TUMBY BAY - I noticed when I first went to Papua New Guinea in the 1960s that the people tended to be guarded in their interactions with expatriates, but among themselves were quite open and not afraid to display their emotions.
Of course, this was a general observation. Judging people in such a way has its limitations because, at the end of the day, we’re all individuals.
After I’d been in what was called The Territory for a while and learned a little more, I was able to venture past the defensive wall to get to know people better.
I found a people who were not afraid to express themselves. The old aphorism fitted well: “What I saw is what I got”.
Observing PNG today, that openness - what some might incorrectly describe as naivety - is still there, particularly among politicians and leaders. This is in marked contrast to what we encounter in Australia.
Australian politicians and leaders are famed for their ability to never give a straight answer to a straight question.
More often than not they give a non-answer to a straight question. And their little smiles of smugness when an interviewer finally gives up can be very infuriating.
It is deviousness delivered with fake earnestness and a most annoying habit.
I have a list of Australian politicians I ignore because I know what they say on any question will be pure obfuscation. The list includes all the party leaders and deputy leaders.
Through secretiveness and smugness they effectively discount themselves as people worth listening to or heeding.
When I see or hear them in the media an instantaneous off switch immediately trips in my head.
This is learned behaviour of the worse kind. Who knows, beneath that charade there may be honourable men or women. Alternatively there may be cheats and carpetbaggers.
Unfortunately, because they present themselves in such a similarly repellent fashion it is hard to tell. Best not to trust what any of them say.
But generally this is not so in PNG. It is much easier to pick the good ones from the bad ones.
Through people’s actions rather than what they say, it’s possible to easily identify fakes and con men.
There are, of course, members of the worldwide collection of politicians who are downright stupid, morally challenged and pushing questionable agendas.
But whereas these sorts of people in Australia are adept at initial camouflage, in PNG they stand out like sore thumbs.
I imagine most ordinary Papua New Guineans are well-aware of who is a good leader or politician and who is not.
Australia once had down-to-earth leaders and politicians who were not afraid to say what they thought and wanted to do, and there are still a few rarities of the breed around.
Unfortunately, they are a dying breed that became an endangered species in the latter part of last century.
That was at about the same time Australia’s political demography changed, especially on the left side of politics.
Instead of drawing leaders from the working class on one hand and the privileged on the other, the politicians developed their own class and gave us not much of a choice.
This is slowly becoming the case in PNG but has not yet fully flowered. Perhaps it’s because Papua New Guinean leaders and politicians from the professional middle class have always been a minority.
Maybe Australia can get back to those better days when politicians came from a class of people whose day job since their teens had been outside politics.
Perhaps in the forthcoming election, Australians will replace these disconnected politicians with independent candidates who have a background in that real world beyond politics.