Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coffee growers and coffee dreamers- an industry governed by complacency

John Fowke
The arrival of coffee into the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where it is the only major source of cash to a fast-expanding rural population, coincided with the arrival of roads, airstrips, Christian missions and the “gavman”.
Sharp, steel cutting-edges, the like of which had never been seen; the concept of saws, hammers and nails rather than bush-rope for building; matches, mirrors and copious quantities of sea-salt as opposed to laboriously-produced salts of potassium derived from ashes and from isolated up-wellings of mineralised mud were magic.
The products of some supernatural place in the sky where white people came from.
Soon, though, the Highlanders, like their coastal cousins long before them, accepted the truth; the reality that all these marvellous things were made by the hands of people like themselves.
 The word of Christ and the new right to walk feely and without hindrance from enemies upon the “rot bilong gavman” were new marvels, also.
And as time passed, they became convinced in large numbers that what the white “didiman” said was true.
That by planting the seeds from the small, red fruit call “kofi”, they might gain a source of the “moni” which was the preferred medium of exchange at the few trade-stores which had opened here and there.
In this way a huge social revolution, the like of which has scarce occurred so dramatically and in such a short period of time anywhere in the world swept the Highlands.
A social revolution, indeed a turning-point in PNG history- nothing since has provided so much stimulation, so much excitement, nor launched so much novel and productive activity.
Today, however, coffee is just something that’s always been there.
Young people, especially those living in peri-urban and highway-side villages know and care little for coffee.
The growers are mostly middle-aged subsistence farmers, who inherited their coffee from a generation now gone.
They are not small businessmen.
Not businessmen who worry about their cash-position and the condition of their fields or their livestock, like dairy-farmers or vegetable-farmers do in other lands where farming is industrialised.
Coffee has an importance, alongside and not superior to their crops of sweet-potato, taro, banana and kumu, and their pigs and chickens.
It is part of a complex system, an inherited system of living which modernity is pressing upon in many ways.
And today PNG’s national coffee-tree population is to a large extent aged and worn out- more than ready for retirement.
In other words, due for replacement by new young, vigorous plants which will do justice to the valuable land upon which they grow and bear fruit.
But nowhere is their any sign that growers, or anyone else associated with PNG’s second-largest agricultural money-earner is awake to the approaching death of what some have called “the money-tree industry”.
 Across the Highlands and the other minor coffee-growing districts something in the order of 160 million- yes, that’s right, 160 million- senile, unproductive coffee trees continue to occupy good land.
This is an emergency situation – one with serious implications as far as social order, health and wellbeing in the Highlands is concerned- and it is a situation which is not recognised, and for which well-based planning is not on the table.
The “think big” politically-driven policies over many years have shown no statistically-measurable result.
Here funds have been wasted on badly-managed central nurseries and in ventures like last year’s “coffee renovation project”.
 Here a rumoured K3 million was spent in buying tools from small, local hardware shops and distributing these to growers with little accountability and no apparent result.
There has been no recognition, in spite of frequent reminders by this writer and others with a genuine interest in the industry, that a massive grower-initiated replanting programme is absolutely essential to the continued prosperity of PNG’s valuable coffee industry.
 No recognition; no mention in the grandiose, “Golden Future” projects and targets which are announced regularly as harbingers of coming PNG-wide wellbeing.  
During the coming 20 years, the present-day middle-aged generation of landowners will pass on, together with their knowledge of coffee, and of all the traditional boundaries and customary usufructary rights to land now occupied by coffee and other permanent tree-crops.
No one is thinking about this so far as is known.
It is a looming social calamity.
All the talk about land registration is so much nonsense until detailed mapping of customarily-recognised landholdings and usufructary rights to bushland, hunting and fishing places, old communally-established coconut groves planted in the 1930s, and standing bush food and fruit trees is accomplished.
The situation which may prevail once the generation which still preserves all this knowledge passes is almost beyond imagining.
 Our extension-services and several generously-funded coffee related aid projects have always treated the coffee-growers as if they were little professional farmers, or persons ready to become such.
They have not taken a more thoughtful, sociology-based / traditional economy-based approach, one in which both the practice and the logic of the subsistence economy and the imperatives which drive it are considered.
 Advisory input has always been a westernised, we-know-best approach.
One where people who have spent years gaining degrees in modern agro-technology attempt to intermesh this theoretical knowledge with systems, thoughts and imperatives which have grown and been practiced successfully in PNG for the past 8, 000 years.   As for the fast-vanishing managed plantation sector, once hailed as the flagship of the coffee industry, this is faced with the effect of many years of widespread mis-management and impossibly high costs in every direction, besides an aging and generally poor treestock.
Producing around 6% of today’s export volume and buying and blending in a further 6% from surrounding village growers, this sector with very few exceptions is on its last legs.
One of the exceptions is the Warawou Plantation of Max Kumbamong, a life-long coffee man of Mt. Hagen.
Kumbamong, who began his career with Angco Development some 25 years ago, bought this abandoned tea-plantation which had literally turned into a jungle.
Already a successful coffee-trader with his own export company, Max has applied common-sense allied with practical, realistic farm practices to renovate more than 20 hectares of old coffee and bring in a further 80 hectares of new trees planted on cleared tealand.
Having restored tea-production over part of his remaining land, and selling the leaf together with bananas which are grown as shade over the newly-planted areas, Max can show all the planners and agricultural experts much which practical experience would have taught them if they had been interested and energetic enough to want to learn.
Aside from the capital purchase, his establishment costs are covered by the sale of tea-leaf and bananas, and rice which he is also growing.
 So much for all those who, like hungry dogs, howl for government grants and loans to help them become coffee kings.
 Coffee dreamers, all!
Very simply, the need is for realistic, keen, idealistic “coffee-evangelists” to carry their blanket, pillow, and a small supply of coffee, sugar and biscuits with them on friendly overnight visits to villagers where they ask for overnight accommodation and spread the replanting gospel around the fire, at night, when people are open and ready to talk and to consider ideas.
Seed might be distributed at the same time, but this writer is not aware of any large quantity of improved variety seed in existence in PNG at present.
Better then that however, being much more expedient and easier and cheaper, growers might be shown how to select and grow new plants using self-sown seedlings from below their own trees.
After all, PNG’s existing coffee, though variable because of the mixed practices of 400,000 growers and far too many badly-managed and uneconomic little factories, is intrinsically, as good as coffee gets, anywhere in the world.

