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Anthrax. Another New Guinea memory.

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The portly government recruiting bloke in Australia warned me that the job I’d applied for as an Agricultural Officer in Papua New Guinea would involve unique challenges and responsibilities.
And so it proved to be…..time and time again during my 12 years working there.
I’d only been in PNG for a few weeks when this event happened;
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I was nineteen years old when I found myself in charge of one of the most remote agricultural extension stations in Papua New Guinea. Lumi in the West Sepik District. No roads to the outside world, and all supplies were flown in from Wewak once a week on a chartered Piaggio or Cessna ‘push-pull’ aircraft.

No telephones either. Just a crackly HF radio sched each morning which delivered the following telegram from my boss in Vanimo;
“OUTBREAK OF ANTHRAX IN PIGS REPORTED AT RAUIT, BOGASIP AND ANGUGANAK VILLAGES STOP PROCEED AT YOUR EARLIEST TO VACCINATE ALL DOMESTIC PIGS STOP VACCINE ON NEXT GOVERNMENT CHARTER STOP’
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Pigs are a highly valued asset in PNG village culture.
My journal entry for Monday 24 June 1968 reads simply;
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“Departed 10.30 am to Rauit village for anthrax vaccination of pigs. Arrival Rauit 6.30 pm. Overnight Rauit.”
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Now God knows what the village elders thought of us earnest well-intentioned lily-white overgrown children from Australia who were scurrying around their tribal lands ineptly pushing forth barrows full of Western superiority and magic potions delivered with administrative aggrandisement. My own ineptitude on this occasion;
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1. I hadn’t been in PNG long enough to acquire a working knowledge of Melanesian tok pisin, the lingua franca necessary to tell the good folk of Rauit that I was about to poke holes in their pigs with sharp objects. Fortunately a Persian anthropologist was living nearby and able to translate.

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2. I’d never previously administered an injection to anything or anybody, but I thought I’d once seen a vet do it to a cow somewhere.

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3. I had zero knowledge about anthrax. Obviously a rare failure of the Australian agricultural college curriculum. No books or library to look it up. No internet. To this day I do not know if pig anthrax can be spread to humans or if I should have taken any personal precautions whilst administering the vaccine. I spent three days from sparrow-fart to sundown ‘shooting’ hundreds of domesticated pigs with my new fancy veterinary equipment, so I’m assuming either the disease was relatively harmless or I have natural immunity to anthrax.
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Now, one more little thing…… “Departed 10.30 am to Rauit….arriving 6.30 pm” is a statement which totally overlooks the degree of technical difficulty involved.

Getting to Rauit village was not some sort of air-conditioned cruise down the freeway in a Mustang with a Camel cigarette hanging out of my mouth and Hank Marvin and The Shadows twanging away in the quadraphonic speakers. It was a project best left to idiots  people like me who were being adequately remunerated for all the effort and inconvenience. Fifty six dollars per week plus 65 cents camping allowance for every night when we didn’t make it home again.
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Stage One; Lumi to Anguganak. Anguganak Missionary Station was 25 kilometres from Lumi on what we sarcastically referred to as the Sepik Highway. In fine weather it took one hour riding the Government issue Honda 90 motor bike, but on this day, like many others, the journey took several hours.
With every shower of rain the wheels jammed up with sticky mud until they would no longer rotate. The rocky fords at the four major river crossings were so deep that water flowed back up the exhaust pipe, instantaneously killing the engine. Recovery procedure as follows;
Curse and gesticulate.
Push bike over slippery boulders to other side of the river.
Curse extravagantly. Arms too tired for gesticulating.
Dismantle engine and pump water out of cylinder with kick start.
Curse with greater originality and cranked-up volume.
Spray Jesus Juice (CRC) on all parts and reassemble.
Repeatedly push bike up nearest hill and roll back down in gear until engine eventually fires up again. (allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for each river)
(Travel tip; Stop swearing and referring to CRC as ‘Jesus Juice’ before arriving at any missionary station.)

Stage Two; Walk to Rauit.   Leave motor bike with the good missionary folk at Anguganak, then zig-zag walk for an hour up the vertical escarpment behind the station before sloshing through the jungle for another hour to Rauit village.
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I treasure all these memories of what was a wonderful chapter in my life.
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Pictures below; Apologies for crap quality. Not my fault. Almost half a century of fungus and fading did it.
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'Sepik Highway' near Lumi 1968.  Many years later is actually became a graveled highway to the coast at Wewak.

‘Sepik Highway’ near Lumi 1968. Many years later is actually became a graveled highway to the coast at Wewak.

Rocky ford at Keifangu River. Motor bike on far side.

Rocky ford at Keifangu River. Motor bike on far side.

