The Duck War

Our two ducks

We often underestimate nature and vice versa. I have been brought up to respect nature and all living things.

Snake is one of the most hatred of all living things but I respect snakes. Associated with the devil and Satanic rituals, witchcraft and mysteries of the world, snakes can really scare people. By the same token, snake is also worshipped in cultures where it is believed to be wise and an alluring creature. A creature of good fortune.

I have grown to be interested and more aware of the snake since we moved to our new home outside Brisbane. On our 2.5 acres, there are several different snakes, that are natives to this beautiful land. These include the common carpet snake, the tree snakes and also the venomous Eastern Brown Snake which would kill you with its bite.

When you live amongst snakes and other wild animals, there are special unspoken laws about the places where they call “home” and the places where we call “home”. To some degree, you would like these rules to be respected by all parties concern. That is not to be the case as we found out last week. In my short story “The Duck War”, I re-lived the incident of Tuesday February 18, 2014.

The Duck War

As the sun yoke melted into the distant horizon, the cool breeze finally arrived. It was 6:30pm. We decided to get back into the warm house and order pizza. Too much fun and we were late to make dinner. My older son Nathan had left. His shift started at 5:30 pm. He was working at Pizza Capers so we get a 40% discount. Aunty Kos drove the three the children; her two daughters and my younger son Chris to Pizza Capers to pick up pizza.

I had settled our two pet ducklings into their nest of curled soft wood shavings atop an old baby towel. The nest was inside a large old plastic chest about 150 metres by 50 cm long and 60cm deep. It was secure and warm. The ducks immediately went to sleep. On top of the chest we were three holes smaller than the size of a tennis ball. We had left them opened for air circulation. At night before bed, I would place glass blades from an old fish tank to capture the warmth and keep snakes, rats and other animals out.

The ducklings both wild and rescued from our pool have been out on our veranda for a week. Initially, we raised them in our bath tub. They had been inside the house for the past six weeks. Their siblings died after the first week. Two from drowning and one from fever.

I heard Kos’s Hyundai family car return up the driveway and parked outside. Inside, we ate what they bought back, the delicious pizzas. Everyone fought over their favourites and over ate. The last cuts of pizzas and crusts with teeth marks were left on the table in black cardboard pizza boxes.

Satisfied, the children settled in our comfy brown suede lounge and soon were engrossed in their teenage gibberish. I remained at the dining table with Kos. Our table, a large twin slab of gold hoop pine were interlocked in the centre by two sets of Japanese bow. The bows were made from ebony pieces.

I felt a touch on my feet.  I shivered but it was only a slight caress from the evening breeze that slit between the two sliding glass doors.

Kos and I talked about life.

“Knock! knock!”. My older son Nathan interrupted our conversation. He had returned from his shift. It was 9 pm.

Nathan joined his brother and the girls near the couch, three metres away from Kos and I. As the evening wore on I looked at the duck chest and thought about shutting the holes. It was cooling down quickly.

Two minutes later, just past 9pm a movement caught my left eye. I starred through the sliding glass door to the duck chest on our veranda. To my horror I saw a medium sized orange, white and black carpet snake easing itself into one of the airholes in the duck chest. At the speed the snake poured into the chest, I was not sure how big nor long it was. In a second I heard one of the ducklings cry. It was a gentle cry of gasping for air, terror and surrender. The other duckling’s cry was high and alarming.

“Snake!” I screamed.

“Nathan!, Chris! Snake! I called again and ran.

I threw the glass doors open and grabbed the house broom. I beat the middle of the snake with both hands using the broom. The broom handle smashed into the snake’s middle, making a thudding meaty sound. The broom broke. The disappeared into the chest, middle, tail and all.

My son Nathan ran to the chest and tried to open it.

“No!” Don’t open it!”

He stopped.

“Push the chest downstairs!” I screamed at him.

Nathan tried to tip the chest onto the veranda.

“No! Push the chest down the steps. That will give us time to get the duck”.

The chest was very heavy.

Together, Nathan and I pushed the chest down the length of the veranda to the top of the stairs. We edged it and its weight took the chest down 14 steps and hit the ground. It did not tip over.

We heard a duck cry.

We ran down the steps and tried to tip the chest and it fell on its door. Everything was upside down. The door did not open.

“Wrong side!” Nathan screamed.

We both lunged at the chest again. The duck was frantic.

Finally, we forced the chest on its side flipping open and the duck ran to me. She was wet. I picked her up and wrapped her in a towel and ran upstairs. I gave her to my son Chris. I ran back downstairs to Nathan. Nathan tried to move closer and pull the snake off the other duck.

