When writing here I have to stop myself from thinking,"Dear Diary", because even though it is like a diary, it IS a little different. There's nothing private about, not when it's open to the whole world.
Many people have asked, "how come you are called, 'Kanakaken' ?? Like most nicknames, mine came from somebody giving it to me. I worked in Papua New Guinea for almost 2 years, 1968 & 1969. Initially I didn't like the place but eventually I grew to love it and it's people. After I had, 'gone pinis', and returned home I was working in a factory, owned by a family friend, and while there because I was forever talking about the kanakas I had come in contact with I earnt the name Kanakaken. The word 'kanaka' is a pigin word meaning 'native'.
The reason I went to PNG , came about as a result of my boss, Harold, putting me in charge of a job in the city. I was apprenticed to Harold half way through my second year of plumbing and was now a journeyman plumber. His youngest son, a second year apprentice was under my responsibility but unfortunately he was of a very volatile nature. After he attacked me twice, once with a 2ft level and then a hammer aimed at my head, I ended up throwing him off the job & into the street, telling him not to come back on the job and to go home. I called his dad telling him what happened and then I rang a company and applied for a job in PNG.
As the plane approached the airfield in Port Moresby in early 1968, the view was fantastic, so much greenery. Also, I was excited at arriving in PNG, not only because it was my first time overseas but also because my father had fought in this country during the second world war. He was a member of the 2/17 battalion, Ninth division, one of the Rats of Tobruk that had been retrained in the Atherton Tablelands, in order to fight the Japs in the jungles of New Guinea. Much of that excitement disappeared though when the plane's door was opened and we eventually disembarked onto the apron, only to wait in the steaming heat to enter the terminal, a tin shed! The heat was oppressive and the air stunk of rotting vegetation.
Once I was cleared in, I entered the area where you collect your luggage, had it all checked out and then I was ready to leave. I had no idea where I had to go, so I waited. Before long my name was called over the PA system and I headed for the counter. There, a big bloke was waiting for me, I can't remember his name but he was the supervisor in charge. He asked if I had any luggage and when I showed it to him, he told a couple of native fellows to take it to his truck. When he saw the big tool box, he told another bloke to grab it also but I said to him, 'He'll need a mate for that". Of course when he tried he couldn't even get it off the floor. The super' was very surprised that I had so many tools, most people he said were lucky if they arrived with a pencil and a ruler, my tools weighed almost 70kg. The trip from the airport was very interesting, there was so much going on and it was all so unexpected. Knowing nothing of PNG, I had used my imagination on what to expect and of course I had got everything wrong. There were no naked black fellers with spears nor were there grass huts all over the place. In fact, apart from the heat, humidity and stench it was not unlike home, lots of traffic, people rushing all over, similar buildings, both domestic and commercial.
After I was signed in at the office I was taken to where my living quarters would be for the duration of my stay and introduced to my room mate Jim. He was a house painter and old enough to be my father. We hit it of very well, he was a good bloke. Jim showed me where to have a shower and then clued me in on the procedures for meals and where to meet the trucks that took us to the building sites. I told him the supervisor was picking me up and taking me to the new army eating hall they were building, that's where I would be working for a while.
The next day I met my work crew, all of them labourers, made up of native people from many different tribes. The leader of the group, referred to as 'the namba one boss boy', was called Buga, pronounced like what you find up your nose! All the drainage work was earthenware, it was all exposed, having to be concrete encased. We had to make up formwork to go around it and then pour concrete, mixed by hand, into the formwork.
My only job was to oversee the work and just let them do their own thing. I found this extremely frustrating as Buga would spend 30 or 40 minutes waving his hands around, building in his mind, how the formwork would go. To me, I could see instantly how it should be made and it didn't make sense, seeing as how he had made at least 6 lots already, why he was making such a job of it all. Also the other blokes were making a mountain out of a molehill with their work as well. The mix was 5-3-1, simple enough, but they had the mixer, sand, metal and cement all over the place in a way that it took for ever to get it all into the mixer.
