Venerable history of the Melanesian church
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From Pagei to the sea: a trip to remember


Farewell Mr Freestone 
ANYONE WHO SPENT TIME working in PNG had incredible experiences and retains wonderful memories. So much so that no matter where in the world these people now live, PNG is always a special place.

All countries have their problems, and PNG is no exception. But, in spite of the bad news, one can always find something special about this wonderful country.

In 1966-67 I was posted to Pagei Primary School, at a border station established to watch for Indonesian infiltration and refugees.  Pagei was classified as secret because the Australian government did not want Indonesia to know what facilities were there – accommodation, water and food supplies - that might have been invaluable to an invading army.

The only access to Pagei was by plane - it was a fifteen minute flight from Vanimo - and during the wet season there was often no access as the airstrip would be closed for days at a time.

After consulting with the parents, I decided to take the children on an excursion to Vanimo so they could see the ocean and other wonderful things. We had to prepare everything thoroughly. We were to follow a bush track that the villagers used to gain access to their sago palms and, once we left the government, station we would be on our own.

Leaving Pagei The day arrived and we left Pagei early in the morning. Six men had volunteered to be carriers and they bore our rice, tinned meat, cooking pots and a comprehensive first aid kit. The children had a change of clothes and an empty string bag which held food they collected along the way. It was going to be a difficult two day walk.

The start was easy as Roger the Kiap was building a track he hoped would one day reach the isolated villages scattered throughout the forest. After two or three kilometres the track became narrow and almost invisible. But these children were amazing - they knew exactly where to go.

Thru Ilup Village We walked for about four hours following the trail until we came to the first village, Ilup. The children came to a sudden halt and I could see three men blocking the path. I took my houseboy, who could speak the dialect, and we went to talk to them.

One of them turned was the local witchdoctor, who informed my houseboy that, because the children were from his enemies’ villages, he would not allow us to walk through the village. Instead we would need to take a detour which would add another two hours to our journey.

My houseboy had seen some magic tricks I used as an aid to my teaching and he told the men I was a very powerful white witchdoctor and it would be unwise to upset me. The three men immediately shook my hand and guided us into their village where we had a cool drink from some coconuts that were given us.

Oenake Waterfall We continued onto Issi village where we stayed the night.  We cooked our dinner and, as the children had collected much food on the way, we were able to share it with the villagers. Then we treated any scratches that might turn septic and I showed the villagers some magic tricks before we collapsed into a deep sleep in the Haus Kiap.

The next morning we were up early for we had a difficult walk through the swamps and over the 3,000 foot Oenake Mountain Range. We left our remaining food in the village for our return trip, not wanting to carry it over the mountain.

Our first challenge was getting through the swamps, and it was hard work. The villagers had assured us there were no crocodiles but we used a lot of salt removing the giant leeches. Eventually we came to the Oenake range that rose before us like an impenetrable barrier.

We climbed the slippery sides and, as we neared the top, realised it was only the first of three such peaks we had to climb. Eventually we had reached the top of the last mountain and in the distance could see the sea.

We finally arrived in Vanimo and, after changing into school uniforms, proudly marched through the town, where we received a huge welcome.

We stayed at Vanimo school for three days and saw many wonderful things. The children could not believe the sights - the ocean, cars, a ship. They enjoyed meals of fresh fish. We played sport with the Vanimo kids but got beaten at everything as our students were no match for the healthy coastal kids.

After three fabulous days we retraced our tracks. Back in Pagei, the children had many stories to tell their parents. They learnt so much but they taught me even more about survival in the rainforest of PNG.

Standard 4 

Photos: Top - Trevor Freestone and Pagei villagers.  2 - Leaving Pagei for the coast.   3 - Ilup Village.  4 - Oenake Waterfall.  Bottom - Standard 4, Pagei Primary School


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Rick Larsen

Thanks to you and your website I am now in phone and email contact with Trevor Freestone, teacher at Pagei patrol post when I visited in 1966/67.

One mission accomplished... :) 50+ years on. Best wishes.

Good to know, Rick - thanks for the feedback - KJ

Rick Larsen

Chanced upon this Trevor and was very interested.
I was one of seven National Service Education Sergeants attached to 2PIR in Wewak in 1966/67. Several months of this time I spent at Vanimo.

Apart from teaching I also did patrols with the company or platoon to which I was attached - and this included to Pagei, Ossima and Green River.

I was so attracted to the country, people and culture that I returned [this time as a young married man] and lived in Lae, Madang and Port Moresby during 1970/72.

I was employed as a Regional Psychologist with the Public Service Board and [in 1972] as the Clinical Guidance Officer with the Education Department. In these roles I was fortunate to travel through much of PNG.

It is even possible that we met in 1966/67.

I am in Perth and would be interested to hear from you if that can happen.

Andy McNabb

Trevor - You are an extremely fortunate person to have had such an enriching time in PNG.

While one can be sometimes reluctant to hear of "the good old days", this is one of the very good ones. Well done!

Kevin E Murphy OBE

Great story, Trevor.

I did the House of Assembly elections in 1968,out of Osima, in the Pagei area of the WSP, as a Cadet Patrol Officer. I was posted at Aitape at the time. Later postings were Telefomin, Anamab, Wutung and Vanimo.

Loved the West Sepik people. Great part of PNG to work with the people. Left PNG 2008 after 41 wonderful years.

Reginald Renagi

Trevor: - What a great adventure story. I enjoyed it and it must have brought back some good happy memories for you.

Thank you for your service to PNG by educating its children.
Today, it is a nice happy memory of those far off wonderful time you spent in an amazing country.

Trevor Freestone.

After school, my children would search the swamps for frogs and tadpoles which they would add to their sago. The SDA missionaries were teaching the villagers how to grow vegetables which improved their diet no end.

I believe that today these same villages are suffering from the terrible practices of the logging companies. I have seen a web site with pictures showing this devastation. (Google 'Amoi Village PNG').

Their pristine creeks and waterways are polluted and their sago swamps have all but been destroyed.

I hope these reports are incorrect as the rainforest belonged to the villagers and any logging should have benefitted them. The rainforest was their only future unless they were able to leave the area searching for work.

With such an abundance of rainforest timber they should all be very wealthy by now.

Barbara Short

Thanks, Trevor, for the great story. It takes me back to my time in the East Sepik.

One time when I was adjudicating at a choral festival at Wewak, a choir of primary school children from an isolated bush school walked onto the Wirui stage - all obviously suffering from malnutrition. The audience gave them a great ovation.

I wonder if they have better nutrition now. I believe that they had some traditional diet customs that had caused the problem.

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