Say it with orchids

 The Orchid Spectacular will be held this weekend, The National reports.
The show will see orchid growers and other florists flock to the Sir Rabbie Namaliu Orchid Gardens at the National Parliament grounds on Saturday and Sunday. 
The official opening will be on Friday evening. 

Workers were busy yesterday to get everything ready for the show with PNG Gardener Justin Tkatchenko using a hose to make sure the orchids are at their best before the weekend. – Nationalpic by AURI EVA

NDB to engage in retail banking

GOVERNMENT-owned National Development Bank (NDB) is going to acquire a retail banking licence to expand its operations, The National reports.   

This was revealed on Monday by Minister for Finance and Treasury Peter O’Neill to the bank’s stakeholders in Port Moresby.

O’Neill said with the granting of the licence, NDB would be in a better position to provide banking services to rural communities.

“The government has rehabilitated NDB so it can be positioned to obtaining a ‘retail banking licence’ so that millions of our people in the rural communities who remained unbanked can have access to banking and financial services,” he said.

He said the bank had made a strong financial come back from a period of insolvency in 2004 and is now in a better position to expand its services to the public.

O’Neill said the improvement in the balance sheet position of NDB from a net asset of K15 million in 2004 to more than K160 million this year was a positive sign for the bank and its clients.

Bank managing director Richard Maru said once the retail banking licence had been  obtained, the bank would start collecting deposits from the public.

NDB chairman William Lamur also echoed this sentiment, saying the bank “has leaped from great debts and is now in a better position serve its clients”.

He said the next aim of the bank was to operate on its own with little or no help from the state.


Intel briefs on LNG 'ignored'

Police had warned of attacks by locals


THE government intelligence community had been warned of imminent sabotage of the PNG LNG project construction phase but had failed to take action, The National reports.

Provincial police commanders of Western and Gulf told The National they had provided the information to the project developer, Esso Highlands Ltd (EHL), last month.

They made their revelations on Tuesday when confirming an attack by Gulf’s Kikori villagers on construction workers and torching of trucks and heavy machineries at the Kaiam ferry site last Friday.

Police had also warned of heavy build-up of arms in the Western-Gulf-Southern Highlands areas in the lead-up to the 2012 national general elections which could put the gas pipeline at risk.

The national government has not commented on the claims while EHL said its security programme was designed to protect its workforce and the adjacent communities.

As the developer takes stock of last Friday’s damage and assess its security, police said that a mobile squad from Gobe had been deployed to Kaim to boost security and ensure there was no further trouble.

They also said that they had made a breakthrough in their investigations into the attack by identifying a prime suspect and his cohorts whom they hope to arrest soon.

Police who initially went to the site had discovered spent shells and threatening notes by the suspects.

They said there had been a lot of discontent among Kikori villagers over job opportunities and spin-offs to local companies.

The attack on CCJV at Kaiam base camp was evident of this discontent, police said.



Intel ignored, says Gulf police chief



THE attack on Curtain Clough Joint Venture (CCJV) construction workers and the torching of trucks and machineries was the result of the government and LNG project developer Esso Highlands Ltd’s failure to act on recent police intelligence briefs, according to police, The National reports.

