Advent Calendar: Day 6 – Santa Claus

santa-cookies-milkThe Prompt for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2013, Day 6, is Santa Claus. Geneabloggers prompt says “Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas and the origin of Santa Claus. What are your memories of Santa Claus and waiting for him to come at Christmas? What does Santa mean to you today and how do you pass along that meaning to family and to others?

Post your best Santa story and your memories of Christmases past.”

I wrote a little about my own memories of Santa as a child in the ACCM 2011. During my teens I also had penfriends, one of whom came from the Netherlands, and that was my first exposure to Saint Nicholas and the different gift-giving traditions. We still have a book we bought for our children which tells the stories of Christmas celebrations world-wide.

In my 2011 story I made a passing reference to the different ways our children had experienced Santa’s arrival. On reflection it’s also interesting because I suspect that Santa has been nudged out of schools in our multi-cultural, religiously diverse society even though the kids still sing Christmas songs at pre-school, at least. Our youngest grandchild recently sang of Santa in his red, red hat, carrying a sack. The kids were just oh so cute, but of course privacy prevents including their photos here. Meanwhile the family’s littlies are preparing their Santa lists and sending our letters with their wishes.

However back to a “best Santa story”. When we lived in Port Moresby one of my work colleagues invited us to a Christmas party hosted by their club or society. I no longer have the faintest idea which club it actually was, but a great troop of people travelled by various boats to one of Moresby’s offshore islands where everyone had fun in the sun, swimming, playing in the sand, getting sunburnt, and having one or two cold beers and a picnic.

The highlight of the day was Santa’s arrival by small single-engined aircraft, in fact the very one I took flying lessons on a year or two later. Having landed the red-robed gentleman made his way up the beach where small children rushed to greet him. Our eldest, then about five, was among the forefront of the fan club. The sheer delight and admiration on her face as she walked along the beach holding Santa’s hand and swinging it back and forth, devotedly looking up at him, is an image that’s very precious to both of us.

Santa arrives by fire engine at Boroko East Pre-School in Port Moresby 1977.

Santa arrives by fire engine at Boroko East Pre-School in Port Moresby 1977. The children combined it with a fancy-dress day.

Our younger daughter was far more cautious and only reluctantly reached from Mum’s arms to snatch her present from Santa. She wasn’t about to trust any stranger in such cold-weather clothes! She was far happier when they undid their parcels with their red-dressed Barbie dolls but it didn’t change her opinion of Santa that year.

Unfortunately while we have it on old Super 8 film (and now on DVD) we don’t have a still of it, so your imaginations will have to suffice. I really do need to learn how to take still clips from movies.

Since I don’t have a photo of the flying Santa I’ll make do with one of Santa’s arrival at pre-school in a red, red fire-truck to go with his red, red suit.

Did your family leave cookies/biscuits and milk out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer? I never did as a child, but we did in a low-key way with our children.

This post is part of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) which allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at http://adventcalendar.geneabloggers.com. You can see the posts others have submitted on the Advent Calendar Pinterest site.

Return to Milne Bay

Seven days in Papua New Guinea (PNG), seven days home in Australia. A short enough time you would think, but somehow our world has shifted ever so slightly on its axis. It seems that we have been reinfected with the PNG virus. Our normal life seems vaguely strange as we try to reacclimatise to all our normal activities. Thank heavens for family and grandchildren to ground us back here.

We landed at Jacksons Airport in Port Moresby on 31 October, 34 years and 2 months after we last flew out in a Boeing 747 Jumbo “going finish” (left permanently) to Australia. For me it was the end of 8½ years of a challenging discovery of another world vastly different from my pre-marriage life in suburban Brisbane. For Mr Cassmob he was leaving his home, probably forever. He was an emigrant as surely as our ancestors were when they left their home countries for the new world.

Mr Cassmob returns to PNG 34 years after going finish.