 

Walking up the Anguganak escarpment.

Walking up the Anguganak escarpment.

 

On top of the bluff...mission station far below near the river.

On top of the bluff…mission station far below near the river.

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Melanesian tok pisin: Lesson #1

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The Bucket’s Special Minority Languages Unit, in consultation with some of the world’s  pre-eminent linguistic scholars, is proud to inflict upon you  launch this special illustrated guide to the use of Melanesian tok pisin, the lingua franca of Papua new Guinea.

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243

Ol pato bilas gut tru na behainim wanpela man igat bilakpela hat.

Several ducks dressed in their finery are following a man with a black hat.

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messing with myhead

Dispela sampting emi bagarapim stret tingting bilong me.

This is really messing with my head.

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as-nating meri

Yangpela as-nating meri holim wonem sampting tru long han bilong em na lukluk igo long solawara?

What imaginary objects is the naked young lady pretending to hold while she’s looking out to sea?

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Cycling Pigeons

Planti pisin sindaon na pekpek nabaut antap long ol wiliwil.

Lots of pigeons are sitting and crapping on the bicycles.

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funny-collie-04

upper class dog

Tupela blari longlong dog. Wanpela lesbaka putim shoe na hat na malalo olsem masta, na narapela bilas na sindaon long tebol redi long kaikai olsem Prince Charles.

Two stupid bloody dogs. One dressed up relaxing like an expatriate, and another sitting at the table dining like Prince Charles.

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Horror

Pikinini lukim bol bilong lapun man na poreit nogut tru.

The kid sees the old man’s privates and is horrified at the sight.

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A daughter’s odyssey

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After spending three nights in the chaotic and lawless Papua New Guinea towns of Port Moresby and Lae,  Inga (age 30) will this morning commence a journey with her Mum which will inevitably change her life and perspective of the world forever.

She will step into a rugged little Britten Norman Islander aircraft at the refurbished wartime airstrip at Nadzab, and with propellor blade tips spinning just inches from her ear through the side window, fly over the spectacular mountains of the Huon Peninsula into another peaceful and intriguing world surrounding the tiny landing ‘strip at Pindiu.

She may even use an occasional expletive during the final landing approach (below) and think her life is about to end before it really got started.   (Internet gremlins are interfering with the youtube link so the only way to see this ‘interesting’ aviation exercise is to copy and paste the following URL)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBn4OYUJbpU&list=PLDD7563CA053A8759&index=6

I admire Inga’s courage in leaving behind a comfortable life in Australia to discover the places of  Mrs GOF’s childhood, and I am enormously proud of her for accepting the challenge.
She will suffer from culture shock.  She will be physically exhausted climbing mountains.  She will have little privacy, and have to use communal pit latrines. She will bathe and do laundry in creeks and carry water and firewood for cooking.

The rewards however will far outweigh the privations.  During the next 18 days of walking though the Dedua and Hube areas she will discover an entire extended family who will love her and care about her. She will walk through some extraordinarily beautiful scenery and meet some of the happiest and most hospitable people on Earth.

It is also coincidentally exactly 40 years since I conducted my first  ten-day walking patrol through Dedua villages on these same bush tracks in the role of a rural development officer.

Inga will return to Australia culturally enriched and understanding why those of us who had the privilege of working with PNG village people a very long time ago retain such an enduring affection for them and their country.

The following photographs of the Pindiu-Dedua area were taken by Mrs GOF in 2011.

DeduaTewae

Domestic pig Rebafu village

Afong village with Pindiu airstrip in background

Afong village with Pindiu airstrip in background

Masaweng River tributary

Mongi River suspension bridge

Mongi River suspension bridge

Mongi Valley walking track

Mongi Valley walking track

Pindiu village house

Pindiu village house

The girls of Korbau

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The most enjoyable and productive times I spent working with village people in Papua New Guinea occurred when I was based at Pindiu Patrol Post between 1972 and 1979.

The climate was close to perfect all year round. The people were industrious and hospitable, and unlike some other tribal cultures within PNG, women were involved equally with the men in most of our development projects.

The hamlet of Korbau was nestled in a mountainous saddle between the Masaweng and Mongi River catchments at 4000′ altitude. With a population of just one hundred plus a few, it was a hard three-hour walk from Pindiu.

I spent a lot of time working with the Korbau people constructing earthworks and developing and modifying our prototype micro hydroelectricity unit to provide village lighting.

(Story with pictures of the Korbau Hydroelectricity Project here)

Everybody participated. Old men and women, boys and girls and even the little kids. It was a wonderful working atmosphere. Despite being some of the poorest people on earth, the days were always full of laughter, frivolity, banter and even occasional innocent flirting.

