Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kokoda Station, Oro

Well there I was, I had spent a week working with a crew down in Milne Bay and going for walks to Waterfalls and the plan was to fly Airniugini out of Gurney to Jackson's on the Tuesday afternoon and then catch the scheduled Airlines PNG flight from Jackson's to Kokoda on the Wednesday. Now I have travelled to Alotau on many occasions and I know the afternoon flight often gets re-scheduled to the morning after and it did so on this occasion. So this meant I had one hour on the ground in Moresby to race home to Town, empty my week of dirty laundry, pick up a new fresh batch of clothes and camping gear and get on a plane to Kokoda. Which I managed to do quite successfully.

But then I arrived at the Airlines PNG terminal to watch the Schedule flight come and go and come and go and come and go. Three Charters meant that the same plane would go to Kokoda, get some Trekkers, bring 'em back to Moresby, get some more trekkers, take them to Kokoda and so on. I and my companions and a few locals would have to wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually, late in the afternoon, it was our turn.

In a weird twist of fate as I see it, our pilot that afternoon was the late Jenny Moala and she was quite pleasant and chatty to us as we were preparing to taxi. Motoring down the runway, she seemed in constant communicae with the Tower. I noted to my fellow passengers that the clouds were hanging heavy over the Owen Stanleys and that it may be a rough flight. Well, Jenny then turned to us and said "Hey Guys, we're not going to Kokoda today, there is heavy rain at Kokoda and I don't want to take the risk"

While I was annoyed at yet another cancelled flight, I felt that if the pilot says it is too risky, then its too risky for me.

So, that one hour rush in the morning meant that in reality, I had 24 hours in Moresby to sort out my things.

The next morning we left Jacksons and flew into a sunny Kokoda, and after visiting the Chinese Store at the bottom of the plateau, me and the crew were walking/half running up the Kokoda Track to go and get some work done.

Well the work got done and it was time to leave the mountains and wander back to Kokoda. Here we discovered we had a few days to wait around for our flight, so I engaged in some work with the locals and made a few friends. One such lady is the reason for this blog entry; despite my crazy work schedule and missed flights and hard yakka work and walking up and down Mountains, this lady named Cecily was a shining light.

Cecily was a lady who I believe represents all that is beautiful about the land of PNG and the people of PNG, her work was volunteered and unheralded; she had travelled extensively throughout PNG and to other parts abroad yet knew where her heart called home and she operated at a grass roots level. Here's her story.

One afternoon, resting after a hard day's toil, I was sitting around on the edge of the road saying "Apinun" to all who would wander past when a group of young children left their primary school and wandered down the road past the Kokoda Hospital and down towards the Memorial site. I said "Apinun olgeta" and the kids laughed at the white guy. We then all broke out into conversation about their day at school and sports and stuff, when I spotted a Motuan amongst the children. I said "Hadorai namona" to the young girl and she giggled wildly and the other kids all slapped each other. Then I heard Cecily say "You say Hadorai Namona to the nice man, he's speaking your language" and the young kekeni said "Hadorai"

After an "Oi namo" exchange the kids all ran off laughing. Cecily stayed around and looked at me, she said "You speak Motu, not too many white guys speak Motu these days, you're not a trekker?" and I said no I wasn't and that I was working in Moresby and had many Motuan friends there, but this week I was in Kokoda. We talked about the work I did and also of the work that Cecily was involved in. I asked if she were the teacher for the children and she said sometimes. Cecily volunteered her time a few days a week to offer support to the education that the children were trying to get through the proper school by teaching the children English.

Cecily told me that when she was a young girl growing up, they taught her her tok ples first, Motu second and then English, and everyone would speak English, none of the brutish tok pisin that the Highlanders spoke. Cecily told me of her disgust at how she travelled the length and breadth of PNG and had visited countries overseas only to return to find all the children speaking pidgin. So she decided to rectify the problem and she spoke English and English only to the children of Kokoda, hoping to educate them in the language of the planet. I promised Cecily that I would too greet the children of the school in English.

The next afternoon as the children wandered past again, I spoke with them in English and they responded, some in English and some in Pidgin, so I said that Miss Cecily would not be happy unless they spoke in English and they agreed and spoke in only English. We all sat down and we talked stories about the work I did, my family and life in Australia. I asked them about their families, their parents, their brothers and sisters and what they wanted to do when they grew up.

Then Cecily walked around the corner and the children all looked up to her. Cecily had let it slip that she had once married a Tolai man and lived in Rabaul before the eruption, so I said "Boina rabian" and Cecily looked speechless, her jaw dropped, and she then responded in Tolai. The children too could not work out what was going on, so Cecily explained that I had spoken to her in the language known as Kuanua or the language of the Tolai people.

Once again, the kids all rain off laughing and Cecily stayed for a story or three. Some years ago, the people of Kokoda Station needed electricity so a brand new diesel generator was installed, you can see it behind its locked cage on the hillside near where this young fellow was sitting and unfortunately due to an argument about maintaining the generator, someone locked the cage and went bush. To this day, the generator has never turned over and Kokoda Station is without electricity, despite having powerlines (that are falling over); so story telling is the pastime of choice. Cecily and I talked of Rabaul and how it once was, and how it is now.

