PNG time bomb
I tasted life

The hillside find


An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories

WE climbed together, side by side. Chief Superintendent Roy Tiden and I stepped through the tall kunai grass and up the rocky Ranuguri hillside.

The mid afternoon sun fought with its last strength, throwing an orangey tinge on the grass and on vibrant houses on the hillside. Ranuguri is in Konedobu. Below, the sound of traffic in Kone died down as we moved further up.

It was a Tuesday in February 1985; the year Papua New Guinea would celebrate its tenth year of independence from Australia. It was also the year it recorded the highest crime rate in Port Moresby.

Solving crimes excited me. At nineteen, and reporting for PNG’s leading daily newspaper, life was never dull.

My mother had called the night before from Lae, asking me to bring my little brother to Port Moresby and care for him. I was the eldest of four and Rivona was turning eleven.

Port Moresby crime figures were escalating and living here was hardly safe enough for me. I wondered how a historical government post such as Kone boasting the best harbour and a bustling business centre could also be afflicted with such a high crime rate.

In the newsroom the talk was that a state of emergency would be declared for Port Moresby. I stopped briefly to wait for Supt Tiden. As he got closer, I continued climbing.

I wanted to care for my brother, knowing how hard it was for my mother with three young children. But I was afraid journalism work would keep me away for long hours. This was my first job, and I wanted to do well. Maybe I could also bring my grandmother, so she could help me with my brother.

With my mind absorbed, I didn’t realise I’d left the superintendent behind. Glancing down at him for directions, Supt Tiden pointed to the top of the hill. I headed there with my bag and notebook, stepping carefully over the loose gravel and scattered boulders.

Down the hillside, Mr Tiden’s blue uniform showed through the green swaying Kunai grass. Further past him I could see some of the old colonial buildings. Colourful clothes danced on makeshift lines and smoke escaped from open fires.

Next to the police headquarters other old buildings had been converted into the mining department offices. Several dozen vehicles were parked there. I brushed the sweat off my forehead and wiped it on my skirt.

When I got the call, Mr Tiden had mentioned a rise in death amongst gang members, especially young boys. He said he’d been called out a week ago to a crime scene where the body had already decomposed.

While moving the remains onto a stretcher, the rotting arm dropped onto the superintendent, and as it brushed him the fingernails came off. Thinking of that story and what we might discover today, I felt nauseous.

I wanted to get it over and done with and return to the comforts of the Post Courier newsroom. My workmates there have become my second family, away from my hometown Lae.

I neared the hilltop. Supt Tiden was several meters downhill. His large body restricted his speed up the hillside. He’d started puffing at the foot of Ranuguri and joked about racing me to the top, making light our reason for being there. By then he was already an astute detective with over 20 years of police work.  

With the incident report descriptions of the crime location, I figured I would see a crime scene near where I stood. I expected the obvious: signs of damage to the land surface, a scrap of bloody clothing, and any kind of evidence.

“Maybe, I am on the scene,” I whispered to myself. The hairs on my skin stood erect. At my feet the ground was bare and uneven with rough limestone.

I called out, “Mr Tiden!’ Mr Tiden!” Out of respect I always referred to the superintendent as Mister. I could hear the wind blowing my voice down the valley. No response. My throat dried as I hugged myself.

I looked around and across the hilltop trying to see where the sound of buzzing flies came from. I didn’t want to step on anything or anyone. I could not even see those damn flies, but I heard them very close. A crow soared and two others joined the circle, just metres above me.

I held my notepad tight. I pulled my bag up to my chest and smelt the leather. Inside it were my no-brand cinnamon lipstick, an extra pen, a bunch of keys and the police issue can of chemical mace. Mr Tiden said I might need it one day.

“The mace!” I almost said out loud. But what help would it be? Apart from spurts of kunai, there was nothing else here. Whatever there was would not be too hard to find, but my legs refused to take me further. I waited. The flies buzzed and the grass shooed. I wished the police helicopter would blast up the hillside and break the silence.