“Don’t touch the snake when it is trying to eat. It will attack you!” I yelled.

I got the broken broom and threw it at the snake. I got another stick and tried to hit the snake off the duck. By now, the snake had tightened its grip; completely constricted the duck’s little body. Her pretty little eyes stared emptily from her little head above a tight coil of python muscle. I stepped back. I was angry. I wanted to get the duck. My friend, her daughters and my sons told me, there was nothing I could, the duck was dead.

I started to yell angrily and cursed the snake. I started to cry in frustration. My son Nathan hugged and told me, the duckling was dead and that was the way it was. I mumbled about all the right things I should have done. I cried. I felt guilt and mortified.

“I should have simply putting the glass over the holes in the duck chest”, I sobbed.

I was so angry and walked tearfully back to where the duck and the snake were in a a crumpled heap amongst the nesting and the sticks we threw at the snake. At this point, I decided, I would not let the snake eat the duck.

I ran upstairs and grabbed the kitchen stove lighter. I ran out the back of the house and headed for the pile of dried rubbish. I lit a dry black palm leaf. I knew it would hold flame for a while. I took the lit palm leaf to the snake and kept poking it angrily so that it would leave the duck. After a good 20 minutes, the snake uncoiled itself from the duck. It only moved half a feet and stopped. It held its long body and small round head up to the flames.

I was mad. I was crying. I kept pushing the snake with the burning palm leaf. My sons yelled that they would kill it but I said “No, “let it go”.

By now, the fire grew stronger on the new green lawn, burning the dried debris. The snake started moving. It slithered towards the bush. I ran to the dead duck grabbed its slimy wet mangled body and cried as I held it to my chest. I wrapped her in Christopher’s baby towel we had used in the duck’s nest. I placed the wrapped duck safely in the bin for burial the next day and went back to chase the snake. With our fire lit palm leaves Nathan and I chased the snake into the nearby bush.

When the snake had finally gone, I came back to the plastic chest and hit it with anger and cried for my duck. I thought of how she nestled in my lap just three hours earlier. I was heart-broken. The girls were in tears and their mother, my friend Kos came and hugged me and we climbed back into the house.

We sat down and everyone started talking about the incident. We were all shaken.

“I did not want it to eat the duck”, I said.

“It killed her but it will not have her”.

“I know! The snake pissed the wrong woman off” my friend Kos said.

“Mum! Mum! The snake is back! I heard my son Nathan call from his room about 15 minutes later. His bedroom overlooks the bush.

Nathan and I ran back downstairs and the snake slithered aggressively towards the house.

My son Chris ran down to us.

“Shall we kill it mum?! Chris asked me.

I said – chase it away. Light the fire!”

I tried to light the fire, but the snake made a B-line for the house. It came towards the steps fast- ignoring the fire. Nathan used the swimming pool pole and flipped it off to the side of the lawn.

The snake turned and came back again.

“He won’t give up”.  Nathan said.

“I know!” I said.  It knows we have two ducks. It will stop at nothing.

“Kill it!” I said.

In Hot Water

In Hot Water

(By JLeahy 11.2.2014)

I caked my face. Covering it with a pale brownish mud mask, I worked my way from the top down. Soaking my hands in water to glide the muddy consistency, I spread the mask thickly down my chin and neck, avoiding my eyes and nostrils and lips.

The mud mixture, an old New Zealand-made Nutrimetics face mask, felt cool and soothing. It stank like a familiar dried river bank. The smell did not bother me. Each second the mud started drying, it cracked visible veins across my nose, cheeks, brow and neck. The cracked mud also stretched my face in all directions like something out of Sci Fi. The mask felt dry and prickly.

I glanced into the mirror. In place of my reflection was an aged stranger. I had thought of this person in my head many times. Now, I was slowly bringing her to life. It was a very cold July evening, 1981 in the Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. I was in Year Eleven.

Here in this dormitory in the cold weather, it was rare to have a luxury of warm shower. For almost six months I washed in freezing water every morning and night.

Usually I would see steam escaping and feel the heat as I queued into the shower. When I got in, only cold water would run down. At this same time, I would hear other girls next door cursing and I knew the hot water has run out again!

Tonight I did not feel 100 percent. I desperately needed a hot shower. I did not go to study period and once the bell went, I rose from my single metal bed and got into the shower. I had enjoyed every drop of my warm shower before I started applying the cake on my face. It has been almost two hours since I got out of the shower.

I starred at the stranger and smiled knowingly at what was about to happen.

