Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Bulolo love affair

This article first appeared in The National Weekender on Friday, March 8, 2013


Last Saturday, while in the mountains of Baiune in Bulolo, Morobe province, for the opening of PNG Forest Products’ K100 million Upper Baiune hydro power project, I met two living legends of Bulolo.
I was walking around taking pictures of the new Katu Vavini Power Station when this Filipino lady approached me, introduced herself, and said she was the mother of my friend Ronald Del Valle.
I got to know Ronald some years ago when, while writing a feature article on Bulolo, I urgently needed some pictures and found his website,, which features hundreds of pictures of this historic Papua New Guinea icon and the joys of growing up there.
We have since been corresponding through email, and through Facebook, where Ronald –now a medical worker in the Phillipines - proudly declares to the world that he is a “Mangi Bulolo (Bulolo Boy)”.
So it was a joy to meet his mother, Salve, and father, Romy, one of the oldest expatriate couples in Bulolo who have been there since before independence in early 1975.

Salve and Romy Del Valle chilling out at the Bulolo Country Club last Saturday night.-Nationalpic by MALUM NALU

Their three children, Rommel (38), Sharon Rie (35), and Ronald (32), were raised in Bulolo, with Sharon Rie and Ronald being born at Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae.
All did their primary schooling at Bulolo International Primary School, and high school and university in Australia.
Over dinner that night at Bulolo Country Club, as the food and drinks flowed, the Del Valles relived the memories of the last 37 years in Bulolo, a place which they call “home” and are much loved and respected by the local community.
Their swansong, perhaps, as they will shortly be leaving PNG for good, as after “retirement” in 2010, PNG Forest Products called them back because of Romy’s vast experience
In early 1975, a young, newly-wed mechanical engineer, with a young wife and newborn son back in the Phillipines, stepped out of a DC3 plane onto the tarmac of Bulolo Airport.
Little that Romy Del Valle know that Bulolo would become his home for the next 37 years, a place that he and his family would come to love, and to call home.
He had been working with a railway company after finishing uni, and hearing stories from Filipinos who had been working in the Vietnam War, wanted to experience the thrill of working overseas.
“I applied to the department of labour in the Phillipines for an overseas job,” Romy tells me.
“At the time, the Phillipines was just starting to export labour.
“After I applied, I was lucky to be interviewed by the managing director of Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers (CMGT), the predecessor to PNG Forest Products.”
Their first attempt at landing in Bulolo failed, as the DC3 could not land, because of bad weather and had to return to Port Moresby, but it was second time lucky the next day.
“About 19 Filipinos met us at the Bulolo Airport, all single guys,” Romy recalls.
“My contract was married, with family status, so after nine months, in early 1976, my wife Salve and our baby son, Rommel, joined me in Bulolo.”
A typical young couple, in those halcyon days of the 1970s in PNG, they adopted very well to their new home.
“At that time, the road going to Lae was very nice,” Romy remembers.
“It was just dirt, but along the way, there were government stations with machines, which used to grade the road all the time.
“We used to go down to Lae to do our shopping, leaving Bulolo at about 4.30 in the morning.
“When we arrived in Lae, we’d go to Pelgens at China Town or Malaita Street, Burns Philp or Steamships to do our shopping.
“We’d buy lunch and have it outside the old post office, or at the seaside near Voco Point.
“Also at that time, in Wau, New Guinea Goldfields (NGG) was still operating, and they had a good store there.
“Most of their goods were imported from America.
“Even Bulolo had good shops, with things like eggs, chickens, coming from Australia.”
Romy started work with PNG Forest Products as design engineer, and in 1984, was promoted to mechanical engineer, a position he has held since, and been involved in important facets of the company’s operations.
“The 1980s were hard, especially 1985 and 1986, because of not much sales,” he says.
“Things picked up in the early 2000s, after Tony Honey became general manager.
“From there, we have started to build the company again, with lots of improvements done during this time, especially in plywood and sawmilling.
“I have done so many things during my time here, including installing the hydro power station at Upper Baiune in 1985, after it was destroyed by fire.”
Apart from work, Romy has held various social positions, including being president of Bulolo Country Club, and Bulolo Tennis Club.
I ask him what has kept him here in Bulolo all these years.
“I think the place,” he replies.
“Bulolo is a nice place, quite, simple, you don’t rush, and the people are nice.
“I have a lot of friends here, especially among the local people.
“We’re going to be sad when we leave Bulolo.
“We’re going to miss Bulolo because all our friends are here.”
Behind every successful man is a woman, and Salve has been with Romy all the way from the Phillipines to Bulolo, since being sweethearts in their childhood days.
“I like the place, everyone is very friendly, and I can talk to them and they’re happy that I can talk in Tok Pisin,” she says.
“As Romy says, we will miss the place.
“We have so many good memories.
“We’ve stayed here for so long, I’ve had two kids born in Lae, I’ve been here since 1976.
“The company has been very good to Romy and his family, something for which I’m very thankful.
“The kids call the place as ‘ples bilong ol’.
“Sometimes, when friends comment on Facebook, they say, ‘em ples bilong mi tu ya’.
“We’re very thankful to Papua New Guinea.”

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Thanks for a good read. I grew up in Bulolo with a lot of Filippinos during the '80s including the Del Valles. Wonderful people and great memories. I went to school with them at BIPS for a bit. I still occasionaly keep in touch with Ron to this day. I'm also writing this comment in Bulolo where I've been back since 2009 after leaving in 1996. Yes, Bulolo and PNG is home to me, absolutely.