27 January 1984

Letter: Parcels

Letter 27 / 1 / 84

The PO is gradually getting sorted out after Christmas. The January parcel from Sydney posted January 15th got here on 24th.

Last week our parcels which we posted in Cairns in August finally arrived on the boat.

James loves his new shirts and they are a good fit.

Alison's spoon

Alison loves her new spoon (though right at this moment I can't find out where she's hidden it).

I opened the parcel when we were sitting on the school oval, and Alison immediately started crawling around happily with her spoon in her hand.

Then we came home and sat her in her seat and put her bowl and spoon in front of her ... after a few minutes the light suddenly dawned - its a spoon - and she started digging into her bowl with it.

I've given up trying to feed her - she spits out anything that she hasn't put into her mouth by herself. (She's like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead ... when she's good she's very very good, but when she's bad she's horrid.)

So its mostly "finger foods" - but she loves using a spoon, so every now and then I make some gluey custard (which sticks to the spoon easily and won't fall out of the bowl even if its tipped upside down!) and she has a go. I'm never sure how much actually gets eaten though.

Tombstone Opening

The Tombstone Opening ceremony is a strange religious mixture. They have an Anglican-type service that is mumbled through (all wearing proper Anglican robes).

Don't know where this particular service came from, who made it up specially, and how much the Anglican powers-that-be know about it.

The real purpose seems to be final appeasement of the ghost, the Anglican service is more along the lines of getting them out of Purgatory (which of course is a totally Roman Catholic concept and not generally accepted in the Anglican Church).

The non-religious excuse for the ceremony is "out of respect" for the deceased.

Fruits, and everything dies

Sorry to hear about your fruit flops.

Our corn looks like its doing well. The tomatoes look hopeful. And the three citrus trees are growing despite their holey leaves. I think there may be some pumpkins on the way.

Everything else ... well it all dies one way or another. James has had death explained from "Daddy's corn dead" to "sick man is dead" when George B died.

Sacks and clothes with holes

I'm still wearing my cotton "sacks" from my last pregnancy - I never really got out of them after Alison was born except for a few months in skirts to make feeding her easier. They are rather dull and faded-looking, I keep wondering if they will last the distance. What with the sweat, scrubbing, and sunlight, nothing lasts long here. Peter's shirts suddenly have big holes in them.

At first we thought James had got hold of some scissors, then we thought battery acid must have got onto them, ... and despite great care they just keep producing holes.

So we are guessing its body acid / scrubbing / deodorant etc. - they are pure cotton. His older shirts which are a synthetic mix have survived ... except that in recent years he has continued to develop around the shoulder area and of course the sleeves keep tearing off - I've given up trying to sew them back.

Neurotic Ducks

Our ducks are neurotic.

The day we got them, there were ten of them crammed into a tiny box. But as soon as we tried to separate some of them off, they made so much noise and fuss that we put them back.

Since then we have had many consignments of ducks arrive for other people, and we have had no trouble separating these ones.

Then after one duck got sick (and well again) they wouldn't go into their house at night. Now with the six drakes gone, they won't come out in the morning.

And ... still no eggs.

Cute chicks

Our tiny chicks are a lot of fun though.

We didn't mean to get them. We over-ordered ... and although we could get rid of them by merely whispering that there are some chicks available ... we decided they would be fun to keep to replace the drakes.

They are so independent right from the start. They scratch the ground and peck and everything - just like big ones, but they are so tiny, and light. When you pick them up you barely know they are on your hand. Then they flutter their tiny wings and leap off into mid-air.


After three days of kindy James came down with a nasty "cold-sick" so he's home today. He sounded like he had asthma this morning.

Alison has a runny nose too, but otherwise (apart from heat-rash) seems fine. She is certainly full of "bounce" as always.

Right now Peter has gone fishing and taken James with him - he hasn't had to go fishing for nearly a week because other people have given us fish to eat.


We are looking forward to Peter S (white principal) and his family returning any day now - I wonder how they feel about returning.

James likes having Narissa around because she plays his kind of games (like teddies and tea-sets) and she has white hair like him. He does feel very conspicuous among the island kids sometimes.

Little Danielle is another "girl with a curl", so cute and sweet but with a terrible temper - she should be getting on well with Alison before the year is out.

Then the family will leave and we will have to break in another teacher family .... although, change is in the air. The Education Department is scheduled to take over the school about mid-year, and that should mean bringing in some more white teachers - somehow.


