Throwim Way Leg: An Adventure

Tim Flannery

Text Publishing 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2009
As a biologist studying New Guinea mammals, Tim Flannery visited the highlands of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya many times between 1981 and 1996. Throwim Way Leg — the title comes from a Tok Pisin phrase meaning "to go on a journey" — is his account of these trips. There is some zoology in it, with the discovery of new or rare bats, tree kangaroos and other species, but Flannery's focus is on his interactions with the local people and struggles with the terrain.

He includes a portrait of an aging Catholic priest, an authoritarian survivor of an earlier era, but otherwise Flannery describes communities only recenty touched by government or the modern world. The places he visits include Mount Albert Edward; Yapsiei, in the Telefomin valley, home of the Miyanmin people; Yominbip, "a pinprick of a settlement in the vastness of the Thurnwald Range"; Telefomin, home of the Telefol people; Bultem, home of the Wopkaimin people; the mining town of Tabubil in the Star Mountains; and the Toricelli mountains along the north coast.

The last third of Throwim Way Leg is about Irian Jaya, where Flannery visited Jayapura as well as doing fieldwork in Kwiyawagi, home of the Maokop people, and in the Snow Mountains around the Freeport mine. He was initially attracted to Irian Jaya — safer than PNG, and with less pronounced racial divisions — but became disillusioned by the use of force by the Indonesian military and mine security contractors.

Flannery is not an ethnographer and makes no pretense in Throwim Way Leg at being one. In most cases he spent relatively short periods of time in the communities he visited and had to rely on interpreters. He was often by himself, however, and dependent on locals for their knowledge of animal behaviour and distribution, their hunting skills, and their provision of food and shelter, making an understanding of their customs and social world essential. So he was practically engaged with the societies he describes. He doesn't sentimentalise indigenous customs — cruelty in their treatment of animals is perhaps the most shocking — but he does his best not to judge them inappropriately.

Sixteen pages of colour photographs illustrate some of the people Flannery met and the dramatic landscapes he traversed. Throwim Way Leg is an involving introduction to some of the indigenous peoples and geographies of the New Guinea highlands.

May 2009

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%T Throwim Way Leg
%S An Adventure
%A Flannery, Tim
%I Text Publishing
%D 1998
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 1876485191
%P 326pp