Sunday, August 14, 2011

Remembering Goroka the way it used to be


With just over a month to go before the world-famous Goroka Show, the town is stinking with piles of uncollected rubbish everywhere.
This is feasted upon by pigs in full view of everyone.
This is a far cry from the Goroka I knew, grew up in, and came to love – the Goroka I’d like to remember.
I found some classic old photos of Goroka, posted online by former Goroka resident Brian Wilson – from 1972 - at  , which stirred up so much nostalgia.
Goroka, like the rest of PNG, had its glory days in the pre-independence era, after which everything crumbled when the Australians left.
The town’s children of today, visitors from overseas and around the country, must know that Goroka was once one of the prettiest towns in Papua New Guinea.

Entrance to Goroka market in 1972. See how clean it is
I find myself following the yellow brick road to a land that promised so much hope and dreams back in the 1970s.
The first thing that struck me about Goroka was the beautiful flowers, shrubs, roaring streams, and, needless to say, cleanliness.

Downtown Goroka. Note the cleanliness of the streets
I was then seven years old, bound to turn eight later that momentous year of 1975, but the memories are still there, 36 years on.
The family of my mum, dad, elder sister, elder brother, my younger sister and me disembarked from an Air Niugini F27 Fokker Friendship one cold January morning in 1975.

West Goroka. Hardly any litter
I took my first breath – fresh, cool and clean mountain air – of what would be our home for the next three years until the end of 1977.
Back in 1975, mum, dad and my elder siblings were no newcomers to Goroka and the then Eastern Highlands District.

West Goroka on a Saturday afternoon in 1972. Note the spotlessly-clean streets
Mum and dad came here as newlyweds to Iufi Iufa primary school, Asaro Valley, in the early 1960s.
My father Mathias was a school inspector and an ex-Dregerhafen and Sogeri schoolmate of one Michael Somare while my Moasing mother was a missionary-trained nurse.
It was here that my elder sister Alison and my elder brother David were born.

Goroka Steamships - nicknamed Steamies  - which was both a grocery store and a department store
 I have so many pleasant memories of growing up in Goroka.
In those pre-independence and immediate post-independence days, colonialism was still in the air, hence, there being so many expatriates.
Goroka was a neat, well-planned colonial town, which – like Lae and Kainantu – was built around the airport.

Burns Philp shopping centre and Goroka Pharmacy
The airport then was a hive of activity, especially given Goroka being the base of Dennis Buchanan’s Talair.
Throwing frisbees and flying kites in the park, riding bikes, chasing muna (those seasonal beetles eaten by the locals), buying sweets, comic and books at West Goroka and lying in the Rotary Park and dreaming on those endless summer afternoons in December were among our great passions.

Traditionally-dressed Goroka women in 1972 outside the main market
Comic book trading – Donald Duck, Phantom, Walt Disney, Ritchie Rich, Casper The Friendly Ghost, Wendy The Good Little Witch, Bugs Bunny…and I could go on and on with the characters – was a way of life among us kids in those days.
I have no qualms that I learned more English and the nuances of grammar from those comic books than from school.

Goroka Post Office
Professional boxing was all the rage in those days of inimitable fighters like Martin Beni, the late John Aba, his brother Tony, Mark Apai and the lot.
Through the late Norm Salter – the great fight promoter – Goroka was able to host its share of professional and amateur bouts as well as wrestling matches featuring men, women and even midgets from overseas.

Jumbo, the elephant, in Goroka, 1972
Goroka’s YC Hall was the equivalent of Madison Square Gardens in the US - the true centre of boxing in the country.
The YC was also the centre stage for basketball in those days with national championships being held there in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

Halftime during an aussie rules match at the National Park, with the iconic Sports Club in the background
The showground, now the National Sports Institute, saw bone crushing rugby league matches as well as aerial rules football contests.
Of course, nothing in Goroka would be complete without the annual show, a colorful extravaganza of singsings, agricultural produce and those wonderful show bags we loved so much.

Goroka market 1972
The West Goroka Theatre, now the NSI gymnasium, was where we would sit on old coffee bags and watch those good old Bruce Lee and James Bond movies, as well as thrillers like Airport ’75, Jaws, Towering Inferno and King Kong – the place being literally packed to the rafters.
Radio then was king – there being no such thing as EMTV or video – and it was a joy to listen to the Sunday night dramas, Grade 10 quizzes and the live coverage of rugby league and other sports on the National Broadcasting Commission’s medium wave transmission.

Asariyufa village, next to Goroka Market. These days, pigs wander freely, unlike before
Yes, indeed, life was a wonderful dream for us who grew up in Goroka at the time.
Of course, in 1975, independence was in the air.
Young men who championed the cause, like Michael Somare, were treated with disdain by the lapuns and old colonials, who argued that independence would be a catastrophe.

Typical Goroka government house in 1972
Little PNG flags and independence t-shirts and caps were very fashionable.
At school the teacher, a beautiful Hula, Central province woman called Mrs Manoka, would ask us, one by one, to give our individual oratories about this thing called ‘Independence’.

