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28 March 2017

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Thanks for comments. A few skeletons hiding though!

I never forgot the drunken police squad arriving in the middle of the night wanting to find a 'redskin'among my 250 workers on Karoola at the north-west tip of Buka. I took them to several barracks where they awakened each room all to no avail...1982 I think.

Back to watery topics. Previously I posted my tale of finding pure drinking water on Lavongai and how the rural folk of PNG always know where the safest water source is. I have to qualify that.

In my primary school late on a Friday afternoon with every desktop cleared of books, papers and pencils our teacher would read a story to us. I thought I would never forget Kipling’s ‘Elephant’s Child’ and especially the repeated phrase therein, ‘The great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River.’

Time past and eventually I did forget it; that is until Pasuwe Ltd sent me to the Gogodala country and a home on the Aramia River or Dibili as the locals call it. My new boss had said that I would find the Aramia quite different to Lavongai Island where I had lived for most of the past decade.

For most of the year it flowed slowly and noiselessly past our Kawito base safely confined between its raised grassy banks. Even though were over 150 miles or was it km away from the mighty delta of the Fly as it merges into the waters of the Gulf of Papua yet in the dry season you could detect a small rise and fall of the tide in that distant sea.

The river is Milo or cocoa coloured as it is full of the runoff full of eroded sediment from distant mountains that drain through miles of saksak swamp to this major river east of the far far bigger Fly.

The first dry season when I lived there was apparently longer than normal so that our supplies carried by Steamship’s coastal vessels couldn’t enter the lagoon at Balimo which is the administrative headquarters of the district.

Indeed not too long before one skillful captain had been able to get in but was unable to get out so that his ship was stuck there for months with a skeleton crew expensively rotated in and out by plane until the next Gogo or wet season arrived to refill the waterways of the area.

The coastal ships could still enter our river during a dry but had to unload supplies for Balimo onto the river bank at Tai Inlet. The station tractors could happily drive across the miles of dried out swamp land to collect the cargo.

In the dry it would take me around an hour to travel from Kawito to our store in the government station as the river snakes its way seawards.

In the wet people on canoes could get there faster than me because they could ply their way almost straight in a straight line across the swampy land while I still followed the tortuous meanderings of the Aramia.

This was one reason why a sensible maritime officer bought De Havilland jet powered dinghies with no underwater gear which on traditional dinghies could get fouled by the grasses floating in the waters.

Because of the long dry seasons water for cooking and drinking is a scarce commodity and several times I have seen the ladies from Aketa village, which is westwards along the river from Kawito, paddling to centre of the muddy, greasy Aramia where they would fill saucepans of water by slowly skimming across the surface of the river scooping the apparently slightly cleaner water there with the lids of the utensil.

Not very far up river was Awaba High School whose pupils used the river for their daily washing etc etc. I was told that even Balimo Lagoon was a source of water for some domestic activities even though people paddled or swam it for bathing and or ablutions.

Did the Gogodala drink from the lagoon or river I never found out? Sadly with the hordes of mosquito and lack of pure water was it no wonder life expectancy was very short – in the mid-fifties I think was the average age of death.

Even the coconut palm known as the ‘tree of life’ shunned growing in the abundance I had seen in the coastal areas of the Islands region of PNG. A good stand of the palms would have nurtured dehydrated babies, children and adults too. I believe the coconut trees love to have some salt for its roots to mature and carry well.

I wonder if life has improved for the average villager in the 40 years since I lived there. Is it possible to drill for a safe supply of water or is it still the reign of corrugated roofing with its catchment tanks for the better off villagers to roof their homes with.

No wonder the peoples of the Gulf migrate to Moresby’s settlements only to find their standpipes can randomly be turned off or dribbling.

Arthur, you certainly know a lot of people and have lots of interesting stories to tell about your experiences in PNG, a country you had undoubtedly love.

You even allowed me to use one whole piece in my book about plantation life on Bougainville where my uncle had gone to work under the Highlands Indentured Labour Scheme.

I hope that one day somebody will piece together your life story in Oceania.

