Up the garden path.

The internet habits of “googling” and hypertext clicking (link-hopping?) are probably changing many of the ways which we look for information, read text, digest data and words, and so on. This isn’t really the time and place to dwell on these matters which frankly others are doing better than me anyway. But, thanks to WordPress, I get a little list of search terms that led people to this site. Not sure if they found what they were after, or whether they were happy to have themselves led up the garden path in a virtual sense. Virtual seekers, seek on, and good luck to you.

Here are some of the terms that seem to have brought people to this humble blog. Some I offer just for expanatory purposes, so that if the same search leads someone here then they may get the answer. Some are included because they’re just odd. Here we go:

Tok pisin olgeta: “olgeta” means “everything”. Hence the name of this blog – “olgeta longlong”, i.e. “everything’s crazy” or “everything’s insane”.

How did Mt. Tavurvur get its name?: I dunno, but I daresay it’s a Tolai name. Sounds impressive though doesn’t it? Say TAR-VUR-VUR in a sonorous voice, like James Earl Jones would after he’s swallowed a nice cup of gravel. I think if you pronounce it like that, it means “goddamn awesome” or “do not fuck with my shit”.

Big supermarket in PNG: As I’ve written before on this blog, the most popular expat supermarket in Moresby is the aptly named Foodworld. An entire WORLD of FOOD. Makes the mind spin. There’s also a place by the harbour still often referred to as Anderson’s, although it was sold to the SVS Group a while before we got to Moresby. The supermarket formerly known as Anderson’s now smells putrid, and old timers are sometimes heard moaning things like “bloody Malaysians turned the place into a bloody trade store”. There is also a whopping new supermarket called Vision City, which houses one of Moresby’s three RH Hypermarts. Vision City will also make your mind spin, due to the fresh aroma of cheap imported plastic toys.

Meri Buka porn: As far as I know this blog does not feature pornography featuring women from Bougainville. All the best with that though… hmmm.

Forget in tok pisin: Sori, mi lus tingting!!!! Ridim dictonary pastaim.

Brave old world.

Things certainly work differently down here. Propriety is different, not so much snobby but more stylish. The classic Yacht Club outfit sported by Moresby upper crust will not do in Sydney. Where are the floral shirts? The stripes and saggy breast pockets? At least sandals and thongs are still OK, if somewhat less ragged and dusty. I find myself slipping into the old uniforms with surprising ease – new Bonds t-shirts are a comfort after not being able to wear them much, thanks to that swift Moresby slickness that comes up every time you step into the heat.

An iPhone in Sydney is part of the kit. Requisite. An iPhone in Moresby is a fatuous gesture, a joke, a trinket good for being thieved and not much else. Selecting a good kalamata olive leaves one boggled for choice. In Moresby, it is one kind or maybe the other and by God you’re happy to have it despite the clearly indulgent price. Bicycles and after-hours strolls. The ability to get snobbish over instant coffee and wallow in internet that loads like a breeze. Drinking beer with names like “Fat Yak” and in styles like “amber ale”, with the words “south” and “pacific” nowhere to be seen on the label.

On beer – a reunion BBQ in Brisbane by the river sees a pair of mates show up with the cheapest beer they could find in the bottle-o: a six pack of nothing less than the mighty SP brown. I made eyes at the free bottle opener that came with it, and am thankful for their generous gesture – nowhere in Moresby did I see one for sale. The memorabilia and the memories keep coming, like little shockwaves one month on, elegiac ripples of sorts (for isn’t nostalgia a kind of mourning in its own way?). I hope they keep coming, I really do.

Memory is tricky and motivation is fickle. I am no longer in PNG but Kit and I have aspirations to return – just not quite yet. In the meantime I hope to use this nether-space as a repository for the moments, images and stories that the last two-and-a-bit years have given me. Subject of course to the two factors mentioned above. There’s enough to keep this thing going a little while longer in any case. Until then – Manda. Apa kanda. Catch. Luuukkiiiiiiimm yuuuu.

PNG news clippings link.

This website made me laugh and I hope it continues to be updated. Ominously it was last updated on December 7th 2010, but stranger resurrections in the blogosphere have happened before – witness this very blog’s revival. Enjoy.


