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189 posts from April 2012

A bad dose of ex-colonialism


WHILE THE OUTSIDERS who passed through Papua New Guinea over the last couple of hundred years were responsible for introducing a deadly suite of diseases, like syphilis and influenza, the favour was returned in the form of equally deadly nasties like malaria and typhus.

For many Australians there was also another infectious malady for which it is hard to find a name.  It involved exposure to another cultural set and a gradual and insidious change in their view of the world.  In that sense it’s a sort of brain disease.

The kiaps, school teachers, didimen and other remote area staff were particularly susceptible because they all seemed to have a predisposition to it.  Jack Baker put his finger on it when he met us at ASOPA and casually explained that we were essentially a bunch of misfits who would no doubt fit well into wherever it was that we were going.

That was well and good and Jack turned out to be mostly right.  What he didn’t explain - probably because he didn’t know at the time - was what would happen when it came time to go home; an event which occurred a lot sooner than many of us expected.

This awkward transition back to Australian life is something that Paul Oates occasionally mentions.  It’s something you briefly acknowledge and then forget.  In the last week or so I’ve had reason to think about it a bit more deeply.

The first thing was an email from Andy Connelly who is following up his excellent MA thesis, Counting Coconuts: Patrol Reports from the Trobriand Islands 1907 – 1934*, with a wider ranging PhD thesis.

He was interested in something that I had written about Assistant Resident Magistrate Leo Austen.  Leo was a remarkable character but he just couldn’t fit back into Australian life when he left Papua New Guinea after WW2.  His gradual disintegration makes for very sad reading.

The second thing was a trip down to Brisbane last week to rummage through the archives held in the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library, including the excellent Papua New Guinea Association of Australia’s records managed by Dr Peter Cahill.

While going through one box I happened across some letters written by a friend who had experienced very similar difficulties to Leo.  I won’t explain how the letters ended up in the collection but by reading them I began to understand a lot of things that my friend has never really talked to anyone about.

With these revelations in mind I remembered other troubled people I know who had been in Papua New Guinea and who were all about the same age as me. 

The litany of failed relationships, physical and psychological illnesses, especially depression, unemployment and business failures and the like started to make sense. 

In fact, I was hard pressed to remember anyone, apart from a couple of hard heads, who I had known in Papua New Guinea who had come back to Australia and who had really fitted comfortably back into society, myself included.

One of the biggest realisations for many of these returning people was the social and cultural impoverishment of the Australian and general Western way of life. 

I recently read the memoirs of Mary Guntner, Doctor in Paradise.  Mary was a Lutheran mission doctor and she underwent a similar period of disillusionment where she couldn’t come to terms with the preoccupation of Australians with consumerism, status, celebrity, sport and what was on television.

I know the experience of the poor blokes coming back from Vietnam was different but thinking about Papua New Guinea made me a bit more sympathetic towards them.

The malady is not new of course.  Literature is full of stories of disgruntled colonials and repatriated exiles who couldn’t settle back down but the letters of my friend, inadvertently stumbled upon, brought it all vividly back into focus.

* Available for download at

Analysing the rubbish of the NCDC


SINCE LEAVING THE PUBLIC SERVICE, I have found many ways to occupy my time. I read books. I paint. I sleep and I even spend more time in my home province, visiting relatives, friends and working on my land (between reading books).

I have found time to help out friends and family when they have needed it. Or they just ask me for money. Which I don’t have so I just tell them stories about NCDC (National Capital District Council) which bore them to such a state that they leave me alone.

I have also started writing letters to anyone and everyone. I like writing letters. It gives me something to do to stave off the boredom of unemployment.

Recently, I started to write letters that I have termed “literary rants”. I write with much angst and indignation about anything and everything I believe is wrong in our country (this list is near endless).

The increasing rubbish and filth, the lies and stealing, the growing crime rate, the lack of services and the lack of care from those who could and should but don’t.

These letters are written to everyone in authority and copied to all who should take note and act (but usually don’t).

Of course in a Utopian world (similar to the worlds that many of the patrons of the yacht club apparently come from if you were to spend some time on any given Friday listening to their tales of how wonderful their homes are) this would be the case: someone, somewhere, paid money by ratepayers to act, would do so!

I doubt if anyone takes much notice of these letters, but I feel satisfied that somehow, I am expressing myself and that, somehow, I represent many of my fellow countrymen and perhaps a few genuine visitors and investors even.

Surprise, surprise, I do care about investors! Yes, I may rant and rave about foreign exploitation every so often but the fact is I am keen on genuine investors, those who pay their taxes, respect our culture and people and make an effort to keep their profits in the country and contribute to its economic growth.

Apparently the economic growth in this country is tremendous! You wouldn’t tell though when you drive around over roads that look and feel as if they were mistakenly bombed by the US Navy en route to Iraq.

Nor would you think this if you were to visit any given school where classrooms of children fluctuate between 120 and 300 to a teacher, usually sitting on a ground floor and trying to stay awake because they took only five PMV buses to get to school.

Anyway, recently, I wrote a letter to the NCDC Governor, Honourable Powes Parkop, who I consider a friend of some sort, although I haven’t heard from him for some time. Perhaps he is busy preparing for the - on again, off and on – elections or happy gardening somewhere.

Now of course, if I wanted to write about what I really thought and all the issues that the NCDC could resolve (but doesn’t) I would never have gotten around to writing this letter, besides there isn’t enough paper in PNG or the South Pacific for that size of project!

Continue reading "Analysing the rubbish of the NCDC" »

Danis lon wind


Dispela bokis blo diriman
I round olsem kokonas
Stail steret wantem ol tail
We save danis hamamas
Taim wind i blow wail

Wailo! yellow, ret na pink
Ol danis igo ikam yet
Eye mambol i laik sink
Tsol lon nau em ba wet
Igat taim blo danis i stap

Dispela kokonas yeh!
Bokis blo diriman
Bilas blo em stail moa
Em yet em stail wan
Tsol ol tail kam lon stoa

We’ll ‘fast track’ Panguna says new chairman


CHRIS DAMANATHE LANDOWNERS OF THE PANGUNA Special Mining Lease Association have elected their new board of directors.

And in his first statement, new chairman Chris Damana [pictured] affirmed that the Association will ‘fast-track’ the re-opening of the Panguna copper and gold mine.

Only two landowner associations are still to elect their leadership.

Once these elections are held, Panguna landowners are expected to vote for a mutual association which will be an umbrella body representing all Panguna landowners.

This group will conduct negotiations on the new Bougainville Copper Agreement. The European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper understands that this will take place within the next weeks.

Chris Damana is one of the most shining personalities in Panguna and will also run for a seat in the national parliament in the upcoming June elections.

ESBC president Axel G Sturm congratulated Mr Damana and his colleagues Jo Avero, Denis Nasia and William Basiku and wished them wisdom and good luck in their ambitious task.

Old Asopians converge on San Juan for lunch


Lunch in San Juan

SO THERE WE WERE, anchored in our yacht Arita in the Spanish Virgin Islands, just to the east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, when we get this email.

It’s from ex-Asopian, Denis Murrell, to say that another ex-Asopian, Keith Parker, will shortly be visiting San Juan, accompanying his wife, Professor Parlo Singh, to an international education conference.

We catch the ferry to the mainland, rent a car and race to San Juan to meet up with Keith, who I haven't seen or spoken to in 45 years. You might say, "So, what's the rush?"

We hug, backslap, nostalgise (is that a word? – Ed) and adjoin to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch.

There’s a lady at the next table. Who Parlo introduces as Dr Juliana McLaughlin from Manus Island, now a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology.

Juliana and her colleague, Dr Christine Fox, join our table and Christine mentions "Oh, I used to work at ASOPA".

Wel,l what's the chance of having three ex-Asopians sitting at the same table on the other side of the world in the company of a wonderful lady from Manus?

San Juan is probably as far away from PNG as you can get.

Photo (left to right): Lauren & Rob Dehaan, Juliana McLaughlin, Keith Parker, Parlo Singh, Christine Fox

Dubbo Dave Kesby - a man for all seasons - dies in Sydney


Dave Kesby - always a man of good cheerAT 2.30 THIS MORNING, Dave Kesby died of cancer. He was 68 and a most admirable man. I am struck with grief.

Dave was a classmate of mine at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in 1962-63 and went on to teach in the Rabaul area before returning to Australia in about 1966 (apologies for the vagueness, I'm in Queensland and without records).

He got more degrees and worked as a school counsellor around Sydney for many years before purchasing a taxi licence. Cab driving may not seem every professional’s cup of tea but Dave loved it. The passing parade of passengers and conversations was a source of almost unmitigated delight.

It could have been a sad day when ill health finally forced him to give the cabbing game away about 18 months ago. But there was always the Berowra ukelele band....

I last spoke with Dave eight days ago. He was in hospital, he knew he was dying and we had two conversations.

The first was short. He'd been allowed to leave his hospital bed for a couple of hours to see his grandson play football. The boy scored five goals and Dave was pleased to have seen that. He said he couldn’t talk for long and said goodbye.

A minute later he rang back, saying he didn’t want us to end on that sombre and abbreviated note.

He said he’d had a good life, that he felt happy. He was surrounded by the family he loved and he told me he was not afraid of death.

We talked politics – like we always did – and Dave puzzled over the desiccated state of the Labor Party, to which he had a lifelong commitment, knowing he would not live to see it in any other condition.

His mouth badly ulcerated, Dave found it difficult to talk, but talk we did. He apologised for not wanting any of us to join him at the hospital, but he said he wanted us to remember him as he was.

A man for all seasons - good for them all. Benign or malign. A little regret but not a trace of self pity.

Then we said a final farewell.

Dubbo Dave Kesby as a young manDave was man of unremitting courage and good cheer. A man of honesty and straight-forwardness who never fooled himself that things were other than they really were.

A man constantly delighted by his fellow humans (bullies, thugs and Liberals excepted) and generous in spirit to the many people who came his way.

 Dave leaves behind Elissa - a beautiful, calm and courageous woman, his sons Jack and Pete, and other family members.

A celebration of Dave’s life will be held at the Uniting Church, 6 Alan Road, Berowra Heights in Sydney at noon on Wednesday 2 May.

UN: PNG's ‘slippery path’ to undermining rule of law


NAVI PILLAYA TOP UNITED NATIONS OFFICIAL has voiced concern about recent steps taken by the Papua New Guinea government that could undermine the rule of law, breach international human rights standards, impinge on the independence of the judiciary, and could lead to serious instability.

“Papua New Guinea is on a slippery path to upending the constitutional order and undermining the rule of law,” High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned.

“All national actors and their international partners must work together to prevent the country from sliding into serious instability by ensuring that the rule of law, the Constitution and international human rights standards are upheld in resolving the issues facing the country,” she said.

