“Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man” by John E. Quinlan— A Memoir

Quinlan, John E. “Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man”, edited by Alex Cruden, MCP Books, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

John Quinlan philosophically looks at his inner man in “Tau Bada”. He was called Tau Bada which means  “big white man,” when he met the tribes of Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province, north of Australia.

Quinlan and his wife Fiona tried their luck at a fishing business before becoming coffee exporters in Papua New Guinea. There, Quinlan used his expertise as a businessman to pull together over 2400 people from numerous different tribes to form a business focused on coffee collection, processing, logistics and export. What he think about were the cultural differences and the fear and mistrust that some of the tribes felt toward him and toward each other.

Quinlan’s memoir is a true-action story about money, new love, cultural challenges, the essential messages of the American West and of the South Pacific, as well as a personal journey of self-discovery.

This is a true account of Quinlan’s life with his failures included. After losing his job security and the end of a marriage, Quinlan decided that he needed change in his life and took off on a motorcycle trip in August of 1999. It was then that he met Fiona who was from Papua New Guinea. Because he and Fiona were honest business people, John and Fiona expected the same from their employees. They provided opportunities for local farmers to harvest a cash crop something that had never happened before in New Guinea. However, when John entered the village of Kiara, he was the first white man to ever do so and vengeance was there.

The book comes together from the journals that Quinlan kept during his journey and we see a man who lost his egoism and sense of self when he lost his job in Michigan. He began searching for healing and wanted to make sense of what he thought was a great life and going to Papua seemed to be a good choice.

What the book is really about (in the words of the author) is “the quiet transitions to real courage and the soul milieu that connects and binds us as mutual occupants of a shared planet.” Quinlan begins his book with this quote and then goes on to show why this is really what he wants to say. We see that Quinlan’s courage, stamina, and trust as they are tested over and over throughout his life.

He fell in love with Fiona Tanner, a beautiful woman at first sight as she did with him and when he learns that her visa has expired, Quinlan tries to help her make a living for herself, her three daughters, and ultimately himself as well, in Papua. From this they go into the tribal areas of Papua New Guinea where Quinlan is called “Tau Bada”. They start a coffee business, and tribal customs and native superstitions lead to vengeance, betrayal, and ultimately an attempt on their lives.

This is a not just a memoir— it is also a tale of adventure, a look at building a business and a love story. The Papua New Guinea home of John and Fiona becomes a center of both profound joy and constant anxiety where death is certainly a possibility.

This is a fascinating read about courage and adventure that we all share. There is something for everyone—intrigue, danger, humor and the power of love.



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