Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Trip To Port Moresby....Chapter Two

Soon, the islands of the Strait were in the distance. The Torres Strait Island group, approximately 274 in total, lying between Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea, are part of Queensland. They are administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority, a special authority fitting the native, Melanesian, land rights. Some of the islands lie just off the coast of New Guinea. Because of drastic depletion of their cultural artifacts in 1888-1880 by the visiting Cambridge Anthropological Expedition, in 1904, the islanders became subject to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897-Qld).

Papua New Guinea is about the size of California. Approximately 96% of its population of approximately 5.8million is Christian. Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia in 1975. The Torres Strait Islands and Islanders remained Australian. The New Guinea government objected to Australia having complete control over the waters of the strait. Both governments came to an agreement that suited both countries. The islands and islanders remained Australian, but the maritime border between Australia and Papua New Guinea runs through the centre of the strait, so both countries manage the resources of the area. From the tip of Cape York to New Guinea the distance is approximately 150kms at the narrowest point. The islands scatter over some 200-300kms, east to west.

It would please Al Gore to hear that at the termination of the last Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago, the rising sea submerged what was formerly a land-bridge between our two countries. (Definite signals of “Global Warming”, Mr. Gore!) Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are the remaining peaks of the former land-bridge that weren’t completely submerged when the ocean levels rose.

Torres Strait Islanders are Melanesians, distinct from the Australian Aboriginal. The population of the islands is approximately 8,000.

Seated next to me on the flight to Port Moresby was the North Queensland Area Manager for Avis Car Rental. He had made many previous business trips to New Guinea. I was interested in hearing from him what to expect upon arrival in Moresby. Time was limited on the flight, however, one barely had time to buckle up, unbuckle, have one beer, then buckle up again before we began our descent into Port Moresby airport! My flight companion told me to expect to see the New Guinea Nationals walking everywhere.

“What do you mean?” I asked. My curiosity aroused.

“Just that…they walk every where…coming and going, coming and going…never in a hurry…just walking. I don’t know if they ever get to where they’re going or if where they started from…but, you’ll see…they just…walk. You’ll see what I mean when we get there.”

The airport overflowed with people. A crowd milled around inside and outside of terminal building. Some sat on the floor, with their backs resting against the walls or whatever other support they could find. Some didn’t bother with any support. Security guards and police, with sniffing German Shepherds at their sides, created an ominous presence.

“Anyone trying to smuggle drugs into this country, would be a fool!” I mumbled softly out of the corner of my mouth to my flight companion, to whose side I’d become glued!

Finally, we collected our luggage, eagerly exiting the airport terminal to our waiting Avis cars. Outside, everywhere I looked, the Nationals (Papua New Guineans) were crouched under trees, palm trees, on lawns, on the footpaths, anywhere they could find a spot on which to sit. En route to our hotel, “The Islander”, I began to understand what Tony, my well-informed flight companion, had tried to explain to me. All along the way, on both sides of the road leading into Moresby, people were walking, some that way, some this way. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get to where they were going or vice versa. They “just walked”!

The trip from the airport to our hotel didn’t take long. Driving into the grounds of the hotel, once again I noticed New Guinea Nationals sitting along the fence line, under the decorative palm trees, next to shrubs, in the hotel gardens, everywhere. Alighting from our respective vehicles at the hotel, we gathered together in a cluster. Standing on the stairs leading to the foyer and reception desk, were three or four well-built, serious-looking New Guinea policemen with large black batons attached to their belts. Their hands frequently strayed to finger the threatening-looking, thick truncheons. To me, it appeared, the police needed little provocation in using their trusty cudgels. From the look of the weapons worn proudly on their hips, they had the capacity to do much harm.

The government elections had been held just prior to our visit and while the votes were being collected and counted, a prohibition on alcohol had been in force. A prolonged wave of violent crime in Port Moresby had started in 1985, culminating in a “state of emergency” in June, 1985. Left, right and centre there were government party splits going on in parliament. The unrest continued with serious riots erupting the Highlands in 1986. Leading up to the election, the vote-collection and counting, the prohibition had been in force for a lengthy period and had been lifted only a couple of days before our arrival. It was quite obvious to us that the police were expecting trouble now that it was lifted, were prepared for trouble and wished to quell it as quickly as possible.

Again, quietly, I mumbled to my companions. “From this moment on, there is an imaginary chain linking all of us together. Where each one of us goes, the other goes! It’s all for one and one for all!” Agreement to my plan came from all quarters!

After depositing my luggage to my room and freshening up, by pre-arrangement, I met Tony, my-flight-companion-Avis-man in the hotel lobby. With another couple of partners-in-crime, he took us on a guided tour around the Port Moresby City centre and yacht club. I was amazed by the dryness of the area.

