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Alotau on the mainland, less than 400 kilometres from the capital, Port Moresby, it's quite a civilised place, with conventional supermarkets (where we bought Australian wine); some nice houses and a good deal of traffic.


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The local adults seem a little put out by all the rather large, by comparison, white people flooding off a bigger than usual cruise ship but the children were treating it as a holiday and some wanted to chat. Their English is excellent - they learn it at school in place of or in addition to Tok Pisin (pidgin) the official lingua franca. Papua New Guinea has some 830 living languages plus English and Tok Pisin.

Two boys attached themselves to me. They each had a different home/family (One Tok) language but couldn't tell me what either is called in English.

This more traditional market, on the walk into town, was almost exclusively for betel nut.


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Betel nut sellers


Many people here, as in PNG in general, use betel nut. Betel nut is an addictive stimulant drug that is said to increase stamina and alertness and induce a sense of well-being and euphoria. It also increases salivation, resulting in regular spitting of the red juice that stains the users' mouths and rots their teeth. Users take it with lime (calcium hydroxide) that is sold in bags by the vendors; mustard sticks (daka); and sometimes chewing tobacco.

Alotau is on Milne Bay, made famous by World War 2.


The battle of Milne Bay


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The Milne Bay War Memorial


The battle of Milne Bay is remembered as the first defeat of the Japanese on land during the Pacific War.


In May 1942 a Japanese force was landed up the coast to take the strategic allied air base near here. The highly skilled and battle hardened Japanese, who had recently taken Singapore against insufficiently trained and inexperienced British and Australian troops, were initially successful. It was a fine demonstration that if you have an army it needs to have battle experience - a sword grows rusty in the scabbard.  The 'Peter Principle' (people are promoted until they are found to be incompetent and then there they sit) gets to work, particularly amongst the officers.

But this time, the now more experienced Australian defenders, with some US participation, retained air superiority and were better prepared. Although reinforced, the Japanese lost almost a third of their troops and were forced to withdraw. It was the beginning of the end for them.


The school

We had booked a ship sponsored bus tour that, later in the day, showed us around the town and to a school.

As I previously mentioned, the children meeting the boat were multilingual and apparently literate. So education at least to primary level appears to be good.



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Kwoto Mission School
The dancers were there because we were
There was also a performance by the school choir - introduced by senior students
not unlike a Primary School in Australia


At the Mission School there was the ubiquitous dance group. In addition there were speeches and singing by the school children - at least the ones not playing truant.

I was struck by how self effacing (perhaps timid around Europeans) these kids were compared to Australian kids the same age.


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The bus took us up to this lookout where guides gave a commentary
and some local people dressed up for us tourists - working for tips
I felt sorry for this guy - his heart wasn't in it but the kid was charming


Back down the hill we were dropped off at a larger food (growers) market - more food that the previous one - but again lots of betel nut and bags of lime to go with it


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The growers market
as mentioned earlier there are also several conventional (unremarkable) supermarkets in town



Off to sea again


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All at sea again



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Bridge over the River Kwai



In 1957-58 the film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘ was ground breaking.  It was remarkable for being mainly shot on location (in Ceylon not Thailand) rather than in a studio and for involving the construction and demolition of a real, fully functioning rail bridge.   It's still regarded by many as one of the finest movies ever made. 

One of the things a tourist to Bangkok is encouraged to do is to take a day trip to the actual bridge.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Merry Christmas




2020 was a terrible year. Last Christmas I wished you a better 2021. But, alas, it was not all beer and skittles.

On the bright side, there were no bushfires and the floods were less damaging. The drought has certainly broken. The bush is recovering well.

But in July Covid-19 reasserted itself and cases grew rapidly so the death-rate also began to rise steeply in NSW. 

A total 641 are now dead due to Covid-19 (to date). Yet, as NSW has a population 8.2 million, this still translates to one of the lowest Covid-related death rates in the world.

Victoria has been slightly worse hit with 1,436 deaths to date. Still exceptionally low by world standards. And the smaller states have remained largely Covid-free. Thus 2,072 dead in eighteen months, due to Covid-19, in Australia, has added negligibly to the expected annual death-rate from all causes (around 165,000 a year). Unless things go horribly wrong next year, the historical impact of Covid-19 will be mainly economic.

That economic impact, due to border closures, both overseas and interstate, and to the cost of assistance to businesses and individuals has been significant. While our children's generation learnt to work from home and the State kept essential services and construction running safely, tourism and entertainment businesses were badly hit.

The lock-downs also caused a lot of stress to our children with school-age kids. So, Wendy spent many days supervising the on-line-home-schooling of our grandchildren, Vivienne and Billy. I helped for a single day. I'm still dining out on that one!

The scare in this State was well-timed. Almost everyone rushed to get their 'two shots' of whichever vaccine was available. So, a country leading: 94.82% of the NSW population over 16, is now vaccinated - with the rollout to younger children well underway.

So far, this has borne fruit and, despite rising case numbers, we currently have less than 200 Covid-cases in hospital in NSW and just eight of those are on a ventilator. So, the borders are opening; masks are voluntary; QR check-in is no longer required in shops; and proof of vaccination is no longer mandatory in bars, gyms and sporting venues. Come and get it!

Predictably, case numbers are rising hourly, so the unvaccinated will soon be infected. This brave minority have opted to rely on natural immunity - nature's way.

The 'natural' case fatality rate (CFR) for Covid-delta is around 2% but could be lower, we hope, for Covid-omicron. It's more deadly with age. So, I'm guessing that only about one in a hundred of the unvaccinated are in the running for a (posthumous) Darwin Award.

Both Wendy and I have had our boosters in preparation.

We hope to travel again in 2022. The last time we saw our German grandchildren in the flesh was in 2019. 

Thanks to WhatsApp we can still get together face-to-face and I can report that both Tilda (4) and Leander (7) understand and speak English, in addition, of course, to their native German. Leander's English is now excellent. Yet it's not quite like us being there or them being here.

Those of you who read last year's message will find what follows familiar. I've barely changed a word.

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Hydrogen Economy





Since I first published an article on this subject I've been taken to task by a young family member for being too negative about the prospects of a Hydrogen Economy, mainly because I failed to mention 'clean green hydrogen' generated from surplus electricity, employing electrolysis.

Back in 1874 Jules Verne had a similar vision but failed to identify the source of the energy, 'doubtless electricity', required to disassociate the hydrogen and oxygen. 

Coal; oil and gas; peat; wood; bagasse; wind; waves; solar radiation; uranium; and so on; are sources of energy.  But electricity is not. 

Electricity (and hydrogen derived from it) is simply a means of transporting and utilising energy - see How does electricity work? on this website.

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