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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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Burma (Myanmar)


This is a fascinating country in all sorts of ways and seems to be most popular with European and Japanese tourists, some Australians of course, but they are everywhere.

Since childhood Burma has been a romantic and exotic place for me.  It was impossible to grow up in the Australia of the 1950’s and not be familiar with that great Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson’s rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s 'On the Road to Mandalay' recorded two decades or so earlier:  

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay
Can't you hear their paddles chunking
From Rangoon to Mandalay

On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the Dawn comes up like thunder
out of China 'cross the bay

The song went Worldwide in 1958 when Frank Sinatra covered it with a jazz orchestration, and ‘a Burma girl’ got changed to ‘a Burma broad’; ‘a man’ to ‘a cat’; and ‘temple bells’ to ‘crazy bells’.  

Read more: Burma (Myanmar)

Fiction, Recollections & News

Bonfire (Cracker) Night



We children were almost overcome with excitement.  There had been months of preparation.  Tree lopping and hedge trimmings had been saved; old newspapers and magazines stacked into fruit boxes; a couple of old tyres had been kept; and the long dangerously spiky lower fronds from the palm trees were neatly stacked; all in preparation. 

Read more: Bonfire (Cracker) Night

Opinions and Philosophy

The Meaning of Life




This essay is most of all about understanding; what we can know and what we think we do know. It is an outline originally written for my children and I have tried to avoid jargon or to assume the reader's in-depth familiarity with any of the subjects I touch on. I began it in 1997 when my youngest was still a small child and parts are still written in language I used with her then. I hope this makes it clear and easy to understand for my children and anyone else. 

Read more: The Meaning of Life

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