What I Learned About Computers And More While Working In East New Britain

As I hope you read in the previous blog, Getting Started (7), we certainly lead an interesting life during our 12 years in and around Rabaul. But, during that time, my experience with computers advanced by leaps and bounds. Not only was Windows introduced, but spreadsheet technology advanced greatly and, of course, a certain enhancement known as “The Internet” began to rear its interesting head.


I took the transformation from being the employee of an accounting firm to being an employee of a commercial company in my stride. It seemed little different to me, especially as we had clients similar to an accountancy firm. Although I had to manage our own accounts too, there didn’t seem to be much, if any difference. I was soon promoted to Financial Director and Secretary of the company I worked for and several of its clients and everything progressed very smoothly indeed

The one major difference was the increased control I had over the way things were done. I was still getting magazines from both the Australian and Scottish Institutes and soon after we moved to Rabaul, I saw an advert in one of them for the brand new “Lotus 1-2-3”, 3 dimensional spreadsheet with a simple macro function. It wasn’t long before I had a copy. Basically, from then on, I managed my department by creating spreadsheets for all my staff, which usually involved writing macros, which produced figures which could be directly input into the main General Ledger. Unfortunately, in those early days, I could nor directly link the spreadsheets with the DOS based computer.

We had a custom written General Ledger system, which had been written by two brothers based in Brisbane, Australia, and I made several trips down there to oversee improvements I wanted made to the program. The one thing that was badly lacking however, was a report formatting facility, so I created one using Lotus 1-2-3 macros, although I had to get one of my girls to manually enter the final trial balances after each reporting period into spreadsheets, before I could run the macros to produce the reports that I and my fellow directors wanted to see.


Then, after two years, in about 1990, the first of two disasters struck. The inhabitants of the nearby island province of Bougainville, which had the biggest open-cast copper mine in the world, revolted because they did not think that enough of the mine’s profits were benefiting the island’s people, and too much was being sent to the central government in Port Moresby, and to the majority shareholder, an Australian public company. There was a lot of civil unrest and many people were killed in clashes between the rebels and the police and army. All non-Bougainvillians were forced to leave the island and return home. These included not only expatriates, but also laborers from other parts of Papua New Guinea, mainly the Highlands of the mainland. Bouganvillians have very black skin, similar to Zulus, and it was very easy to tell them apart from the much more lightly colored skinned Highlanders, who the Bougainvillians called “Redskins”.

Our largest client had four cocoa and copra plantations on Bougainville, mostly managed by expatriates using Highland labor. We were forced to evacuate everybody and abandon probably the best plantations we managed. It was quite a nightmare chartering a boat from Bougainville to Rabaul, identifying and paying off the workers on the Rabaul wharf, before getting them on a second ship which would lake them to Lae from where they had to make their own way home to wherever they came from. Just another, out of the ordinary job we had to tackle in the Land Of The Unexpected. Fortunately, we got everybody to safety without casualties, although there were a few close calls.

The longer term consequences were more severe though, especially for the head office management team. Our largest client was declared bankrupt, and so we had to downsize. I offered to go, an offer which was reluctantly accepted. So, before we wanted them to, our travels began again.

Unfortunately, we had just re-let our house in Perth for another six months, so we couldn’t stay there for half a year. Instead we returned to Scotland to stay with my parents. I enrolled again with a temporary employment agency and got a job with a chain of hotels. Around their two main hotels, one near Glasgow on he banks of Loch Lomond, and the other twenty miles outside Aberdeen, they were building time-share villas where, for a one-time payment, people could buy the right to live in one for a designated period every year. Unfortunately they were trying to keep track of who owned which villas over what period manually, and got into a terrible mess. More and more often two families were turning up to expect to live in the same villa for the same period. I only accepted the job on the condition that they bought me a copy of Lotus 1-2-3, which was loaded onto my laptop and their main computer. They gave me a car and every other week, Tim and I drove up to near Aberdeen where we stayed in a villa that was empty for that week. On alternate weeks, I commuted to the Loch Lomond hotel.

It took me 6 months to sort out the mess, re-allocate people’s purchases where necessary, and to leave the company with an understandable Lotus based system, which I was confident that they could handle themselves. I have to admit that it made a pleasant change to utilize my spreadsheeting skills for a purpose other than producing accounts.