It wasn't long before morning tea was announced by the call, "lik lik belo", or little bell. One of them came to me and asked if I wanted something to eat. His English was very poor and my pigin was non existent, but I managed to get across that all I wanted was a rock cake and a bottle of lemonade. when he returned with all the orders he gave me my money back with, "sori tu mas masta, i no gat". I asked him, "what? there was no lemonade?" "Yes masta" This line of Q&A went on a bit until I realized that you cant use a double negative here because it means a yes. so I went hungry until lunchtime when a truck came to pick me up to go back to our mess hall at Gordon barracks where we all lived.
When I got back to the job I reorganized the mixing process into a more efficient method and showed them how to do it. I ended up building three sets of formwork and mixing enough concrete to fill the lot, all on my own. The next day the boss came to see how things were and was quite surprised by how much they had done. "Them?" I said, "Those lazy buggers wouldn't work in an iron lung!" "I did it all alone while they watched."
He could see how I had moved things around and he laughed, then told me to put everything back the way they had it and let them do it their way, no matter how slow it might seem. This was a major lesson for me in the way things worked here. I was a tradesman, they were labourers and when I was doing plumbing I could do it my way but the labourers did it their way otherwise I would end up doing everything on my own and that would ruin the system. One thing I wasn't learning though was, how to speak pigin. To me it sounded like baby talk and I wasn't about to lower myself to that, they should learn English. It took along time to realize how foolish I really was.
The next project I was given was to repair the copper stacks picking up all waste effluent from the ablution blocks at the ends of the army barrack's dormitories. The supervisor gave me a two pack of epoxy resin and showed me the problem stacks. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, it was obvious to me that whoever it was they gave this job to, never had a clue as to what they were doing. Instead of a neat line of weld, they had deposited the silver solder onto the copper joint like chicken shit, I asked the boss to give me an oxy set, a tub of flux and one stick of silver solder and I would fix the lot properly. I was told to do the job as instructed and that was that.
I knew that within a couple of years the resin would eventually fall apart and the joints would leak, what I didn't know was that all management was interested in was that the job passed the inspection for handover, so they could get paid.
These were hard lessons.
Soon I was given a job where I could be a real plumber, further out, at another barracks called Taurama palms barracks. I was introduced to my 'plumber boy', Misiel Bob. Any national who worked with a qualified plumber was called 'a plumber boy', no matter his age. Misiel came from a village called Raluana, situated about ten minute drive outside of Rabaul. I wasn't too sure of him at first, for a start he had only one eye but at least he could speak English, so I had no need to bother with pigin. We worked with another Australian and his assistant, also from Rabaul installing hot and cold pipe work and sanitary stacks. I don't remember the Ozzy blokes name but his assistant Emile Tavauta and I, became life long friends.
Misiel was quite good at his work but Emile, without a doubt, was one of the best plumbers I had ever worked with. There was nothing he couldn't do and everything he did was done to perfection. I couldn't believe how good this bloke was, I just had to get to know him better and find out why it was so.
About a fortnight later I asked Emile if he knew Port Moresby well and could he show me around the place. He said yes and after giving me directions, we arranged to meet at his living quarters on Saturday morning. I was there bright and early and asked to be directed to where he was. I soon found his donga and when I went inside I was shocked. It was a very long narrow tin shed with beds on each side and about a 1.5m walkway down the centre. Each bed was divided off from the next with a cord to hang a sheet on, or not, so there was very little privacy there. When he was ready, off we went to the nearest bus stop. I paid our fares and for anything else we needed except for stuff he bought to take back to his place. The reason for this was that I was on about $170 a fortnight and he was on $30. I was single and he had a family with two kids and one on the way.
The first place we went to was Koki markets, we didn't buy anything, just looked around as he explained everything to me. I asked him about his life back home, his close and extended family, where they lived and what they would get up to. He lived in a village called Kurategete, about 7kms from Kokopo. After Koki we went to Ella Beach and checked out all the nice young girls there, we then headed into the capital city. To me Port Moresby was more like a small country town than a capital city.
Soon we had worked up an appetite so we went to a pub and I bought some food and a couple of beers. There were a number of pubs to choose from but the only one we could go to, was the natives' pub because the locals weren't allowed into the Europeans' pub. I received a few strange looks here because white fellows would never be seen dead in a black's bar as it turned out. Emile asked me if I wanted to leave and we could meet later. I said NO and no one could stop me from drinking with a friend if I wanted to, even if they all thought it a bit strange.
