MANY 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.
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.
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 should 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!