An extract from Daniel’s forthcoming book, The Old Man’s Dilemma, a novel about modern Papua New Guinea, its issues, its stresses and its journey to a place unknown
FICTION – A cold tremor like an electrical current shot down The Old Man’s spine. The reports he was receiving about an insurrection were ominous.
He feared that Papua New Guinea was heading for a period of extreme violence and instability.
He worried for Delisa and her new friend Bakri, both heavily pregnant, and for their unborn babies.
Just what kind of a country would these innocent lives be brought into?
The protests and demonstrations had started when the government fraudulently gave land at the Old Dairy Farm compound to a Chinese development company.
In true Melanesian spirit, many years ago the original landowners had given their consent to people from the Gulf to settle there. The original settlers, ageing now, had the documents to prove it.
Later, many ethnic groups from other parts of the country had settled there, building houses and forming roads, pathways and gardens, making it a multicultural Melanesian home.
Now more than four thousand were being evicted by the order of a court. They could not afford expensive lawyers or million kina bribes and had nowhere to go. Most of the men had no work and half the population were children.
They had rallied, wantoks who had had come from every corner of the country to support them and were threatening to storm Parliament House and burn it to the ground.
The people’s fury was as a volcano spewing burning hot rock and ash. There had been no explosion yet, but it was on the way.
Meanwhile the agitation had spread around Port Moresby city. Already some Asian stores had been ransacked.
Papua Besena freedom activists had organised land and sea transport to bring people from Kerema, Daru and Mekeo and most of the Central Province villages.
Armed groups were said to be marching down the Magi and Hiritano highways. They included the usual criminal elements, prison escapees, school dropouts and opportunists as well as angry public servants and villagers.
Their weapons ranged from traditional clubs to high-powered guns smuggled across the Torres Straits and bartered for marijuana, Niugini Gold as it was known. Arms had also been bought from OPM freedom fighters across the PNG-Indonesia border.
There were also rumours that militants had hired helicopters to bring in guns from Bougainville – guns from the civil war that had been secreted away and escaped the weapons destruction program agreed in the peace pact brokered by the New Zealand government.
The 200-member Tommy Baker gang from Alotau seemed to have broken through a police and army cordon and escaped across the mountains into Popondetta, recruiting more members along the way – jobless youths, disgruntled victims of land seizures and well-armed criminals.
They were four or five days away and headed towards the Kokoda Track intent on invading the nation’s capital and fighting the government on its own turf.
These were disparate groups but they had a common intention - to seize Parliament House, intern the politicians, dismantle the government, destroy the artefacts of corruption, including the old King James Bible, and then burn the place down.
Those leaders who avoided them would flee like rats from their pantry of riches. Some would probably make it to their villas in Australia; others would be hunted down.
Most of these people were intent on revenge or plunder. Beyond that, they were without a plan.
Papua Besena was the exception. Its leaders had a strategy. They saw the insurrection as an opportunity to declare the Papuan provinces independent of Papua New Guinea and begin negotiations with the Australian government to accept them as a seventh state.
It was an historic proposition with enough evidence to give it credibility. It postulated that Papua, a former British then Australian colony, was entitled to be a part of Australia. Its rights had been overlooked when independence had been declared.
Papua Besena had three Queensland-educated lawyers in its ranks, one of whom was a practicing barrister in Brisbane. All were Papuans; all intent of saving traditional Motuan culture from extinction; all Motu speakers.
The Papuan people from the east islands to the western marshes had tired of the corrupt Highlands-dominated governments that had had seized their traditional land, ignored their rights, not shared the prosperity and made their lives miserable.
They reasoned that Bougainvilleans were headed for independence because of their skin colour, so light-skinned Papuans could have the same entitlement. This was the opportune time to separate.
Nearly fifty years of being one people, one country, was enough. It had not worked. They would to Australia and that ancient colonial connection.
The Old Man understood the anger, and was afraid of where it was heading. The corrupt leaders of Papua New Guinea had mouthed unity and concern for the people while plundering the country’s riches for their own benefit.
They had disregarded the need of this fragmented land that they must maintain the trust of the people. They had brought a uniquely diverse country to the brink of collapse.
‘Never lift the stones at the fire place. If you do, you will find underneath many creatures that crawl,’ the elders had said in the hausman.
People were fed up with their elected leaders who for so long had colluded with foreign companies to ignore the people and steal their heritage.
Too many people had lost their land, or seen it changed beyond recognition and usefulness. Forest land plundered of prime timber and given to Asians to plant crops that provided not food but money.
The people were left with little except poverty. They felt like serfs, almost enslaved.
The current crisis had been sparked by another corrupt deal. The Department of Lands, in suspicious circumstances, had drawn up new title deeds to the Old Dairy Farm compound and given them to a Chinese company. Four thousand people left to fend for themselves.
This was so typical of how modern governments operated, The Old Man thought. They favoured foreigners who would pay bribes.
Instead of the government improving settlements by bringing in power, water, schools, health centers and other infrastructure, it chased the people away. The government should have given them a form of title. But it had turned its backs on them.
The people’s sense of injustice and their anger was not just in the nation’s capital.
Successive governments had continued to fail the people in almost every part of the country. Simple villagers were easily manipulated with promises of a good life; promises that were easily ignored when an election was over.
The government had made many mistakes that would have triggered revolution in many countries. But the people of Papua New Guinea had been tolerant and passive. They had remained united for nearly fifty years.
But now The Old Man was afraid. He was afraid that thousands of people were ready to die for a better life, not just sit meekly in their villages and watch the theft of their culture and their inheritance.