Since the August 2011 change of government and the subsequent dispute over who is the legitimate prime minister, the executive and parliament have taken steps which seriously affect the ability of the judiciary to operate independently, according to a news release issued by the High Commissioner’s office.

The enactment of a new Judicial Conduct Act last month is of particular concern, Ms. Pillay said, as it establishes a new parallel system to deal with misconduct of judges, contrary to constitutional provisions on the issue.

“It appears that the Judicial Conduct Act is being used to interfere in particular with the legal proceedings to determine the legality of the current administration,” she stated, citing a Supreme Court decision on 12 December 2011 in which it ruled that the government of Peter O’Neill was unconstitutional.

“The judiciary must be allowed to operate free from external pressures, threats or executive or legislative interference – international law is clear on this matter,” Ms. Pillay said.

She also called on the government to ensure that constitutional provisions on the timing of the national elections are upheld, after the government indicated that it may now seek to delay the polls beyond the five-year term fixed by the constitution.

Also of concern are reports that several journalists have been attacked, allegedly for their role in reporting on the current political situation in the country.

“It is the government’s responsibility and obligation under international human rights law to ensure that freedom of expression is respected, and that when journalists are attacked for doing their jobs, prompt investigations are conducted and perpetrators are duly prosecuted,” Ms. Pillay said.

MPs angered over Australian visa conditions


PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S PARLIAMENT has again raised concerns over Australia's strict visa conditions set on its citizens wanting to visit Australia.

Deputy prime minister Belden Namah accused Australia of setting strict visa conditions on its citizens, while PNG allows Australians to get a visa on arrival.

He says it's unfair for Australia to treat its neighbour like that when both countries enjoy a long standing historical relationship.

"I want to appeal to the Australian government, if we are giving you easy access to Papua New Guinea, why not lift some of those cumbersome processes," he said.

"It is unfair.''

Some MPs also called on the PNG government to reconsider its visa policy with Australia, while others said Papua New Guineans should visit other countries like China or Malaysia instead of Australia.

Nature’s frolic


In the valley amid panoramic visuals
Frolics Nature; ancient, new
Glibly orchestrating ageless rituals
On Earth’s tapestry; symmetrical, askew 

Rushing waters scramble over one another
In their haste to flow downstream
Echoes of their excited chatter
Drifting up the sleepy mountains green

Drifting up and climbing higher
Up into the sky, so fathomless and blue
Where languid, heavy clouds now gather
To tinge the green a different hue

To tinge and shade, then separate
To give the sun some room
It’s kindly warmth the land to bathe, while
Playful wind its mischief looms 

Playful wind it sways and swirls
Teasing at the drowsy leaves
Twirling them with practiced twirls
It floats them down with skillful ease

As they float the leaves they flutter
Surprised they twist and turn
Then heaving sighs of resigned mutters
They settle on the grassy land

And ere go on these ageless rituals
Through time and space they dance
Creating intricate, passionate miracles
Natures frolic; man’s sustenance

Think and write!


Think, Think, Think!
Surely, anyone can think
Faster than the eyes can blink,
And more than words ever printed with ink.
In the ocean of ideas, let the mind sink,
Or soar the heights higher than Airlink.

Anyone can think, but only smart ones think great!
‘I can and will think!’ just say it.
A strong will in the mind
Is all that is worthy to find
So think, think, and think!

Write, Write, Write!
Surely, anyone can write,
And that is absolutely right!
Whether of things dull or bright,
Or of that which has or has no insight,
Put them all down on pages white.

Anyone can write, but only smart ones write well!
‘I can and will write!’ just tell.
A strong will from the heart
Is all that is needed to start.
So write, write, and write!

Hogande Kiafuli(27) comes from the Lufa District of Eastern Highlands Province.  He is a newly registered medical doctor who currently lives and works in Goroka

The evidence on BCL’s role in the Bougainville conflict

In “a reluctant response" to Axel G Sturm’s caustic open letter, DR KRISTIAN LASSLETT* sets the record straight on his views of how Bougainville’s future can be better assured by an accurate and informed understanding of its turbulent past

Lasslett_KrisON 23 APRIL 2012, ACT NOW posted a blog I had written on Bougainville Copper Ltd and the Bougainville conflict. It was a critical but hopefully constructive piece, on how BCL might mend certain bridges with communities on Bougainville, using fairly orthodox transitional justice techniques.

It was not a new argument, indeed the distinguished ANU scholar John Braithwaite wrote in 2011:

Reconciliation between the mining company, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, and Bougainvilleans is yet to be achieved. An obstacle here is that the company fears ritual apology would expose it to liability in the courts. Yet this reconciliation to some extent holds a key to international reconciliation among Bougainville, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

In response to my article the President of the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper composed an open letter addressed to me. This letter included comments that bordered on the slanderous. In particular Axel G Sturm argued:

Your disgraceful lampoon is remarkable. It’s really shameful if an expert in criminology completely ignores facts and reality. Your naive adoption of statements and claims from rebel groups on the ground disqualify you as an honest scientist...I suppose your work in Ulster [Northern Ireland], a region well known for rebellion and organised crime, troubled your vision...Unfortunately you are also allowed to spread your ideas among you students. You shall not use your academic position as a platform for indoctrination and agitation [emphasis added].

I took it from Mr Sturm’s statement, he had not bothered to familiarise himself with my research on the Bougainville conflict. Had he, Mr Sturm would have discovered that my findings are based upon interviews with General Managers and three Managing Directors who steered BCL during the 1987-1991 period.

These interviews were triangulated through extensive documentary research, using internal BCL records including meeting minutes and company memorandums (these documents became available following two court cases involving BCL and its parent company).

I also interviewed senior state officials in Papua New Guinea, including the former Prime Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu (1988-1992), and senior military officers involved in the operations on Bougainville.

I remained somewhat aloof during the controversy elicited by an SBS report in June 2011, as I feel my research speaks for itself – on reflection, I perhaps erred in not correcting factual inaccuracies that were subsequently reported in the media (see Callick 2011).

However, in light of recent personal attacks on my credibility as a researcher and scholar, I feel compelled to summarise the empirical evidence on which my recent suggestions were based.

BCL placed substantive pressure on the Papua New Guinea government to send the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Mobile Squads – a paramilitary style force, who according to their own commanders excel in the use of terror [RPNGC Assistant Commissioner, Personal Communication, 2006] – to Bougainville in 1988, following attacks on mine property by a landowner group.

They made this request in full knowledge of the Mobile Squads’ chequered human rights record. As one General Manager informed me:

We knew the riot squads were heavy handed, that was well known in PNG. That’s how they worked. If you threw a rock at them you would get ten rocks thrown back. They were very heavy handed in the way they handled disputes in the Highlands…It was a case, somebody has to come. They were the only ones that could come, and put a lid on this thing before it got out of hand [Personal Communication, 2006].

Continue reading "The evidence on BCL’s role in the Bougainville conflict" »

Elections are on – so it’s taim bilong kaikai!


I RECKON YOU THOUGHT I’d be talking about food or a mumu or something to do with food. Nope, you’re wrong! I want to talk about something different; different in the sense that it is not food that I want to talk about here.

“…bus broke down on the highway. It would cost K3000 to fix the crack engine. Assist me with K1500, it is urgent!” The voice demanded into the phone.

“…have been in town for two weeks now and I have been going around empty stomach. Send me some money so I could find food and catch a PMV home.” A pleading tone echoed.

“…got two vehicles here in my yard. One needs to be registered and should be up and running on the road. The other needs a bit of fixing. Will you assist?” A proud owner of the two useless vehicles asked.

Do you get the picture now? It is not food but now is taim bilon kaikai.

“…we’re in town and the boys have bought themselves beer. Because we’re many what we have won’t be enough for all. Please send us K50 to get a few more bottles.” A drunk blasted into the phone.

I guess by now all know what I meant by taim blong kaikai.

All intending election candidates are bombarded by requests, mostly preposterous requests. And they will have to find ways to make their potential voters happy.

A request that is not met by a favourable answer means loss of support. And it is bad; actually worse than bad.

It is any wonder, most politicians, when voted into parliament; spend more time enriching themselves and less and less time worrying about the state of the poverty in the country.

For an intending candidate, it is not an easy road. Even after much publicity and awareness about the dangers of kisim na votim the PNG voter, especially in the highlands, are more inclined to do just that.

This is why the election time, especially for the highlands regions, is taim bilong kaikai.

The challenge now is this: how can we as educated people change this kind of mindset? Blogging, facebooking etc won’t work. If they do, it would only be minimal.

We must go to where it matters and spend real time - time in the years between elections - to educate people.

AusAID rip-offs in PNG cost $1.5 million


FURNISHINGS FOR THE HOMES of Papua New Guinea bureaucrats have been ''incorrectly'' bought using $150,000 worth of Australian taxpayers’ funds and a thief has pocketed just over $250,000 from a justice strengthening project also funded by Australia.

The waste was among about $1.5 million worth of AusAID funding the federal agency admits will never be recovered as a result of frauds and irregular spending from 2004 to 2010.

This was revealed after the Herald asked the agency to detail how much had been recovered from a series of high-value frauds and whether those responsible had faced justice.

AusAID confirmed no one would ever face charges in four cases involving significant amounts of aid money dating back to 2006. Suspects in four other incidents are yet to face court despite the suspected fraud occurring in one case up to six years earlier.

However, the AusAID first assistant director general, Laurie Dunn, defended the agency's handling of the matters, saying some cases emphasised the reasons behind the programs while resourcing had been increased to crack down on theft.

Mr Dunn confirmed the agency's largest outstanding fraud still related to a load of food and equipment worth $1.2 million that was allegedly stolen by the Eritrean government.

He said the agency was continuing to push for the return of the goods but he admitted the food had been consumed.

In another case, AusAID said a suspect defrauded about $258,391 from a PNG aid program that was supposed to improve the justice system in 2006.

The suspect was sacked but was never charged after the matter was not finalised before the statute of limitations expired, according to AusAID.

Mr Dunn said there was ''not a lot more we can do''. He denied any suggestion the loss coming from a program supposed to enhance justice was embarrassing, saying this incident was ''the reason we are there''.

In another PNG program, some $155,080 was initially thought to have been stolen from a program on Bougainville in 2008 but was instead used to buy furnishings for the residences of PNG civil servants.

However, an AusAID spokesman said incorrect procedures had occurred in the situation and budget controls were tightened to prevent a recurrence.

Another PNG loss the agency wrote off involved the provision of $44,222 to a sub-contractor to provide kit homes for a hospital in Oro Province.

The agency confirmed the money had been a deposit and the Hong Kong sub-contractor did not provide the homes and refused to return the money.

Mr Dunn said it ''underscored the difficulty in recovering money in developing countries'' and then a third country.

He said since the audits, AusAID had boosted anti-fraud measures. ''We have a very strong audit process in AusAID and we have just recently increased resourcing and set up a new chief of audit program,'' Mr Dunn said.

