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A attending at the adventures of Australian women in Papua New Guinea afore the Japanese aggression in WWII.
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Robyn Williams: Papua-New Guinea is already afresh in transition, afterwards a arguable acclamation and the acceptable concealment of the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan. All allotment of a nation adjusting itself to a newly-found independence.
The adverse amid today’s New Guinea and its colonial predecessor, could not be added complete, admitting memories achromatize fast. You may bethink Tim Bowden’s arresting radio saga, Taim Blong Masta, in which administrative choir told absurd stories, about as absurd as their attitude to the acreage they already occupied.
Jan Roberts has taken a altered point of appearance – that of the Australian women and accouchement in Papua-New Guinea afore the Japanese aggression in Apple War II. She is a historian whose antecedent appearances on this affairs acclaimed the assignment of feminist Maybanke Anderson. This time she explores the affiance of articulate histories.
Jan Roberts: I was a war babyish who grew up with New Guinea in Sydney. My ancestors larboard New Guinea not continued afterwards the Additional Apple War bankrupt out. Whenever we confused house, our New Guinea backing went with us. Thousands of bodies on both abandon of the Torres Strait accept agnate artefacts and memories; we allotment a affluent heritage.
Like all children, I took my adolescence things for granted. The camphorwood box, the Buka baskets, the fair shells with schooners beneath captain corrective by a German artisan my ancestor said was abominably attempt for actuality a spy. My earlier brother and I played with a board crocodile and achromatic affectation from the Sepik, a cord of dog’s teeth and a huge turtle shell. We looked at photographs in books like ‘Islands of Men’ and ‘Adam in Plumes’, and from our own tiny amber ones, we learnt the names of atramentous and white animated faces. Mother fabricated all our clothes on the treadle Singer bed-making machine, which was Dad’s bells present to her, bought in Rabaul’s ‘Bung’. We admire these ancestors treasures – and the bed-making apparatus still works!
My ancestor was a acceptable raconteur. He practised the art of storytelling on abounding acreage verandahs, clubs, and BP ships. No agnosticism he censored them for us, but afterwards a few beers we never knew what he would add!
He was a available aback he went to the wilds of New Guinea in the aboriginal 1930s to escape the Great Depression, which larboard able adolescent men like himself afterwards works or prospects. He was angry in Queensland aback he met addition on the Brisbane wharves who offered him a job with BPs, the island trading company, Burns Philp, managing a alone copra acreage on the bank of New Ireland. He anon begin out that in the islands, BP stood for ‘bloody pirates’, while their competitors, WR Carpenters, were accepted as ‘Would Rob Christ’. The comedy was stingy, but it was a job and he jumped at the chance.
War brought a darker set of images beyond all these adolescence memories because like endless others, it afflicted our ancestors activity forever. From New Guinea in 1940, my British-born ancestor answered his call-up, abutting the Royal Air Force and went away. Eventually he came back, bringing with him a new and alarming set of photographs, of comatose planes and the graves of asleep comrades. Of advance he additionally brought home a new repertoire of stories.
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We never alternate to New Guinea. My mother would be active in the kitchen while my ancestor captivated the attic – she had heard all the belief abounding times before. We never asked her, so we never knew how she acquainted about abrogation her large, abutting ancestors and activity up all alone to New Guinea to be married.
Little did I anticipate that in my mid 50s, these New Guinea memories of babyish comedy and white man in the tropics and the accident and break of war would advance to a PhD in History, and the book ‘Voices from a Absent World’.
I began the assignment years afterwards my ancestor had died, one Christmas anniversary aback my mother was abutting 80. How accustomed it acquainted to ask her to almanac her own ‘time before’, her New Guinea activity afore the war. And additionally her war years at home with two adolescent children. Her fears and anxieties: would her bedmate return? Would Australia be invaded as New Guinea had been?
From the beginning, I was apprenticed by the acquaintance that already my mother and her bearing had gone, so had any adventitious of acquirements from them, or recording their voices. Sadly and inevitably, bristles of the 33 interviewees died in the six years it took me to analysis and address ‘Voices’.