That job finished just as our house in Perth became vacant, so with a final goodbye to my parents (unknown to me it was the last time I saw my father alive) Tim and I returned to Perth with a 4 day stopover in Paris and a 3 week stopover in Bangkok.

Back in glorious Perth, I managed through friends and ex-colleagues to pick up a few self-employed jobs, The one I remember most was putting a computerized accounting system into two pubs owned by the local brewery. Imagine letting me loose all working day in a pub to work. But surprisingly enough, I was able to keep away from their products, at least until 5 o’clock.

After about 18 months, almost exactly two years after I had left Rabaul, Roger called me. He was visiting his house near Perth, and those family members that still lived there. We met for lunch and he told me that he had merged his company with another in Rabaul, and was again in need of an accountant. He asked me if I would find him someone suitable. I spoke to Tim that evening and she said that, as the majority of her friends would have left when she did, she was not keen on returning. I understood her reluctance. However, after much soul searching, I decided that it was still the best thing that I returned on my own.

Roger and I met again, and I explained the situation to him. He agreed that my new contract would state that my home country was the U.K. so that I could visit Tim, at the company’s expense twice a year for 3 weeks at a time, instead of 1 trip to the U.K. for 6. I quickly finished my current assignment, sold the house for what I thought was a good price, but, as it turned out, was a huge mistake and then went to Bangkok where I bought a house in Tim’s name. I then went directly to Sidney, picked up my visa and two months after last talking to Roger in Perth I was sitting at a desk in Rabaul just up the road from our original office.

The next 12 months were very busy incorporating several new clients into our system. But our old DOS based system was beginning to creek a bit and I warned Roger that we would soon have to upgrade. Then along came Windows. Version 3.1 was, I think, the first available version, and I spent a week in Cairns, a delightful holiday town in Far North Queensland at a course learning all about it. Then, as I was about to get on a plane back to P.N.G., the man at emigration hit me with a hammer blow. “According to the computer, if you don’t return to Australia within 6 months, and stay for at least a year, you are going to loose your visa rights”, he told me as he handed me back my British passport after he had stamped it. Bugger it, I thought. That’s going to put the cat among the pigeons.

I thought about this dilemma during the short hour and a half flight back to Port Moresby, and then again on the hour flight to Rabaul. That afternoon I warned Roger that I had to discuss something very important with him the next day, and could he please earmark an hour of his time first thing in the morning for a meeting.

Roger, being British, and having worked in more countries than I had. understood the difficulties of keeping visas current, and it was decided that I could develop our new Windows based system, whatever that would be, from Cairns. The fax machine had only recently been invented, and we could see no reason why, I could not could not run my department from Cairns, while I developed a new system. Roger also suggested that I looked into the possibility of becoming a citizen as well, while I was there.

On my next scheduled visit to Bangkok to see Tim I went via Cairns, which actually meant that I needed three changes of planes, instead of the two I needed, when I flew via Brisbane, as I normally did. I had enough money left after selling the Perth house, paying off that mortgage, and buying the place in Bangkok to put down the necessary deposit on a small two bedroom unit in Cairns within walking distance of a fairly large shopping center, which, of course, I made sure had a pub in it. I had no trouble organizing a mortgage, and everything, except the legal side of things, was set-up inside the three days I had arranged to stay in Cairns before traveling on to Bangkok. Tim’s adult nephew stayed with her in the Bangkok house so leaving it wasn’t a problem, and Tim was happy to come to Cairns so we could be together again for a year before I went back to Rabaul.

It was common knowledge that the best software shop in P.N.G. was not in Port Moresby, but was in Lae, and shortly after returning from Thailand I visited Lae for a couple of days, staying with my old secretary from before the Bougainville crisis and her husband. I picked out an accounting system called “Accpac” and the shop-owner’s daughter spent that evening setting up a demonstration which was shown to me the following morning. All my questions were answered satisfactorily and I ordered a copy, which would be delivered directly to my new Cairns address approximately 4 weeks later.

On Thursday 15 September 1994 I left Rabaul again, but this time I was only bound for Cairns. Everything ragarding the purchase of the unit had been finalized and I was able to get a cab directly from the airport to the Realtor’s where I picked up the key. I had asked the taxi driver to wait and I soon dumped the two suitcases I had with me in my new, but almost bare unit, except for a single bed with sheets and a blanket I had asked the Realtor to buy for me.