Having stopped formal language sessions for the Christmas break, Peter's been trying to build up a supply of tapes of different ones talking or telling stories fairly informally.

But we are up against the old brick wall again.

Even James Rice and Barnie Day say : "Yes, I'll come at 9am. No, don't come to my place, I'll come to yours." And then, two days later, with a smile, "Oh, I didn't come because I went to my garden."

Sometimes we have seen them buy a drum of flour in the store and then walk past our house with it on their shoulder hiding their head, hoping (apparently) that we can't see them or recognise them.

We are missing something here. Our heads are full of bright new creative ideas, but creativity is not the "in" thing up here, and we don't know where to start next.

George S is on a drinking binge, can't even walk straight. Balaga is teaching in the school now to replace the habitually drunk Saibo whom Peter S sacked last year. (These school teachers - Balaga and Saibo -are straight off the street, no training whatsoever.)

Sewing Machine

My little old treadle sewing machine - given to me by an old lady who is moving into a home - is in Cairns and all crated up ready to come. There are so many odd jobs I've been putting off for when it arrives. I'll be able to make a lava-lava for Peter in an hour instead of two days.

24 January 1984

Letter: The Walking Wounded

Letter 24 / 1 / 84

Just a quick note to let you know that we are still okay.

The little one seems to be doing okay at about 12 weeks.

Alison has a slight cold, she is teething, I think.

James started kindy today - rather tearfully and apprehensively. He is recovering from a nasty boil on his shoulder.

Peter did his back in last week - he just happened to be closing the fridge door at the time. So in between giving him painkillers and rubbing liniment on his back, I suddenly find myself doing some of the heavier jobs around the place.

We are surviving.

Flying ducks

Yesterday one of our ducks suddenly flew. She did look surprised!

They always have a good flap when we let them out of their house into their run in the mornings, and this one just took off, honking and squawking with alarm ... and then found herself on the wrong side of the fence and tried to sieve herself back through.

So, yesterday, Peter trimmed their wings.

A lot of people here have been buying ducks and chicks through us - we now have six chicklings too, to James' delight.

Some of the ducks have got sick. One family put Aspro Clear in their water and they got well. Another family used a Vitamin C tablet with the same results.

We have now sold all of our drakes, only four ducks left - but still no eggs yet.

The all-important bung

On Saturday Peter took James fishing, and came back when the tide was really low.

Because of his bad back, he decided to anchor the boat and wait for the tide to bring it in a bit.

He woke up at 4am, suddenly remembering that not only would the tide have been in and out again by then, but he'd left the bung out of the boat.

Someone at church the next day told us they had found our boat with only the head of the motor above the water, and they had pulled it up for us.

The manual said if your motor gets submerged it must be serviced within three hours or else its had it. But we weren't sure how much it had been under water, and being Sunday we couldn't even try starting it. So we had to wait until Monday before we could find out that it still starts ok.

Hills Hoist

We have a new rotary clothes hoist!

Very commonplace to some people, but quite exciting to us!

The lines we had tied between the house and shed and shower/toilet were such a nuisance. They pulled the wall off the shed once, and several times broke resulting in all my carefully (hand-) scrubbed clothes landing in the dirt. And you always had to duck through rows of wet nappies and other washing to get to the toilet, shower, or duck pen.

We still can't help ducking when we go outside! But its great to have a rotary hoist now.

Police presence

Last week we had a visit from a couple of white policemen. There had been some 'trouble', breaking and entering to steal metho, and so the police had come to sort things out.

The detective from Cairns is a Presbyterian chap who goes to the same church as our friends the Hs in Cairns. He also went to Queensland Bible Institute, so it was fun to sit around and exchange Bible College Stories. With a 9 month old boy at home, he was rather taken with Alison. Peter was glad of a bit of white company on his fishing trips too. James was thrilled to have some 'uncles' around the place.

Late delivery

Last August (5 months ago) when we decided we might be up here for more than six months at a go we asked our friends in Cairns to buy a whole lot of things, including some cartons of skim milk powder. Since then boats have come and gone - some with mail and some without - and finally last week our last three parcels from that lot arrived.

Washing Day

With me having been sick, and Peter struggling with a bad back, we have quite a build-up of dirty washing ... and we have promised ourselves that today is THE DAY.

So, better get on with it.

