AMBULLUA is an isolated mission station in the upper Jimi valley in Jiwaka Province; about five hours walk from Kol, the nearest government station.
And if you want to walk down to the Wahgi Valley from Ambullua, you should allow yourself two days.
Because of this isolation, the Catholic priest who established the mission at Ambullua, Fr Joe McDermott, built and maintained a bush airstrip.
The approach to the strip was not great, pilots had to manoeuvre their aircraft with skill to touch down safely on the not-too-long and uphill runway where, like many of PNG’s airstrips, they could only land from one direction.
At that time Divine Word Airways owned three Cessna aircraft and they usually flew from Madang to Ambullua and back; usually in the early morning to avoid crosswinds that arose later in the day and made landing even more dangerous.
There was a plentiful supply of red earth in the nearby ridge and Fr Joe decided to use this to fill in the hole.
There were of course no bulldozers or heavy equipment in Ambullua. So Fr Joe used manpower and childpower. He didn’t have many wheelbarrows or buckets but, at a trade store in Madang, he spotted a stack of gold-panning dishes going for cheap.
He bought theme and the mission plane flew them into Ambullua.
Since teachers at the Ambullua community school also depended on the airstrip, their students were recruited to help the rest of the community with the maintenance work.
Nowadays this might be considered child labour, but in those times, as in my own youth, helping out with work was considered part of growing up.
In the photo alongside, teacher Cathy Yagump is supervising the students with their dishes full of red soil. If I remember correctly, Cathy was the daughter of the Mundika Nengamp man Yagump, the same clan as Mundika Nengamp Ogil from Kurek in the Nebyler Valley.
With the help of men with spades, the students filled their dishes with the red earth, lined up and took off at a run to empty the earth into the hole in the airstrip. For them it seemed to be an enjoyable break from the classroom.
Lest anybody think that the students schooling suffered as a result of their participation, it can be recorded that a surprising number of students from Ambullua school went on to do very well and get good jobs. Perhaps the prominent journalist Frank Senge Kolma was a student there at that time?
Anyway, the maintenance work was successful. The earth was firmly packed into the area where the subsidence had occurred and the airstrip could be used safely. Visitors once again flew into Ambullua.
Without glorifying the past, this was a time – around the 1970s - when community endeavor built many roads and airstrips.
While the people received some technical advice and assistance from government and church agencies, there was no great reliance on outside aid.
And there was a great sense of achievement by the community which was benefitting from roads and airstrips they had built themselves.
Photographic note: I took the photographs and the year 1974 is stamped on the back. I do not remember getting reprints so I believe the year is accurate. If any Ambullua people can correct me on the date or on any other information, please do so – GR