Australians working in PNG at this time in history were mostly treated like minor dignitaries and rarely invited to join mundane day to day village activities.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise when, late one day after work, the girls of Korbau invited me to join them in a game of basketball.

I had never played basketball in my life although I knew the object of the game was apparently to throw the ball through the hoop.

No worries.

Even though these girls were strong beyond belief from carrying heavy loads of food, firewood and babies up and down mountains,
I was over 6 feet tall, and they were all only knee-high to grasshoppers.

So……….How difficult could this be?

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Korbau basketball court circa 1977. Add one more ingredient…..slippery.

So……How difficult could this be? 

The Korbau girls invited
Master GOF to play a game
Of basketball, local rules,
A big chance for sporting fame.  
They’re tired from a hard day’s work.
And I’m twice their height I see.
Bring it on, you little chicks.
How difficult could this be?

The ‘court’ was something diff’rent.
So I uttered words profane
Mudholes where pigs did wallow
Their complexions to maintain.
And big boulders two feet high
To trip me arse right over tee.
Then suddenly it registered
How difficult this might be.

But I ain’t seen nuthin’ yet
‘Till the girls brought out the ball.
At the top end of the slope
They all looked eight foot tall.
The Amazons then threw the orb
To me, then they charged with glee
And slammed me into the goal post.
Shit!  Difficult this will be.

I eventually got back vertical
To gasp and wheeze and stagger.
Then ‘Sister’ Barbara elbowed me.
Rib pain just like a dagger.
They accidentally flattened me.
Despite my attempts to flee.
It seemed that saving my life
Would my priority be.

Thank God they’re at the other end
Shooting goals at my expense
And giggling uncontrollably
At my sporting incompetence.
Oh Christ no! here they come again
One tonne of femininity
To trample me in the mudhole.
How embarrassing this will be.

I hit the ground six more times,
Which caused lumps upon my rump.
But every time they helped me up
And none said White Men Can’t Jump.
They didn’t keep the score that day.
Which needed no apology.
‘Cos everyone was a winner.
‘Specially me, I now can see.

Memory looks back all these years.
What a privilege it was
To be accepted as an equal,
But much more than that because
They showed me joy and happiness
Depends not upon degree
Of wealth, and to forget them
Is impossible for me.

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God’s obscenity

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Warning; Please do not proceed if bad language offends.

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Melanesian Tok Pisin is the primary lingua franca used in Papua New Guinea, a country with more than 600 languages.  It is derived mainly from English but also has roots to German, Indonesian and several other tribal languages.

One unintended consequence of the Australian presence in PNG last century was that many Aussie profanities were rapidly incorporated into Tok Pisin, often without the speaker having any understanding at all of the original literal meanings of the words.

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Mrs GOF, in her adult life, has retained many endearing (and occasionally infuriating) carefree youthful behaviours. Some of this innocence came to an abrupt end in April 2000 when her Mum died in the remote PNG village which was her home.

As the eldest daughter in the family, tradition dictated that Mrs GOF was in charge of preparing the body for burial.   I will always be proud of her unflinching acceptance of this extremely confronting and daunting cultural responsibility.

The body had been frozen in the morgue pending the arrival of all family members, so on funeral day Mrs GOF and her siblings cheerfully chatted away to their Mum while she was defrosting, assuring her that she was in good hands and being well cared for.

A Village Pastor, locally trained at the Logaweng Lutheran Seminary, was a family friend and he officiated at the funeral ceremony.  After the various eulogies from family members had been delivered, Pastor Pukot gave a final address which concluded as follows;

(I have translated it from Tok Pisin……all except the final unambiguous directive which is reproduced verbatim.)

A man or woman who has lived a good life on earth, who has been honest, and treated other people well, will be rewarded by God after death. Upon arrival at the golden gates of heaven they will be welcomed by the angels who will have reviewed the life of the deceased and reported to God, who will then pronounce “You have lived a good life. Welcome to Heaven.”

It is however another story for those who have been bad and lived meaningless or dishonest lives. They will arrive at the gates of heaven and the angels will present the unfavourable report to God who will become very angry, point in the opposite direction and, in a loud voice, tell them to “FUCK OFF”.

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The gathered mourners accepted this sermon as being appropriate, dignified and meaningful……all that is except for the two English-speakers present.

Mrs GOF, and her brother (who had traveled from Minnesota) glanced at each other and, despite the solemnity of the occasion, just could not help cracking up with laughter.

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Siwea airstrip, Papua New Guinea

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This story is to jog the memory of all the old PNG pilots who will never forget Siwea.

