Christmas in PNG

Christmas in my PNG years (1966-1977) by Murrough Benson

My first Christmas in PNG was 1966 and I headed to the coast for a bit of a break from my posting as didiman in charge at Gumine in the Chimbu District. The first leg of the trip was the two-hour plus 30-mile road trip to Kundiawa, then by plane to Goroka and Lae the next day.  A couple of long (but no doubt very restrained) nights there with former agricultural college mates and then it was on to Madang where we had three days with the teacher sister of one of them.  ‘Real’ meals for those few days were a wonderful change from the basic fare to which I had become accustomed since my arrival in PNG ten months earlier. 

Next year I was on leave in Australia after my first 21-month term so a most enjoyable Christmas was spent on the family dairy farm in south-west Victoria.  I headed back to PNG a bit early to my new posting at Kundiawa. The haus didiman was conveniently located next to haus sista so that sorted out our social calendar for the next 21 months.  So well sorted, in fact, that Joy, one of the girls next door, and I were married in Townsville just before Christmas 1969.  Our honeymoon was spent catching up with many friends and family as we toured the east coast of Australia in a caravan and EH Holden that we bought to address the ‘homeless’ state in which we now found ourselves for three months.

Back in PNG, a seven-month stint at Murua, a one-hour canoe trip up the river from Kerema in the Gulf District was followed by a move to Moresby where I worked for seven years with the PNG Development Bank.  Joy worked at the hospital, much of the time as Deputy Matron.  Expatriate staff with children tended to go ‘south’ on leave at Christmas time, leaving those without children to run the place over the holiday period.  Joy therefore spent most of the next seven Christmases either on duty (until mid-afternoon) or on call but that didn’t stop us enjoying the festive season with friends – as indeed we did at all times.

 

Going South by Belinda Macartney

What are you doing for Christmas?  Going South. ‘South’ referred to the Australian mainland anywhere from Cairns to Melbourne and all ports west. Mine was a Queensland family so every two years, we would head for the Gold Coast. In the late 50s early 60s, this was a different place to the one we know today.  It was a real beach holiday with a green rolling surf, blisteringly hot white sand, excruciating sunburn, and plenty of fishing.    

Early each morning, we would cross the two-lane Pacific Highway, up Elkhorn Street to Surfers Paradise beach, often before the life-savers had started their shift. After a surf we would buy hand-squeezed orange juice from Harry-de-Wheels before heading home for a BBQ breakfast of fresh whiting or bream. The women wore gorgeous Paula Stafford costumes; the men drank rum and milk from small Vegemite jars that served as sturdy non-breakable kitchen glasses. As we got older, our teenage days were spent at the Shell Bar in Cavill Avenue drinking iced coffees from chunky bamboo beakers and watching the free-wheeling world go by—far from the austerity of boarding school life.

Other years, as a school girl at home in PNG for those much-appreciated long breaks with family, Christmas meant more sunburn at Ela Beach with a crowd of others home from the South. My precious dog, who loved to swim as much as I did, was never far from my side. One year when we stayed in Port Moresby for Christmas, our wonderful house staff let it slip that he had been taught to cook by his first German employer and so we enjoyed a full, hot European Christmas meal, complete with paper crowns and a steamed plum pudding. In the midday heat, with an interesting bunch of ‘orphaned singles’ invited to join us—and a pile of presents under a wilting branch of casuarina tree revived in a bucket of wet sand— this became our family’s PNG tradition.   

 

Christmas offerings by Paul Munro

My first Christmas away from home was in Moresby in 1960; I was one of 3 Law undergraduates in an Undergraduate Employment Program designed to bolster recruitment; I hoped to escape family critiques to which I expected exposure when my final year exam results demonstrated that I was well short of qualifying for an academic career!  I was later told that when I came back the following April I was the first and only ever recruit from that program. I have almost no recollection of that Christmas; I think Christmas was lost in spirits, rather in an alcoholic haze from exposure to other undergraduates and good cheer at the Four Mile Hostel where we were billeted with some hardened Territorians. My clearest memory is of filling a Gin squash with what I thought was water to discover it was pure gin.

The first true Christmas I recall was at the Boroko home of Rob and Irene O’Regan.  They made the day as close to the traditional hot-turkey-and-roast feast as could be made for young expats away from loved ones. The Dickensian warmth of that Christian yuletide gathering endures still after 55 years.  God blessed me and us all in providing such friends.

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