I WAS born in late March 1981 at ANGAU Memorial General Hospital in Lae, Morobe Province.
Twenty-nine years later I returned as a bel mama to give birth to my second child; a beautiful, healthy girl with a crop of loosely curled hair, mixed African-Melanesian and as black as night.
The photographs I’ve seen of how ANGAU hospital was way back then and my own memories of my younger years clash with how it was for the birth of my child in 2010.
It’s an inconsistency that tells of an institution that continues to do what it can despite the abhorrent neglect of the government.
But, as it will be with my daughter, I have a feeling of lifetime connection, deepest affection and hopes for a more promising future for this hospital and for the people of Papua New Guinea, who deserve so much better.
Call it privilege, call it luck, but it is a blessed life I have lived so far.
I believe in God the Father Almighty and His son Jesus Christ who is my Lord and Saviour. I was baptised into God’s family, instructed in the Word of God and Martin Luther’s catechisms to receive my first Holy Communion.
Later I had my marriage witnessed and blessed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
In my times of difficulty and despair, I have thanked God for his unfailing presence.
And for all my prayers received and achievements enabled, to Him be all praise and glory.
I am from liklik ples Matangala in Sio village of the Tewaii-Siassi Local Level Government District which is tucked neatly into a bay along Morobe’s coastline between Finschhafen and Madang.
In my childhood, all visits were made via Lae wharf in an overnight trip on MV Totol or MV Simbang.
Since then no cruise ship, whether offering discotheque-bowling alleys on or all-you can eat lobster and champagne buffets, can be sold to me.
All I experience in my dreams are rows of orange-canvass foam mattress bunks and the putrid nausea brought on by the incessant rocking and swaying of maritime journey that seemed would never come to end.
In later years, as Sio’s jetty eroded, we took larger ships and disembarked into family-owned banana boats to make the short journey across to Matangala.
I treasure the fading memories I have of the sensation and taste of saltwater spray on my face and the beautiful, wide smiles of relatives receiving us on the shoreline, a few metres from our village home where our family’s story began and where my maternal bubu man was laid to rest soon after being murdered on a New Year’s Day in the early 1980’s.
I dreaded the early morning wash from the well’s icy-cold water. I recall the overwhelming tiredness after arriving home from the day-long harvesting of saksak (me as an observer). And spending time frolicking in the turquoise lagoons and playing along the white, sandy beaches. And being cursed for unnecessary use of the hand actuated water pump; such a novelty for a child of the town.
I last spent time in the village in 2000 and, am deeply regretful about missing my bubu meri’s funeral in 2006.
But I remember the long walks between neighbouring villages underneath the towering coconut palms. I miss the taste of freshly caught rainbow-coloured fish smoked atop an open fire.
And I recall the nights sitting on the rickety verandah looking up at the clarity of stars on the vast blanket of sky. I miss the playful teasing of my elders when reprimanding me for not speaking tok ples when living ‘in town’.
In hindsight, I wish I’d paid more heed to their insistence that I demand my parents speak to me in tok ples and educate me about village custom and practices. These matters, today, I have such limited knowledge and understanding of.
It is impossible for me give an overview of my life without acknowledging an outstanding gentleman and exemplary humanitarian to whom I am no relation, but extremely privileged to have known and spent time with in my childhood. The late Sir Brian Bell.
I think of myself as a legacy of his kindness, compassion and immeasurable love for Papua New Guinea; people and country.
Sir Brian was a shining example of what Papua New Guinea can be if it puts foremost the best interests of the people.
From him a most important life lesson learnt is that of the undeniable beauty one possesses when genuine humility and generosity is maintained despite increased wealth, power and influence.
Both my parents are university-educated and have fulfilled solid careers; one in mathematics, the other in agricultural science. From that, I am fastidious in cross-checking reports for statistics and I have twice-too-many failed attempts at cultivating orchids.
I have also been instilled with the importance of good manners, strict discipline and whole-hearted perseverance to be excellent with whatever I set my mind to do. For the past seven years, that has been motherhood.
But what I consider of most significance, particularly in how it’s influenced my views on life, is that I inherited the opportunity to live in two worlds. The haves and have-nots of life in PNG and living in Australia as a Papua New Guinean.
My maternal grandfather was a postmaster during the time of Australia’s colonial administration and was allocated a small house in the government administration compound in the heart of Lae.
It has maintained its original shell but has endured multiple DIY renovations at the hands of overly-confident uncles and cousin brothers but that family place still stands today. It is home.