A book I’ve been re-reading called Territory Kids (author Genevieve Rogers) highlights that for children who grew up in the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea, their exotic life was the norm. They had not previously been acculturated to Australian life as their parents (or spouses!) had. For ten years Mr Cassmob had lived the life of a dual citizen, much of the year spent having a “civilised” Australian experience in school or university, then returning to his life on a frontier once or twice a year. He had built up some emotional calluses to protect the constant transitions. It was me who burst into tears one day in Mass in 1978 when the organ sounded briefly like the sound of kundus (drums).

When we planned this return-to-PNG trip we had considered that so much might have changed we’d be disappointed or disillusioned. Returning to a much-loved place can be an emotional hazard. What we hadn’t bargained on was that we might settle back so quickly into our relationship with it, and be in thrall to its charms.

Overlooking Jacksons Airport from our hotel: the plane is a feature.

Jacksons Airport had changed yet much remained familiar, not least the overlooking outline of Hombrum’s Bluff, part of the Owen Stanley Range. There were new terminals and new aircraft on the apron including far more helicopters than we used to see –presumably used in part by the mining companies. We had chosen to only overnight in Moresby –its reputation has never been good but it is now violently unsafe. It seemed easier not to navigate that issue –we’d lived there for four years so we knew it well and didn’t feel the immediate need to return.

It was while lolling in the pool at the very flash, very expensive, but critically, very safe, hotel that we made our first friends of the trip, Keith and Jan from England. This was their second trip to PNG and they’ve had some amazing adventures which you can read about on their blog, Claremont Globetrotters.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

The main focus of our trip was to revisit Alotau in Milne Bay on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Mr Cassmob regards this area as his “place”: that defining environment in which we grow up. For me it was to be a trip of rediscovery, 41 years after leaving the Bay, despatched by the government to live and work in the Highlands.

Not the bush material hut that we once knew.

I thought I’d been so overwhelmed by the vast differences between Brisbane and Alotau in my 18 months there (not to mention being uprooted from friends and family) that I hadn’t remembered Milne Bay well.

To my surprise I found I was quite wrong. There were things I hadn’t remembered, such as the mountains visible at the back of my parents-in-law’s house, but then that was easily explained by the fact that it had been the Wet Season when we lived there and the cloud descended so you couldn’t always see the clothes line, let alone the mountains! And yet, so much looked and felt familiar: the essence of the place was still there, in situ and in my memory.

Napatana Lodge, Alotau.

Milne Bay people have a tradition of friendliness and courtesy and we were delighted to find that hadn’t changed at all: everywhere we went we were greeted by those we passed, taxi drivers chatted and told us of their families and their own stories and happily we met people with connections to our past.

We had scheduled our trip to coincide with the National Kenu and Kundu (canoe and drum) Festival and perhaps that helped make for a more welcoming atmosphere but I think what we saw was the people’s traditional courtesy.

Of course we had to have a souvenir of the Festival.

When we lived in Alotau, in those pre-self-government, colonial days, there were about 100 expatriates and 1000 local people. It was a newly formed town built for the administration of the district when Samarai became too small.

Alotau and the surrounding area has grown a great deal and there’s now 10,000 people living there. We remained a very small minority of white faces amidst the brown and one of the things I especially liked about the festival was that the Papua New Guineans enjoyed the dancing, canoe racing and other festivities as much, if not more, than the visitors.  It felt like a festival for them, to which we’d had the privilege of being invited.

From a commercial point of view, more expatriate visitors would no doubt be welcome, but hopefully that will not change the engagement of the local people. In 2013 they will celebrate the 10th festival and a cruise ship is scheduled to arrive to coincide with it, I only hope that the voyagers recognise what a privilege it is to share in these traditional activities.

Coming up: Sights, sounds, memories and more.

I’ll probably post more of my photos on Flickr than I will here but I’ll let you know when that happens –some sorting and prioritising to be done.

P presents Popondetta, Port Moresby and Peel Island

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we have a guest post from Mr Cassmob on Popondetta, a place I’ve never visited. I divert into a sort of pathetic poetry on Port Moresby, and tell of tragedy on Peel Island.

P is for POPONDETTA (Papua New Guinea)

Mr Cassmob as a small boy with his Dad and big sister in Popondetta outside house #2. © Les Cass 1954.