From there I walked straight to the local pub and introduced myself to the bar-staff saying that I would be a fairly regular visitor for the next year or so. I had more than a few drinks before I had something to eat after which I staggered home, to sleep, probably for the only time, in my new single bed.

The following Friday, Saturday and Sunday were spent buying only basic furniture and utensils for the house, as I wanted Tim, who was due to arrive the following Wednesday, to have a say in the major items we had to get. However, I did buy a computer, printer and Fax/phone, all of which Roger had agreed the company would pay for, and a desk and comfortable office chair. I set up what would become my office for the next year in the smaller of the two bedrooms where the single bed was.


Early on the Monday morning, the 19th September 1994, I put on my new kettle and turned on my new TV. I was just carrying the first mug of tea I had made in my new unit, when I heard the newscaster say, “There has just been two huge volcanic eruptions in two of the volcanoes which surround the harbor of Rabaul the capital of East New Britain province, which is the Eastern half of an island which belongs to Papua New Guinea”. In a state of shock, I dropped my new mug which smashed on the kitchen floor and I rushed over to sit on the floor to listen to more. Apparently the town was meters deep in ash and there were a few missing people but almost everybody, it was reported was unharmed.


What was I to do do now? To cut a long story short, and after a very hectic day full of taxis, buses, and talking to people, not to mention the buying of what I needed to clean up the mess on my kitchen floor, I managed to get the phone connected and after many attempts I managed to speak to Roger, after it dawned on me where he probably was. I found him at the only plantation we managed which was reachable by telephone. After he called me “A lucky bastard”, he told me that everybody was accounted for and, although, of course he didn’t have any concrete plans yet, we should be able to use the large house on the huge block of land we owned in Kokopo, which had escaped any damage, to our advantage. I was to continue as if nothing had happened from the comfort of my unit in Cairns. After giving him my phone number, I said goodbye and put the phone down with a huge sigh of relief.

That evening, while sitting in the pub, it dawned on me just how lucky I had been. The week before I left Rabaul all my belongings that I wasn’t taking to Cairns, had been moved to the safety of a plantation house well outside the reach of the volcanic ash. While unpacking on the day after I arrived I realized that I was missing a pair of sandals and I worked out that I must have left them in the golf club clubhouse on the Saturday before I left. The golf course was very near the volcano so they would be well and truly buried. That meant that the sum total of my personal losses was one pair of sandals and one drinking mug I dropped on the floor in Cairns, while others would have lost everything. Even “Lucky” my dog was staying with the owner of a hotel on a beach over the hill from Rabaul and would have been out of harm’s way. My car, which, of course was owned by the company, I later found out ended up like the one in the picture above, but as it didn’t belong to me, it didn’t really count as my loss. I guess Roger was right I thought to myself as I peacefully sipped my beer. I am a lucky bastard.

Tavurvur Still Smoking Ash
Several Years later.
(Taken From Kokopo Golf Course)


As the eruption took place on a Monday morning, it didn’t make the Monday newspapers, so, after my busy and emotional day on Monday, I bought every paper I could on Tuesday and spent most of the day in the pub reading everything there was to read about the eruptions. On Wednesday, Tim, who had managed the change of plane in Singapore with little drama arrived and I met her at the airport. She was happy with everything she saw. Thursday was spent shopping for furniture, and Friday was spent having it delivered and arranging all our new stuff around the house. It was a lucky chain of events, as a courier delivered a box and we were in to receive it. It was, unsurprisingly, my new Accpac software. We did a big grocery shop on Saturday, as we now had a fridge to put things in, and all I did on Sunday was install the software onto the new computer in the morning, followed by an afternoon in the pub reading the manual ready to start work properly on the Monday.

Tim in the meantime had met a Thai lady in the pub, and was asked if she wanted to go for an interview to work in the kitchen of a Thai restaurant in Cairns. Tim passed the cooking test they gave her with ease and she had a job working in a Thai kitchen in the evenings within a week of arriving in Cairns. I taught her how to go by bus, and she took a taxi home, which, in those days wasn’t too expensive. It would be a different story nowadays though.

