BY THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES the Angoram Club had completely disintegrated. The building had been dismantled and the interior furniture purloined.
Sepik Robbie, Ralph Ormsby, Freddy Eichhorn, Peter England, Don Bosgard and Ron Lucas would be turning in their graves.
One past member would be particularly upset with the removal of the billiard table for it was on this fixture that he pleasured a young lady at the dead of night after closing time.
Angoram, New Guinea, 1969. Angoram is a chapter out of Somerset Maugham or Evelyn Waugh, the Yoknapatawpha County of Melanesia, belonging to the past, but intensely alive, full of color & characters, all gathered nightly in the Angoram Club, playing billiards under the Queen’s portrait (flanked by dartboard & crossed spears) or relaxing in broken furniture left over from World War II: crocodile hunters, gold prospectors, missionaries, adventurers, traders, remittance men, all drinkers & most smugglers, full of false dreams of the past & baseless hopes for the future, each sustained by some private dream of riches without labor.
Such towns need their gold rush or illicit diamond trade: in the Sepik, it’s primitive art. Looting the Amboim caves of archeological treasures netted big money, and while little of this reached the looters, it put the smell of treasure in the air, bringing the town to life, corrupting officials & missionaries alike, creating an atmosphere of intrigue & wealth & great conversations.
The Angoram Club’s volunteer bartender is a sensitive, witty Australian builder who, having failed at both architecture & suicide, abandoned his past to become the government carpenter in this remote outpost. His thirst for the printed word had reduced him to reading can labels, equipment instructions, even currency, until he discovered a set of the collected works of Aquinas, abandoned by a mad-missionary-turned-dealer-in-pagan-art. Late conversations usually end on some fine Thomistic point.
Colin Simpson in Islands of Men, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1955….
The sun lowered as a great red ball and, like its ghost, a pale full moon came up in the east, while the blazing orb was still above the horizon. We arrived, with the dusk gathering in the river bank casuarinas, at Angoram.
The Angoram Club has a bar and a billiard table in a hall big enough for dances. It has no staff whatever, and no cash-register. On the bar is a book. When you come in you put down a pound note and write your name in the book.
All beer is served by the bottle and, for spirits, you help yourself. The barman tells you when your quid has cut out and you put in another. The barman is the member whose turn it is to be barman that night. His duties finish when nobody wishes to drink any more.
David Wall in Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk, Swirl Bury St Edmunds, 2007….
The Angoram Club was the meeting place for the expatriates and the town’s few mixed-race residents. It had a shabby spaciousness about it and was situated next to the hotel facing the river.
The amenities consisted of tables and chairs with a bar, record player and billiard table. There was enough space to hold dances from time to time and the bar was largely run on an honour system, with members serving.
On this evening most members were present and James was welcomed by the president, Allen Warburton, a man in his fifties with a dignified air and a clipped spoken accent, a mixture of educated Australian and colonial British.