We stripped & skinned; but money’s not security
Education's good, but it has to be right

High level journey to Okapa’s back page

Senator Reynolds makes a sick girl smile (Alexander Nara)
Senator Reynolds makes a sick girl smile (Alexander Nara)

ALEXANDER NARA

PORT MORESBY - The geographical coordinates 6° 32' 0" South and 145° 37' 0" East were deemed to be somewhere in the centre of Papua New Guinea’s sovereign landmark.

An internet search revealed these satellite coordinates referred to 2,110 square kilometers of rugged mountains and narrow valleys covered with dense tropical jungle.

When zoomed, the coordinates rest on the foggy peaks of mountains at an altitude 5,626 feet above sea level.

The terrain unfurled down to fast flowing rivers, disturbed only by a few steep cliffs. It was noticeable that Mother Nature lived by her own laws.

This harsh landscape is home to the Okapa people, widely labelled as the back page of Eastern Highlands Province.

Some local humour crafted in the people’s charming ‘Nokondi’ way, poetically depicting the electorate as a blank back page, open to write on.

They say the back page is always the hardest to write, for some stories have no ending.

With a population just below 100,000 in the 2011 census, Okapa is one of seven districts in the Eastern Highlands, strategically holding the door to the districts of Lufa, Henganofi and Kainantu.

To the south, the final edge of this rugged terrain drops down into the flat plains of the Purari River in the Gulf Province while, to the west, rocky ridges outline the boundaries of Simbu Province, crouched somewhere in the mist.

Despite being the back page, Okapa remains the top producer of the world finest Arabica coffee. It also sits at the frontier of a recently acknowledged ‘missing link’ road that might connect with Kerema in the Gulf.

Huge potential for agricultural growth lies in the rich soil and the uncharted link road would undeniably unlock a significant economic corridor.

A few weeks ago I stood on the rugby field at Okapa station watching two PNGDF Bell 212 helicopters emerge through heavy fog enclosing the nearby mountain ranges.

Around the field, traditionally dressed singing groups danced to the beat of the kundu, headdresses shaking and voices raised in welcome.

Their chanting seemed to fade beneath the juddering sound of the approaching choppers.

On board one was Australian defence minister Senator Linda Reynolds and Australia’s high commissioner to PNG Bruce Davis on a friendly visit to Okapa.

It was at the invitation of PNG defence minister MP for Okapa, Saki Soloma, who flew in on the second chopper accompanied by defence secretary Hari John Akipe.

Mr Soloma said the invitation was specifically to enable the senator to visit Okapa district hospital and to discuss possibilities for Australia and PNG to enhance district service delivery through defence partnership programs.

He said Okapa’s door is open to work in partnership with Australia and his people warmly embrace the wonderful history of friendship PNG and Australia share.

Senator Reynolds and Minister Soloma commission the emergency vehicles (Alexander Nara)
Senator Reynolds and Minister Soloma commission the emergency vehicles (Alexander Nara)

Senator Reynolds toured the district hospital, smiling and talking to local health workers and sick children and other patients while observing infrastructure, medical equipment and supplies.

“I want this friendship with Okapa to go beyond Waigani and Canberra and beyond pen and paper,” Mr Soloma told Senator Reynolds.

He further invited her to cut ribbons to mark the commissioning of five new ambulances and a police vehicle for the district.

Mr Soloma highlighted that the district will also be tapping into the ‘missing link’ road possibly through the PNGDF Civic Action program which may unearth an untouched wealth buried in the rugged back page.

Maybe the back page can end up as the front page as this story continues the search to find its ending.

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