Sunday, January 29, 2012

Glory days of Goroka

Dear Malum,

An acquaintance who does missionary work in PNG recently sent me your article published in The National on August 5,  2011 about your reminiscenses of Goroka in the old days. 
As an educational textbook seller I had given her some boxes of learning guides that she felt could be put to good use at a mission school in Wabag.

Your article brought back a flood of memories of my own time in Goroka. 
From 1971 to 1975 I was posted to Goroka, first as Assistant District Commissioner, followed by two years as the last "white" Council Clerk of Goroka Local Government Council, handing over to my understudy Himony Lapiso in August 1975 - after which I resigned to start my own small business in Queensland.

The 17 years I spent as a kiap (1958-1975) in PNG were the best years of my life. 
In a sense I grew up there because only a few months after completing high school in 1957 and at just 18 years of age I found myself on a DC-4 flying from Brisbane to Port Moresby - to a job I knew very little about! 
A few short months later I was sent to Bundi Patrol Post (in a shaky old canvas Dragon bi-plane!) to caretake while the permanent Patrol Officer took a month's break in Madang.
My experiences were certainly not unique - in the late 50's there was a shortage of experienced field staff, and the only way was to expose young blokes to the challenges of isolation and responsibilities of day-to-day outstation management. 
Learning to speak fluent pidgin was crucial but occurred rapidly - after all, more often than not and especially when on patrol, there were only the police constables and medical orderlies accompanying the patrols, and of course the village people, to talk with.
Before being transferred to Goroka I had been based for varying terms in Saidor, Madang, Kalalo (Wasu), Imonda, Green River, Kokopo, Rabaul, Pomio, and Aitape.

Like you, I developed a great affection for Goroka - it was always considered a "plum" posting for government officers, for reasons that you described in your article. 
A literal paradise - cool climate, spectacular scenery, fertile and bountiful land, and a population that was industrious and keen to learn and improve their quality of life.

Goroka Council was always regarded as a model for local government in PNG - it pioneered combining urban and rural local government and was extremely successful in serving the diverse demands of both communities.
We had some really outstanding councillors back then - Atau Waikave, Akepa Miakwe, Iyape Norikave (?) and a wonderful gregarious character called Cr Bulmakau! Rural councillors far outnumbered the handful from the town, but they were able to strike a perfect balance between urban and rural development and the standard of services to both constituencies were of a very high standard.

In 1988, after an absence of 13 years, I took up an offer by the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government to come back to Goroka to set up a new urban authority - the standard or urban services and amenities had deteriorated, for one rreason or another. They decided that the best way to get Goroka working again would be to separate the town and the rural districts into 2 separate local government entities because the single council was no longer capable of handling the demands of both interests productively.

For me it was in many ways a "homecoming" - how ironic that the Premier of EHP was Walter Nombe, who in the time I was ADC in the 70's, had been my sub-distrcit office clerk!

My appointment was as Town Manager of the Eastern Highlands Capital Authority, with a board of 10 local leaders headed by Silas Atopare. It was an extremely challenging time, especially in the first year as we struggled to find sufficient funds to get the Authority off the ground, and with some understandable resistance from the Goroka Council who were not very pleased to have the town, and inherent revenue (land rates etc) taken away from them.

My excitement to be back in Goroka was tempered by the sorry state of the town - garbage piled up along the streets, roads in disrepair, town water barely a trickle if at all, and domestic pigs roaming freely at night and totally destroying the once beautiful parks and gardens for which Goroka was renowned.

The magnitude of the task ahead was immense, and apart from anything else, I was very conscious that here I was, a lone white man, in a way "recycled", with thousands of eyes watching my every move and ready to swoop if I put a foot wrong!

The three years that I spent as Town Manager in Goroka until 1992 surpassed my previous experiences in PNG and included some really remarkable episodes, not least the close working relationship between Silas Atopare and myself, but I won't bore you further with my ramblings. 
Suffice to say that in a relatively short period the wonderfully dedicated personnel of the Town Authority, from board member to humble street sweeper, managed to restore Goroka to its former glory, drawing praise from the broad community, and envy from other urban communities.

We demonstrated that it did not require the re-invention of the wheel to bring a town back to normal operations - all we had to do was to manage meagre finances carefully, apply all the revenues to providing urban utility and public services, implement and enforce local laws dealing with littering and animal husbandry, and inspire civic pride. 
It is amazing what a community will do to rise to the occasion when you provide good governance - Goroka in those years even banned betel nut selling and spitting in all public areas, with outstanding effect!

I still have enormous affection for Goroka (and PNG of course) and wish I could still be there.

Thank you for writing about "my town" - I now follow your blog and really enjoy your comments and observations on contemporary life in PNG.

Kind regards,

Will Muskens
465 Simpsons Road
BARDON Qld 4065
(61) 419 658 494

1 comment:

  1. Will/Malum,

    A recent discovery of boxes of old Kodachrome slides taken during my two years in Goroka in 1966-1967 led me to digitize the photos and put them into a video format. In checking on some background information I'd forgotten, I was pleased to came across your posts.

    For those two years, I served as Council Clerk in Goroka when the new urban/rural, multi-racial Council assumed the takeover of local services from the central government. Atau and Akepa (mentioned in Will's article) were key players back then and the 40+ members of the Council laid a solid framework for continued success. Wesley Tololo was the local administrative officer at the time.

    If you would like, I'll send along a copy of the video presentation when its completed.

    Noel Klein