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GOF in the doghouse. Again.

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Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Woe is me.

Until 3 months ago Mrs GOF was not interested in the internet.
Then she bought a new-fangled mobile phone primarily to annoy text all her relatives and friends around the world.

In order to finagle a single bar of mobile signal she has to take Nelson the snake-detector dog on a trek up through all the long grass in the paddock, then follow the dirt track another kilometre to the top of a hill.  This she does quite happily twice a day with umbrella, bag of lychees and phone in hand.

And yea, Mrs GOF didst also open the mysterious portal of temptation and walk into the valley of the internets, whereupon the Cyber God verily spake unto her with offers of free cars and cash and handsome young men, and showeth her pictures, and lo, she was very happy.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday Mrs GOF discovered  “The Bucket”.

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Apology, Retraction and correction (# 1 of 47)

I hereby apologise for all the times when I surfaced from my labyrinth of journalistic sewers and posted questionable “Mrs GOF” stories.

I will never again use the word “junk” in the same sentence as “Mrs GOF”.  All future public announcements about her tendency to collect assorted household items will instead include the phrase “Paraphernalia of Life”.

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Admittedly our house IS full of Mrs GOF’s  crap,……. sorry P.o.L., but it is not entirely what it seems to be at first glance.

Firstly, our home is small. Having only sixty square metres of floor space it tends to magnify the extent of her 30-year utensil and paraphernalia collection.

Whenever Mrs GOF travels to visit her brother in Minnesota I restore sufficient floor space to perform my morning gymnastic routine by hiring front-end loaders, dump trucks and squads of blonde cheerleader labourettes to clean out the accumulated surplus kitchenware, photography supplies and handy appliances.

When Inga comes home she also cuts swathes through the clutter of saucepans and “I-might-need-that-one-day” plastic containers to re-establish some bench space to pile up all her rations of TimTam chocolate biscuits, potato crisps and exotic liquor, but within days of Inga’s departure, Mrs GOF has re-populated every horizontal surface with a brand new generation of Chinese manufactured “essential” kitchen gadgets.  “Every one of them has a purpose, GOF.”

We relentlessly tease Mrs GOF about all her stuff, but both Inga and I in our hearts understand why it is so.

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Mrs GOF is not a hoarder with any similarity to those who fueled the ratings on the Oprah Winfrey Show with their afflictions of affluence.

She had a childhood with very few possessions.
Two little skirts and blouses hand-sewn from remnant material by her Mum. A mat to sleep on the split-bamboo floor and a rolled-up family towel to use as a pillow.
That’s all. Nothing else.
No shoes. No toys.  Her ‘doll’ was a scavenged empty beer bottle which she ‘dressed’ in her Dad’s handkerchief.
If she needed a ball to play with she either carved it out of the pith found inside tree-fern trunks, or had one made from a pig’s bladder.

Her Dad, employed on a remote Papua New Guinea Government Patrol Post, was paid the grand total of $1.50c per fortnight and provided with rations of rice, tinned fish, and margarine to supplement fresh food grown in the family subsistence garden.

Her Mum owned a frying pan, a small enamel billy-can and one very large saucepan which she suspended over an open hearth fire to cook for an immediate family of 15 as well as numerous extended-family members who often dropped in at meal times.

It is not wise to suggest to Mrs GOF that she grew up in poverty.
She will remind you that she never ever went hungry and that she was always surrounded by the love and support of family, and great cultural richness.  Poverty, she says, is something altogether different.

So we understand why Mrs GOF now owns at least twenty five saucepans and cooking pots, along with enough crockery and cutlery to serve a five-course meal for an entourage of the International Olympic Committee complete with mistresses, corruption advisors and bribery collectors.

We know why she is reluctant to part with anything even though she rarely has to cater for more than four people, because Mrs GOF knows that one day, thirty itinerant relatives might just turn up unannounced for dinner just like they did when she was a kid.

If they do she will be prepared.

Additionally Mrs GOF always has our cupboards crammed full of tinned and preserved food and all the other provisions necessary to sustain us for at least 2 months in the event of something preventing us from making our weekly pilgrimage into the nearest town.

Once again, she is prepared.

Mrs GOF’s clutter is NOT about hoarding.

It is all about Preparedness.

If I am still around when our Western World’s consumerism limousine inevitably collides head-on with the semi-trailer of fiscal and environmental reality I suspect that I will be thankful to have Mrs GOF’s grass-roots life experience on my side.

And that, my friends, is the truth.

(apart from the paragraph about squads of cheerleaders….there was only ever ONE squad.)


With more good behaviour like this I should be allowed out on a short leash by the end of January.

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Please forgive this self-indulgence

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Holy cow!  Some memories just never fade.

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Apart from walking for a full day from the nearest roadhead, there  was only one way to arrive at Pindiu, Papua New Guinea, in 1972.