The agency had some successes, including recovering $88,315 allegedly stolen from a financial management program in PNG in 2008.

O’Neill assures civil society that elections are go


TRADE UNION LEADERS, churches and civil society groups have met Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill and received assurances that the elections will go ahead on time, with writs to be issued on 18 May.

The statement came amid signs of a continuing battle in cabinet, with some members of Mr O’Neill’s coalition pressing for a delay in the June poll, claiming the electoral commission will not be ready.

Protest rallies were held in Port Moresby this week and while schools and some businesses shut their doors, wider disruption did not occur.

Widespread strikes had been threatened but Trades Union Congress president Michael Malabag said that after Mr O’Neill’s assurances this seemed unlikely.

“We will be reviewing our stand, but look, if the guarantee of the elections is May 18th there is nothing to benefit if we are going to withhdraw services because everything was dependent on what was going to happen,” Mr Malabag said.

“Now we have got a guarantee of May 18th, the Judicial Bill is before the courts, so basically there is nothing else for us to keep pushing, but then it will be dependent on all my trade union affiliates.”

This caretaker government must heed the people


TODAY, 27 APRIL 2012, PARLIAMENT must rise to go to the elections according to the original dates established through the Papua New Guinea constitution.

Regardless of whether the election dates were moved, Parliament must for once show some respect to the people of Papua New Guinea. Lawyers advising this rogue parliament must also refrain from complicating matters further. Common sense must prevail!

When we voted these MPs into power we consented to them being in power until today.

That was the 2007 social contract between the people and parliament and it is sacred and should not be violated.

If this parliament breaches that social contract then the people, from whom all power ultimately rests with have the power to use whatever means necessary to enforce their rights.

Today all powers of parliament rest with the 7 million people of Papua New Guinea. Today we have a caretaker government.

The people’s power now rests in their hands in anticipation of polling when they cast their votes and return their power to parliament via their elected representatives.

The social contract between the people of Papua New Guinea and the parliament expires today.

The O’Namah regime is today merely a caretaker government. Each member of parliament is merely a caretaker MP. The people of Papua New Guinea are sovereign today and have ultimate say on national affairs until such time that they chose new leaders.

As a voting Papua New Guinean, I claim my franchise and no amount of political spin or legal mumbo jumbo will disenfranchise me of the powers vested in me.

If this rogue parliament thinks it can modify the original social contract of 2007, it has to go to every single voter and get their informed consent.

There are no loopholes or fine print as far as I’m concerned. Having had our vote restored, 7 million Papua New Guineans reserve the right to dictate to the caretaker government our wishes and aspirations!

Today onwards, this government shall be referred to as a caretaker government.

It’s alimentary – an organic view of PNG today


UNTIL YOU EFFECTIVELY isolate the problem you can’t effectively define a solution.

There are many problems affecting the political leadership of every nation in the world. And, if you look at nations now or in previous times, you will see the same problems arising as are currently evident in Papua New Guinea.

Why? Because Papua New Guineans are no different to the other people in the world. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato observed: ‘Those who are too intelligent to apply for public office end up being ruled by those who are not’.

So might the only difference might be in the circumstances that exist at the time and not the people.

If the current circumstances in PNG could be dissected, like the ancient Roman auguries who predicted the future by examining the entrails of animals, what might be revealed? What is the health of the obvious organs that can be discerned at first sight?

Firstly there’s the heart of the nation. Some claim it’s a Melanesian heart yet there are many different ethnicities that make up today’s PNG: Polynesian (Trobriands) and Micronesian (Manus) are just two examples.

People along the Papuan coast might find they have some things in common with Malay traders going back hundreds of years.

If one were to try and align the diversity of the Highlands with its myriad of cultures and languages, would there be a commonality emerging or the complete opposite?

Then there’s the nation’s liver. A vital organ, but one nonetheless notoriously famous for allegedly causing sour and caustic views on the world if it suffering from too much excess.

Similar statements about ‘venting one’s spleen’ also seem to go with together with a ‘liverish’ view of the world.

Could the fact that PNG’s liver is suffering from an excess of too many ‘good things’ be responsible for the increasingly pessimistic views being expressed?

Talking of too many good things, the nation’s alimentary system is clearly overloaded with large amounts of political candy covered handouts that are becoming difficult to swallow or, if forcibly shoved down your throat and ingested, just too hard to stomach.

Hmmm…. Perhaps that’s the reason why some are now inferring that everything coming from Parliament seems to turn to…… ummm….

So what if the problem is not exclusively Melanesian, why search for a Melanesian answer?

Perhaps that’s the first problem to isolate.

Business forum: Bad wine & food for thought


FOR THE EXPAT COMMUNITY in Papua New Guinea’s budding capital, Port Moresby, bad imported wine and dynamic debate is to be expected for any successful gathering.

And in the spirit of ‘Australia Week’, a series of events for all things Australia in Moresby, the High Commission and its resident crowd of diplomats and AusAID officials were offering just that.

Having recently begun my career in aid and development, the High Commission’s Australia Week forum on business and development in PNG and the Pacific was a chance to listen and learn from experts at the development coalface.

For the assortment of diplomats, development consultants and business representatives also attending, this was the ideal platform for high-level discussion concerning PNG’s social and economic development landscape. With the government elections coming up next month, the timing could not have been more perfect.

Social and economic development was discussed in equal measure. Speaking on behalf of the Cairns Institute, based out of James Cook University, Professor Hurriyet Babacan advocated passionately for a more equitable and holistic approach to development across PNG and other areas of the Pacific.

Acknowledging the resource boom currently taking place across PNG’s regional provinces, Professor Babacan warned of the dangers that this purely marked based development approach may have for social and political equality.

While global companies are lining up to extract their fair share of petroleum, oil and mining natural resources from the country’s fertile soil, according to Babacan this may not translate into well-being for the community.

“This is fragile, and could easily be reversed. We need to come back to the notions of holistic economic development,” the professor said.

Drawing on ideas put forward by Nobel Prize winning Economist Amartya Sen, Babacan explained how to “take a wiser approach to economic development.

Economic development viewed as freedoms – political, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guaranteed, and protective security.”

Also on the panel, the Hon Richard Marles, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs and Foreign Affairs, highlighted PNG’s existing political challenges and successes.

When asked how the country’s recent political instability would affect those companies wanting to invest in the resource boom, Marles spoke of the marked improvements occurring in and around Port Moresby.

“Corruption and law and order have been issues that the PNG government is seeking to address,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s positive that we can take from the way in which things have been handled here. By and large, issues have been handled politically. By and large, issues have been handled through the branches of government, and through the judiciary.”

Marles also highlighted PNG’s improving policy-making mechanisms, and the positive impact that this improvement is having on key social and development issues.

Speaking to an audience which largely composed of business representatives from oil, mining and gas companies active in the country, this forum certainly offered much food, and indeed bad wine, for thought.

Western Province human development is 'appalling'


Prof Mark McGillivray"IF PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S WESTERN PROVINCE was a country there would be an international outcry about their plight, given its appalling low levels of human development," says Deakin University's Professor Mark McGillivray.

PNG’s ‘poorest’ region - the resource rich Western Province - would rank just above Zimbabwe but below the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of human development according to new data.

Professor McGillivray's analysis used the Human Development Index to create a new measure which looked at the districts and provinces in Papua New Guinea. This has not been done before.

"The United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index (HDI) is well-known and widely used in research and policy circles," Professor McGillivray explained.

"It combines achievements in health, education and income and is primarily used to compare levels of human development between countries.

"When we apply the principles of the Index to provinces and districts within PNG, we find not only huge disparities but levels of human development that are extremely low by international standards."

Professor McGillivray said based on one version of the Human Development Index Papua New Guinea as a country is ranked 121 out of 137, so down towards the bottom.

"Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe has the lowest level of human development and is ranked 137, at the very bottom," Professor McGillivray said.

"The conflict-affected Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked 136.

"Yet if the resource rich Western Province was a country it would be ranked in between Zimbabwe and Congo and as such among the three very poorest in the world in terms of human development."

Professor McGillivray said that the National Central District – the province with the highest human development in PNG - would rank 99th in the world if it was a country, between Morocco and Tajikistan and slightly ahead of India.

Escalating maternal deathrate afflicts PNG


WOMEN DYING IN CHILDBIRTH doubled in Papua New Guinea between 1990 and 2008. During the same period, maternal deaths worldwide decreased by one-third.

This shocking death rate has prompted national plans to accelerate healthcare reform and women's access to medical services. Implementing these much-need changes remains a challenge.

A full 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, the risk increasing in rural areas. In Papua New Guinea, which remains largely rural, gender inequity, poor use of family planning and a decaying state rural health services have contributed to alarming maternal deaths.

According to the United Nations Development Program, PNG’s maternal mortality ratio is 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. An even more sobering statistic in 2006 revealed 733 deaths per 100,000 births, the second highest after Afghanistan in the Asia Pacific region.

Health experts say that lives of expectant mothers can be saved by medical supervision of births combined with antenatal and postnatal care. The World Bank estimates 17% of people here do not have access to a road and two fifths of health facilities lack electricity and basic medical equipment.

The Ministerial Taskforce on Maternal Health noted back in 2009, "The decentralisation of government roles, responsibilities and financing (in the 1980s) has seriously compromised the quality and functionality of health services, including maternal health."

Between 1987 and 2000, rural health staff was slashed by 25%.

Glen Mola, chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Papua New Guinea says that, "Women can deliver (by) themselves safely at home with their mothers and sisters in support, as long as nothing goes wrong.

“But if something does go wrong, then it can be mortal for that woman if she is in her house in the village. The (reason) why PNG has such a horribly high (maternal mortality rate) is that 67% of women deliver at home.

"Having a professional midwife or obstetrician present in the house is not going to make any difference to her chances of surviving a labor and delivery complication unless there is backup emergency obstetric care, drugs and facility support," he says.

Health services run by church organisations, which account for 60% of health facilities in Papua New Guinea, have been singled out for praise.

The Church of the Nazarene operates a district hospital in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands Province, and rural health services in the province of Jiwaka.

Medical workers visit 16 rural health clinics every month offering prenatal examinations, child health clinics, family planning and health education while referring complicated pregnancies to the hospital.

Brain not hard wired to link numbers & space


IS OUR ABILITY TO MAP NUMBERS onto a physical space – such as along a line – a cultural invention rather than an innate ability? Members of a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea understand the concept of numbers but do not map them along a line, which suggests that the 'number line' must be learned.

Researchers have long thought that the human brain is hard wired to associate numbers with physical space, and we naturally associate numbers with physical space. The idea received a boost in 2002 when it was discovered that people with brain damage who were unable to fully perceive one side of their body had trouble interpreting the number line – they claimed, for example, that five lies between three and six (Nature, DOI:10.1038/417138a).

In 2008, Stanislas Dehaene of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Saclay, France, and colleagues found a subtle variation of the concept in the Mundurucu, an indigenous group in the Amazon with little or no formal education.

