Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Opening up the Bulldog Track to Papua New Guinea and the world

By MALUM NALU

For anyone interested in diverse environments, superb wildlife, history and grassroots Papua New Guinea, the walk along the World War 11 Bulldog Road (track) from Wau in Morobe province to the spectacular Lakekamu Basin in Gulf province is superb, and not that difficult (since it's downhill most of the way).
Tekadu villagers welcoming MPs Nolam and Basil to a fire-making demonstration
Walking the Bulldog Track is a chance to see a whole transect of PNG cultures and environments from chilly highlands, to the coastal swamps and rivers.
The walk takes you through the heart of the 1920s gold rush area at Edie Creek along a gravity-defying road built during WW11 to relieve Wau from the Japanese siege.
Nolam took the honors to deliver ducklings to Tekadu villagers under the Australian agriculture programme
 The highest point of the track is in primeval moss and rhododendron forests at 3, 000m with amazing views out to the Papuan coast and descends through the Eloa gorge, lined with hoop pine forests to the Lakekamu Basin, where nearly all the major species of fauna in PNG can be found in abundance.
The last part of the trip is a raft or canoe trip down the Tiveri and Lakekamu rivers to the Gulf.
At the moment this area isn't promoted well enough for its eco-tourism potential, which is as yet untapped.
Saying goodbye before taking on the Bulldog Track for Nukewa village in Malalaua, Gulf province
Last week, history was made when Bulolo MP Sam Basil took Queensland state minister for transport Rachael Nolam and Max Willies of Australian High Commission, plus a contingent made up of Bulolo level level government presidents, councilors and staff into Tekadu village along the Bulldog Track and eventually on to Gulf province and Port Moresby.
The team flew into Tekadu on Monday last week from Wau and after launching of flights, walked the Bulldog and traveled by dinghy downriver to Gulf province before ending up in Port Moresby.
The first flight into Tekadu after nine years was made possible by Bulolo joint district planning and budget priorities committee
Tekadu’s 600-plus people are part of the 12 tribes of Watut-speaking people also known as Kukukukus.
Being caught in between Bulolo electorate of Morobe province and Kerema electorate of Gulf province, the Tekadu people have not seen any air services for the past nine years, well, at least until last week.
“Other essential services are non-existent,” Basil recalls after completing the trek.
“Children growing up to be nine years old do not have any formal education and have not seen any planes landing at their rundown strip.
Sick passengers and buai traders loading their bags and boarding the plane for Bulolo airstrip
“Let us not forget the unfortunate children who have lost their lives through birth and other diseases.
“Like many other airstrips in Papua New Guinea, it is sad to see the Transport Minister Don Polye, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, trying to spend K1.4 billion on Jackson Airport while neglecting such small rural airstrips.
“We are also seeing the same in health with Health Minister Sasa Zibe trying to spend K500 million on the Bautama City Super-Hospital while the rural health facilities are neglected.”
Tekadu culture on show
Basil, in his visit to Tekadu, urged the government to properly allocate the 2011 budget including the 2010 budget surpluses (K800 million-plus) estimated to be totaling over K10 billion, to rebuild aging infrastructure such as rural airstrips, national highways, rural health services, and district road systems to make the lives of rural dwellers easy because they make up over 85% of PNG’s population.
“Almost 90% of Members of Parliament represent rural electorates one way or another and must have rural people included in all their planning,” he adds.
“The Bulolo district joint district planning and budget priorities committee (JDP and BPC) in Dec 2009 installed a VSAT communication apparatus in Tekadu which has opened up communications in and out of Tekadu for almost a year now.
Nolam and Basil with ducks for Tekadu villagers
“The reestablishment of air services through North Coast Aviation (NCA) is just a follow-up service to complement the communication installation.
“Revival of essential services will automatically ride on those two very-important services: communication and transportation.
“A charter was negotiated and paid for a trip every month at the cost of K110, 000.
“The inbound flights will bring in government workers, building materials and medicine while return flights will carry sick and pregnant mothers, as well as buai (betelnut) bags.
“It is estimated that 600 to 700kg of buai can fetch close to K6, 000-7, 000 for those rural farmers.
Buai is the only cash crop in the Tekadu while alluvial gold panning is in its infancy stages.”
Accessing Bulolo and Wau from Tekadu is very hard compared to using the Bulldog Track for Port Moresby.
Its takes almost a whole day’s walk into Nukewa followed by dinghy or dugout canoe trip from Nukewa into Malalaua the next day, then a PMV into Port Moresby if they are lucky, or wait another day so it takes about three days in total.
The costs are K100 boat fare and K60 PMV fare, totalling K160 one way or K320 both ways per person.
So the buai they sell must recoup the fares and pay for porters.
The launching was well attended by all on Monday, Oct 18, while the team took the Bulldog Track the next day.
Bulolo district administration was represented by the Wau rural LLG manager Judy Pokana, Mumeng LLG manager Amon and Waria LLG manager.
LLG presidents included Wau Rural LLG’ John Yawa, Mumeng LLG’s Mathias Phillip, and Buang LLG’s Steven Sep while Waria was represented by its deputy president.
The Bulolo team, including the MP, used the walk to see for themselves the hardship and the obstacles the locals encounter while also collecting data for headquarters in Bulolo upon their return.
On the way in a dug out canoe
“The people of the Gulf village, Nukewa, had a brief meeting with me and reminded me that I was the first MP to trek into their village,” Basil says.
“They told me of their lack of services and asked me to help revive them.
“I reminded them that I am the MP representing Bulolo electorate and would bring their concerns to their local Kerema MP, Pitom Bombom.
“I will, in fact, invite him and will accompany him there to also address the Bulolo people’s concerns in relation to the usage of the track and share some responsibilities for the wellbeing of Bulolo travellers.
“The trip from Nukewa took nine hours along the river system and another five hours into Port Moresby, with a press conference and tour of Parliament House.
“I housed half of the Bulolo team while the other half was accommodated in a guest house in Port Moresby.
“The team returned into back into the electorate on Friday, Oct 22.”

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