15 October 1983

Letter: Mir Meta Ready to Use

Letter 15 / 10 / 83

On Tuesday Peter D left. That was a relief - a month was a long time for him and us. Although he worked very hard and got a lot done, and we really appreciate him and his labours more than I can express ... he had the worst case of clumsiness I've even seen. And he was so careless with Peter's tools - not only did we spend over $500 on them (ie they were very expensive) but in this place they are irreplaceable inside several months at any price. P.D. did things like using Peter's best big screwdriver from his Stanley set for stirring paint. And the special (old but reconditioned) DC power drill that was sent to us from Darwin ... in an impatient moment he was hitting a nail with it instead of the hammer. Our precious not-very-strong-but-very-useful metal shelving units ... twice he stood on a shelf (with Peter standing there saying "No! No!") and crunked them right out of shape. Many times we just wanted to cry over the way he treated the precious little things that are meaningless down south but take so much money and effort to get up here. Ah well, enough complaining, its lovely being just us again!

On Tuesday and Wednesday the people at last came and made palm thatch for our little translation house. Its a lovely little house with three big lift-up windows. The front window is covered with corrugated pale green fibreglass, and the side two are like thatch shutters. The bishop is likely to be our first guest - in Nov or Dec making his last visit up here before he takes up his new post at Bunbury (WA). His wife is an islander, so I wonder how she'll like the change?

Our language helpers are also looking forward to doing language work in there instead of the house. We're going to call it "Mir Meta" (language house) and it may be worth getting Father Tabo to "bless" it or whatever - mainly to draw attention to it and make sure everyone understands about what it is and who we are and why we are here. I guess that will be our first attempt at throwing some kind of a feast - I hope we can get some help.

A death on the island

Yesterday was a sad day here. George and Peter were busy doing the windows on our 'mir meta', and Norm the plumber, Roger the mechanic, Sammy Semmy the islander plumber and George Blanco the tractor driver were at the top of the hill working on the pump. George B was standing in the shade cutting out gaskets, when he suddenly just dropped dead. He's a BIG guy, very tall and very well built too, but a gentle giant and well-loved, only 34 years old. Roger resuscitated him, and when he was breathing again came down on the tractor for help. Etta (the very fat nursing sister) wouldn't call the doctor until she'd seen George, and Peter grabbed our '"Where there is no doctor" medical book and went up on the tractor to help. Then he sprinted down the hillside to the phone and spoke to the doctor on TI. That was 4.30pm, more than an hour after George's attack, and the helicopter finally got here at 6.30pm. By then poor George was well and truly dead. In the meantime, Peter and Peter Stoneham (the principal) took the oxygen cylinder (from the clinic) up on a motorbike but not even Etta knew how to use it. Then Peter ran down the hill and back up again, and finally walked down the hill with the doctor (who 'wanted some exercise') - what a day!

Election promises

On Thursday we were surprised to hear a plane come, then the tractor came down the hill loaded with goodies - frozen chickens, sausages, pizzas, ice cream, lettuce, health bars ..! The Melbidir was supposed to be here next week (to bring cargo and take children and parents to the school sports day on Yorke Island) but its still in Cairns. They reckon these plane-loads of goodies will be coming out every week now "between boats" - I'd say it obviously has something to do with next Saturday's election and the government is trying to make a last-minute statement that they are the good guys in spite of the lack of water, electricity, education, health facilities.

We're all quite - well, very - very tired. Alison is still not crawling, but she does get around by rolling, humping, pushing etc. James still goes happily to kindy. His talk is going ahead so fast now, he chatters away! When no one has time for him he talks to himself - questions and answers" "See heligaga?" "Yess!" "Wind?" "No." "Gaga gone now". He's so cute!

We're getting a boat, as soon as possible. Peter's beside me here writing to the credit society to pull the rest of our money out. Peter Houghton, in Cairns, is buying it for us.