The Mundurucu map numbers on to a line, but use a logarithmic scale rather than a typical linear scale – they allow plenty of room for small numbers but scrunch larger numbers together at the far end of the line.

The finding suggested that the linear number line is a cultural invention, but the number line itself remained intact as an intuition shared by all humanity (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1156540).

This is now being called into question by Rafael Núñez of the University of California at San Diego and colleagues. Núñez's team trekked into the remote mountains of Papua New Guinea to study the Yupno, an indigenous group that live without electricity, roads or even domestic animals. "But they do have numbers," says Núñez. "They are number-savvy."

Núñez asked 20 Yupno adults (14 of whom were unschooled, while others had attended middle school) and 10 controls in California to place the numbers 1 to 10 along a 22-centimetre-long black line printed on a white card.

The numbers were presented randomly, either as pre-recorded words in Yupno dialects, or as a sequence of tones, or as a set of dots printed on white paper.

The team found that both the controls and the schooled Yupno mapped the numbers on to the line, though the schooled Yupno did so less evenly, tending to place the numbers towards one of the two endpoints.

But the unschooled Yupno completely ignored the extent of the number line. They lumped numbers 1 and 2 at one end of the line, and all other numbers at the other end.

Continue reading "Brain not hard wired to link numbers & space" »

Most recent protests risk losing credibility


THERE IS A RISK THAT ORGANISERS of current protests against the O’Namah regime will begin to lose credibility if they become too dogmatic about “defending the Constitution”.

This blogger and millions other Papua New Guineans were delighted when the Somares fell spectacularly from power in a parliamentary coup on 3 August last year.

The removal of Somare then was unconstitutional as was ruled by the Supreme Court in December last year. No one took to the streets to defend the Constitution and bring back Somare then.

Compromise and consensus are at the heart of Melanesian decision making. The people are very pragmatic and so western idealism about constitutionality does not define how they view power and legitimacy.

Traditional forms of governance are still very relevant and active in most societies. The claim that it is the Constitution that keeps us together is perhaps an overstatement.

It denies the existence over thousands of years of trade links between various indigenous Melanesian nations. It also perpetuates the western myth that we are primitives and therefore need a piece of paper to keep us together.

It overlooks the great work done by early missionaries, colonial administrations and traders in bringing indigenous nations together under the modern state.

What keeps us together as a people are a complex web of relationships. Whereas in the west the saying goes that “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business”, for Melanesians everything is personal and about relationships and friendships. The most important investment one can make in Melanesian societies is to build one’s social capital.

As such, to be blinded by “protesting to defend the Constitution” risks destroying social capital and goodwill built largely by students of the University of Papua New Guinea.

In many ways, this week’s protestors “missed the bus”. Occupy Waigani 1, the first protest to Morauta Haus, was pretty much entirely by university students. Occupy Waigani 2 was a genuine civil society protest where about 10,000 Port Moresby residents marched and occupied Sir John Guise stadium.

Occupy Waigani 1 and 2 have certainly forced the government to slow down on its rhetoric and keep election dates with-in the Constitutional timeframe.

What seems to happen now with all the other “protest” movements is mere political point scoring in the lead up to the elections.

This is why it is important that those who are genuinely concerned about the integrity of the Constitution do not become blinded by the “fight to defend the Constitution” and end up being used by political aspirants.

What should actually be happening now is that a coalition of intending candidates or political parties, civil society organisations and individuals publicly announce that during the term of the next Parliament they will collectively act to repeal all Acts created by the O’Namah regime and hold individuals and MPs accountable for breaches to the Constitution. If need be, some people may have to be tried for treason during the term of the next Parliament.

Who will be the next prime minister of Papua New Guinea capable of delivering justice to an oppressed people? After 37 years of Independence, the only consistency in the land of the unexpected has been the absence of justice.

Tiffany Twivey has it wrong on the supreme court


TIFFANY TWIVEY’S CLAIMS that Papua New Guinea’s political impasse has been caused solely by the courts is unbelievably biased and her article inn PNG Attitude is hardly a proper or a proper enough assessment of the political impasse.

It is at best a piece of propaganda from a government consultant being paid a lot of taxpayers’ money.

Twivey states: “These sorts of orders [by the court] have never, ever been made by any court in a Westminster system of democracy as they are clearly without jurisdiction and are unconstitutional.”

First of all let me just say that it is immaterial that such orders have never been given in the Westminster system. It is immaterial because Papua New Guinea is a constitutional democracy and the powers of the government’s three arms are set out in the constitution.

Twivey’s mention of the Westminster system is at best a spin-doctor tactic … to make her argument broader than it actually is. In fact her argument is narrow and misleading as you will see.

Ms Twivey opens her attack on the judiciary with the statement:

The current constitutional crisis in PNG has been created by certain members of the Supreme Court, not by O’Neill or by Somare. This has happened in three ways:

a) Unconstitutional and undemocratic Orders made by the Supreme Court

b) The refusal of Chief Justice to recognise the constitutional powers of the NEC for his removal, placing himself above the law, and

c) Refusal by certain judges to recognise the unlimited constitutional power of Parliament to legislate – particularly, the Judicial Conduct Act

We will look at Ms Twivey’s arguments on each point. We will look at her claims and see if the claims are grounded in fact and accuracy.

You can read the complete version of Part 1 at the Edebamona blog here

A Constitution that constantly betrays the people


TODAY IS THE BEGINNING of the end of many political careers – many short-lived. Personally, I’d like to see the Minister for Sport and Member for South Fly voted out of Office. I am 99% certain he’s going out and I am part of the process of ensuring that my people in South Fly do vote him out.

I live in Port Moresby, and while city slickers may be attracted to the bright lights at 5 Mile, set up by Governor Parkop months after his squad removed the 5 Mile buai markets, the City of Port Moresby is much filthier.

Perhaps it’s because the politicians themselves have gotten themselves into a lot of dirt lately. And Governor Parkop is in bed with these politicians, some of whom know how to party with bois at Sydney casinos.

The capitalist pigs who were recently at the prime minister’s political fundraiser are burning cash each time we, the 99%, go on strike. Things aren’t going to improve for them as they continue to back authoritarian regimes and force workers to go to work in “civilian” clothes.

There is however a risk of blind submission to the defence of PNG’s Constitution. Unlike most other protestors, I am not someone who necessarily believes in the Constitution.

I lost faith in it as I was sitting in the Supreme Court when it handed down the Ramu Nickel judgement. Terry Kuning and Louis Medang sit there on the Rai Coast of Madang Province – failed by a Constitution I have recently been defending.

Why defend a Constitution that has for 36 years failed the people of PNG and continues to do so?

Recently, I have been talking about how this Constitution perpetuates the colonial legacy; how this Constitution legitimises the institutions of colonialism and in doing so perpetuates the subjugation of indigenous Melanesians.

One of my friends in Port Moresby could barely recognise the boy who came from Madang only a few weeks ago. Having given him a lecture over the phone about decolonizing the mind, he could not understand why I was supporting protests in defence of the Constitution.

My friend and I are not voting this election.

Firstly, if the elections are deferred and we do vote, we legitimise this government’s actions. By not voting we express our sovereign right as men who are born free of not handing over legitimacy to crooks. In doing so, we retain our sovereign right to protest illegitimate regimes.

Continue reading "A Constitution that constantly betrays the people" »

B'ville stoush: today's politics or history’s legacy?


Lasslett_KrisSturm_AxelA PUBLIC DISPUTE HAS ERUPTED between Kris Lasslett [left], an academic specialising in the social and political impacts of mining, and Axel Sturm [right], the president of the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC).

It all began when Lasslett wrote of Sturm that he “needs reminding the greatest threat to BCL’s [Bougainville Copper Ltd] future remains its unacknowledged past”, contradicting Sturm’s view that the big problem is PNG’s current political uncertainty.

Now Dr Kris Lasslett is a bright, highly qualified and interesting bloke. He graduated from the University of Technology Sydney in 2004 with a first-class honours degree in law and a BA in communications. He went on to complete a PhD at the University of Westminster in the UK.

Dr Lasslett lectures in criminology at the University of Ulster and his research focuses on the political economy of state crime and civil conflict. He has conducted extensive field work on the Bougainville crisis in Papua New Guinea, and is researching mining, conflict and civil society.

In his article, Lasslett wrote:

Despite revelations aired on SBS last year, which evidenced BCL’s complicity in the brutal security force operations on Bougainville, BCL and the ESBC continue to play down the company’s instrumental role in the conflict.

If the ESBC wish to restore the integrity of BCL, then they should forward the following demands to BCL’s Chairman and Managing Director Peter Taylor:

-- BCL must publicly apologise for its evidenced role in the Bougainville conflict.

-- In an act of goodwill BCL should publicly disclose the depth of its involvement in the security force operations on Bougainville. This public disclosure should document the logistical support BCL supplied to the government’s security forces between December 1988 and March 1990. It should also reveal the relevant conversations that took place between the BCL management and senior state officials during this period.

-- BCL should demand that Rio Tinto – its parent company – cease contesting litigation taken by Bougainvillean landowners in the US, and fully compensate those victimised by the security forces using BCL property/facilities.

-- BCL should immediately remove from its Board of Directors, Sir Rabbie Namaliu who was appointed in March 2011. Sir Rabbie Namaliu was the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea during 1988-1992. Under his Prime Ministership the Papua New Guinea security forces – in an effort to reopen the mine – executed and tortured civilians, systematically destroyed villages, and imposed a blockade on Bougainville, which included the denial of humanitarian aid. It is astonishing, in light of these facts, BCL would appoint Sir Rabbie Namaliu to the Board of Directors, and that the ESBC would support this decision.

As the last ten years has proven, Bougainvilleans are a forgiving people. But they will not suffer corporate intransigence lightly. If BCL comes to the table and publicly acknowledges its role on the Bougainville war, perhaps the healing process can begin. Only then will BCL shareholders find the certainty they demand.

Axel Sturm was outraged. In a public letter to Lasslett his opening salvo of “your disgraceful lampoon is remarkable” was quickly followed by:

Continue reading "B'ville stoush: today's politics or history’s legacy?" »

Trusting crocodiles and other beasties


Winners are Grinners - Low ResONE OF THE THINGS we have little choice about with the Crocodile Prize is to take the creations people send us at face value.

We can edit or reject entries if we think they are offensive or libellous but we don’t, and can’t, know whether what people submit is actually their own work.

This was brought home to me recently when a student essay for the Yokomo Prize added a note which said, “My Dad helped me with this essay”.

This lovely and guileless addendum also noted that Dad was a subsistence farmer and a high school dropout (I think Dad inserted that part).

Occasionally we get entries that either plagiarise other people’s work or are outright transcriptions of other people’s publications.  Mostly these are easy to pick but, no doubt, we’ve missed a few.  Luckily we’ve got some very switched on judges.