Gulf provincial police commander Snr Insp Reuben Giusu said on Tuesday that he had provided police intelligence brief about the security situation at Kaiam and Kopi LNG project sites to Esso Highlands, police headquarters and other intelligence services, but it was not acted on.

He said the brief was provided after his assessment on the first incident involving four youths who attacked a Japanese crane operator after they were terminated by CCJV.

Giusu said he and Esso Highlands community affairs officers brokered peace at Kaiam and Kopi where the incident occurred in April.

“I had cautioned them that the situation at the sites was not conducive,” he said.

“There was an apparent build-up of firearms and we even arrested some suspects.

“The situation warranted immediate response to contain the security risks and, as a result of the arms build-up, you can see what happened with CCJV.”

The intelligence report, a copy of which was provided to The National, stated: “Five suspects were locked up in April for allegedly smuggling firearms into Kikori and to Samberigi and trading them for drugs.

“However, due to insufficient evidence, they were released.

“The drugs and guns’ trades are a reality that no one really takes responsibility to eradicate or detect the network, make arrests and destroy the illegal weapons.

“Recent fighting in Erave is a clear indication that there are more sophisticated weapons in the Southern Highlands.

“Kikori has been the golden gateway for years in this illegal business; therefore, a fresh approach to the style of policing is a must.”

Giusu said from past experiences during the national elections, he had assumed that there would be violence in the Southern Highlands.

“The use of firearms and explosives in tribal fights will increase because people have excess to such weapons.”

Esso Highlands public and government affairs manager Miles Shaw said the company could not comment specifically on the intelligence reports.

However, he said the project’s security programme was designed to protect the well-being of the workforce and adjacent communities.

“Partnerships with the community remain the underpinning function of the security strategy.” 

Shaw said the project’s land and community affairs team had worked closely with the security team to achieve this goal. 

“We continue to work with local leaders and the government to address concerns and avoid impacts on the project,” he said.



Marine industrial zone close to reality



Papua New Guinea is poised to be the tuna hub of the Pacific and the world in the coming years as a result of the contract signing of phase one of the construction of Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ) project in Vidar, Madang, The National reports.

Commerce and Industry Minister Gabriel Kapris made these remarks during the signing of the general contract between the PNG government and the international contractor Shenyang International Economic & Technical Cooperation company of China at Government House yesterday.

“The signing of the contract between both parties is close to complete and the process of evaluation by the China Export Import (Exim) Bank is to allow for the draw-down of US$74 million to construct PMIZ infrastructure.

“The PMIZ project is an initiative of the national government through the ministry of Commerce and Industries and National Fisheries Authority.

“Phase one of the project will be at the cost of US$95 million (K210 million) and the balance of US$21 million (K67 million) will be provided by the government as counterpart funding for the project.”

Kapris said construction of phase one would include wharf and pier, water treatment plant, waste treatment plant, roads, administration and other key infrastructure.

“Construction is expected to start in early 2011 and completed by the end of 2013.

“Phase two of the project is yet to be established but is expected to cost more than US$100 million,” he said.

Kapris said the funding for the project was secured through bilateral arrangement between China and PNG.

A framework arrangement was signed last November during the vice premier which allows for the state to access the concessional loan from Exim Bank of China.

Kapris added that the condition of the concessional loan was for the main contractor to be a Chinese company selected by the bank through their own selection process.

“The construction of PMIZ is to create a regional tuna processing centre which will provide an opportunity for regional member countries and PNG tuna industry to set up processing plants within the zone, add value to their tuna catches and supply export markets,” he said.

Shenyang International president Tan Lezhen said: “It is a privilege to combine our efforts because this is a productive project”.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Papua New Guinea and citizens can rise and shine


