SOMETIMES IN LIFE you get a distinct impression that the tide has changed and things will never be the same again. The more perceptive baby boomers who lived through the 1960s will know what I am talking about.
I was in the East Sepik Province last week working with some Provincial Lands Officers setting up a couple of Incorporated Land Groups under a new piece of legislation designed to deter and wrinkle out the potential for corruption.
The idea is to give traditional landowners a legal entity through which they can negotiate the terms of mineral exploration in their areas.
The officers with whom I worked are fine, honest men pursuing the betterment of the people in their province in a very professional manner.
There were a few hiccups with the usual fly-in carpetbaggers but by and large I flew back to Port Moresby feeling good about the whole experience.
Looking around outside Jacksons for my missing pickup, I was accosted by a man in smart slacks and a neat mustard-coloured shirt. He said, ‘Excuse me sir, I noticed you waiting, would you like a lift into the city?’
Thereupon a very smart black air-conditioned minibus emblazoned with the new Grand Papua Hotel gold logo pulled up and I was whisked to the gate of the house in which I was staying gratis and with a friendly smile.
On the way I learned about the special K499 weekend tariff at the hotel. Where else but Papua New Guinea would that happen I thought?
And while I’m talking about hotels, I’d better give the In-Wewak Boutique Hotel a plug. A delightful place in a very pretty and safe town with exquisite old-modern décor, attentive staff and gigantic meals of exceptional quality; all delivered at a very reasonable cost.
In Port Moresby we ducked into the supermarket in Harbour City for supplies. This new development on the waterfront has the air and layout of an upmarket Myer or David Jones food court.
Wide aisles, immaculately clean and a sumptuous range of reasonably priced fresh and packaged food. They even had that day’s copy of The Australian and the second issue of Stella magazine on sale.
In the adjacent mall elite and not-so-elite denizens of Moresby town were window shopping or sipping lattes in the coffee shop. I haven’t been there yet but they tell me that Vision City in the burbs is even bigger and better – there is even a Brumby’s Bakery.
There remains that self-induced migrant poverty in Port Moresby and the settlements are still pretty rough. However some of them are morphing into more permanent fixtures. I got a brief look at a couple as we wended through the back streets on the way from the airport.
Unnecessary or not, Powes’ efforts reinforce a feeling of change. The diminishing obviousness of razor wire on buildings is also helping (as are the more discreet electrified fences). In short, there is a distinct feeling of optimism in the air.
What the cause is I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s got something to do with the burgeoning resource wealth, although the rents in the rapidly multiplying apartment blocks are enough to make your heart stop.
Maybe it’s got something to do with Peter O’Neill and the apparent demise of those fat, greedy, gun-toting, sexually indiscriminate and downright ugly politicians and public servants represented by the likes of Belden Namah and Jeffery Nape. Whatever it is it’s a good feeling.
In Brisbane on the way home I sat next to a young mother by herself with two young daughters, one in a stroller and the other held by the hand, and a load of suitcases in the T-bus between the international and domestic terminals.
She was running late for a connection and I planned to help her lug her suitcases to the check-in counter.
But before I could, two young Papua New Guinean ladies on the same bus jumped in and helped. The rest of the passengers ignored her and rushed off to catch their planes.
For all those old expats, if you’ve ever thought about one day going back to Papua New Guinea to see how it’s holding up, now might be a good time to do it. The light at the end of the tunnel is at last shining brightly.