MEGAN DOHERTY | The Canberra Times
A PORTRAIT WAS PAINTED of ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher at the Papua New Guinea High Commission in Canberra recently, coincidentally after the deadly attack in PNG on Australian hikers and their porters.
The painting, completed in just two hours by young Papua New Guinean artist Jeffry Feeger, was a gift to the ACT as part of its centenary celebrations.
It was also recognition of Ms Gallagher's connection to the country. Her adopted brother Richard Gallagher is of PNG-Chinese descent and he has decided to start the journey of finding out more about his heritage.
''I think this is an important first step for us. It's an important day for us as a family,'' Ms Gallagher said.
Her brother accompanied Ms Gallagher to the function at the high commission, attended by many of the diplomatic corps as PNG prepares to celebrate the 38th anniversary of its independence from Australia tomorrow.
Ms Gallagher accepted the gift of the portrait - though she appeared a little overwhelmed.
''It was the high commissioner's idea that it be a portrait of myself and I'm sure there'll be some views about that across Canberra but at its heart it is, and should be seen, as a generous gift from the people of Papua New Guinea to the people of Canberra,'' she said.
The celebrations could not sidestep questions about the future of adventure tourism in PNG after two porters were hacked to death and seven Australians and a New Zealander were injured by attackers on the Black Cat Track.
PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill has promised those responsible for the attacks will face the death penalty if found guilty. Its Parliament this year extended the range of crimes open to capital punishment and the methods of execution.
Ms Gallagher said the ACT opposed the death penalty.
''And we are very clear in our communications with other countries around that but it's not a matter that the ACT government can influence or indeed Australia can,'' she said.
''So we're clear about our opposition to the death penalty. And I think those incidents that happen overseas, and let's face it, they happen in a number of countries, are usually isolated incidents that impact terribly on the host country in terms of its connections.''
Ms Gallagher said it was important to acknowledge the close ties between Australia and PNG, especially close to Independence Day, ''even though there has been this terrible incident.”
PNG high commissioner Charles Lepani said the attacks should not deter tourists, adding that his country did not issue travel advisories to its people when there was a shooting in western Sydney or murder in an Australian national park.
Mr Lepani said he suspected the violence was the result of a dispute between different tribes and land ownership in PNG rather than a targeted attack on foreigners. The death penalty was about deterring that crime. The last recorded execution was in 1954.
''PNG is an exciting country, that's what we want to tell the story about. Our future is bright,'' he said
However, the artist Jeffry Feeger, who is from the Gulf Province and familiar with Black Cat Track, said the media coverage would ''absolutely'' deter tourists from visiting PNG.
''But violence happens in PNG and it happens all around the world also. Murders happen everywhere and it's just a sad occurrence,'' he said.
It doesn't take away from all the brilliant experiences everyone else has had travelling to PNG. And I've met so many people who have done the track and had a brilliant time.
“I think what's really important is for Papua New Guinea to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.''