Friday, 15 July 2016

PNG 4 - Rabaul Museum

At Rabaul we met Mundon Bray, a Canadian who described himself as of mixed race - part eskimo (Inuit) he insisted. He was introduced to us as the man who ran the Rabaul Museum set in the building which had formerly been the Rabaul Club, now a shabby hulk housing an eclectic collection of war and historical memorabilia.  He and a few eccentric old stagers are working to keep it running and in reasonable condition. It gets no funding so it struggles but at least someone loves it, which is more than you can say about the Kokopo Museum which is open on request but appears to have been abandoned immediately after WWII. It's just a collection of rusting pieces of war machinery and smaller objects with illegible descriptions (or none) and a room largely devoted to Queen Emma.

Mundon was sitting hunched over a bowl of noodles at his desk/table as I approached him. He stood and greeted me enthusiastically shaking my hand and mentioning his Inuit heritage. He looks late 60s maybe early 70s and is wearing boxer shorts and thongs and nothing else, his chest and stomach white and soft. It's a little off-putting in a museum manager but it quickly seems normal and I can see he is in pretty good shape for his age. He has an soft accent modified perhaps by 40 years in the tropics surrounded by Australians and international missionaries and tok pisin speakers. His head is like a bowling ball with stubble.

'Do you believe in God?'  he asks me within the first few minutes of our conversation. 'I was brought up Catholic' I tell him and he corrects me - 'Roman CathoIic,' he says. I don't argue. 'And you?' I ask. It's a game I'm amused to play. 'Church of England', he says. 'Anglican,' I reply. 'No Church of England,' he corrects me. I ask the difference half knowing the answer will be part of a new riddle and we segue into conversations about Rabaul and the war and why PNG would have been better off being retained bt the Germans after WWI rather than being handed to the Australians. 'Australia has been lazy' he says. 'Germans get things done,' he says. I'm tempted to defend my Australian compatriots but hold my tongue.

We get back to religion. I promise him I'll ask the Anglican Bishop ('Church of England,' he corrects me) in Brisbane to consider funding the restoration of the Rabaul Anglican Church.

'What do you believe in?' he asks me before I leave. 'Me, the universe,' I reply.
'Maybe as you get older you'll find the need to believe in a god of some kind,' he says, suddenly looking as though there's something in him that needs this escape route from life. It feels like he's trapped here in this dying town. It once had a population of 40 000 and is now 4000. At some point he knows he'll be going and it will be 3999.

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