The next day, I wandered down to the airfield along with the rest of Kokoda Station and we watched the charters come and go. We watched the tired and exhausted trekkers get on their plane and head back to Moresby to electricity and running water and we watched a new batch arrive. Again, my flight was the last to leave but this day we did leave.

I met Cecily once again at the airport and we chatted amongst the gambling meris and we told more stories much to the laughter of the gambling meris. Cecily and I, our conversation was part Tolai, part Motu and mainly English, and this had the gambling meris laughing and slapping each other, but that is another Oro Province tale...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kokoda Track, Oro

How's this guy? This is one of those photos that is not meant to work, but somehow the content means so much more than "Did I get the right shutter speed for the light conditions?". To set this tale; I had just walked from Ower's Corner to Kokoda and here I am walking down the concrete path that leads from the Kokoda Plateau (Memorial Site) and down to the Chinese Store. This path used to be a road until a big Raintree fell across the path and in true Kokoda fashion, an argument has broken out as to whose responsibility it is to clear the road.

So I have walked for 8 days through the streams and through the Rivers and it is here that I have one creek crossing left and then a concrete bridge over the Mudi River, and then to the Kokoda Airstrip. I am merely steps away from finishing the Kokoda Track; the porters and guides have been wonderful, the Villagers on the track have been fantastic and I have had an emotional ride. Living in PNG and working alongside Koiari and Orokaivans, it took no time for the Villages to learn of my journey and I was met and greeted by many along the journey. I met Wives and Fathers, Children and Dogs of the men who I worked with in Moresby.

So, for the entire length of my walk, and the time I had spent previously in Kokoda, for a great deal of time I was thinking "What is the future for these people?"

And in this photo, I think this young boy is thinking the same thing... where does his future lay? In the old and aged Palm Oil Plantation? As a Guide on the Kokoda Track? As a Raskol in Popondetta?

This photo was taken as I was walking down the concrete path to the airport, I had carried my Digital SLR across the Track but this was taken with my little point and shoot, I have no idea what setting, I just grabbed the camera and still moving fired from the hip.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Popondetta Airport, Oro

Like I mentioned before, one day while waiting for my plane to come in, a very popular pastime in Papua New Guinea, I was out chatting to the locals, and there were bag after bag after bag after bag of Betel Nut just sitting on the tarmac. Now I'm thinking, I sure do hope these bags are not getting on my flight because we are not going to get over the Owen Stanleys unless they send a Antonov.

So I am chatting to the locals and I discover that some very entrepreneurial kinda guys have chartered a plane to carry them and their Betel Nut to Moresby, they say it has cost them K23,000 for the plane but they reckon they got K40,000 to K50,000 worth of nut to sell. Now Betel Nut is a bit cyclical and it seems sometimes that it can be a bit seasonal (like a lot of produce) and my friends tell me that Oro Betel Nut is red-hot at the moment and the chewers of Moresby are just itching to get their teeth into some of Oro's finest.

So I left my Betel Nut Empire Kings and wandered around a bit more, and I found myself chatting to a man named Nathan whose Father Pol Toki owns and operates the Birdwing Butterfly Lodge, now I never stayed there, but I wished I had. I had a great time chatting to Nathan and his family and I kinda feel that his hospitality at the Birdwing may have been more pleasant than the Hotel Lamington, which is not the best of the Coral Seas chain of Hotels, and I think it may have slipped out of the Coral Seas group nowadays... but anyway, Nathan's daughter was sitting in the back of the ute eating the much loved PNG Cracker Biscuits, I think it may have been the Snax Chicken Cracker brand this time and Nathan asked if I could take her photo; which I did and later in Moresby, I printed the photo and sent it to Nathan. And he wrote a letter back to me which I still keep and is in my Lonely Planet guide, on the page of the Birdwing Butterfly Lodge, Oro.

Here is Nethalean.

Popondetta, Oro.

Popondetta; the Provincial Capital of the Oro Province and just quietly, its kinda stuck between a rock and hard place. I mean, I liked the place but it has a tough life ahead of it.

Here's how I saw it. Popondetta is a tough neighbourhood; I did quite a bit of solo travelling in PNG and I wandered around freely in many towns with the locals all telling me that "Nah, there's no raskols here" but in Popondetta, all the locals were saying "Take Care, Popondetta is full of raskols". This didn't stop me though, I wandered around the town and had no dramas, so I don't know what the fuss is about.

Popondetta; it's not on the coast so it doesn't have a huge ex-pat community, it's not Kokoda, so it doesn't get a huge influx of tourists, Cyclone Guba smashed all the bridges in the Province so road travel is a bit hit and miss, the Oil Palm doesn't seem to be as fruitful as those in New Britain and it doesn't look like the LNG project is going to be of any benefit to this part of PNG. The only thing that looked like it was going well was Betel Nut. Boy did I see a heap of that going on board a chartered Airlines PNG flight to Moresby! Street value was between K40,000 to K50,000 worth! Whoo oooh!