12 January 1984

Letter: Taking a Little Holiday

Letter 12 / 1 / 84

I'm sitting up in bed in our living room - we're in a shambles again. We ran out of floor paint before and didn't do our bedroom, and now at last the paint is here, and the turp's too, and we have the time and energy to get on with it.

We've been taking a bit of a break from actual work, though of course we are still well and truly in touch with the people - unlike people in some locations the people here do leave us alone if it seems that we want to keep to ourselves for a while. In fact, that has been largely our problem working here, persuading them to 'bother' us even a little bit.

Camping on Waier

We decided it was about time we took a camping holiday. The wet season has disappeared for the time being, the 'doldrums' are back, and I felt that with the mirror-smooth water maybe I could venture out in the boat at last.

So we went for a day-trip, half prepared to stay the night if we found somewhere we liked ...

As we approached Waier Island we saw turtle tracks on the beach and, feeling very intrepid, went ashore to poke for eggs.

Well, that turtle went for a long walk looking for somewhere to lay, but eventually we were sure we had the right spot. I poked with Peter's crayfish spear - until I broke the spear.

Peter dug a bit, but we weren't aware of how deep these turtles dig their nests.

Late that afternoon James Rice and some of his family came looking for eggs, having dug up three other lots elsewhere, and they poked really deep where we had been looking and found the eggs.

Unlike these people, we couldn't eat a couple of dozen each, so we just took a few and he had the rest.

Anyway, we had our screen tent with us, and we set that up right under a shady wongai tree on a lovely little beach on Waier, and decided to spend the night. Peter did some fishing and we had lovely barbecued snapper for lunch.

Inside the crater

Then we went exploring inside the crater of Waier.

You may remember from "Drums of Mer" the evil cult associated with "Waiat" on Waier - its no wonder superstition grew up around that place, its really creepy.

The whole island is just three steep sides of a rocky crater, in places it's worn away so it looks like statues glaring down at you.

There are all sorts of holes and caves, but they mostly take a bit of scrambling up to. We were camped on a little beach outside the crater, and the water (as it is around all of these islands) is crystal clear, the sand is fine and white.

But when you get inside the crater the water is murky and yellow.

On the beach the sand looks white, but just beneath the surface its black. The heat is intense from all the surrounding rocks.

Stepping into the rays

As Peter stepped out of the boat - he leapt right back - he had just missed stepping onto a stingray in the murky water.

He splashed with an oar and found there were three stingrays around the boat.

We ventured a few metres up the beach towards an interesting looking cave, but we found ourselves getting cooked so fast in the intense heat that we hurried back to the boat, deciding we would find a cooler time to explore in there, maybe when the wind is blowing into the crater.

We headed back to our little camp, and spent the afternoon feeling hot and sunburnt.

Sleeping with the Sand Man

When the sun finally gave in and went down, and we headed for our beds ... we discovered the problems associated with sleeping on/in exceptionally fine sand. There was just no getting rid of it, and when you are as sunburnt as we were, sand is not a welcome bed companion!

Alison had been restless all day - hated being carried around, wanted to explore on her own - and hadn't eaten her tea. So she woke up about every hour.

Peter would put a bottle in her mouth and then go out to check for turtles (as he had promised James he would turn one over for him if he saw one) and I would go out to the 'toilet', refill Alison's other bottle for the next shift, and try to get some of the sand out of the bed.

By the early hours both James and Alison had saturated themselves and the sleeping bag they were on, and of course both of them were (sunburnt and) covered in sand - and miserable!

By 5am we couldn't stand it any more, so we 'got up'.

Quick storm

We decided to go across in the boat and look at the other side of Dauar Island (which we'd never seen) and then head for home.

But we just got around Dauar and back to our camp in time to batten down before an approaching storm ... we suddenly wished we had our tent instead of the screen tent.

As it turned out there wasn't much rain, just a lot of wind directly into our faces, it was hard keeping the boat safely anchored.

After about an hour cooped up in our little screen tent we were released at last and came scurrying home. What a holiday!

We've left the screen tent there and intend to return to continue our holiday when we can iron out a few of the problems.

Fish at home

We have a couple of small fish for tea tonight. This is one kind that you have to fry, really hard, until the skin goes black. Then you pick the outside off and it's beautiful inside.

Funny how we have actually got used to some of these things.

Ducks and Drakes

We finally admitted to ourselves that we had six drakes and four ducks - pretty poor show when the guy who sold them to us said he was pretty sure they were all females.