That was by light aircraft, a 25 minute flight from the old, now abandoned, Lae city airport.
The direct fine-weather track was via the 7000′ Landslide Gap in the Rawlinson Range. In poor weather it was safer to follow the coastline then head inland for the final 15 miles following the Mongi River.
This is the sector when most of the aeronautical fun began.

The interior of the Huon Peninsula is deeply dissected by a maze of valleys heading in all directions, and mountains up to 13,000′ high. Pindiu, at 3000′ elevation, could be extraordinarily difficult to find by visual navigation in deteriorating weather conditions.

Thanks to someone elses recent flying experience and camera work (below) I am now able to relive the final approach to the airstrip which is so indelibly etched into my memory. On more than one occasion the sudden appearance of this tiny strip of dirt through a hole in the clouds was the most beautiful sight I could have wished for.

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When enthusiastic young GOF was delivered by a Macair single-engined Pilatus Porter aircraft exactly 40 years ago onto Pindiu soil he had no idea that he would fall in love with the place and it’s people and spend most of the following 8 years living and working there.

He also had no inkling that three years later he would learn to fly and, according to his Log Book, eventually go on to repeat that landing approach himself more than one thousand times as he came back home after working in nearby villages which had even shorter and more interesting landing strips.

As I watch this clip today I get goosebumps. Serious goosebumps.

I see my old home, the highset house 50 metres off to the left, halfway up the ‘strip. I hear the various sounds of flight and my heart beats faster. My palms begin to feel a little sweaty. I still have an urge to make final-approach landing checks whilst peering through the windscreen trying to get a fix on the exact location of the ‘strip through all the murk. I get butterflies in my stomach knowing that on short-final approach it is too late to abort the landing on this one-way uphill strip.

But most of all, as the aircraft rolls up the hill and turns into the parking bay, I am left with the warm feeling that I have just come back home again.

Pindiu got into my heart in 1972 ………..and never left.

Dammit!  Do you have a box of tissues handy? If I watch this one more time I might just need one.

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Edit December 2012…..due to internet gremlins please copy and paste the following URL…….landing approach to Pindiu airstrip.


Signals from God

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Pindiu, P.N.G. 1977

This story is dedicated to my loyal little band of village Rural Development Assistants at Pindiu, Papua New Guinea, during the 1970’s, who did most of the foot-slogging and achieved so much yet were rewarded with so little.  
For Tala, Kosoaleng, Kati, Gindi, Sanake, Goroseng, Timbangu, Pau, Kwajau, and my friend and partner in crime, Risieve Mumengte.

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In the twenty-first century much of Papua New Guinea is covered by the mobile phone network, but 40 years ago the lack of communication facilities seriously hampered rural development.

Each Government outstation was allocated a daily 15 minute slot  (“the sked”) on a designated HF radio frequency to send messages, food and supply orders, or have the operator in town connect us with the telephone landline network to the rest of the world.

Village people continued to live in relative isolation.

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Rural development projects fail for many reasons, some of which can be avoided by more rigorous planning and execution, but occasionally however you encounter an insurmountable obstruction.

Like God.

With the best of intentions I tried to improve communications between our small but scattered band of didimen working on village projects in the Mongi, Kua and Burum valleys.

Tala, a good extension worker with no formal education, was our main man in the Burum Valley.  He operated out of a tiny bush-material shack adjacent to Ogeranang airstrip.
My base was at Pindiu, only 12 miles away in a straight line,
yet the two of us had no direct means of communication.
At least once a month one or other of us (mainly Tala) had to walk the narrow “mountain goat”  track between the two places so we could plan work projects.
Seven exhausting hours each way.

In an attempt to reduce the number of walking trips,
I ambitiously bought an $80 set of walkie-talkie radios which had
“a range of up to 1000 metres”.

Walkie-talkie radios operate best when in “line of sight” of each other.
As the following diagram illustrates, “line of sight” is something that was in fairly short supply for Tala and GOF.

Cross-section Huon Peninsula

In pursuit of the impossible dream I contacted a bookseller in Australia who sent me in return a wonderful publication called
“How to Build a Quad Antenna”.

Unlike the illustration above, our antennas were constructed entirely from whatever materials we could scrounge locally. Bamboo poles were tied together with bush rope to form the 4 metre-long cross arms, and discarded 7/064 building wire from the station dump served as the aerial.

My quad at Pindiu could be rotated around it’s vertical axis (for directional tuning) and was mounted on top of a long post cut from the bush, while Tala’s was permanently fixed right on top of the roof of his “office”.

In an occurrence which managed to totally astound both myself and my critics, we hooked up the radios and quite magically the “up to 1000 metre” radio reception range suddenly became 12 miles, and Tala and I were thereafter able to communicate on a daily basis.