To date we have taken all this in our stride.  A polite return email or letter usually sees the suspect entry re-written or withdrawn.

A conversation that I was having via email with one of our learned judges the other day alerted me to another possibility for concern.  This is where someone uses the competition and particularly the publication of entries on PNG Attitude for nefarious political or personal reasons.  You may have noticed a few of these in relation to articles on logging.

At the end of World War II a couple of well-known Australian poets caused a stir with the so-called Ern Malley Affair.  In brief, they evolved an intense dislike for a poetry magazine called Angry Penguins run by a young ‘upstart’ called Max Harris. 

They particularly disliked Max’s perchance for modernist poetry so one afternoon they concocted a gladbag of ‘modernist poetry’ by taking chunks of prose at random from, among other things, an army manual, and cobbling it all together in some 17 poems, which they sent to Max.  They even invented a plausible background for the conveniently deceased Ern Malley.

Max fell for it and published the poems.  The subsequent public exposure and ridicule contributed to the closure of the magazine, left a lasting negative impression on modernist poetry and left both poets gloating.  It also introduced a perpetual uneasiness among publishers in Australia.

The irony of the whole affair is that some of the poems were quite good.  Incidentally, a lot of the poems submitted to the Crocodile Prize could be classified as modernist. 

We’ve made it clear all along that we don’t mind if work submitted to the competition and subsequently published in PNG Attitude is picked up and used by other people and publishers, as long as the authors are consulted and agree and the Crocodile Prize is given due credit.

We think this is a great way to promote Papua New Guinean literature and to dispel the idea that reading material necessarily has to have a price and be purchased.

At the same time, however, we realise that by being so open and liberal we are extremely vulnerable, both personally and legally.  You know the old adage: it only takes one idiot to spoil it for everyone else.

We trust our writers and our readers to do the right thing by us.  We cannot do anything else but hope this is reciprocated.

Rausim! Social media & political protest in PNG


PAPUA NEW GUINEA’S RECENT political upheavals follow an upsurge in the use of mobile phones, the internet and social media since the country’s telecommunications sector was deregulated in 2007.

Mobile networks have expanded exponentially over the past five years to now cover some 75% of the country’s population. Phone ownership has increased apace, and some estimates suggest that over 30% of the population now has a mobile phone, dwarfing the number of fixed line connections.

Internet penetration is still relatively low, at approximately 2% of the population, but increasing numbers of Papua New Guineans are accessing the internet via mobile phones following the introduction last year of a mobile broadband service. Papua New Guineans are also using social media in ever increasing numbers.

There are over 80,000 facebook members in PNG, mostly under 40, and this figure has doubled over the past year. Statistics on twitter users are less readily available, but the #PNG and #OccupyWaigani hashtags are active and regularly break news far faster than any other source in PNG.

The past two months have seen increased internet access put to good use, as bloggers and civil society activists have taken to the net to discuss recent events which are dire even by the Machiavellian standards of PNG politics, and to protest these events both on and offline.

Events are constantly unfolding, but a standoff between the executive and the judiciary, general elections due later this year and the government’s ongoing attempts to postpone them, means politics looks set to continue in this contentious vein for the foreseeable future.

The internet and social media have two potentially important roles in this political maelstrom. The first is a part to play in facilitating political protest, and the second is an impact on the very practice of politics in PNG, particularly in terms of the role of civil society.

On the former, commentators have noted the role of social media in facilitating the organisation of events such as the large protest held over Easter in Port Moresby.

Political protests in PNG often centre around concerns regarding mining and other land use. These protests are organised around local tribal identities, a key feature of PNG political life.

In contrast, the protest held over Easter was arguably a rare example of a comparatively ‘pure’ civil society movement. This civil society identity has characterised recent protests and the social media associated with them. It has also been evident in earlier protests, following trends linking online and offline political activity.

For example, large scale marches in 2010 against changes to anticorruption laws which were also organised via a combination of social media and traditional activism, similar to a largely online protest last year which culminated in the withdrawal of controversial amendments to environmental legislation.

However, the role of social media in protest action in PNG should not be overestimated. Its impact is limited by several caveats. The first of these is the limited numbers of social media users in PNG. Although the rate of increase is striking, overall user numbers are minimal – only about 2% of the population.

The Easter weekend protest was important in that it linked online activity with significant offline organisation activity in the planning phase: the organisation was not restricted to the online sphere but included significant offline coordination between traditional and non-traditional civil society actors.

Continue reading "Rausim! Social media & political protest in PNG" »

Today’s generation


Intelligent we seem
With wide use of technology
And masters in language proficiency

All we know is just how to please
With all the lofty version of Tok Pisin
Sounding so sweet only to our young souls

Looking and feeling great
With songs and short cuts
And of course all the styles in the world
Parading knowledge for its sake
Only to the ears of our peers

Using young jargon
Never earning the elders’ admiration
And a death in discipline

Doreen Philip (21) comes from Buna in Oro Province.  She is a third year journalism and public relations student at the University of Papua New Guinea.  She chose to study journalism because it will enable her to travel, meet different people and experience different cultures and traditions.  She is particularly interested in photo-journalism.  She reads widely, especially detective fiction, is a rugby fan, likes 1960-80s music and living in the country

The last Aussie RSM at Taurama Barracks


JD McKay in later yearsTHE LAST AUSTRALIAN Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of Taurama Barracks Port Moresby, John Donald ‘JD’ McKay died in Australia last year at the age of 88.

Don served in Papua New Guinea during the war at Kokoda after signing up in 1940 in Australia as V54635.

JD McKay in WW2He headed to Port Moresby with his militia garrison on 4 January 1942 as an 18-year old on the Aquitania.  He was posted to Seven Mile aerodrome (near Port Moresby), surviving air raids and the strafing of the field by the Japanese.

Later that year, in June 1942, his 39th battalion moved along the Kokoda Track, to be joined by the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB).

Due to the deteriorating military conditions, this garrison was sent as a blocking force to hamper and resist the Japanese advance.

Don was in ‘A’ Company which reached the forward position at Deniki and he took part in the brief recapture of Kokoda after the Japanese landed at Gona and began their advance over the Owen Stanley Range.

A Japanese counter attack saw the decimation of Don’s section, forcing the few remaining soldiers to retreat.

Don was awarded the Military Medal for his action in this conflict. His citation reads: ‘Courage of the highest order and devotion at Kokoda, 9th August 1942’.

The 39th Battalion withdrew to Port Moresby for rest and recreation. After being reinforced, it was flown to Popondetta in December 1942 and then moved to the Gona area where Don was part of the final successful attack on Gona village. He then moved on to the final attack on Haddy’s village before relocating to the Sanananda area.

Don was evacuated in early 1943 after contracting malaria and scrub typhus. The actions of the 39th Battalion, formed from civilians and militia men (CMF) in Victoria to act as garrison or a support battalion, has become the stuff of legend.

Their brief existence of 18 months or so greatly helped stem the flow of the Japanese advance. Don was an active participant in this legend.

Following the war, Don married, was discharged from the army in 1946, and briefly enjoyed civilian life before re-enlisting in the Australian Army in October 1950 to serve as a national service battalion instructor at Puckapunyal in Victoria with the rank of Warrant Officer 2.

He moved to the School of Infantry at Seymour and accompanied the school when it moved to Ingleburn in 1960. A posting to 1RAR as Regimental Sergeant Major followed, and then he toured Bien Hoa in South Vietnam.

Following these deployments, a posting to Melbourne’s 23rd Cadet Battalion ensued before Don was posted to 1PIR in Port Moresby from July 1968 to August 1970 following the untimely death of incumbent RSM, WO1 Fredrick Wilson in March 1968.

RSM McKay was the last Australian regimental sergeant major at Taurama Barracks, working closely with PNG RSM Osi, himself a WW2 veteran.

At this time Don McKay joined the Taurama Barracks Sergeants’ Mess, leaving his family in Australia. During this period, at the age of 45 years, he came in contact with Australian national service sergeants and subalterns working in what was the Territory of PNG.

Continue reading "The last Aussie RSM at Taurama Barracks" »

Bert's war: They also serve who cook for officers


MY DAD IS IN HOSPITAL after a fall and shares a room with a man in a similar condition called Bert.

Bert who is 88 broke his hip. He has an old dog, who is blind and follows Bert closely. Unfortunately Bert went to the laundry and forgot the dog was behind him, tripped over him and ended up in hospital with a pin in his hip.

Bert is friendly, kind-hearted and loves to talk. He met me and my wife Rose and we got to chatting as he realised we both have a Papua New Guinea connection.

He joined the 3rd Battalion RAR in 1942 - a unit was a noble history in the New Guinea campaign. But Bert was not to see frontline service due to a strange set of circumstances.

He trained at Atherton in far north Queensland and, late in 1942, was due to embark on a troopship from Townsville to Port Moresby.

The unit marched to the harbour, boarded the ship and then the captain decided it was overloaded, so Bert was amongst 300 or so troops who were disembarked and told to wait for the next ship.

This turned out to be an old Indian steamer loaded with Indian troops also bound for New Guinea. The ship limped out of Townsville harbour at a speed of four knots (about the same as a rowing boat).

Sadly the old vessel broke down after only half a day's voyage, two Indian stokers dying of heat exhaustion trying to work up steam.

After makeshift mechanical repairs, the ship and Bert returned to Townsville.

He got sick of waiting around in camp for new orders and found out the Army was in need of cooks. So he volunteered to be transferred to a mess unit, and eventually ended up in New Guinea.

He saw no action other than, as he wryly put it, being commandeered by the officers to cook sponge cakes for their parties at headquarters.

We had to end our chat, as the nurses came in for some monitoring. Bert wasn't able to eat his dinner, as he had had a bad reaction to his operation.

He looked at me and said: "You eat it Pete, better than it going to waste." He then announced to the nurses when they asked why he hadn't eaten anything: "I sold that meal you gave me to another bloke. Got a good price for it too!"

I then saw a glimpse of the humour, companionship and wit of the old Aussie digger. Even if Bert did no fighting, he also served.

Two cultures meet in memory of an Anzac sacrifice

Uncle Richard Archibald with the Koiari

THE FAMILY OF AN INDIGENOUS Australian serviceman killed in action during the Kokoda campaign in November 1942, is visiting his Bomana gravesite to perform a traditional Aboriginal grieving ceremony.

And in marking the event, the Koiari people of the Papuan Behiri clan is welcoming the family with a singsing in their honour.

FR Archibald gravestonePrivate Frank Archibald was shot trying to save a friend.

His family will perform the necessary Aboriginal cultural ceremonies that will bring Private Archibald’s soul to rest, and enable the family to enjoy peace and a sense of closure over their loss of their young relative 70 years after his death.

The family includes 74-year old Aunty Grace Gordon (nee Archibald), the only surviving member of Private Archibald’s 11 siblings, and Uncle Richard Archibald, who is the last remaining male relative able to perform traditional burial rites.