Goroka Base Hospital 1971
That year, in April, there was excitement all around the brand new PNG currency was introduced.
Shiny 10 and 20 toes coins were all the rage among us kids.
The venerable Australian dollars and cents, which had become part of our lives, continued to be legal tender until after independence.

Saturday afternoon at West Goroka - full of out of town people from surrounding villages
Also that eventful year, by quirk of fate, a big frost in Brazil – the world’s biggest coffee producer – saw prices skyrocket.
It was a cause to celebrate with fortunes being made overnight, especially in the Highlands.
At the West Goroka shopping centre just down the road from where we lived, it was a common sight to see villagers in as tanget (leaf coverings, which were worn widely in those days instead of clothes) with huge wads of cash going on an orgy of spending, buying big cow legs, beer and stereos for the inevitable parties that followed.

Turner and Davey (TDE) electrical shop in West Goroka
My uncle, the coffee tycoon Jack Amos, made millions overnight and celebrated by travelling to the Phillipines to watch that famous ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ world heavyweight championship bout between Muhammed Ali and ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
These all added to the big party that was 1975.
September 15, 1975, was the last day for PNG to come under colonial rule.

Swimming pool at Minogere Lodge
Today, 36 years later, Goroka is still a beautiful place.
In fact, I spent four years there from 1998 to 2002, finding myself back on my childhood stomping grounds.
It was like arriving at a place I’d never left!
Memories of another day, those oh-so-happy childhood days, came rushing back.

Basketball game at Goroka Teachers College (now University of Goroka)
 And nostalgia filled my heart every time I saw something that reminded me of those blissful days.
Goroka still hasn’t lost its basic shape of 1975, 1976 and 1977 and still has that colonial feel about it.
Goroka, to me, is home.
After all, my siblings and I were born, raised and educated here.
In later years, my late wife and I spent four wonderful years in Goroka, and it was there that my two elder sons were born.
I dream of a golden future for this pleasantly-agreeable town with its perennial spring climate, majestic sentinel-like mountains and bouquet of perfumed flowers.
Let’s not turn Goroka into a pigsty!


  1. Thanks Malum...that's exactly as I remember our "hometown" forty years ago. All our family photos haven't survived so I'm glad you could bring back the memories in crisp detail. John Ombiga

  2. I'm so glad that you like it John. We grew up in Goroka in those and we'd like to remember Goroka as paradise.

  3. hey Malum, would you have any pictures of Port Moresby back in the 60's and 70's?? If you do and are willing to sell em then i'm interested. Pls email me on

  4. nice pics Malum. Pls post some old pics of Pom back in the day...

  5. I have been trying to find out more about wrestling in PNG & in the article it mentions that it was once popular in Goroka. Do people still practice the sport there?

  6. I lived just outside Goroka at a mission base called "Sola Fide" We moved there in 1976 and I was fourteen years old (my mum was the missionary).
    I only stayed a couple of years but it was enough to change my life forever.
    Looking back I wish I'd never left but at 16 standing around on cold wet street corners in England must have seemed more attractive than the wonderful life I had with the native kids in the highlands. I regret it deeply now.

    I used to do a bit of work in town at a Christian bookshop and also at the bus company (run by a fellow missionary but can't remember the name of the company) both were opposite the Bird of Paradise Hotel.

    I remember going to the swimming pool and also to the cinema with the native kids to watch Bruce Lee movies.

    At fifteen I'd learned to drive and lost my virginity :-)

    I still speak pretty good pidgin English.

    One of our fellow missionaries David Short became a teacher in Goroka so there may be a connection to you there.

    My mum (now 87) still has loads of photo's so I'll try and scan them and then add a link.

    I've been trying to find the site of our old mission base on Google Earth but unfortunately the resolution just isn't good enough.

    I've always wanted to go back but, as you say, things have apparently deteriorated.

  7. Having nursed in Goroka from late 1972/74 I found your photos reminisce of the clean lovely place I remembered.The crisp fresh air and atmosphere were
    From Mary

  8. I happened across this article about life in Goroka. My family lived in Kundiawa then Goroka - we left in Dec 1970. We lived in North Goroka just up the road from the trade stores and picture theatre. I have incredible memories of life up there back in the 60's. My father ,Frank Dwyer, worked in the district office for the district commissioner. My mother worked in a shop called Buntings next to the chemist. I attendee boarding school in Brisbane and used to love flying over the mountains for a week or two in Goroka during the school holidays.
    Mark Dwyer

  9. Just love my place. Will never swap it for anything. Been everywhere and seen alot and admire a few places in the world but nothing comes closure than my town..home sweet home...GOROKA. Bire Kimisopa

  10. Just love my place. Will never swap it for anything. Been everywhere and seen alot and admire a few places in the world but nothing comes closure than my town..home sweet home...GOROKA. Bire Kimisopa

  11. In 1972,I lived in Goroka and worked with the Treasury...among the most memorable days of my life. I remember evenings when the air was so clear and still I could hear folk talking on a hill a half mile away. Each time I see poinsettias, my mind travels back to those halcyon days. Pure magic!