes and shovels. 

                     (footnote below provides more details on motorbikes and river crossings)


That 100 km forward journey Lumi to Dreikikir with volunteer worker Ralph Hazel on our Honda 90 Ag motor bikes (loaded with camping gear) took 44 hours of travel time over 4 days.  Traction on the steepest most slippery sections was achieved by using low ratio gearing and loops of thick nylon rope threaded at intervals through the spokes and around the rear tyre to provide a "snow chain" gripping effect.

                             (Ralph Hazel emerging from the undergrowth)

The return journey when we were assisted by 2 local stockmen droving the cattle, took 65 hours over 6 days, a lot of it spent devising ways to cross flooded rivers.

The accompanying pictures hopefully tell part of the story.

 
(Journal;  13 January   Depart Monandin 0900 after rain over unrecognisable road.  Abandon motor bikes 1600 then walk to unnamed village Dreikikir area 1900.


(J;  18 January   0600 commence construction of rafts to assist passage of patrol over flooded Bongos River near Yekrumbok village.  River 20 feet deep.  Crossing accomplished 1630, thence Nuku 2230 overnight.

Footnote;
Our Government supplied Honda 90 motor bikes were excellent little workhorses which saved us many days of walking.
Fast-flowing river crossings of any depth below the high exhaust pipe level could be accomplished (sometimes) by firstly cooling the engine down by splashing water all over it, then coating it, and all electrical components with water dispersant "Jesus Juice" spray, before riding a diagonal downstream track and emerging at some point on the opposite bank entirely determined by the force of the current.

The maximum life expectancy for Honda 90's at Lumi was 2 years or 7000 kilometers, whichever elapsed first.

This story is written in the memory of Ralph Hazel, a mature level-headed mentor, at a time when I probably needed one.

(For access to all stories in this series click the "view my tags" link on the right of screen then click "png history")

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New Guinea recollections. (Part 2 of 8)

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 South Wapei Patrol 1970

I should firstly acknowledge that Christian organisations and their missionaries with practical skills deserve much of the credit for providing improved services such as health and education, to village people in many of the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Government's mandate was to firstly explore uncharted territory, pacify warring tribes and headhunters, then rapidly improve infrastructure and services throughout the country in preparation for PNG's eventual Independence as a nation.

On the ground that process was led by "Kiaps" the Australian patrol officers who can now look back on a proud, meritorious and often heroic history in PNG.  They often put their lives on the line on a daily basis.  From 1950 to 1977 there were 18 recorded incidents of patrols being attacked by natives.  Fifteen Kiaps were killed in the line of duty from 1950 to 1977. (not all from ambush incidents)

Once areas had been officially pacified by the Kiaps, Medical personnel and "Didimen" (rural development officers like the writer) were introduced to do their own field patrols to identify and implement ways to rapidly improve the standard of living of the people who were often malnourished and sick with malaria and other parasites.

We would walk from village to village, on the way gathering information about sociology, geography, soil and vegetation types, then sit down at night with everyone in the meeting house to learn about their social aspirations and priorities for future development.  Comprehensive "Patrol Reports" were then compiled and sent to our Port Moresby headquarters for analysis and evaluation.

The task of economic and social development in places like the South Wapei was daunting.  The vast flood plains which drain into the upper Sepik River are not traversible at all during the wet season, and at other times the walking distances as notated below make any sort of life improvement extremely difficult for these sparse populations of people.
They had no roads, communications with the outside world, education or health facilities.

Some financial income was remitted by men who had been "recruited" by labour agents and shipped off to work on private coconut and cocoa plantations near Rabaul on the more developed island of New Britain. Small amounts of cash were also earned locally from selling salted crocodile skins.

A large percentage of the adult men were away working for years at a time, leaving behind a legacy of family and social disruption, and a disproportionate burden of village work on the shoulders of women, young people, and the old folk.

Our foot patrols involved packing all food, bedding and medicine (most important were anti-malarial tablets and antibiotic ointment and powder to treat infected wounds and tropical ulcers) into galvanised or black steel trunks.