It took me a year of working 5 1/2 full days a week in my bedroom office to finish my new set-up. Some time was spent on day-to-day matters they faxed me from Kokopo, and I had to put the finishing touches to the annual accounts to December 1994, but the great majority of my time was spent working on the new system. As well as having to set up our company, and all of its clients from scratch, using the balances as at 1 January 1995 as a starting point, I developed numerous macro-driven Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets into which raw data from the plantations, and the head office were entered. Macros embedded in the spreadsheets then arranged the data into a special Journal Entry format which Accpac could read. At the end of the day, very little data would be entered directly into the General Ledger manually, and most of what was, was done would be by me. Then there was the output, both in the form of management accounts and financial accounts. These again were produced automatically by macro-driven spreadsheets, but, this time, instead of the information flowing into the “Accpac” General Ledger from Lotus, the information flowed out of “Accpac” into Lotus to be massaged into the desired format by macros.

A few years later, Roger wrote me a reference in which he stated “Mr Ramage has designed and implemented the most user friendly set of detailed plantation cost accounts, easily produced at small plantation level and integrated into financial accounts that I have seen in my 40 years in the industry, including my ongoing consultancy for industry majors.”

Tim kept all of the money she had made at the restaurant, less the taxi fares home, and she took a reasonable amount back with her when she returned to Bangkok in September 1995. I stayed on for another week or so, to organize letting out the unit, and to arrange for the computer and other things to be shipped to Rabaul. I was also now an Australian citizen, and I took great pleasure in having my new passport stamped when I left Cairns in Early October. But I had to remember to show my U.K. passport, which had my P.N.G. visa in it, when I arrived in Port Moresby an hour and a half later. As the new Rabaul air-strip hadn’t been completed I could only fly from Port Moresby to Hoskins, the capital of West New Britain, from where I took a small 12 seat turbo-prop plane which could land on the short ex-German air-strip to the East of Kokopo. It would be another 18 months before the work to lengthen and strengthen that strip so that it could take F28 jets from Moresby would be completed.

Roger had done a good job “setting up home” in Kokopo, and I was given the guest wing of the original house to call home. There was another, two-story building on the property which was just big enough to be used as an office, and so everything was in place to get started. In the year I had been away, Kokopo itself had grown from the sleepy little fishing village it once was to having a dual carriageway road running through it with half a dozen roundabouts. Houses and shops were sprouting up everywhere, although, when I arrived there was still a shortage of shops, and the Chemist still worked out of a tent. Kokopo had no deep harbor though as demonstrated by local fisherman fishing 200 meters offshore while only up to their waists in water. So it was always going to need the ash covered Rabaul’s deep-water port if it was ever going to become the real capital of East New Britain.

The new system gradually bedded itself in, the main task being to install Windows 3.1 on all of the computers, and integrate them all as an intra-net so that everybody could access all of the ledgers. But things slowly slotted into place, and all my staff seemed happy with the new regime. Secretly, I was delighted, as its success exceed my wildest expectations.


Everything proceeded without a hitch for 18 months or so, then John, a close friend of Roger’s, who had built up the most successful business from scratch that I had ever seen, which was based on overseas cocoa trading, put in a bid for Roger’s company. Roger, who had several overseas consultancy jobs, mainly in Indonesia, wasn’t getting any younger, and he accepted the offer. John asked me to stay on and, with basically an unchanged contract, but, in addition, I become secretary of his company too. Roger stayed on for 6 months or so, before gradually slipping out of the picture. Apart from the office moving to less cramped conditions above a hardware store John had opened, which mainly catered for smallholder cocoa growers, we carried on basically as before.

After a lot of thought, over the Christmas 1999 / New Year 2000 break I informed John that I would like to call it a day around the end of September 2000. I was due to go to Thailand for 3 weeks around March, but basically I thought that my job was almost done and, except for my secretarial duties, my staff could handle everything without my support.

John accepted my decision and thanked me for giving him such a long period of notice. “However”, he said. “There’s one more big job I’d like you to do for me before you go. “I’d like you to move your accounting system over onto the same system as we use, both the General Ledger and the spreadsheets, so that my accountant can more easily supervise your system, in tandem with ours”. I knew that John’s company used a bespoke General Ledger written by a self-employed chap based in Lae, but the bigger problem was going to be the fact that John’s company used Excel spreadsheets. I didn’t know much about Excel at the time, being a Lotus 1-2-3 man, but I did know that its macro system was much more complicated than that used by Lotus. “I’ll see what I can do,” I replied. “But it’s going to be a much bigger job than the one you anticipate.”