Traditionally when Aboriginal people die, they are interred in the country of their ancestors.

When this cannot happen, ceremonies are carried out to ensure the person’s spirit leaves the area where they died and returns to its place of birth, where it can be reborn.

Archibald relative thanks the Koiari peopleThe Kokoda Aboriginal Servicemen's Campaign Committee with the assistance of the Australian government sponsored members of the Archibald family to visit the grave site.

The KASCC aims to achieve social justice for Aboriginal servicemen who were killed in action fighting for Australia on foreign soil.

Kokoda keeps on inspiring Aussies, 70 years on


55th_53rdOVER 3,000 TREKKERS are walking the Kokoda Track this year as the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority promotes the 70th Anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign with commemorative treks being run by many tour operators.

Recent research estimates that each year trekkers visiting the Kokoda area have contributed millions of dollars to the PNG economy.

This income benefits local communities, led by the Kokoda Initiative, a joint partnership between the PNG and Australian governments.

Reminding Australians of the special bond forged between the countries 70 years ago, Chairman of the Kokoda Track Authority, Ruben Maleva, encouraged people to trek Kokoda. An estimated 30,000 Australians have returned to trek Kokoda since Australian soldiers left PNG.

“This has made a huge impact to the local communities aiding development with increased education and health services, creating jobs for porters, guides and guesthouse operators and other small businesses,” Mr Maleva said.

This year’s anniversary not only gives Australians a chance to reflect on this important part of the two country’s shared history, but the TPA hopes it will lead to more Australians being inspired to do the trek and in turn contribute to the communities along it.

Gloucester remembers the Oivi-Gorari battle


Taking a break from trainingA GROUP OF GLOUCESTER locals [pictured] is commemorating Anzac Day at Bomana War Cemetery before visiting the forgotten battlefields of Oivi and Gorari, east of Kokoda.

The tour is led local John Farley, who has walked the Kokoda Track. 

Last year he and wife Judy laid a poppy of remembrance at Bomana on the grave of Gloucester soldier Private John Taylor who died in the battle of Oivi-Gorari on 10 November 1942.

This year, eight people from Gloucester and four other tour party members are attending the Anzac Day service at Bomana and remembering the sacrifice made by Private Taylor and two other soldiers who lost their life on the same battlefield.

They were Lt Laurie Powell and Private Clarrie Skelton, both from Coolangatta , who also died in the battle of Oivi-Gorari.

Ben Moide special guest at Kokoda Memorial


Kokoda veterans Ben Moide and Bill BellairsMOST AUSTRALIANS KNOW THE STORY of the Papua New Guinea’s 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels' in World War II.

It was the nickname given to the brave Papua New Guineans who carried injured Australian soldiers away from the frontline down the Kokoda Trail to safety.

But the Fuzzy Wuzzies were fighters too.

And for the last 70 years they've been fighting the same demons as any other veterans of the Kokoda Campaign.

Some are great survivors.

One of these fuzzy wuzzy Kokoda veterans, Ben Moide, is today on the Gold Coast as the special guest at this year's Rotary Kokoda Memorial Walk.

Anti-government protest that never happened


A MASS PROTEST against the government of Papua New Guinea by union leaders in Port Moresby failed to materialise after police said they would not let it go ahead.

Businesses in the capital closed their doors this morning in preparation for the protest, after Trade Union Congress general secretary John Paska said affiliates would protest at the gates of Parliament House from 10am.

He had planned to hand prime minister Peter O'Neill a petition demanding the repeal of two laws aimed at reining in the Supreme Court and parliament's recent vote to suspend the elections by six months.

But by this afternoon fewer than 500 people gathered to hear speeches in a field near Parliament House, where mostly unarmed police cadets huddled in groups awaiting an angry march from some of the union's 70,000 members.

Student groups couldn't make it, they said, because they had exams.

PNG: What might the military be thinking?

Reginald Renagi (ex PNGDF colonel, naval element)BY REGINALD RENAGI

THERE ARE SEVERAL very effective ways to totally shut down Papua New Guinea apart from having these street protests outside the parliament or Morauta Haus but I will not outline them here for obvious reasons.

When demonstrations happen, a national security alert is announced. Next the law enforcement agencies go into an overdrive to contain the protest before it makes the public suffer longer than necessary.

There are strategies any pressure group stakeholders can use but they must be well planned, coordinated and executed at the same time in strategic locations to have the desired effect right across the whole country.

What is being done now outside parliament or at Morauta Haus is only temporary.

There are no escalating strategies by the unions, civil society and a handful of lawyers. The protests will not be sustained if the pollies want to be smart and stubborn.

So the protest organisers need to be smart and also play hard ball by making the pollies concerned that the longer the city shut-down goes on, the worse it will become.

They have to work out how effective they cab make their message so government and parliament relent and make a decision favourable to all parties.

The plan must be sustainable, but are the protest leaders willing to do that (varying risk levels) to change the government before the polls?

What if during this period of confusion (political impasse and public discussion of recent new bills by parliament), the military in joint effort with the police decide the time is ripe now to take control of the government and run the country like happened in Fiji?

Who is going to stop this? No one, because whoever has the gun has the power to do anything they like, as has been proven before.

What is even worse is that the government or parliament does not have a contingency for this eventuality after what happened in March 1997 (Sandline military mutiny and Operation Rausim Kwik).

There are many variables I could go into here, but most readers will get my drift and I do not want anyone getting funny ideas to start some funny business now to get rid of a regime who promised to do more than the last Somare regime pre August 2011.

But if nothing is done now by the current government something has got to give. We all don’t want to even guess what this something is.

The judiciary: the pivot anchoring our 800 tribes

Joe WasiaAs trade unions attempt to lock down Papua New Guinea today, JOE WASIA joins them in calling for the O’Neill government to leave the judiciary alone

THE PEOPLE OF TSAK have nothing against Peter O’Neill or Belden Namah or any other politician.

For his part prime minister Peter O’Neill has assured the people of Tsak and Wapenamanda that he had no personal enmity against Chief Justice Sir Salomo Injia regarding the Judicial Conduct Act.

The stance of the Tsak people is clear. Although Chief Justice hails from Waimin tribe of the Tsak valley, he is now a statesman who heads the court system of Papua New Guinea. An attack on the Chief Justice means an attack on the judicial system and the 7 million plus people of this country.  

Since day one, it’s been very clear to all Papua New Guineans that the legislation and amendments passed in the floor of Parliament was only to attack the Chief Justice and the other two judges who ruled against the regime of O’Neill and Namah.

The Judicial Conduct Act and all the successive amendments to Acts such as Supreme Court (Amendments) Bill were made to give parliament and the executive arm of the government oversight powers to tame judges or court officials that were perceived to be biased.

These Acts directly undermine the separation of powers between the three arms of government as enshrined in the constitution of this democratic state. The actions of the parliament are ridiculous and utter nonsense.

Elected MPs are using parliamentary privilege and sheer numbers to make laws to keep them in power and to attack our judiciary system which holds more than 800 different tribal societies to a pivot.

While implementation of the controversial Judicial Conduct Act is in Supreme Court after a stay order taken by the Morobe Provincial Government, O’Neill and his cohorts go ahead and amend the Supreme Court Act which will now give them oversight powers to render all court orders useless. 

History tells there is nothing of this kind in any democratic country in the world. These events will never be forgotten in the political history of PNG.

The future of the democratic state of PNG is in the dark: the work of power hungry people whose intention is to keep themselves in power.

If all these Bills and Acts are successfully passed and implemented, it will demean the fundamental principles of our constitution. It will be lead to an executive dictatorship where no neutral justice prevails.

Joe Wasia is the former president of the Enga Students Association at Divine Word University

Is the Supreme Court a threat to democracy?


Tiffany_ExteriorTHE CURRENT CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS in Papua New Guinea has been created by certain members of the Supreme Court, not by Peter O’Neill or by Michael Somare.

So argues lawyer and human rights advocate Tiffany Twivey-Nonggorr [pictured] in a carefully reasoned paper which we publish in PNG Attitude today [see download below].

The paper argues that the crisis has been triggered by unconstitutional and undemocratic orders made by the Supreme Court, the refusal of Chief Justice to recognise the constitutional powers of cabinet, placing himself above the law, and the refusal of certain judges to recognise the unlimited constitutional power of parliament to legislate.

“By refusing to recognise the decisions and powers of parliament,” Ms Twivey argues, “certain Judges are destroying democracy and rewriting the Constitution.”

She also claims they are “breaching the oath to uphold the Constitution that they swore to observe on their appointments as judges.”

The paper says that “certain judges have exercised powers that according to the Constitution they do not have and have never been claimed or exercised by any judge in PNG or anywhere else.

“These certain members of the Supreme Court gave orders in December 2011 and now again in April 2012 over Parliament, the type of which have never, ever been made, not only in the history of PNG, but in the history of any Westminster system of democracy, not since the theory of the divine right of kings was abandoned in 1688 and the first Bill of Rights of Parliament was enacted.”

Ms Twivey concludes: “Since Independence Papua New Guinea has every reason to be extremely proud of its hard working judiciary. The present actions have created a crisis.”

 Download Democracy being destroyed by Supreme Court

A cry that resonates from wretched hearts


HEADLINES BOMBARD OUR EYES, one after the other for our consumption, and there seem to be no end to this.

Senior public servants and politicians, their cohorts a step behind in dark shadows, continue to milk the country using any means possible.

They plan in comfort and style and execute while dying mothers and their helpless children are crying out to be saved from treatable ailments. Even fathers who work hard to protect and feed their wife and children are found wanting.

As useless as they are, old and young alike have one thing in common; a cry that resonates from their wretched hearts and it continues day and night. In times of happiness and sadness their cry crashes on idle ears-ears that listen but can’t hear.

Elders did it before and the wrinkles of their struggles scar their faces. But when their children begin, elders join and together fight to make this cry be heard.

In this ocean of corruption, men, women and children struggle to stay afloat. Like the waves that try to escape the deep and vast ocean only to crash at the shores and return to the ocean, no matter how long we cry, there is no escaping from it.

Here is a poetic version of what you’ve just read.

I watched on the shore

I watched as they rushed, one after
the other to the shore as if to
escape from a prison deep and vast.

Breaking their anger and emptying
their frustrations in loud confusions.

Their frustrations of continuous
imprisonment in this vicious
cycle day and night.

Those who journeyed before, encouraged
by new wind journey again and again
on tired crests and troughs.

To together break their anger and
empty their frustrations.

What manner of respite would redeem
them from this stranglehold of the
ocean so deep and vast.

Not even the calmest of breeze
caressing the ocean's surface nor a
beautiful clear blue sky is appeasing.

To escape from deep and vast ocean
will take forever which none have.

And they continue day and night to
wreak their anger and empty their
frustrations on the shores where
idle and hardened rocks watch.

