EVER SINCE THE AUSTRALIAN MEDIA told us that Papua New Guinea is a terrible place, I’ve been pondering the paradox of why I keep going back. For some reason the old excuse of just liking it doesn’t seem adequate anymore.
Perhaps it’s the money I can make working in PNG. That’s a laugh! I’m a natural follower of the late Hoyt Axton’s ‘greenback dollar’ principle – ‘spend it as fast as I can’.
Besides, I’ve been consciously dematerialising for a long time now. Not in the ‘beam me up Scotty’ sense but in the sense of detaching myself from the need to keep accumulating stuff that is bigger and better than the stuff my neighbour has got.
This confuses my poor neighbour no end, as well as my friends and relatives, which is an affect I enjoy, but it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, worse than giving up smoking.
When I think about that aspect of my life, the influence of Papua New Guinea becomes apparent. Wandering around the villages the possibility of living a life without the overriding need to chase money becomes very apparent. In my warped view of the world, the lot of the subsistence farmer is absolutely precious.
Ask the average subsistence farmer or hunter-gatherer how he fared during the last global economic crisis and he’ll wonder what you’re banging on about. Then he might stretch and yawn and go sit in the sun for a while or maybe take the kids for a swim or, perhaps, tickle his wife under the chin.
And that’s another thing I like about the place; the laid-back attitude, especially to time. ‘She’ll be right mate’ reaches a whole new zenith in Papua New Guinea.
It’s something that frustrates the hell out of most of the expatriate business people I work for. Watching someone - who has deadlines to meet, pennies to watch and bosses to please - realising that his entire workforce has decided to go fishing and that the boatload of gear he’s expecting tomorrow might now turn up next week, or maybe the week after, is a delight to watch.
It’s almost as good as seeing him realise that the phones don’t work, the road has fallen into the river, the airstrip he wants to use has two-metre high kunai growing on it and no one has a clue about where the district administrator disappeared to three weeks ago.
When you point out the stunning view from the camp across the top of the rainforest to the river and the mountains beyond, he looks at you as if you are mad.
He might have a point about the mad part but you must admit the scenery is splendid no matter where you go in Papua New Guinea.
I’ve spent most of my time in the mountains and swamps of Western and Gulf Provinces and I’ve walked in places where very few human beings, black, white or brindle, have set foot before. Where else can you do that for goodness sake?
But at the same time I’ve got a soft spot for dusty old Mosbi. Not just watching the magnificent sunsets over Fairfax Harbour with a brown bottle in my hand but also walking around the streets and settlements talking to people.
Don’t frown. This city of polyglot diversity is quite safe as long as you are sensible and take the right companions with you. What you see and hear will surprise you; travelling beyond your comfort zone can be scary and exhilarating at the same time.
Perhaps this is part of the attraction of Papua New Guinea; ‘the land of the unexpected’ doesn’t just need to refer to the scenery and befeathered singsings but to the opportunity to experience things in a different light and maybe, just maybe, to reconsider the way you see the world.
Hopefully the resources boom won’t change Papua New Guinea into a second rate mirror of Australia, as everyone seems to want. That would be a shame.