I’d never been to Papua New Guinea. I had assumed it was all lush, green rainforest jungle, but Tony, during our flight, had corrected my false assumption. Port Moresby and its close surrounds were part of the red savannah, not dissimilar to the landscape of Normanton. The city was dusty, old and fairly ramshackle in spots. I’d never seen so much barbed wire and security bars as I did in Port Moresby. Every building, home, store was not without some form of barricade material. We all commented we couldn’t live under those conditions, being so used to the freedoms of living in Australia. I guess we do take so much for granted and at times need our eyes opened to the world outside. Leaving the city limits, we drove a few miles out further into the countryside. Tony hadn’t lied. On either side of the roads we covered, were the New Guinea Nationals, walking. Dotted along the roads, were high-set flimsy shacks. The lower sections of the houses with their pristine dirt floors housed the cooking and eating area. The dirt floors are continuously swept with hand-made brooms, to the point they appear to be highly polished. Strangely, those flimsy shacks were extremely clean and tidy, much tidier than some areas of Port Moresby, itself.

Arriving back at our hotel a while later, the four of us, three men and me, decided we’d go into the bar for a drink before showering and changing for the evening’s event that was to commence around 7pm. The bar wasn’t much bigger than mine on Hinchinbrook, but where I had only one bar person in attendance at my bar, the bar in “The Islander” Hotel, had six barmen, that I could see, working it, in the short time we were there!

We stayed only a couple of minutes. I looked around the room and the bar. I quickly realized the three men I was with were the only white men in the bar. I was the only white woman.

Quietly, I said to my companions, “I don’t feel very comfortable in here. I’m going back to my room and if anyone wants to join me for a drink there or maybe in one of your rooms, please feel free.”

Everyone nodded in agreement and we retired to someone’s room…I can’t remember whose now, where we shared a couple of cold beers before going our separate ways, with plans to meet up a little while later at the special dinner that was being held in honour of us traveling, tourism troubadours.

The fun was about to commence!

To Be Continued.....


  1. Hi Lee,
    I didn't know anything about Papua New Guinea so I am looking forward to learning more about it.

  2. Hi there jmb...I'm not sure I know much about it either, to be honest with you...but I will relate the tale of my short time there. :)

  3. Anonymous1:50 AM

    I love traveling the world through my computer. It's cheaper and you provide lots of details. Thanks.

  4. Nice to have you along on the trip, Steve. :)

  5. Sounds a bit scary, Lee. I remember all the trouble in PNG in the mid 80s and it hasn't really settled down. It still flares up every so often.

    Great story, though. Looking forward to the next installment.

  6. Hi Lee,

    It must have been quite a delight and surprise to be chosen as a tourist representative to go to New Guinea. I must say you were rather brave to take on such an assignment considering the unrest in the country even way back in 1985. I will follow the story with great interest. My eldest daughter, a few years ago, journeyed there on assignment for a particular finance consulting project and had to be escorted from her hotel with her colleagues, under armed guard, for fear of being accosted by “rascals.”

    The country has deteriorated beyond belief since independence.

  7. For some reason, New Guinea conjures up with me visions of a primitive jungle environment with people many of whom live much as they did hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Also, for some reason I think of head hunters and cannibals. Hope that's not where this story is going.

  8. Hi Robyn, Lindsay and Dave...glad I've captured your interest. :)

  9. deslily2:02 PM

    3 men and Lee huh? WEll.. the odds were certainly in your favor! lol

  10. Hi, Lee. great photos, as always. I especially like the last one. I'd have thought PNG was all lush countryside, too, so I am learning so much from you. I imagine it takes a lot to make you feel uncomfortable, so it must have been really strange for you in that bar!

  11. Damn! And I didn't take advantage of the situation, Deslily! Too late now! Story of my life! ;)

    My antennae is pretty sensitive, Welsh, and picks up on things fairly quickly. I could see no good reason to tempt fate when we all had stocked mini-bars and good-sized balconies off each of our rooms. I prefer "al fresco" anyway! ;)

  12. Masterful descriptions and storytelling once again my dear. Don't make us wait to long. I'm 56 now and you never know.

  13. poor old fella, Cliff! I'd give you mouth-to-mouth, but you're too far away! ;)

  14. Your descriptions of the place are very interesting, not what I would have expected at all. Looking forward for more tales of this trip.

  15. :)) Your description of New Guinea being lush,green,rainforest is kind of like what alot of people think about Texas. Cowboys,horses,tumbleweeds and dry land.
    Great story and looking forward to the next chapter.

  16. Hi there gto and Sandra....I'm in the midst of writing Chapter 3 at the moment...I probably won't get it posted until tomorrow, or later this afternoon or night at the earliest. Glad you're both enjoying it.

    I was surprised when I saw the landscape of Port Moresby...but of course, the other areas of Papua New Guinea are lush and dense tropical greenery.

  17. Hi Lee, this seems likely to be another "best seller" bring it on.

  18. Elizabeth8:19 PM

    Anyone heard from Neo lately? I have someone who wants her resume and tried to email her at work and the address came back as undeliverable. So if you hear from her, please let her know I'm trying to contact her. Thanks.

  19. No, I haven't heard from her or seen her in the blogs, Elizabeth. I hope she's okay...if I do hear from her I'll let her know you are looking for her.

    Peter...hi there. :) Hopefully by tomorrow..episode three will hit the streets! ;)

  20. Sounds like a very different world. Great descriptions.

  21. Hi and thanks, Corn Dog. :) It is a different world up there.

  22. Gidday Lee,
    I've learnt someting today, as like you I would of thought that Port Moresby would of been lush (hic...oops wrong sort of lush) and green. I must of been thinking of the highlands were I know it's usually lush and green.