And thereby hangs another tale:

As a boy in Germany I used to dream of visiting three places in the world: Borneo, the Amazon Basin, and New Guinea. (As it turned out, I eventually lived and worked in Borneo and in New Guinea - two out of three is not bad, is it?)

This is the story of how I got to New Guinea:

After my 'compulsory' two years in Australia from 1965 to 1967 as an 'assisted migrant', I was free to leave again - and leave I did as it seemed impossible to live on what was initially a youth wage and later became the salary of a junior bank officer with the ANZ Bank.

I had booked a passage back to Europe aboard the Greek ship 'PATRIS' operated by Chandris Line (or, as we came to call it, Chunder Line - but that is yet another story!) which had been scheduled to leave Sydney and call at Port Moresby on its way through the Suez Canal. But history and the Eqypt-Israeli war of 1967 [the so-called 6-Day War which began on June 5, 1967] intervened and the Suez Canal was closed to all shipping.

So the 'Patris' never got to Port Moresby but sailed through the Great Australian Bight and around the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) instead. However, a good number of 'Territorians' from the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea had already booked a passage and the shipping line at great expense flew them down to Sydney to join the ship. And so it came that I spent some four weeks aboard the 'Patris' in the company of a whole bunch of hard-drinking and boisterous 'Territorians'.

Having barely scraped together the fare, I had no money to spend on drinks but I did mix with the 'Territorians' night after night in the ship's Midnight Club to listen to Graham Bell and his Allstars. I was spellbound by the stories those 'larger-than-life' 'Territorians' told about the Territory and my mind was made up that I would go there one day.

One of the 'Territorians' whom I befriended was Noel Butler who then lived in Wewak in the Sepik District. If New Guinea seemed remote and exotic, then the mystical Sepik District was even more remote and more exotic! It sounded all very Conrad-esque and straight out of "Heart of Darkness"!

Noel had been sent up to the Territory as a soldier during the war and had never left it! After leaving the army, he had tried his hand at coffee and tea in the Highlands and had held numerous positions of one kind or another ever since. He epitomised the typical 'Territorian' with his Devil-may-care attitude and his unconcern about the future, about money, and about a career. Somehow, for those people, the Territory provided everything they wanted from life and the rest of the world was the place that was visited once every other year during their three-month leave.

Our love of chess made Noel and me shipboard mates and we spent many hours hunched over the chess board as the ship ploughed its way towards Europe. And as we played game after game, I learnt about the Territory and listened to stories of some the Territory's 'old-timers', including one Errol Flynn (1909-59) of whom I had never heard before (but whose autobiography 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways' I was to read many years later.) [Sometime later, I found in a local op-shop an old book written by Errol Flynn, "Showdown" (1946) which, although of no great literary merit, is an entertaining adventure story set in New Guinea with the main character in the story, Shamus O'Thames, being Errol Flynn's thinly disguised "alter ego". I didn't know that Flynn had written anything other than his 1960 autobiography so I looked up the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature and discovered that he had written a regular New Guinea column for the Bulletin and a travel book, "Beam Ends" (1937).]
It seemed the Territory attracted three types of people: missionaries, moneymakers, and misfits. Which category would I fit?

Eventually the ship docked at Piraeus in Greece where Noel saw me off at the railway station as I was bound for Hamburg in Germany. I had been promised a job there and my thin wallet was in urgent need of some fattening-up! There was no time or money left for sightseeing as I boarded the train on a wintry Athens morning to spent several days transiting through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Austria before reaching Germany.

I spent the next few miserable winter months in Hamburg and then in Frankfurt before finding a way out again: I got a job in southern Africa which, as I saw it, was almost halfway back to where I eventually wanted to go: New Guinea. That is not to say that my career was a planned one. Although I have not been an out-and-out drifter, circumstance usually played a larger role than choice in what I did with my life - or perhaps I should say what life did to me (but that's probably true of most people's lives).

With no money in my pocket, I had to rely on employers to get me back to the other side of the world. My destination was South West Africa, or Namibia as it is called now, which stretches north from South Africa's Orange River along 1280 kilometres of the loneliest, yet in parts most hauntingly beautiful coastlines touched by the Atlantic Ocean. Lüderitz The Namib desert, whose desolate sands have trapped and killed thousands of men and women of every race as they sought to unlock its secrets or merely to survive, runs right to the sea. The local Ovambo people call Namibia "the land God made in anger" and as the sun mercilessly bakes deserts, plains and mountains alike, it is a close cousin to hell. I spent some time in Lüderitz where I worked as a book-keeper for Metje & Ziegler Ltd. to earn the necessary money for a passage from Cape Town back to Australia where the ANZ Bank re-employed me immediately.

