Friday, May 04, 2012

A Goroka and Eastern Highlands Bob Cleland has never left


Coming back to Goroka and Eastern Highlands province last Saturday was for legendary kiap (patrol officer) Bob Cleland, like arriving at a place he’d never quite left.

Bob Cleland being presented an Eastern Highlands flag by outgoing provincial administrator Munare Uyassi last Saturday.-Pictures@MALUM NALU
Cleland was feted like royalty the moment he stepped onto the tarmac in Goroka – the Land of Eternal Spring – on which he first set foot on 59 years ago in 1953.
Asaro mudmen and other Eastern Highlands dancers welcomed him back to Goroka, and he was greeted by senior provincial government officials including outgoing provincial administrator MunareUyassi, as blind children from the Mt Sion School for the Blind outside Goroka sang that famous and movingGoroka anthem “Welcome to Goroka”.

National Gaming Control Board CEO Edward Mike Jondi, Cleland's partner Elizabeth Green, Cleland and Uyassi listen to the welcome song
As “Welcome to Goroka, the land of Nokondi, from Daulo Pass across to Kassam Pass…” reverberated through the perennial springtime climate, one could almost feel the majestic mountains surrounding Goroka rise in salute to this great man.
The irony is that he helped to build roads over both the Daulo and Kassam passes.
Cleland, now aged 81, was clearly overwhelmed by the welcome.
After lunch at the Bird of Paradise Hotel, we took a drive along the Highlands Highway to the summit of Daulo Pass, which Cleland supervised building of as a 22-year-old kiapin 1953.
All along the way, from Goroka through the great Asaro Valley and the ascent to Daulo Pass, he pointed out places of interest and recalled memories of another day from more than 50 years ago.
At the summit of Daulo Pass, he checked out old landmarks, pointed out landmark sections of the road, and gazed down at the magnificent panorama of the Asaro Valley.

Bob Cleland points out the panorama of the Asaro Valley from Daulo Pass
The Goroka policemen who provided us escort couldn’t help but listen spellbound as Cleland told them about how he supervised the building of the stretch from Asaro Bridge through Daulo Pass and on to Watabung using local labour.
We planned to drive down further to Watabung, however, because of the death of a well-known local leader Kapo, had to put it off for another day.
Watabung has a special place in Cleland’s heart at it was here that he brought his young bride, Julie, in 1955, and where their first daughter Susan grew up after being born at the ‘European Hospital’ in Goroka in 1956.
His widely-acclaimed book, Big Road, first published in 2010, but not widely on sale yet in PNG, tells the story of the building of the Highlands Highway, particularly the Daulo stretch between Asaro and Watabung in Eastern Highlands in 1953, which he personally supervised as a 22-year-old kiap.

Big Road
The 'big road' today is the Highlands Highway running from the port of Lae and through the highlands provinces of PNG.
Big Road describes the initial construction by hand, in 1953 and 1954, of the Daulo section of the road, which runs over the 2,478m Daulo Pass and which gives access westward to the great Waghi Valley.
Cleland, before the Daulo Pass, helped the late Rupert Haviland built part of the road over the Kassam Pass.
The big road was neither designed nor built by engineers but bykiaps, with local villagers using only picks, shovels and thousands of hours of backbreaking labour.
Cleland was also involved in the first Goroka Show in 1956 and designed the Eastern Highlands provincial flag, in particular Nokondi – the fabled spirit who had one eye, one ear, one leg and one testicle.
That was why, in true Gorokaand Eastern Highlands style, he was given a hero's welcome last Saturday.
Later that evening, at the Bird of Paradise Hotel, Cleland was special guest at the launching of the 2012 Goroka Show, where his reminisces enthralled the spellbound audience.

Bob Cleland, who took part in the first Goroka Show in 1956, reminisces at the 2012 Goroka Show launch.
His relationship with Goroka and Eastern Highlands is more than special.
When Cleland arrived in the New Guinea Highlands in 1953, many tribes had just seen their first white man only 20 years before.
He was one of a team of young Australians charged with introducing a new form of justice to tribes that had previously settled disputes with spears, axes and arrows.
He was 22, fresh from university as a graduate engineer.
As a kiap, Cleland had a triple role of magistrate, policeman and administrator.
But he was not only a kiap, he was also the boss’s son.
His father Donald (later Sir Donald) Cleland, was administrator of Papua New Guinea for 15 years from 1951, so his trial by fire in New Guinea was particularly intense.
Right from the start, Cleland was charged with building some of the most-challenging sections of the ‘big road’, linking the Highlands with the coast.
In the early 1950s there was no way into or out of the Highlands except by plane or on foot.
Yet the region was densely populated, home to hundreds of thousands of villagers, and alluringly fertile.
A road connection had to be built, and it had to be constructed by hand – no bulldozers or diggers.
The Eastern Highlands district commissioner then was the legendary Ian Downs, from Scotland, who first came to PNG as a 21-year-old kiap.
He’d been posted to the Highlands only five years after Australian explorers Jim Taylor and Mick Leahy discovered that hundreds of thousands of people lived in extensive upland valleys amid what had always been assumed to be impenetrable mountains.
Running right throughout Cleland’s book itself is the ‘big road’ itself, the Highlands Highway that was carved out of mountains and mud with shovels, sweat and tenacity.
Big Road is a pioneering tale that paints a vivid picture of the majesty of the mountains and the mingling of two cultures.
Cleland served 23 years altogether in PNG from 1953-1976.
After Watabung, he was transferred to Kainantu for two years, attended the Australian School of Public Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney, and then served in Daru, Balimo, Lae, Kokopo, Chuave and then ended up in Goroka, where he was executive officer of the Eastern Highlands Area Authority (which became the Eastern Highlands provincial government in 1977) from 1975-1976,
The new authority needed a common seal, and when Cleland asked members what was something traditional covering the whole Eastern Highlands, they quickly decided on Nokondi.
That same image is at the centre of today’s Eastern Highlands provincial flag.
“Those 23 years were the best years of my life,” Cleland tells me.
“It was a very rewarding job.
“If you did a job properly, you could see the results.”

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