It is also for all the arriving passengers who, during the final landing approach (when most of the airfield disappeared from view because of a steep uphill landing threshhold) were terrified and thought they were going to die.
Departing passengers too, whilst falling over the edge and dropping down into the Tewae gorge to gain flying speed with the Cessna stall-warning horn blaring, were also tricked into thinking that the future looked rather bleak.

To my knowledge the only person who ever did die in an aviation-related accident at Siwea was a pedestrian who was struck by the propeller of a landing aircraft.

The Siwea ‘strip was constructed circa 1970 by villagers using shovels to dig back into the mountain. It was 1500 feet in length at almost 6000 feet altitude which severely limited the performance of most light aircraft. The ‘runway’ surface was nominally grass but often just mud, and the airstrip provided an outlet for smallholder-grown arabica coffee, strawberries, onions and other fruit and vegetables.

Siwea was, in 2011, no longer an operational airfield.

(Photographs taken by Mrs GOF, 2011)

Siwea airstrip, view from the landing threshhold.

Siwea airstrip, view during landing roll.

Siwea airstrip showing total length in takeoff direction.

Siwea airstrip showing direction of takeoff and the typical weather conditions which made in unusable after 10 am on most days.

Unto GOF a grandchild is born.

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There are occasions when even the most obstinate deeply-rooted cynic can be moved.

In more ways than one.

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Background;

1. The Bucket is littered with my thankfulness for having been born in a developed, functional and democratic country.

2. From personal involvement at the time, and much retrospective evaluation since, I believe that Australia’s benevolent colonial administration of Papua New Guinea was exemplary.
It literally brought stone-age people into the modern jet age within just a few decades.

One legacy of this focussed development effort was the provision of world-class hospitals in all major provincial towns.

Papua New Guinea became an Independent Nation in 1975.
It was a vibrant functional country with the potential to become the jewel amongst South Pacific nations.

The ineptitude and corruption of politicians and administrative leaders since Independence has resulted in PNG being reduced to a dysfunctional lawless State in 2012.

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The story;

Two weeks ago my daughter-in-law gave birth to little GOG (grandson of GOF) in PNG’s capital city, Port Moresby.

The public health system had failed to identify that the cause of her agonizing enduring pain was the 4 kg unborn child which was 4-weeks-post-term.  In desperation my son took her to a private doctor, who, just 45 minutes later performed an emergency caesarian to deliver GOG.

The distressed infant, having ingested amniotic fluid, was unable to breathe unassisted and had to be sent back to the crowded public hospital premature-baby ward for ‘care’.

During the following 5 days the hospital  ‘ran out’ of oxygen on several occasions leaving GOG blue and at potential risk of brain damage and death.

Fortunately my son’s employer, a large influential company, had health insurance for it’s management staff, and a medivac Lear Jet was dispatched on a 6-hour return flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby, complete with a doctor and 2 nurses.

Little GOG is now being pampered at one of Australia’s best children’s hospitals. He is in an isolation intensive-care room hooked up to all manner of machines and monitors and attended 24 hours each day by a nurse. Every minute of every day there is a nurse watching over him. In effect his own private nurse.

I have just returned from spending 3 days with the little bugger at his bedside along with his Mum and Dad.

This old cynic has been deeply moved by the experience.

I watched as GOG’s oxygen dependency gradually reduced from 80% machine-supplied to 27% at which point the intrusive and painful tubes were removed (along with morphine dosage) and within an hour he changed from purple to normal baby-colour.

One day later, he gurgled and smiled and began to chat about how lucky he was to be alive.  He should also be proud that at the age of 6 days he had his own passport, complete with photograph showing all of the tubes stuck down his nose and throat.

GOG is still not out of the woods and will require weeks of hospitalisation and further tests for brain functionality.

I am gobsmacked by the capabilities, efficiency and competence of Australia’s health-care system.

Never in my life have I witnessed the sort of selfless commitment, compassion and devotion shown by the nurses who patiently work 12-hour shifts just to ensure one little human’s chance at life is not extinguished.

I am in awe of my daughter-in-law who, just days after a major operation, waddled across the tarmac to get onto a commercial flight to join her baby in Brisbane, and never once complained (at least not to me) about her own pain and discomfort.
One day she might even forgive me for being a link in the GOF-family genetic chain which caused GOG to be born ‘hairy with gangly legs and long toes.”

I also have a son who will obviously be a much better Dad to his children than I ever was.

It is a time for counting blessings, and this week I have many.

But it is also appropriate for me to spare some thought for all the parents in PNG and around the world who will never have access to Lear Jets and medical care for their sick babies.

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P.S.  If the medical information and terminology above does not make any sense, it may well be because I haven’t the slightest clue what I am talking about.