Backstage as a volunteer at the Brisbane Writers Festival
They are gone

The essential Chips Mackellar

Chips Mackellar
Chips Mackellar - master storyteller, anecdotalist and, by definition, historian

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - I’ve been reading the words of Malcolm ‘Chips’ Mackellar for many years now.

I first came across his writing in ‘Una Voce’, when it was just a journal dedicated to the interests of retired officers and superannuants who had served in the Territory of Papua New Guinea.

I rather enjoyed that old journal. It was produced on the smell of an oily rag and pretty rough and ready. It somehow mirrored the make do, jack of all trades, master of none TPNG culture.

Some of the reminiscences and stories in the journal were classics and Chips was there in the thick of it with his wry sense of humour, colourful descriptions and the ability to bend what some might regard as the truth right to the edge of breaking point.

One old colonial once told me to take what Chips said with a grain of salt. When I looked into it however I couldn’t find anything requiring leavening.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of publishing a collection of his stories in a book called ‘Sivarai’, which for the New Guinea-siders means ‘story’ in Motu, a language in which Chips is a master.

There is another side to Chips that is also dear to my heart; his ability to take the piss out of bumped up people, especially those in authority.

Just recently Deryck Thompson posted on the Ex-Kiap website a couple of letters that Chips had written while stationed at Menyamya and Telefomin. I’ve reproduced one from Menyamya below. It doesn’t so much take the piss out of anyone; it’s more designed to be so disingenuous as to diffuse what could be an unhappy response.

Kukukuku warriors
Kukukuku warriors, Barua, Aziana Valley, 1953 (Bill Brown)

Sub-District Office
Menyamya
via 
LAE

5th June 1972

Wing Commander J Carter
Royal Australian Air Force
PO Box 811
PORT MORESBY

Sir,

Subject: AIR TRANSPORTATION OF TRACTOR AND TRAILER FROM WAU TO MENYAMYA

1. The Menyamya branch of the Sai-Watut Society has asked me to thank you for delivering its tractor and trailer in your Caribou aircraft.

 2. The delivery of the tractor and trailer was an important step in the economic development of this area because produce can now be transported by tractor instead of human carriers.

 3. The sing sing to celebrate the arrival of the tractor was one of the few times that the Kukukuku tribes have gathered in such numbers on a peaceful occasion. The formation of warriors used to greet the tractor were in the past deployed only for tribal fighting. It is therefore understandable that in the excitement of the occasion, some arrows were inadvertently fired at the Caribou and its crew.

4.The Society therefore regrets any damage done to the aircraft by arrows and assures me that any arrow wounds sustained by the crew were inflicted in a friendly manner.

Yours sincerely

(ML Mackellar)
Assistant District Commissioner
MENYAMYA

There was a later minute attached to the carbon copy of the letter responding to an enquiry from District headquarters in Lae.

Minute to:
The District Commissioner
LAE

Your 4-1-13 of 30/5/72 refers. Before the Caribou departed, some half dozen arrows were removed by the crew from the wings and fuselage. As far as I am aware, no damage was done to the aircraft and no injuries were done to the crew. But I can imagine that there will be some wild stories circulating in the officer’s mess at Richmond.

ML Mackellar
ADC Menyamya

Deryck dug the letter out of a box rotting away in a station storeroom and passed a copy on to Peter Salmon, the moderator of the Ex-Kiap website.

I wonder how many other gems like this have disappeared under the onslaught of termites and pyromaniacs with matches.

Comments

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Chips Mackellar

Thank you, Phil. Nicely told, just like a Chips Mackellar story.

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