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12 February 2016

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I've had similar experiences with my memory Bill.

If you tell a lie enough times people will start to believe it, don't know who said that but if you dredge up an incorrect memory enough times you end up believing it too. Sometimes the memory is the way you would have liked something to happen rather than how it actually happened. That's why Clive James called his memoirs "unreliable".

I'm putting together a memoir of coming to Australia as a ten pound pom in 1956 and growing up in Elizabeth in SA - checking facts is dispelling a lot of treasured memories.

Funny thing the mind?

Arthur, You ask “Is this all from memory or did you keep diaries?” I wrote the first draft of this memoir in 1985, 21 years ago. So long ago, I can hardly remember. I jest!

I wrote chapters and chapters and chapters, and they were sourced from material I had accumulated: letters of appointment, letters written to my parents, files, photographs, and a patrol box full of documents that I brought back in 1945.

(I know that my personal file and my confidential file are not in the Australian National Archives; they are safely in my keeping.)

For the Bougainville years, there were even more detailed records: a few reports in 1964, many more in 1966, and weekly telegraphed situation reports 1967 to 1969, until August, when Prime Minister Gorton demanded daily reports. The Field Officers Journals and other personal papers that I have borrowed have augmented the reservoir.

I learnt to distrust memories, mine and other peoples, when writing about Bougainville and the early days of CRA. I discovered that I had absolutely no recall of my involvement in some specific events; an involvement that was irrefutably established by the archives.

My memory was at fault, again, when I said that the LTC had not been involved in the registration of titles at Panguna. (The hundreds of digitalised records proved me to be wrong.)

I asked the people, with whom I worked, for their stories, and I queried one or two of their responses. I did not think some incidents had happened as they were described. And the guys, themselves, were amazed when they checked those stories against the records—their own Field Officers Journals. Even though one or two of guys had been dining out on those flawed stories for years, those anecdotes did not make the cut.

The scientists, the neurologists, tell us there is a simple explanation. They say that using your memory is like dragging something from the hard disk; you look at it, add into it—maybe a new photo or conversation—then rewrite it to the hard disk—your memory.

Piu says: “If you want to grab a specific memory you have to get down into the cell level. Every time we think we remember something, we could also be making changes to that memory - sometimes we realise, sometimes we do not." … "Our memory changes every single time it is being 'recorded'. That's why we can incorporate new information into old memories and this is how a false memory can form without us realising it."

Bill another great chapter. Is this all from memory or did you keep diaries?

I smiled at Sydney Morning Herald being most desirable smoking paper. I too found this out and imported 2 x 20 kg bundles every month for sale in my Metekavil store in the 1970s. Sold it for a handsome 10 toea for full double page. Some ripped that in half for same price.

If I ever ran out between ships my customers were very unhappy with the Post Courier. Apparently SMH did run a story about there newspaper's 'readership' in rural PNG.

Perhaps stirred by demand for newsprint smoking paper the local cigarette company agent once came to see me and ask my opinion about a new idea they had to increase sales.

It was for the company to produce ready made tobacco in 5 or 6 inch sticks but pre-wrapped in their factory in what appeared to be newsprint. “Looks very marketable” I told him. So was born the Mutrus branded tobacco stick.

Incidentally it brought to an end the once favourite block of black tobacco that held about 48 twists stuck together in molasses or something like that. This had been a stalwart favourite for over hundred year with all sorts of traders.

In the 1970s and 80s every smoker would have a small sharp knife in his coconut bag with which to pare off a few pieces of black stuff to roll his own.

Also in his bag would normally be an Asian cheap trade store cigarette lighter with its renewable wick and tiny flint which we tradestore owners stocked too.

The old men took a lot of persuading in the 90s to buy the new disposable type. Couldn't believe it when I told one old-timer he just had to throw his old one away and buy another. Muttered under his breath and said, “Masta giaman - Bai mi painim wei bilong sitreitim gen!” In fact did see a few that had been refilled with fuel and seemed to work.

Thanks Bill your stories rekindle some good memories. Even your 'pert bare breast' ones but inap pastaim -that can wait for another day.

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