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Turning PNG’s rich history into a bit of scrap metal

TERRY EDWINSMITH

Old Port Moresby CemeteryMANY THINGS CONTRIBUTE to a country’s history. The events of the past, whether for good or ill, fashion the way people see themselves. History is often very local but a single event may have far reaching influence or consequence.

History is often marked by events such as war, exploration, mining, border changes, the removal of trees or the planning of exotics, urbanisation, migration, colonisation, new governments, independence, world events that impact locally, family structure redefined, volcanic disturbances. The list is endless!

One small event that may have lasting consequences on an emerging nation is the insidious and destructive practice of metal theft. The removal of electrical or telephone cables to extract the copper, is annoying and contributes to a lack of production and inconvenience in the affected area.

Eventually the missing wires can be replaced or more up to date technology can replace the telephone cables with digital microwave replacements, but at a higher cost. No matter, someone else will pay, the thinking goes.

Whilst history may be best told through the recollections of those who were there, memorials and plaques also record historic events for posterity. The removal of plaques, signs, statues and grave markings, to name a few, has the effect of removing the memory of those who went before.

The wise men and women who gave service, the soldiers who fought for their land, the explorers who blazed a path and were recognised by their peers on carefully engraved plaques which if made of metal, may have been removed to the smelters’ ovens.

Once the metal has been reduced to a molten state, the memory of the individual or significant event often ceases to exist. The present generation is then ignorant of life changing events, rendering them poorer for the lack of this experience. Their heritage is taken from them.

Taurama Barracks CemeteryThis parlous state of affairs was bought to my attention when I recently visited the historic Old Port Moresby Cemetery at Badihagwa and a more recent gravesite at Taurama Barracks.

In each case the metal plaques bearing the deceased’s name with their personal details have been removed.

An historic old cemetery stands silent with headstones and burial markings intact, but not one name remains on the hundreds of headstones, except for the few whose details are carved in stone by the masons’ hands.

Sir Hubert Murray PlaquePeople like Sir Hubert Murray have avoided desecration of their burial site because the headstone is carved rock rather than it being a metal grave plaque.

In the Taurama Barracks Cemetery, the site of the grave of a former RSM, WO1 Fredrick Wilson remains unknown, victim of metal thieves.

What a sorry state of affairs awaits the citizens of Port Moresby when they find that the memories of their heroes and loved ones have been erased forever. What visitor or student of history to this area returns home disappointed that their search has been thwarted by “raskols”, more intent on destruction than preserving the rich history of PNG life.

Around the world, historic cemeteries provide income from the tourist as well as being a record of past civilizations.

There should be laws enacted to control the sale of scrap metal, and if such laws now exist then a strengthening of the laws with better policing should be put in place.

If the scrap metal trade is a cash-in-hand business with virtually no regulation, then it Unmarked gravesshould be made a legal requirement for metal dealers to record and confirm the details of all sellers. The law needs updating with sellers being required to show some form of identification and receive payment into their bank account.

There is little point in having a rich history if present and future generations never get to learn about it. The country is poorer as a result!

Comments

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Xavier Smith

Hopefully the needed regulations are made to the industry.

Some history really needs to be preserved. Thanks for sharing an important story. http://www.southerncrossmetals.com.au/services

Ian Loftus

I'm advised by ADF in Moresby that a number of stolen plaques will soon be replaced by something more permanent that can't be sold for scrap.

Not sure how many will be replaced, but obviously this will only affect those where we know which particular grave plot that particular people are buried in.

I also believe that OAWG may be involved in ongoing maintenance.

George Braithwaite

RSM WOI Frederick Alexander Wilson, born 24/06/1924, died March 1968 was a child migrant who arrived in in May 1934 at Fairbridge Farm School Pinjarra W.A.

He served in the RAAF in WW2 and also in Korea. He died in New Guinea in 1968. As a Fairbridge boy myself and a serviceman I find it very disturbing that history has disappeared forever.

Ian Loftus

My father's grave at Taurama Barracks is one of those affected. He died in a Caribou crash in 1972. Fortunately I have some photographs that may assist in locating the concrete marker.

Graham Jones

This year I visited Rabaul for one week over Anzac Day. A friend at home who had worked in Rabaul after the war asked me to lay a wreath at the cemetery for a good friend of his - of course I was delighted to do this.

A good samaritan whom I met at the Rabaul Hotel kindly drove me to a number of spots over the week, including the cemetery which is only a couple of kms from the remains of Malahang Road.

Most graves had been covered by the ash from Tavavur and Vulcan during the 1994 eruption, but there were still about 30 or so still visible.

Unfortunately, all the plaques had been removed, so my only option was to lay his wreath in a suitable spot,and take a photo.

He was happy with that.

Michael Dom

All it takes is two idiots - a thief and a buyer.

The thief...well, we could talk about thieves and thieving till the cows come home.

What can be done to control this illegal transaction at the buyers end, because metal-plates are not so easy to melt down and should be recognisable in most instances?

Taking a closer look at scrap metal buyers may be an effective deterant, but who's actually going to do it?

"Oh my Penge
what a precious fool you are
to sell yourself so cheaply"

Tony Flynn

This happened in Wau some years ago when the Rising Sun badges were ripped off the graves of the WW1 diggers who died on the goldfields.

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