This guest post is brought to you by Mr Cassmob who lived in Popondetta as a small boy.

Popondetta, capital of the Oro Province of Paua New Guinea, sits on the north Papuan plains, between Buna and Gona on the coast and Kokoda in the mountains; the area was the scene of vicious fighting when the Japanese invaded in the Second World War. In 1953, when Mr Cassmob’s parents, both teachers, arrived with their two small children, Popondetta was a very small town being established as the new administrative headquarters of the Northern District. Nearby Mt Lamington had erupted in January 1951, killing about 5,000 people and destroying the previous township at Higaturu.

Our first house in Popondetta had a coconut frond thatched roof, woven pit-pit (local cane/grass) walls and split bamboo floor, shutters, palm rats and a carpet snake in the rafters, and a long-drop toilet or thunder-box outside the back door. We thought we were the bee’s knees when we moved into our third house, a brand-new wooden high-set with louvres, internal doors, and an inside flush toilet attached to a septic tank. On the concrete slab under the house – very much our outdoor living area – Mum and Dad installed a cane-furniture bar complete with illuminated sign that said “Cass Bar”. For those who remember 1950s movies about Morocco, they greatly enjoyed saying ”Come wiz me to ze Cass Bar”.

School children, Northern District c1954 © Les Cass. Mould is what you get on your slides in the tropics!

I have happy memories of three years in Popondetta. It was, quite clearly, a colonial experience, but children could go anywhere in town, spending all day at the pool until dark drove us home; seeing flying foxes in columns half a kilometre wide and stretching from horizon to horizon pouring out of the jungle at dusk; checking Mt Lamington every morning to see if it was still smoking – if not, it might be trouble! Officially starting school flowed naturally from home because our mother was our teacher. The air link to Port Moresby (no roads) was through the Kokoda Gap in the Owen Stanley Ranges in a war-service Avro Anson flown by Papuan Air Transport. The Dutch pilot completed his flight preparations by walking out onto the tarmac, squinting at the clouds over the ranges and saying “Looks OK. We’ll have a go.”

I was saddened this morning to look at Popondetta on Google and see reports of raskol gangs, gambling, cyclone damage – in short, a town in collapse with no great reason for anyone to go there. Here are some recent insights into Popondetta life these days: Stranded in Popondetta and  SteveinPNG (unbelievable prices for betel nut).

P is for PORT MORESBY (PNG)

Poetry isn’t normally my thing, but for a change of pace I thought I’d present my impressions of (Port) Moresby in a different way.

At Jacksons Airport, Mr Cassmob's parents leave PNG after 23 years service (called "going finish") © P Cass 1976.


MEMORIES OF MORESBY

Bereft of family and friends

arriving at Jacksons Airport

humid heat slams like a truck

ground staff in lap-laps

a sea of different faces.

Betel nut sellers Port Moresby © P Cass 1974.

People sit around town

lime bags at their feet

mixed with betel nut to chew

mouths turn bright red with

blood-red globs of spit.

Catholic Cathedral near Ela Beach, Port Moresby. © P Cass 1975

Cathedral with indigenous art

becomes my refuge

a bastion of familiarity

flee, fly to Alotau and

our new home.

Returning to Moresby years later

we learn its other faces

children, jobs, a different life

Family and friends sit on the fence, Variarata. © P Cass 1975.

new friends, old friends

Gerehu greetings.

Ela Beach swimming, picnics

take the dog, leave the cat

adventures at Variarata

family photos on a fence.

At Christmas in Moresby

Santa arrives by plane or fire engine

Gerehuligans gather together,

a new tradition.

The Prince and the Bishop at a loss for words.on Independence. © P Cass 1975.

Independence for PNG arrives at last

watch the visitors, princes and chiefs

lower the old flag, raise the new,

commemorate our contribution

celebrate the start of a new country.