We wanted to swap with anyone who had more ducks than drakes, but in the end we decided to sell off all six of the drakes ... and of course they were snapped up within a few minutes of that fact being known.

Really, you could sell anything in this place, just name the price.

Ron Day's Wedding

Last month there was a wedding - pretty rare in these parts.

The couple had both attended 'School of Australian Linguistics' (SAL) in Darwin, rather a doubtful organisation with government funding, and she became pregnant.

He is fairly religious (Anglican) and so decided that although they had made a mistake they would at least try to get things right now.

So last year we were among those invited to their engagement here, and now the baby is Alison's age and it was time for their marriage.

He is actually Ron Day, Barnie Day's son. In the meantime she has been 'restored' into the Anglican church, and confirmed by the bishop when he visited here.

With feasts here, its generally true that if you know it's on, then you are 'invited' to attend, but with this one we actually had an official invitation from Barnie. At the wedding feast we found (to our slight embarrassment because it gave us real problems with looking after the kids) that we were actually seated at the bridal table with the select rather than on the mats with the masses - we are not used to any sort of recognition here.

The Wedding Cake Debacle

The wedding was to have been on Friday, but when Barnie came to invite us on Thursday he told us it had been postponed until Saturday.

Then one of the ladies came to see me asking if I'd do the cake!

In the time between supply boats, and without warning, its very hard to come up with eggs and icing sugar. What a time of it we had! I didn't know what kind of cake was expected, but decided a (boiled) fruit cake would mean it would keep a day or two if there was another delay in proceedings. So I made a big (thin) rectangle and a little square to mount on top ... using egg powder, and most of my secret supply of dried fruit - I had to put in 'fruit medley' which has dried apples etc.

Then a plane came loaded with fresh 'goodies' (plums, apricots, cherries, lettuce ...) including eggs. This happens from time to time, but not on any regular basis. So I hurried over and bought some eggs. But when I got them home and tried to separate them and make royal icing, they were all slightly off and wouldn't separate. I dredged up three that I had before and had to make do with thin icing with no almond paste under it.

Well we managed to make a fairly presentable cake (all things considered) with four foil-covered cotton reels to rest the top tier on - and left it to set, to put it together at the last minute.

Overnight it did set a bit, while I had nightmares about rats and mice eating it, or ants getting into it, or finding the icing had all run off onto the floor ...

Saturday was hot, and the icing started to melt.

We emptied our tiny caravan (gas-powered) fridge and put it in there during the wedding service. Then we carried it carefully down to the Day's place and set up the tiers on the table. We sat at the wedding feast watching it gradually droop and drip - the top layer slowly sank down to join the bottom layer as the cotton reels sunk into the bottom cake.

Not even a taste

We didn't see them take it away and cut it up. We saw a plate of cake being passed around, but it was empty before it got to us, we never even got to taste it!

Time to dance

Of course, the festivities ended in dancing. James just had to be dressed up in his gear, so were Wilfred and his boys.

Wilfred was planning to do a dance with his boys, but they all fell asleep before the dancing started, so he went on with James instead. It took a bit of gumption on James' part, once or twice he hesitated and his lip quivered, but he saw it through to the end and went to bed a very proud boy.

Ali baby

Alison looks like she could walk in the next few weeks - but then she did take quite a few weeks to get her crawling act together. She often forgets what she is doing and lets go with both hands for a few seconds.

She is so tiring to look after. I wish I could get someone to take her from time to time.


And James is in full voice these days - wish we had someone to spend more time talking to him and listening to him, and reading his books to him.

He will spend as long as we will let him with his headphones on or in front of the radio/cassette player listening to his kindy tapes over and over. At least there he hears English, though his speech is still mostly Creole. "Yumi go now? Yu laiki dis pla?" - and all with that special Islander lilt to it.

Kids together

Together they are such a funny pair. They often just put their heads together and giggle for no obvious reason. Alison get very animated if she hears him coming, especially if we say "Here comes James!"

He still tends to try to copy her rather than just being himself, wants a bottle if she has one (and when they slept close together on Waier he kept pinching her bottles, which didn't help!) but we don't fuss about it and she's growing up so fast she'll soon be up with him anyway.

He has lots of special times too, with books or blocks, when she can't join in, and of course 'his' music on the tapes.

As for number three, things seem to be developing well despite early set-backs. The doctor's monthly visit is next week, so I guess I'll have another check-up then. According to my calculations I'm only 10 weeks yet, but according to finger measurements I'm at least 12 weeks, so it could be another baby elephant despite all our best efforts.