This was lesson that left a bitter taste in my mouth.
After our lunch, at Emile's suggestion, we left and headed back to Ella Beach for another perv on the birds and then back to Koki markets where we bought some food. We went for a walk around the water's edge looking at the boats permanently moored there with hardly room on board to swing a cat. It looked to me like they were born, lived, died and were buried there. The only sanitation was the water on which the boats floated and you definitely would not want to swim there. It was getting late, so we soon headed off back to Taurama Palms and Emile's lodgings.
I hung around for awhile at Emile's, as he opened a coconut for me, we had a few smokes together and later a cup of tea. I thanked him for a great day, shook hands and said I'd see him Monday morning on the job and then headed back to Gordon barracks and my little room. I had a lot to think about, mainly the inequalities between Emile and myself, none of it seemed fair. I didn't like much of what I saw and heard, one thing I did know from this lesson of life was, a piss ant like me was not capable of making the changes that I would like to, well not big ones anyhow.
Sunday was boring for me and I was happy to be heading back to work on Monday morning. On arrival, I saw Emile and he was real happy to see me. He came up to me and said, "morning masta" with a big smile. I must have had a scowl on my face for his look changed to one of concern. I said to him, as well as Misiel, "I know masta is a pigin word for boss but I don't accept it. It's a word from the colonial days, put into the language by white fellows who were forcing the natives to 'understand their place'." I said, "I am the master of no man and from now on, if we are to be friends, you will address me as I do you, with our given names. You are Misiel, you are Emile and my name's Ken".
From that day on, no matter which local worked with me I always learnt their village name and insisted they learn mine, and use it.
I believe that was one of the major reasons for the respect I was given by almost everyone I worked with, I always called them by name and never 'boy', like almost every other white fella.
I knew there was nothing I could do about the differences of our living standards but there certainly was something I could do about how we treated each other.
From then on this was the pattern of my existence in Port Moresby, working in the army barracks, living at Gordon Barracks and seeing the sights of the capital city and it's surrounds with Emile.
To some it may have looked strange that my only friend while working in Port Moresby was an indigenous man from Rabaul. It wasn't because I couldn't make friends with anyone else it was more of a character thing. My attitudes towards other people, especially in PNG was not conducive to making friends within my own community. There were exceptions, for example, I got on very well with my roommate, Jim, but he was much older than me, almost 40 years and with his gammy leg, he was not up to traipsing around town. We were friends more on a philosophical basis.
No matter where you came from in PNG, if you weren't a native, you were a 'European'. Apart from a few, most Europeans I worked or came in contact with in PNG, had terrible attitudes toward the local population, they were at the least, appalling. To them, the locals, full blood or mixed race were lower classed humans, some even considered them NOT to be human. Consequently, to some people I became known as a "coon lover". I couldn't have cared less.
I met up to go to town with Emile as much as possible, especially as he was soon coming to the end of his contract and intended going back to his family at Kurategete. Often we roamed the streets on Sundays as well. He was such a knowledgeable bloke willing to answer any question, very soft hearted with an extreme love for his family. It was obvious that he missed them very much.
One day Emile and I were sitting, having our lunch together near Ella Beach, I asked him how did he come to learn plumbing and why was he so good at it. He told me that some years before he had got his job with PDC, he applied to start as a first year apprentice. At that time the powers that be were looking for likely candidates to learn the trade, so he was sent to Port Moresby to be trained at the University. The purpose was to develop a training method suited for the indigenous population. As it turned out Emile was used as a guinea pig for that purpose and so received the best, most intensive tuition possible.
The day soon arrived when his contract period had expired and he was leaving to go back home. He was a very popular bloke, everyone liked him, so apart from myself, there was the site foreman, the supervisor and a whole bunch of other fellers to see him off.
I shook hands warmly with him saying how good it had been working with him and I would look him up one day in Rabaul. His reply was almost a dismissive, "yeah sure". He was obviously very sad at parting and a little surprised at so many to see him off, but he didn't believe my statement, I could tell by the way he had said, "yeah sure".