P is for PEEL ISLAND (Queensland)

It is late 1876 and a husband, his young wife and infant child set forth on the 869 ton Woodlark for the long voyage to Queensland. He is bred to the sea, but she is not. The voyage passes uneventfully thanks to the care and attention paid to the emigrants, and the cleanliness of their persons, berths and clothes[i]. The ship’s arrival in Moreton Bay is announced by the newspapers in January 1877. Among the 295 immigrants on board is a suspected case of enteric fever, also known as typhoid fever.  The ship is not granted pratique and the immigrants and other passengers are detained while those who are ill are placed in quarantine.

After a week most of the passengers were brought up to Brisbane but the case of a young woman remained doubtful. Six weeks later the young woman dies on Peel Island, in quarantine, but not of an infectious illness. The question has to be asked whether if she had been brought into the hospital she might have survived. There is some consolation in knowing her husband was with her throughout but her younger brother had probably been sent ashore previously. How did they write to tell her father the terrible news of his daughter’s death?

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin was barely 22 years old and she was my great-grandfather’s first wife.

For today’s A to Z challenge link, why not pop over to Stephen Tremp’s intriguing posts on astrological matters or Like a bump on a blog on blogging tips.

A feisty blog from someone living in PNG now is A Goddess in the Jungle, interesting insights into today’s expat lifestyle.


[i] Letter to the Editor, The Brisbane Courier, 25 January 1877, page 3.

Week 2 of Sharing Memories 2012: First flight(s)

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories - A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for Week 2 is “First flight”.

This seems like such a simple question doesn’t it, yet for me there were three flights that fitted this description. As this theme is intended as a memoir for my descendants I’m going to take some authorial licence and write about each of my first flights.

One of my first occurrences in the bureaucratic record as a married woman was my entry permit to the Territory of Papua New Guinea. This is the second one that was issued to me.

When I was at university a friend was in the Air Force cadets and as part of his training he’d been taught to fly. For some reason he invited me to take an early flight with him from Brisbane’s general-aircraft airport at Archerfield. This was the first time I’d ever flown and it was fabulous to be up in the air and see the world from above (Thanks Matt!). I don’t remember being scared at all as I’d always had a fascination with flying perhaps attributable to my mother’s enthusiasm – she’d been a volunteer aircraft spotter in Brisbane during the War.

A few years later I took my first “real” commercial flight. We had been married less than two weeks and were heading to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea where my husband had lived for many years and was just starting work with the government. Leaving Brisbane where I’d grown up meant leaving behind my family and many close uni friends so there was lots to be sad about, as well as excited about the life ahead. I remember there were many tears on all sides at that departure as we knew it would be likely be two years before I’d see them again. When I think about my ancestors setting sail from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, never to see their families again, my paltry two year absence is quite miniscule and irrelevant. But it wasn’t for me or my family. To my parents’ great credit they did not place pressure on me at this very difficult time of separation even though I know how much it cost them.

My hubbie's baggage tag from our first flight to my new home in TPNG. We flew in a Patair Piaggio: six seater from memory.

In those pre-security days Brisbane airport was just fenced and farewelling friends could stand at the fences to wave goodbye as those departing walked across the tarmac. I recall one of our very good male friends standing at the fence with two of my closest girlfriends draped on his neck, having a really good cry. I was no better and shed more than a few tears. For my husband, this was like taking a bus trip across town as he’d been doing the same flight a couple of times a year for about 15 years. As we disembarked at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby my first impressions were the wall of tropical heat and the ground crew with dark faces and curly hair and dressed in lap-laps or sulus with the initials of TAA down the side. My life had irrevocably changed in a few short hours. I had left my familiar life and family behind to start a new life…perhaps a tiny glimpse of life as an immigrant. It’s not the thrill of flying that I remember from that first commercial flight but the all-encompassing emotional rollercoaster.

This little book is my student pilot's licence. Currently in my archives, I hope it survives into the future.