At about twenty past four in the morning I had what is called a “blowout”. As far as I know a blowout is when an item of footwear – usually a thong, but sometimes a shoe or in this case a sandal – suffers fatal damage to a strap or some other bit that is essential if you need the piece of footwear to remain on one’s feet. The timing was almost perfect. The sandals had been loyal and enduring for two years, three months and the woozy small hours of one day. If they had lasted another eight hours they would have got me all the way home.

It was December 15th 2010 and we had just finished loading our neighbour’s car for the final run to Jackson’s. We’d made the dead man’s watch trip to the airport a few times to help out needy mates and fellow volunteers. We’d be back in bed by five thirty or so – just enough time to lie awake and ponder the futility of getting back to sleep before the neighbours starting clanging and bellowing. But this time it was our turn to be deposited for the check-in queue and the discombobulated wait for boarding. We were pretty much gone.

Five minutes before the fateful blowout I fulfilled a small promise I had made to myself. I stepped out onto the balcony and took in the view for a final few moments. I recall that the streets were quiet, the stillness exerting a sense of calm and order that was incongruous with the day-to-day reality of the city we were about to leave. The Mobil service station had its big street light on (the letter ‘o’ still suffering from its own blowout suffered months before), the light on our own street illuminated the big pile of dirt scraped off the hillside where the new neighbours had carved out a driveway to their home, but otherwise the darkness of a city with few street lights dominated. The garish daylight that was a constant factor to be endured, avoided and overcome was not present. Nor were the crowds, the hurtling fish-like schools of PMV buses, the insidious dust, or the haphazard hubbub of a city replete with rules rarely obeyed.

I had expected a swelling of confusion or nostalgia or giddy trepidation. Some kind of emotion worthy of the occasion – my final view of the place that had been home, from the balcony we loved, in the humble home that had kept us insulated from the worst and cocooned us inside with the best, the home where (among other things) we decided to get married for God’s sake!

What I actually felt at the time was my belly feels funny. Not because I was nervous or overwhelmed, but because my belly always feels funny when I get up too early. That’s all. Maybe I should have saved one last SP for the moment. I took it all in for a minute or so, then stepped inside and locked the door to the balcony for what I guess will be the last time.

Minutes later I suffered the blowout. I tossed the sandals into the bin like the newest piece of junk they were and got in the waiting car. The security guard did not take too long to wake up and open the gate. The deluge the previous afternoon had created a wild new mound of soil to traverse halfway up the road. Otherwise nothing was unusual. Goodbye Waigani Heights. Dare I say it? Until next time.


The kid came into the supermarket as I did. She wore a burgundy uniform and her hair was cut short , she also had big eyes that lolled back too far when she looked up at me. She walked with exaggerated stride and a dramatic swinging of her arms.

I found myself in the aisle where certain cereals were kept. I was looking for rolled oats, but they only had the usual selection of sugar-coated stuff. I was about to leave when the kid came up the aisle. She offered her hand to shake, and we swapped names. As she spoke I saw almost all of her teeth were rotted down nearly to the gums. Each was a hideous decayed hunk. I was revolted.

It was hard to hear what she was saying, so I asked her to speak again. When I go to my house, I will pray for you she said. I felt disconcerted, but also touched. You are a good kid I said, hoping that would be the end of things. I believe in the Lord Jesus and I believe he made me the way I am. She spoke with innocent conviction, the kind that would be frightening if expressed by an adult but was perfectly normal for a kid. I said that was nice and that it was nice to meet her, then I walked off. I could not banish the image of the wrecked carnage of her teeth. The persistent image made me queasy until I got outside.


I came to the office and shook hands with the security guard like I always did. He was a large, bellicose man with a habit of yelling and following people around when they don’t want to be followed, making small talk and unfunny jokes. He usually wore loud tropical shirts and a hat that said I LOVE JESUS on it. During the day he would often come inside to find the owners of particular cars that needed to be moved out of the way. His voice would reverberate up the stairwell into the office, booming and incongruous and unwelcome.