I brought my leave forward from March to February, and the first thing I did when I started back on the 2nd of January was to call the computer chap based in Lae and asked him to fly over as soon as he possibly could. He arrived a week later. He installed his system on our intra-net and gave my staff and myself a quick run through of how it operated. I instructed my staff to continue using Accpac in the mean time, but to set up the company’s and the clients’ ledgers on the new system and manually post the “this months” total movements into the new system after each month was finalized in Accpac. A check should be made very month to ensure the year to date balance on each account in both systems agreed with each other. I put my second in charge in charge of this task to start getting him used to working without me, and I instructed him that I was only to be consulted in the most extreme circumstances.

Later, when we were alone, I asked the software expert if his system could accept journal entries to the General Ledger, and Purchase Ledger (we didn’t use a Sales Ledger) directly from journals created in Excel. Also could his system export codes and monthly and year to date balances from the Ledgers to Excel. He replied that it couldn’t but that it would be such a good feature to have, he would be happy to write the necessary code and give it to us for free, as long as it remained his property and could charge current and new clients for it in the future. I had no problem with that. “Do you think you can have it done by the end of February?” I asked. “Yes, no problem,” he replied. I gave him my Accpac user manual and told him what chapters covered the linking up with Excel. “This might give you some idea of how the Accpac programmers approached the problem,” I suggested. “Thanks, it certainly won’t do any harm for me to read it,” was his response.

It was a lot of work to get all of the 1999 financial accounts finished by the 7 February the day I flew out to Bangkok, but somehow I managed it. I had told my staff that I planned to leave at the end of September, but that there was a huge amount of work that had to be done before then, and they were all very supportive.

The one extra thing I took to Bangkok with me on that occasion was a company owned laptop with Excel loaded on the hard drive. I had also asked one of the girls to type into a spreadsheet the code numbers (in column “A”), account names (in column “B”) and the opening balances as at 1 January of our smallest client with debits being positive and credits being negative (in column “C’) In column “D” she then entered every account’s movement during January. I then added the opening balances in column “C” to January’s movements in column “D” which produced a trial balance as at the end of January in column “E”. By duplicating the profit and loss movements into column “F” and putting some made-up debits and credits against the balance sheet accounts in column “F”, making sure that column “F” balanced to zero, I produced a dummy year-to-date trial balance as at the end of February in column “G”. I repeated the process, using the same figures and ended up with a dummy trial balance as at the end of March in column “I”. That simple spreadsheet went onto the laptop’s hard drive along with Excel, and I as all ready to start experimenting.

After flying to Port Moresby, and then onto Brisbane, where I was waiting for my direct flight to Bangkok. I wandered around a book store in the departure lounge, and it didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. Excel 2000 Programming For Dummies. I started reading it in the bar, waiting for the Thai Airways flight, and although I was simultaneously drinking beer most of the time, I had finished it from cover to cover by the time we landed in Bangkok. My God, I thought to myself. Lotus 1-2-3 macros were easy to understand but you’d have to go to university for 3 years to master this lot. This is going to be hard, and I hope John isn’t going to be disappointed at the end of the day.

Tim didn’t bother coming to meet me at the airport in those days, although I did call her to say I was here and to expect me in about an hour. I had our address written in Thai, and, after a taxi ride, I was soon at “home” in Bangkok.

“I’ve some good news and some bad news to tell you,” I said after I had been greeted lovingly and the numerous dogs and cats she looked after had all had a sniff and decided that I had been before and was an acceptable house guest.

“Tell me the bad news first,” Tim ordered in her broken, but understandable English, as she gave me a cold beer that she would have bought only that day.

“Except for our usual 3 or 4 days away at a beach resort, I’m going to have to work until at least 12 o’clock every day,” I replied.

“No problem there,” she responded. “You know I’m always busy in the mornings, cleaning or shopping. It will keep you off the beer until the afternoon anyway. That can’t be such a bad thing. Where do you want to go for our trip?”

