By BIGA LEBASI
THESE blokes at the Australian High Commission in Pom are bloody slack, absolutely fair dinkam, really.
Year after year am so bloody festi an’ me and Gras Root Bob Browne from Sikis Mile dey forget to hinvait us to their siks to siks booze-up Aussie parties any mor’!
You see Gras is my blood bro, mites. Strictly on pay dei tasol! Wherever he goes I go along and collect all dee hemtis he drops behind him. Hic.
Gras said to me last Jan 26: “Piss – sst. Let’s gatecrash da all-day all-nite High Com’ barbie an’ me I say: “Nah. No way. If we do and the pisspot MC at da bloody raging pati he found out dey won’t gime bloody Aussie bloody visa to jet to the Cairns Esplanade to collect them very empty VB, 4X cans and empty cheap vino bottles in all da parks an also outside da Gilligans and Obriens discos! Burp!”
Now let’s be serious until opening hour to drink the toast, tomorrow. Ah Monday’s a holiday too? Long, long wikend ya!
I had, last Nov 31, openly told my readers I have six and half years to go before cancer of the prostate gland kills me. Honesty and transparency are my forte now since my urological surgeon Dr Neil Gordon told me after my biopsy in Cairns, Australia, I had developed cancer of the prostate. I took his prediction in my stride, filled to the brim with positive thoughts and attitude and plenty of laughter wherever I go. Was it Shakespeare or Bacon who wrote laughter is the best medicine? I am still not on medication since my op’ in CNS in 2014. Blame God!
I take one day at a time, always trying to live through it to the fullest. I speak my mind on Facebook and to people face to face. When I see a wrong being committed I speak out against it and should I don’t, then I am condoning such sin!
I hereby declare when I die I would like my ashes be sprinkled in Trinity Inlet, a breath away from the Cairns marina or at a liklik isolated beach I had selected just up north past Palm Cove where, since 2014 after my op, I had been frequenting it alone to watch the tide come in and out and the gulls scurrying and diving for winuwinu.
I’d collect ligusi in the white sand and take them in an empty coconut shell to my budget accommodation motel home in Sheridan Street. They make delicious soup. You see, I love Australia, my second home after PNG, very much.
I shall now tell you why: I first heard and saw Australian aboriginals in a Department of Education film being circulated back in Papua in 1952. I was 10 then.
In the color movie it was hot as a tribal leader sat on the sand and told a tale about a family, using leaves representing mum, dad and two kids…dad goes hunting and returns with no kangaroo for dinner so mum gets up and clobbers him. Then in the next scenes the rains came in torrents and the real kids in their birthday suits had great fun swimming, racing and diving as the Todd River overflowed its banks…then they collected wichitty grubs, singed them in a smoldering fire of gum leaves and twigs, and ate them, showing off their beautiful Colgate teeth. Then everyone walked into a Central Australian sunset. Finis!
At 12 my English teacher from England, Halliday Scrymour Beavis enrolled me and seven other kids at Kwato Mission for lessons through the Correspondence School, Blackfriars, Sydney.
In one English paper Halliday read us a poem which fired my love for all things Australian; or shall I say Australiana: people, mammals, fauna and flora and the dramatic topography, the Dead Heart, and the long, long miles of white sandy beaches and the funny Aussie twang: what with listening daily to Poms speak in Cambridge or in Oxford accent at Kwato Mission near Samarai! I would impersonate Taubada Cecil (Seselo) Abel (later Sir Cecil) and mum would laugh her head off.
Kwato was an offshoot of the London Missionary Society (LMS), established in 1891 by Londoner Rev Charles William Abel and his Papuan converts and fellow missionaries like Fred Walker and members of the South Sea Island Mission and LMS Samoans, Lifuans, Rarotongas (Cook islanders), and Niuens.
My paternal grandpa Iosia Lebasi Igewalu, coerced by Abel, left his native Suau island home of asa Didiutuna, Baibaisiga, at age 13 and he became his haus boi at Kwato, then he graduated as the right hand man for him as the mission grew into popularity and fame in the British Protectorate of Papua. This close association grandpa had cemented with Abel and his wife Beatrice and their kids had made us Lebasis victims of jealousy caused by other Papuan families on the island mission, mostly by blood relatives right down to this current day and age!
Halliday had selected a stanza for me to learn and recite with the other classmates each with his or her own selected verse. We read our stanzas in front of the entire class of eight. Mine was my favorite:
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains,
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown LAND for me! (the caps, mine!) By Dorothea McKellar.
I was hooked. I fell leg over heels in love with Dotty; then came Henry Kendal, whose Bellbirds I read and reread until my Sogeri Secondary School teachers then, Kenneth and Alison Petrie during Xmas hols in 1964 in Melbourne took us touring the Dandedong Ranges and the Fern Tree Gully.
There I begged him to stop the hired car. Ken did. I got out and admired at close range the beauty of the environment, friendly biodiversity region of Victoria at first hand, with its fern-matted stream gurgling to whoever wanted to listen and learn..then I heard Kendal’s feathered friends impersonating tinkling bells: how can I ever forget that experience! Wow/ewa ayoi!
“By channels of coolness the echoes are calling/ And down the dim gorges/I hear the creek falling/… The notes of the bellbirds are running and ringing”. Thanks Ken, riep.
