The Maliau Caves Adventure by Peter Comerford, Austin Macauley Publishers, London, 2023, 86 pages. Available here from Amazon Books Australia, paperback $17.12, ebook $6.37
TUMBY BAY - Limestone sinkholes and caverns are common in Papua New Guinea and feature in many legends and myths.
The foundation mythology of the Faiwolmin people of the Star Mountains features travels underground by their female creation hero, Afek.
And in the karst country of Gulf Province, villagers tell stories of hunters and lost children falling into limestone sinkholes never to be seen again.
In the Highlands, John Kuri (writing as Kamnguru Nem) has written, Porugl: Son of the Underworld, the fascinating story of the spirits that inhabit Simbu Province’s limestone underworld.
All these myths, legends and stories create a powerful atmosphere of superstition and mysticism.
One of the chief functions of the myths, legends and stories is to warn children about the dangers of entering caves and becoming lost.
While Papua New Guinean children generally heed these warnings, however, the same can’t be said of adventurous expatriate children.
In Peter Comerford’s latest book, two brothers, Sebastian and Ashton, and their sister, Khloe, are the children of a zoologist and nurse working in New Ireland.
The family has never heard the stories of the giant maliau (eels) that inhabit the caves of that province.
The adventure really begins when the inquisitive Sebastian and Ashton enter a sinkhole leading to an underground cave system, a guria (earth tremor) causes a blockage and they become lost underground.
With the battery in their torch fading, and the presence of the fearsome eels, they realise they are in deep trouble.
It is only when Khloe raises the alarm that a search begins and the excitement ratchets up a number of notches.
Can Khole and her New Ireland friends reach the boys in time?
Here's the publisher's synopsis:
Sebastian and his family live in Central New Ireland. Not far from his home are huge and mysterious caves, the Maliau Caves.
This is an underground land, lost in time and known only by clan elders and through the retelling of stories and legends by local villagers, who also call them ‘The Bat Caves’.
One day while exploring in the jungle Sebastian discovers a sinkhole which leads to the entrance of a cave. It contains incredible formations and ancient engravings.
While standing near the stream that runs through the cave, a gigantic shadow slowly swims towards him... a spirit eel... a Maliau!
Sebastian excitedly runs home and then returns to the cave’s entrance with his brother Ashton. Their young sister Khloe sees them going but is unable to follow.
The boys enter the cave together and make some exciting as well as frightening discoveries only to become trapped and lost in the cave system.
Their brave young sister, Khloe, accompanied by her friends Silitia and Sipondia and villagers Matagol and Benson, play their own part in finding and rescuing the boys.
The Maliau Caves Adventure is an exciting story of mystery, courage, survival, friendship and rescue.
This is the second children’s book by retired teacher Peter Comerford, who was a school principal in PNG.
His first book for children, A Survival Story of Michael and Natlik, was published in 2020.
This book is shorter but just as well written and certainly well worth reading.
As with the earlier book, it continues Comerford’s approach of not only writing an entertaining story of adventure but also imparting knowledge of Papua New Guinea.
And there is a surprising twist about the giant eels that inhabit underground caverns.
Certainly a great book for Papua New Guinean children, and for all children interested in learning about the land of the unexpected that lies just to the north of Australia.