This particular morning (a Monday) he was telling me about his weekend. He had gone to Church on Sunday, and worked Saturday. Every week, he said, he worked Monday to Saturday (although from his frequent absences one could surmise his definition of attending to duty was somewhat looser than usual). On Sunday he always went to church. I was pushing at the door, about the get inside to avoid the inevitable question – but not fast enough.

“Do you go to church?” he asked expectantly. I have fended off these questions before. The usual trick is to say one’s church – say, the Evangelical Apostle’s Church of the Redeeming Son of the Spirit of the Revelation of Man in the Promise of the Holy Scripture and Word of the Good Saviour – can only be found in Australia, and that our strict preference is to not risk deviating from the teachings of this church by attending another. But I was not in the mood this morning.

“No. I don’t” I replied bluntly, edging open the door. I felt the thick meaty hand against my arm.

“But – you must. You must.”

“No, I must not.”

“Can I tell you something?”

“I have the feeling I would prefer not.”

“It is important. Can I say it to you?”

Sigh. “Alright.”

“He gave you your wisdom, your mind and your health, he…”

“OK, stop, I knew I did not want to hear this.”

“He died for you, to save you.”

“I am sorry, but that is only what you believe. I believe people can only save themselves. I don’t believe anyone but humanity can do anything to help us. I am walking away now.” Which I did.

We did not speak much after that, except he did offer a “God bless you” when we said goodbye a few weeks later. But I cursed his very silhouette, and fumed at the sound of his voice whenever it roared in the stairwell. I became twisted with contempt.

Not long afterwards I discovered that the same man had fought with his colleagues over who deserved the best slices of meat – at a staff Christmas function.


We were more or less expected to attend, because our neighbour was involved and his excitement and eagerness for us to be there was palpable. So we went. The church was just at the end of the road anyway, so not far to drive. How long could a church play go for? Even with a hefty dollop of moralising, surely no more than an hour, or ninety minutes at the most.

For starters, this is PNG, and when something is supposed to start at 7pm it means it won’t start until 8. We sat threw a few singing groups and youth bands, presided over by a chubby young Australian minister. I went outside in the break to see if any more popcorn was for sale. There wasn’t. The drama started almost an hour and a half late.

The play was long and indeed pointed in its message. Young men dedicated to crime threw off their evil-looking wrap-around sunglasses and proclaimed they had seen a new truth. Families on the verge of collapse came together over prayer and renewal of faith. And a young man, killed in a car accident with his friends, realises too late that while his friends (bathed in sweet white light) have made the right choice in life, he had failed to do so. He suffered – for a good thirty minutes, live on stage – in the raging hellfires. The dark interior of the large church was wracked with the wails and squeals of his infernal punishment. Huge flames were projected onto the backdrop, and red lights circled the stage. Perhaps some felt fear and awe at this spectacle, but I felt outrage and something bordering on hate. The acted-out ordeal playing out before me was a real one for me. I squirmed as the brutal message of fear and retribution bludgeoned the people assembled.

Excluding the half-time intermission between the two acts, the drama went for more than two hours, followed by a fifteen minute sermon by another local pastor. Apparently our neighbour sought us out after the show to see if we had enjoyed the performance, but I had rushed to the car as soon as the moment permitted when the sermon was done. I was glad I had not seen him. He is a good man, a decent neighbour and a friend. But I could not have looked him in the eyes that night for fear of the disgust in my own.

Odd things happen at supermarkets too.

Every weekend the ritual is much the same: drive (partially or fully) hung over through the aggravated heat to the bizarre oasis called Boroko Foodworld at Gordons, buy a newspaper and an orchy, read as much of Messrs. Kelly, Shanahan, Pearson and Adams before getting more woozy, and try not to think about mushrooms. Mushrooms are uncommon – in Kokopo we saw a strange but tasty type of local fungus that is apparently harvested from trees, otherwise they come cheaply in cans (not good) or in brown paper bags from the imported food aisle at Foodworld at a ridiculous cost. So we make do with baked beans, just as we make do with The Weekend Australian in the absence of much else. Yes, life is extraordinarily hard.