Carriers were recruited from the nearest village, (sometimes against their wishes) and they lashed the patrol boxes onto long bush poles using kunda (vine rope)….one carrier at each end of the pole.

The Government payment rate for carriers was set at 10 cents per hour.
We also carried blocks of tobacco.  Twisted greasy tobacco leaf  sticks which were glued together with molasses to make a single heavy block. 
Tobacco, rather than cash was sometimes preferred by the carriers as payment for their work. 
We also traded tobacco for fresh food supplies along the way.

Our patrol box contents also included old copies of Sydney's broadsheet newspaper which we distributed to people who tore them into appropriately sized sheets to wrap the untwisted, dried and cut tobacco and made "cigarettes".

August 1970.   (Blue represents journal entries)

Lumi to Bulawa;
Commencing from Lumi patrol post in the foothills of the Torricelli mountain range in the West Sepik (now Sandaun Province) walking south towards the middle reaches of the Sepik River.
" 6 hours walk to Bulawa village following the rocky river bed and crossing the Gwenif River 41 times"


Domestic servant/fixer/part-time interpreter Fortel (with gun) and a meal of fish and hornbills at Bulawa village.

Bulawa to Abrau;  
7 hours through alternating steamy lowland forest and "kunai" grassland.
" Abrau village deserted, roof of rest house removed by storm at night"

Abrau to Yakeltim;


                                          Patrol in state of shambles (top picture) following canoe capsize.



Village leader with Goura pigeons from hunting expedition.
Children with big bellies, the primary symptom of kwashiorkor.
(acute childhood protein malnutrition)

Abrau to Norambalip and Yegerapi;
12 hours walking time, then a village meeting at night to discuss strategies for marketing crocodile skins.
Mosquitoes so tiny here that they get through mosquito bed-net mesh.

Yegerapi to Yowari;


" 12 hours walk. Depart 7 am crossing endless kunai swamplands and following pig tracks into Yowari at 7 pm."

Semi-permanent floating foot paths had been constructed in the flooded kunai grasslands. They were made from split palm trunks cut  from the adjacent woodlands.  The planks were laid end to end across the "teis" (swamp) and floated on top of the mud.

"Yowari women and children fled into the bush at first sighting of the patrol's arrival, returning later at night".

The Yegerapis were not on friendly terms with the Yowaris and the carriers, fearing sorcery being applied to them if they camped at Yowari overnight, chose to immediately turn around and walk the 10 hours back home by moonlight.

Yowari to Kernam;

" Eleven hours in heavy rain.  Kwieftim village carriers deserted, found substitutes"

Kernam to Lumi;
" Depart Kernam 5.45 am to Parisko on an overgrown bush track thence via Taute to Lumi 6 pm"

Lumi was the closest Government Patrol Post providing services to the people of the South Wapei. The Catholic Church, (Franciscans) and the protestant Christian Missions in Many Lands also had establishments at Lumi.
The CMML had an additional staff member at their Yellow River base, close to the Sepik River.


(For access to all stories in this series click the "view my tags" link on the right of screen then click "png history")

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New Guinea recollections. (Part 1 of 8)

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Introduction

A few people have convinced me that there might be some historical value in posting and preserving some of my old faded and fungus ravaged transparencies taken in Papua New Guinea from 1968 onwards, before they, like me, end up as nothing more than landfill.

I am especially mindful of young Papua Niuginians who, with 21st century Google magic might one day discover and appreciate these pictures of their villages and ancestors.

The pictures are accompanied by my probably biased recollection of events, along with unedited extracts from my Agricultural Officers Field Journal written at the time, which will reflect colonial attitudes and policies no longer either socially or politically acceptable.

I make no apology for this, as both my own behaviour and that of the Australian PNG Administration was at the time full of good intent.

Considerable debate exists as to the value of colonial occupation of developing countries in the 20th century.