By the time I took my final “first flight”, I’d notched up many hours on commercial flights in an array of aircraft. I’d had an urge to learn to fly for some time and as I headed into my 30th year, my husband decided it was time for me to take the plunge. I remember in my first lesson being inundated with diverse technical information before taking to the air. Do you remember when you first learned to drive and you struggled to assimilate all the skills required of you? Learning to fly was like that…I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would manage the controls, radio the tower and watch the skies, let alone get that little Grumman Tiger (code-sign VH-SPG) into the air or down to earth again safely. I vividly remember watching from mid-flight as an early Qantas jumbo took off into Moresby’s skies with effortless ease like a pelican getting airborne.  Although I enjoyed learning the skills and feeling slowly more competent, I eventually reached the conclusion that I would never be a natural pilot and gave up my lessons when I was pregnant. I have no regrets about giving it away, I was pleased I’d given it a go, but I don’t think I ever felt sufficiently confident or competent to be a good pilot. The 3D world is an unforgiving space as Papua New Guinea’s flying history testifies.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories – 21st December 2011 –Christmas Music

What songs did your family listen to during Christmas? Did you ever go carolling? Did you have a favourite song?

One of our first Christmas albums as a couple.

The Christmas carols I remember most from my childhood were Adeste Fidelis and Silent Night. Then when I got a small record player in my high school years we bought a new Christmas LP and on it was Oh Tannenbaum, the German carol which gave me a chance to practice the German I was learning at school.

On our first Christmas together my husband and I bought an LP by Nana Mouskouri and on that was the song, the Little Drummer Boy. I’d never heard it before and it’s become one of my favourites ever since along with Mary’s Boy Child as sung by Boney M (Mr Cassmob used to love it by Harry Belafonte but we didn’t have the music though his rendition is superb). In our house at Christmas time rocking Xmas songs by Neil Diamond are interspersed with Christmas Carols by the Oxford Boys Choir and Joy to the World or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

As a child in Brisbane the only carols I remember singing were in church over Christmas and I have no recollection of anyone going carolling. I was a bit surprised to discover when reading some old diaries recently that the Uniting Church people used to go carolling in our neighbourhood of Gerehu in Port Moresby…I had completely forgotten this. When we returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea our family used to go to carols by candlelight every year including when our youngest was just a tiny baby. We did this every year for about 20 years, without fail, until the television channel which hosted it turned it into a commercial farce. After that we settled for watching Australia’s iconic carols from Melbourne on Christmas Eve, often while wrapping presents.

At the church our own family used to go to in Brisbane, the band would play sedately throughout midnight Mass then as the Mass ended they would launch into full scale, full noise versions of carols and Christmas songs. Very exuberant and joyful and full of the Christmas spirit –put a smile on everyone’s face!

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Advent Calendar of Memories 2011: 7th December – Holiday parties

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

My family have never been party people so no, we didn’t host Christmas parties when I was a child, nor do I really recall attending any neighbourhood parties at Christmas-time.

This topic brought to mind that we used to go to the Christmas party hosted by the Railway Institute in Brisbane when I was a child. The Institute was over Central Station, where there are now large office complexes, and I guess it could best be described as a sort of railway workers’ social club. I must have liked the party as I remember going to it, though I don’t recall what Santa brought me. Mum tells me Dad often could make it due to his shiftwork commitments.

You can feel the party atmosphere - the bottles on the left were ginger beer, truly! The men were making our Christmas sangria.

While we were in Papua New Guinea (PNG) we went to a rather unusual Christmas party/celebration on one of the islands off shore. We went over in various boats and Santa arrived by small plane and walked up the beach – with our eldest looking adoringly at him and swinging his hand while our two-year looked on, a little nervous: captured on Super 8 movie film and transferred to DVD.

Backyard Christmas celebrations Gerehu, Port Moresby.

We had another tradition in PNG as so many people were far away from family during the holidays: we had a communal Christmas Day celebration with our friends, who were really like family. We would all contribute to the event, bringing turkeys, puddings, cakes, roast meat, salads etc and of course, a variety of alcohol…easy when we all regularly got duty free. One family would host the party, either in the back yard or occasionally in the house, though the government houses were not usually big enough for this sized crowd. Who would host the party rotated from year to year and our year was the final Christmas we had in Port Moresby and we also had visitors up from Queensland. Good fun was had by all, and my contribution was to get screen printed T-shirts made with “Gerehuligans” on them as the suburb where we lived was called Gerehu. One of the things I remember from that day was a friend packing all the dishes into washing baskets to take home to put through the dishwasher….no one else had one in those days. The Gerehuligans have recently got back into email contact and we all had great memories from these Christmas parties.

