The 1970 Lae Show – (an exhibitor’s recollection)

By Paul Oates

Mid way through 1970, it came time for the annual Lae Show and this was something the DC, Bill (Father) Seale gave much attention to. It was a splendid opportunity for each Sub District to display the craft and produce of their region. Each Sub District was required to submit a display and most of the liklik kiaps were required to provide some sort of supervision for those who were attending. Many of us were also, by default, required to help organise our Sub District display.

The prestige of winning the Sub District display was, we discovered, much sought after and competition between some Sub District exhibits was fierce.  Various Show committees had been preparing for months but to many of us “Johnny come lately’ this was a new experience.

So there we were, three liklik kiaps from the Finschhafen Sub District, who had been extracted from our stations, flown to Lae at short notice and told we were to organise our exhibit. I remember arriving at the showground, showing my Police Warrant Card to get in to the showgrounds and being met with a mountain of produce, various exhibits including a live tree kangaroo in a wire fronted box and a group of Tami Island wood carvers. A large display stand had been allocated for our use and we observed other field staff busily erecting their own Sub District exhibits in stands nearby.

Having visited the Sydney Royal Easter Show in my youth, my artistic temperament came to the fore and I suggested we collect all the fruit and vegetables from the Sub District that had been piled in a heap at the front of the stand, and separate it into groups of various colours and sizes. We could then place this fruit and vegetables into various geometric patterns on the stand. So for the want of any other direction or even a better idea, this we started to do.

At that point, some Kukukuku warriors in full dress suddenly intervened. Their Sub District (was it Wau or Menyamya?), had brought these blokes as part of their display. The ‘Kuks’ as everyone else referred to them as, (although I understand this was originally a derogatory term in their language meaning muruk/cassowary), decided to stage an impromptu singsing rehearsal. To anyone who has never seen or was stationed in a Kukukuku region, their form of singsing is quite different from other areas. Firstly, they did not use drums (kundu) and instead of having eloquent head dresses, costumes and dance steps evident in other areas, they would grab their weapons and men and women would all run around in a circle yelling “Eyahh…yah…yah…’ in a high pitched yell.

We didn’t hear that initial cry however we did hear the result. There was a sudden rumble, not unlike a Guria (earthquake), a great cloud of dust and within 30 seconds, the whole area cleared of people. A few heads were then observed peering around corners and down from their vantage points in the nearby trees, all with apprehensive expressions on their faces.  The kiaps in charge of the ‘Kuks’ then told them to ‘settle down’ and we all got back to our preparations. After a while, people started to appear again but there was an initial nervous scampering between vantage points, as everyone kept an eye on a possible getaway route. It was an object lesson of how these small men, dressed in grass sporrans and with their stone clubs and bows and arrows, were still regarded by the majority of other local people.

Whoever had collected our Sub District produce had excelled themselves and we had a mountain of fruit and vegetables to select from. Pineapples (ananas) bananas, taro, sugarcane, etc. were all arranged in geometric designs and the display came together quite well. At the end, there were still some items left over that just didn’t quite fit into the rest of the exhibit, due to their unusual size or shape. Two of these items were those enormous glass balls (over a foot in diameter and covered in knotted rope) that the Japanese long line fishing boats kept losing and ended up being washed up on the local beaches. What could we do with these things we wondered? We scratched our heads. They were too good not to use but where?

‘Alright’, I said, ‘lift them up here’, and I tied them onto the central metal truss that supported the roof of the stand. They just didn’t look quite right however and looking around, I spied an enormous, red marita (large, long, bright red conical fruit of the pandanus, about three feet long). Whoever had cut it had left a long bit of woody stalk and this fitted perfectly between the ropes holding the glass balls up to the roof.

If the Sepiks could have their ‘phallic symbols’ at Maprik I thought, why couldn’t we have ours?

This instantly became a splendid talking point. People would stop in their tracks and admire the ‘exhibit’. We, in our immature naivety, thought we had done the Sub District proud. Then came the time for the judging of the exhibits. The judging committee was chaired by the DC’s wife, no less. We even thought we might get a prize for our efforts. The judging committee toured around each exhibit and took notes. We held our breath and the Tami Islanders doubled their efforts and their mounds of wood chips.

Other Sub Districts had also been hard at work however and the Haviland’s from Kaiapit had produced a marvellous exhibit with miniature people and a diorama of the Sub District. They got First Prize. I think from memory we got some sort of prize however all I can remember is a senior officer pulling me aside later on, and informing me that we might have done better if the DC’s wife hadn’t been ‘severely put off’ by a certain part of our exhibit.

(Oh well. What do they say about a ‘Streaker’s defence’? ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’).

All that was left was for us to auction off our fruit and vegetables to help defray the expense of bringing them all to the Show.

Ahh! It seems like only yesterday……