Tag Archives: Dogs

Papua New Guinean sojourn

In 1980 my wife and I went to Papua New Guinea on a three year contract to work for the National Library Service in Port Moresby. My job was to train Papua New Guinean staff so that they could take over positions held at the time by expatriates.

On my first day at work the Deputy National Librarian asked Ben Gar, a Papua New Guinean staff member from West New Britain, to show me where I could buy a take-away for lunch. Ben drove me to a little caravan that sold food and drinks. We each bought a hot dog and a bottle of Coke. Ben asked the seller for a bottle opener, but she said that someone had stolen it, so Ben gripped the top of my Coke bottle between his molars and prized the top off.

There was no television service in the country at the time, but there were two cinemas in town, one of which was a drive-in. The drive-in was the only public place where one could sit outside in the tropical evening in a folding chair, safe from the ‘rascals’ (young thugs) who ruled the streets after dark. Often people would take along a picnic dinner to eat there, or occasionally bring along a birthday cake with candles.

The first time we went to the cinema we saw “Saturday Night Fever”. During a scene where a young man fell to his death from a bridge, the Papua New Guinean policeman who was sitting next to me had an uncontrollable fit of laughter whilst grabbing me by the shoulder and shaking me.

I distinctly remember a double feature that we saw which was typical of the type of fare that the cinema dished up. The first film was an Israeli production called “Parachute dog”. The dog and his military master jumped out of an aeroplane behind the enemy lines in separate parachutes. The dog wobbled in the parachute. It was patently obvious that it was made from some solid substance, probably wood. In a later scene its master was ambushed and shot dead, only to reappear later in the film as though that incident had never happened. It was hilarious. The second film was “American disco”, about an Italian teenager whose entire dream was focused on going to America to become a DJ in an American disco. How could a viewer avoid being swept along in the excitement of someone chasing such an exotic dream?

Having fully explored the cultural offerings of the cinemas and having become bored of the menus at the only two restaurants in town, we started socialising in the evenings, playing bridge and backgammon and the like. At work the males of our motley crew of expatriates tried to outdo each other with colourful shirts on Fridays, the day on which the Papua New Guinean staff usually wore their traditional lap laps. My piece de resistance was a splotchy red batik shirt that I had bought in Cairns, but the competition petered out once an American colleague, Fraiser, came in to work sporting a shirt that he had bought in Hawaii whilst on holiday. The design comprised a combination of yachts and red lobsters. The rest of us lost heart for the Friday dress-ups after that.

The National Library staff played a series of cricket matches against the staff and students of the Library Diploma Course at the Administrative College. Our games started at 4.30 pm on Fridays and were invariably of quite brief duration, as it was very rare for a player on either side to get to double figures. We would hurry through the overs as the storm clouds gathered every afternoon in the rainy season, exploding in a deafening thunderstorm at around 6 pm.

Our best player was Rosa Memafu, a tall lady from the Gulf province, whose fast bowling was feared by all the players of the College team.

 

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Rosa Memafu (second from right) lets fly with a fast ball

Few of us wore shoes to work and none of us wore ties, as it was just too hot and humid to wear such items. The pair of black shoes that I took along from Australia soon turned green with rot in my cupboard, while large cockroaches chewed holes in the leather. I went about my business in a pair of cheap rubber thongs. However, I had a pair of leather thongs in my office to wear on special occasions, such as to meetings with the Director of Education or with the Minister for Education.

During my time in Papua New Guinea I wore a tie on one occasion only, and that was for the Queen’s visit. I also wore my leather thongs. The National Librarian, Sir John Yocklunn, was responsible for arranging the visit by the Queen and Prince Philip and he had arranged good seats for us for the event.

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Tim and a colleague with bilums (string bags), dressed up for the Queen’s visit

It was a spectacular affair. We watched from the sports pavilion, sitting within a stone’s throw from the Queen and Prince, while many different indigenous groups were dressed up in their traditional finery in honour of the royal visit.

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The Queen and Prince Philip wave to the Highlanders

The condition of the dogs in Port Moresby was a constant source of distress to me. The vast majority of dogs were underfed or were fed a poor diet consisting mostly of leftover rice or stale pieces of bread. A lot of the dogs had lost most of their hair and were covered in sores.

When I eventually returned to Australia I had to stop overnight in Sydney. A few of the passengers from my Air Niugini flight shared a small bus which transported us from the airport to the city hotels. An Australian missionary who had been in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years introduced himself to me. When our bus stopped at a red traffic light we noticed a big Alsatian dog sitting on the rear seat in the car next to us. We stared at its glossy fur in wonder. The missionary took the words out of my mouth. “Just look at that,” he said, pointing at the dog. “That dog looks good enough to eat!”

The next day when I arrived at Melbourne’s airport I looked around forlornly for a bright, colourful lap lap or bilum bag, but I found myself afloat in a sea of drab clothing.

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Little black dog

It was a cold and misty autumn night when Kriel and I drove to the pine plantation known as Louw se Bos (Louw’s Forest) near Stellenbosch in South Africa shortly after midnight to murder a little black dog and to dispose of its corpse.

My ex-wife loved dogs. When a friend offered her a miniature Dobermann Pinscher puppy as a gift she accepted it without hesitation. At the time we were living in a small second storey flat while I was doing a postgraduate course at the university.