Susuve Laumaea
PAPUA New Guinea shall rise and shine – over time.
And PNG’s citizens, too, shall become happy, healthy and wealthy, again, over time. 
We may have not quite shone brightly in the last 35 years.
So what?
We’re just an evolving 35 year-old democracy.
Let’s not be too harsh on ourselves.
We may have squandered many opportunities and we may have been called a failed state by foreign critics, our own opposition politicians and so-called learned commentators.
But we are not and we shall not be.
As human beings we, the citizens of PNG were each born with ability and intelligence.
We each can make positive changes in our lives.
Yes we can make positive changes come through truly for all of us.
Yes we can and we shall prevail.
We shall overcome.
Resource-wise, we have what it takes to rise and shine very brightly as a nation over the medium to long-term.
Immediately though, we have to knuckle down as serious people, as citizens of this wonderful nation and take stock of how our nation is being led, where we have gone wrong and where we can improve.
We should as nation pledge on this 35th anniversary of our national independence to commit each other to the honourable quest of getting the national political leadership equation right for the next 35 years.
We have got to get the basic prerequisites right to drive the nation forward to new and higher positive levels of economic, political and social performance. 
The perennial pessimist, sceptics, critics, misfits, unfits, no-fits and whatever-fits - one cares to call them - have a right to disagree with the outpouring of optimism from this scribe.
 We all have a right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion and to freedom of expression as prescribed respectively under Sections 45 and 46 of the National Constitution as adopted by the Constituent Assembly on August 15, 1975.
We can’t all be negatives and sour-grapes all the time, can we?
I beg to differ.
Admittedly we are not a faultless and squeaky-clean nation led by faultless and squeaky-clean leaders.
We know we are not, so, let’s stop bad-mouthing ourselves and clean up our nation and our act.
 Let’s make a national commitment right now to begin in earnest to clean out the rot and turn over a new leaf, shall we?
Let’s start developing our nation and our people.
Let’s end the era of powerful and greedy politicians and their cronies lining their pockets with all our national wealth.
How do we do that?
Let’s do it democratically through the ballot box.
That’s right.
Vote them out!
Spare no mercy for thieves and the corrupt that have an entrenched culture and habit to thieve and to corrupt.
So when a number of my very close friends became sceptical and critical and asked me what was there for Papua New Guineans to celebrate after 35 years of independence I just said “plenty”.
 But many others have a different view point.
I have listened to my fair share of the differing points of view.
One of these many pals of mine, a 50-something year old highlander from one of the mountain provinces we shall call Kevin (not his real name) was the most critical in the group conversation we were having recently at our usual Friday afternoon get together.
“This 35th independence anniversary,” began Kevin, “what are we celebrating? “What is there to celebrate?”
What a question?
And a resounding one too.
It’s a common poser and response many of my acquaintances have been giving me in the past couple of weeks to my harmless enquiry about their celebratory plans – if any – for this historical national event that’s celebrated annually since September 16, 1975.
“There’s nothing to celebrate,” several have declared emphatically to me, adding that the nation had gone to a minority of elitist political and economic dogs and their local and foreign cronies.
“There is a minority that have become politically and economically wealthy in the last 35 years.
 “They are the ones lording over all of us.
“As citizens, we have all become irrelevant and insignificant,” said Kevin.  
But should we relegate ourselves to that level and condemn ourselves to that fate forever?
No way.
 Every citizen of PNG can change his or her own destiny for the better.
 Our nation has natural wealth to change each and everyone’s life and living condition.
We just have to stop thinking that the next person owes us a living.
Each person – every man, woman and child – in PNG has to change his or her mindset and stop thinking that an educated relative or child or an employed relative or child owes you a living for ever and ever, amen.
No. From here on, on the occasion of our nation’s 35th year of independence, every Papua New Guinean citizen must embrace the philosophy of survival of the fittest, work hard, put in the hard yakka, and develop a positive, constructive and productively practical mindset to create lawful survival opportunities for oneself.
 Papua New Guineans must throw away the habit of spivving, leeching and bludging off wantoks and extended family members for survival.
Kevin’s come through a confidence-sapping bad experience earlier in his life and is therefore a bitter former businessman.
He had tried his hand initially at running an agriculture-based business which he gave up after five years, followed by operating a chain of fish and chips tucker shops in the highlands, Lae and Port Moresby, second hand clothing shops, a trucking business between Lae and all the highlands provinces.
