Old PNG friendships still relevant today
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Niu Ailan bilas piles mi lukim iu gen

Peter Comerford

Niu Ailan bilas ples ol i mangalim wantaim
Em i ples bilong bu bu, pa pa, ma ma

The chorus of what I suppose is the New Ireland provincial anthem always brings a tear to my eye. It was sung at every speech day, at Saturday film evenings and in the back of school trucks.

Marian and I lived in New Ireland from 1971-75. We left Bougainville and PNG in 1990. The decision to return was fast tracked after a promise made to a dear friend, Kaylene Saduniano (ASOPA ’73), just before she died in December ‘07. She’d asked us to plant a tree for her in New Ireland.

Returning in July, we landed at Kavieng at dusk. The plane taxied down the runway, car headlights illuminating a path towards the terminal. At Malangan Lodge Resort we met manager John McLeod, who we knew on Bougainville. Malangan is on the harbour with views towards the islands of Nusa and Nusa Lik. A quiet walk, at PNG pace, to trade stores.

Kavieng hasn’t changed much. The buildings older and a little more shabby. A few new shops in Chinatown. The Kavieng Hotel is now blue and the Kavieng Club has a besa brick fence. The harbour foreshore with rain trees and turquoise water is still Somerset Maugham. Ecotourism is alive and well: diving, surfing, sailing, fishing. The market is good and there are kukas aplenty.

The New Irelanders are friendly. They always were. We walk around day and night and travelled the highway by PMV without problem, recognised and greeted by people wherever we go. The Buluminsky Highway is sealed so we travel comfortably in a twin cab rather than on a Honda 90 to Lakuramau, Lemokot, Fissoa, Mongop, Madina and Luapul, arriving without being covered in white karanas dust.

Wherever we go we are armed with copies of old photos. They were well received but, too often, the news is, “O sori….em i dai pinis.” And then through the village to a sandy matmat with a simple inscription scratched into a cement slab.

Our visit to my old schools of Madina and Utu, and to Kavieng Hospital where Marian was matron, had the memories in flood. But the AIDS clinic brought a new reality – Kavieng’s isolation wasn’t enough.

Our simple plans for a tree planting ceremony for Kaylene at Manggai gained momentum. We arrived at the village to be greeted by village elders who led us to an area decorated with flowers and palm leaves where we sat in the shade. After moving speeches and an explanation of the reasons for planting a tree in memory of a teacher, a symbolic tangat was planted near the grave of an ex student, Bospidik.

A magnificent feast had been prepared. The pig was marked, divided and distributed according to custom. The benches were laden with bowls of fruit, fish and mumu karamaps. We returned to Kavieng on dusk, humbled yet again by the genuine warmth. We were content we had fulfilled Kaylene’s request.


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Andy Fletcher

After spending 15 years in Rabaul I was posted to Kavieng Fisheries College from 1985-1994. Then, after a stint in Manus, I returned to Kavieng in 1999-2004.

I spent seven years as President of the Kavieng Club, and my son Talom won the junior New Ireland open golf tournament this year.

I miss beautiful Kavieng very much. I had to return to Oz for medical reasons, but my family is still in Kokopo, Kavieng, and Wau.

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