Joe Leahy with son Jim at Kilima. “We could be the last of the Leahys in the Nebilyer Valley,” Jim says. “There’s a high probability of that” (Stephen Dupont)
SEAN FLYNN | Smithsonian Magazine | Extract
Read the full article here – beautifully written, stunningly presented & replete with wonderful images
WESTERN HIGHLANDS - The road out of Mount Hagen deteriorates by the mile, the pitted blacktop of the little city crumbling to dirt before collapsing into reddish ruts scraped through the deep green of Papua New Guinea’s highlands.
In the final stretch before Kilima, a bedraggled coffee plantation in the Nebilyer Valley, our Toyota Land Cruiser has to crawl in low gear, wobbling and tottering through craters and washouts.
Bob Connolly bounces in the front seat, rolling with the pitch and yaw. He’s just over 70 years old but sturdy, dark-haired and barrel-chested, with a round face that still seems boyish.
He grumbles about the drive: too much traffic in town, too little maintenance everywhere else. When he was a younger man, the drive from Mount Hagen to Kilima took him 35 minutes. Now it takes twice as long.
The highlands seemed to hold so much promise when Bob first came to Kilima in the early 1980s. Bob is an Australian documentary filmmaker, and he lived here for years in a hut thatched with kunai grass, making films with his wife, Robin Anderson.
The plantation sprawled in endless rows, trees heavy with coffee cherries, wide fields pale with virgin beans drying in the sun. Back then, Kilima’s owner, Joe Leahy, was wealthy and powerful, and he employed dozens of local people to tend his groves and work his pulping factory.
Many in the Ganiga tribe eventually became his partners, and they were going to get rich in the coffee business, too.
Bob and Robin made three documentaries in the highlands, two of them about Joe Leahy and his neighbours. Each was a triumph, and they still are recognized as such, icons of a genre, touchstones of both anthropology and film.