WABAG - Two years ago, Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong, Rashmii Bell, my wife Julie and I attended the lively Brisbane Writers Festival.
It was a rare opportunity for the prolific, wheelchair-bound writer Francis Nii and Julie to travel from the confines of their ridge top homes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Our trip was made possible by the generosity of our sponsors – Gudmundur Fridriksson and Stanley Kuli Liria of Paga Hill Development Company, Keith Jackson of PNG Attitude and Ken McKinnon and his wife Sue in Sydney.
I would like to thank them all again this Christmas for their generosity, human understanding and encouragement.
I also thank all our friends like Rob, Murray, Phil, Ed, Bob, Ben, Jim, Lindsay and so many other cheerful people who made us feel welcome and ensured our stay in Noosa, Brisbane and Sydney was memorable.
It was also a rare opportunity for us to meet politicians who were keen to meet writers from a former colony so used to being ignored by their own government.
It was an honour to meet the then member for Noosa in the Queensland Parliament, Glen Elmes MP and Noosa mayor Cr Tony Wellington, deputy mayor Cr Frank Wilkie and Cr Ingrid Jackson.
A special thank-you is extended to Dr Ken McKinnon and his lovely wife Sue for showing us around Sydney followed by a memorable evening meal in their cozy apartment overlooking Botany Bay.
They proudly showed us a portrait of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare painted in 1973 by a G Hannas.
The couple surprised my wife Julie when she learned they were both over 80 years of age.
In her own province of Enga, Julie is so used to seeing people die at a very young age due to complications during childbirth, lifestyle diseases, tribal warfare, traffic accidents and a lack of basic medicines in hospitals.
She envied the well-stocked hospitals especially when Keith Jackson recovered so quickly after a major spinal operation in Brisbane.
She herself had been operated on several times for different medical conditions in a poorly equipped hospital in her own small township of Wabag.
It gives us the creeps to imagine what would have happened if the single standby power generator had failed in the middle of one of the three operations she had.
She asked me in Cairns to allow her to return to Australia and live with a relative in Adelaide and pick fruit just so she can enjoy the healthy environment - clean streets, beaches, parks and live among the friendly people.
It may not be possible but the tons of photos we brought back home will keep reminding us of our memorable trip down under and the generous people who inhabit its shores.
We thank you all once again and wish you all a Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.