"In Australia I sickened of the urban life, the crowded rush to work in the mornings, the tiresome after-work booze-ups at the pub and the predictability of my future. I’d spent five years in advertising. I was now an account executive doing the bidding of my corporate masters, selling the American dream that had become Australia’s. My initial fascination had become a curse and no longer was I interested in the shallow search for unique selling points and catchy phrases, the pretty pictures and the jingles, selling capitalism to the masses.
As I observed the careers of my fellow workers grinding relentlessly toward retirement, I felt a dark cloud descending and as it thickened around me I struggled to find a way to escape. I thought about inland Australia where mining companies paid well and life was rough in the desert. I considered joining the army, something to initiate and toughen me and help me escape the malaise I felt. But the war in Vietnam was in the headlines every day and Australians were dying in a distant struggle that made no sense to me and I quickly dropped the idea. And then, one day, an old school friend suggested Papua New Guinea ..."
His description of Kieta brings back lots of memories:
"Kieta was perched on a narrow ribbon of land skirting the harbour. Pok Pok Island loomed offshore, protecting the harbour from the squalls and storms that sometimes tore in from the east with great ferocity. Pok Pok means crocodile in Pidgin English and the island had the shape of a huge crocodile laying flat on its belly on top of the sea, its huge head jutting out to the south, its tail tapering to the north. It was inhabited by local natives who paddled their small canoes loaded with copra, fish and vegetables for sale in Kieta.
Jimmy Wong’s Chinese trade store was at one end and of the settlement and Kieta’s hospital, a series of grass huts with tin roofs, was at the other. Between were administrative buildings huddled under the ubiquitous coconut trees that curved and swayed against the cloudless sky providing dappled shade from the tropical sun. Houses with enclosed verandahs protecting the inhabitants from the teeming malarial anopheles mosquitoes, crept back from the shoreline and climbed steeply up the mountains offering a fine view of the picturesque harbour. A thick green blanket of jungle, a carpet of dense undergrowth and a profusion of tropical forest trees swathed in creepers and vines and screeching wildlife, accelerated rapidly into the clouds toward the inland spine of the island.
The Kieta Club, a whites-only club where the local expatriates drank too much and run by a small jolly Aussie fellow who wore colorful sarongs, took pride of place at the centre of the small community and near the shoreline was the Kieta Hotel where I stayed when I first arrived."
For a full profile of Andrew Leslie Phillips, click here.