Thanks for that info on Stewie. Do you recall his offsider? I think they both met when they worked in the Highlands, possibly with Bromleys.

Had a lot of good times with Stewie Henderson. He's gone now but one of his daughters is on Facebook. He told a good story.

A watery tale from the Gogodala....

In the 1980s my home at Kawito was often an overnight stop for Stewie Henderson and his family when they wanted to catch a flight on the MAF stationed there to the provincial capital of Daru or to Moresby.

I know my wife’s cooking and especially fresh home baked bread was a good reason to overnight with us. We would spend the evening chatting about many things often having a good laugh at some of his amazing ‘camp-fire’ stories.

It often meant lots of tea or coffee after lights out as we talked into the big night by the light of a Dietz kero lantern

Stewie was always saying thank you for our hospitality and wanted to reciprocate by my visiting his home quite a few hours upriver on my company’s 35 hp outboard driven river-truck.

He always promised us a bbq freshly caught pig feast if I made the trek. Eventually during a dry season I was happy to accept his offer to attend his birthday party.

We left home mid-day and were the first of his guests to arrive.

During the afternoon some workmen for Stewie were heaving large buckets of water from a nearby lagoon to his house and they eventually filled up the large header tank that was connected to the home’s taps.

Very early next morning I awoke disturbed by a nearby gunshot. True to his word one of the local young men had some days before successfully hunted a wild pig which had now been shot for our feast.

By half past eight it was being spit roasted by a couple of young men who took it in turn to rotate the big beast over the open fire. They were kept cool in the hot sun and from the fire by a couple of ‘greenies’ their boss supplied.

During the day an EU Water Supply expert and his pommie wife arrived. He was working on piping fresh water from the mainland to parched Daru or ‘one mile square’ island.

During the rest of the day we enjoyed many varied stories accompanied by stubbies or so-called ‘lolly water’ for wowsers like me and my family.

Recall at one stage the EU lady asked Stewie for a glass of water. As Stewie went to fetch a jug she asked him, “Is it safe to drink?”

Not batting an eye our host explained, “No worries. It’s from the header tank up on the roof.”

Not too long after dusk Stewie told us the pig was ready and so his local wife and some other ladies made a large open space in the middle of the huge lounge and laid our banana leaves as a tablecloth which soon was filled with all sorts of veggies.

In the middle they left space for the main course. Soon in came the pig suspended on a pole. It smelt amazing. They lowered it onto the decking and carefully removed the pole and some leaves they had covered it with.

‘Ola man!’ The beautifully 11 hours roasted pig just slumped onto the banana leaves. I have never smelt a better cooked meat in my life since.

Missus EU had another pertinent question from her urban background, “Is it safe to eat?”

I shall never forget the guffaws as Stewie exclaimed, “Madame if I shoved a pole up your arse and out through your mouth then slowly roasted you over a fire for half a day your meat too would be safe to eat!”

We all laughed and I certainly had the wonderful meal of a lifetime. So did my SDA wife who hadn’t seen such succulent meat since the last big sing-sing back home in Lavongai.

The bible says Jesus went without food for 40 days but water? The bible also says water is the source of life.

Our ancestors, as primitive as they were also had the wisdom to see that water is the source of life too.

There is so much different varieties of food one can eat when you feel hungry. But when you are thirsty there is only water, elders used to say.

There was one alternative which was sugarcane but people knew it could not last to sustain the whole family for life given the conditions they lived in.

Everybody in my village knew where the good clean water streams were which gushed out of the ground, beside the mountain or hills. These are still used today. And we have names for them like Arokoae kenda, Kambekole kenda, lolo kenda etc, the names taken from the type of stone, plant or tree that grows near the water source.

We were told in the hausman to protect our water sources all the time and never to contaminate them by placing human excrement, urine or bury the deceased near the source. To do that meant the culprit did not love life and would die young.

Spring water has always been fresh and sweet. You can easily distinguish the taste from tank water and treated water to spring water.

Over population in my village is forcing people to build their homes, building their latrines etc near our drinking water sources. And these are problems future generations will have to address and be wary of in the future.

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