“The Block” – Papuan Style

And we’re off and running at a lickety-split pace. It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since our last blog and the land clearing finished.  I think Hans’s family feel bad that we’ve had to wait so long, and now that it’s only a couple of months before we head home, they’re pulling out all the stops to get the buildings finished.

For that reason, they’ve subcontracted some of the building to other members of their family.  The workshop/kitchen is being built by Philipous, Hans’s cousin from the local village of Yensawai; the dining/lounge room is being built by his cousins Andreas and Nus and their father Adolphus (no idea how to spell these names!) who are now our neighbours on Dayan; Hans’s father, Haja, and brother Renol are building our house, and Hans and his cousin Frenchie (not sure how you spell that one either!) have been tasked with building the ablutions block and septic tank. 

Have you ever watched “The Block”? I think I’ve only ever watched a couple of the early episodes and caught various snippets when channel-surfing. You probably know the format – teams compete by each renovating an apartment in a block, with the lure of a prize at the end of it.  A lot of drama and bitchiness ensues. Thankfully, we have none of the latter and no prize as such, except payment for the building – but with people zooming backwards and forwards in their boats, ferrying materials they’ve managed to source from the forest, and then constructing their assigned building in a slightly different style to the other teams, it’s hard not to imagine there’s some competition going on here. Maybe we’re in some surreal Papuan version of the TV show (except this one is so much nicer) and any minute now a camera crew will appear around the headland…?!

Team Hans and Frenchie constructing the shower and toilet block
Team Philipous, constructing the workshop and kitchen
And the Andreas team getting started
Roofing supplies arrive for Team Andreas
and all the family are involved
Affectionately known as Hans’s bathtub, this little homemade boat goes like the clappers
Team Hans have gone for a slightly different roof line, using timber ends
Whereas Team Andreas are going for the bamboo edging look

We’re really happy that so many members of the family can benefit financially from this project, but it has its own stressors for us.  Mainly the language barrier. The family speak their own dialect of Papuan amongst themselves, Hans is the only one who can speak any English, and our grasp of Indonesian is tenuous, to say the least.  We’re slowly learning more words, but we’re a long way from being able to converse at the level we need, so we rely on Hans to be the intermediary.  And often his understanding of what we’re trying to say is limited, so you can see how tricky this gets.  Added to that, he’s often away from the building site cutting wood all day, and so the potential for misunderstandings multiplies exponentially. We’ve done our best to draw floor plans and sketches, on paper and in the sand, but we’ve quickly discovered there’s no substitute for being there on site to nip any problems in the bud.  Unfortunately, we were too late for one – we’d got caught up trying to order solar panels and batteries on the internet (another whole dilemma here, because as well as limited internet availability, Tokopedia, the Indonesian equivalent of eBay or Amazon, won’t accept foreign credit cards), and by the time we got to the island, Team Andreas, building the dining/lounge room, had already put in the foundation poles, one of which was now right in the middle of the living area, and the other was smack bang where we’d planned the entrance. Erecting these poles is no easy feat, and because they’d already lashed the roof timbers on, we didn’t have the heart to ask them to dismantle it and start again.  It isn’t quite what we had in mind, but we’ll have to work around it…literally…

The offending supports, middle front and centre
Haja, Renol and Frenchie putting the foundation poles of our house in place

Here’s a short video clip of how the foundation poles are erected, and as you can see it’s all manpower and technique:

The whole building process is fascinating.  These guys are the jedi of the chainsaw – it’s hard to believe that these planks are cut using nothing but a chainsaw.

Haja and Renol discuss the finer points of chainsawing, using Bruce’s chainsaw that he hasn’t had a chance to use yet!

And they have a unique way of making sure that things are level.  Hans calls it a ‘waterpass’ (or that’s what it sounds like).  It’s a bourbon tube effect – by filling a length of tubing with seawater they can accurately gauge the correct level for anything by lining up the ends of the tube on the poles and marking them off.  Here’s another short clip of Hans and Renol marking the levels for the floor joists on our house:

All the timbers are lashed with vines from the forest, and only a minimal number of nails are used.

