My Tribal Godson

22 Nov

I have posted in the past of my time in the Australian Army when I served in Papua New Guinea in 1969, a special time when I forged a bondship with a member of the Pacific Island Regiment by the name of Elijah Leklek, Elijah named his first born son after me. Recently the newspapers here have taken up my story from over 35 years ago and I post this latest article that has been published, hopefully one day I can give the story a happy ending, Cheers Emu

THEY were the unlikeliest of allies – the novice young Australian soldier, and the teenage native interpreter who helped him and his mates carry out life-saving vaccination work in the remote – and potentially dangerous – Papua New Guinea highlands.

It was 1969 – cases of cannibalism were still being reported in parts of PNG… there were problems accessing remote, isolated and primitive mountain villages, language difficulties with hundreds of different dialects to deal with, not to mention extreme weather conditions, a different culture, and vastly different way of life.

But these two young men, one serving with the Australian Army Medical Corps, and the other with the First Pacific Island Regiment in Papua New Guinea, relied heavily on each other, spent every waking moment together for six weeks…became the best of mates…’blood brothers,’ and almost inseparable.

They were very sad when their medical mission was over, and the time came when they finally had to say their goodbyes and part company in Port Moresby – but not before they made a promise to each other – the Papuan interpreter pledged to name his first-born son after his new Aussie mate, and the young Digger promised to visit his village one day.

They went their separate ways…the years flew by…they lived different lives in different countries and eventually lost contact…although neither forgot the other, and each was hoping that one day, they would meet again.

That was 43 years ago, almost to the day, and now, thanks  to the global communication phenomenon that is the world-wide web, and a purely-by-chance sighting of a familiar name on the internet, the unbreakable bond that was forged all those years ago has had a sequel.

The former Aussie soldier is Mildura song-writer and poet Ian Felton, 62, who told the Mildura Weekly the amazing story behind his friendship with his Papuan mate in 1969. 

“I hadn’t long been in the Army,” Ian said. “I was among an Army medical team of 30 sent to PNG on a humanitarian mission. There had been a severe outbreak of influenza there…it was raging through the highland region, and we were split into teams and given the task of accessing the isolated villages and inoculating the inhabitants.”

As Ian and his mates discovered, it wasn’t a simple exercise. They often had to walk for days through dense jungle, up and down steep and dangerous narrow paths, carrying heavy loads of food, equipment and medical supplies, and putting up with malaria-carrying mosquitoes, high humidity and incessant torrential tropical rain.

But there was an even greater problem in the region – cannibalism…and Ian and his mates in other groups were each assigned Papuan Army guards, and another soldier conversant with the many different PNG dialects, as well as the widely-spoken Pidgin English.

Ian’s interpreter was a young man by the name of Elijah Leklek, the same age as Ian, 19. “I was in an alien culture, a little overwhelmed, but Elijah was amazing,” Ian said. “Over the weeks of our medical mission in the highlands of Menyamya, we became very close, the best of mates…Elijah was very patient in dealing with the people and the dialects in the villages, and taught me basic Pidgin English as we walked from village to village.

“When our time was up and I had to return to Australia, we had one last day together before I had to leave Port Moresby…we tried to get into the Port Moresby RSL Club but they wouldn’t let Elijah in…whites only was the rule…so we gave that club the arse…with much profanity!”

They decided to hire a car, a beat-up old VW, to do some sight-seeing, and spent the day driving along the PNG Peninsula, exploring the markets, getting into as much mischief as they could and generally enjoying life – and each other’s company.

“It was a beautiful and amazing experience, and one that I have cherished all these years,” Ian said. “Elijah and I had developed a friendship and relationship that crossed all barriers.

“When it came time to say goodbye, I said I would return to PNG one day, and Elijah made a promise that when he got married and started a family, he would name his first-born son after me.”

As time slipped by, they lost contact with each other, but earlier this year, Ian was surfing the net, concentrating on developments in PNG, and chanced upon a group of people who were celebrating their graduation in leadership and business management from the Divine Word University in Madang.

One name in particular leapt out at him – Ian Felton Leklek! 

Excitedly, Ian got in touch with the university, and they gave him a contact email…he sent off a message, and got the reply; “Yes, I am Ian Felton Leklek…I am Elijah Leklek’s son. I am now 37 years old.

“My Mum and Dad always told me that I got my name from an Australian soldier who was very close to my Dad, but that’s all I knew.”

