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Porgera ‘Mama Gold’

The Porgera underground mine produces 1.4 million tonnes of ore a year and is one of the 10 richest in the world. It lies at the top of Porgera Valley, home of the Ipili people in Enga Province


This is a miner’s poem. It’s a recollection of many of their thoughts - mainly on the welfare side. It’s a Papua New Guinean story from the mining industry, which is the so called backbone of the PNG economy, a story of where the real gold comes from. ‘Mama Gold’ is a term used by the Porgera locals for the fool's gold, which is pyrite. It looks like gold but is not actual gold - DAT

Kirap early 4am, finish lon 7pm late
12hours max you givim olgeta like no other
Some day our children will look back sadly of these times
When recorded on an history book
Where was the welfare?
Even when mine workers pay the highest personal tax
No car, no holiday trip, no good house, you’d have to sacrifice some other basic costs as an option
They’d say we didn’t build anything either
But only dug a big hole here
Poor old bugger
On Hire Fire, Hire Fire
We are just another worker
They can get another when they wanna
Poor old miner!

So we toil
In the dirt, dark and cold
With grit, shit and drill bits
A scratchy ‘Champion Card’ to make your day
Don’t know why our expat colleagues don’t get them though
Maybe they are too kind
On all little things that we think is gold

Mother stays waiting, children gone schooling
Life’s issues never ending, Kastam m stap yet, yu no white man yet
And so you accept this
For little or more
Truth is we accept work
And then, still complain
Of bonuses, or a no Scratchy Card for that great task today
And then keep waiting for pay rises come end of each year
An additional K100 on your fortnight for the year’s efforts

For our welfare, our government taxes the company and then us, its workers again
And makes tough laws, ready to whip and punish us should you resist to listen or work
So you work – in the long dark tunnels, the hour runs when we sing to lift our spirits
As we look forward to a light at the end of the tunnel each shift end, and towards each break

So on field breaks after long days and night shifts
The little sweat money spent on some beer to relieve the stress
And a feast with one or two chickens with my family is still a fortune
And so come the other year, still no real savings but a retirement package that’s growing
No good house yet, a car forever on the list
All paydays spent entirely on the basics, food, clothes, and bills – nothing much left to save
School fee pressure m save stap yet, year in year out, life keep’s rolling, new PMs, whatsoever the news is

One time it may change, maybe one time
Hope the gold doesn’t run out then
Hope the place is developed by then
Hope I leave my children in a better time and place then

Coz they say Mining is the backbone
And I worked off, breaking my backbone on it
Mama Gold of our mother land
May you give birth to a change?
So that with better pay, better benefits
                                Our living standards may rise
And not the other way round
Mama Gold,
O Mama Gold

Darren A Talyaga is a Porgera underground miner


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Simon Davidson

Darren - Great poem highlighting the plight of miners. Keep writing. Open my eyes to see how a real miner sees life.

Philip Kai Morre

Excellent poem that expresses the inner self and meiotic process of a underground miner.

The way I analyse, miners are integral part of the mining industry and they should get a just wage with proper working conditions.

Miners are not slaves and they are guided by human rights to express their rights to visit their families, rights to freedom, rights to go to church services on Sunday rather than working, and the list goes on.

Companies must know that human beings are priceless and worth more than the profit you can make.

I refer to underground miners as Plato's allegory of the caves, where miners are tired to a chain struggling to see sun light. They could only see their own shadows, not real self, a struggle between slavery and freedom.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

And you remarked I was showing my age quoting Pink Floyd lyrics. Tennessee Ernie Ford is almost as old as Hank.

Another worth listening to is an album by Matt Andersen entitled Coal Miner Blues.

Darren Talyaga

Thankyou Phil, seems like a catchy tune by the lyrics,, I'll see if I can find it on the web somewhere. Thanks for your positive comments.

Darren Talyaga

hi Topapu Paulus
Thankyou and yes I did work a while with Martin Tinabar (Geologist), a great collegue. Sure we do share the same sentiments and a mine industry lifestyle which our families members cope too as well - a big credit to all our family members who bear us being away, same as we do.

Darren Talyaga

Daniel Kumbon and Joe Herman, greatly appreciate your feedback and your references. Daniel, if you can, please do share on Facebook, as part of your many stories. Thanks again

Joe Herman

Excellent piece Darren. Your Dad recorded and published a lot of work on the cultural aspects in Enga. Some of his early recording was among the Sikira tribe. Keep writing.

Daniel Kumbon

Hi Darren, good piece. Your late dad, Kundapen, was a published writer. I republished one of his articles ‘Should We Revive Initiation Rites in Enga Society?’ in my book ‘Can’t Sleep’.

The book is a collection of poems, first impression pieces, essays and satire by Engans and non Engans living in the province.

It’s good to see a family member take up the pen.

Your dad worked for the Porgera Joint Venture as public affairs director when the mine started operations.

Philip Fitzpatrick

There is a very long worldwide tradition of literature published by miners or related to mining.

It's very interesting that we now see the first example from PNG - and very well written it is.

Mining has also been the subject of much music. One of the most popular songs back in the 1950-60s was by American singer Tennessee Ernie Ford. You might appreciate it Darren.

Sixteen Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford)

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
Can't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Songwriters: Merle Travis
Sixteen Tons lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos

Bernard Corden

"Society cares for the individual only so far as he is profitable" - Simone de Beauvoir

ToPapu Paulus

Darren, I love this. Reading it and thinking about my father, Martin Tinabar.
The sacrifice he goes through. Being away from his family. The only time we get to spend time with him is when he comes for his field breaks.

He missed out on most our celebrations like birthdays, graduation and other achievements in life. But we understand what he does.

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