But all of that collapsed one after the other as the PNG economic meltdown of the 1990s took its toll on all his businesses which were operating with money borrowed from two banks.
Kevin could not keep up with loan repayments and the banks quickly moved in to take over the businesses and sold them to get their money back.
 That happened 10 years ago and to this day Kevin understandably remains a bitter man who believes he was let down by incompetent national governments complimented by equally incompetent and misfiring bureaucracy both of which could not protect and insulate his businesses.
He reckons the political government and the bureaucracy were responsible and were not vigilant enough to neutralise the domestic adverse economic conditions of the later half of the 1990s.
It is a familiar story common to a great many Papua New Guineans who have tried to break into the entrepreneurial sector dominated mostly by foreigners – some of whom operate those businesses for their political associates. Yes. Many ordinary citizens have tried to make a break-through into the entrepreneurial sector with mixed results over the last 35 years.
 Many have failed.
Some have even died trying.
That’s the sad story of the ordinary Papua New Guinean triers who have actually tried and failed or died trying to create businesses on their own initiative, using their own meagre resources and being given the run around by their own government’s facilitating departments and by state-owned or private financial institutions that demand water-tight collaterals as pre-condition for even the smallest of business or personal loan over the last 35 years.
That’s one gripe faced by citizens of PNG after 35 years of national independence. There are many others.
The truth about life in Papua New Guinea for the majority of citizens is that - in the last 35 years – they have been politically, socially and economically dislocated, marginalised, traumatised through lack of basic life support services, disadvantaged by absence of educational, training, skills transfer and gainful employment opportunities.
In the urban areas ordinary citizens in low to medium income bracket are reduced to harsh and inhuman living conditions in a money-driven culture in the towns and cities.
 Most end up in urban squatter settlements where they subject themselves to living in squalor and in complete denial of basic life support services such as running water, electricity and proper sewerage and ablution facilities.
By contrast in the rural areas ordinary folks live a life of denial in that other PNG economy that practices a dying culture of traditional barter system.
Roads and rural business, commerce and industry hubs to support rural life are non-existent.  
A few towns and a couple of main cities have been made too attractive that there is a daily flow of humanity from rural PNG to the cities and towns to add to their overcrowding, putting additional pressure on already limited and overstretched public infrastructure, water, electricity, public housing and sewerage system.
 The growing modern monetary culture in towns and cities has begun creating divides between close-knit families and extended wantok systems because more and more ordinary Papua New Guineans are beginning to feel the pressures of high cost of basic food items, housing rentals, education fees for children and the cost of other modern conditions of improved life styles and basic life-support systems.
Realistically, a great majority of citizens live way below the poverty line.
That means a majority of Papua New Guineans do not even have K2 per day.
In rural areas some people have never even possessed two kina in years.
Just go to any remote PNG rural village and your misgivings will be answered.
Up to of 87% of Papua New Guineans have not risen above the levels of unemployment.
Educational and developmental unhappiness and disillusionment add to unhealthy living experiences.
Consider the nation’s poor social indicators headed by a burgeoning annual population growth rate at between 2.7% and 3%.
Rising maternal mortality, runaway HIV/AIDS pandemic, breakdown in law and order, inefficient bureaucracy, unpredictable parliament, major roads in disrepair, education institution falling apart, health facilities with basic medicinal drugs, high cost of basic food items in shops and abject poverty in both urban and rural areas that is characterised by hand-to-mouth daily existence therefore begs the question of what is there to celebrate on the 35th year of our nation’s independence.
The nation of a multitude of tribes and languages that’s often referred to by all and sundry variously as the land of opportunities galore, the land of milk and honey, the Pearl of the Pacific, the land that is bountifully endowed and adorned with natural wealth, flora, fauna and arable agricultural land needs more than band aid treatment for a huge tropical ulcer.
 New focus.
New leadership.
New direction.
 Find the answers there.
  • The writer is an award-wining newspaper journalist and writes for a number of local and foreign newspapers and professional journals occasionally. Share your views with the writer at mailto: or SMS to: 675-73252271.

