A community champion leaves an example life for all as she bids farewell. An inspiring and heart-breaking story from Serahphina Aupong on Scott Waide’s blog.
The Big One – J.K. Leahy
(A special tribute to some of the powerful women that influenced my life).
My line stretched beyond the width of the fat river. The water was slightly brown-greenish – you could see fish swimming under the surface. There were plenty. Debris from two other smaller river mouths came towards us and unfolded to the current that spread across the wider larger Socwa river. The 250gm nylon fish line pressed an unseen line on the glassy surface. We were in the swamps of Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. I felt good my hook and bait was close to the other side. Maybe it will catch the big one.
It wasn’t a race between Ma Yang and I. It was a process of an apprentice with her teacher. And the apprentice in her final learning stages before graduation. The river had risen and covered the mangrove and pandanus roots and low-lying branches are now touching it. A mix aroma of wild tree flowers hung in the air, but the sweet pandanus penetrated the balance. With the deep current, yellow and peach awaho flowers flowed in a line that meandered through the low-lying branches like ballerinas in their fluff skirts. The flower centres popped out like mini umbrellas in deep maroon and gold flecks.
At eight, I was in primary school. But in my fishing years, I was ready to enter university, so we were there to start that course. This location is not for kids as my aunt would say.
“Only for those who are special” she said with a wink.
I knew my aunt had many secret fishing places. But if my mother knew Ma Yang had brought me here, my aunt would have been in trouble. Mother was mostly away and she would never take me to such places; she said “gaming sac” – meaning bad place, and they were full sorcery and other spirits lurking in the shadows.
My lead fishing teacher was beside me, and together we carried our old rice bags, roughly cut at one end and filled with bait (shrimps). The bait were all alive. We had a bush string each for our catch tied to the bag and dangled in the water. My teacher carried a knife. Sometimes we carried a roast banana or kaukau. Dry biscuits were okay, but they made too much noise when we snapped them with our teeth.
“We can pack them, but eat them on the beach after”, she said earlier this morning.
Ma Yang and I had planned this fishing trip for days. Yang yang means yellow in my mother-tongue, Bukawac. (Aunty Yellow was nicknamed “yellow” because of her skin colour).
Today the river swelled. Lup suc means the river had fattened with partially salt, debris and waste from rotting leaves, swamp and other fish life that would provide feed for the ‘kol pis’ in pidgin which means ‘cold fish’ – these are several breeds of swamp river fish.
I suddenly felt a tug and reeled in a cold fish. It was scaly like a python with brown green and bluish undertones. My aunt looked at me to say, ‘well done!”, but it’s all in the eye-talk.
The mosquitoes were biting, but the adrenaline from the fish bites created some tolerance to the annoying buzzing and bites. Sometimes without feeling the sting, when I took my eyes off the line, I saw mozzie bellies getting bloody and tight, then the mozzies would fall off and fly away. To constantly smack the mosquitoes meant an intrusion to the balance of the stillness, and the fish would move away.
“Mamang eng – be silence as Ma Yang often warned when we entered a sacred place. Every great fisherman knows that”. With the mosquitoes, she said if we put up with pain and irritation, we would truly master the art of fishing for cold fish.
I put some water on my brow to keep me cool. It was lovely under the trees but still hot. My next shrimp bait was peeled and neatly tucked over my earlobe like a cigarette – Ma Yang did the same.
We had travelled to this spot along the beach away from the village and deep into the swamp. Aunty Yangyang always picked a new spot for fishing, because she knew. I know she learnt it from her mother and my grandmother. My aunty’s mother was my grandmother’s sister. I was always excited at the anticipation of what mystery and beauty we would discover next and the fish we would catch there. My teacher never told me where we were headed next until we got there. That was part of the lessons – I had to pay attention to the land marks and work out how to get there on my own in the future. We used only shrimp baits for cold fish. We caught the shrimps the day before in a separate stream not far from our small village.
Travelling waist-deep through the wetlands and thorn bush, sharp objects, shell fish and branches and often stepping on kalum (thorn snail). This small snail is dangerous. Its tiny spikes broke off into your foot when you stepped on it. This often got infested, and can immobilise you weeks, if not dealt with early. It is funny because the word kalum also refers to ‘havoc’ in our language. The more difficult the journey, the more fish we caught, at least that’s how I saw it.
