The Papuan Pages

Why Papua?

Not intended. Just one of those tricks of fate.

Degree about to finish. Baby in pram. Not like now, anthropology academic jobs were non-existent. Money running out.

Raymond Firth the supervisor.  Thought I should take another year because getting a Ph.D. in two years (he made me wait another one) was, well, indecent. Over-ruled by co-examiner, who said I knew what I wanted to say and wasn’t going to change anything just by marking time any more.

Raymond distributing his students. Around the world to Hong Kong, Borneo, lots of other places that he and Rosemary would like to visit. This former-administrator half-baked economist, maybe a sort of miniature Raymond himself. What more reasonable than Malaya, Raymond and Rosemary’s stamping ground — but a comparative study, yet.  Negri Sembilan and the Menengkabau — that seems a perfect fit — and it really would have been. Matrilineal, “peasant” full of potential statistics, variables, grist to the mill.

And what-oh, a decent generous Colonial Research Fellowship to go with it.  No formal institutional ties (and nowhere to go after). Two years certain and a land rover in the Malayan part at least. Cushy. Exciting. Demanding. Baby welcome. Smiles. Betty learns Malay. I earn intermediary money (another story, that).

Oh oh. Too good to be true. Bang bangs from nasty communists. Colonial research permission withdraws.

Raymond’s Empire is just about at its zenith.  Australia beckons. A new university, Raymond the adviser for Pacific Studies.  Realism intervenes, no bargaining here, even if Cyril wanted to, which he didn’t. He didn’t know that a Fellowship to the Australian National University, even as bargained for later a Senior one, didn’t handle family expenses when there was no savings background. (The story, oh the story, of my life.)  And anyway, a lot better than the dole. And Melanesia did make a lot of sense, it had to be admitted.

But the question?  Do an update of Seligman, old chap.  Harrumph.

The blossoms in the spring of Putney welcome the baby, the squirrels cavort above her on the trees. There is a lawn. The young landlords in the Max Beerbohm house are kind and jolly nice. Autumn approaches.

Quick quick, pack it all up. Pack rats pay the price. The vessel, P&O how many times then and in the future? is ready to leave. We can’t get it all in, dammit, especially all those Pacific books I’d picked up for a song in the wondrous bookshops, and the family plate, so to speak, to be left in Australia.  That morning. Down into the high street, fast, fast, pick up coffee bags to complement the already bulging tea  chests. Shove the stuff in, tie them up. Pile into two taxis, one for Mum, Dad, and Diana, and one for baggage overflow — the main bags had been delivered to dockside the day before.

Onto the ship. Away away. Tropic lands. Unknown vistas. Coral strands. But Sydney, Canberra, dockers’ strikes, and much more awaiting.