Hundreds of Mountains
Papua New Guinea development: did we stuff it up?

How we nearly blew ourselves up at the Goroka Show

2011 Goroka Show (Natalie Wilson)
Dance banners at the 2011 Goroka Show (Natalie Wilson)


TUMBY BAY - Peter Kinjap’s article about the Mount Hagen Show reminded me of my first foray into the world of district agricultural shows.

In 1968, assistant district officer Don Reid, patrol officer Rob Kelvin and cadet patrol officer Yours Truly were cajoled into putting together the Western Highlands entry for the Goroka Show by the assistant district commissioner in Mt Hagen, Ross Allen.

Don Reid was good at persuading people into doing things they didn’t really want to do, like donating the expensive commodities they produced for the greater glory of our planned exhibit.

Among other things, he seized copious bags of coffee from several planters and a full chest of tea from Ivor Manton and his newly opened tea factory at Warrawou.

Rob Kelvin was the public relations expert and took care of our travel and accommodation, no mean feat in the highlands of those days.

He later went on to become a journalist and was the Channel Nine newsreader in South Australia for many years.

As the lowly cadet, I handled the messy bits like collecting and cramming all of our ill-gotten gains into the tray of the government LandCruiser we would drive from Hagen to Goroka.

I did manage one contribution however, the ‘WESTERN HIGHLANDS’ sign that would identify our exhibit.

Goroka Show in the 1960s (Stan Moriarty)
Goroka Show in the 1960s (Stan Moriarty)

To do this I carefully hand-drew letters on a sheet of old plywood, cut them out with a fretsaw and painted them white. The plan was to mount them on the sides of a long-cut Klinki pine log to make them look like they’d been hand-carved.

We duly set off in the Land Cruiser loaded to the gunnels with our Western Highland’s produce and a team of helpers-come-dancers complete with bilas.

When we eventually got to Goroka our helpers adjourned to the accommodation set up for the local tribes and we three kiaps dossed down in the local haus pik, the single kiap’s donga.

Said donga, which I believe was officially tenanted to Taffy Watkins or John Blyth, was overflowing and floor space was at a premium, not that we slept much anyway.

Things were going well with the exhibit until we nearly blew up the whole thing.

I had conned a cut log from a local sawmill for our hand-carved sign and was heading back to the Land Cruiser where our driver, with the help of several hefty assistants, was topping up the fuel by tipping petrol from a 44-gallon drum straight into the vehicle.

It was getting towards dusk and a bit dim, so a passing Papua New Guinean decided it was time to light his kerosene lamp. That he was 20 feet away from an open 44-gallon drum of petrol didn’t seem to occur to him.

Needless to say there was a blue flash and the mouth of the drum lit up. I thought ‘here goes all our hard work and a perfectly good Land Cruiser’.

Fortunately Rob Kelvin had other ideas. He jumped forward, tipped the drum over and gave it a swift boot down the hill.

Thankfully this deadly Catherine Wheel only lit up the gully in which it landed rather than our precious cargo and us bystanders.

Over the next couple of days we worked in the district exhibits hall to get our display ready for the visitors and, ultimately, the team of judges.

It was a close contest but our artfully arranged plywood and silver paper chest spilling tea leaves sprinkled and packets of tea and coffee was pipped at the post by a high-tech exhibit from, I think, Chimbu.

They had rigged up a continually rolling slide show accompanied by a taped commentary and music. The local people, including the judges, were entranced and we had to be satisfied with second place.


I got to the Hagen Show the next year, this time as a visitor, then didn’t see another show until I got to the Daru Show in, I think, 1971.

That one was decidedly different but equally enjoyable. Our Nomad patrol post exhibit included a bunch of Biami (Bedamuni) warriors who gleefully scared the living daylights out of everyone.


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Norm Wilson

That show was a blur for me. My last memory was bringing two bags of pineapples in from Karimui.

Rob Kelvin

Phil, thank you for those memories of '68.

A half a dozen or so Kopiagos chased the fiery fuel drum all the way to where it came to rest, then patted the fire out and came back to say they had everything under control.

I think we found a pump somewhere and finished fuelling the car.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You didn't have anything to do with the Chimbu exhibit did you Murray?

The high tech slide show seems like a chalkie trick to me.

Murray Bladwell

Phil, your memory serves you correctly, Chimbu won. It was their first exhibit at the Goroka Show since becoming a fully fledged District.

District Commissioner Laurie Doolan was very chuffed with the win, particularly against his rival DC Tom Ellis.

Arthur Williams

All in a days work for a young kiap and a talking point on your CV Phil.

I only had the opportunity to visit Daru once when the Late Ebia Olewale interviewed me for citizenship.

In 1980 I was at Balimo for the celebration of the 5th Anniversary of Independence. I and some of APCM missos were standing on the verandah of Pasuwe Ltd’s old store. I was really enjoying the beat of kundu drum and the dancing columns of Gogodala people.

Dudley Deasey one of the pre-WW2 missos was by my side. “Arthur that dance you are enjoying is a copy of the Kiwai islanders traditional dress, stomping feet and the exaggerated leg movement. Don’t be fooled by the bilas of the Gogodala men and women; when I first came here in the 30s they were normally naked.”

Some years later I bought Frank Hurley’s photographic book of his travels in Papua in the 1920s. Sure enough there were pictures of naked Gogodala. How they coped with the billions of mosquitoes goodness knows.

All I know was one young lady, about 20 years old, said she never knew her grandparents as they had died before she was born. I would think malaria and other mosquito borne sicknesses had caused that.

I could appreciate why they sort some defence from the most dangerous insect on Earth was in their long-houses where smokey fires were almost always burning in an attempt to drive away the killer pests.

Is it true a kiap introduce cane toads to try and eradicate the mosquito? Apparently they have now spread deep into the Western Province swamps. People call them 'Daru Batata'

One of my host of grandchildren has just gone to Goroka for tertiary education. Hope he gets a chance to see a Highland's Show during his few years there.

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