The temperature dropped sharply. The timing was perfect for the person in the mirror to emerge. I added some mud to her lips and cracked it when I smiled. I had planned to make this person reflected in the mirror; look dead but alive. I had only a few minutes left to complete her make-up.

I rinsed my muddy hand and gently nudged out a piece of soft gold and silver foil from my right pocket.  It was the inside of the Benson and Hedges cigarette packaging. I found this gem outside the Biology classroom this afternoon, rinsed it and pocketed it. What a fine finish this “metal leaf” would add to the mirrored person’s make-up, I thought. I quickly moulded the silver side of the foil onto my teeth with the gold side was showing.

I checked myself in the mirror. I grinned. I looked like the giant Jaws in James Bond films. I looked strange but not nasty!

Jaws got the name from his steel teeth that are able to bite through different kinds of materials. The character was played by actor Richard Kiel. I thought even though I now looked ugly like Jaws, my teeth were too neat. That wasn’t what I had wanted. I needed something more sinister.

I reached for my black eyebrow pencil. I coloured over the foil on three random teeth and blackened them. In the evening light, the blackened teeth disappeared. The stranger in the mirror started to look like an old witch with a few teeth.

With the same pencil, I dabbed firmly under my eyes and smudged dark grey shadows, like bags. These smudges gave my light brown skin a dull and decayed look. Then with the Johnson Baby Powder, I quickly dropped a splash of talcum on my hair to add at least 50 years to my age. With the pencil again, I finished off with some lines down my cheeks to the corners of my lips. I drew in a pair of crow’s feet on the edges of my eyes. I made a weird frown and traced where the rest of the wrinkles went. I pulled my hair back in a tight knot. This enhanced the severity in my expression.

I looked at the clock feeling its hurry in the ticking. It was almost 9pm and the study. The period would end in seconds. I felt the temperature plummeting and knew ice has formed on the hilltops. At any moment, the Year Eleven girls at Aiyura National High School would rush out of their classrooms and thunder down the hills. The rush was to get into the showers first, enjoy and linger under the hot showers.

The bell was going to go in any second I thought to myself.

I reached up to grab my thick knitted black cotton cloth I bought in a Lae second –hand shop. The bell went. I wrapped myself. Then quickly I slipped out of my 2 x 3 metre cubicle I shared in the Year Eleven Girls’ dormitory and headed for its shower block. Carefully I placed my steps on the wet floor so I would not slip or make a noise. The shower block  was about 8 metres from my room.

Energised by my hot shower earlier, I was refreshed and ready. I positioned myself at the edge of the laundry, facing the doorway to the shower block. Through the dark laundry door, a gust of wind hit me with a stench from the sewerage. I hugged my black cloak completely around me and ignored the smell. The only visible part of me was my face. The face was also the stranger, I had created minutes ago.

As I waited, my mind counted events of the last three hours. I had told the duty teacher I was sick and stayed in my room. I enjoyed a quiet meal of bully (canned meat) and Morobe biscuit and had the best, hottest and longest shower ever. This had been the only hot shower I had since I left my hot, humid city of Lae. I was not cut out for boarding school and the cold in Kainantu was miserable. Aiyura in the hills of Kainantu was one of the coldest places in PNG. In the past six months, the cold showers were unbearable. November was the warmest with an average temperature of 23.9 °C at noon. July was the coldest with an average temperature of 10.2 °C at night.  Aiyura had no distinct temperature seasons; the temperature was relatively constant during the year. However, the temperatures dropped sharply at night, just like tonight.

Suddenly my thoughts were cut with the sharp noise of running feet. The stomping got louder with giggles and shouting as they got nearer. The sound intensified. It vibrated like a herd of elephants approaching a waterhole. The Year Eleven girls hit the garden beds and raced down the hillside. They burst through the dormitory doors. I heard books and bags thrown recklessly on the floor and beds. Towels were yanked off wall nails and curtain rails. The girls raced, pushing one in front of the other to fit through the doors.

We all knew too well, the hot water did not run for long. Only the first girls to get in got warm shower.

I moved into position. I only needed one person to see me and at this thought I grinned.

At that same moment I heard a shocking gasp so close to me and caught a glimpse of a girl named Thecla. Her face dropped in a horrific expression as she reversed from the doorway.

Thecla had sneaked in first and had surprised me and herself. Turning in horror, Thecla started screaming and running down the hallway to the exit door: Tewel! Tewel! Tewel! (Devil! Devil! Devil!) “Devil! Devil!, Mi lukim tewel. I saw the devil!” she screamed again as she ran up the hill.