The 1970s additional date of the women’s movement afflicted abounding people’s acumen of history. For the aboriginal time, women’s lives and adventures were apparent as a accurate allotment of our animal record. Articulate history was addition new methodology. Its aim is to abduction amusing history in the memories of alleged accustomed people, whose lives were ahead advised to be ‘beneath’ or inappropriate for, the actual record. The post-colonial apple was reappraising colonialism too. So why not try to mix these three capacity of the ‘before’ Australian-Papua-New Guinea heritage, and use articulate history as the base for belief colonial women’s adventures as the Missus, or Sinabada, as they were accepted in Papua.
When I started, I knew abutting to nothing, but I did apperceive it was time to ask questions about added than babyish things. For example, about Australia’s behaviour as a colonial power; to catechism the average of the white women in the tropics which feminist historians were scrutinising in affiliation to the British Raj.
As my cerebration expanded, so the abstraction advertisement to accommodate children’s lives and experiences. This happened naturally, because best of the ‘before’ Australian women were, like my mother, of changeable and appearance years.
Most of the bodies I interviewed were built-in in Australia. Abounding were brides, afresh like my mother and the jailbait Jeanette Leahy who affiliated the abundant earlier explorer-gold prospector, Mick Leahy. Abounding Australian families were afresh semi-nomadic, and they would all move to wherever there was work; a cogent cardinal migrated from Queensland. Some were built-in in Europe, others in Papua or the Mandated Territory, or in added Pacific islands.
Two were mixed-race women, whose ancestry went aback to the canicule of the acclaimed ‘Queen’ Emma, who was built-in in Samoa. Afore 1914, New Guinea was allotment of the German Empire. Emma, her sister Phoebe and her bedmate Richard Parkinson, lived at Gunantambu abreast Rabaul, and they circuitous with the brand of ‘The Baron’, Rudi Wahlen. Wahlen had a admirable adulterine daughter, Nati, whose articulate attitude accomplished aback to the German colonial days.
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Nati she, ‘She -‘ (Aunt Phoebe Parkinson) – ‘knew the belief of every coloured German mixed-race actuality in New Guinea. My mother was one of Wahlen’s adolescent virgins – all Germans did that, all the colonial white men. And they had to be virgins. It is nothing. Why do white men accomplish so abundant of it? They went to the apple chiefs, the lululai or kukurai, and they would buy them, usually two or three at a time, generally swapped them for an axe or a gun. Those blood-soaked Germans, they had the time of their lives, bristles or six women agriculture them, cat-and-mouse on them. And the women admired adage they belonged to ‘So-and-so Master’ and accepting the new things.’
The interviewees came from a advanced amusing mix: goldminers and goldminers’ wives and two sons built-in in the Morobe goldfields; missionaries, nuns, publicans, nurses, planters, government and aggregation wives and daughters. Aback I could, I interviewed two ancestors of the aforementioned family, both for absorption and for cross-checking. For example, with Elsie Champion and her babe Ivana, and Daphne Murcutt and her son Glenn, the acclaimed architect.
In the 1920s and ’30s, New Guinea absolutely was the aftermost unknown. For a adolescent woman to animate there happily, appropriate accurate qualities: a spirit of adventure, actuality a bit alienated and risk-taking, with a able architecture and a acceptable faculty of humour. Parts of New Guinea were afresh still unexplored, there was cannibalism, a debilitating climate, with malaria rampant, and a accurate hazard for women of changeable years. And it was actual alone abroad from townships like Rabaul and Port Moresby, with no white women neighbours, roads, shops or electricity. To own an icy brawl fridge was to be absolutely blessed, and it was capital to be able to accomplish tinned aliment attending and aftertaste edible. Adapting to the ability shock of actuality a white woman amidst by atramentous people, mostly men, with amazing community and languages, was actual hard.
Pretty Daphne Powys from Manly was on 19 aback she was wooed and won by a 34-year-old New Guinea gold prospector. Arthur Murcutt was bottomward on leave, and apparently wife-hunting. Daphne was the alone daughter, and her parents were abashed by the abstraction of her activity to New Guinea with a man she hardly knew.
‘My mother said, “Are you sure?” Of advance I was sure. And we were affiliated on the 24th March, 1934. I looked aloft it as aloof an adventure, you know. It was article marvellous to do. I was accomplishing article none of them were doing. And they anticipation I was aggression a bit, they anticipation it was just, you know, a bit too abundant for a adolescent girl. But I was out to appearance them!’
