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Contemplating Moresby: itchy scab on the belly


View from the Veranda I’M SITTING on the veranda of a house on Touaguba Hill overlooking the wharves and the central business district of Port Moresby.

I’m an inveterate walker, too old to be athletic but I’d rather plod than sit in a car.  I’ve just struggled up windy Portlock Road and the cup of tea I’ve got tastes grand.

It’s September and the wet season is just beginning; the cooling south east trade wind, the laurabada, has made the skies murky so that the hills across Fairfax Harbour look ghostly.  The great scar next to the refinery at Napa Napa is a pale and barely discernible wound.

Just below the veranda, perhaps a hundred metres away, workmen are laying concrete where the old House of Assembly used to stand.  The men must be mostly highlanders because every so often they let out piercing whoops; perhaps the valley of the harbour reminds them of greener vales.  Otherwise, a generator on the site is making a noise like a helicopter.

The Sign The big bill board behind the high wire fence announces that the site will be occupied by a new historical museum celebrating Papua New Guinea’s march to nationhood. 

There is an uncomfortable Bjelke Peterson-like irony in putting up a new building in the same place to "protect" the heritage of something that has just been knocked down.  On the gate a much smaller sign is blunter and to the point; it says ‘nogat wok’.

The rain that the laurabada has brought overnight has washed all the rubbish down off the hills and the drains on Champion Parade are blocked, creating a gigantic puddle across the road and into some of the buildings. 

No one seems to be unblocking the drains but people are sweeping water out of their foyers and laying down flattened cardboard cartons to walk on so you don’t drag mud into the lifts.

I can see perhaps a dozen high rise buildings from where I sit with my cup of tea.  On the inside point of Paga Hill an old colonial house clings doggedly to its cutting.  The site must be worth millions.

My uphill trudge had begun at Ela Beach where I’d gone for a coffee at the Beachside Brasserie attached to the Ela Beach Hotel, a renovated and upmarket reincarnation of the old Davara Hotel. 

Across the road the sea was gently lapping the beach just below the blue-painted and graffitied Davara Ela Beach Sewerage Pumping Station.

Along the roadway a team of ladies with brand new plastic rakes and spiky hand switches were busily cleaning out the gutters in readiness for the Independence Day celebrations and the Hiri Moala Festival.  The men at Hanuabada and Gabi had built two lagatoi for the occasion in the record time of three weeks. 

Both were really just two big old dugout canoes temporarily strapped together with the requisite platforms, shelters and masts that looked like they’d snap at the first hint of a breeze.  The thought was there but they’d never make it out beyond the reef, let alone down the coast loaded with clay pots.

Stilt Houses on Ela Beach 2 In front of the concrete amphitheatre a team of people were putting the finishing touches to two houses in the water connected to each other and the land by high walkways.  They were working against the clock and there were still piles of bush timber, thatch and bush ropes in rolls stacked on the ground.

When I went over to say hello I noticed the grey bark mottled with light green moss on the bush timber.  As I chatted to one of the ladies it occurred to me that what they were building, temporary thought it would be, was much more like the real Papua New Guinea than the mess of concrete buildings over the road. 

That museum thing they were building up the hill on the other side of Hunter Street surrounded by its concrete mess of mismatched high rises with their rubbish strewn streets and blocked drains was not the real Papua New Guinea.

Despite what people might say about progress Port Moresby is just another dirty, overcrowded third world city which increasingly owes its burgeoning existence to the minerals and hydrocarbons of the hinterlands.

Port Moresby, when all is said and done, is just an itchy dry scab on the belly of an otherwise beautiful country I thought as I drained the last of my tea.  I hope it isn’t the future.


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