There's a problem here and it stems from the management of this Province, while I was in Oro, the LLG at Kokoda were being stifled for funds from Big Brother Popondetta because of Jealousies; that evil which permeates PNG culture. Kokoda gets all the international fan fare because of the track and it gets all of the tourists, yet the PLG based in Pop are unlikely to help progress Kokoda yet there is little reason to develop the Provincial Capital. What is the future for Popondetta? And I haven't even mentioned the other big Tourist Drawcard for Oro and that is the spectacular Tufi fjords.

So these pictures represent the people I met and worked with, chatted to and enjoyed a few stories during my visits to Popondetta. Nicky was a chap who cleaned up the Popondetta Memorial, which comprised of a collection of Battlefield Memorial Plaques that honour the role and sacrifice made by the Australian Soldiers during WW2 in the Oro region. Nicky and his mate John Billy were happy go lucky blokes who sat and chatted with me for a while, when I chose to visit the Memorial site one afternoon.

The lady and her baby were sitting under a nearby raintree just telling stories and chewing Betelnut with her friends; and they enjoyed chatting to the white guy. It was someone in this group who explained to me that the way the police allegedly deal with raskols in Popondetta was to knee-cap them, often resulting in the loss of a leg below the knee. It was after hearing this that I then started to notice so many young men in Popondetta were on crutches and only having one and a half legs! Oh dear.

And they love to gamble in Popondetta, well they love to gamble all over PNG, but in Popondetta it was huge; Gambling was everywhere and the high/low games were the popular choice.

In fact, there was prohibition on the sale of alcohol in Popondetta, after the Guba Flooding and a PLG election; the prohibition was lifted on the very day I flew into town. By 9am that morning, everyone was drunk, I saw SP bottles being launched out of a Police Car, I saw the recently elected PLG staff dancing drunkly with each other at the Hotel Lamington and I saw home brew sales decrease dramatically. What a wild night that was!

The future of Popondetta? I don't know... but what a ride...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The final Province on my blogging quest and although PNG has new Provinces today, they formed after I left and I had visited those areas on my tour of duty, so I come to the Oro Province or Northern province I think it was once called. Oro, Oro, Oro means welcome and it is quite often you will hear this greeting in this wide and varied Province.

I travelled to Oro a few times for both work and play and I got to see a fair part of the place, from the Coast to the Provincial Centre; Popondetta to the Mountains. I once walked to Oro, I landed there in Fokker 100s, in Twin Otters, Dash-8s and Helicopters, but never sailed there, and trying to recall what tales I should write about, I looked to my photographs for inspiration and what I saw was a collection of people who made the Oro Province special and I saw in their eyes an interesting question and that was "Where does the future lie for Oro and its people?"

The biggest drawcard for tourism in PNG in recent years is in no doubt, the Kokoda Track and thousands of Australians line up each trekking season (if Koiarian Barney Jack allows) and walk between Oro and Central Provinces. Some of these Aussies stay on to get a dive in somewhere, or visit other wartime locations but it seems to me that the real winner from the Kokoda Track is the NCD, but I digress. Some of my tales of Oro dwell around Kokoda and its path over the Owen Stanleys.

Photos and Blog notes to come...

Friday, February 12, 2010


Now, I've always been an Outdoor Type, but I have always had a roof above me and I've always paid the rent... thanks go to The Lemonheads there. And I have always been curious as to what lives in our world, be they trees that grow majestically into the sky or little rock daisies growing in the rain clouds to the birds and lizards and rats that inhabit these environments and it was the drawcard of PNG's most rugged landscape of Enga that drew me into the Mountains. I met many Engans in my time in Moresby and they all wanted me to take them back so they could show me their Enga! But my girlfriend and I just wandered up there ourselves to take a look, and it was in Enga that I entered a "bushwalker" and left a "birdwatcher".

Enga amazes me how such a rugged, mountainous part of PNG where foot travel is difficult, yet it only has the one Tok Ples whereas the Sepik region where river travel is commonplace and trading is a daily way of life has many Tok Ples. Enga confused all logic for me on this subject. But Enga is a gorgeous environment and despite staying at Kumul Lodge for my duration, we did get a few bus trips into the heart of Enga. Kumul Lodge is right on the Engan Hagen border and it offers spectacular views of Mt Hagen, and it has a huge array of birdlife, right on the steps of the lodge itself.

I have decided that pictures of the birds there will say more than my words...

Mum feeding her young

Male Ribbon Tailed Astrapia

A Tiger Parrot

Female Brown Sicklebill

Crested Berrypecker

Common Smoky Honeyeater whose eye patch changes colour from yellow to red, depending on his mood.

Archbold's Bower Bird.

A gorgeous Crested Bird of Paradise, some say should no longer be a Bird of Paradise, but in the Cnemophilus group of its Scientific nomenclature...