BY KEITH JACKSON
PORT MORESBY is three hours and 35 years away.
In the early eighties I’d had the last word on Tim Bowden’s landmark radio series Taim Bilong Masta when I’d told my story of leaving Moresby for the last time in 1976.
Each other time I’d left on leave or on business (‘best view of Moresby is from the arse end of a south bound 727’), I knew I would return.
But not this time. Colonialism was dead and my next career was just coming alive.
As the jet banked to head towards Australia and the coast;line quickly disappeared from view, I noticed that my son, Simon – then eight, now 43 – had tears in his eyes.
As Taim Bilong Masta records it, I asked ‘What’s up Sime, is it your ears?’ and he replied ‘No, I’m leaving home’. I couldn’t speak because I felt exactly the same way.
And now, for a brief moment, I’m returning to Port Moresby. Even back in the sixties, we used to say that ‘Moresby’s not PNG’. Its small town in a big town flavour; its dry season aridity; its population of big timers… my generation of colonials by and large preferred the bush.
It hadn’t been for city living that we’d chosen to go to TPNG.
So now, 35,000 feet above a sparkling Coral Sea, I’m returning. Not home, there’s no feeling of going home – 35 years is more than enough to put that sentiment to rest.
I’m returning to a place I used to know very well indeed, and that I now know not at all. A place, let’s face it, with a diabolical reputation.
You don’t travel to Moresby to visit, it’s said, you go there because you have to.
Well, I don’t have to. Coming back under my own steam because there’s unfinished business for Australians in Papua New Guinea.
When we left in huge numbers in the mid-seventies, we left friends behind. Papua New Guineans who had believed we were committed to them as well as to ourselves. But when our flag fell and theirs was raised, with the explicit encouragement of the Australian government we had disappeared.
What a mistake that was. We should have been prepared to serve under a new flag and to be removed in an orderly, friendly, affirming way.
But it did not happen like that and the bonds that had been created between two neighbours weakened and, on occasion, ruptured altogether.
There were friends we made who we never saw again.
In its own modest way, PNG Attitude seeks to restore some better connection between us rank and file Australians and Papua New Guineans.
And that’s why I’ve headed back, however briefly. To continue that reconnection.