Being the haven of expatriates city-wide (more so on Saturday with its influx of Weekend newspapers from the south), Foodworld is a strange simulacrum of a place – a real simulation of a real supermarket from more indulgent, opulent places, shelves gleaming with imported items like olives and quality brooms and twenty types of bloody tinned corn. Meanwhile most people outside earn in a week what we pay for a bottle of olive oil, and the cost of the special newspapers we need to survive would be an outlandish sum for most. Yet like many of Port Moresby’s simulacrums it has an atmosphere redolent of the past forgotten by most, when socks were always pulled up high and a white ham and cheese sandwich with a milkshake was the best you could expect for lunch and cars did not clog the streets let alone the entrance to the supermarket (and as for the colour of the people who drive them, well…).

Inside is cool and different to the dusty hardship of the world outside, even though the regular absentees on the shelves (no Vita Weets? Check in six weeks) allow the psychological distance between here and outside to leak though the gaps on shelves – before the gaps are in turn plugged up by the latest in stupid and unnecessary canned American surplus items… what the hell is hominy, anyone?!?)

When you drive in you traverse a gauntlet of local people selling stuff. For the sellers it’s a case of going where the money is. Tables fashioned as crocodiles and statues of men with masks and spears. If you are seen giving a passing glance to something the seller will start his pitch – boss, fifty kina – and you have to retreat behind a layer of indifference and wait for the traffic to inch onward. A regular group set up under the shade of the tree to sell flowers and plants, and often men from Central Province have crabs for sale, their claws bound and squirming uncomfortably on a sheet of cardboard, every so often being squirted with water to prevent them being cooked alive under the sun. When you drive past they proclaim their wares, except their accent warps the word so they sustain a funny chant of “crebs crebs crebs crebs” as you ease past. I would buy some, but I honestly have no idea what to do with a live crab. One day I saw men selling gigantic lobsters and on one of our first days here over two years ago a grinning man was offering a baby wallaby to passers-by (again in both cases I would no idea what to do with these creatures). The other day a man was selling a baby crocodile. “Nice crocodile” he said as we drove past. “I can see it’s a nice crocodile” I snapped as we went past, “and you shouldn’t be selling that shit.” I was scolded for my outburst and was told it was indeed time for me to get outta Moresby.

Once a man saw we were admiring an item of his – I can’t even recall what it was, which makes the episode even more tragic, was it a table or an ebony bowl or a carved mask? – and tried the usual pitch. It was a big thing, whatever it was, and I think he wanted about five hundred kina. The usual “no thanks” and air of disinterest was met with an offer for about fifty kina discount. We continued driving – but as we were getting out the car the man was there, offering us another fifty kina off. Again the attempt at politely declining before heading inside. The newspaper, the orchy, the muttering at Christopher Pearson, the shopping, and about an hour later we return to the car with a full trolley – to find the man waiting for us again, this time armed with an offer of three hundred kina. Uncomfortable at having to decline again and again, we loaded the car. Two hundred and fifty as we shut the boot. By then we had given up saying no thanks, we don’t really need it. Missus, two hundred as the doors shut. One hundred and fifty as the engine started. Then the last attempt as we drove off – Boss, fifty kina! One tenth of the original price. Our car was moving as he made this final offer, and he was trotting along beside the car, leaning down to address me.

As we drove home I felt perturbed, guilty – and annoyed at feeling guilty. I wondered at the man’s desperation to sell, thinking of what kind of circumstances he faced, how much trouble he was in, or who he had stolen it off (a cruel thought but not an impossible scenario). But there’s always that odd and slightly shamed feeling when faced by the desperate – I merely gave the object a passing glance, I did not say I wanted it or ask how much it was, I did not want to be followed and would rather be left alone, it would be easier for me if you were not here right now, if you and your desperation just went away. Wonderful, wealthy white guilt. At least if you don’t give a fuck you’re not a hypocrite.

Get some mango!

The kid downstairs warbled his little song as he went over to the tree and assessed his best chances of success: Get some mangooo. Get some mangooo. Then, grasping a long stick, he started bashing some of the low-hanging clusters. He was a small kid and the stick was cumbersome and long, so the work was hard (for him) but comical (for an observer, like me). Eventually his efforts were rewarded. Two or three of the plump green fruits plopped to the ground heavily.

