Masta Lapun: Jeanette Fox

Memories:  It just takes an old timer to reminisce and tales from the past come flooding back.

Masta Lapun! He was the miner in the claim next door (which usually meant two or three miles away). Well into his seventies, he was a veteran from the Klondyke, Ballarat and the Queensland sapphire mines. We met him in the goldfields of New Guinea.

Masta Lapun’s real name was Tim P Skiffington and he was one of the many fizzers or bullockies in We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn. I am told he had quite a vocabulary but, to me, he was the dearest, gentlest man who loved poetry and sunsets. He would sit next to me on a claim and say, “Now, ain’t that grand, now ain’t it?”

Lapun meant “old man” or “ancient one” in Pidgin. His house was a child’s fairytal:; made out of Hardman’s biscuit tins, the large square dry ones, the tins themselves were metallic and shone so you could see your face in them. The natives and others would be fascinated by their own image and Masta Lapun and I would hide behind a boulder and double up with the fun of it.

Mother was one of the only nurses on the fields and was frequently on emergency call with Dr Giblin to a landslide or whatever, so Karbiatai, my nanny of a kind, would dash off with me to Masta Lapun, or Masta Laws, two dyed-in-the-wood bachelors of pioneering vintage, and land me in their laps, nappies and all. They lived either side up the track on the Kaindi Road, about 22 miles from Wau. There was a homemade truck that travelled the road which was so steep it took seven goes to make a turn.

One of the great tales told about Masta Lapun was when his wall was pierced by a native spear. The local people had pierced a bag of rice and were sucking the highly expensive food out. All food was brought in by air, having been freighted from the south, then usually brought up by hand, so was precious indeed.

I too was treasured by these wonderful men. Every birthday and Christmas I was given a nugget by them and I now have two beautiful bracelets: one of Bulolo gold, and the other made with silver from Edie Creek up near the source.

When I went to a Brisbane boarding school, Masta Lapun would visit me with a small square suitcase of lollies and I was the most special girl in the school (I only saw my parents once a year) and when old enough I was always invited to midnight feasts. TP Skiffington knew the way to a child’s heart. His Irish lilt won many hearts.

Tom Skiffington was killed logging well into his nineties: apioneer and a little girl’s hero for many, many years.


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