As Thecla rushed out and crashed into other girls behind her, her fear rippled through their emotions. These girls turned and ran out screaming the same thing in a chant. “Devil devil, we saw the devil.

I knew at that point, apart from Thecla, only two other girls may have seen me. Not all.  But, I heard a lot of screaming and running.

The shower, laundry as well as the dorm emptied in just a few minutes. The noise shifted outside rapidly. I eased the “stranger” back into my cubicle, wiped off the make up and cleaned my face with a wet towel. I covered myself into a sleeping position. The “stranger” was gone.

From my warm bed I listened to more screaming and confusion outside. If only I could have had some champagne through a drip to celebrate, I thought. But I had not drunk alcohol yet so I imagined the taste of champagne. I wanted to laugh out loud. I could not. I smiled and closed my eyes with satisfaction.

By now the boys ran down from their dormitories to help. The duty teacher and deputy principal, Graham Darby came with all the prefects to investigate. The screaming of “devil” went to “prowler” “rascals” and other things. There was even a claim that the residential ghost, a young lady who died in the dormitory years ago had returned. I could hear people surrounding our dorms. Torches were flashing across our curtains.  There were footsteps walking and running with urgency through the thick grass. The search continued for another half hour. Others searched in our agriculture class rhubarb garden and in the stinky drain.

“Let’s go! There is nothing”, I heard a male voice with finality. Nothing had been found and everyone were tired and longed for the warmth of the dormitories. It was freezing outside. Some girls were too afraid to shower that night. Everyone went to bed. I looked outside and once again, the chill and the blackness of the night engulfed the remains of the day and the shape and colour of everything.

Days went by and school returned to normal. Everyone in our dorm was cautious of the shower block and ironically many of the regular hot shower “queens” became considerate of others.

One night as we sat together to a meal, my friends started discussing the ‘Devil in the Shower Block” incident. They all agreed that it was a hoax. I was very quiet. Someone had asked me where I was the night the incident happened. This question brought up other prodding questions about my whereabouts on the night of the ‘crime’.

Soon my friends agreed that and if anyone could pull off such a hoax and bring the school to its knees, it would have been me. I denied the accusation. My friends were not convinced that I was too sick to do anything. The fact that I had been alone in the dorm that night did not save me. A few days later, they got the whole story out of me. I told my friends the truth to so much laughter and each of us joining in to re-enact of the events of the night. Because our rooms were only divided by cloth, other Year Eleven girls heard the story and reported me. Next day, the deputy Principal Mr Darby called me into his office. I had never been called into the deputy or the principal’s office before and prepared myself for the worst.

Darby asked why such a student like me could do something like that. The thought of finally tarnishing my record made me want to smile but underneath, I could picture my mother’s face.

“I just wanted to have a hot shower”, I told Mr Darby the truth. I looked at his face. His blue steel eyes held mine and I knew my reason sounded ridiculous.

Mr Darby reprimanded me and recalled the story of “The Boy Who Called Wolf”.

The significance of this story to my hoax was because in our school, Aiyura, the students and staff members often got attacked by nearby villagers. That night when the Grade Eleven Girls were screaming, Mr Darby had thought we were being attacked.

“I understand that story and I am sorry about my actions”, I said to Darby.

I looked at Mr Darby, expecting him to expel me from school.

Darby sat there looking back at me for a long time – then; he laughed out loud and asked me to not ever do something like that again.

Water – just a simple pleasure or life giver?

Many of you use hot water to shower in the modern homes. Water in households here in Brisbane for example is wasted everyday.

When I was growing up in my village Wagang outside Lae, Papua New Guinea, there was no such thing as a hot water system. Water in general was precious although we had rivers of it. The sky opened up almost everyday to pour it down in thunderstorm rains.

Our village had several rivers running through it at many points. It was no wonder my ancestors decided to settle here in this precious coastline. We washed in the rivers and creeks. Communities gathered in the morning and mostly in the evenings to bath, wash children, dirty clothes and cooking pots and pans. Men would wash upper river and women and children down river. I never got the meaning of who was dirtier than who in this instance. I also did not understand why the men would wash upstream and cups and plates and pots and pans were washed downstream. My mother always boiled water to rinse everything down. I was bounded by my cultural laws so I never questioned these arrangements of washing upstream and downstream.

Everything went into that river, from clothes, pots and pans and new born Christians at baptism would be thrown roughly in to be cleansed of their old self.

We had a separate creek or stream we would fetch for drinking and cooking with. We also fish and collected shells and other edible creatures and plants to eat and cook with from that same river. So general bathing was all cold water.