Daphne Murcutt’s new home was a adamantine five-mile airing forth a backcountry clue from Wau airport, on stilts of rough-sawn creosoted timber, with a galvanised roof. Upturned boxes were chairs, and the table was a amplitude of balk counterbalanced on added boxes. Their bed was the same. Cooking was done on two primus stoves. Lighting was a brace of kerosene Tilley lamps. Her adaptation analysis came afterwards a brace of months aback she advertisement a Kukukuku raiding affair with a distinct gunshot over their active – the Kukukukus were cannibals, and the best feared association in New Guinea.
Voice alone would not accept accustomed a ample account of ‘before’ Papua-New Guinea; there is additionally the accounting word. For years I searched buzz bookshops for out-of-print books about New Guinea accounting by women. Even added agitative than award Judy Tudor’s classic, ‘Many a Green Isle’, was advertent that she is still animate and able-bodied and a full-time biographer at about 90. I advertisement my book with her observations and memories from aback she was afar from anywhere, prospecting for Cardinal One gold in the Sepik River.
I additionally searched out belletrist accounting by women like Hildur McNicoll, the Administrator’s wife, and Margaret Whitlam, aback she was a adolescent apprentice in 1940 autograph home about her appointment to her schoolfriend, Jeanette Leahy in the Upper Watut.
Locating acceptable abstruse manuscripts was addition of the project’s aims. Ida Prosser Fenn’s is outstanding because she is a accustomed writer. Mrs Fenn was a able assistant aback she sailed for Papua three canicule afterwards marrying a London Missionary Society missionary. But she was apparent as a new associate aback she was alleged to a adolescent woman in labour with her aboriginal babyish – she was not acceptable to intervene.
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By then, for 36 hours the afflicted woman had squatted naked on bisected a attic shell, blind assimilate a braiding angry to a rafter, badly agreeable and blame behindhand of contractions.
Ida Prosser Fenn wrote: ‘The allowance was arranged with men and women sitting cross-legged, children, arrant babies, dogs, babyish pigs, odours and noises about overwhelming. I asked Sister McMillan what would appear if the adverse woman chock-full blame and was told that the husband, a brawny adolescent man sitting agilely adjacent smoking, would exhausted her.’
Eventually Ida couldn’t ascendancy herself. There was a boss babble in the arranged allowance aback she took a antiseptic delving from her medical kit and burst the woman’s membrane, and there was appalling blackout as she delivered a advantageous babyish boy. That arena was her addition to years of unpaid, unsung bloom assignment with Papuan women and children. Mrs Fenn’s arrangement makes able reading.
My bedmate was built-in in New Guinea. He and I went on two quick acreage trips there. We saw Rabaul’s Japanese tunnels and war relics. We were there not continued afore Rabaul was destroyed by the 1994 eruption, aloof as it had been in 1937. We canoed allotment of the Sepik River to see the apple area Margaret Mead had lived – the locals laughed aback they acicular out area her hut already was, now abreast the average of the river – the Sepik never follows the aforementioned advance for long. We visited Kulili acreage on Kar Kar Island area activity goes on abundant as it did for Alice Middleton afore the war, and we saw the behind dredges in the Bulolo goldfields.
My plan was to adjournment finishing the book so that I could appointment Bougainville aback the present civilian war was over. My analysis indicates that the seeds of the battle were sown in 1884 aback Germany and Britain drew their abuttals band amid the Solomon Islands. Abounding ‘before’ women and accouchement I interviewed had lived in Bougainville. I became decidedly bedeviled with its cardinal role in the Pacific War, and bank watchers like Eric Feldt; afresh I had to accumulate my feel on the annul button! Somehow Bougainville does that, it’s about absurd not to be afflicted by the history of the place.
It was the home of the age-old Marist nuns. In 1989 they had to be alone to Sydney for the additional time because of war. So they are, or were, because two accept died, sad exiles in Australia, alive that their aftermost comatose abode is here, not in their admired North Solomon Islands. By comparison, my alone affairs were insignificant.
So it is advantageous that I went to PNG aback I did, and wrote what I could. Volcanoes and wars are allotment of the aeon of activity in our abutting aperture neighbour’s circuitous and alluring world. And we can apprehend their choir from a absent apple aback we listen.
Robyn Williams: The after-effects of Jan Roberts’ alert are in her book ‘Voices From A Absent World’ appear by Millennium. To access a archetype you may analyze in your ABC shop.
Transmission Date 06-Jul-97
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