He was extremely proud of this marvellous technology which was admired by all the people who trekked into Ogeranang from surrounding villages for Saturday market days.

A marvellous example of appropriate technology?  

A year later Tala’s transmissions unexpectedly ceased, so I flew into Ogeranang taking with me a fresh supply of AA batteries for his radio.

He had seemingly aged by about 20 years as he nervously pointed towards what little remained of his antenna.  Taking me inside the “office” he handed over the molten remains of his walkie-talkie radio through a very large hole that had been blasted in the wall by the lightning bolt before, as he put it;  “the big blue and yellow light exploded out through the door then skipped along the ground all the way down the airstrip GOF”.

Tala had been sitting just 6 feet away from the radio when this happened.
He thereafter refused to have anything more to do with my smart-arse technology suggestions, and I was left soberly considering the reality that I had come very close to contributing towards the death of a fellow worker and honorable human being.

After that, my home-base antenna at Pindiu remained unused, except as an object of intrigue for a couple more years.

A respectful monument to God’s wrath and inappropriate technology, before it too collapsed and went to the eternal scrapheap of bad ideas.

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.

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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

Breaking the law. Legally.

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For most of this life I have paddled my little canoe inconspicuously around the lagoon of mediocrity, rarely being tempted to add any sort of outrigger to it and explore the more unpredictable ocean which lies beyond the protective reef surrounding my atoll.

It always seemed safer this way.  By not attracting attention to myself I avoided school bullying and young men’s feuds, and accidentally along the way also discovered the meaning of tranquillity.

It was a surprise, as much to myself as anybody else, when early in 1976 I decided to get a pilots licence.  Surprising in more ways than one, because I was then, and remain today, terrified at the prospect of climbing higher than the fifth rung on a stepladder.

My decision was made within a week with as much emotion as a carpenter might use when deciding to buy an old truck in which to cart around his tools of trade.

I needed to learn to fly, then find a secondhand aeroplane in order to do my job to the best of my ability. Simple as that.  No more walking unproductively for 10 hours up and down and around Papua New Guinea to reach a destination that could be accessed in just 10 minutes by plane.

Twelve weeks later with a grand total of 64 hours flight training, I held in my sweaty palm for the first time “PNG Private Pilot Licence Aeroplanes Unrestricted” Number 283.

The next thing I grabbed hold of after pawning-off almost everything that I owned, was something that ultimately proved to be one of the loves of my life.  Dear old P2-WKD was a battered maroon and white 1959 Cessna 182A equipped with an antiquated World War 2 Lear ADF radio and clunky mechanical flap lever.

Flight training theory courses teach private pilots a lot of stuff about aeroplanes, weather, navigation, and how not to kill yourself.
What they did not teach me much about was the lesser-known rules and regulations which apply to aviation.

It therefore came as a complete surprise when, after a couple of months of flying, I was hauled before a Flight Service Officer
( guys who sat somewhere in the control tower buildings at PNG’s main airports and maintained mandatory radio contact with all pilots)
and reminded that I was NOT permitted to fly seven days each week for an indefinite period of time.
I was directed by this God of aviation to forthwith have at least one day mother-earth-bound during each seven.

Or else.

Soon after this I had the second in what was to become a very long series of run-ins with Regulations and Authority.

Airstrips in New Guinea were rated according to the surface of the landing area.
Category “Alpha” being the best, then “Bravo“, “Charlie” and finally “Delta” which applied to firm but short grass or dirt ‘strips.
By knowing this information in advance, pilots could safely determine which landing fields were suitable for their type of aircraft.

Occasionally after very heavy rain a few bush ‘strips were downgraded to a mysterious new “Category Echo” which basically meant  “land at your own risk on this pig paddock”.

Ogeranang under construction ( pic from Paul Oates collection)

Ogeranang, at 5000 feet elevation and just 8 minutes away from my home base at Pindiu was frequently downgraded to this quagmire status Echo.  Most days of the week I flew into Ogeranang and was familiar with it’s shortcomings.  Fortunately there were always people on hand willing to lift the plane out of bog holes back onto firmer ground whenever my optimism overwhelmed better judgment.

P2-WKD at Ogeranang

I really didn’t need any bureaucratic intervention.
It arrived anyway via Flight Service radio as I was in the circuit area and about to land at Ogeranang early one morning;

“GOF, is your aircraft certified for landing at Category Echo fields?”

Que?   Whaat?     *thinks briefly*   What the freaking hell is a Cat. E Certification ……….before I pushed the transmit button and replied with absolute conviction;


Then landed as planned.

The letter arrived by mail shortly afterwards advising me of my repeated infringements of Air Safety Regulations along with instructions on how to make P2-WKD Category E compliant by reducing it’s gross weight and fitting special larger balloon tyres suitable for mud landings.

