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A girl remembers;

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She remembers a little village where she was born in Papua New Guinea with thatched-roof huts perched high on a mountaintop six thousand feet up in the mist, yet so close to the ocean that on a clear morning she could look down and see the small boats which sailed upon it, and the Siassi islands and New Britain in the distance.

She remembers her mother scrambling for hours down that mountain and over the grassed limestone terraces below it with a heavy bag of the family’s parchment coffee to sell at the nearest trade store on the coast. Her mother would then return with a special treat for the little girl.  A fresh fish to eat for dinner.

There was the homely cosiness of the cooking fire on the hearth in the middle of the night when the cold wind always started to blow across the Saruwaged Range.

Then suddenly the little girl’s life changed.

In 1962 she found herself perched high up on her father’s shoulders as the whole family trekked barefoot carrying their few material possessions half way across the rugged Huon Peninsula in the pursuit of a dream. Two older brothers slithered their way ahead along the track, sometimes balancing precariously on slippery log bridges over mountain streams and sloshing through ankle-deep mud on the narrow bush trails.  The group stopped often to remove tenacious leeches from their legs.

The mother was last in the line of weary travelers with an infant boy encapsulated in a string bag (bilum) suspended from a groove worn in her head from many years of subsistence load carrying.

The little group descended to the crystal-clear headwaters of the Tewae River, then walked five hours over the range to bathe in the limestone-tinged milky-blue Masaweng before camping overnight at Gunabosin village not far from the river bank.
The following morning they commenced another full day’s trek to their final destination in the Mongi Valley.

Mum and Dad traveled with three boys and one little girl.

They were also accompanied by a dream.

The dream of an English-language education for their children.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *       *       *       *

Fast forward to 2011 ;

Son #1 is now retired after a long career teaching vocational skills to children in PNG.

Son #2 is an academic who lectured at the University of Papua Niugini before accepting a teaching offer in America where he has remained for the past 20 years.

Son #3 is a lawyer and magistrate in Papua New Guinea.

The little girl became a citizen of the world, an accidental and unofficial ambassador for her mother country, and a communicator who fluently speaks five languages.
She also became my life partner and best friend.
More importantly she excelled at the most important occupation on earth; Motherhood.

She has never forgotten the courageous relocation that her parents made in 1962 which enabled her and her siblings to have a better life in this world.

Her Mum and Dad would be proud to know that their little girl, forty-nine years later, made an emotional and physically challenging pilgrimage back to the Huon Peninsula to retrace those life-changing footsteps.



Village house

Zigzag track down to Tewae River.

Siassi islands taken from Zunzumao village on mainland.

Headwaters Masaweng River

Gunabosin village

Dedua mountains


About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

43 responses »

  1. Are you trying to prevent us from visiting to see Mrs. GOF’s pictures? 🙂
    Hopefully, you’ll save some for us. We’ve been itching to catch up for a full report.

    Oh, and BTW, great post. 🙂

    • Thanks Mike….don’t worry there are at least 1000 photographs I’m sorting through to find a few appropriate ones to post here over the coming weeks, so there will be plenty left over for you to see. 🙂

      As usual, you are welcome to visit anytime.

  2. Very moving story, GOF, and a lesson to those of us who were born into easier circumstances that we too much take for granted. I’ll look forward to your future posts in anticipation.

    • Thank you Snowy……we don’t live in luxury here, but she came back really appreciative of one thing; water that comes out of a pipe into the house….and especially the hot variety flowing out of a shower head.

  3. What a lovely story!

    It does make you stop and think. I’ve never had to walk barefoot anywhere with my possessions on my head. And education, at least until you get to college, is free and easily available.

    • Thank you Auntie B. There was only the one English-language school in the area and the Dad found a labouring job nearby just so the kids would have the education opportunity. It’s a nice story.

  4. What a beautiful area, GOF! I can understand why someone might leave this place for better opportunities, but I think it would be difficult not to miss the place.

    You mentioned Mrs. GOF had family in Minnesota. I’m thinking it might be the second brother?

    • It is a stunningly beautiful place HG with arguably the world’s most perfect climate.
      I spent 8 years myself walking these same tracks and camping in these villages, and I will miss the place and it’s people for the rest of my life.

      You are right. The second brother is in Minnesota teaching English-as-a-second-language to immigrant children after they have arrived in your country. He spends a lot of time being homesick for his PNG village and family and refuses to relinquish his PNG passport even though he is now eligible for an American passport.

  5. These are beautiful! And taken by her as a little girl, too. Very cool!

    I’m certainly not that remote but am still limited greatly by where I live. I find it hard to think of myself living in an apartment. I’ve done but I was in my early 20s. Spending all but 10 years of my life on the family farm, I resent the urban sprawl that affects us as it is (and I still fed Bobby only in my bra and underpants night before last–too hot; we’ve been over 100F and of course extremely humid). I also don’t like hearing others’ conversations from my home or walking around it. It should be nature of a non-human kind.

    • Thank you MT. One of the things she really appreciated when she got home was PRIVACY.
      In PNG villages there is none. Most houses only have one room where everyone sleeps around the central fireplace. Everyone bathes under water coming out of a communal gravity-fed bamboo pipe, and whenever a visitor arrives they are the centre of attention 24/7 for every little kid within hollering distance.