Memories of Independence Day in PNG – 1975 and 1976

A flypast of planes past the Papua New Guinea flag on Independence Hill on September 16, 1975.-Picture by ALLAN REDFORD (see story below)

My dad, Allan Redford, had served for three years as a medico in the Australian army during World War II in the early 40s around Milne Bay, but his most-recent memories stemmed from our family’s time in the Sepik area during 1961-64.
  It was during this time as a volunteer builder for Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and Christian Brethren Churches (CBC) of PNG (formerly known in missionary work as CMML) that both he and mum had built lasting relationships with so many people. 
Dad had been back briefly in 1968 for a project, but otherwise it had been 11 years, working successfully as a builder in Australia.
“There is plenty of work in PNG for you, if you would like to join us again - in Mt Hagen, Mendi and Wewak”. 
These words, uttered by one of Dad’s great friends, (MAF’s general secretary at the time, Vic Ambrose), was a sweet reminder of what he would rather do. 
It really appealed to Dad, as it brought together a number of Dad’s loves – God’s work through mission, being back in the circle with like-minded people at MAF and CBC, and especially the connection again with the PNG people.
It was August 1975. 
My dad was so excited about the prospect of returning to Papua New Guinea. 
 It provided another opportunity to again share life with some dear PNG National friends and work mates.
He had one request before starting his work in Mt Hagen.
 “Could I please fly direct to Wewak and then out to Anguganak for the annual CMML conference and to reconnect with his PNG National tradesmen that had helped me extend the Anguganak hospital and school plus build the leprosarium near the river in 1964?”
Ambrose thought it was great idea and arranged it all in advance. 
Dad flew out of Melbourne and within a couple of days was in Anguganak for the weekend.  After church on the Sunday he scaled the steep track to visit the good folk on Anguganak Bluff, only to hear an MAF plane approach in the early afternoon. 
On any other day this was normal, but it was odd on a Sunday, and the news was not good - his mother, a strong Christian lady, had passed away suddenly.
 Two days after arriving in PNG he was back in Melbourne, Australia… but God still had different plans!
As soon as possible after the funeral, Dad re-planned his return to PNG and booked for September 15. 
Without realising, he had booked the day before Papua New Guinea was to gain its independence. 
 Dad flew up to Port Moresby and noticed dignitaries on board, including the soon-to-be Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his wife Tammie. 
Unbeknown to him at the time, it was the last TAA aircraft flight into Port Moresby. 
Air Niugini took over that route the next day.  
Then it hit him! 
Tomorrow he would be in Port Moresby for PNG’s Independence Day celebrations.
 What a day that would be in PNG’s history!  
After a sound sleep, Dad made sure he was early for the proceedings. 
He loved these kinds of moments.
He had been especially interested in the advertised fly-past - all the planes of different size and speed were to arrive over the new flag at around the same time. 
The challenge was - could he capture such a photo with his basic camera? 
Of course on a day like this there are many speeches but still Dad was enthralled and found them interesting. 
He also enjoyed the parade of the dignitaries from the different countries in their different cars.  But the key moment came after witnessing the raising of the beautiful new colourful flag on Independence Hill.  
He was surprised that all the journalists and dignitaries returned to the grandstand and left him alone to possibly capture the photo.
 In the days when digital cameras did not exist, it was couple of weeks before he was able to prove his shot had worked out! 
All the planes were in the frame with the flag!
After all the festivities had died down that day, it was time to move on to Mt Hagen to finally begin his planned MAF work.
 But another surprise was in order, as again, he was privileged to share the trip with dignitaries and witness the separate Independence celebrations in that town, including capturing photos of Prince Charles as he walked close by. 
What a couple of days! 
He excitedly rang and told us all the news and realised that he had received a little blessing, in having shared these memorable moments.
After the school year had ended, my mother, sister and I joined dad in Mt Hagen at the end of 1975.    
However, the new labour laws prevented me helping him as a labourer, so I worked as a volunteer for a short time in both the Mt Hagen Christian Bookshop before moving out to Kaupena and helping to manage the Beechwood sawmill for many months. 
A highlight of this time was when a group of over 20 of us took on the challenge of climbing Mt Giluwe and the view was magnificent down to Ialibu etc.   
While at Kaupena, it was a delight to share Independence Day with the excited PNG folk. 
My family was spread out by then, so while dad and mum enjoyed the festivities in Mt Hagen and my sister, likewise in Wewak, I spent the day at Ialibu and laughed with everyone else as many tried in vain to climb the slippery poles to capture the prizes on offer.
 Eventually one man succeeded and we all cheered. 
Funnier still was the crowd chasing after the greasy pig. 
The little pig squealed, but not with delight, when finally captured. 
The day was incomplete until we enjoyed some great food together.
But do you know what really hit me that first anniversary of PNG’s Independence Day? 
The wonderful unity brought through singing the new National Anthem and also the other songs like “We are Free”, written by our family friend “Uncle” Geoff Baskett. 
He loved the fact that PNG had gained Independence. 
He is gifted in many areas such as writing several songs that people have enjoyed ever since or little stories read out over the radio. 
Anyone remember his stories after Independence Day of the little gecko who now had his freedom and travelled the world, “singing” at the Sydney Opera House, and “meeting” with the Queen of England and the President of the USA?  Great memories!
I’m not sure everyone knew that for a period of time after Independence, Baskett was asked to develop the centre section of the new Air Niugini magazine? 
He came up with a puzzle that celebrated the magnificent PNG stamps. 
One example was to find the only two identical stamps in amongst maybe 100 others.  Sometimes it took me the whole flight from Port Moresby to Mt Hagen to find them! 
We had met Uncle Geoff in the early 60s in Wewak when he helped manage Radio Wewak and had encouraged Sir Michael Somare in his early days as a radio news announcer. 
Despite his busy schedule Uncle Geoff would take us around in his open WWII jeep, making jokes and singing away with many songs.
 Have you heard this one?
Husat i laik baim kokonas, yu kam nau bung long Wewak
Husat i laik baim kokonas, yu kam nau bung long Wewak
Kokonas na muli, banana, stap
Husat i laik baim kokonas, yu kam nau bung long Wewak
Kam na baim, baim, baim,
Kam na baim, baim, baim,

(Note: Geoff is now 94, living in Australia and still writing short stories for radio, mainly for children.)

Later in 1976 I visited places like Wewak and Anguganak and more memories flooded back.  For example, in 1964, as a seven-year-old I went with Dad to a little bush outpost near Wulukum to see him help with the recording of votes in the first elections in PNG’s history. 
Many people seemed to only have a village name, so it was amazing to see Dad sensitively helping people establish a second name for the first time ever.
 PNG is a great place to be. 
Now 34 years later, my wife and I are now in Wewak doing mission work, enjoying again the wonderful people, yet concerned somewhat about developments within this beautiful country.
 Two weeks before PNG’s historic day in September 1975, I thought I had gained my own independence when I turned 18 years of age. 
But, now as a “lapun”, I realise that independence does not mean freedom without responsibility; independence means being responsible with what God has entrusted to you. 
We pray that everyone in PNG will all work together, and still take seriously, the fact that today we are jointly the custodians of the outcomes of this great land, a precious part of God’s creation.   
To honour Him in that, we need to honour Him in all things.
In the covenant that Grand Chief Rt Hon Sir Michael Somare signed on August 26, 2007 between the Most High God and the nation of PNG, it states from Jeremiah 31:33-34 “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will men say “know the Lord” because they will all know me.  From the least of them to the greatest…”
May this be true for Independent PNG.
Congratulations PNG for 35 years of Independence!