Advent calendar of Christmas Memories: 6th December –Santa Claus

A visit with Santa is magical. The wish: "all I want for Xmas is my 2 front teeth".

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list”? Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

I guess at some stage as a child I would have sent a letter to Santa and made a list.

Certainly I visited one of the ubiquitous Santas in the shops. My baby book says that when I was not-quite-three, I really enjoyed seeing Santa but that when I was two-ish I was still quite shy.

Santa arrives by fire engine at Boroko East Pre-School in Port Moresby 1977.

I don’t think I was very old when I discovered my Santa presents at the bottom of my parents’ wardrobes…needless to say I was clever enough not to let on I’d put two and two together…why spoil the fun for all of us

I love the look on children’s faces when they see Santa and all the Christmas “sparkles”….the magic and wonder light up their faces and everyone round them shares their delight.

How did Santa arrive where you live? Our children have seen him arrive in planes, cars and fire trucks.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 1st December: The Christmas Tree

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

As a child we always had a live tree – in fact I’m not sure artificial trees were even available then in Australia. However our live tree was nothing like what anyone in the northern hemisphere would imagine. It wasn’t a fir of any sort, tall and thick with a pine-needle smell. Instead in the week before Christmas my father would go down to the creek bank near us and select a small gum (eucalyptus) tree which he’d cut and bring to the house. I don’t know how common this was as I honestly can’t recall other people’s trees. As soon as the gum tree was in the house there would be the pervasive smell of eucalyptus throughout.

"Onion bagging" Christmas trees in Miltenberg, Bavaria, 1992

The tree would last till a bit after Christmas before it started dropping all its leaves.

In my adult family we’ve mostly had an artificial tree as we’ve often been in places where there are limited other choices. I remember when we first visited Europe near Christmas-time being intrigued by those weird contraptions that wrap your tree in what I think of as onion-bag netting. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in Australia anywhere…but perhaps it happens in the southern states? Anyone want to comment?

Our first own-family tree was a casuarina which my husband said was collected from near the club at Alotau in the Milne Bay District of Papua (as it was then).

Similarly when we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands we also had a casuarina.

Long ago and far away: Christmas in Goroka, PNG. Eldest daughter and her first "big girl" Christmas.

When we moved to Port Moresby we bought an artificial tree which was quite sizable…probably close to 2 metres, and lasted throughout our children’s growing-up years.

When we downsized to Darwin, we left the big tree with the family in Brisbane and downsized our tree as well. Now we have grandchildren in the family, last year we upsized again.…the cycles of life. Besides which the cat, who loves to climb in the tree and remove decorations, needed a bigger tree to mangle! The small one had taken a battering over the past few years.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 22: Secrets: Independence comes to PNG

The topic for Week 22 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Secrets. Describe something about yourself that won’t be found on any record 100 years from now.

Well my first thought was that if it was a secret it wouldn’t be so any longer once I blogged about it!

So what will future descendants of mine miss about my life if they rely on the records? In 100 years it will be all too easy for my great-great-granddaughter to wonder where I got to for about 8 years in the 1970s. They will find my marriage and the birth of two of my daughters in Queensland and possibly assume that I had continued to live in Queensland all my life. The Australian-based records, assuming they’re all digitized and indexed by then will let them trace me and my “migrations” and events. They will even, with a bit of luck, reveal some details of my working life and hobby (sorry, obsession) of family history. But they will have missed a very formative part of my adult life.

 An attentive and thorough researcher who buys the certificates may get a clue that I left the country for a few years and that my husband’s then place of residence, Territory of Papua New Guinea (TPNG), may provide the clues they need. However it’s quite likely this will still not disclose much about my life there because unless things change, records in Papua New Guinea are very difficult to come by. However if that does change, they may get lucky and may find our little “Gehuka”, born in the PNG Highlands, from the official records and may even find her baptism records. They may even get very lucky and find our employment records and so be able to trace our movements around the country, and my in-laws before us.