And there’s no such thing as OH&S here – these guys have the most amazing balance and can shimmy up their makeshift scaffolding and stand on a rounded pole, all the while wielding a chainsaw without blinking. To say we’re impressed is an understatement.

Philipous demonstrating how to balance on the scaffolding while putting the roof supports in place

Team Andreas are the largest team – 3 men building, several young boys as gofers, while the women prepare the palm leaves for the roof by folding each one in half. Then they’re stacked in piles according to size and passed up to the guys on the roof, where they’re overlapped and lashed to the roof poles with bamboo twine.

Preparing the palm fronds for the roof
Adolphus cutting the bamboo into strips for the twine
The palm fronds are in three layers, lashed to the roof supports with bamboo twine. They start from the bottom of the roof and work up to the apex to ensure it’s waterproof
with many helpers, this half of the roof is completed in a matter of hours
Team Andreas working on the roof
Some members of Team Andreas are a little more in industrious than others…

At the other end of the scale is Philipous, who seems to be valiantly building the workshop/kitchen all by himself (his son, or nephew, disappeared a couple of days ago). I hope the judges give him extra points for this….

Philipous all on his own, quietly doing a magnificent job on the workshop/kitchen building

And yesterday Team Rudolph (no reindeer to be seen) arrived to build one of the guesthouses. I tell you, it’s full-on action stations here, from sunrise to sunset!

While all this is going on, we try and keep ourselves busy by doing more ground-clearing and burning of rubbish.

We’re down to the final remnants of a very large fallen tree that we’ve been gradually burning out
The path leading from the back beach
Time for a break!

A huge part of the garbage we’re collecting is plastic that’s washed in by the tide.  This is definitely going to be a daily task, and its heartbreaking to see how much washes in from these otherwise beautiful waters.  If we can improve our language skills, getting involved in the conservation of this unique part of the world would definitely be a worthwhile cause.

Are we tired and exhausted? Yes. But absolutely stoked by the progress that’s been made in such a short time. And I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of this view.

13 Replies to ““The Block” – Papuan Style”

  1. I’ve just been smiling from ear to ear reading your blog! There’s nothing like using natural materials and being surrounded by the work of many hands to give soul to a home. Stuff Le Corbusier and his “machine for living”, your island home is the best!

    1. Jim – thank you, what a wonderful comment. You’ve so beautifully expressed what I haven’t been able to put into words. Yes, this place is brimming with soul, and we’re so overjoyed to have been accepted and embraced within this wonderful community. It’s an extraordinarily special experience xx

  2. Wow it’s amazing how quickly everything has come together and all the family helping.
    You have found your piece of paradise
    Looking forward to seeing it when completed and catching up with you on your return to Australia.
    Lots of love 💗

    1. Thanks Jackie! Yes, we can hardly believe that its really happening. It will be great to see you guys back in Oz – looking forward to it. Much love to you both xx

  3. Hope all are safe from the Tongan Volcano eruption tsunami…
    From The Australian…
    The eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga that caused a tsunami and triggered alerts from the US to NZ could be the start of weeks of major explosions, a volcanologist has warned.

    The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday with a huge blast seen from space, sending tsunami waves of up to 1.2 metres into Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, with warning of dangerous ocean surges in Australia, NZ, Fiji and the US west coast.

    1. Thanks Al – I think we’ll be OK as far as the Tongan tsunami goes, there’s a fair bit of land between us and Tonga.

  4. How fantastic! Love all the action and the way it is all coming on. What a lovely bit of paradise you have found. Look forward to hearing all about it over a few glasses of red.

  5. Well you said you has a plan. I’m so impressed, you’ve certainly worked hard at building an excellent rapport with your neighbours!
    So looking forward to seeing the final results..
    Take care.

    1. Thanks Sherm! They’re lovely people indeed. We feel very fortunate that they’ve made us so welcome. Hope you guys are faring OK in the Omicron craziness – looking forward to catching up when we’re back xx

  6. That is all very exciting , what has been achieved already is amazing ! And no Bunnings anywhere 🤣 👏👏👏🙏 an incredible new adventure xxx

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