Clam guts

Last week Peter went out diving a few times with the chaps. I think we told you about the shark incident? The last time they went they came back without crayfish but loaded with clams and trocchus. We've really come to enjoy these delicacies, though Peter still won't try the (nice) soft part of the clam, only the tough muscle bit.

Letter: New Year

Letter 2 / 1 / 84

Plenty going on today - New Year celebrations, dancing and feasting - but it's all at the other end of the village (a good mile or more away), too far for us tired bodies in this heat.

Peter is supposed to be in the Komet Clan dancing team tonight - I spent the last couple of days making him a new lava-lava (by hand) - but the practice for it was supposed to be last night and after being up most of the night before (New Year's Eve) poor Peter was fast asleep long before the drumming started at 9.30pm.

Peter doesn't know any of the dances, so he really could have used the practice.

Dance Competition

Tonight is like a competition between the various teams - it will go well into the night.

James has caused quite a stir - he's a good little dancer. I think because people were pleased with him they invited Peter to dance too.

Then came a big discussion over which clan we are in - its all been very helpful in our learning more about the culture.

These people have little or no art and crafts, but their dances are very expressive. They tell stories about fishing, catching turtle, things like that - the actions are very obvious. (All the old head-hunting and spirit dances seem to have been put aside, we never see or hear them.) So we find them actually quite enjoyable to watch.

Its customary for the women to go among the men as they dance and sprinkle them with talcum powder or squirt perfume on them, or if they are especially pleased with their dancing they put money at their feet (or in their mouths) and maybe mimic a bit for a laugh (by showing how badly they do it they make the man look good) - but I'm not quite up to all that ... I might when Peter dances.


Housework has been a bit of a nightmare for me lately. The house is in such a mess - Peter's done most of the washing, washing-up and child-minding. Every day I wake up with determination to clean the place out and catch up on everything ... but by 10am I'm worn out and flopping. I get up for a bit, carry Alison around, then flop some more.

Tuesday morning - after the dance

Last night's dance went until 4.30am - it was due to start at 8pm but didn't get underway until 10.30pm. By then all the little dancers (like James) had fallen asleep, all dressed up ready in their "su" (palm leaf skirts) and everything.


Peter went out in the boat twice on Saturday. He took James out in the morning and came back with two big beautiful coral trout. And then he went out diving with 3 men. They brought back six beautiful big crayfish, a barrel of clam meat, and a bucket of turtle eggs.


While they were out (walking in the water towing the boat), Wifred 'mentioned' there was a shark nearby, and laughed to see Peter scrambling into the boat.

He called to the others to come and look, he said it was a one metre shark, and they all peered under the boat at it - Peter said it was more like a metre wide, about 8 foot long, just the other side of the boat - kind of lying on the bottom with a bevy of brightly coloured fish buzzing around its head.

Suddenly it lifted its head, opened its mouth and came straight for them (slowly!).

Peter was first back into the boat, landing on the clam shells and getting lots of little cuts. Wilfred (all 120kg of him) landed on top of him so heavily he broke Peter's crayfish spear. And the other two also tried to get into the same side of the boat, all but tipped it right over - there was an awful moment with three pairs of legs dangling in the water before the boat righted itself and they all fell in a mess on the top of the clams in the bottom of the boat.

They didn't see where the shark went!

Airstrip Jab

The Doctors on TI have finally got their act together and they have decided that if I won't come in to TI hospital and let them observe me for 'x' number of months (they must be bored) they would at least give me the 'anti-d' injection.

Peter was all fired up to do it, but then a boy here got an infected finger, and they sent out a plane for him - complete with a syringe-brandishing nurse for me. To save time I met her at the air-strip ... where I had quite a job persuading her that under the circumstances I'd rather have the jab in my pudgy little arm than elsewhere!

Sick Ali

Alison has finally recovered from a miserable 4 days and 3 nights of high fever - still don't know what caused it. She came out in a brief rash after the fever left, and her eyes were slightly puffy - she was really wrung out and floppy for a while. Maybe it was German Measles or something - but she is also teething.

Sick Duck

We also have a lame duck. She seems to be improving after a few days of special care, but still can't walk. No eggs yet. It does appear that about 6 of the ducks are going to be considerably bigger than the other 4 - who seem to have stopped growing. Maybe we will have 6 drakes and 4 ducks. I guess we will soon be eating some duck meat - or give some away if so.