My father, passed away on Mother’s Day 2009, but gave a framed copy of his 1975 Independence Day photo to the PNG High Commissioner Brigadier General Ken Noga in Canberra, Australia to celebrate the 21st anniversary of PNG’s Independence.  He also included a framed calligraphy copy of the Bible text: John 3:16 in 3 languages – English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu – we understand they were forwarded to Port Moresby.  PNG meant a lot to him, but not as much as the Bible, which changed his life.

Remembering Independence Day in 1975


Keith Jackson…feelings of real pride in PNG

THAT FIRST Independence Day in Papua New Guinea was organised in a heck of a hurry.
Less than three months before September 16, 1975, Chief Minister Michael Somare gave long-serving District Commissioner David Marsh the task of organising events on the day and during the six days of celebration from September 14-19.

Flag lowering in 1975

Marsh did a fine job – VIPs, security, transport, accommodation and the proceedings themselves all had to be planned and brought to fruition.
 And not just in Moresby, of course, but throughout the country.
There were a number of high-profile events, like the taking down of the Australian flag at sunset on September 15 (“we are lowering this flag, not tearing it down,” said Sir John Guise, memorably).
And there were also exhibits, church services, sports fixtures, bands, pageants, addresses, dinners, ceremonies, concerts, fireworks, medals, publications, tree plantings and radio broadcasts.

Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, author Keith Jackson and an Orange city councillor in 2009

Even the West Indies cricket team played in Port Moresby and Lae.
Then, on the day itself, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the commander of the PNG Defence Force raised the new Kumul flag on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.
Independence Day was a huge success.
 And its success had been achieved with speed.
A bit like Independence itself.
Australia had been in PNG to build a nation.
 We expatriates played our parts in that grand enterprise.
Unfortunately, when Australia pulled out, so did thousands of its citizens who had worked in PNG for many years.

The author at camp on the slopes of Mt Wilhelm in 1964

And they left quickly.
It was said then, and still is by a lot of people, that Independence had “come too soon”.
But, to me, the main issue was that too much experience and expertise deserted PNG in those few years immediately after Independence.
But that was in the 70s, and nothing can change what happened then.
Today, 35 years on, what can we say about Papua New Guinea?
Well, my website PNG Attitude always has a lot to say – and some of it is very critical.
But, irrespective of what one may think about governance, health and other issues, let me tell you six good reasons why everyone associated with Papua New Guinea should feel a sense of real pride in the country.

The author at camp on the slopes of Mt Wilhelm in 1964

Keith Jackson at a pooling booth in the first election in 1964
1.      PNG is a parliamentary democracy. Forget the skullduggery and tactical trickery that sometimes characterises National Parliament. PNG’s people go to the polls every five years to elect their government. They will do so again in 2012 as they have in the 48 years since 1964. (Yes, 2014 will be the 50th anniversary of representative government in PNG.)
2.      PNG is united. And what a challenge this was. A fragmented tribal society of more than 800 languages and as many cultures has managed to remain together as one nation for 35 years. True, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, but how could it be in such circumstances. Unity alone is a considerable achievement and a positive reflection on PNG’s political leadership.
3.       PNG has retained a viable society. Although periodically threatened by commercial pressures and the waywardness of modern life, the bedrock of PNG society remains the tribe, clan and extended family. The wantok system can be a curse when applied to conventional organisation; but is a real blessing when it comes to providing the baseline security that a nation and its people require.
4.      PNG has retained some strong institutions. It has a Defence Force that understands the primacy of the government of the day. It has an independent and strong judiciary. It has universities that produce thinkers and doers. And it has non-government organisations that, while frequently criticised by some politicians, are growing in robustness and contributing greatly to the maintenance of a strong civil society.
5.      PNG has a free press. While not numerous in terms of autonomous outlets, the PNG press has a tradition of independence that was first entrenched by those forcefully-unfettered journalists who gave real backbone to the country’s media organisations in the 1960s and 1970s. This feisty press tradition has more recently managed to migrate successfully to the internet, especially through blogs. It will continue to flourish.
6.      PNG has a people who will prevail. Over many hundreds of years a thousand societies developed in relative isolation from the world and from each other. But that proved no fatal constraint, because these societies also produced an enviable toughness, an acute intuition, a richness of culture and a great capacity to change. No more needs to be said.
All Australians who have affection for Papua New Guinea and its people, and there are very many of us, congratulate our close neighbour on this auspicious day and want to communicate to you the continuing warmth of our friendship.

Keith Jackson publishes the PNG Attitude blog. He is Chairman of Jackson Wells Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based public relations firm, and an Adjunct Professor in Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland.