But the die was cast and I knew I would find a way to get to the Territory. From Noel, with whom I had stayed in contact during all this time, I had heard about PIM, the Pacific Island Monthly which was read by one and all in the Territory. I bought a copy and decided to place in it a tiny classified ad which from memory ran something like this: "Young Accountant (still studying) seeks position in the Islands." The response was hardly overwhelming but the two letters I did receive were enough. One was from a Tom Hepworth of Pigeon Island Traders in the Outer Reef Islands in the then British Solomon Islands Protectorate who described to me in glowing terms the leisurely life on a small atoll in one of the remotest part of the South Pacific. It all sounded terribly tempting but his closing remarks that "of course, we couldn't pay you much at all..." stopped that particular day-dream as I had to think of my future and what future was there after several years spent on a tiny island away from anywhere and with no money in my pocket? (As it happened, I made contact with the Hepworths again almost 35 years later (but thereby hangs yet another tale.)

The other letter was from a Mr. Barry Weir, resident manager of the firm of chartered accountants Hancock, Woodward & Neill in Rabaul on the island of New Britain in the Territory of Papua & New Guinea who, subject to a satisfactory interview with their representative in Australia, offered me the position of audit clerk. That was it!!! I passed muster at the interview and in the dying days of the year 1969 I left Australia for New Guinea. I was on my way!!!

Rabaul was everything I had expected of the Territory: it was a small community settled around picturesque Simpson Harbour. The climate was tropical with blazing sunshine and regular tropical downpours, the vegetation strange and exotic, and the social life a complete change from anything I had ever experienced before! Rabaul Harbour And to top it all, I loved the work which offered challenges only available in a small setting such as Rabaul where expatriate labour was at a premium. The firm was small: the resident manager, his wife as secretary, and two accountants (both still studying) plus myself. One of the accountants was a real character who was destined never to leave the Territory. For him the old aphorism came true that "if you spend more than five years in New Guinea you were done for, you'd never be able to get out, your energy would be gone, and you'd rot there like an aged palm." He and an accountant from another chartered firm and myself shared a company house (which was really an old Chinese tradestore) in Vulcan Street and a 'hausboi' who answered to the name of Getup. "Getup!!!" "Yes, masta!"

Each of us took a turn in doing the weekly shopping. I always dreaded when it was their turn as they merely bought a leg of lamb and spent the rest of the kitty to stock up on beer! We spent Saturday nights at the Palm Theatre sprawled in our banana chairs with an esky full of stubbies beside us. The others rarely spent a night at home; their nocturnal activities ranged from the Ambonese Club to the Ralum Club to the RSL. When they were well into their beers, mosquitoes would bite them and then fly straight into the wall! Then, next morning, they were like snails on Valium. How they managed to stay awake during office hours has always been a mystery to me!

Playing chess with Noel on Wewak's black-sand beach Tilly Lamp Easter 1970 gave me the chance to visit my old mate Noel Butler when the Rabaul tennis club chartered a DC3 to fly to Wewak for some sort of tournament. I got a seat aboard and visited Noel who lived on his own little estate along the Hawain River some ten miles outside Wewak. It was a wonderful place! Tilly lamps at night and a shower gravity-fed from a rooftop holding tank which was refilled by the 'haus boi' with a handpump. A native village was just down the road and far into the night small bands of villagers would pass the house strumming their ukeleles. An alcoholic beachcomber by the name of McKenzie (who was said to be an excellent carpenter on the few occasions when he was off the grog) lived even farther out than Noel. He had no transport which however did not stop him from walking all the way into Wewak to quench his ever-present thirst at the Sepik Club. On his return late at night he would stagger in to Noel's for a few more noggins to propel him on his way. In later years some friendly people in town fixed him up with a donkey which used to carry him home safely. The Territory was full of characters like McKenzie.

Noel's house at Mt Perry Noel returned to Australia in the late 70s but 'homesickness' for his spiritual home New Guinea meant that he never settled successfully anywhere else. He moved from Bundaberg to Caboolture (1980) to Innisfail to Mt Perry (1985) to Childers (1990) where he passed away in 1995. During all those years we remained good friends and exchanged a constant stream of letters and visited each other on several occasions. His passing-away not only broke my last link with New Guinea but also meant the loss of a very dear friend who belonged to that generation of Australians who took pride in their self-reliance and fortitude in the face of hardship. Whenever our talks turned to a problem one of us had experienced in the course of our quarter-of-a-century-long friendship, he simply remarked, "A philosopher I ain't" and got on with the nearest job to hand. Noel's house in Childers I met Noel again when Noel (on right) in 1990 at Childers I returned to Australia in 1985 and went up to Mt Perry on my way from Townsville to Sydney. Noel had just finished building himself a small but comfortable house on a 5-acre block on the edge of the township. I stayed over for a few days; later, when my settling into the hurly-burly of Sydney left me wondering if I had done the right thing, Noel invited me to join him at Mt Perry which, as he put it, would give him a "new lease of life". I didn't recognise it for the cri de cœr it was and it wasn't until 1990 that I visited Noel again just after he had moved to Childers where he had again built a small house on the edge of town. His passing-away in 1995 came as quite a shock to me: until we get old ourselves we tend to regard death as something that happens to other people. The most persuasive reminder that none of us is exempt comes when it happens to a coeval.

