The tangled skein of the PNG drug purchasing scandal
As I lay dying

Forget the politics; give me the pastoral


PNG pastoralMY BROTHER-IN-LAW has just sent me the draft of a book of photographs and text describing his 18 years involvement in oil and gas exploration in Papua New Guinea.

Barry and I go back a long way.  We first met in primary school and have been best mates ever since.  We both went to Papua New Guinea as Cadet Patrol Officers at the same time in 1967 and, of course, we ended up marrying sisters.

I followed him back to Papua New Guinea in the 1990s, working for the same field services company but he has a much vaster experience in the game than me.  Now in our mid-sixties we are both fit but I have been hamstrung for the last 30 years or so by the exigencies of managing type-two diabetes.  I have to plan my day and eat on time, so it hampers bush work.

Being of a literary bent and a natural watcher of people I’ve always been intrigued by politics.  I also get bored quickly.  Barry, on the other hand, is more phlegmatic and has taken what he calls a mercenary approach to Papua New Guinea.  I think he rather likes the money he earns but over the years I have tended to become indifferent to it.

That said I suspect that his approach has ultimately been the more sensible one.  I’ve worn myself out with the frustrations of public life while he is still wandering through the wild hinterlands happily snapping pictures of rainbow-coloured frogs, weird binatangs, elegant waterfalls and other picturesque sundries that cross his path. 

This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t developed a warm affinity for Papua New Guinean people; he just doesn’t get involved in local politics unless it is absolutely necessary.  He also stays away from the big towns as much as possible.

Being apolitical and more orientated towards the wilder and more remote parts of Papua New Guinea is an attractive proposition.  Maybe it could be a panacea for a too-long preoccupation with all the woes that bedevil the place - and Australia for that matter.

It is out there that you run into the real people of Papua New Guinea.  The fantastic scenery is a happy bonus.  Same thing applies in Australia.

When I think about it, the days I’ve most enjoyed in Papua New Guinea were those spent staying in remote villages or trekking through pristine rainforests with a small backpack and a supply of insulin and jellybeans if I needed them. (I once gave all my jellybeans away to the little kids in a village and then nearly panicked when the chopper failed to show up on time – thank goodness for sugarcane.)

The people are invariably friendly and cheerful and, in most cases, blithely unaware of the latest atrocities being committed by their overweight and greedy politicians in Port Moresby.  For a large part of the Papua New Guinean population politics is happily irrelevant.

Their lives in the bush unwind in the same leisurely and unhurried way that it has for centuries (why on earth did we see a need to foist ‘development’ on them?).  Except in a few places there are no real law and order problems and they judiciously avoid the big towns for that reason.  It’s nice to wander around and not worry about being confronted by some drug or homebrew charged thug (or policeman) with a bush knife demanding your wallet.

It’s a part of Papua New Guinea that we tend to forget when we become preoccupied with idiots tearing down parliament house or politicians caught with their snouts too far into the public trough (maybe it’s a good idea to tear down parliament house and just not replace it).

Anyway, I think I might take Michael Dom’s advice about the graun and try to pay more attention to ‘outback’ Papua New Guinea in 2014.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

Yeah, you're probably right Harry. I think Barry just likes wandering around in the bush.

But he has to tell his wife something, doesn't he?

Harry Topham

Phil - Interesting slant on life in general. I think you are perhaps being a little hard on your bro in law when describing him as having a mercenary aspect to his work as, after all, money can never compensate one for the deprivations and health risks involved in living and working in such very isolated places in PNG.

So perhaps his motivation for choosing such a lifestyle may be a little more philosophical in nature than presents.

One of PNG’s greatest attraction to outsiders is its previous but still relevant description as being a lotus land where one day drifts into the next.

I recall some years ago when visiting PNG on holidays at a time when the Gulf War Mk 1 was in play and, as in that locality, communications to the outside world was absolutely zilch, I was trying to keep abreast on the ongoing events on my radio.

One of my bros in law asked me why I was so concerned and I then tried to explain that this conflict in the Middle East had the potential to develop into a possible world war.
My reply was met with indifference.

Several days later the batteries in my radio gave out so I then drifted off into the never never land that is PNG.

Steven Gimbo

In the western world, if one wants to become rich and famous, they can take their clothes off or become a criminal. In PNG, in order to become rich and famous, one has to become a politician.

Mrs Barbara Short

I agree. I'm putting the PNG National Government in the "Too hard" basket.

There are signs of progress at the provincial level. If a mob of educated wantoks get together to run a town and a province, things can slowly improve. These are the "capable and caring" people that PNG needs. Sadly they are not being elected to the National Parliament but some seem to be given the job of Administration of their local province and a doing a good job.

Sadly the National Government keeps far too much money for themselves and just wastes it. (Did you read about the bloke from some Moresby electorate who bought out a shop in Cairns recently?)

But development isn't all about money and expensive lifestyles. It is about leading a better life, with hopefully, education for the children and better health for the family, and a life free from worries about tribal fights, free from sorcery and payback, with a better understanding of the world and the history of the world. And a faith in a loving God, who wants us all to love Him and our neighbours.

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