Chapter 29

Daily Routine on Abau

Office procedures were many and varied. The hours were from 8a.m. to 12 mid-day then 1.00p.m. to 4.30p.m. Radio schedules to Moresby Radio were at 10.15a.m. and 1.40p.m. These included meteorological information, wind speed, direction, rain, cloud cover, barometric pressure as well as telegrams cables or radiograms. The set used was an AWA – 3BZ transmitter and tuner. I still remember the procedure…Moresby Radio, Moresby Radio, Moresby Radio, this is ABAU, ABAU, ABAU…go ahead ABAU etc., Then there was the general business, treasury instructions and returns, stores, inventories and returns, Commonwealth Bank, payment of native wages and other returns. The district store had a good supply of tinned meat, rice, sugar, tea, salt, flour and this was supplemented by purchasing from the local villages fish, fruit and vegetables through the District Office for distribution to native employees, police, prisoners and the hospital.

The villagers would arrive with fish of all types and sizes strung on a pole carried by two natives one each end. They also brought fruit, mainly bananas – mostly green, often pineapples and peanuts as well as taro or yam which was the staple diet. The produce was weighed and purchased – fish was two pence per pound, and I’ve forgotten the rest…the villagers were paid in cash. The produce was then distributed to the barracks, there being no refrigeration there. They would also bring bunches of betel nuts, along with lime gourds and peppermint sticks for sale to the locals. This was not on Government supply. The betel nuts were like big green dates and when you bit into them there was a foul taste in your mouth. After chewing they then dipped a small stick in the gourd containing lime which turned saliva red leaving their teeth and lips stained, then chewed the peppermint stick. Betel nut was a mild drug with possibly a similar effect to kava, but much more messy. Most of the villagers were Seventh Day Adventists and followed the church’s teachings. They would not touch pig meat or pig fat, no oysters or crabs, and no fish without scales. It always seemed strange to me as these foods were plentiful. On the other hand the Seventh Day Adventists provided an excellent health and education service.

The villagers would often bring in eggs of all shapes and sizes from hen eggs to cassowary eggs. It was standard procedure to have a basin of water at the steps or landing and put the eggs in this – those that sank to the bottom were bought – the floaters were taken elsewhere. There was also a lime growing on the island called a mooli or sapora and it made a refreshing drink when crushed; most houses had a large jug of mooli in their refrigerator. Our house had a Silent Knight kerosene refrigerator. It was a kerosene absorption type which used about ten beer bottles of kerosene per week so that ate into the 44 gallon drums of kerosene we bought on account. Whenever it started playing up, the trick was to switch it off, turn it upside down for a while to regurgitate the gas, then place upright again and light up. There was a spare one in the house but one was enough. Then there was the procedure for making bread. Flour came in four gallon square tins, like a kerosene tin but with a large lid in the top to keep it sealed. Yeast was ‘Dri Balm’ and milk was powdered Sunshine mild. We soon learnt the procedure and made reasonable loaves. There was no benefit to be impatient in letting the bread rise and then knocking it down several times before baking.

Occasionally villagers would bring crests of birds of paradise or crests of goura pigeons into the office to try and sell. These are beautifully coloured plumes and were once in demand for millinery and fashion but are now protected species. Natives can trap or kill these birds by traditional methods and use the plumes for their own decoration but it is prohibited for Europeans to have them and the book would be thrown at anyone found with these. Goura pigeons were a timid bird and excellent for eating and it would be interesting to find out how many were shot by accident by ‘gun boys’ defending themselves from attack by these birds.

The native police were issued with Lee Enfield .303 army rifles and had to care for their own, but the ammunition was kept under control of the ADO or PO or CPO. There was always a shotgun taken on patrol and cartridges for this purpose were issued only when necessary. The leader of the patrol would also carry a six shot S & W revolver for emergency scenarios.

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