A Papua New Guinea education


Paul Oates
When I was 21 I was lucky enough to be selected as an assistant patrol officer in the then Australian Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG).
Not many people in Australia knew much about our northern external territory except those of my father’s generation who had fought there during the Second World War.
My training as an assistant patrol officer commenced in 1969 at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) located in Mosman, Sydney.
The lectures included law, government, geography, and language.
Mostly these subjects were taught by those who had some association with PNG, although they had little or no experience in the territory’s rural areas.
After our time at ASOPA, my course of 39 trainees was flown to Port Moresby and continued its training at Kwikila, a sub district headquarters 100km east of Moresby in the Rigo area of the Central district.
Here practical experience involved police administration, local government and public works.
At the end of this training, we were given our field postings.
My posting was to the West Sepik region, however I swapped with a colleague so I could go to the Morobe district to hopefully learn a little about cattle farming.
In the event, I was posted to Pindiu patrol post in the Finschhafen sub district where there were very few cattle.
Paul Oates as a young Australian kiap at Pindiu, Morobe district, in 1970
When I arrived at the district headquarters in Lae and visited the district commissioner’s office, I was told I was to fly out the next morning to Pindiu and was taken around to open a country order account at Steamships New Guinea Company.
An assistant district commissioner from another sub-district wanted to snaffle me for his domain and, when he came around the following morning to order me to go with him; I wanted to be loyal to my actual posting and hid until he had to catch his plane.
Later that morning I was loaded into a small Cessna 172 along with a new government clerk and his family and we flew from Lae to Pindiu, where I was expected to complete my two years of field training and after which I might be lucky enough to be promoted to patrol officer.
The type of field training offered usually depended on the senior officer at the time. There appeared to be two schools of thought.
Villagers building the Ogeranang airstrip in Finschhafen, Morobe district, in 1969
One was to take the newly posted ‘cadet’ and lead him through the ropes.
 The second appeared to be: ‘Toss him in at the deep end and see if he swims?’
The officer-in-charge of Pindiu, who had previously served in the Western Highlands, belonged to the second school of thought.
Not long after I arrived, I was told I was to go on patrol.
 This involved preparing my meagre supplies and rations and flying from Pindiu to Mindik airstrip where the OIC and I walked to where an airstrip was to be built.
My role was to supervise the construction of that airstrip at a village called Ogeranang using a plan on a foolscap piece of paper kept at the site.
My boss took me to the site, showed me what had to be done and left me there for a fortnight to learn the ropes.
 What I didn’t know at the time was that in the future I would be directed to build a base camp at Mindik and generally ‘look after’ the whole of the Kua and Bulum river valleys and their people.
I would also regularly walk back and forth to the airstrip construction site at Ogeranang village in the Bulum valley.
What I also didn’t know was that my little base camp would eventually become a centre of government administration and I would plan schools to be built in Mindik and Ogeranang that would help the people of that area.
But all that was in the future.
I considered myself at 21 to be fairly fit.
Outdoor training with the army reserve and ‘bush bashing’ as it was called was something I was very keen on.
Our patrol started from Mindik and walked for about three hours from the Kua valley over the ridge to the Bulum valley and to a village called Areganang.
Here we met the driving force behind the new airstrip, a councillor called Rukanzinga. Councillor Rukanzinga turned out to be about my father’s age and a man of vision.
He was very keen to have an airstrip in his area so that his people didn’t have to carry their coffee all the way to Mindik or down to the coast to sell.
Leaving Areganang, we set off again towards Ogeranang and the airstrip site only this time the climbing was harder going.
“Don’t drink anything!” the boss told me, but the cool, clear water in the stream before the final climb was just too tempting.
Up, up, and up we climbed until my breath started to shorten.
Stopping and taking ‘a breather’ to look at the scenery didn’t seem to help.
 My breathing became very laboured and I wondered what on earth was going on.
“Ha!” said my boss, “You drank some water didn’t you? I told you not to?”
What I hadn’t yet worked out is that my body wasn’t yet acclimatised to altitude and at around 5,000 feet about sea level I wasn’t used to the diminished oxygen at that altitude - especially when taking rigorous exercise.
Villagers digging a drain for an airstrip in Ogeranang, Morobe district, in 1969
As I gasped and wheezed up the mountain, Councillor Rukanzinga came forward and said gently in Tok Pisin, “Just take little steps, kiap. You’ll be OK.”
Slipping his arm into mine, the councillor helped me forward and showed me how to take little, six inch steps upward.
Ever so slowly I continued to climb, leaning on Councillor Rukanzinga.
When we arrived at the top of the ridge where the airstrip was being built, it seemed thousands of people were waiting for us.
The experienced PNG councillor had successfully led the inexperienced young Australian up to the camp site.
I realised that my PNG education had only just commenced!