I THINK BOB CLELAND’s recent article in PNG Attitude, Expats missed boat on attitude shift, was a very fair summation of the situation as it was before independence.
Like Mrs Short, I too like Lady Cleland’s book Pathways to Independence, and I still refer to it occasionally.
It is a sympathetic and accurate record of so much important minutiae; of happenings and of the personalities and attitudes giving rise to them.
All this is long forgotten and it is valuable for us to consider what is said in a retrospective focus spanning many years and great changes.
And I liked Bob Cleland’s mum, too. I wonder if she ever tell him about the guestroom toilet in the District Commissioner's house at Kikori?
The late John Stitt together with Hugh Milne and I were barmen and general usefuls at the reception for Administrator Cleland and his lady on their 1958 visit to the then headquarters of the Gulf District.
Combining pragmatism, dignity and acuity with a good sense of humour, the Clelands were exemplary figures in an increasingly-complex setting.
The collapse of the termite-eaten thunder-box - unused for years as official visitors were rare at Kikori - was treated with forbearance and humour.
District Commissioner Dick White, a bluff, plain-spoken single man, suffered only his own great embarrassment at the occurrence.
What Bob Cleland says about race relations in his piece is all quite true. But things changed very rapidly from around the time of the first elections in 1964, being the onset of the decade when short-term contract-employment was introduced in the Administration and the era in which the prohibition of social relationships between white officers and local women was relaxed.
The situation changed rapidly, also, as the result of the repeal of laws prohibiting native consumption of alcohol.
On that particular historic day I was at Ihu in the Gulf, by now no longer a kiap but a cooperatives officer.
The Co-op coastal ship, MV Hiri, captained by the redoubtable Frank Gorogo, arrived on the afternoon tide. That night, in my house, together with Paul Wilson the Department of Native Affairs clerk and the late, likeable and much-missed Bertie Counsel, I entertained Frank together with Kila Kone from Co-op HQ, Michael Oraka, the Senior Co-op Inspector at Ihu and his assistant, young Ravu Makara.
The first legal beer for the three older men, but by no means their first taste of alcohol.
It was a good night, a happy one, and memorable. Ravu, then a young man who had genuinely never touched alcohol before, had to be helped home.
Three years before this, in my earlier guise as a Cadet Patrol Officer, and also at Ihu, I encountered the late Vincent Eri, author of the first novel by a Papua New Guinean, The Crocodile.
Vincent was employed as an Auxiliary Division education officer teaching at the Ihu government primary school.
Although he and I were the same age, and although he had been educated in Australia, with the best will in the world it was hard to ignore white convention and peer-pressure and form a friendship with him, even though I was the only other young, single, well-educated man on the station.
Vincent came to my house after dark one evening, and asked me if I would lend him a bottle of kerosene for his lamp as he had run out. Ihu, like all small outstations was without electric power at that time.
Faced with this obvious if tentative overture of friendship, I am ashamed to say that I replied brightly that it would be no trouble, took the proffered bottle and filled it. Vincent retreated into the darkness leaving a somewhat conscience-stricken young man behind him. I portrayed this scene in my novel Time of Rain, published many years later.
Whilst many wouldn’t have admitted it, and probably still won't, there was an underlying current of fear among white people which was conducive to the maintenance of an attitude generally paternal but always patronising and socially aloof.
Whites were especially guilty of saying negative things about the locals when an English-speaking local was within earshot, gaining some sort of inner satisfaction from this.
Much was made of the need to avoid close relationships so as to preserve neutrality and to avoid obligations and requests for inappropriate sorts of assistance.
Unspoken, the need to preserve white solidarity and unity was a given, understood and held in place by a sense of peer-pressure and peer-dependence. This aspect of colonial-ruler-psychology is also portrayed in my novel.
Things were a little different in the Highlands, where, although the kiaps were of a distinct breed and played their part as hard men in front of a largely-subservient and unsophisticated audience, the use of first-names became widespread, although the honorific masta was not replaced with the less-adulatory ‘boss’ for many years.
Working for the late Brian Heagney, known throughout Simbu and the Wahgi as “Brown”, one learnt in a matter of hours that all the fuss over modes of address and use of first-names was, if not so in pre-World War II times, certainly now in the mid-1960s, entirely superfluous.
Mixing and socialising with increasing numbers of well-educated local public-servants and commercial employees became everyday in environments such as Kundiawa, although the Goroka Sports Club maintained its policy of racial exclusivity for the time being, and refused to enter into a mutual visiting-membership agreement with the Chimbu Club.
Today one has many Papua New Guinean friends of long standing, people with whom one has worked and travelled around the globe, and with whom it is a pleasure to spend time relaxing whether in talk over a meal, over a beer or in such games as squash, tennis, or lawn-bowls.
Although I don’t play, and never have, a visit to the totally-PNG-run and managed Goroka Bowling Club is always a rewarding and pleasant experience. And I may say, a reassuring one.
Here, playing as bowlers do around the world, in a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere, all clad in the requisite white get-up, the middle-class and the who’s-who of Goroka, both men and women, gather every Saturday and Sunday, and one always gets a wonderful greeting and much swapping of news when one drops in.