Maintaining the email contact, Mildura’s Ian Felton had to ask the question that had been on his mind all these years; “How is your father?”

Ian Felton Leklek replied; Unfortunately, my Dad passed away two years ago after a long battle with illness, and was laid to rest in Koko Village in the mountain ranges of Unggai in the eastern highlands…

“My mother Theresa is still alive, and still lives in the village…there are four of us in the family of Elijah Leklek.”

Ian said he was very sad when he heard the news of his mate’s passing, shedding a few tears, but is keeping in touch with his namesake, who is now employed by the PNG water authority, and is hoping one day in the not-too-distant future to make a visit to PNG to meet Ian Felton Leklek and his family in person.

“I hope this is not the end of my story,” Ian said, “the story will end when I finally meet and embrace my highland native Godson.”


Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


27 responses to “My Tribal Godson

  1. gpcox

    March 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Great post here, Ian.

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed my story.
      It was certainly a great experience for me.

  2. auntyuta

    January 6, 2013 at 3:02 am

    This sure makes a great story. Hope it won’t be too long before you meet your native highland Godson who bears your name. It’s amazing how you were able to find him under the university graduates!

    • The Emu

      January 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Glad you enjoyed that story Auntyuta, hopefully one day in the not too distant future I will meet up with him.
      Pure luck finding him only through googling his name.

  3. suemacarthur

    December 5, 2012 at 2:06 am

    This is a great story Ian and i hope you, your friends son soon
    Take care

    • The Emu

      December 5, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Bit of an old story by now Sue but the papers seem to think they can pick up the trail where I lost contact with him and organise a reunion for the ABC, bit of a scary idea after all these years. Hope your weather is settling down and not bloody fluctuating like it is here in Mildura, hot one day and bloody cold the next.

      • suemacarthur

        December 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

        I hope they take you back to meet him and when they do , dont forget “We need to see pics ” and lots of them
        weather mad here too, rain and cold tomorrow they say
        Take care my friend

        • The Emu

          December 6, 2012 at 10:41 am

          When it all happens Sue there will be plenty of pics and if the ABC do it well it will be a documentary on TV.
          Cheers, keep well girl.

  4. natswans

    November 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Wonderful story happy you finally got on contact again. Hope you manage to track each other again very soon.
    Sheila 🙂

    • The Emu

      November 29, 2012 at 4:29 am

      Hi Sheila, thanks for dropping by, always a pleasure to hear from you, do hope you are well and doing fine.
      Maybe soon I will be able to finish that story now that the media has got a hold of it.
      Stay well my friend

  5. Sue Dreamwalker

    November 25, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Remember you speaking about your wonderful find of your tribal God-son Emu, So pleased it made headlines and I am certain one day soon that reunion will be fulfilled… you had my eyes wet with this one Ian..
    Love Sue

    • The Emu

      November 28, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Hi Sue, now that the newspapers have taken the story up, a reunion may occur soon hopefully as it has been passed onto the television media, they seem to want to do a recorded documentary on the reunion story, if nothing comes of it at least the story and facts are now recorded.
      Wishing you well girl.

  6. Angelwings6

    November 25, 2012 at 12:04 am

    I’m feeling pretty sure you’ll have a great reunion together….

    • The Emu

      November 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Hi Lady Jude, great to hear from you, hopefully one day a reunion will occur.
      Hope all is well over your way, hot summers day here with the temperatures in the 40s.
      Wishing you well my friend from the land of the long white cloud.

  7. prenin

    November 23, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Hope you get the chance Ian – Sounds like a wonderful bit of history which I’m sure you mentioned before! 🙂

    God Bless and be well!


    • The Emu

      November 24, 2012 at 2:21 am

      Definitely be going back up into the highlands of Papua New Guinea one day mate.
      I had written on this before but this time the newspapers got hold of it.
      Hope all went well at the dentist.

      • prenin

        November 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

        Hi Ian! 🙂

        Don’t leave it too long my friend – you’re not getting any younger! 🙂

        Yeah the papers love a good story! 🙂

        The trip to the dentist went well – it was just a patching up job that needed no drill, just a steady hand and cool nerves! 🙂

        Boy am I glad of it!!! 😉

        Doug just knocked on a few minutes ago to borrow £10.

        His sick pay has been granted and he’ll get it Monday, but he’s had nothing for a month so he’s desperate.

        He sure knows how to pick his fights… 😦

        God Bless!


