Date: July 04 2009
Kerema's only bank was robbed on May 15, 2008. It was an inside job organised by the entire senior staff together with local street criminals known as raskols. The bank has not reopened but has been replaced with a bank agency with prohibitively high fees for most locals.
Detective Andrew Mokoko, 35, walks the street outside the bank agency office in plain clothes, nonchalantly toting a pump-action shotgun. A local identity, he chats with passers-by and the betel nut vendors. Although he is officially on duty, he is earning a little extra as a security guard with a weapon from the police armoury.
This is explained to me by a former police officer. When I ask why Mokoko is out of uniform, the reply is: "Well the raskols often wear police uniforms."
Commenting on recent rioting in the nation's capital,
Although the country is blessed with abundant natural resources — a multitude of minerals, forests and fisheries — the profits most often remain in the pockets of a corrupt few who amass offshore real estate assets while their children are educated abroad, usually in Australia.
Even more troubling is an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is the worst in the Pacific region. An estimated 2 per cent of the adult population is HIV-positive. Despite the best efforts of Australian and international aid agencies, PNG fails to provide adequate health care for its people.
In the last week of May,
Bodies had to be removed from the morgue. The hospital's medical superintendent, Dr Youngpu Samo, made pleas to his local MP that went unanswered. The best the hospital could do was to place public notices in Ialibu township advising of the closure, recommending the community avoid sickness and accidents.
The country's slide into chaos has not gone unnoticed. The United Nations has recommended that PNG be demoted from its list of developing countries to the unenviable position of least developed. Not only would PNG join the
The small Catholic station of Kanabea is a world away from many of the ills that beset Lae and
Aside from two-way radio, the settlement's main contact and sole means of bringing in cargo is by air, a method of transportation that is expensive and dangerous. Rain clouds can envelop the mission for months on end. Air accidents have claimed the lives of two priests, two lay missionaries and several local parishioners over four decades.
AS THE single-engine Cessna breaks through the clouds, the mission comes into view. Alarmingly, so does a mountain slope directly ahead. The experienced pilots of North Coast Aviation bank hard and guide the craft in for a jolting landing on the long, grassy airstrip carved into the side of
Such was the fearsome reputation of the Kamea that the native Papua New Guineans who accompanied the first missionaries refused to disembark fearing that they would become main course for one of their country's few cannibalistic tribes. The disdain held by many Papua New Guineans for the Kamea remains, although the arrival of Christianity and corned beef put an end to cannibalism.
All of Kanabea's infrastructure, including the hydroelectric generator, has been built by Australian charity — mainly from the Catholic Church. In some respects, the facilities at
The visiting fee for patients is about 20 cents, although garden-grown vegetables are also accepted. Until recently, the hospital had no doctor. The previous one, Australian priest Maurice Adams, succumbed to leukaemia 14 years ago. In May, Kanabea welcomed 26-year-old Dr Magdelene Taone of
But although the rural hospital's AusAID-funded HIV/AIDS counselling centre remains empty, the disease is gradually making inroads into the mountains. Of 1000 HIV rapid tests administered last year, five returned positive in Bema, a Catholic mission, either an arduous 12-hour trek or a seven-minute flight from Kanabea, weather permitting. The disease poses a great threat to the traditionally polygamous Kamea, but for the time being, their isolation is their greatest protection. Despite this, the community is attempting to build a road to Lae.
In Amu's account of events, the winning candidate installed his own supporters as electoral officers. When voters arrived at the polling station they found that their forms had already been filled in for them. Amu also claims that opposition groups were terrorised by thugs provided with guns by the candidate.
Of her 89 fellow female candidates, only former Australian teacher Carol Kidu claimed a seat in the 109-member parliament. Kidu's attempts to pass legislation that guarantees 20 seats for women have so far been unsuccessful. Women's rights in PNG have a long way to go in a country where, according to Amnesty International, about 150 women are killed each year in the highlands
In the meantime, she is tackling her community's own AIDS crisis through the Wapenamanda Centre for Primary Health Care, which she founded in 2006. The centre has largely been funded from Amu's own pocket, with money saved from employment in
She has also engineered partnerships between her health centre and a number of non-government bodies outside PNG. One such group is Melbourne-based Cabrini Health. On the last weekend of May, Catherine Garner, Cabrini's mission integration manager, visited the centre.
She was welcomed as a dignitary in true highlands tradition in a ceremony that approached three hours. Before a crowd of more than 100, lengthy speeches were given by local leaders including a former minister for Enga. This was followed by a mumu — a feast of pig, chicken, bananas and sweet potato cooked in a pit.
As the sun set, Garner was driven to a mothers' group outside town. She and Amu sat before a crowd of about 60 on a grassy clearing in a mountain valley. An older member of the audience raised his hand to speak and said, in Engan, "
Dave Tacon is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and photographer