When will this wickedness end? This question can be best answered by each and every one. When each one takes a committed step, we will witness a decline in corruption. So are you ready to take a committed step?

Villagers becoming ‘dispossessed labourers’


Pomio protest signsTHE APPROPRIATION OF TIMBER AND LAND through lease-lease back schemes is “taking everything in a new direction” in a way that “will fundamentally change things forever” in Papua New Guinea, says anthropologist Prof Andrew Lattas.

And Prof Lattas, who has been observing the growing conflict between traditional landholders and companies seeking to appropriate their land in West New Britain, says the village people are “very conscious of the fact that it threatens to transform them into dispossessed labourers.”

He says that “this is producing a certain radicalisation of people” but their anger “is yet to find all of its points of articulation.”

Prof Lattas says “with lease-lease back, the state is becoming the intermediary in guaranteeing transfer of land.

“This is a new relationship of the state to its citizens and a much more direct backing of large scale industrial forms of agriculture against ordinary subsistence villagers.”

He also alleges that the training and arming of the Police mobile squad by Australian aid “has produced a large dedicated private army” that is used by Malaysian logging interests.

“The riot squad has its own new internal structures of command,” Prof Lattas says, “where particular commanders in Port Moresby are linked up to the Malaysians, bypassing more local chains of command at provincial headquarters.

“[They] also bypass the ability of villagers to use wantok systems within the police force to control the actions of the state against them.”

But beyond all of this, he argues, the processes of government in PNG are changing.

“The bureaucracy has lost its authority, its auditing culture and internal formal chains of command, and the personal power of the local member has grown enormously as have the informal networks operating within the state.

“The internal disciplinary structures within the state have not so much disappeared as become realigned, producing a new kind of porous state, where capital (especially new large scale Asian capital) has powerful informal direct links into the state that can cut across other informal alliances (involving language, kinship and regional ties).”

Police condemned for bashing NBC journalist

THE PACIFIC FREEDOM FORUM has condemned the brutal attack by uniformed Police officers on journalist Mark Kayok in Port Moresby on Saturday night.

Kayok, a police rounds reporter with the National Broadcasting Corporation, reportedly sustained a broken nose amongst other injuries and is currently recovering at home.

Kayok had been on assignment on Saturday before meeting up with a friend who was wearing his police uniform. Returning home, they were tailed by a police mobile unit who stopped them at a service station in 5-Mile and began assaulting the police officer.

When Kayok tried to stop the attack, the assailants asked him who he was. He identified himself as an NBC journalist and was also beaten up by the group, who told him media were not reporting positively on them.

“We strongly condemn these crimes and call on those in authority to let the rule of law prevail, and investigate and prosecute those behind this shocking and despicable act,” said PFF co-chair Monica Miller.

“Not only did this attack involve a fellow law enforcer, but the citizen who tried to come to his aid also became a victim after it was found he was a journalist.”

The assaults come in the wake of ongoing tensions within police ranks in Port Moresby, after reports of fighting between factions of Highlands and Moresby-based police in the last week.

Church took mixed race children from families


THERE ARE ALLEGATIONS the Catholic Church forcibly removed mixed-race children from their families in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and sent them to Australia.

Elizabeth Canny has told The Australian newspaper she was flown by the Sisters of Mercy order to the Australian city of Adelaide when she was eight.

Debra Hocking, who was removed from her family as a child and is deputy chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Healing Foundation, said thisis not the first time she has heard such an allegation.

"I think as time goes on we are going to hear a little more about other countries that have experienced the removal of little children, indigenous children from their families," she said.

Ms Hocking said she believes allegations against the Catholic Church need to be investigated.

"For the wellbeing of these people, so they can, you know, put things to rest.”

Mystery email: Could this be the protest that isn’t?


EVEN AS GREAT UNCERTAINTY remains about Papua New Guinea’s general election proceeding on time, a general strike has been called for tomorrow – but without a start time, a gathering place and any indication of who’s behind it.

A statement in circulation in PNG today says the strike will be “massive” and “nationwide” and is being organised by unnamed “trade unions”.

It asks “all Papua New Guineans both private and public sector … to stop work on Tuesday and join the march”.

The statement says that airports and wharves will be closed and that all essential services will be shut down.

The aim of the alleged strike is to “prove to parliament that the ultimate power lies with us the people and not a few disillusioned parliamentarians who think they can trample over the constitution and fundamental pillars of our democracy.

“See you all on Tuesday,” it concludes. But where?

Independence – eliminating the weed of corruption


COME 16 SEPTEMBER, the Independent State of Papua New Guinea will turn another year older and proud citizens will celebrate the country’s independence.

Being independent means that one is not dependent. But independent from what, or from whom?

Well, according to definition, a nation being independent means that the country is free from any outside control or influence.

Essentially, nations that had authority and control are no longer in the picture. PNG is now self-governing, enjoying freedom from exogenous, colonising influence.

So when we celebrate each 16 September, let us do so with pride and enjoyment, knowing that no nation can have influence and control over us regarding governance.

But this does not mean an absence of endogenous control and influence.

One particular internal influence is currently on the lips of many Papua New Guineans. It probably existed in the immediate pre-independence era and has matured with time.

Like a spider, it has constructed its web into major and minor government sectors, trapping them. Cherished by the successful, and nourished by the wealthy and powerful, it has flourished.

I’m talking about the weed of corruption. Sad to say, PNG is not independent from its influence.

Corruption is the willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. It is a lack of integrity or honesty. It is the abuse of a position of trust.

Look around. There is not a government department in PNG where the presence and influence of corruption is not felt.

From the highest public servant to the lowest, corruption comfortably thrives. Seeded and rooted in the mind, it branches to the limbs and bears fruit in deeds too often protected by the court of law.

While the anti-corruption group, Task Force Sweep, is attempting to sweep out this evil, the fight against corruption must also be appreciated at a personal level.

Each individual should cultivate a garden of integrity in their heart, and nourish the seed of honesty in their mind.

Cherish integrity, and relish honesty because that is all that is needed to uproot corruption.

Corruption is absent only in the presence of integrity, for the presence of integrity withers the influence of corruption.

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity, than he who is perverse in his ways, and he is rich.”  Proverbs 28:6.

A poor man who has integrity is better off in the long run than the rich or the powerful who have no integrity.

Do not be willing to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. Do not use your positions of trust for dishonest personal gains. Do not liaise, nor coerce a person in a position of trust to act dishonestly for your personal gain. All such acts are essential nutrients for the weed of corruption to flourish.

Take your stand, make your choice. The fight against corruption can be stopped. It all starts with you, and me, and what little we can grow in our garden of honesty.

Hogande Kiafuli (27) comes from the Lufa District of Eastern Highlands Province.  He is a medical officer who currently lives and works in Goroka.  He says that writing is more than a hobby.  He believes it’s a habit in which the creativities of the mind are inked onto pages

Child prostitution and drug dealing in Moresby


A GOVERNMENT REPORT in Papua New Guinea has raised concerns about child labour in Port Moresby.

The International Labour Organisation, which undertook the report for the government, says it interviewed more than 400 children working in the sex industry, selling drugs and stealing for a living.

National Program Coordinator Marie Jane Fatiaki told Radio Australia that family poverty was involved in many of the cases.

"The majority of children have parents that knew about the work they did on the streets," she said.

"And even with some children who were in commercial sexual exploitation, this was with the knowledge of the parents, as well as their involvement in getting clients for these children."

The report is based on interviews with 175 child sex workers, mainly girls, and over 200 children working on the streets.

Nearly 70% of the children were found to be involved in hazardous work, including chopping firewood for sale, moving furniture, loading and unloading boxes from containers, controlling traffic and scrap metal scavenging.  They also worked very long hours and were subjected to physical and verbal abuse.

Children were also engaged in illicit activities including begging, stealing and selling drugs.

"Poverty is one of the main reasons why these children are working," Ms Fatiaki said.

"There are other reasons, such as family breakdown, parental neglect, abuse, peer pressure...but poverty, as well as a lack of opportunity for parents, and children who have dropped out of school, has been the main reason.

PNG Labour Minister, Martin Aini, says the country's labour laws are being reformed to try and prevent child labour.

"Judging by the incredible facts, statistics, figures and discoveries in this report, it is crucial for us to plan a way forward to address this situation through practical approaches, policies and interventions," he said.

Oh, it’s the songs they sing


The traveller“WE SEE; YOU’VE COME with the flower of the mountain; that blossoms a pleasant red and dances in the wind while the stars look on. We see; you’ve adorned yourself with this flower and come with a determined purpose; and our attention you’ve courted. But before you tell us the reasons, let us show you where you’ll rest your head. Let us bring you firewood. Let us fetch you water. And let you rest for a while. For the night will be querulous and wearisome”. So sang the welcoming villagers.

“Oh so you’ve seen! Well, we cannot hide it, can we? The wind had spoken about it long before. And the earth has brought forth the dancer on the mountain. We came here for a purpose! We will tell when we’ve rested. We will tell when we’ve drank! We will tell when we’re fed. But for now we say thank you that this place may welcome us too”, sang the visitors in reply.

It was a pleasant surprise for Oromo, the tired and weary traveller, who stood and watched his fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters; all singing together in unison; chorusing a sound that captured his ignorant spirit. Not a word he uttered, not even a sigh. Mouth half open, he gazed blankly with his mind's eye and listened attentively, trying to capture the lyrics; those words that were trampling all over his heart.

But it ended so soon; and ushered to a sitting spot, Oromo could not but wonder at those echoing words of the songs. He has missed a lot, he realised. Even the younger ones knew the songs; they knew these songs are usually sung only on such occasions. How could he have not known this kind of singsing existed? Did they do this just for him? People at home sing for different occasions; but this? Welcoming a visitor with a song, and then the visitor responds in song too, it was totally new to him. He glimpsed the world of his grandfathers that day and it found a place deep in his heart.

He was shamed by the younger ones; those cheeky companions. They knew things he did not know and his heart despite the fatigue, yearned for this precious knowledge and more. In these forgotten lands, where the government’s presence continued to remain on the distant horizon; the traditional treasures were truly valuable. And row upon row of dusty shelves and more rows had yet to see the light of day.

The darkness gradually set in and the fire’s glow became brighter. With every additional piece of wood shoved into the heart of fire, the hotter it became. Oromo turned and noticed the house was full; every inch of space taken up by inquisitive souls. Souls that had gathered with wide open ears and welcoming hearts to listen and learn of things they did not know about.

Then a drop of sweat slid down over his eye lashes and he knew the place would get even hotter, but no one would feel it except him, for they were used to such gatherings.  People had been steadily filling up the house for the last hour or so. Fatigue and the soothing words of the songs had rendered him oblivious to his surroundings, lost in reverie, letting them take him where they would in this enchanted world.