OR………..OR….. and this was the magnificent moment when I first discovered there was a legal way to break the law.


There was a special “Request for Dispensation” Form attached to the warning letter which, upon completion and approval, would enable me to continue flouting the law ad infinitum.



I eventually discovered that they were available for all sorts of aviation misdemeanors…..missing or faulty cockpit gauges and radios. I could even occasionally fly longer hours with a Dispensation, and I dreamed of one day applying for one to take Elle MacPherson up to 5280 feet and…….

Dammit, I’m sure I once had a perfectly good reason for wanting to do that, but now my ageing memory just can’t recall what it might have been.

I still dream of Dispensations today.

I’d like one permitting me to drive right through that bastard of a red traffic light in the small town of Gordonvale at 4 am when there’s obviously not another vehicle for 10 miles in any direction.

Come to think of it, I could find uses for a whole fistfull of
“Request for Dispensation” Forms.

Lower Watut patrol 1973

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With the benefit of hindsight it was inadvisable and doomed to failure from the very beginning.

Tsili Tsili, Morobe province PNG

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(As background for new readers, the often dangerous “coalface” ground work carried out in Australia’s colonial administration prior to New Guinea’s Independence in 1975 was done by young Patrol Officers (kiaps).
After initial “pacification” was established by the kiaps, Health Officers and Rural Development Officers (didimen) such as myself then entered the field in an attempt to improve living standards for village people.)

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Just as Papua New Guinea has more than 700 languages,
so also does it have a vast number of variations in social customs and practices.

Some villages and clans during Australia’s colonial presence welcomed outsiders and assistance from development agencies, whilst others shunned them either because of tribal pride or negative past experiences with foreigners.

My years prior to this Lower Watut debacle had  been spent working in other areas where the people had traditions of hospitality toward travelers.  I had become accustomed to conducting week-long foot patrols alone, trekking between villages carrying just a backpack without the need for a full-time guide or interpreter.

The people in these other communities had always looked after me with food and accommodation because they were eager to find ways to start making money or to learn about things which might improve their standard of living. (eg. polythene pipes to bring water into the heart of the village from a distant creek.)

Not so in the Lower Watut.

Accompanied only by an older native didiman assistant from another district, and the self-assuredness that attaches itself to men of my then 24 year-old vintage, on the 5th March 1973 I flew by chartered Cessna into the old wartime airstrip at TsiliTsili where the aircraft eventually clattered to a halt on the perforated-steel marsden matting surface.

At a meeting with villagers that night it became obvious that this patrol was not going to be a pleasant excursion.

The people had zero interest in whatever services my assistant and I were offering on behalf of the Government.
In response, I unwisely mirrored their contempt.

It was a potentially dangerous situation.

The aircraft had long ago departed back to Lae town airport and we had no means of communicating with “civilisation” to get it back again.

After several hours of negotiation and payment of money to them, the village leaders grudgingly agreed that a couple of the younger men would construct a raft to get the two of us out of their lives by sending us floating off down the snaking Watut River past Wuru and Wuruf to it’s confluence with the Markham from where we could access the “Highlands Highway” and hitchhike our way back to Lae.

Lower Watut River

The raft was built from banana plant stems lashed together with kunda bush rope.  The result being a raft which “floats” in a semi-submerged fashion, but more under the water than on top of it.

Floating down the river for two days was a memorably uncomfortable experience which included a moment of misadventure which brought me the closest I have ever been to prematurely meeting my maker.

The raft, perhaps by design, kept breaking apart, the mosquitos were ferocious during the overnight camp on the river bank, and the sunburn unbearable during the day.
Early on the second morning after floating rapidly around a bend in the river we were both knocked off the raft by a low overhanging tree.
I can remember being trapped underneath the raft with my already bruised head bumping up against it’s underside.
To this day I have no recollection of how I extricated myself and found my way to the muddy river bank to hear the welcome sound of my partner yelling out to me from further downstream.

Here is a more recent picture which I just purloined from the net, of much larger rafts on the Lower Watut River.

I don’t have any warm feelings for the people or landscape of the Lower Watut. I do however accept my responsibility and stupidity for initiating this doomed venture without adequate planning or regard for my own safety.

No doubt the Lower Watut people remain proud, noble and self-sufficient to this day, and will survive long into the future without intervention from people like me.
Accordingly, for this they have my respect.

Shortly after this experience I was posted to the Huon Peninsula where I happily spent my remaining six Papua New Guinea years working amongst some of the most likeable, hospitable and industrious people you could ever expect to find on this planet.

Thirty two years after returning to Australia a very large chunk of my heart remains there.

Perhaps one day part of my final remains will return to that place where I always felt at home and among friends.

Pindiu, Huon Peninsula