History should prove that Australia was a benevolent and generous administrator in PNG.  We literally brought many of the people from stone age, often barbaric, cultural practices into the jet age during the few decades prior to PNG's Independence in 1975. 
Australia continues to pour several hundred million dollars worth of aid funds into PNG each year.

As a nation we did not deliberately set out to pillage it's economic resources, or to an unnecessary extent impose our culture upon theirs. 

Those critical of Australia's performance need only compare it to the Dutch and Indonesian colonial record in neighbouring West Irian (now Irian Jaya) to understand just how fortunate Papua New Guinea was.

I appreciate that my ancient history will probably be of little interest to most of my regular readers, but as I have built up a small head of steam for this project I will post all 8 stories in a series which will occupy the next 2 weeks. (weather and solar power permitting).

Normal blogging will resume in 3 weeks time.


(For access to all stories in this series click the "view my tags" link on the right of screen then click "png history")

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Entirely bull

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Australians love to build oversized meaningless monuments which elevate their otherwise ordinary, drab and uninteresting little towns into more conspicuous positions to trap some tourist dollars.

                                                                                                                             
Closer to my home is the town of Mareeba, the gateway to vast expanses of cattle country in the Gulf to the west, and Cape York Peninsula to the north. (the huge pointy bit at the top right hand corner of Australia.)
Mareeba has a big Brahman bull.

Over the years Mareeba has had several monumental Big Bulls which were always, after a very short period of time, converted into castrated steers by testicle souvenir hunters.

The local Council after finally having had more than enough of all this continuing ballocks decided to have this special bull made from case-hardened vandal-resistant steel.

Four years on, and the bull remains entire, despite obvious attempts by hacksaw, hammer, bonfire and oxy acetylene to expropriate his private parts.

     
Now coincidentally, just while I was comfortably contemplating what sort of literary award I should receive for this exemplary piece of investigative journalism, a busload of Japanese tourists arrived to find an old man prostrate under the bull, camera in one hand, and the other one palpating the scrotal metallurgy gathering evidence to establish the various modes of vandal attack documented above.

Realising that my motives could have been misconstrued or at the very least not fully understood, I decided that acting out a charade of the statue's history for the numerous Nikons and Canons sticking out of the bus windows would be the most appropriate way to overcome the language barrier, whilst also endowing our visitors with a unique impromptu cultural and educational experience.

They must have been in a hurry though, because midway through what I thought was a quite theatrical portrayal of "castration" the bus took off in a cloud of dust.

I remain dedicated to documenting the truth, and providing cultural insights and understanding for readers of The Bucket.

Occasionally I am even prepared to sacrifice a little of whatever dignity I have left for that noble cause.

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Healing hands

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Most of you will already be aware of how much abiding admiration I have for religious evangelists.
(Legal Disclaimer; nothing written here applies to Benny Hinn)
Those selfless, poverty stricken little bast……ions of watertight moral integrity whose theistic circuses jet around the world distributing pious fraudulency and heavenly sleight-of-hand to those less fortunate, or confused, in return for a few shekels here, and entire bequeathed estates there. 

During my life I have overheard many people say that I too am a real   little bastion, or something very similar, so I have also decided to follow this hallowed calling.
GOF's own crusade of healing is about to hit the road.

My qualifications are impeccable on three levels;

1. Genetic Inheritance;  Aloysius, the great-uncle of one of my second
    cousins was a water diviner who, on at least one occasion, actually
    discovered underground water using nothing more than two short
    lengths of 8 gauge fencing wire, one held in each hand.  His career
    was sadly nipped in the bud when, soon afterwards, he thought he
    had discovered a subterranean equivalent of the Amazon River,
    and in all the excitement he poked both of his eyeballs out.

2. Training;  At Agricultural College we found out during evenings of
     utter boredom how to hypnotise chickens.

3.  Personal Grooming;  I bought a white suit to reflect my purity of
     thought and saintly intentions.   Gerald, the nice man who owns
     the hair salon gave me the correct mix of hydrogen peroxide and
     conditioner to make my flowing silver locks refract the stage lights
     into a personal halo of holiness.