As my line raced across the flat surface, I pulled. Before I pulled out the fish from the river, there is a dance. The kol pis likes to jerk the line a couple of times and then let go. After a few jerks, it pulls hard and that’s when you know, you have got it. Aunty Yangyang taught me to not hesitate but also, not pull too soon. If you do, you lose the fish.
After years of fishing with Ma Yang, I learnt that some of the kol pis like eboob and ewayum took the lines like the ocean travelleys and made a dash for it.
I took my fish off my hook and I put the bush rope through the gills and dropped it into the water. It was now swimming again with the others I had caught.
Ma Yang was very quiet, but she had her eye firmly on the dark corners opposite us. We had fished for most of the afternoon and had been there for almost six hours already, but she was set on catching the big one. The big one is called “ee oc”. Both our catch lines were about a metre long. This would feed several households.
The big cold fish usually came at the end, like the grand finally and often this fish would come before or after you catch an eel. They co-existed in nooks of tree roots in swamp holes – both this fish and the eel. When my aunts and grandma and I catch these with our hands, you stick both hands into the holes and gently move along the belly of the eel to find the other. In my learning days, my grandma would find them and guide my hands to feel through the thick swamp. It was exhilarating, but all done in complete silence.
The sun was setting, and it got cooler. I had questions, but I was taught not to ask questions on the job. Anything I needed to know would be asked while we were walking home or by the fire at meal time. No-one spoke when we were ‘in the zone” and the fish were biting.
It was almost time to go home, but I was not tired. As the sun threw its last rays of a golden pink powder over the open space and green scaly pandanus – its reflection came closer to us under the awaho tree. She touched the water and I looked at her. Ma Yang’s fish line raced across the water and cut in a straight line as if a knife was being inserted into a cake. My teacher flexed her large, dried palm fish rod. It bent completely to the weight of what glided in large curbing circles in front of us.
She glanced at me. The finally dance began. I knew, the big one was here, but I must keep still.
Ma Yang died a few years ago after a long illness – there is an earlier post about her. I miss her.
(To my readers: I’m sorry this post was suppose to be out yesterday, but I’ve been ill and for some reason, I didn’t post it which means there will be two posts tonight).
I wish you (men and women) a wonderful time to celebrate all women on our planet.
Tomorrow, I hope to post a small story and some pictures to honour some powerful women in my life. Pictured is one such woman who is still an influence; my mother Freda Kauc. She is pictured here with me at University of Queensland in St Lucia, when I received my Masters in Museum Studies.
I am away from the blog again, but I want to wish all my followers, readers, family and friends a very Merry Christmas (and if you don’t celebrate Christmas) happy end of 2017. I wish you all a wonderful, spiritual and joyful 2018. Here is one of my favourite musicians, Sona Jobartha with a joyful tune. See you all in 2018. Joycelin
Beauty Within PNG Art Exhibition
On November 14th, 2017, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), I will show 50 pieces of my watercolours, mixed media and art studies, making this show the first fine art solo exhibition for any Papua New Guinea female artist.
On this final project for the year 2017, I will live my mother, Freda Kauc’s dream. Her dream was that I become an artist full-time. She said I had worked enough (over twenty years as a volunteer) in the capacity of an arts curator for other PNG and Pacific artists. My mother also said, I had the right to practice and show my own art. She also said the general work-place environment for any work was becoming harsh and toxic and she couldn’t see me there for long. I hate to admit it, but she was right.
My mother had believed art making was my true calling and persisted for over 20 years. Art is part of my life, beginning with my early years with my mother, her extended family, and the people from Wagang Village. I had taken part in several different art practices, including, but not restricted to contemporary and cultural performance arts, music, photography, writing, installation art, crafts and now painting. It was never as a “job”, or something I could make money from. Art making for me until now was purely for joy. One cousin asked once, “why are you wasting your time (on art)?’ How could I have answered that in one sentence, so I said, “you wouldn’t understand cous.”
