Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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.

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