The iconic Lae Biscuit hard tack, long a symbol of the city
Politicians Luther Wenge, Bart Philemon and Theo Zurenuoc…increasing pressure from people to shape up or ship out
Landowner Kamkumung villagers, who freed up their customary land, performing at the opening of the Lae Biscuit Company factory
Lady Colette Chow and Sir Henry Chow with son Ian, Lae Biscuit Company managing director, with a Chinese guardian lion at the new factory in Lae
By MALUM NALU
For as long as I can remember, I have been eating the famous Lae Biscuit, whose packet is adorned by the trademark muscleman and the Tok Pisin catchphrase “Bikpela na Strongpela (Big and Strong)”.
Spread with butter, and then dipped into a cup of sweet tea, Lae Biscuit hard tacks were a breakfast favorite for many a child in those far-off pre-independence and immediate post-independence years.
They were also an essential commodity on those long rainy nights for which Lae is famous.
Lae Biscuit became an icon of Lae just like the Lae Botanical Gardens, Lae Airport, Cecil Hotel, China Town, Lae Bus Service, Jumi Cabco taxis, Theatre Lae, Huon Theatre, Lae Nius, Burns Philp and many more.
In those halcyon days, things like potholes, crime, squatter settlements, homebrew, marijuana, cholera and school fights involving guns and knives – the status quo of Lae – were unheard of.
The Bumbu River, which divides the city, was clean and unpolluted and we’d swim there for hours as well as dive and swim for prawns, fish and eels.
Lae was very much an interracial town in which little white, black and Chinese boys and girls mixed around together not knowing that our idyllic paradise would be destroyed in just one generation with the influx of people from the rural areas to the squatter settlements.
Glory day’s icons like Lae Botanical Gardens, Lae Airport, Lae Bus Service, Jumi Cabco Taxis, Theatre Lae, Huon Theatre, Lae Nius, Burns Philp and many more have gone.
Potholes, crime, squatter settlements, homebrew, marijuana and school fights involving guns and knives are now the new gods.
Little white, black and Chinese boys no longer mix around together in an interracial town as zombie-like youths –fueled by marijuana and homebrew – wander the streets of Lae armed with guns and knives in search of fresh prey.
“Baby tingting” (childish) politics is the order of the day in Lae and the people have long given up on politicians and public servants.
One icon, however, has survived this blitzkrieg of Lae and that is the Lae Biscuit of old with its trademark muscleman and the Tok Pisin catchphrase “Bikpela na Strongpela”.
For me, a Lae boy who is now 42, it was a privilege to be back home on Saturday, April 17, 2010, for the opening of the new K65 million Lae Biscuit Company factory at Kamkumung.
I have been away from Lae for 12 years now, having left with my late wife Hula in 1998 for the Highlands where we spent five years, and then Port Moresby for the last seven years, apart from the occasional work-related trip or holiday.
It was a joy to touch base again with many old friends, have a beer and reminisce about the good old days, as well as discuss the developments – or rather lack of them – over the last decade and our hopes and aspirations as we work for a better future for our children.
One common thread in our discussions was that the opening of the Lae Biscuit Company factory should be a wake-up call for Morobe politicians and publics servants from their Rip Van Winkle-like reverie.
So-called service providers like PNG Power, PNG Waterboard, Telikom PNG and Lae urban local level government really need to get off their haunches.
My cousin, Peter Kesu Sayama, is exactly the same age as me and we have been through primary school, high school, national high school and then university together.
Suffice to say, we grew up in Lae with so much hope for the future, and watched it destroyed in just one generation.
He now manages Butibam Progress Association for our people of Butibam village.
“Bro, constant blackouts everyday are part of everyday happenings here,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Apart from the economic boom in property development attributed to the LNG project, we are heading backwards in all aspects!
“Infrastructure and public services are falling apart with corrupt officials involved in getting rich while the rest suffer!
“The road maintenance and resealing are half done with never-ending potholes everywhere.
“ Angau Hospital and suburban clinics are rundown with no medicine, urban migration is leading to settlements cropping up everywhere, harassment of our woman and children in public areas by hooligans is prevalent , we are having to put with hold-ups, police are under-strength and unreliable, cost of food and services is sky high.
“Phew bro, we are struggling and living thru it all...in fact, this list is endless!
“Interestingly, our politicians don't give a damn about what's happening, just talk only and no action.
“Our beloved Lahi (Lae) is infested with 'animals’ and heading towards a major catastrophe!”
The long-suffering people of Lae – long disparaged as the ‘Pothole City’ of Papua New Guinea – saw a ray of sunshine with the opening of the new K65m Lae Biscuit Company factory by Governor General Sir Paulias Matane.
Hundreds of invited guests from PNG and overseas converged on Kamkumung for the opening.
The guest list read like a who’s who of PNG business, government and politics who were there to witness the opening of PNG’s largest single factory and the biggest stand-alone biscuit-making factory in the southern hemisphere.
Excitement ran high among the Lae business community and people as they saw this as an opportunity to shrug off some of the much-maligned ‘Pothole City’ tag and for the city to regain some of its lost glory.
This brand-new biscuit-manufacturing facility is a modern and functional one and is the biggest stand-alone biscuit-making factory in the Southern Hemisphere, comparable in standard with any similar factory in Australia.
It will provide employment to some 450 people and with some of the best-working conditions and remuneration packages in PNG.
It is a massive vote-of-confidence in Lae, Morobe province and PNG by a Chinese family which has come to call the country ‘home’.
Moreover, it is a shining example to the people of Lae, Morobe province and PNG of what can be achieved through singled-minded determination and sheer hard work, not the all-too-familiar time wasting that we are known for.
Longtime Lae Chamber of Commerce president Alan McLay had some good advice for the service providers.
“We issue this cautionary advice to the service providers - PNG Power, PNG Waterboard, Telikom PNG, and the Lae urban LLG - that whilst Lae Biscuits has shown confidence in Lae for this new development, they do, as indeed do all businesses, need good power, constant water, good communications and good roads so that they can continue to develop and produce quality yet competitive products,” he said.
“All these organisations have a responsibility to provide the services they are responsible for to a high quality standard.
“We do realise that these organisations have been working hard to upgrade their systems to reach the standards that are desired, but this has been hard to achieve because of the lack of past maintenance, and we hope that this maintenance will eventually catch up.”
It is my hope and prayer, and that of many of the mangi (boys) and meri (girls) Laes of my generation, that the opening of the Lae Biscuit Company is a loud wakeup call to everyone.
That like the phoenix, the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, will arise a new Lae which promises a better future for our children.