Wednesday, December 12, 2007

the War in Papua New Guinea. Part Two.

Speak to a lot of ex-pat Australians living in PNG and they know of Kokoda, and quite a few have read books on the subject and a few have also read further into the battle campaigns of PNG not centered around that "bloody track". The Battle of Milne Bay and the Naval conflict on the Coral Sea are some of the more decisive campaigns in the entirety of the whole Pacific War. The march into Rabaul by some 17,000 troops was a confidence building victory by the Japanese forces. And their ensuing push to gain control of the whole of New Guinea started when the Japanese landed at Buna and Gona on the Northern side of the Owen Stanleys.

The city of Lae, not far from Buna and Gona was invaded by the Japanese as easily as Rabaul was, and the Markham and Ramu Valleys were strategic pieces of flat land in and otherwise mountainous country. The Australian advance was to eventually push the Japanese back from whence they came and the Markham and Ramu battlefields were as pertinent to the entire conflict in PNG as Kokoda was.

As a horticulturist in this country, I spend a great deal of time looking for moments of inspiration, looking for those parcels of trees, flowers, plants, and grass that capture the beauty of this amazing country. In my last post I mentioned the Bomana War Cemetery and the cemetery is an oasis in a rugged country, especially in the dry season, but the Lae War Cemetery is a picture of history, of what the entire city of Lae once possibly looked like.

I have heard storeys of how the red canna lilys once lined the entrance to the city of Lae for kilometres underneath the massive boughs of the Rain Trees. Now these Rain trees are infested with Mastotermes darwiniensis, a monster termite accidentally imported from Australia in timber pallets and is literally eating the city of Lae. And these trees are falling over and busting the fences of the Golf Course, which I might add, is another splendid display of horticulture in PNG.

If you want to see good amenity horticulture in PNG, visit the War Cemeteries, the Golf Courses or a politician's residence.

The canna lilys are now almost completely gone. High cyclone fences and razor wire now line the streets of Lae, it's an aggressive face to a once beautiful city. The old Royal Botanic Gardens shows infrastructure which once would have been gorgeous, and yet it still holds one specimen of Amherstia nobilis, the Queen of all Flowering Trees. And nestled in one corner of the Lae Botanic Gardens lie the final resting place of nearly 3,000 graves of soldiers from the Commonwealth. The Lae War Cemetery is a large expanse of turf, with small garden beds interspersed amongst the concrete headstones, surrounded by a garden bed designed to hide the boundary. Beyond the fence is the Botanic Garden, fastly becoming a termite infested jungle.

The neatness of the War Cemetery, proves what once was, and may never be again. It is a peaceful and reflective sanctuary as are the majority of cemeteries, but the harsh razor wire edge of Lae tends to soften a little as you read the inscriptions of those young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Lest We Forget.

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