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Travelling home: A thicket of thugs, thieves & dopeheads


PMV pick up
The PMV pick up

PORT MORESBY – The Kundiawa airstrip has been out of action and Chimbus working elsewhere in Papua New Guinea and abroad travelling back to their tribal lands must first fly to Mt Hagen or Goroka.

Public motor vehicles, known as PMVs, then ferry these diaspora members to Kundiawa and beyond to even more remote locations.

Travelling home for the festive season, my wife, children and I departed from Port Moresby for Goroka, where we were greeted by the itch of the fresh, cool air of Apo land.

We picked up our luggage only to be mobbed by kids asking to carry it to the bus stop. In case one of them decided to wander off with it, we politely gave a no for an answer.

As usual, Goroka was busy with most people dawdling around town without having showered that morning. Greasy faced and poorly clothed, they obscured the few neat and tidy humans with some money on this government payday Friday.

Outside the bowling club, a mob stood and listened to a frail man with a bible talking about the Pope and the 666 (‘mark of the beast’) staining the Catholic Church.

It seemed he had studied little theology but spent a lot of time reading about the Church’s dark ages.

We then strolled towards the bus stop and the sight was scary. Repugnant youths descended like eagles on every PMV that came to a stop. Some were half drunk and others were surely overcome by marijuana or poverty or most likely both.

The decent passengers had to push and shove through these ruffians to board the bus. The thugs, for their part, expertly frisked bilums and pockets for anything that they could lay their hands on.

The luggage tags from Air Niugini still hung off our bags so they knew we flew into Goroka and may have some money.

I instructed my Aroma (Central Province) wife to look confident and mingle with our highlands mothers at the bus stop to put some distance between her and the thugs.

PMV interior  Goroka
Inside a PMV at Goroka

We attempted to squeeze aboard PMVs a couple of times but were unsuccessful. The lucky ones made it at the cost of mobile phones and money and a few wounds caused by being being wedged in the door.

Forming a single queue is not part of Papua New Guinean culture so, with children and luggage to juggle, our pushing and shoving to make it to the door was like swimming against a strong current.

It was certainly a scary experience for my wife and children; however, I have a bit of bulk and dhow the scars of rugby union, so seemed to scare the thugs a bit. My military cap and boots also probably helped.

Another bus arrived bearing a a hired bully, who had a police haircut but was grubby and drunk. He exited and swung a long bus knife in his right hand as if he was a Mortlock Island sword dancer.

His betel nut-stained moustache and large red bulging eyes made a scary sight and most thugs and passengers obediently deferred to his presence.

The guy demanded that we stand two meters away from the PMV’s door and demanded that only passengers come forward and enter the bus.

The bully was probably a local villain hired to serve as a scarecrow to fend off the thugs.

Anyway, we heeded his call and pushed through the melee into the bus, cradling our children and luggage.

In a moment, the bus had more passengers than its maximum load. A couple of people who could not find seats implored that they be allowed to stand in the bus for the journey.

The bully reminded them of festive season roadblocks by police and told them to exit. They obliged.

We left the thugs’ den unscathed and they stood there defeated. The bully was bragging that because of him our valuables were intact.

We sped across the Zokozoi River and he continued to brag whilst standing in the doorway sucking from the bottle of rum in his hand.

Four kilometres on, the bus came to a halt and the bus crew squeezed some bills into the bully’s palm. The guy pouched the bills without looking at them.

With one final brag he bade us farewell. And we were on our way towards Daulo Pass and Chimbu beyond.

At Asaro, the crew collected the fares and my family paid for the Goroka-Kundiawa leg. It was then that the crew asked the driver to stop and we were forced to exit.

He only wanted passengers for the greater distance to Mt Hagen. We had no choice but pay the fares for Goroka-Mt Hagen.

We encountered three police and civilian road blocks between Watabung and Chuave. Both groups demanded money.

Finally at Kundiawa bus-stop, we encountered a mob who, rummaging for crumbs, swarmed around the PMV.

One cove out-thought the others and managed to climb through the door to help the crew who were summoning passengers travelling further west to Jiwaka and Mt Hagen. The crew told the interloper to go home and plough his land for a living.

The guy heard the comment but decided not to digest it, continuing to call out for passengers as if the derogatory comment had been a permission note.

Upon seeing the mob of soiled thugs surrounding the door, my children refused to exit so I had to instruct the driver to move the bus further to near the provincial government building.