That was just over a year ago. The kid’s family have gone back to Wapenamanda and have been replaced by another from Ialibu (say it quickly: Yal-ee-boo). The mango tree is still there, next to the back fence, and is in fruit again. There are two literal mango seasons in Moresby, while a third is deployed by conversationalists to describe a different kind of seasonal occurrence. The first season happens around September or October, but it is just a tease, a week or two of mangoes found at the market but that’s it. The trees save their best until the second season, which we are in the midst of now, where for many weeks leading up to Christmas the fruit is plentiful. The streets are littered by half-ripe, partially-eaten mangoes. Many streets have mango trees by the roadside, belonging to nobody in particular, the fruit waiting for a hungry passer-by. They are often plucked when only partially ripe and eaten that way, firm and tart, or carried home to slowly sweeten and soften. Being a wild strain quite different to the Woolworths or Coles varieties, they are usually green even when ripe, and a bit stringy. A favourite sight is of little kids, barely stable on their own feet, grasping a mango half the size of their own head and shoving the half-peeled fruit messily into their mouths, sucking away as best as they can with their toothless gobs, bare chins and chests slippery with sticky juice and bits of yellow flesh.

The third mango season coincides with the second, and describes the heightened state of “fruitiness” that pervades Port Moresby leading up to Christmas. More money floating around (for air fares home, gifts, Christmas indulgences) means a rise in robberies, car-jackings, and hold-ups. I am told that the more nefarious inhabitants of Six Mile stick nails in mangoes and leave them on the road out to Loloata, to rupture tyres and force vehicles to stop in the settlement, easy prey. The whole town gets a bit more feral and febrile than usual. Mid-December is a good time to get out.

The local mangoes tend to be smaller, and are cheaply bought at markets. There is another strain, far more expensive, but worth the extra kina. These are the long, fat, almost-bean-like mangoes that people call “Rabaul Mangoes” (I don’t think they grow exclusively in East New Britain, perhaps they did originally). While about five times more expensive they render mountains of extra flesh. They are sweet and smooth in the mouth. They are perfect.

You may question why, with a mango tree only a few metres from our door, we bother with mangoes from the market. For one, they are not Rabaul Mangoes. Second, the families downstairs (the current Southern Highlanders and the previous Engans) tend to monopolise the harvest, along with the other kids in the compound. We have become accustomed to seeing barely-chewed mangoes strewn about the place, denied their chance to ripen (and our chance to eat them) by kids using them as balls or missiles in their raucous late afternoon games. When their mothers put them to work they get hold of sticks and bash at the lower-hanging fruit, while the bigger kids clamber up the trunk and shake branches, instigating small heavy showers. The little kids look up at the branches expectantly, trying to pick the fruit that will weaken and fall first, then dart without fear of the plummetting objects to claim them with yells of triumph and excitement.

At times we grumble at the lack of sharing, but the fact is that if we don’t go and claim them the mangoes won’t climb the stairs to us. The Engan kids, however, did work out we liked them and sometimes spared us a few from time to time. They worked out our taste for mangoes because one day I decided to climb the tree and get some of my own. The cleft in the trunk is low and it was easy to scramble up. Once up, I started peering through branches to spot the ripest fruits to clamber up for. My studies of the branches distracted me from what was around my feet – that is, a few dozen big red ants. Bracing myself with one hand I lifted a leg to brush them off, only to have another dozen or so ants crawl over my hand and up my arms. I realised I had ants inside my shirt and in my hair. And they were biting. Although these big red ants are not as aggressive as their smaller cousins, they nonetheless had no love for me invading their tree. I tried steeling myself and making a swift climb to grab a fruit or two, but every foothold and branch had more ants waiting to jump on board. Defeated, I climbed down. The three Engan kids were waiting at the bottom of the tree, the two youngest silent with their massive brown eyes, puzzled at this rare sight. The eldest brushed the ants off my arms, legs and back, then helped me pick the ants from my beard, hair and eyebrows, with the youngsters observing from a small distance, quiet and transfixed. Afterwards it just seemed a lot less bother for everyone for them to bring me a mango every now and then.