TUMBY BAY - Like many liklik kiaps (cadet patrol officers), my first couple of patrols in the Papua New Guinea Highlands involved the construction and maintenance of roads.
The idea was to get the young men out amongst the local people so they could quickly learn Tok Pisin and also find out if they could cope with roughing it in the bush.
Throughout my short career as a kiap all my patrols were solo, including the first one.
Instead of the guiding hand of a senior officer, as was supposed to be the rule, I had to rely on the gentle advice of grizzled old police non-commissioned officers.
My second patrol began from Tambul and involved keeping open the road connecting Mount Hagen and Wapenamanda.
That section of road wound its way along the high altitude ridges of the Mount Hagen foothills. Tambul sits at 2,240 metres above sea level and Mount Hagen is 3,777 metres.
I based myself either at the small settlements of Tomba or Paiagona. They were bloody cold places and it was necessary to keep a fire burning all night in the haus kiap to survive.
After my first day, I sent an urgent message to Andy Flower in Mount Hagen to buy me a jacket and drop it off on his way to Wapenamanda.
During a terrific thunderstorm at Paiagona, I was sure a bolt of lightning came through the window and exited out of the front door the flash was so bright and the immediate thunderclap so loud.
There were very few people in that high country because it was so very cold and also because kaukau didn’t grow there easily.
It was with surprise, therefore, that I recently learned that many people now live and garden in those alpine places.
“Due to global warming, the climate is getting warmer and you see many people beginning to live along the highway from Tomba village to the [Enga] border check-point,” Johannes Kundal points out in his new book, Legend of the Miok Egg.
Another very cold place I visited on patrol was the pass over the Dap Range between Bolibip and the Murray Valley in what is now Western Province.
The pass is at 3,648 metres and it’s a very hard and long walk up to it following a watercourse that is frequently a cross between a creek and a waterfall.
No one lived up there but there used to be a rough haus kiap to stay in overnight before dropping into the valley the next day. I’m not sure who built it; it might have been John MacGregor.
When our exhausted little party reached it there were snow flurries blowing off the surrounding ridges and it was bitterly cold. Thank goodness for blazing fires and Johnny Walker, the whisky that is.
About 10 years ago I flew there by helicopter while engaged in a social mapping project.
The old haus kiap was long gone but there was a chopper pad close to where it once stood and there was a small settlement on the Murray Valley side.
I spent a couple of days there. The weather was warm and pleasant, which surprised me, particularly after I checked my old patrol report and discovered that both visits had been at the same time of the year.
In many parts of the highlands, particularly where there are now serious shortages of land, climate change seems to be allowing people to push into higher altitude areas to live.
I don’t know whether any of the boffins have yet observed this phenomenon but it must be happening in other parts of the world.
I guess it’s just another of the unanticipated outcomes of climate change.