I was about to call Mr Tiden again when I heard muffled cursing and knew he had arrived. “There you are, Joycelin.”

“Am I in the right place?”

“You are! That is great detective work,” he answered cheerfully.

I pretended to smile.

“Come this way.” He started turning down the opposite side of the hill then halted suddenly.

I walked up to him and looked down. Stretched out before us was a boy’s body. He had three large rocks weighing him down – on the neck, the abdomen and the legs.

The head had a massive dent and the rock on his neck was covered in blood. “He can’t be more than 11 or 12 years old,” said Supt Tiden after a complete circuit around the body. I had not moved.

Supt Tiden looked up at me, waiting for a reaction. The only thing running through my head was my brother, Rivona.

It could have been him, I thought.


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Joycelin Leahy

Thank you so much for all your comments. I love your poem Daniel. There is no other way to write about PNG except with passion.
Baka, Irani, Lindsay, and Phil, bikpla tenk yu!
Your comments mean a lot to me. I spent my early journalism years and my personal development into an adult in such a heightened political and social period in PNG. I was lucky to work later within the police department as PR and community relations personnel. This has given me a huge perspective as to how everything deteriorated slowly and right before our eyes. I still feel strongly that much is needed to assist youths, police and the wider community, but as Phil suggests - the poor leadership does not help. 1985 was our warning year.

Baka Bina

Joycelyn - I can only imagine a bleak gory ending. This is how it goes.

You see the young brother and collapse on top of a lurking taipan. Mr Tiden has a heart attack because the police radios are silent and the helicopter is attending to another Kapis robbery in Kerema.

As the sun sinks over at Lealea village, we have three about-to be-corpses.

If you keep on leaving us in suspense, girl, we let out minds run wild.

Marvellous write up.

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

Well done Jocelyn. These true personal tales that I read in PNG Attitude touch my heart very much. I shed a tear for Arnold Mundua's mum who, like all loving mums the world over, wanted to see her son properly established in society as a man before she tragically died.

Now this story from you. Its obvious you deeply love your mother and siblings. Love and concern for our family units should be the number one priority in every household in PNG.

Yes, Port Moresby experienced a high crime rate in 1985. The incidence of rape was very high. No woman was safe. Soldiers were deployed on the streets.

In that situation I brought my wife to Port Moresby for the 1st time with our 1st child. And I began to worry in the plane and wrote this poem which I would like to share with you Jocelyn.

Let the women be

By Daniel Kumbon

I had flown before with childish glee
This time in the company
of a loved one in fear
Sipping orange juice
was like a short lived
Dendrobium Engae in full blossom

Flying to the place where PIR men
walk the streets
the smile from the hostess
on Air Niugini’s flight 155 comforts
But is that smile a silhouette
from a lady trained to smile?
Concealing peril lived by women in Moresby?

Ah to Australia where dingoes attack in packs
To Egypt where locusts destroy in swarms
To South America where piranha infest brown rivers
To Africa where hyenas hunt in packs
And to Port Moresby where
Vicious packs force animal desire
on defenseless women

Think then
At the base of a hill digging kaukau
in a canoe catching fish
strolling along the beach
collecting shells
in a house chewing buai
Live freely a rapist’s
own sister or mother

Do not enslave
women behind locked doors
Let them roam free
as you would want your
mother or sister to be.
Let the women be
As the creator
intended them to be

Lindsay F Bond

On the heights of Ranuguri rise, this writer's skill is of mounting surprise.

Iriani Wanma

Great story! Kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought she'd be ambushed or the policeman was the bad guy. Loved the twist at the end - shocking but was so relieved it wasn't her brother. Phew.

Phil Fitzpatrick

A very compelling story Jocelyn.

1985 was roughly about the time that PNG's honeymoon ended I guess. Given a few good politicians the decline might have been arrested then.

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