However they will have no real sense of the amazing sights that we lived with: the magnificent scenery, the power of a football-field filled with tribal warriors in full traditional attire and armed with spears and other weapons, the singing and drums, the hazardous flying conditions, the isolated villages or a small band of warriors armed with spears intent on “payback”.

The timeline of our life there will clue them in that we lived through self-government (1973) and Independence (1975) as the former Australian Territory became an independent country. Official documentation will not tell them that we were anxious going into self-government given the bloodshed and riots that had accompanied so many African nations recently gaining their autonomy. Our descendants won’t know that at self-government we lived opposite the Goroka hospital and listened to much noise, bottle-crashing and rubbish-bin-lid-banging that night but that we were at no risk.

By the time Independence came around we were living in Port Moresby and were able to participate in the many celebrations. The stores were decorated with red, black and gold streamers and the official banners were black birds of paradise on contrasting fabric, one of which we still treasure.

We went to the Catholic Cathedral and saw Prince Charles (much younger then, like the rest of us!) arrive to be greeted by the Bishop, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, other dignitaries, and school children in traditional sing-sing attire. In a short report I wrote at the time for my family in Australia, I mentioned that Mr Cassmob had heard murmurs of dislike for Whitlam when he arrived while Andrew Peacock, formerly Foreign Minister was well received. Michael Somare, the first Prime Minister, drew a spontaneous burst of applause.

There were other ceremonies to celebrate Independence and we were at Hubert Murray Stadium (in the grandstand and “on the hill”) and saw the amazing diversity of local dress, colour, and dance, with the Manus Islanders inevitably dominating the rhythm. The Australian Navy was nowhere near as precision-drilled as the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) which had nary a step out of place. Prince Charles arrived in stately fashion in the British Embassy Daimler flanked by traditionally-dressed dancers. Our eldest daughter then only a youngster and visiting the ceremony with her crèche/child-care called him “the man in white who was going to be king”. Prince Charles did the requisite inspection of the troops to the Skye Boat Song, some even forgetting their training long enough to take photos, and then did the rounds in an open-backed jeep.

Daimler

Prince Charles arrives in the Daimler

The colour and diversity of the local people and their traditions were among the wonderful features of PNG. We were also very moved at the lowering of the (Australian) flag ceremony to the traditional bugler’s lament, “day is done”, and an impressive gun salute by the armed forces. We were proud to be part of such an important part of the country’s life and to have contributed in some way to its development. The new Governor General, Sir John Guise (aka Doctor John) from my husband’s “home” province of Milne Bay gave a well-toned speech about lowering the flag not tearing it down. A tinge of sadness was covered by pride and enthusiasm for the new country, especially when they paraded the flag to Auld Lang Syne, accompanied by the bagpipes. The PNG nationals were looking equally solemn during this moving ceremony.

Parading the Australian flag at Independence.

On Independence Day, 16 September 1975, our family went to Independence Hill and watched as the young high school students in their multi-coloured “uniforms” formed an honour guard and the new national flag was raised with much jubilation accompanied by a fly-over of military aircraft. While our family was part of the huge crowd photographed that day and appearing in the local Post Courier newspaper, there is no way our great-great-granddaughter could pick us out –unless she knew of my “signature” habit of wearing my sunglasses on my head, though even then I’m obscured by my blonde sunnies-wearing friend.Traditional dress at Independence Hill, 16 September 1975

So much of this secret would have been lost had we not written some notes soon after these amazing events – our memories recall only the highlights, not the level of detail that the notes have once again revealed.

Part of the crowd at Independence Hill on 16 September 1975.

Most of our photos are on slides and Super 8 films and really need to be scanned and the films converted…more jobs.

Other photos from PNG’s Independence celebrations can be found here (mostly copyrighted) http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Search/Home?filter%5B%5D=pi%3Anla.pic*&type=all&lookfor=independence+papua+new+guinea&x=15&y=6

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.