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Publication of ‘Aitape Story’ brings back vivid memories


LAST week, the book ‘Aitape Story: the great New Guinea tsunami of 1998’ was launched at the University of Papua New Guinea.

The author is Hugh Davies, professor of geology at UPNG and, while I have not seen his book, I know that Prof Davies’ humility is such that his extraordinary efforts during that terrible time are unlikely to be mentioned.

I was there and remain in awe of his compassion and the enormous contribution he made to calm the survivors and in explaining the origin and dynamics of tsunamis.

I witnessed how he moved from hamlet to hamlet and camp to camp, living amongst the survivors for months and growing to know, understand and love them. His message got through as did his concern and I know part of him never left the tsunami-affected area.

Hugh DaviesI have just found an article from The National newspaper of 22 October 2015 about an exceptional honour bestowed on Prof Davies (left) in 2015.

The story told of how he had been awarded two rare commemorative kina coins for his distinguished services to geology.

The coins – with face values of just K2 and K5 - were minted by a partnership of UPNG and the Bank of PNG to mark the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Still on the subject of the 1988 tsunami, in 2001 Prof Davies had phoned me to get permission to use a painting on the cover of a small booklet, ‘The Aitape Tsunami- Three Years On’.

The painting, ‘The Wave’ was produced by 16 year old Lucas Rawah of Ali Island. Everyone was surprised when it emerged, as even his family did not realise Lucas could paint.

Lucas  Liz and HannaThe photo at right is of Lucas standing beside his mother Elizabeth (Liz) Mongas Rawah holding his baby sister Hanna. Liz's father, the late Alois Mongas of Ali Island, was the manager of our company's building division.

Liz herself was the very capable assistant manager to me at W & R Parer Ltd. She joined the company after completing Grade 10 and worked her way up.

When Marg and I were away on leave, Liz would run the company employing over 250 people in four divisions: stores, bulk fuel, earthmoving and plantation.

Liz was on Ali Island when the tsunami crashed on to the exposed and unpopulated western side. There was no damage other than huge hunks of the coral reef being thrown on the shore.

Liz's husband Rori passed away at Raihu Hospital in Aitape last year, Liz and her family staying with him for months until his death.

We were privileged to meet and work with some wonderful people in Aitape. Hugh Davies and Liz Rawah were just two of them.


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Peter Sandery

I have never met Hugh Davies but I have heard a lot about him and witnessed the results of his efforts in imparting not just the theory of geology in all its facets but in the mindset necessary in geologists to his students, and anyone for that matter, that they must spend much time in the PNG field situation to be effective.

I cannot but compare his to the efforts of another early expat academic on the PNG scene - Ross Garnaut - and I'll let the readers judge who comes up trumps in my estimation, which probably means not much anyway, really.

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