Sunday pm

All my babies are asleep, lucky lot! Peter's feeling ill (looks ghastly too.) The village is quiet with most people mourning. There are rumours going around about knife-marks on George's neck, I guess some people are bound to suspect "black magic" or something with such a sudden death, even the findings of the autopsy won't prove anything to them once they have decided it was magic. Just hope there's no "trouble" as a result.

Pre-wet is here already, and I'm covered in itchy heat-rash again. James is spotty too.

08 October 1983

Letter: Bananas and Bell Fruit

Letter 8 / 10 / 83

What a day! I'm red-raw (sun-burnt) - a problem I've rarely had since we've been here because I'm usually so careful. I'm dying to just fall into bed. But Peter's showering, so I may as well use up this time by chain-eating some bananas while I'm waiting for a turn. (Someone gave us two ripe bunches today.) There's a bowl of those brilliant red bell-fruit in front of me, but I'm not tempted by them at all. Barnie Day brought them to us. He has been so kind to us.

I think he would make an excellent language helper for Peter - poor George has been on a rather extended drunken bout lately, getting over the recent death of his wife who had cancer. Balaga has been helping me, but Meriam really is a second language to her, she's not much good at it, and very nervous too. But she's excellent with kids and I may be able to work out some babysitting for Alison. Big (really big) Gracie is going to try out as a language helper this week.

People are taking quite some interest in our half-built "translation centre / guest room". They really don't like coming into our house but would be willing to work with us in there where they can see out and be seen.

Dawar and Waier Islands

Today we went over to Dawar Island with Peter and Sue Stoneham, (the school teacher and his wife) in their boat. It was a perfect day for it, which worked out well for Peter Dunstan to see Dawar and Waier before he leaves on Tuesday. Then the kids and I (and Sue and their two girls) stayed home while the three Peters went fishing. They brought back (among other things) an 8-foot shark. Peter S wanted to keep the jaws. So it was fish for tea again - not shark. The Stonehams only have another 8 weeks here this year - Sue is counting down, she's fed up with the place - and they've a freezer full of fish because Peter (S) loves going fishing in his boat more than he loves eating fish (or at least more than he can manage to eat.) So they have been giving us frozen fish all week. Its a bit of a trap, though, having a big freezer ... If we catch more than we need (and the idea is that you stop when you have enough to eat!) we give it away and build relationships. Then when we are in need, others will give to us.

Water tank

Our water situation is desperate again. Went to the well for some muddy water for my first shower in 6 days (bleh! saltwater makes you sticky!) and found some charming youngster had thrown our bucket down, rope and all. Fortunately it fell open side down, trapped a pocket of air and floated. Peter was able to get it back up with his fishing line.

But we have a (1000gallon) water tank at last! It came on the boat this week. We saw the boat in the distance with our tank on the deck. Everyone knew it was ours (we've waited six months since we ordered it) even though it didn't have our name on it. They threw it into the water and towed it in to land behind a dinghy. Then P and P (and James) walked it in the shallows along to our part of the beach. They (P and P) have made a concrete stand for it and Monday should see it on its stand. Now all we need is some water in it! We don't have any guttering to link it up if it rains ...


We caught our 21st rat this evening (that's since we came back in June). The grasshoppers (indoors) are less tonight with the kitchen screened, but we haven't worked out what we will do about a screen door (its going to need to be an odd size). Rod Kennedy (translator on Saibai Island) sent us an old water heater from Saibai recently. When P and P catch a grasshopper they twist its head off and throw it out the door ... and to tie all those facts together (!) : The other day we caught a rat inside the water heater with a heap of grasshoppers, each with its head twisted around.

The "Parasol"

Did we tell you the funny story about the parasol? There's a big shade-house hear us, belongs to the church, and Father Tabo told Peter it was called the "Para Sol". Peter was impressed, thinking the white priest, Rechnitz - a few years back now - had given it that name. He took the trouble to explain to Tabo the origins of "para" (against) and "sol" (sun) - but only got blank stares in return. Peter S also had heard that it was called parasol, and recently asked someone to go there to collect something for him. It was when he wrote down the word PARASOL for them that he started to have problems - no one even raises an eyebrow when we say "parasol". So my Peter came home and said, "If you had no 'h' in your language, how would you say this word?" and he wrote down: PARISH HALL. We laughed and laughed. We had forgotten that every Anglican Church always has a parish hall next to it.