“Is it okay if we only go to Pattaya by bus,” I answered. I really can’t be bothered flying anywhere this time,” I said.

“Of course, we haven’t gone there for a few years,” she said. “But on two conditions,” she said with a smile.

“What are they?”

“I see that you’ve brought a computer. Condition one is that it doesn’t come to Pattya with us. Condition 2 is that we go in the next day or two, as you look more tired than you usually do. Now the bad news wasn’t really all that bad, so the good news must be really good. Tell me what it is.”

“Sometime later in the year, probably duan seep (month 10) I’m going to leave P.N.G. and come here hopefully for good as long as I can find a job.”

“Oh that’s great, I do miss you so much,” Tim said with a smile as she flung her arms around my neck.

Being tired, and suffering a little from jet lag, I got little done the following morning, while Tim packed what little we would need for our short trip to Pattya. I did learn though, that learning “Visual Basic For Applications”, which was Excel’s macro’s full title wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. It took me 3 hours to get Excel to put the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the 4 corner cells on the laptop’s screen. It wasn’t exactly a great start. If I had been using Lotus, it would have taken me 2 minutes.

The next morning we took a taxi to the Eastern bus station and then, after an hour and a half’s bus ride we arrived at the coastal holiday resort of Pattaya, which started it’s life as a quiet fishing village but became an R & R retreat for American soldiers during the Vietnam war, thus turning it into a bustling town full of bars and not so therapeutic, in the medical sense, massage parlors. We spent 3 nights and 2 1/2 days there, lying on the beach during the day and Tim shopping and me drinking in the evening after a meal, usually of seafood. Tim also took the opportunity to visit a couple of Buddhist temples while I had a few sneaky drinks in the afternoons. As promised, the computer was back in Bangkok. 2 1/2 days was enough though, and we were soon back on the bus heading back towards the Eastern bus terminal from where we caught a taxi home.

Over the next 2 1/2 weeks, I spent 5 or 6 hours every morning in front of the computer and reading the book for dummies. Slowly I started to pick up the basics of Visual Basic and I stared to experiment with the dummy data I had brought in the form of a spreadsheet.

By the time it was necessary for me to return to Rabaul, I was much more confident that I could complete the task that John had given me than I had been after just reading the book as I had done on the plane to Bangkok. I would have a couple of beers and then a snooze in the afternoons, and Tim would cook dinner about 1 evening in 2, while we would go to a restaurant for the rest of the time. I had been visiting Bangkok at least once a year for 20 years at that time, so all the touristy things I had done several times before, so, in all probability we wouldn’t have gone into the center of Bangkok at all. On each leave I was usually “allowed” one evening in downtown Bangkok on my own, but I honestly can’t remember if I took advantage of that opportunity on this occasion. The plan was to come back for good in 7 months time, so I knew that there would be many more opportunities in the future.

All too soon, I was kissing Tim bye bye and getting in a taxi bound for the airport. After a change at Singapore and a re-fueling stop in the middle of the night at Darwin, I arrived in Cairns the next morning. I had booked one night in an hotel in Cairns and I spent the day visiting the Realtor to check that my unit’s tenant was looking after the place well. Everything seemed to be okay there, so I wandered around several of the down town bars before going to bed fairly early as I had an early start in the morning, which happened to be the 29th February. I was picked up at the airport East of Kokopo, around noon and was taken directly to the office to start the most hectic 7 months of my career.

I didn’t do much work on that first afternoon. instead I gathered all my staff around me and gave them a run-down on what I hoped would happen over the next 7 months.

Basically they should leave me alone as much as they could and, except in the most extreme situations pretend I wasn’t there. They were to carry on using Accpac, and entering the monthly movement into the new General Ledger at the end of each month. If anybody had holidays due to them I asked that they avoid July and August. I hoped to be finished the new macros by the end of June, and we would attempt to enter all transactions into both ledgers in July and August and hope that we came up with the same results. Assuming everything looked okay, we would reverse the roles for September to December. For those four months the detailed transactions would be entered into the new General Ledger and summaries would be posted manually into Accpac. “Any questions?” I asked. Nobody asked a question and everybody seemed happy with the arrangements.

