Doing it tough: LNG 'smokescreened' real difficulties in economy

Crafting a life: Playing with the headhunters in the jungle

Careers with a challengePHIL FITZPATRICK

MY FIRST job after leaving school was with the National Bank. I don’t know why I took it, there were plenty of other jobs around in those days. Perhaps, in my exuberant youth, I harboured some sort of misconception about what mattered in life.

In any event, this introduction to the financial world and the small-minded people involved in it in those days was a salutary shock and I immediately started looking around for something a bit more fulfilling.

I already had a long nurtured but vague idea about applying for the next intake of Cadet Patrol Officers in the Territory of Papua New Guinea.

I endured eighteen months of excruciating boredom at the bank before I escaped. My escape included being berated by my boss for throwing away the opportunity of a good career to go gallivanting among headhunters in the jungle.

Years later I came across him running a fish and chip shop in a small country town. He had been made redundant in some sort of efficiency drive.

I spent the rest of my working life basically helping people and advocating their sometimes hopeless causes. I include my years as a kiap here, after all, they were all about helping a new nation on its journey to independence.

I also spent many years advocating on behalf of Aboriginal people. This garnered me a potential charge under the South Australian Public Service Act. My persecutors were representatives of the spineless bureaucratic sub-culture that dominated indigenous affairs then and now. Be nice and do nothing dangerous, was their motto.

I have recently become privy to records from that time. Apparently I was considered ‘extremely left wing’. One mandarin labelled me ‘an anarchist’. That tells me I must have been having a lot of fun.

However, looking back on those years, what struck me most was the lack of gratitude from those people whose causes I championed.

There were exceptions of course but by and large they were all ungrateful bastards. Some of them maliciously so.

I have been used and dumped when my usefulness expired. I’ve been stabbed in the back by those I helped. And I’ve seen other people abandon me and run for cover when the going got tough.

Of the few exceptions who stood out, many came from Papua New Guinea. There is a message in there somewhere about the felicity of living with headhunters in the jungle.

I’ve discussed this with some of my geriatric leftie friends from those bygone days. They report similar experiences.

Which makes me wonder about whether it was really worth it.

This question comes into better perspective when you consider the alternatives. I could have been an ex-bank johnny piloting a greasy fish and chip shop. Or maybe a multi-millionaire stock broker. Both of which seem equally unappealing.

I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet and work with so many fascinating and dare I say ‘real’ people. I probably wouldn’t have bothered to go to university either. I wouldn’t have written any books and I wouldn’t have had children and grandchildren who share my leftie, anarchist view of the world.

So, despite all the ungrateful bastards, I’m glad I ran screaming from that bank and went to play with the headhunters in the jungle.


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Lindsay F Bond

Voluntary effort in Australia is generated not only of individuals thinking, planning and actioning. Is it not also garnered of that generous collective, the ‘commonwealth’?

In one aspect, that was the contributor or at least the initiator, of the provision advertised as “Careers with a Challenge”, enticing exuberant escapists, ‘econo-micks’, even evangelists, to equatorial TPNG.

Another endeavour of that collective shows in some measure, on the scale of five points listed by Phil 29/10/16. In Australian news this week, discussion is of ‘cashless welfare cards’ in an experiment to “quarantine 80 per cent of payments for essentials such as bills and groceries, and welfare funds cannot be spent on alcohol or gambling”. Will complaint and demand be met with appropriate engagement and education?

Latent from landlessness, lacking means to subsist, learned in lore less written, Hemisphere-north folk transported to Hemisphere-south, adding scope to experiment in expectancies of collective, yet stilled in circumspectness. With entitlement as unknowable in TPNG, were not kiaps emboldened with carrot-inveigling play and cane-inflicting flay?

Headlining headhunters as folk for felicity, holds so long as Phil retained his head. He and his era had yet to encounter a people 1) alienated from its expectancy of sufficiency in subsistence production, and 2) acquired in awareness of wealth that is anything but common. So though heedful of jungle and juggle, he and many were jiggled, herded and headed off.

(if latitude permits)…what did they there?…brighten-ed a brittle nous under their care?

Philip Fitzpatrick

It would be interesting to see how Australia would cope without its volunteers, including retirees.

This runs from simple things like looking after the grandchildren to complex tasks like teaching computer skills.

Much of the volunteer work that I do follows on from what I did as a worker, except these days I don't get paid anymore.

It works two ways of course because it keeps me active and my mind ticking over.

Many people who retire find that their lives have lost meaning and they end up sitting in front of the television set all day and usually suffer from health problems and die before their time.

I don't know whether anyone has ever attempted to monetise the input of volunteers into the economy but I imagine it would run into billions.

I don't really know what volunteerism occurs in PNG. Of those I've seen there is a connection to the churches or the volunteers are expatriate.

Grandparents obviously put in time looking after grandchildren, sometimes full time when there has been a family breakdown. Grandmothers seem to be at the fore here.

And then there are exemplars like Jimmy Drekore and Francis Nii. I think Francis has built an extremely meaningful life with his work with SWA and as a mentor for Simbu writers. Jimmy I think just has a huge heart.

It would be interesting to hear from readers who either do volunteer work and know of active volunteers in PNG.

Statistics from 2010 on volunteering in Australia show that 6.1 million people volunteer and that the value of their work was about $200 billion - KJ

Paul Oates

Since retiring I have among other things worked as a volunteer in our small community and with the local University of the Third Age (U3A). For the last 10 years as a tutor I've run courses in basic computer skills.

Some seniors get it and some don't. A fellow volunteer tutor had to take a walk around the block in the middle of one class to calm down. Phones calls at odd hours had to then be actively discouraged whenever the computer 'wouldn't work'. The local computer store phone number was a suggested practical resource at the end of each course. Amazingly the store only opened during business hours! Can you imagine the inconvenience?