When I fell ill, my mother would boil a large saucepan of hot water with a plant we called ‘ma-le’ for cure. Ma le is a type of lily with a distinct smell and medicinal function. Sometimes we used basil. This special hot water felt good and smelt great and I remember always feeling better as soon as I emerged from it. Mother also said that the smell took away bad smell that attracted spirits and other things.

The luxury of hot water system only came when I went to friends’ house in towns after having gone to high school.

To me if water was such a treasured part of living and it gave life to so much more, we were always careful not to waste it. This means that hot water was gold. It is used for sickness and relaxation. It cleans sough dirt and so on. I always felt guilty if I stayed in a hot shower for too long and this guilt stayed with me for a long while.

It was just the same as the guilt for walking miles up the road to the drinking place at Wambasing Creek with plastic bottle containers to fill and then spilling them or breaking the bottles on the way back home to the village.

I have always respected the value of water and the life it brings to us. I ask this question many times. Imagine this – what if we run out or do not have water? I let you ponder that one while I want to share with you a story about hot water. For those of us that have been spoilt by the luxury of having hot showers, we can often forget how long we are standing in that shower. It feels so good right?

I hope you enjoy “In Hot Water”.

Mine Affected Get Control of Assets


Like many indigenous people, we in PNG are totally dependent on our land and our environment. In the picture on the top left, the women make sago. Most of their livelihood including fishing and other staple food such as sago is dependent on their rivers.  On the right (above) I sit with women leaders who gathered at Puka Duka Village to discuss the craft and capacity building workshop I run.

I wanted to re-blog this post (below) on PNG Mine Watch because I work with women in the mine affected areas in Western Province. Much of these mine affected areas have been in the news in Papua New Guinea lately. Earlier in this blog, I posted personal stories about women and violence. Some of the women I have worked with in these areas were in those stories. Under the project I am working with, there are a total of 64 villages. These women are very hard workers and they are also producers of some of the most beautiful and intricate arts and crafts in Papua New Guinea.

The project I work in is part of the Mine Closure and mine affected projects run by Ok Tedi Development Fund and PNG Sustainable Development with a contribution from the Women’s Association. The story below shows the “big picture” of what we are dealing with right now in these areas – the mine affected areas. I have watched the news keenly with a heavy heart that there are some good things happening in the affected areas and they should continue.

My role here was to research and find crafts (conducting cultural mapping) and run workshops to develop these crafts with the women craft makers so that the crafts are suitable for the export market. This job is not easy. Most of the creators of the crafts are traditional craft makers and they randomly produce items such as baskets, mats and other small crafts they use themselves. Sometimes they make some for the markets. However, markets being so far away, like a day to two days trip in the dinghy or half a day in a small aircraft. They women in the mine affected areas have very little access to – EVERYTHING!

By setting up goals and small steps we could take, I take the participants through a training where we set up a network to produce the crafts, plant raw materials, teach intangible skills (such as weaving) to younger generation and record and keep techniques that may die as part of a sustainable approach. One of the things I discovered was that many traditional raw materials were destroyed by the tailings but the women have moved seedlings and planted in new locations. We also looked for and brought back many traditional pigments which are no longer used. Instead, Western and Chinese dyes have been used to colour some of their baskets. After our last workshop in Eniyawa Village, South Fly, I can proudly say that some of the women are finding, using the old dyes and also re-planting them for the future. Once we sort out the materials, production and the preservation part; we then develop the product itself for the world market.

The recent concerns have been that many projects such as craft development may be stopped as a result of the dispute between all parties concerned – Landowners, Government of PNG, Ok Tedi, PNG Sustainable Development, and Mine Affacted Communities.

It is bad enough being far from all basic services but when the environment is also destroyed, your food, your water, your livelihood and even your art is destroyed. You become dependent on outside help.

Recent developments and court actions against the OK Tedi Mine and the PNG Sustainable Development has brought a lot into light about the people that live in these places. Now we can talk about the people, not just nameless, faceless humans whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the tailings. Here is the ABC Radio interview posted earlier by the PNG Mine Watch. I am very happy to hear that the people can now access more money and help.  This need for development and improvement to the livelihood of this area and the province as a whole has been long over-due.


ABC Radio Australia

The people affected by Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi mine have gained direct control of key assets created by the mine’s wealth, for the first time.

On Friday, Sir Mekere Morauta, Chairman of the PNG Sustainable Development Program handed over million’s of dollars worth assets to mine affected communities and to the government of Western Province.

