Having trouble remembering the name of this blog?
Simply type into your browser tiny.cc/riverbend

 

If you find the text too small to read on this website, press the CTRL button and,
without taking your finger off, press the + button, which will enlarge the text.
Keep doing it until you have a comfortable reading size.
(Use the - button to reduce the size)

Today's quote:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Of Christmasses past

In Camp 6 at Loloho on the Bougainville Copper Project
left-to-right: Neil "Jacko" Jackson, yours truly, Bob Green

 

We didn't use the word 'Christmas' then. Christmas came with too much emotional baggage. It reminded us of families and homes which we were far away from or didn't even have.

Of course, I'm talking of those many years - decades, in fact - spent in boarding houses, construction camps, hotels, and company housing. Come Christmastime, those who had families and homes had gone; those who didn't hadn't.

There was Barton House in Canberra, usually throbbing with life from its 300-odd - and some very odd - inmates, which turned into a morgue by Christmastime. The dining room was roped off except for one table next to the kitchen. That table was large enough for those left behind.

It's hard not to be reminded of something when you're surrounded by half a dozen gloomy faces. So for my last Christmas in Canberra in 1969, just before I flew to my next job in New Guinea, I hitched and hiked to Angle Crossing where I spent a solitary weekend writing letters which is the only device that combines solitude with good company.

Canberra's then Youth Hostel at Angle Crossing, over the hill from the Murrumbidgee River

Years later, and just one day before Christmas, I booked myself into hospital on Bougainville Island with acute appendicitis . "You'd better get on the next plane out and into a hospital at home", the doctor told me. He was already deep into his medicinal alcohol and had trouble remembering which side my appendix was on. "This is my home", I said. He made one long incision just to make sure he wouldn't miss it.

What I had missed was that my best friend Noel Butler was coming over from Wewak to spend - ahem! - Christmas with me. He must have got there while I was still under the anaesthetic, because there he was standing at the foot of my bed. He'd gone to my donga and waited and finally asked the hous boi where I was. "Masta bagarap long haus sik".

Yours truly and Noel hunched over a chess board in New Guinea

We tried again the following year by which time I had moved to Lae on the north coast of the New Guinea mainland. By the time Christmas and Noel had come, there was just enough time left for a drink at the club and a game of chess before I flew out to my next job in Burma.

And so it went on, year after year, either coming or going or laid up with something, deftly avoiding Christmas. It's not so easy anymore!