I let everybody go home an hour early that day, as I knew that they were all in for a rough time over the next few months, and beyond, after I had gone. During that hour I called the software chap in Lae who let me know that the additional features i wanted had been added to the software and had been thoroughly tested. “As it happens I’m coming to Kokopo tomorrow to visit a new prospective client,” he said. “Would you like me to install the updated version of the software then?” “Oh that would be absolutely great,” I replied. “Would you like to be picked up from the airport?” “Yes please,” he replied. “I’ll get your software and the computer next door’s software upgraded in about an hour and I’ve written a little add-on instruction manual covering the new features, which I’ll give you 2 copies of,” he said. “Then if you could arrange a car to take me to my prospective new client, I would be very grateful.” “No problem, consider it done, see you tomorrow,” I said before putting down the phone. I then went next door to warn our holding company’s accountant that she would need to shut her computer down for half an hour the next morning to receive the upgrade. She nodded and said that could easily be arranged.

I then drove home, dropped off my luggage and went directly to the Ralum club next door. What a day, I thought to myself while drinking my first beer.

It was a lot of hard work, but I have to say that I really surprised myself over the next 4 months and by the end of June I had written macros in Visual Basic that would turn raw data into input for our new General Ledger system and also extract data from it and format that data into either management accounts or financial accounts, as requested. My staff were very helpful during this period as they basically ran the department on their own, without much day-to-day input from myself, apart from checking the back-up documentation before signing a few checks every day. The parallel runs we performed in July and August went smoothly with both systems producing the same results, so, in September we reversed the roles that were in place prior to July and the detailed transactions were posted into the new system and the monthly summaries were posted into the old. In January 2001, after accounts had been produced from both systems as at 31 December, and well after I had left they would do away with Accpac altogether. Accpac may only have had a 6 year life in the company, but a very successful and useful life it had been.

I stayed very much in the background during September, my main task, apart from packing, was going over our system with our holding company’s accountant. and writing a brief internal manual on how everything fitted together. The only other thing of note that happened in a computer sense that month was that the group got access to this new thing called “The Internet” which suddenly appeared on the scene. I think I sent one email to my boss, when I could have taken twenty seconds to walk to his office, and that was all the attention I gave it, not dreaming for a second, what a huge impact it was going to have on my life in the future.

On the second last Saturday night before leaving, I was pleasantly surprised when all the Papua New Guinean members of the Ralum club put on a party for me at a different venue. I was the only white man there, and we had a great time drinking and talking in Melanesian Pidgin, a language in which I was, by then, 95% fluent.

The office party on my last Friday afternoon started as a happy occasion but several of the girls were fighting back tears by the time it ended. There were no tears though at the Saturday night party that was thrown for me, which just about every expat in town attended. I was given a beautiful coffee table with an elaborately carved top covered with glass, which I still have to this day.

If you go back to the third blog in this “Getting started” series, which is called “My Introduction To Computers In Papua New Guinea” you will see, in the first paragraph, that, on my first morning in the country I was greeted with a power black out and had to climb 8 flights of stairs in complete darkness. I can’t remember what I had to do, but on my last Sunday, the day after the big party, I had to go to the office to finish something which I had to finish. I reckoned that it would take me a maximum of 2 hours. I had only just turned on my computer to get started when the power went off. Twenty years had passed since that first day in Port Moresby, and the power generation situation hadn’t improved. Being a Sunday, there was nobody around who could switch on the generator, but I knew that the generator back in the compound switched on automatically when there was a power cut. Over the years we had built half a dozen houses there which were all let out.

I just had to get whatever it was I was working on finished, so I carried my computer and then my screen and keyboard, and i think a printer as well, down to my car and set them all up in my home. The two hour job was turned into a four hour job, which delayed my final visit to the Ralum club. I couldn’t be bothered taking everything back to the office, so, in the morning when everyone turned up at the office, and I was in the air headed towards Port Moresby, they were greeted with my empty desk. Goodness, Phil’s pinched his computer, was everybody’s first thought, but I knew that they would find it in the end.

After a night in Port Moresby where I had organized an evening with some colleagues, like our auditor and several other people I had had day-to-day dealings with or had recently moved to Port Moresby from Rabaul, I flew to Cairns where I spent 3 days, before jetting off to Singapore and then on to Bangkok, where I thought that it would be easy to find a job and live happily ever-after. How wrong I was.

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