It is part of the continuing fall-out from the PNG government decision to take over the Ok Tedi mine.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Martyn Namorong, Western Province Blogger who has worked for both Ok Tedi Mining Ltd and the PNG Sustainable Development Program

GARRETT: When the PNG government took control of the giant Ok Tedi copper mine in it starved the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program, until then Ok Tedi’s biggest shareholder, of income.

PNGSDP was forced to shed the vast majority of its close to 80 staff.

Now, unable to continue its work as a development agency working on behalf of the people of Western Province, it has been forced to handover its assets.

PNGSDP still has legal action pending challenging the government takeover but in a statement Chairman Sir Mekere Morauta said he was aware of the desperate need for development to continue in Western Province and so wanted to gift the assets to the people in an orderly and planned way so they do not go to waste.

The mine area communties take control of almost 6 million dollars worth of housing in the Star mountains town of Tabubil.

PNGSDP’s 25 per cent share in the Ok Tedi Developoment Foundation goes to the wider group affected by the mine – more than 100,000 people living in 156 villages.

PNG blogger Martyn Namorong who is from Western province applauds the move.

NAMORONG: It was the right thing to do. Those assets in the end belong to the people of western province and had to be transferred over otherwise they deteriorate without funding coming to PNGSDP.

GARRETT: Martyn Namorong says the community control of the 25 per cent stake or one share in the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (or OTDF), is particularly significant.

NAMORONG: It will mean communities will have direct board representation on OTDF whereas previously they only had associated directors on the board of the Ok Tedi Development Foundation. That will also have an impact on decisions that are being made on development programs throughout the Fly River communities.

GARRETT: Do the communities have the resources they need to get the advice they need to run these institutions effectively?

NAMORONG: Yes, they do have money in their trust funds. They can get the right people. The interesting thing has been the transfer of one share in OTDF, which means the communities will now have a director on OTDF and have a direct say in the application of their resources. They do have the financial capacity to get the experts that are necessary to run those projects. So if it is done properly it should work out well for those communities.

GARRETT: Control over the biggest asset PNGSDP’s 100 per cent equity in Western Power – which provides mobile phone and television transmission, as well as electricty – was given to the Western Province government.

In recent months blackouts have become more frequent and and Western Power’s ambitious expansion plans have been on hold.

In his acceptance speech, Western Province Governor Ati Wobiro promised to use the company to extend electricity supplies across the province.

Sir Mekere Morauta says there is ample income from the Ok Tedi mine for all the projects PNGSDP to continue but that may not happen, especially with the Western Province government short on staff and expertise.

Five million dollars has been spent by PNGSDP on design and equipment for a water and sewerage system for the people on Daru Isalnd and piles have been laid for the Tawao’o Point wharf.

Martyn Namorong says the continuation of the water and sewerage project is particularly important.

There is money in the Western province dividend trust fund, there is hundreds of millions there that the provincial government can apply for the benefit of the people of Western province.

GARRETT: Why is that water and sewerage program so important?

NAMORONG: Around 2010-11 there was a cholera outbreak in Papua New Guinea and the impacts were worse around daru because at the moment there is a night-soil waste disposal system. Basically, human waste is collected in buckets and then transferred out. There is no proper sewerage. The water supply is iregularly, irregular. we have about one hour of the water being turned on on the island. People collect the water and then for the rest people don’t have water going to the island. So it creates a huge public health risk. That is a very vital project that needs to get off the ground to improve the quality of life of the people of Daru island.

Short Story “The Penthouse”

There is a story behind every person, every thing and every place. My friends Gary and Tammy visited us one night last year and over dinner they told us a story about their new cafe in Dutton Park, Brisbane, Queensland.

Across the road from their cafe is a subsidized government accommodation which housed people from all walks of life. These people also have their own stories. They frequented Gary and Tammy’s small cafe. Gary and Tammy provide a service that no government nor expert can provide for free. The two cafe owners know they will never make millions for the coffee nor Gary’s super home-made health juices. But what is NOT on the menu is Gary and especially Tammy’s open heart and good listening ears for the many desolate people. They come often to buy a cold drink or coffee but most times they just talk to another human who is prepared to listen.

Another dear friend, Ileen comes to mind when I wrote this short story. She is a lawyer and a very smart woman. She probably could be employed in some high flying legal firm or corporate office or even stand in a high court fighting an easy case and collecting fat cheques. Instead, she has chosen to work with a charity organisation that provides low cost housing for ex druggies, alcoholics, criminals, you name it. Her job entails fronting up to used needles on the floors, threatening tenants, tenants fighting each other and smashing the property or trying to attack her. She has to calm these people down, negotiate and talk some sense into them unless it becomes too violent, then and only then, she calls the police. I really admire what she does but sometimes I am very afraid for her. There is something good in all of these even if it may not seem that way sometimes.

