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13 January 2019


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The belief in spirit and harm, you got that right, Arthur. I speak, hear and see this often enough.

Arthur, you truly understand Melanesian culture.

Fit to be a 'tambu'....


Yes, yu tambu tru bilong mipela ol PNG.

Em tru.

That's a delightful story Arthur.

Marlene Dee Gree Pee would love it.

I am living in a maisonette built for the council in 1952. There has been a recurring problem over four years of irregular leaks into my bedroom. I ended up at 0220 on 28 December when a square metre section of the ceiling collapsed, luckily missing me in bed.

The room looked liked a TV set for an Alien or WW3 movie made reality by three long wide swathes of apparently insulation fibreglass roll hanging almost to the floor.

My landlord had three different builders look at the problem prior to the recent event. The third one I believe has solved the problem of the leaks being irregular. Sometimes it could rain heavily but there would be no leaks.

His reasoning reminded me of my various homes in PNG, including several traditional huts during my life there. He had a look at our roof and noticed it was built at too wide an angle from the apex. Indeed it does have a very gentle slope.

When it rained normally it flowed off satisfactorily but when heavy rain was combined with a very strong to gale force wind the run-off was blown back under the slates and into the roof cavity. In fact he told us that there is now a special slate installation for just such a problem.

In PNG most huts I saw had quite steep sloped leaf roofs to provide rapid run-off in time of very heavy rains and apparently my dad-in-law once told me that means the leaves will last a little longer. I would lie on my bed under a traditional roof with the Matvung (north west monsoon) really emptying down and not a drip coming through. It seems the 'primitive' South Pacific house builders were light years ahead of the British ones.

One of the worst storms I witnessed happened in 1995 0r 1996. My wife craved some fresh fish so had taken our little infant from our hut on the hillside to her mum's a mile or so away on the edge of Meterankang Bay.

It had been a beautiful calm day when they departed but around noon the skies turned black and soon the wind was howling through my coconut palms that were bending to its force. Darkness, I can't say sunset, came earlier then the normal 1800 and I guessed that my wife had long sought shelter in her mum's place and not to be seen before tomorrow.

The storm seemed even more threatening in the gloom beyond the dim light of our 'wok-about' Dietz lantern. I was hungry and all there was to eat in our pantry was a large bowl of dry sago. Alas the fire in the traditional kitchen alongside our hut had long been blown into ashes.

I was facing trying to sleep on a rumbling empty stomach when above the continuing noise of the storm I heard voices drifting up the hill from the canoe place on our normally placid stream but which I could now hear tumbling and rumbling over the huge boulders in its bed.

Then I saw some one slowly coming up the muddy track towards the hut. Through the lashing rain I eventually made out two figures. They did the usual sensible traditional thing of calling out loudly when approaching a hut in the night. “Tambu! Mipela tasol.”

It was my wife's Sepik uncle holding a small lamp while his little wife clutched him to steady herself in the gale while holding a saucepan in the other hand. The sadly frozen sodden couple climbed up the wooden steps to the verandah.

They explained they were very worried about their white tambu all alone and hungry on such a night. Obviously my wife had advised them of the parlous state of our pantry. So they had risked life and limb for me by paddling and dragging their canoe alongside the extreme edge of the mangrove between their home at the wharf and my hut.

Because of having no fire I couldn't even offer them a hot cup of anything but asked them to stay the night and avoid a second foray into the teeth of the storm but with several children at home they declined and all too soon headed out into the blast of the wind and rain.

Well at least I had some food. Then my mind went off into another tack. Only recently the family had been talking about belief in spirits and the harm they can cause.

One of my relatives had explained that you never should ask someone, "Can we go fishing tonight?" because a devil may be listening and so would learn of your planned rendezvous with disastrous results by it replacing one of you. More advice, “Arthur, don't hold the baby looking backwards over your shoulder because a devil may change her into some evil thing.!”

Thus I hesitated before taking a spoonful of the slightly warm kaukau soup that had been augmented with coconut cream and some kumu leaves. 'What if?' crossed my mind.

After all who in their right mind would have ventured out on such a journey in a terrible storm to deliver food to one of the many nephews they had in our large extended family. 'Who were they?' 'Was he really Mala my uncle or was of those things we had talked about?' 'Why wouldn't they stay the night or until the wind died down?'

'Oli-man! Are you masta or native?' The westernised bit of my cortex won its case and I ate and enjoyed a good portion of the most welcome meal provided by Uncle and Aunty or whoever they were.

I slept till dawn; the storm had passed the skies were blue the palms rested and soon up the hill toward our hut came my wife and baby – I think!

The most rain I have seen recorded in 24 hours here in Bialla was 385mm in 2015. But that was after four days where we received between 250mm and 300mm a day.

In all it was 1,400mm in five days. That year we recorded 4,200mm from 1 January to 31 March.

The most rain I have ever seen was in Popondetta during Cyclone Guba. However, all the rain gauges either overflowed or were washed away.

Graham, I must add the Coral Sea as well.

Graham's story about incessant rain reminded me of my time in the Gulf Province (1969-71).

As a country lad I came from a place that boasted, if I may use that term, an annual rainfall of around 400mm.

Upon being posted to Kikori, I found myself at a place which received over 7,000mm a year.

The highest rainfall I ever experienced occurred there and I have to confess that I always enjoyed the rain pounding on the corrugated iron roof of my house. It was less enjoyable pounding on your head as you plugged through the jungle.

On one famous Friday it started raining heavily at around 0900 and did not cease until roughly the same time the following day. Every drain on the station was a raging torrent and the Kikori River rose 20 feet or so over the course of 24 hours, which meant it must have been pounding down in the mountains lying due north of Kikori.

Anyway, the measured rainfall in that period was 22 inches or about 550mms, which must be some sort of record, even for Kikori.

I do miss the rain on the roof quite a lot. God knows, we could do with some here in Adelaide right now, with a heat wave looming over the next three days.

Daniel, the road to Talasea has remained open so far this wet season
Raymond, the Nakanai range is the mountain range south of Bialla. The Whiteman Range is on the Kimbe side

The New Britain Highway between Kimbe and Bialla has some striking scenery.

Along the way, there are plantations with endless rows of palm trees, oil palm blocks, villages and numerous bodies of water. There's a lake, hot spring, streams and rivers.

And, when the wind picks up water from the Bismarck Sea and carries it over the Whiteman Range, it pours like there's no tomorrow, and all these rivers swell up and flow over. In Kimbe, it always rains in December.

Wonder what the weather is like in Talasea. My daughter is there on holidays with her family. They told me they will not ring me because there is no telephone network. The signals from the ‘bigger, better network’ doesn’t reach their village.

I am worried they will be cut off. They will have to come to Wabag before school starts. This was the first time she and her children went to Talasea – her husband’s home district.

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