I remember what I wanted to be when I grew up and that was to be a dancer. I danced with my people in our cultural performances and later with other groups from PNG and into the PNG National Theatre company. But, I ended up being a journalist and then a curator. I was scheming on the edges of art making, but I continued to pencil sketch and show my mother. This annoyed her. When I was pregnant with my first son, in 1994, I needed to get out of corporate and relax so I took acrylic lessons every Saturday and really loved it, but drawing was my number one love. We moved to Australia in 2004, and my mother visited in 2006. I started a drawing class, but one student said, “you should teach” so I dropped out and took watercolour class with our community education. I showed my mother the washes. I painted a PNG portrait in watercolour my mother and I named “Agnes” because she reminded us of an Agnes. I sold this picture in an exhibition. My mother told me to make more to sell, but I wouldn’t. I was not confident.
Mama came back to Brisbane in 2008, 2010 and 2011 where she made me put some work in other exhibitions. I sold them. Once one of my work ended in an auction and I got more money for it then I thought.
“I told you so,” my mother said. I argued it wasn’t enough to pay of the mortgage.
In 2016, she came to Brisbane again for a visit and I extended her visa to 12 months. I told her I needed to finish my memoir, and she said I needed to paint. She had a good amount of time on her hands to make me make art while we told stories and i sent away job applications.
January 2017, after losing my last pathetic job in administration with an Aged Care organisation, I began my mother’s dream and my new journey with fear and hesitation. I’m still looking for work. I am unemployed and the art takes my mind away to good places. The art making also made the fear go away eventually. The unknown combined with fear of failure gnaws at me but I continue to paint. My mother sat up late into the mornings, knitting her bags while I was painting and washing studies of various subjects as we spoke about the memoir. I posted a few of those washes here, on this blog.
The longer, I could not get employment, the more my mother relished at the opportunity for me to practice my art. By February 2017, I landed an art commission work with a large business. I had donated one of my painting image to a petroleum conference and later a cousin showed the work to her bosses. When I was engaged, the client asked me to paint a watercolour four times larger than what I usually painted. And just like my mother would have said, when I told the client, “I have never made art that big”, my client replied: “Why not?”
The same client went on to say: “You were meant for this work (painting)”.
I suddenly realised, I was stopping myself; both the client and my mother were right. I had built a skill for twenty years or more, and not used it to its full potential. I believed ‘work” was in an office.
I began working out ways to paint my client’s order and even had to contact Arches in France to get watercolour paper cut large enough to paint on; regular store sizing was too small. Arches referred me to a supplier Parkers, in Sydney. And my son cut a board large enough of the paper. This didn’t fit the dining table, but I could stick it under the trees and paint during the day. It was good to paint in nature and the drying was quick between washes.
Six large paintings were done to my own disbelief and off it went to Singapore. The client loved it. From then on, I could not hear the end of my mother’s reminders, and her “I told you so’s”.
And soon after the Singapore job, I was invited to show my work at Redlands Performance Arts in the Wantok Melanesia Showcase and now the solo exhibition in PNG.
Thank you to this amazing woman, Freda Kauc for making her dream my reality. I’m loving it so much. Thank you Mama. The details of my solo exhibition is on the poster. Part of my sales will be donated to two children’s charity organisation in PNG. I will launch my limited edition art prints on a separate website in December. I would like to sincerely thank my sponsors for the First Female PNG Solo Art Exhibition: Royal Papua Yacht Club, Moore Printing, Frameshop, Whittaker, Kalem, Air Niugini, Rocky Roe Photographics, Daisy Taylor, and all friends and family members that have assisted me.
(Ps – I will be away from the blog for two weeks from next week).
Media coverage so far:
The Pacific Fashion Festival was held last Saturday at Cloudland, Brisbane City and we made our debut with the Kalem – Warrior Woman clothing and accessories.
Here are some pictures I would like to share. I hope you like them. The arrangement and preparations took me nearly three years and went across a few countries with sampling, but when it all came together, the show was for 30 minutes and we were on stage for maybe 3-5 minutes. It was worth it. I was fortunate one designer could not make the show and I showed extra garments on stage.
If you are interested in our clothing and accessories range, contact email@example.com
Dear blogging family,
I have been writing less and creating art more this year. I’d like to share with you some of my projects I have been working on, apart from my recent art exhibition at the Redland Performing Art Centre (September).
With the art I have been producing, I have launched a new fashion and accessories label called Kalem Warrior Woman. Kalem is my christian name, sometimes used as my middle name. The “warrior woman” part is another story, please read on.
