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13 October 2016


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This post made me check my bookshelves for a book I hadn't opened for years.

'Australian Women in PNG: Colonial Passages 1920-19601
Chilla Bulbeck of Griffith University,
Published by Cambridge University Press in 1992
ISBN 0 521 41285 4

With the flying of time I cannot recall anything I might have read in it so have put it near my favourite armchair to's one of four such books.

In the introduction the writer says book is based on experiences of 19 women in the 40 years mentioned in its title.

A few other snippets:

670 white women in Papua 1921; by 1933 2,000 increasing to 10,000 in 1975.

Mentions DO's wife Helen McLeod who wrote, “In colonial administration a wife is married to hr husband who is married to his job”.

That is a quote from her book: 'Cannibals are Human: A District Officer's Wife in New Guinea.' published by Angus Robertson in 1961.

In fact the detailed Notes section at the end of Bulbeck's book is a good source of female authors.

Recently had lunch with ex-kiap wife at our daughter's home. She, never knowing DC Holmes, considered her a liability to my career as a 'neurotic wife'. Wow glad she never saw that letter in my staff file.

Anyway enjoy the occasional time with her and our daughter because of our once too short shared Lavongai experience. I think the two females pamper me by allowing my New Guinea memoirs moments free range after a good roast meal.

She had a short story published in a UK women's magazine not too long after deciding to remain in UK when I returned to PNG from long leave in 1973.

I have never been able to get her to show me her story but gather it expressed her expatriate fear and almost loathing of the two years she spent in the islands.

I know she hated the insects, was terrified of snakes and even the tiny baby frogs jumping on her sandalled feet from the pond near Dick Randolph's hacienda.

Was she a typical whingeing Pom or merely an urban lass who perhaps might have enjoyed life there if she had inter-acted with the local ladies of the area.

For anyone interested in expatriate women in pre-independence PNG I'd recommend Norma Griffin's 'Saidor Story' (Pukpuk Publications, 2016) and Stephanie Lloyd, Marlena Jeffery and Jenny Hearn's 'Taim Bilong Misis Bilong Armi: Memories of Wives of Australian Servicemen in Papua New Guinea 1951-1975' (Pandanus Books, 2001). The latter is available as a PDF download on the ANU website.

There are probably other books readers might recommend.

The well researched and startling 'Not A White Woman Safe' by Amira Inglis comes to mind. White mythology in Port Moresby between the wars. A couple of links here - KJ

Good article, Phil.

I recently received an email from an Australian woman enquiring whether she could make a submission to the PNG Women's Writers Anthology. Due to the project's aims, this is not possible. However, from what she told me about the substantial time she spent in PNG (pre-Independence), it made me realise that there is a lot of learning to be gained by Papua New Guineans and Australians from the perspectives of expatriate women. Insights of their observations and contributions. The recording of their voices and experiences are invaluable and important too.

We tend to rattle on about how our experience in PNG was life changing but we tend to forget it worked the other way round too.

Makes us family I think?

My mum always used to tell us about similar interactions.

No doubt the influence on the every day life of Papua New Guineans who interacted with expat families was enormous as it does today.

My wife, Julie who had only heard about ‘ol kiap, ol didiman, ol liklik dokta, ol tisa’ and missionaries who had established the mission stations and the Kandep Patrol post in the 60s was over joyed to meet Jim Fenton and his daughter Tiana in Brisbane last month.

Jim was our first kiap and Tiana was conceived in Kandep and the first expatriate baby girl to live among the people. She looked like a doll from the distance when I went with my mother to barter for salt, beads and other goodies on the new government station.

It was good to see Jim and Julie speak in tok pisin that memorable evening in Brisbane. Kandep government station sits on her people’s tribal lands and her bubus had definitely worked with Jim and other kiaps like Ross Allan and Lloyd Waugh who followed.

Julie gave Tiana now, 54 a bilum (string bag). And I gave Jim a highlands cap. We were glad to interact with father and daughter after all those bygone years.

Thanks Paga Hill Development Company, PNG Attitude and Professor Ken McKinnon for making it possible for us – Francis Nii, Rashmi, Martyn Namorong, Julie and myself to meet and interact with former kiaps, teachers, businessman, other friends of PNG and some of their sons and daughters.

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