On the road
Whoo-hoo, the open road!

He obliged and parked the bus at a free corner where we exited and thanked the driver.

We were told that the Hagen bus stop is also littered with thugs and is particularly frightening for women and children and dangerous for luggage.

We have our tails between the two legs when we travel on the highlands roads of our fair land.

The Simbu Provincial Government and stakeholders need to speed the opening of Kundiawa Airport for Chimbus to fly directly to their home.

And the respective highlands provincial governments must find a way to rid the bus stops of these marijuana-addled thugs.


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Michael Slough

I recall jumping a ride on the back of a ten tonne Toyota truck from Mount Hagen to Lae along the Highlands Highway in April 1967.

The driver of the truck was Australian, as were most drivers then. The highway was fairly rough, unsealed all the way and we had to overnight in Kainantu as progress was slow.

However there were no issues with safety or security, the truck had nothing on it to protect the driver or the cargo, no checkpoints, no locals behaving in a threatening manner and no thoughts that we could at any stage find ourselves in trouble.

The road was dangerous in parts and there was the occasional wreckage of a truck that had gone over the side. Fast forward 50 years, seems like things have got a lot worse rather than better, very disappointing.

Ian Bates

And yet we are told in the Tolai exhibition at Melbourne Museum that we made a mess of it all as "Colonial Masters'.

Well I'm proud of my 8 years as a Kiap and Local Government Adviser, having served half of my time in Chimbu. I think most Papua New Guineans today would prefer life as it was under the Kiaps to the chaos it has become.

Garry Roche

Fly into Kagamuga and get a bus straight to Kundiawa!

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Politicians and bureaucrats at both the national and sub-national levels travel around in the comforts of hired cars so would have no idea about the ordeals common travellers go through.

Gabriel Ramoi

I am laughing. I like Sil's style of writing. He is truly a great writer.

The solution is really simple. Put a few Kanda Police at these bus stops and all these dopeheads will be gone.

Geoff Hancock

What an indictment of the state of PNG.

But on other platforms, Papua New Guineans never fail to put on a show of patriotism every chance they get.

This false pride needs rechannelling smartly to get rid of the corruption and filth that has destroyed the beautiful country Australia presented to the people of PNG at independence

Get real!

John K Kamasua

Aside from marijuana and drug abuse, the level of poverty and the tendency among the able-bodied young men are increasing. No one wants to work the land!!

This was unheard of and not seen. When I was a small kid traveling the highway from Goroka to Jiwaka and back to Kundiawa, we really enjoyed those rides because everyone was so friendly.

I wish we could bring those times back for the sake of our children!

John K Kamasua

Ban Marijuana and declare a national emergency!

Marijuana and lost souls - people cannot save themselves from the debasing effects of drugs, homebrew and whatever else they are concocting out of anything that will make them go high.

The situations at the bus stops along the Okuk highway will get even worse before anything constructive is done about these.

We can forget about promoting local tourism, and encouraging PNGuineans to travel the highway and enjoy the scenery and support SMEs for now!!

arthur williams

Noken wari APEK emi kam klostu

Bernard Corden

The descriptive writing is reminiscent of Maupassant and analogous with Scotland Road in Liverpool during the 1960s. The impact of unemployment and much of the social deprivation was disguised by the Merseybeat and sport, which replaced religion to subsume the masses.

Paul Oates

The sad thing about this very descriptive article is that it is an eye witness account of today's PNG.

There are still those of us who know it wasn't always the same and could still be as it was but for one single factor. The missing factor is effective control.

The problem starts at the top of the food chain and dribbles down like bright red buai spit.

The real question is: What can be done to improve the situation?

The answer is simple: Fix the top of the 'food chain' and the disease will be stopped at the source.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Sometimes my heart bleeds for Papua New Guinea, Sil.

Philip Kai Morre

The Kundiawa airstrip maintenance is already completed and there is no reason to delay the flights which we have not seen for more than a year.

We Simbus are facing a lot of problems travelling to Hagen and Goroka to get flights like Sil Bolkin has stated.

When are the flights going to start? Air Niugini is depriving our right to fly in and out of Kundiawa. Small airlines have already operated but only when there is an emergency,

We cannot continue like this as it causes a lot of inconvenience. What is the real problem to keep this historical airstrip shut - one of the highest airstrips in the world and a training ground for the Royal Australian Air Force.

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