Covid & misinformation unnerve us in PNG
The Old Man decides upon a new life

Daru – the town the good life left behind

Sil - welcome to daruKELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN

DARU - Daru Island has its own honourable and gallant history dating back to the arrival of Portuguese explorer, Luis Vaez de Torres, in the 1600s.

But today it is withering away in misery under the independent state of Papua New Guinea.

Daru is one of the Torres Strait islands in PNG’s Western Province. The town is the provincial capital and is home to the vast majority of the island's population of some 25,000 people.

Satellite view of Daru Island
Satellite view of Daru Island.  The airport can be clearly seen

The language of the people is Kiwai, which is also spoken on neighbouring mainland villages. The name comes from the Kiwai community some 60 km to the north-east of Daru. History upholds that the Kiwai settlement of Daru is fairly recent.

The original inhabitants, the Hiamo, were west-central Torres Strait Islanders originally from the island of Yama. With the Kiwai colonisation, the Hiamo people moved to southern Torres Strait and settled in the Muralag Group.

Daru island is one of the few Torres Strait islands that do not belong to Australia. It is also the most densely populated, although scarcely any original Torres Strait Islanders live there.

The main industry is fishing, but few fisheries are locally owned. The island has an airport and commercial flights service Daru on four days a week.

In 2020, the PNG government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Company which intends to build a ‘comprehensive multi-functional fishery industrial park’ on the island.

There is great potential for economic activity in Daru, with the aid of the Fly River. It is adjacent to Australia and Indonesia.

Sil - people prefer to walkBut prosperity is just a dream; the island’s demolition through negligence has been brutal. The streets are submerged beneath crater-like lakes. There roads are channels for putrid water because the drainage systems have long ago been clogged or buried in shrubs.

The almost impassable to the main wharf, army camp, police station, jail, hospital, and the electricity and water utilities are interwoven with detours. So are the routes to the South Fly Development Authority, the Provincial Assembly, shopping centres and schools.

The roads surrounding the airport are craters and there are no public motor vehicles to ferry people to and fro. The deteriorating thoroughfares have taken care of that industry. Public servants and all others of any calling walk – walking is more than reliable, it’s required.

There is no landscaping or any other sign of improvement that might instill confidence in the local people that there is a government that cares for them.

Worse still, PNG Power is unable to provide electricity for the 24 hours in a day so there are no street lights and people use cane torches to maneuver Daru’s streets and settlements, also known as ‘Corners’. Business houses have their own generators in order to ply their trade.

Even the airport has a small generator in the middle of the terminal to provide electricity to the computers used to print tickets and boarding passes.

Sil - room restriction noticeThere are no rest rooms at the airport for indigenous people, but there is a room reserved for ‘international passengers’. I suspect that room may be a toilet and perhaps a massage parlour for foreigners.

Such segregation signals that the colonial mentality is yet to be strained out of this part of PNG. They must assume we natives can answer the call of nature like the dogs in the overgrown bushes with which Daru abounds.

Water PNG brags of providing residents each day with more than 400,000 kilolitres of treated water. The water is drawn from the Binaturi River on the mainland and pumped to Daru through submarine pipes. It is a flow in name only as it is constantly disrupted.

The water shortages thus occurring have given rise to enterprising people in the Corners and even in government residential areas to dig their own wells to sell to others for a certain fee.

Sil - daru waterfrontAnd there is always the sinister presence of MDR-TB (multidrug-resistant tuberculosis) blighting the lives of the poor people of Daru.

If people have clean water, clean homes, clean clothes and three decent meals then tuberculosis is likely to wilt away by itself. This shocking disease is a by-product of poverty.

Over my working life I have visited most towns in PNG but I have never seen a town with such run-down infrastructure.

The deteriorating colonial structures and the stench of poverty is in your face as soon as you jump out of the plane.

Ok Tedi Mining Ltd has been around for many decades and the millions of kina in development levies collected by the provincial and local level governments each year should have supported flourishing infrastructure, education, health and commercial development in Daru. No.

The people think the well-funded PNG Sustainable Development Project operating under the auspices of the provincial government owes them tangible improvements but they wait in vain.

A man told me he thought the modern building in the centre of Daru bearing the insignia of the South Fly District Development Authority [below] is a paradox. He said important meetings are held in the building but the members fly in unobtrusively for them and fly out when they finish.

Sil South Fly DDAThe South Fly DDA could implement tangible developments in Daru by using its bountiful funds but there is no sign of development except for a sign outside the airport reading, Daru Urban Resilience Program – Daru Town Beautification: Helping You, Help Yourself’.

Other folks said the Western Provincial Executive Council also fly in to have meetings in the provincial assembly building and then quietly disappear back where they came from when the meeting is over.

Daru town must surely get some development even if the government intends to gradually relocate the town to Kiunga. The islanders who live here are rights’ holders and represent the ancestral land and its heritage.

The people say that the deterioration and decay have been here since the 1990s.

Sil - shanty town daruThe leaders and bureaucrats all owe the people of Daru an explanation of how the levies and other funds are expended.

All that said, the Daru islanders have also been chained and colonised by Christianity and therefore they have endless optimism.

They are keeping a vigil for the good life that will come in the next life, if this life continues not to serve them well.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jason Rogalewski

Does anyone know who built, and when it was built, the memorial for the Thursday Island soldiers that is located on Daru Island. It was constructed on the old site of the District Building.

Chips Mackellar

What a pity Daru is so depressing now. Back in 1953 it was a charming colonial backwater with manicured lawns, clean streets, charming public areas, and no rubbish anywhere.

True it lacked the coral beaches and blue lagoons of Milne Bay and had stinking mud flats and mangrove swamps instead.

But the twin outrigger ocean going sailing canoes were spectacular, fishing off the jetty was good, and the Kiwai girls were friendly.

In those days Daru was a good place to be. Pity about it now.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I agree with you Richard. Back in the days of the DC3, Daru was a pleasant spot.

I only ever stayed there while passing through or when bringing another batch of alleged cannibals down for their Supreme Court appearances.

The hotel was straight out of Somerset Maugham and the Daru Club had an excellent billiard table.

The mud conveniently disappeared with the tide.

Richard Jones

It's been a long time since I was in Daru, Phil, so I can't remember the airport facilities - or lack of them.

We flew in on a DC3 (what else) with a Moresby-based sports team.

For the life of me I can't recall whether it was a boxing squad or a junior rugby league side but I fancy it was the latter.

My most vivid memory of Daru is the mud. Everywhere we looked there were the expanses of brown, sloppy mud presumably dampened every few hours by incoming tides and pouring rain.

And there wasn't a population of 25,000 on Daru back in the late 60s/early 70s - 2,500 would have been closer to the mark.

Still we had an enjoyable few days there - our hosts and hostesses were most charming.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I got off an aeroplane at Daru a few years ago busting for a leak and couldn't find the toilets. Then I noticed the door with the 'international visitors' sign and decided to give it a try. Sure enough, it was just a loo.

There are some pretty horrific toilets at airports in PNG, busted seats, leaky taps and rubbish everywhere, even at Jacksons. It's not just locals who prefer to nip out behind a convenient bush.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)