“The Penthouse” is for Gary, Tammy, Ileen and all those unsung heroes out there, who give their love and dedication to helping the forsaken souls. This story is fiction and I wrote it as part of my exercise from looking at a picture my teacher Isabel D’Avila Winter showed us during my Creative Writing Workshop. In this exercise, you choose a picture and free-write what comes to your mind about the picture. In my case, I also related the picture (I chose) to people that I knew. May be you could guess what picture I chose in order to write this story. I hope you enjoy “The Penthouse”. And, feel free to suggest any improvements.


The Penthouse

JLeahy Nov 4, 2013

I stepped forward. The wind gust slapped me. I swayed back and steadied myself. Then, calmly, I held my head up and gazed out over Brisbane’s Dutton Park. I held her note closer to me in my joint hands, cradling it like a precious gift. One single lined A5 sheet from an old doctor’s appointment with one sentence scrawled across the back in weak ball-point pen ink.

I was relieved there were no shakes today, the hands were calm. Otherwise the wind gust would snatch the note from me. I felt really good. Earlier, when I had left my apartment block on foot, my watch had told me it was 6pm. The block run by Church of Christ Queensland sat on Dutton Road, right opposite Café 169. The café was a place to sit, have Chinese; drink cheap coffee and talk.

Tonight, I was proud to have made it this far. I am on top of the world. She would have been proud of me too. I climbed up sixty unpolished concrete steps to The Penthouse. Lucky the stairway was almost completed and security lights were on. It would have been hellish trying to get to the ‘penthouse’ without steps and my poor eyesight.

Most of the buildings in the parklands and its surrounds were low. Coupled with an old pair of eyes and fading light I concentrated and re-arranged the shapes below me to my memory. From the top, each landmark gazed back in faded pastel of all shades.

From up here, and in this light, the houses below seemed fake and almost insignificant like a scene from a child’s story-book.  The large park spaces were gently turning into dark puddles.

Suddenly I had a moment of realization. My name is Jim Riley although mum and Mildred always called me “Jimmy”. I have lived in DuttonPark for 10 years. The Church of Christ Housing has been my home since Centrelink re-located me from Arthur Gorrie Corectional Centre. My one-bedroom apartment is full from top to bottom with things that people left on BrisbaneCity curbside collections. I like my things. In my lounge is a large black 40 inch Samsung TV. It doesn’t work but that doesn’t matter. Just like the black porcelain cat with the missing tail, whatever I collect looks good and adds character to my apartment. Everything I have collected is neatly arranged. But without Mildred to appreciate them, they have no use.

All these years, living amongst many that have been in and out of jails and those that have been on and off drugs added to the daily challenges of survival. The weekly state and church visits had attempted to sew many shredded lives together in one large tattered fabric. We were kept together. We lived quietly, separately. It is a different jail. No loved one comes to visit.

Sometimes a body would be found in an apartment and cops would turn up to take it away while we all watched. I am sure, across the road, the neighbors must think we are part of one big freak show. Mildred changed everything when she arrived.

Tonight I needed to rest my mind. It is a new beginning for Mildred and me. I needed to see the red bench where together Mildred and I sat every night. That was why I climbed up to The Penthouse. The eyes were not good but I barely made out the building that housed Cafe 169. Using that as a landmark, my eyes followed the road to Dutton Park and our red bench. In the dusk, there were only vivid outlines but I knew the red bench was there. The old oak next to the red bench is just a dark round mop now.

I had chosen the centre building out of the three construction sites. It is almost finished. Out of the three, Mildred and I had decided The Penthouse would have been built into this centre one.

I figured no-one noticed me leaving the block and no-one would find me once I sunk into the freshly dug ground. It was soft and my feet sunk into it when I made my way up here. With added mud from last night’s downpour, I could easily get swallowed by the soil. Any grader work would be perfect to seal any remaining evidence.

I caught the whiff of the surroundings. A concoction of wet soil, Chinese food and dog shit. My K-mart black socks were cleaned and felt comfy against the rotten old Stockman. I wore the Country Road gingham shirt mum gave me for my fiftieth. Mum got it second-hand but it was suave. Twenty five years later it still fitted. My black General Company pants from Vinnies came nicely over the shirt and under a matching leather belt. I had never felt better.