Last week, just to check that I still "had it", I performed two healing miracles.

Our incontinent dog was instantly cured midstream when the healing jolt of ecclesiastical energy from my hand was so powerful that it made him fall off the tractor seat he was sharing with me at the time.

Then the very next day, Mrs GOF, sitting in a highback chair was complaining of a sore hip, when, quite unexpectedly for her, the full mystical power of my palm was applied squarely to the centre of her forehead.  Following this single act of loving compassion and healing, I have heard no more about this painful infirmity.

Today I am just standing-by waiting for a fistful of divine recharge, together with some scriptural instructions on how to cure her new whiplash injuries.

The Town Halls of Australia have been hired.

Special parking signs have already been prepared.

Hallelujah.
 
Pastor GOF's Ministry of Miracles is born, and, as God suggested to me last Tuesday, it will be travelling in a luxury Winnebago.

Before setting out I guess I should firstly pray for redemption for Australia's recently appointed Minister for Sin.

(What a complicated web of blogging confusion one doth weave)

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More than just a happy snap

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Your chortling time begins…….now…

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And ends about…….now!    Thank you for your restraint.

Photographs of me are not in abundance.
Whenever someone produces a camera I normally find an urgent reason to be somewhere else.  Whilst my visage probably resides within the envelope of normal human appearance, I nevertheless determined early on that I was threatening to cause bulges to appear in the extremities of that envelope.

I recently discovered this old picture and reflected that it captures much more than simply a moment in time.

My life has been blessed with many things.
One of them is some unknown factor which enabled me to always easily accept my lot in life, deficencies and obstacles included, and cultivate a place of lasting inner peace and contentment.
That place is always enhanced by quiet solitude and nature.

I hope I am not wasting your time by telling the story behind this picture.

My parents had a holiday shack, a little tin shed, where we would spend a few weeks camping out each Christmas in the middle of unpopulated alpine forest 120 km from the nearest town of Wodonga.

My young-teenage days were spent mostly alone, trout fishing,  climbing small mountains, and discovering in the bush abandoned gold-miners huts and related relics from a century before.

One day, as I was walking deep in the forest, this bird just unexpectedly flew out of a gum tree, landed on my hat, and every day, perched up there, it accompanied me on my walks.
It adopted me and refused to have anything to do with my parents or other people.  It was unlikely to have been a previously tamed bird because of the absence of permanent human habitation in the area.
As we were not feeding it, or any other birds, there was no motivation for it to accompany me in expectation of food.

When we returned the following Christmas the bird came back out of the bush to me again.
 
Seeing this long forgotten photograph after so many years reminds me of the valuable early lesson I was given about my connectedness to nature.

Now, several times each week, there is this old geezer who wanders through the Wooroonooran National Park for a couple of hours with an extraordinary degree of inner happiness.
He reminds me of the boy who behaved similarly in Victoria's high country 48 years ago.

Differences?

These days I don't have a bird sitting on my nut, and I can now see that this marvellous journey has an ending, not too distant, at the far side of the forest.

(Thank you to Freedom Smith for inspiring me to post this photograph and story)

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GOF’s Gross Stupidity Award ….February

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This month we have a dead heat.

The winners are;

1. Mr Jacob Zuma, traditional Zulu, polygamist, and President of
    the Republic of South Africa who, at 67, has just fathered his
   20th child.
   This award is bestowed upon him, leader of a nation, for setting an
    appallingly irresponsible example for his people, continent and the
    world.

2. The International Media who did not have the courage to condemn
     him for having spent his entire adult life recklessly contributing to
     overpopulation.  Instead they chose to become obsessed with the
     relatively trivial fact that the 20th child was born out of wedlock to a
     woman 37 years his junior.

I am somewhat reluctant to recommend this Worldometers website
because the real-time statistics presented there will probably scare the pants off you.

And that's precisely the condition which got us into such a dire predicament in the first place.

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