SYDNEY - Kurt Pfund (1935-2017) was born in Switzerland and lived, worked and played in Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean before finding his way to Papua New Guinea.
He was lured there by the ambition to become a crocodile hunter. Instead he developed an abiding love for the country and its people which he expressed through his paintings and his writing.
Kurt was already a significant artist and had held several successful exhibitions at an international level when I first met him in 1973.
He had also published two books, ‘Islands of love: portrait of the Trobriand Islands’ (paintings and text by Kurt Pfund) and ‘Legends of Papua New Guinea’ (paintings by Kurt Pfund, text by Jack McCarthy). His studio was on a five-acre property at Sapphire Creek.
We saw a lot of Kurt until we went our separate ways after Independence in 1975. Kurt returned to Switzerland and we returned to Australia for a while. The Sapphire Creek property became an official residence.
We kept contact over the ensuing years, exchanging letters, emails and telephone calls. We visited Kurt in Switzerland several times and he joined us in Sydney for the millennium celebrations in 1988.
In 2012, Kurt published a collection of anecdotes, ‘Titbits von damals: Zeiträume-Zeitträume’ (‘Titbits of yesteryear: Periods of time’) and he continued to worry about the threats to PNG of global warming and rising oceans. He had lived on the Mortlock Islands off Bougainville for a month in 1973.
“Our friend Kurt the pianist is beginning to worry me somehow. The great ten-year love affair with the one generation younger women is coming to an end, and I think he too sees dark clouds coming up on the horizon… It shows that the woman hasn’t been in his flat at weekends anymore. The mess has become so enormous that a duster wouldn’t fit anywhere in between.”
The hammer blow was delivered by email at the end of November.
"For me over here it looks like the last season of the year will also be the last season of my time. Trouble started with a collapse because of a salt deficiency of the blood and ended with the hospital verdict of cancer. I had felt things coming and had completed arrangements with the Swiss death benefit organisation EXIT quite some time ago. I won’t have to tell you that I haven’t had a bad life. The year with the unique Trobriand Islanders may well have been the most valuable of the past 82…
“I’ve told you before that my mind is (gratefully and now of course also sadly) stuck to the South Sea; I cannot remember one bedtime over a very long time when I didn’t sit down on the piano to play my short prayer for all islanders in form of the Isa Lei melody. … Yet unless you will get the one of my fifty (already with stamps on the envelope) 'last letters' to my best friends all over the globe, I am still on this side of the Milky Way."
Kurt Pfund died as he lived: quietly, considerately and thinking of his friends. His last letter arrived in January. He had departed for the other side of the Milky Way. Travel well old friend.