Why fashion label you may ask? Well, back in PNG I had a clothing business called Kalem Kollection for over 20 years before we moved to Australia. I wanted to create something Papua New Guinean and also carry on my passion to promote and protect our cultural designs and cultural heritage. The creative turned into business and before I knew it, I was making corporate wear. When we left PNG, I was unable to pursue this work due to high costs of travel. Now we are, almost 15 years later.
My beautiful niece Marcelle Bucher has graciously modelled in this photoshoot with her aunty. I’m really grateful to her. She has made it so easy for me, and helped show Kalem very well. This is a selection of clothes and accessories that will go into the Pacific Fashion Festival tomorrow in Cloudlands, Brisbane from 1-4pm. Here is a brief history of my brand name Kalem and why our tag line is the Warrior Woman. This blurb was published by the Pacific Fashion Festival.
Pacific Fashion Festival is excited to announce the fierce label ‘Kalem – Warrior Woman’ by Joycelin Kauc Leahy from Papua New Guinea. The label has a deep sense of history and meaning that cannot be overlooked. In the early 1900’s Joycelin’s great-grandmother and her sister fought in court for their land after their father was chased out across the Huon from Salamaua during a tribal fight. In a man’s world, the daughters of their father were regarded as foreigners in their own land because their father was gone. The two sisters battled in court against local landowners, the missionary and colonial government and won! They won not only for themselves but for their people who were eventually settled on a patch called Ambesi.
Eventually, Joycelin’s mother inherited this battle by birth and had to also endure similar battles for her land rights as a woman over the land of which she overcame with victory. It was through her mothers and great grandmothers battles that Joycelin was given the opportunity of a good life, education and a loving upbringing because they were women that fostered her art and talent. She now dedicates her label to her fierce bloodline of women as “warrior women” in the literal sense. All artwork on Kalem textiles is influenced by cultural motifs from Papua New Guinea, created from what Joycelin paints and sometimes partnership work created with PNG artist and former Kalem designer, (Keia Daure). Joycelin is known for her use of watercolour and natural pigments she creates from plants. Joycelin believes in the deeper essence of preserving her culture, stories and history of her people with her art, fashion and designs.
If you wish to purchase any of our dresses, you can do so on Paypal by contacting me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I can email you a catalogue.
Our website: http://www.joycelinleahy.com will be launched before December with all the art, clothing and accessories.
Island Woman – Watercolour and Gesso
Experimenting with a watercolour – gesso combination, I painted “Island woman”. She reminds me of someone from my past in PNG New Guinea islands – maybe from New Britain or New Ireland.
Like other mediums, watercolour paints have names and pigment intensity. This Aussie Red-Gold (Daniel Smith) paint has to be my favorite, but I use Payne’s Grey in almost everything, so I had to prove to my students, I could easily divorce Payne’s Grey for another colour. I think it is a brilliant colour. I hope you like it too.
JK.Leahy – Poem, Memoir
A wrinkled dusky pink sheet cradles a flowered meri blouse, a laplap and a bible – a word or two in the bible is for me, she echoes…
Room scented with sea, woods, coconut oil, eucalyptus and basil
A lotto ticket to set me up for life (her farewell and a surprise gift)
“If I won,” she always said, “I would let you decide what to do with the money”
We had laughed and discussed the possibilities
On the bed, an italic old-style farewell, handwritten in a very neat prose, mixing pidgin and dialect –
“Pawi – my child, I will miss being here…”
My mother was in a plane and gone
Twelve months threaded colourful bilums, gardens, and stories,
bringing me back to the first ten years of my life.
An assortment of brown hue – sculptured gum branches stacked for winter’s fires
Through the window, her many familiar artwork marked my surroundings, reminding me of her even bossy ways
-purple and green kaukau leaves sitting neatly on mounds
“You have sweet potatoes for winter”, her voice reminds me.
The large elephant leaves of pumpkin spreads and sprout golden flowers – a promise for more food.
But, I miss her telling me her stories.
See below some of my mother’s creations. All her bilums featured here were sold before she left Brisbane for Papua New Guinea. If anyone is interested to purchase my mother’s bags – please write to: email@example.com