I continued to work in Moresby for some time, then I was transferred to Wewak to work at Moem Barracks. I met a whole new bunch of blokes, most of them good fellows, only one a complete idiot and therefore not worth talking about, but all in all, the rest were very interesting and I got on with them really well. While in Wewak, I got involved with playing football with our company against a team full of bank workers. During a practice match, even though it was supposed to be touch footy, I was tackled by this bloke over 190cm tall, and I ended up with a broken bone in my foot. That was the end of my football career. I returned to Moresby with a cast on my leg.
After a while I was able to go back to work on light duties, which was fine because there wasn't much work left. Soon the whole job was finished and after going over my contract time by 7 months, I returned home.
Back in Sydney, the return was not without incident. On my arrival, I found that some kind person working for the airlines, had relieved me of all my tools, almost $300 worth. That was a bit hard to take, but eventually I replaced them. Until I did, I worked as a process worker and while I did that, I studied a book I had just bought, on Melanesian Pigin English. I had decided to return to PNG on spec, and I wanted to be able to speak the language. As there are only about 3000 words to Pigin and I had the sound of the language 'in my ear', I figured it shouldn't be too hard to learn. It took me all of three months.
On my return to Port Moresby, as soon as I stepped into the terminal, it was as though a magic curtain had been lifted and all the conversations going on around me were now as easily understood as if I were back home. What's more when I spoke to the locals, they all could understand me as well.
I was staying only three days in Moresby, just enough time to call in at the insurance company to collect my compensation owed me for the time off with the broken leg.
My next port of call was Rabaul.
On arrival in Rabaul the first thing I did was find the cheapest accommodation. It wasn't much, but then it WAS only a dollar a night. Next I visited Public Works Dept. to apply for work. They said approval would take 6 weeks so I got a job with a local company called Jennings. As accommodation was supplied free, I soon moved in and met my new workmates.
The work was good and varied, certainly not hard, for we had native assistants. Ever time I met a native, I would ask if he was local and if so, did he know of the village Kurategete and Emile Tavauta. Eventually I hit the jackpot. He was going out near Kurategete and would show me the way, apparently he was a good friend of Emile, so was happy to help.
I met him, as arranged on the following Saturday morning and we climbed on the back of a ute, a local 'bus', and off we went. We had only traveled about a kilometer when we came to halt in heavy traffic, caused by a huge crowd attending the opening of St. Joseph's Church on Kokopo road at Malaguna. While inching our way through the thick mob, he said to me, "There's Emile over there". It was easy to see him because he was a very striking bloke. With a fantastic physique, red hair and over six feet tall, he towered over all the rest.
I yelled his name, he twisted his head this way and that trying to see who called. I stood on the side of the ute, waiving my arm and yelled even louder. This time he saw me and came over. By the time he got to us, he was crying with surprise and happiness. He just couldn't believe it, it was almost seven months since he had returned home knowing full well that all white men are bullshit artists and he would never see me again.
He hopped on the back of the ute with us and off we went to Kurategete, the church opening soon forgotten. We had so much to talk about we were stumbling over our words trying to get it all out. To those watching, we must have seemed like a pair of lunatics. Eventually we got to the turnoff point and the driver let us off. We said thanks & goodbye to his mate and set off through the bush to Emile's village. It was only about a forty minute walk and soon we walked up the final slope into the area of his house.
We were met by his wife Iapin, his son Tatabu and there daughter of about three years old. His wife was lovely, very shy and very pregnant. Their gorgeous daughter was standing there, the whole time, hiding behind her mother's leg, naked, with biggest head of beautiful blond hair. She was truly a little doll. I stayed until very early Monday morning when Emile and I left together, He showed me the way back, pointing out certain landmarks, so I could find my way back when I next returned to his village.
We met later in the week and I asked him where was he working. He told me he worked for the Chinese as a mechanic's assistant for $25 a fortnight. I was gobsmacked and asked how come when he was such a terrific plumber and there was plenty of wok around, why wasn't he doing that?
"I don't have any tools", he said. Knowing he had plenty of tool in Moresby, I asked what happened to all the tools he used to have, he told me that he had given them away to friends, (wantoks) and relatives, whenever they asked him for a lend. He was, like all the rest, a true communist, for what ever he owned, was available to anyone who asked. A common custom among most Pacific Islanders.