And you Catherine, LP and mum Alison, eawedo for having me board with the oldies, bubu Alex and Elizabeth Petrie of 55 Bellete Street, Camberwell, while I learned the ropes of journalism on-the-job on The Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times, a morning broadsheet, The Sporting Globe and The Melbourne Sun, an evening tabloid, now all had sadly gone into the archives of newsprint history of Australia! That was in 1969! Then in 1973 we did a same stint but on the Brisbane Courier Mail in Brisbane instead. There I met my mentors Norm and Joan Fell for the last time. Sad.
At Sogeri Neil Murray, Tom Whelan and David Jones (not related to the famous string of retailers in Australia), our Aussie English teachers had drilled into my growing appetite of love for Australian literature including short stories and more poems and Waltzing Matilda and Digger of Yeronga and The Man from Snowy River and…
Then I read cast off Southern newspapers: SMH, Brisbane Courier Mail, The Melbourne Age, The Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times and The Sun Pictorial and Sporting Globe, The Canberra Times and The Australian, all from my principal Norman William Fell and his family’s Sogeri home where I had been their haus boi for two years.
I read also about Albert Namatjirra, a noted Aboriginal painter of Australiana sceneries of Central Australia: the rugged beauty of crags and boulders and the beautiful gums, some tall and gnarled standing on land that is so ancient it has prehistoric animal footprints for us to wonder in awe at and, each so masterfully honed by the Namatjirra brush and ochre and Western paints … sadly he gradually slid down from memory to the notorious Skid Rowe gutter of abandonment and negligence, on the part of alcoholism. Harold Blair, his wantok, a baritone, if I recall correctly, I admired enormously for I love music too, with classicals now my trending favourite of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi.
Then came Cathy Freeman to add more to the First Generation Aborigine input to make Australia great for every Tom, Dick and Namatjirra and this Samateks freelancer!
With my love for Australia tucked in my sleeping bag and a self-sponsored return Pom-Darwin ticket, I jetted in 1982 to Cairns where I hitched and met street Aussies and shared umpteenth middies and Bundies and Fourex an wild turkey an’ coke an’ we ate heaps of fish ‘n chips and listened to Aussie yarns and Slim Dusty yodeling his way through The Pub with No Bia!
I flew to Darwin, the NT capital and stayed with my former Lae Pommy reporter and flat mate Paul Cowdy, press secretary to Paul Everingham, the then NT Chief Minister and before that he served as one for Chief Minister of PNG Sana Michael Thomas Somare, from Karao village, sleeping at the mighty Shpik wars delta.
Through their diplomatic correct connections, Paul and his partner Wendy ate and sipped quite well, a cut above the rest, in suburban Tiwi, with duty free plonk and fine cheeses and bubbly champagne direct from the Champaign region in France!
For my Xmas present Wendy packed my hamper of takeaway exotic restaurant foods and booze and puddings and mixed nuts and chocolates and she and Paul dropped me off at the Mindil Beach parking lot near the Darwin Marine Museum. It was two days to Christmas. I had opted to join the mobs of black and white down and outs camping on the beach and write about them.
A cyclone warning on TV and radio. Drizzling. A storm approaching with amazing zigzagging lightning scratching the fading skies above me. “Biggs, if you change your mind, givus a call,’’ Wendy’s voice pleaded from the window of their olde faithful VW as Paul tooted their departure tune!
I walked up a bit further and camped in my huge abandoned empty concrete sewerage pipe lying horizontal to the shores of Fanny Bay, with Arafura Sea waves gently sighing to hush me to sleep, but unfortunately with my feet out in the open, for want of space! My passport’s dry and intact in layers of clear plastic…I would later apply for the first time for visa extension. I got it, just to see, hear, taste and can Australia Day, my first ever down there.
My next door mate I called Charlie – coz he walked like Charlie Chaplin, the comedian of the silent movies in Hollywood glamour days so long gone.
Charlie of Darwin was a drug addict, an alcoholic and had suffered shellshock plus in Vietnam in the ‘60s. We became booze buddies and frequented the Victoria pub next door to Woolies in the CBD but only on his dole pay days! He was kind and generous through and through.
I’d wash his fly-covered face while he’s knocked out spread eagled on the sand-strewn with jetsam and flotsam, mostly plastic litter and hermit crabs feasting on his dropped leftover minced pie. Pathetic. I love Mata Theresa’s love for the poor and needy.
One morning, I and my big mouth, offended Charlie. I had preached about world peace and he saw red!
“Tell me mate, what PEACE is? You don’t bloody know what peace is. You hear me, mate? Don’t you dare fu…g talk about ‘Nam and peace!”
He had just had a cocktail of prescription drugs and beer! His wife and kids he’d left behind in Port Headland and he had hitched up to Darwin in search of peace of mind. His.
Charlie later starred in my 12th feature of the 15 I wrote for my Wokabout Deep North series, printed in the Times of PNG in 1983. The Times folded four years later, I think. Quite sad, really.
Ahh, Happy Anniversary my Australians everywhere, including here in PNG AAA (Always Above Australia)! Ooroo mates!
- Biga Lebasi is a freelance journalist.