We had only had the puppy for a few days when it became ill one evening. As the illness progressed it began having seizures and howling in pain. It obviously had a serious affliction of some sort, so I rang the local vet. He was somewhat grumpy to receive a phone call at 10 pm from someone with a dog problem. I described the symptoms and he gruffly told me that the dog had contracted canine distemper and would have to be put down.

‘Shall I bring it to your house now?’ I asked.

‘Are you joking? I’m off duty. Bring it around to the surgery in the morning and I’ll see to it.’ He put the phone down without further ado.

As the night progressed the dog’s symptoms became worse and we became increasingly distraught. By 1 am I could stand the little dog’s suffering no longer. ‘I’ll go and fetch Kriel and we’ll go and put the dog out of its misery,’ I told her.

‘It’s the middle of the night. Kriel will be asleep. And how would the two of you put the dog out of its misery anyway?’

‘Kriel wouldn’t mind if I woke him up to help me out in a crisis,’ I declared. As to how we would dispose of the dog, I referred her to the old Afrikaner proverb, ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan (a farmer makes a plan).

Kriel was a quietly spoken, mild-mannered engineering student who lived in his girlfriend Rita’s flat. Rita was in her final year at high school. Her parents who lived in a rural town had rented the flat for Rita so that she could attend her final year of school in Stellenbosch. In those ultra conservative times there would have been hell to pay if it was discovered that a boyfriend was living with her. Her parents had once called in unexpectedly on a Saturday morning and Kriel was forced to jump out of the bedroom window into the laneway in his pyjamas and wait in a nearby park until the coast was clear. It was therefore understandable that Rita was somewhat nervous as she asked who was knocking at her door. Instead of being annoyed when they heard that it was me, they both welcomed me warmly at that ungodly hour.

I explained the problem of the dog to Kriel and we discussed some strategies for killing it. Eventually we decided to put the dog in an empty flour sack that Rita had and to take it to Louw se Bos, which would be deserted at that hour. We would tie the sack to the exhaust pipe of my car and leave the motor running for a while so that the dog would expire from carbon monoxide poisoning. We took along a torch as well as a spade with which to bury its little corpse in the pine plantation.

Kriel and I stood shivering in the dark and mist in Louw se Bos as the engine idled and the dog was gassed. I began digging a hole in the ground. We must have looked liked two actors from a low budget horror movie, with our torch and spade in the eerie forest and with the dark trunks of the pine trees barely visible through the mist. I switched off the engine, removed the bag with the little dog’s body inside it from the exhaust pipe and dropped it in the hole. I had just finished filling the hole with soil, when we heard a loud whimper. The dog was still alive.

I looked enquiringly at Kriel, who had no difficulty in reading my thoughts. He shook his head emphatically. I sighed and dug up the sack with the little black dog and put it back in the boot of the car.

‘Why don’t we take it to the police station and ask them to shoot the dog?,’ suggested Kriel. This sounded like a sensible suggestion – ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – so off we drove back to Stellenbosch. I wondered aloud why the dog had not died from the exhaust gas. Kriel surmised that it must have poked its nose into one corner of the flour bag so that it had kept inhaling fresh air through the porous bag, instead of the poisonous fumes. The dog might have been deadly ill but it was not stupid.

The police constable was a beefy, middle-aged Afrikaner who looked at us, as he no doubt did at every human being, with grave suspicion as if we had committed a crime of some sort. As I told my tale of the dog with its illness and seizures and of our abortive attempt to kill it, his suspicion became more apparent by the minute. ‘We brought it here so that you can shoot it and end its suffering,’ I explained desperately.

‘Where is this dog then?’

I retrieved the sack from the boot of my car and shook the dog out. The dog, which had been black, was now mostly white from the residue of flour in the sack. It was clearly au fait with the political situation in the country, realising that it needed to pass for white rather than black in the police station. It looked at the constable with endearing eyes and wagged its little tail, showing not the slightest sign of being unwell. After our noble attempt to relieve it from its suffering, the ungrateful little blighter now made us look like liars and would-be murderers in the presence of the law.

‘So you reckon this dog is so sick that it has to be killed, do you?’ he asked in a tone of exaggerated disbelief.

‘But it really is quite ill,’ I retorted, hearing a pleading whine creeping into my voice. ‘Just ask Kriel here.’ Kriel nodded repeatedly and asserted that the dog had been quite unwell, but his performance looked hopelessly unconvincing to me.

‘I’ll keep the dog here and we’ll see how it goes,’ he said ominously. ‘Meanwhile you’d better show me your ID cards so I can record your details.’

I spent the rest of the night wide awake, fretting about the policeman and his suspicions. What was the penalty for attempted murder of an innocent dog, I wondered. Considering that the possession of even a small amount of marijuana at that time incurred a minimum two year prison sentence, I convinced myself in the dark hours of the night that we were in dead set trouble.

The next morning I considered my options and decided that the best thing to do would be to front up at the police station. My failure to do so would just add fuel to the policeman’s suspicions, I thought.

Apprehensively I entered the police station to find a different policeman behind the desk. ‘I’m here about a little dog that I left here last night,’ I told him.

‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘that little dog. Sorry mate, it started getting really terrible convulsions early this morning so the constable had to take it around the back and shoot it.’

‘Thank God!’ I exclaimed involuntarily.

The policeman looked taken aback. ‘You’re glad that your dog has been shot?’ he asked accusingly.

‘Got to run,’ I told him hastily, ‘I’m already late for my class.’ I bolted out of the door.

 

Louw se Bos (Karin Holtzhausen)

Louw se Bos (Photo by Karin Holtzhausen)