Nearly 60 years ago we attended the famed Chimbu pig kill
After $50 million, Kokoda suffers from Australian meddling

Living at ground level, Part 2 – More musings from Stan

Stan Gallaher portrait
Stan Gallaher


POPONDETTA - This guy Eliza, my night security, is from the Southern Highlands and he is married to a very pretty young lady from there, all have legs like fence strainer posts.

His lady is very church-minded and her and a group of church people, three ladies and seven guys, most from the highlands, walked to Port Moresby a month ago, nothing new, people been doing it for years. They did the crossing in two and a half days, f---- amazing.

They left Kokoda station in the morning and walked all day and all night with a one hour stop, the next day they did the same thing and then took a short cut and connected to a logging road that comes close to the top of the Kokoda Gap, got on a logging truck into Port Moresby.

The same day they got to Port Moresby they put one of they guys on a plane back here so people knew they had arrived and to prove they had done it in two and a half days.

That’s a four day walk during daylight hours, 12 hours a day by an extremely fit man to the point where they took the short cut. To do it in the time they took and in the dark is worth recording. She came back a week later well worn out but very pleased with what she had done, can’t say I blame her.

You should see the timber on top of the ridges around the Kokoda Gap, any wonder the logging companies want to get to the top there. I have flown over that area many times and once they get to the top they will hit the mother lode, that will give access to the ridge lines that go for miles up and down the Owen Stanleys.

The value of the rosewood and kwila timbers alone are worth thousands of millions of US dollars, the rest is cream. They could cut roads from there to Alotau or any point along the way and get access to the coast at so many places. That’s going south-east, north-west is even better, it’s loaded with timber for miles and miles.

Both ways if they stop on top of the ridges they don’t have to worry about crossing major rivers, the returns would allow them to engage large helicopters to lift timber out to loading points like they do in Canada. The system that operates here now is meant to protect the landowners. Bullshit. Those guys are so big they could buy this country and not even feel the bump in their bank account.

They are meant to have Forestry approval for logging and export licences. What they do is tell the government and local landowners that they will build a road for so many kilometres for free if they can have the timber inside the road reserve. They do a deal with someone in government and the road reserve is extended from 40 metres wide to up to 200 metres wide.

There is one in the Western Province that starts from the Fly River and goes nowhere, it will end up being a road network of over 900m and up to 200 metres wide. There are no towns there and no services, no one has the money to buy a car or even if they did there is no way they could support it, no fuel available.

You could spend half a life time walking around over there and never bump into another human being, there are no passengers who can afford to pay for transport and because of the arrangement with the government there are very little royalties paid to local landowners because its not a logging deal but a road building aid project given free to the country by one of Malaysia’s biggest companies.

On the day they (RH) got access to this country’s timber they signed a deal with UMW Komatsu tractors and purchased 700 major items of second hand plant from UMW, owned by a Malaysian company. The then prime minister of this country picked up a consideration of K60 million.

How do I know all this, I have friends in high places who remember me for past efforts but never pay their bills. He was paid in US dollars to an offshore account. He is known as the Godfather in this country and would ensure that it’s not a horse’s head in your bed when you wake up. Bastard still owes me K4,500 for the time he kicked the now prime minister out of office when he and all his mates took over the motel for three days back in 1994-95.

It’s now 0230 hours, Monday 30 December 2002, shit the day has gotten away. Julie and baby have been back for hours, both are sleeping well tonight, I am thankfully for Julie’s sake, she has had a hard day what with the old man losing his battle and the shit that has come from the mother.

The big brothers have kicked the mother out of the house and sent her back to her village or wherever she wants to go, they want no part of her any longer, that’s custom and for once I must agree with it, she knows that she could be dead.

The two smaller kids, one girl and one boy, will be looked after by the big boys and theit wives, they will end up as part of their family. On the outside it appears to be a very simple arrangement but once you get to understand the way things are worked (keep in mind each clan has a different system and there are over 700 different clans in this country) it’s quiet complex.

The money the old man paid for his bride price years ago must now be repaid with interest to the sons because the wife didn’t look after him, it’s like if she dies before him her clan has to pay him back because she never lasted the distance, in this case it’s reversed, she failed her duties and didn’t look after him and because of that he died, so her mob have to repay the sons.

Her lot can’t win unless he runs away with another woman, then they get nothing because they have already been paid, so what they all do is sell her again if she is of reasonable sellable age. In this case no one pays for dog food in the village, so her mob should consider themselves lucky they had use of the money the old man had to pay years ago. But in this country you must always look to the future, you never know what might happen tomorrow, try to keep the bride price in a fixed bank account, just in case it has to be paid back

Eliza (security ) is sleeping out side with the dog (mine, not his.) Eliza is due in court come daylight charged with intent to commit a serious offence, namely the use of a projectile to cause damage, injury and or harm to a person or property, that’s like throwing a rock at someone’s fence. It will be adjourned until the guy in the hospital is able to give evidence. If he can’t, next time it’s due for hearing, it will be dismissed. He may be dead but chances are a settlement will be made out of court and you have to read between the lines on that, anything could happen.

The use of a projectile, that’s a good one. If you threw a rock at someone in a car and it breaks the windscreen it’s considered as destruction of property, if it hits its intended target,namely the person you are aiming for, it’s considered the use of a projectile with intent causing grievous bodily harm. These guys here don’t throw rocks or stones for fun, they use them like most people use handguns at close range and the rock travels at close to the speed of a slug from a hand gun but with much larger impact.

They use them to try to kill but when it comes to court any pisspoor lawyer can get them off by saying it was only a projectile thrown with the intent to scare the other party, sorry his aim was off and he hit this man or woman in the head and he or she died or is in a coma but he didn’t mean for it to happen and anyway it was only a stone, not a gun or bush knife he used.

And besides, when he was arrested he wasn’t read his rights and was beaten up in the cells by the dead person’s mates who are policemen and has suffered enough, and besides this he goes to church every Sunday with his family and confesses his sins to the Big Man up there.

It’s bloody New Year’s Day already, the fax system was down so I never got to send this letter the other day, will try soon.

The police drove around yesterday afternoon using loud hailers to advise the locals to behave during the night, my neighbours are still going now at 0745 hours and don’t look like closing down for some time yet, home brew, foul and deadly but they manage to put heaps away. I would hate to be inside their heads in about eight hours’ time. We had a fair drop of rain overnight and that tends to keep them off the streets, although there are always the ones who will go out in any condition to do their thing.

Julie and her family planted the old man yesterday at the big son’s block. Glad they didn’t keep him hanging around at the house for too long, it’s not a pretty sight after a few days. Anyway by the time the clock turned over last night Julie was well and truly dead to the world.

Well, with that I can say no more. All the best for the new year, hope to see some of you soon.


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Chris Overland

I guess that only someone who had lived in PNG for an extended period would understand more than the general thrust of Stan's informative letter.

The discussion over bride price would be a bit baffling I would think although, in a strange way, something like it could be said to become an issue in Australia too, but only during divorce proceedings.

In relation to the astonishingly quick trek across the Kokoda Trail, my recollection is that the record for walking from Kokoda Station to Owers' Corner is held by Wallace (Soccer) Kienzle. As I recall, Soc managed the feat, walking only in daylight hours, in something just under 4 days.

Having walked large sections of the track myself during my time as ADO at Kokoda, all I can say is that attempting to speed walk the distance is a triumph of ambition over common sense.

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