Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude”
- The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway
I DON’T KNOW IF HEMINGWAY ever got to the top of Kilimanjaro but he immortalised the frozen carcass of the leopard and the eternal question of what this creature was doing at such an altitude in his wonderful work of fiction.
For me, since my ascent of the peak of Kibo, one of the three volcanic cones of Kilimanjaro (or Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze, the highest point of the old German Empire), some would say it has all been downhill.
I can remember, when I reached the summit, I left my name care of New Guinea Company, Rabaul, Territory of Papua and New Guinea - perhaps out of respect to the former German Colony of New Guinea.
What of some of the other ex-colonials from Papua New Guinea and their aspirations.
Is the Commander awaiting the reincarnation of the Fuhrer? Is the Captain among the old diggers in the Collaroy-Narrabeen war vets home looking forward to the Rapture and the coming of the Lord?
For the Captain, it’s the beatific vision; for the Commander, it is Aryan beauty - both sublime and heavenly!
It has been said that a lot of ex-expats from PNG suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I, of course, do not believe this. There’s nothing wrong with me, the Commander or the Captain. We are all quite sane.
It’s just that what we want is not always what the rest of society wants. What does that make of the rest of society?
Getting back to my original question, and Ernest’s, what was that old leopard doing at such altitude?
In Robert Browning’s words: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
The beast went beyond where food could be found, and died. This will not happen to the Commander, the Captain or me - we all live on pensions - we will die, but not, I think, from hunger.
The sheer scope of our endeavour, is in some ways alike to that of the leopard. Surely this is something to be admired.
Are we seeking a return of colonial glory in Papua New Guinea? I’ll leave this question to readers to answer? Are we headed for the nuthouse or eternal life?