Almost time for the first lot of bells. It rained a bit last night so we have a few more litres of water in our 44 gallon drum. But I'll have to phone someone on TI and get them to send us some disposable nappies because none came on this last boat and I just can't manage cloth nappies without water! Ooh, its raining again now ...

Yesterday we ate our first home-grown tomato. They cost about $1 each up here so we feel its worthwhile to have grown at least one. There would be about a couple of dozen coming on, but no sign of any further crop. The plants are pretty scabby-looking! We had a crop of snake beans. Cabbages are a waste of time. Our three precious citrus seedlings are doing well. My sweet potatoes have beautiful foliage!


Peter D goes tomorrow, and today we have fly-screens on all the windows, and the tank stand is ready for its load. Tomorrow the village people are "definitely" coming to do (weave out of coconut palms) the walls of the translation house - Peter D never did get to sleep in it!

Alison still can't get her crawling act together in spite of demonstrations by James. And her first tooth still isn't through, despite chewing on endless rusks. But she sits up really well. And if you kiss her repeatedly on the cheek she closes her eyes and often falls asleep, even when she's been really wriggly a minute before.

Time for a shower. It rained heavily this morning so there's some water in our drum!

03 October 1983

Letter: More Bananas

Letter 3 / 10 / 83

Peter's offering me a banana - or two - you know how it is when you have a bunch of bananas (a whole bunch, not a hand) and they all go ripe at once.

James started back at kindy today - at last. Its been a long 2 weeks. I've asked Balaga to come help me with language. She can hold Alison (she's good with kids) while we talk and I write. George has started coming to help Peter again now his kids are back at school - he has six kids, a small family in these parts.

James loves his shirt. He says "Ganma" quite well now. You should hear him say the days of the week, its so cute. And singing "row, row, row your boat"! He's coming ahead so fast now. And the hat is just great for Alison. We climbed (the hill) Gelam again last Saturday for Peter (D)'s sake and she fared quite well in her new hat.

No ducks yet. Did I say we got some citrus trees at last? They cost $10 each, but then they were quite expensive to transport up here, our three trees are worth about $60. They are well settled in and growing well already.

Alison still isn't quite crawling. We ought to get a move on and build some door-gates for when she does. She can do all the right things, but doesn't quite balance or coordinate them right. She gets up on hands and knees, one knee moves, the other starts to ... then whoops! over she rolls (followed by waa! waaa!)

We had an exciting time listening to the America's Cup. Dave Everest (the previous headmaster was here) had his little radio on all night for the last race, and we were all up about 6am to listen to the end of it. I guess you saw it all on TV. Would have been nice in colour!

It's late Monday night. The plane is due early tomorrow because the doctors are coming for their monthly visit. Alison's due for her third injection. Pat Killoran (politician) is supposed to also be coming to deliver his policy speech or whatever. And its village work day, a group is supposed to be going to plait palm leaves for the walls of our study/guest room. Its also the day scheduled for the burning off of the island (grass) but I hear they've cancelled that until after school sports for some reason ...

I've had conjunctivitis for a couple of weeks now, and this is all very blurry. I guess I'll get a chance to see the doc tomorrow. I'm also very tired ...

New Ceiling

The ceiling wasn't in last week, was it? Its really lovely. Took 3 days to do, beautiful to look at. I find it hard to believe when I lie in bed staring at it. No more tin roof with "Jerry" painted in big letters. The roof is painted (on the outside) too, should protect it for a few years. I have a new window in the kitchen, and two of our windows have fly-screens (the rest are waiting for materials to arrive "when the boat comes" maybe this Friday.) In the evenings our biggest hassle these days is (big) grasshoppers. Can you imagine trying to cook and eat with these things flying around and hopping into your food and in your face? Later in the year I guess it will be little brown beetle season again too ... be nice to have the screens up before they start, and then the flies get extra thick during the doldrums and pre-wet season.