From early childhood until the time I married, I lived at varying intervals and roamed freely within the compound or ‘AdCo’ as some call it.
I observed daily at the compound that Papua New Guineans, however marginalised, have innate powers of resilience, initiative and self-determination to endure and overcome the inequalities imposed on them.
But I must add that I loathe the boisterous provincialism often displayed by Papua New Guineans to pump up the achievements of a particular region over another. We are one people subjected to the same injustices by a powerful minority.
If we are to ever achieve national progress as equals, we must be willing to share our individual blueprints of the journey, the accomplishments, successes and methods of improvement.
Sir Brian Bell acknowledged my mother for her intellectual and commercial brilliance and provided our family with the opportunity to access international schools (Ela Beach International School and Lae International Primary School), enjoy an exceptional standard of living and have regular interaction and exposure to lifestyles beyond PNG’s borders.
I received my upper primary, secondary (in both public and private schools) and tertiary education in Australia.
I have no hesitation in attributing my socio-economic, political and environmental interests as a direct consequence of the breadth of topics cultivated, promoted, debated and critiqued in the Australian education curriculum and the broader society of a developed land.
My only regret is that little mention was ever made of Papua New Guinea beyond the Kokoda Track and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. Instead, I was expected to retain and regurgitate the histories of the Cold War and the Vietnam War and undertake eight-minute oral citations in Bahasa Indonesia, my selected compulsory Asian language in high school.
Yet nothing about my homeland - Australia’s nearest neighbour with whom it has a significant history and continued association to the present day.
I contemplated a town planning career after a semester of senior year Geography. I pondered also the life of a music teacher – for I had learnt and enjoyed playing the flute and reading music scores through childhood and young adulthood.
But my passion to work with and help marginalised people prevailed.
My tertiary qualifications and professional background is in psychology and criminology, having worked in adult community corrections, youth justice and secure-care prison settings, predominantly with men and boys.
I strongly believe that through well-funded evidence-based case management that utilises a holistic approach, individuals who have engaged in criminal or other anti-social behaviour can be rehabilitated and go on to lead a productive and pro-social life.
This is still a large gap which the PNG government needs to efficiently and effectively address.
When I feel I have accomplished enough in my full-time role as a stay-at-home mother, I plan to return to the paid work force and pursue post graduate studies.
I have a deep interest in research and design in the area of psycho-social case management; developing an assessment tool and therapeutic programs specific to identifying and addressing the significant risk factors experienced by Papua New Guineans.
In the meantime, I’m determined to continue writing about issues that I believe are of significance and must continue to receive attention in the public conversation between PNG and Australia: mental health, elimination of violence, youth advocacy, gender equality, increased participation of women in politics, feminism and a strong literary culture.
I strongly believe that through written expression, the women of PNG can have their voices heard where other avenues in our society have not been facilitatory.
My writing is a long-harboured desire borne out of relatively awkward and quite isolating teenage years that became even more definitive through university and my early working life.
Reading just about everything (but favouring the classics and memoirs) has long been the solace I’ve sought to cope with exclusion and bullying - the ugly behaviours practised by too many people.
To this day, I much prefer my own company to socialising with others.
So at this point, it is important I pay tribute to three individuals whom only 12 months ago not only encouraged me but, set my writing journey in motion: the renowned PNG-based international artist Nathalie Le Riche, the editor of Lily PNG Magazine Margo Nugent and Keith Jackson.
In early 2015, I sent two handfuls of emails to women, both Papua New Guinean and non-Papua New Guinean. None of the Papua New Guinean women acknowledged or responded to my emails. Ever.
However Ms Le Riche and Mrs Nugent swiftly acknowledged and responded to my enquiries about writing magazine articles.
If you ever hear either of these two women expressing support for Papua New Guinean women in their endeavours, believe them. Their words and actions are solid.
Of course, the opportunity to share ‘My Story’ with PNG Attitude readers would not be possible had Keith Jackson not acknowledged my initial correspondence with him.
The writing from me you’ve seen evolve on PNG Attitude is quite different to the initial sample I sent Keith.
Along with words of encouragement, Keith’s advice to me was “the secret of really good writing is to do a lot of it and to spend a lot of time in revising and refining it until you get it as perfect as you can”.
Along with Keith’s editorial guidance and feedback and commentary from the PNG Attitude family, the past year has propelled the breadth and depth of my reading and writing skills. I can only improve.
A while ago I read somewhere that it is often those who are best at their craft who are generous with their time for others.
This is most certainly true of the aforementioned trio to whom I will forever remain grateful in inspiring this Papua New Guinean women to have her voice read.