Rest in Peace, Noel. I know you would have wanted me to read this poem at your funeral:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

During my time in Rabaul, advertisements began to appear in the local POST-COURIER for the Bougainville Copper Project. I applied to the project's construction managers Bechtel Corporation for the advertised position of Senior Contract Auditor and was invited by the Project Administration Manager Sid Lhotka to attend an interview at Panguna. It was a case of vini,vidi,vici and within a month I was flying back to Bougainville to start work with Bechtel (but thereby hangs yet another tale.)

I loved contract auditing! It was so much more exciting than verifying some figures on a balance sheet. It was pitting one's brains against the contractor's who was hell-bent on squeezing the last dollar out of each contractual clause and interpreting it to his best advantage. Nothing was ever quite the way it seemed; everything was open to interpretation! I had read Rudyard Kipling's story "The Elephant's Child" in "Just So Stories" and one of his poems had become an axiom in my work (many years later I asked a calligrapher to put it on a piece of vellum and the frame has hung above my desk in many offices around the world):

I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are
What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.

After an interlude in Honiara, the capital of the then Protectorate of the British Solomon Islands, where, under the curious title of "Secretary", I worked as accountant and administration manager for the British Solomon Islands Electricity Authority, I returned to Bougainville and then moved on to Port Moresby. There, on November 1, 1973, AIR NIUGINI commenced operations as the national airline of Papua New Guinea, taking over the internal services of Ansett Airlines of Papua New Guinea and TAA, and AIR NIUGINI's first general manager, Ralph Conley, hired me in 1974 to set up the airline's internal audit department, located at ANG House on a hill overlooking the city of Port Moresby and its harbour.

Papua New Guinea in those pre-Independence days was full of expatriates who under the immigration law had to be in possession of an open return air ticket at all times. Those tickets had been bought from AIR NIUGINI and in most cases would not be used for several years. AIR NIUGINI, being a member of IATA, also sold tickets to any destination in the world without flying to any overseas port other than Cairns and Honiara. They collected the money and only had to part with it after the overseas airlines had presented them with the used ticket coupon through what is known as the Interline Billing System which in those pre-computer days could take months. In the meantime, AIR NIUGINI "sat" on all that money from open return tickets and uncollected overseas fares and earned good interest on it! A very good business indeed! But imagine my surprise when during an audit I discovered that AIR NIUGINI's accountants at Six-Mile were also routinely including all that unearned money as INCOME in their current Profit & Loss Statement! My report caused quite a flurry (and a few red faces) in the accounts department!

AIR NIUGINI had absorbed many of the previous staff from Ansett and TAA and there were many internal conflicts. One day, for example, an ex-Ansett flight attendant was assigned to an ex-TAA F27 and obstinately refused to open the door after a landing at Wewak. According to the regulations of her previous company, this was the responsibility of the traffic officer on board. The traffic officer, an ex-TAA man, had been trained differently and, in any case, had other things to do. He refused to open the door. The argument pretty well covered the subject of responsibility and competence. Fortunately, it remained at the verbal level, but it is reported to have lasted more than 15 minutes while the passengers roasted in the cabin under the sizzling sun.

The 'politics' and 'jockeying' for positions permeated most departments, including finance and administration, and internal auditing under those circumstances was not a pleasant task. I left before I could explore the deepest depths of the human character and just after Christmas 1974 (which I spent on a beach in Lae, blissfully unaware that Cyclone Tracy had just wiped out Darwin) flew out to Rangoon in Burma to take up the position of Chief Accountant with the French oil company TOTAL who had begun drilling for oil in the Arakan Sea. I stopped over in Hong Kong where the company had booked me into the swank PENINSULA Hotel who met me at the airport with a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. I hadn't expected this nor had they expected to meet a young chap straight out of New Guinea, in shorts and tee-shirt, carrying a swag over his shoulder.

My favourite poem

to be continued ... SOON!

My C.V.