I said to him, " If I get you some tools and a job, will you work as a plumber"?
He jumped at it.
I asked my boss if he would employ Emile, but he wasn't too keen because he was a local native and the policy was to employ non-locals as they tended not to go walk-about. I explained how good Emile was and also that he was the most honest and reliable bloke I had ever worked with and just give him a try, he wouldn't regret it. He agreed.
I bought about $70 worth of tools stating that I didn't want the money, unless he insisted on paying me, all I wanted was that he shouldn't have time off without good reason and ALWAYS let the boss know what was up, if something was wrong.
He started the following Monday and three weeks later I was put off. Emile was so good, He was given a raise and I lost my job.
Emile was devastated, but I told him not to worry as I had another job to start the next day. It didn't bother me at all, I was glad he had a good paying job and his family was going to be much better off. His new boss had him doing everything, they even taught him how to drive big trucks and sent him to jobs on his own, he was the best investment they had.
All my spare time, after work, including holidays, I would head off to Emile's house in the village, visiting him, his family and friends. This, without a doubt, was the best time of my life. I had bought a new Honda 90 motorcycle, and would ride to Kurategete with a pack on my back carrying a sleeping bag and whatever else I might need. The first time I used the sleeping bag in the village, everyone near split their sides laughing. They had never seen anything like it before and thought I looked like a giant caterpillar, crawling into it's cocoon, it was a big hit. Every time there was a sing-sing (party) on, big or little, we would go and I would take my guitar and sit in with the string band, a bunch of fellows playing guitars and ukeleles.
Whenever I attended these sing sings with Emile, I would always be invited to sit with the Tul Tul (headman) of the village, to discuss many different things. We would ask each other about our lives, beliefs and relationships, I became very popular and many concessions were given me, I was treated with the utmost respect and of course it was reciprocated.
On one occassion, I was asked if I knew how to dance and when I said I did, then how come I never danced there? My reply was that were I came from, we never danced with men, only women. At their parties, women danced with women and men with men, never mixed. I was still wet behind the ears.
Soon, the headman pointed out a particular girl and said I could dance with her. Not wanting to offend, with the next tune I was up and asked her for a dance.
She was apretty young thing, about 14 years of age. She could speak English reasonably well but obviously was very embarrassed. I asked if she had danced with a man before and she told me women never do. Apparrantly her father, the village leader, told her to dance with me as I was a guest of honour. As the music came to an end I thanked her for the dance, apologised for her embarrassment, it was obvious the other women were laughing. I promised her that she would never have to do this again.
After I sat down for a while and the next song started, I got up and danced with the men. Another lesson learnt.
One of the things I was most careful with, was how I treated their women. I never touched them, not even to shake hands, unless their hand was offered first. If I did speak with a woman, I always stood well out of hands reach and was always polite, I even learnt a few words of their language, Kuanua. Sex with any village girl was definitely out of the question, no matter how attractive the occasional girl might be.
It wasn't that I didn't find any women there attractive, I had a girlfriend, but she was mixed race and came from another Island, a good distance from Rabaul called New Ireland.
To my amazement, without me saying anything to them about a girlfriend, they knew ALL about her Her name, where she lived and where she came from. Even though this village was thirty miles out from Rabaul, there was NOTHING anyone could do, without the locals knowing.
By this stage My application to work with PWD had come through and I was now a Public Works employee.
Not long before I left Rabaul to go to West New Britain, I was made an offer that really tossed me for a loop. Emile came to me one day to say that, the Tul Tul of his village had been approached by the Big Tul Tul of the whole area, that they wanted to give me some land, help me build a house with a vegetable garden. All I had to do was find a girl to marry and move in with them at the village. It was very difficult to refuse their offer, they were so enthusiastic and it sounded so official but I said that I was extremely honoured by their offer but I missed my family so much that eventually I would have to go back home. I knew where they were coming from. There was a girl called Iamila who lived not far from Emile's place. She was a school teacher, quite nice to look at and because of her command of English, very easy to talk to, about almost anything. We often spoke together and got on very well and Perhaps we smiled at each other too much.
I got the impression that this was the girl I was to find and marry.