Phil's five step analogy resonates so well with me and fits perfectly with many volunteer experiences. No doubt people like the Salvos and those in many church groups and service clubs would feel much the same way at times.

Maybe the manner in which volunteers perform their duties reminds those who are receiving help of a parent/child relationship. In that situation, as many parents can and will tell you, grown up children often unconsciously but naturally fall back on their parents to provide a level of support they had when as children they totally depended on their parents.

The trick is to eject the 'children' from 'the nest' before it becomes too comfortable. After all, we parents (or volunteers) had to cope with the realities of life as well as everyone else and do know how hard it can be at times.

Philip Fitzpatrick

There seems to be five stages to this volunteer/charity business Garry.

First, people are grateful that you have come along to assist them.

Second, they start to regard your generosity as some sort of right.

Third, they stop helping themselves because they know you'll do it for them.

Fourth, they start demanding that you do things.

Fifth, they complain about you when you can't deliver everything they want.

There are exceptions of course.

I personally enjoy helping out but you really have to have a thick skin.

Helping injured and sick animals is much more hassle-free.

Garry Roche

Phil, regarding 'ungrateful bastards' - I once spent at year in London working with drug addicts. The prevailing attitude among the addicts was illustrated by the comment of one addict who said to us "Yah, well if it wasn't for us junkie addicts you social workers wouldn't have a job, would you!"
Despite that there was some job satisfaction.

Paul Oates

Guilty as charged Lindsay. By the early 1970's we all knew we were preparing the PNG people and their country for nationhood.

Lindsay F Bond

Among cadets, careerists and cadre, come on, hand on heart, how many could then testify to a vision of "helping a new nation on its journey to independence?"

Philip Fitzpatrick

When I was at ASOPA I had doubts about my decision to go to PNG. It was brought about by the attitudes of some of our lecturers, they were disparaging of Papua New Guineans.

I wisely consulted Fred Kaad, who told me that if I bailed out I would lose the opportunity to see the dying days of colonialism in the world, not to mention meeting some wonderful people.

So I changed my mind and went.

Paul Oates

This is beginning to sound like something resembling a maudlin blend of a eulogy and a lament.

I empathise and agree with most of the previous reflections yet suggest that every contact each Kiap (and the many other 'outside' men'), had with PNG people was a mutual learning experience that both sides benefited from.

While mistakes were made on both sides, inevitably the process of change and dramatic change at that, could only have happened when there were those who were prepared to help make the change happen.

While much the same sort of changes have occurred elsewhere in the world the basically peaceful way such a diverse people were brought into the modern world was not done anywhere as peacefully or as sensitively as it was in PNG after the second world war.

That aspect is surely a tribute to each side of the equation and should be an historical testimony to those who undertook and managed the journey, be it PNGian or Australian.

Let's hope that when we have all departed on our last patrol the historic shared history we have with our neighbours will not be forgotten.

Chris Overland

Like Phil, I ran away to the jungle because I was repulsed by the idea of a career in retail or a bank.

The advert accompanying his article drew me irresistibly towards PNG, much to the horror and amazement of my friends.

Why on earth, they said, would I wish to go to a far away place, full of hideous diseases, crocodile filled swamps and mountain ranges swarming with head hunters and cannibals?

The simple answer was because I could see and live in a world like no other on earth. Even in my callow youth, I intuitively knew that such a world must inevitably soon pass into history and I didn't want to miss my one chance to see it in real life.

Happily, I went and I didn't miss it. Like many PNG expatriates, I saw and rejoiced in what is now a lost world. Basically, I got lucky and have never ceased to be grateful for that luck.

I got some of those hideous diseases (not recommended), grew familiar with crocodiles and their habits and had the rare privilege of walking amongst the former head hunters and cannibals.

I found that I rather admired the toughness and resilience of the people, their mostly good humour and their endless tolerance with yet another liklik kiap being a pain in the arse.

To my shame, I got more out of my time in PNG than the country or its people got out of me. I was too young, too self absorbed and too lacking in life skills to really make more than a nominal contribution and I'm sorry for that.

Still, I comfort myself by thinking that I did no harm either, so perhaps I wasn't totally useless after all.

Bernard Corden

Hi Phil,

My tenure in PNG was full of fond memories. It has its frustrations but the people were such a joy to work with and it was a wonderful experience.

I have just recently reviewed an article by Theodore Dalrymple, which appeared in The Spectator back in 2003. It is as pertinent today and could easily have been written about the Myer Centre in Queen Street Brisbane:


I know he is an irreverent right wing snob but it is good writing.

Daniel Kumbon

Phil, see what the skills of late Hal Holman are doing to PNG literature. His paintings are being sold like hot cakes to promote the first ever women's anthology in PNG.

See what you as a writer, author and publisher are doing to change the literary landscape in PNG. See how many PNG authored books you have helped publish.

I don't think I would have met you last month if you worked as a banker. Please know that the legacies of ex didimans, teachers, artists and kiaps etc will live on in PNG.

Ol Aborigine bilong Australia na mipela ol PNG mas tok tenk yu long kain wok yu mekim nao na bipo long helpim mipela. Tenk yu.

John K Kamasua

You most probably followed your bliss, Phil.

That is all that matters in life!

Michael Dom

When National Bank lost a mindless drone, PNG gained a thoughtful hero.

I'm very glad to have met you, Phil Fitzpatrick, and Kassandra sends you her weirdest regards.

`Robin Lillicrapp

No doubt, your best and most productive years are in the now, as many of your friends and contacts would affirm.

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