Two days before, Mildred and I sat in front of Cafe 169, discussing the three multi level construction sites. We watched them grow rapidly in the past 12 months. We planned to win the Lotto and share The Penthouse which we imagined would be right here on the top level where I am standing. The Penthouse would have a private pool and a Jacuzzi for late night hot tubs. We agreed it would be a fine change from sitting on the red bench and coping with the cold bites. I smiled. My eyes stung with salt and I blinked my tears back. My ears burnt at the thought of what could have happened. I felt a little awkward and stood at ease. I had never touched Mildred. At 75, I felt like a school boy all over again.

All I ever wanted was to see Mildred every day. That was enough. Even after three years, that was still enough.

I looked at her note again. “Dier Jimmy O-raali, if der wos any one I wud love and be with, it wud only be you”. She signed, “M”.

The note had come to me last night after the police found another body. I was told by a knock late in the night and the note handed to me. Police confirmed Mildred had another of her Schizophrenic fits, her very last one.

I was numbed. The Sergeant handed me the note. He said “Sir, this must be for you. Jamie across the street said Mildred was your friend”.

The cops left 24 hours ago.

I stood solemnly in The Penthouse.

The sun almost disappeared, dragging its last half yoke. I gazed out over Dutton Park once more and found myself looking right into Mildred’s hazel smiling eyes. Her ash grey wavy locks tucked over her ears and curved neatly under her ear-lobes, showing off her favourite red large heart-shaped drop earrings. At 52, she looked stunning. I starred at her. Her mouth remained in the smiling curve. I reached out and stepped forward to touch her. My foot was off the ledge, feeling nothing solid under me. As I almost touched Mildred’s face, I could hear Mildred whispering, “I’ve got you Jimmy”.

Living and Dying

It may have seemed like I fell off the blog table recently but all I did was stop to take my breath.

The good thing is that I can get my head around that fall and blog again.

You see, when I wrote my first blog, I was drawn to the excitement of writing to someone or more than one person who was reading it and appreciating the issues I wrote about or just enjoying the short stories. The many comments and praises that came in about my posts fed my ego. I could not stop. A close friend remarked that it was “godly” and I can understand what he means now although I did not at first. I thought he was being sarcastic.

The respond from the readers (whom I would like to thank very much), also encouraged me to go from my initial plan to write once a week to a daily scribble of stories.

So there I was enjoying my new celebrity status in blogging, even though you veteran bloggers may not think I am quite there yet; I was so driven in that moment and nothing could stop me until the big fall.

In the middle of all that blog-buzz, right there, on the centre stage, I fell apart.  My personal relationship ended suddenly and it literally crushed my heart. My old body wanted to shut down. I probably could have handled the break up better if I had wanted it to end. I felt hurt, sick, angry, insecure and most of all helpless.  I spent two weeks alone.

I read many of what others wrote and although some were funny, there were many different messages too, but all about the same things. Our life. Our relationships. Our struggles and our triumphs being some of these emotions we all live through in life.

Above all, I believe, our life is about love and happiness. Everyone needs love. When you have love, you are happy.

So, some soul searching, a little bit of bird talk, music from rustling trees, croaking frogs and the cicada choir sorted me out. Nature can give you some love back and this is true when you are surrounded by beautiful animals and birds.

Last week, my aunt passed away after a long illness with diabetes. It was deeply sad. Illness can make us lose hope and separate us from people that we love and things that we do. Illness can also make us despair and hate life itself. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to save someone we love. Life can make us very powerful and also take all that power away and we become helpless. And money cannot buy all power. What use is that power when you cannot help someone you love that is dying?

Two days after my aunt’s death, a very close girl friend’s father who was also a friend of mine died of a heart attack. He was a very successful lawyer and  one of the change maker who inspired many. It was shocking news. No-one saw that coming.

When I went to the family, my girlfriend read some of the things her father had written for her and showed me some pictures. These were her most powerful memories she hung onto while the rest of her mind was trying to accept that her father whom she really loved was very healthy, fit and happy when she had only seen him a few weeks before. She could not accept that death had stolen her dad.

I myself felt there was injustice as to why a happy, healthy man would die like that. It made me think of many of my own family members that had died for no good reason at all.

Travelling between and spending time with the two families gave me a lot to think about. I thought about how life can be so full and rich yet, anything can happen and change it drastically. And in the case of my aunt, no-one could do any-more to heal her, even though she was cared for and loved. With my friend, I hope she finds some peace in her heart and comfort in her family and friends. When my brother passed away just before he turned 32, we as a family never spoke much about what happened. None of us knew why he died. It just happened one day. We accept that he is not around but we don’t really accept that he will never be back.

It is true what they say about living in the moment and living now. You just never know what can happen next.  Enjoy your life. Strive to be happy.