  6. How extraordinary. Great photos. Thank you for sharing with us!

  7. Beautiful story GOF!
    It sounds like she walked back to another world in another time.
    Looking forward to more of her photos.

    • Thank you Drude… is another almost timeless world, and one that could offer our “developed” world many ideas for long-term sustainability.

      • Your story made me think of several people I know who took the cayuco down the river or the bus away from a barefoot life in a thatched-hut village in the woods to a university education in a big city – beautiful dark eyed people who married pale blue-eyed people and settled far away from home… and the almost complete absence of people I know who took the trip in the opposite direction… or rather that ONE guy I know who did. I miss him.

        • Thank you for your thoughts too Drude and the interesting topic of people who made a journey in the opposite direction. Perhaps we don’t read their stories because they don’t have computers to blog about them.
          I hope you have some special memories of your one guy who traveled that road.

  8. This is a great story. Your wife was very lucky to have parents with a forethought for their children’s future.

    But I have to say … 2 educators … one lawyer … and one married to you. Someone drew the short straw on that deal! LOL.

    • Thank you GOM. I did consider that I was setting myself up as a rather large sitting duck, so thank you for pointing that out. 🙂 I’m taking a break from blogging (again) and I’ll genuinely miss these early-morning smiles that your comments bring to my face.

  9. Congratulations to Mrs GOF, making her way in the world, despite the hardships (well, one in particular comes to mind). She is a real hero.

  10. This is such a fantastic story! And the pictures are breathtaking.
    It’s sort of making my brain hurt to try to imagine Mrs. GOF’s dad thinking “I must get my children an education and an English one at that.” and then to move an entire family (and not a small one) into unknown circumstances! My admiration knows no bounds.
    And I will say with complete sincerity that both you and Mrs. GOF are very lucky to have found each other! 🙂

    I think Mrs. GOF and I are the same age! w00t!

  11. Lovely written description, GOF. They equal the photographs in their quality.

    “an accidental and unofficial ambassador for her mother country”. Now that is high praise indeed.

    I still ponder Liz’s parents coming out to Oz from Holland after the 2nd World War. 6 kids, no English, but the attitude to work hard and make good. Turns out that’s enough to get your family off to a great start in the Lucky Country.

  12. This is a great story GOF – thank you for telling it and posting the photos. Such a lovely area Mrs GOF hails from – that was quite some foresight and determination on her father’s part. And, yes, water coming out of a pipe in the house is a magical thing!

  13. Great post GOF. I think I understand Mrs GOF’s story very well… I too came from a similar kind of background where my folks always struggled for their kids under very trying circumstances, so that we could go further in life.

    The house where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life – I took my own tribe back there a few years ago. Weirdest feeling to see all that. It definitely made me very quiet for weeks after I got back to Oz. Not because of the appreciation of the easier life we have here – which we do. But the realisation of the millions of tiny but critical steps we all took in our lives to reach our current destination. That sort of epiphany still leaves me very quiet… and thankful.

  14. Are you doing a disappearing trick now too?

    • Yes, I think he has. He made mention of it in a comment on my blog, but made no formal announcement. I think he was trying to avoid the inevitable ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ that would accompany said announcement.

      • I do hate it when he thinks he has to disappear for awhile. Sigh.

        • My apologies for the disappearance FD. It was unplanned. I made a start on repotting all the plants in the nursery that were damaged in the cyclone and only then realised the massive task confronting me to have them all done before the growing season resumes in September/October. I had to make the decision to terminate my blogging obsession until the job is completed.
          Thank you for noticing my absence.

  15. I have decided that I don’t like you either…

    • Ahhhh….you are in good company FD…..there are another 6 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand, 999 people in the world who share your point of view.
      It’s no wonder I have an entire catalogue of inferiority complexes.

      Once I’ve repaired my remaining 7000 Yasi-damaged pot plants I may have a slightly more positive view of the world.

  16. How many plants is it humanly possible to pot in a day? – without back injuries or straining anything important that is?
    7000 repottings in a month’s time sounds like a lot.. somehow…

    • It very much depends upon the variety of bromeliad Drude. Some of them are large (1m high) prickly varieties which need to be handled more slowly and carefully……other smaller smooth-leaf types are easier to repot. I am happy these days if I can work my way through 300 a day……fortunately I really love spending my days in the shade house doing this work. I’ll probably finish the present task in a couple of months.

  17. Truly inspiring my friends. Nothing more i can say.

    • Short answer: I’m not sure.

      At the moment I can’t afford any distractions from the nursery repair until I finish it in mid October….certainly not the hours necessary each day to maintain any reasonable standard of blogging.
      I am also of the opinion that there is a limit to how much GOF pontification, bullshit and cynicism the world needs, and that it’s probably already been exceeded. Current thinking is that it’s the right time to just pull my head in and quietly retire.
      I’ll give it all some more thought over a few glasses of Port during the next few weeks FD. My mind may well return to a different place, and I thank you for asking the question.


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