  8. appletonavenue

    November 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    What a fabulous story, too bad Karma didn’t allow the connection two years earlier. It feels good being connected to each other.

    • The Emu

      November 24, 2012 at 2:18 am

      Greeting my friend and thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my story.
      Sadly I missed out by two years on catching up with my friend but at least have a relationship with my tribal Godson
      A hot Summers day here in Mildura with the temperature climbing into the 40s.

      • appletonavenue

        November 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm


        • The Emu

          November 28, 2012 at 9:25 am

          Thank you for visiting my friend, somehow I dont seem to receiving your posts, I have checked and all seems okay.
          Do hope you are well and life is being kind to you, hot summers day here in Mildura with the temperature at 43 Celcius.
          Wishing you well and lots of love.
          Aussie Emu

  9. Angel O'Fire

    November 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    There are two things I believe in, fate and destiny, things don’t happen by chance thing’s happen for a reason.
    Emu, you have always been an inspiration to me, a rock when I have needed one, solid ground when I have been sinking, and a true blue Aussie mate,
    Your life certainly no fairy tale, yet your strength to tell it how it was, how it is, your art of calling a spade a spade, and to pick up keep going, no matter how hard things have been at any given time is honestly a true inspiration!
    You remember that Angel you met that night all those moons ago. that one hells angel who has now grown, lived, and continued to learn as life leads her down the road towards destiny, that angel holds the highest regard for her Emu mate, who has seen many tears, shared many laughs, and walked along side that same Ian who told of his story to the papers, who continues to tell his story in blogs, that angel, wouldn’t have that Ian, or Emu any other way, he is an earth bound spirit, who somehow finds those who need him the most and puts out his hand to help, regardless of who that person or people in need of his help are. Never giving in, occasionally wanting to give up, yet to stubborn to stop.
    All my love and respect to the man I know and call my hero!
    ((hugs)) Angel

    • The Emu

      November 24, 2012 at 3:37 am

      Well thats a bloody big comment for me to answer, you must have been bloody bored, its more like a bloody big book than a comment. Yes I recall in another time and another life when we first met on Spaces, I was living at Mikes and you were trying to sort things out in your life, then Joshy came along and Craig, best things that ever happened to you, life is funny girl, it changes all the time, I just go with the flow and accept now that I am destined to wander this world of ours,I like to think that much like a dog, I leave a bit of my scent behind on those I chance to meet in my life, a good scent. I only started writing back in those old days as you know, remember the poem we wrote together, line by line , that was a boring Saturday night for both of us. One day we will meet, who knows where or when , but the Karma I carry never lets me leave unfinished business, like the story of my tribal Godson over 35 years ago, my karma is my guide and I cannot leave this life till all my deeds are accomplished, to this end meeting Joshy is destined, I may be 62 in this world but still have a young heart, the world is my oyster
      Cheers girl and remember to keep smiling and maintain a serene karma.

      • Angel O'Fire

        November 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm

        I will never forget that poem we wrote all those moons ago, the laughs we shared and the things we have been through…….today we got a couple new chooks to add to our growing farm, we got frizzles, one looked like an emu so your little boots on his own decided we would name him emu, as I smiled to myself I thought instantly of you, my Emu, and as our proud boy walked away with his two new babies, I smiled knowing that you are right he is my light, he is our boy, and best of all my earth wander will always be with me one way or the other…….all I can say is I ❤ you dearly x

        • The Emu

          November 29, 2012 at 4:52 am

          FFS Frizzles, what the bloody hell are you smoking girl.
          Hope you lot are doing okay up your way, bloody 48 degrees here and sweating like a stuck pig, already downed a slab and its not even breakfast time yet, damn I love the heat but wary of bushfires, especially after just returning from our expedition up into the high country of Marysville, yep a lot of water has passed under the bridge since spaces days and a lot more will pass again before its time for lights out for this old soldier.
          Cheers to all.
          Catch ya around tha traps

  10. rosemarymonteith

    November 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    What a lovely heart warming story Ian so glad you eventually made contact with his family

    • The Emu

      November 24, 2012 at 2:05 am

      Hi Rosemary, yes it was quite an experience catching up with an incident that happened over 35 years ago.
      Lost contact with my tribal grandson at the moment, think he may have headed back into the mountains, still tracking him down.
      Hot Summers day here in Mildura with the temperature clinbing to the 40s.


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