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Tales of Bumbu Zab Zab MBE from Butibum, Morobe


SYDNEY - After two years of enduring the incredible hardships of the Australian School of Pacific Administration - endless lectures, compulsory assignments, practice teaching, lesson preparation and assorted other tasks - it was a relief for the Class of 1961-62 to be finally let loose as teachers on the unsuspecting students of Papua New Guinea.

I enjoyed my subsequent nine years in the Education Department, spent mostly drinking, socialising, smoking, womanising, gambling and playing sport with, I nearly forgot, some teaching on the side.

However in 1972 it was time to say farewell to chalk and blackboard as I was offered a position in an obscure government department squirreled away in Konedobu. (In fact I liked the new job so much I didn’t leave it until 2004 and, because I was once a teacher, I can tell you that’s 32 years.)

As was the case with most government agencies a Tea Boi was part of the establishment and ours was an unforgettable character who by the name of Bumbu Zab Zab, who hailed from Butibum in Morobe Province.

Bumbu was such a valued employee that I had no hesitation, when I attained some level of authority within our office, of nominating him for an MBE, which was subsequently awarded.

Naturally as the day of his investiture grew closer, Bumbu became more and more nervous about the big occasion. Things weren’t helped much when a staff member brought to the office a deck of playing cards with an obscene photo on the reverse side of a naked African American gentleman who was, shall we say, very well endowed.

Someone, who shall remain unnamed, decided to superimpose a photo of Bumbu’s head on this guy’s photo. The altered version was then attached to a letter, purportedly from the Governor-General’s Office, advising Bumbu that he was to present the attached photo at his investiture as proof of his identity.

When the letter was delivered, Bumbu was not deceived (you don’t get MBEs for nothing), although the attached photo fascinated him. He gazed at the top and murmured: “Is me, is me!”

But then, as his eyes wandered slowly downwards a look of great sadness crossed his face and he wistfully whispered: “Is not me, is not me!” I thought he was going to burst into tears.

Anyway the investiture went off well and we had a nice celebration afterwards. Bumbu’s medal was put on display, though some office wag placed the following poem beneath it:

Our Bumbu’s got his MBE,
He is our pride and joy.
Missus Kwin has kissed him on his as
And the Governor shook his toy.

Bumbu ZabZab’s MBE was an honour well deserved. However it was no protection against those in our outfit that were ever seeking to play practical jokes on unsuspecting colleagues.

I well recall the time Bumbu was being treated for an ulcer on his leg at Hanuabada Clinic and had to report there every week to get it dressed – those tropical ulcers could be hard to clear up.

One day, after treatment, Bumbu was foolish enough to leave the appointment card for his next visit on top of the fridge in the kitchen. It was no surprise in our office of practical jokers that one of the office lads took it.

The card gave details of Bumbu’s next appointment and in the section ‘Nature of Sickness’ was handwritten ‘Sore’.

Using the same coloured pen, the card thief added the letter ‘s’ to turn the word ‘sore’ into ‘sores’ and then carefully wrote ‘on anus and penis’. He then returned the card to the top of the fridge.

The matter was forgotten for a week or so before Bumbu burst into the office I was sharing with a colleague. He was very upset, dishevelled and agitated. Pointing at us he cried: “What you do my card? What you do my card?”

We feigned ignorance and surprise and questioned Bumbu as to what was bothering him.

For some reason he refused to disclose what had happened at the clinic but in time the story came out.

Bumbu had picked up the card from the fridge top and waltzed to the clinic for treatment of his leg ulcer. It seems the nurses at the clinic refused to accept that he was suffering from only this and gave him the full treatment. Poor Bumbu. It was several days before he spoke to us.

When I left PNG in 2004, Bumbu was preparing to return to his home in Butibum. I hope he made it and is enjoying a well-earned retirement savouring the sight of his MBE and free of those bloody practical jokers from Australia.


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Allyn Hicks

No. It is true. Bumbu does exist and this incident did actually happen. Bumbu himself used to dine out on the story. You can check records for his MBE.

I have never heard of the "Sambo" story and am not in the habit of copying other material, especially stuff with racist overtones. I should add that other members of staff were subject to practical jokes, not just Bumbu.

Geoffrey Hancock

It seems like it was an hilarious workplace in that obscure government department, Allyn.

Did you ever play that guessing game 'I spy with my little eye' in the office?

Philip Fitzpatrick

I don't want to sound like a wowser but there's something unsavoury about this article.

The central character reminds me of someone called Sambo - the perennial butt of colonial jokes.

I'm afraid I'll give this one a 0/10.

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