Continue reading "Oh, it’s the songs they sing" »

Limerick for our times / That just about rhymes…


Pastaim igat wanpla lida?
Itok, Nau mi lukim ples klia,
Bai mi baim ol lain,
Na stap longpla taim,
Tasol husat igiaman yumi a?


There once was a veteran leader,
Who said: "Now I see all the clearer,
If I buy off the clan,
I'll be here quite a span,
And who will be any the wiser?

Lukim ol lain igat wori,
Buk blo nem ino redi,
Ol Em Pi, itok, 'Maski eleksion',
Mipla les lo eleksion,
Watpo yu laik girapim hevi?

You all know that everyone’s worried
And it looks like the roll isn’t hurried
So who needs the vote
To elections say nope
Our egos don’t need to be sullied.


Moa beta mipla stap yet, a?
Long mekim ol lo igutpla
Yu noken wori,
Mipla gat savi
Lo mekim planti tokgris a?

We really should stay as we are
We all make the best laws by far
So don’t cry in vain
Forget you’ve a brain
We’re the sweetest of talkers so far!

PNG economy depends on government commitment


PAPUA NEW GUINEA’s recent surge in natural resource projects has had a spin-off effect on other sectors, thus giving the country a positive near-term outlook for its economy, which is expected to see GDP growth reach 8% this year.

However, the government has been advised to tighten its management of revenues from mining and natural gas projects, as well as curtail spending to ensure expansion remains stable moving forward.

In February, the International Monetary Fund said PNG continues to see high growth due to elevated commodity prices and the construction of a liquefied natural gas project, with the benefits seen in the construction and transportation sectors.

The IMF noted this was the 10th year of uninterrupted economic growth, but added that by 2013, growth will likely dip to 4%, as construction winds down and output at maturing mines declines.

The IMF’s confidence is mirrored in the latest regional review by the Asian Development Bank, which noted in March that the economy continued its strong performance during 2011.

“Industry made the largest contribution to growth, boosted by construction of the $16 billion ExxonMobil-led LNG project and high levels of government spending. Spillover from this activity also drove growth in the services sector, including wholesale and retail trade and transport,” wrote the ADB.

However, the bank also noted that increasing prices, driven by high government expenditure, large resource project investments and rising international commodity prices, saw the consumer price index growth reach double digits in mid-2011.

Indeed, keeping inflation stable will remain key to maintaining economic stability as major mines close in the coming years and the PNG LNG project comes online in 2014.

However, the Central Bank has been praised for monetary tightening in 2011, which helped see inflation fall to an annual headline rate of about 7% at the end of 2011, from close to 10% in the second quarter.

According to the IMF, the economy’s future also depends on the government’s commitment to ensuring that revenues from the LNG plant and minerals such as gold benefit the population.

Continue reading "PNG economy depends on government commitment" »

Rabaul Queen: Seeking the truth behind a tragedy


Rabaul QueenSTORIES OF SHIPWRECK, real and imagined, have a special place in the archive of human misery. The notion of being lost at sea, frail souls at the mercy of the elements, taps into our most deep-set fears.

Witness the barrage of remembrances of the Titanic, a century on, and the media frenzy around the grounding of European cruise ship the Costa Concordia on the Italian coast in January this year.

Three weeks after the Costa Concordia came to grief, with the loss of 32 lives, it was still making international headlines, overshadowing news that a heavily loaded island ferry vanished in wild seas off the Papua New Guinea coast somewhere around dawn on February 2.

For a while it seemed the story of the MV Rabaul Queen was destined, like the ferry, to sink almost without trace, obscured by the bluster of the continuing maelstrom of Papua New Guinea's political crisis and by early reports that now appear to have grossly underestimated the loss of life.

Almost three months on, the truth of the tragedy - together with disturbing questions about the conditions on board the ship, its safety systems and those of PNG's maritime protocols more broadly - is surfacing in the testimony of witnesses summonsed to hearing rooms in Port Moresby and Lae.

Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen survivors have quietly provided raw firsthand insights into what is shaping up as one of the nation's most devastating recent tragedies.

George Turme, a 20-year-old university student, was the first to testify to the inquiry before Commissioner Warwick Andrew, the Australian judge heading the investigation at the request of the PNG government.

Turme swears he was in the company of more than 500 other passengers on that wild, doomed overnight voyage from the island of New Britain to the mainland port of Lae - crammed shoulder to shoulder, packed onto the heaving decks so tight that sleeping, even sitting, was impossible for most.

Turme spent most of the voyage squashed into a toilet area with other men, who assembled around the decks trying to give more protected space in the interior to women and children who spilled across the floors (there were only 50 seats on the whole vessel). It was an act of gallantry that would backfire horribly when the ship capsized.

According to the ship survey certificate presented to the inquiry, the Rabaul Queen could carry a maximum number of unberthed passengers of 295, and up to 15 crew - a total of 310.

If Turme's estimate that there were more than 500 people on board - and it is one shared by several witnesses in sworn testimony to the inquiry into the disaster, but which outstrips passenger lists drawn from official manifests by about 50 - then well over 250 souls were lost when the Rabaul Queen sank in up to 3,000 metres of water.

The true toll may never be known, not least because the lack of records for the infants carried onto the ship by their mothers, and who could not save themselves or be saved.

Turme tells of the desperate, dark hour before the ship sank, as it listed heavily to the left - several witnesses were worried that the Queen seemed to be out of balance right from the time she departed Kimbe wharf.

Around dawn someone - maybe a crew member, though it was impossible to tell as they did not wear uniforms - called on him and about 20 other men to go to the starboard side and try to balance the ship as it negotiated its way through the notoriously treacherous Viliaz Strait, which separates New Britain from the mainland.

They tried to lean out over the right side of the ship as the big waves came. ''We look out for the strong wind. So when the waves hit the ship we all bend to the right side and try to balance it,'' Turme told Commissioner Andrew.

Once, twice, when really big waves came in, they succeeded in keeping it upright but then ''another strong wave come, came and hit the ship''. It struck the back of the vessel on the starboard side and the Queen began to roll over to the left. Turme and the men with him all leapt into the water as she capsized.

Continue reading "Rabaul Queen: Seeking the truth behind a tragedy" »

Landowner companies: a money-siphoning scam


Pomio land protestorsMY EXPERIENCE OF LANDOWNER COMPANIES in Papua New Guinea (in the Kaliai area and in Pomio where different forestry concessions operate) is that the local landowner company is often made up of different kinds of villagers keen on development.

Some are educated individuals who find the life of gardening hard and arduous; others can be remote villagers who are desperate for some roads; while others are drawn in by the high cost of school fees and low cash crop prices.

Many villagers who initially support logging can change sides once the project starts, when they see the poor quality of the roads and bridges and the low royalty payments.

Generally the initiators of the project are locals who end up being financed by an overseas contractor (often the logging conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau). They will hunt for an interested contractor who is able to fund their legal, travel, accommodation and entertainment expenses whilst in town. The local member of parliament can also put a fair bit pressure on the directors to go with a contractor with which he has existing ties.

My experience has been that the landowner company generally receives a "premium" and even “advance” payments from the overseas logging company to cover its startup costs and its ongoing running “expenses.”

The initiators of the project generally choose the directors and it is often on the basis of their ability to be complicit and silent with regard to the allocation of Premium money within the company.

There are generally no minutes or records of how the money is used and this in turn serves to create an internal culture of solidarity, collaboration and collusion between directors. Some of the money is used to keep junior directors bound in relations of debt to the general manager and other key directors of the company who control the purse strings.

Many directors in the landowner company can be illiterate or only able to read basic Pisin. They will be unable to read legal documents in English and, consequently, will depend heavily on educated directors for information. This will privilege certain individuals and groups within the landowner company, generally, those who have contacts with politicians and the government bureaucracy.

The premium money that the landowner company receives from the overseas logging company is nominally to cover its expenses, but it also operates as gift that co-opts the directors and obligates them to the overseas contractor at the expense of their local ties to villagers.

The landowner company is expected to manage public relations for the Malaysians. It is that the landowner company that should be seen publicly as calling in the riot squad to come and remove road blocks and to arrest those responsible. It is also expected to distribute covertly the necessary gifts to placate opposition and prevent organised protests.

Continue reading "Landowner companies: a money-siphoning scam" »

Professor Andrew Lattas: A man of many parts

KULA KULA MAGAZINE (March 2011, extracts)

Lattas_Prof AndrewIT IS ON A RAINY OCTOBER AFTERNOON that we meet Professor Andrew Lattas in his office at the Department of Social Anthropology in Bergen, Norway.

But he doesn’t mind the rain, he tells us. “I like Bergen, even though it rains a lot here. Many people complain about this, but I don’t mind it, really.”

Andrew Lattas comes from a family of Greek peasant background. He was born and raised in Australia, and has done extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea.

Lattas was appointed to the University of Bergen three years ago, and was recently promoted to Professor. Lattas is a highly productive anthropologist, and his career includes two sole authored books, three edited collections, about 40 refereed articles and an award-winning anthropological film Koriam’s Law and the Dead who Govern.

Dreams, Madness & Fairy TalesHis most recent book, Dreams, Madness, and Fairy Tales in New Britain, was published earlier this year. He is a cheery contribution to the Anthropology department, his catching laughter often resonating through the halls of the 8th floor. But how did he end up in Bergen?

I came here through being told about a new vacancy by my old professor, Bruce Kapferer, who had already been at the department for some years. He supervised my PhD thesis back in Australia. I had also visited Bergen a couple of times as a visiting researcher before I took up the position three years ago.

The University of Bergen is a very good place to do research, which was the main attraction for coming here. The intellectual scene in Australia was quite good perhaps ten years ago, but this has changed in that the workload has become much less centred on doing research and now involves a very heavy teaching load.

And Lattas likes doing research, we learn. He has done extensive anthropological work on various subjects in Papua New Guinea. He is especially known for his work on cargo cults – millenarian movements that focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of more technologically advanced cultures through magic, rituals and religious practices.

He has focused on their experiments with new technologies for governing and transforming people. But Lattas has done research in Australia as well:

Actually I have done about the same amount of research work on Australian society as on PNG. I have always combined the study of different fields in my research. I find it more productive to work on different topics at the same time. In that way you get a better perspective on things, and you don’t get bored with what you’re doing.

You can only work so many hours on one particular topic before you become exhausted or unproductive. I find that if you combine the subjects you study you can work much longer and more effectively.

- Do you do the same thing here, then; study the Norwegians?

Oh, I’m quite puzzled by the Norwegians, they’re an enigma [laughs]. The strong egalitarianism of Norwegian society is very interesting and actually quite different from Australian egalitarianism. I’m still trying to figure this out. I would like to do some research on Norwegian society eventually if I get the time and if I find the right project.

Lattas’ initial interest in anthropology goes all the way back to his teenage years in Adelaide, Australia. When we ask him how he got into Anthropology, he laughs:

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