THE wind chilled our bones to ice and howled eerily, echoing through the open-sided building and adding to our nervousness and to the already long silence between us.
I watched Johnsford Bunaga quietly. His face was heavily lined and his shoulders slumped as he struggled to honour a solemn duty to remember those bygone days.
He started his story as we made our way through a few cold beers while sitting on a cold brick bench inside the building.
Johnsford had been just 15 in 1974 when he joined the Department of Defence, a newly-designated agency transitioning from the Australian Department of Army as part of the mass localisation process preceding independence.
Localisation was what the transfer to local control was called when most of the Australian military and civilian personnel left Papua New Guinean soil before independence in 1975.
Johnsford had been recruited as a printer in the reproduction centre of the Department, then administered by Ken Hutchings but soon to be taken over by Noel Levi as its first Papua New Guinean head.
Johnsford became a permanent officer on 1 July 1975 and never left the Department. He devoted himself to making his way up the ladder and eventually became the principal advisor for organisational design in the human resources division.
There was no mention of his parents in the entire story and the fleeting look he gave stopped me pursuing that subject.
He told me he was born on 26 March 1959 and began school at Ako Anglican Mission before moving on in 1970 to Sefoa St Michael Archangel and all Angels Anglican Mission School.
Johnsford did not continue on to secondary school, remaining to enjoy the simple livelihood of Kanavetu village for two years before tiring of this and travelling to Port Moresby in February 1974 to seek further education.
Four months later he began his career with the Defence Department. The aspiration to continue with his studies was still there and he enrolled in the College of Distance Education.
The rain had now stopped as I pondered upon his story, the cold that seeped through my gaunt frame triggering an unwelcome desire for another cigarette.
I inhaled deeply and let out a puff of grayish smoke that vanished into the damp night air. I gulped down the last sour remains of the can of beer. It tasted like a dissolved chloroquine tablet.
Johnsford’s was now one of the longest serving staff in the Department and his features and personality had been chiseled by the long hard years. With strong support from his wife, Joycemary from Koje village in the Tufi District, he was now regarded as a pioneer.
His career journey had been recognised when he was awarded a Meritorious Public Service Medal in October 2009 by Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane.
It was getting late as Johnsford stood up.
I tossed a half smoked cigarette away and stood up to join him as we stepped from beneath the shelter into the semi darkness, welcoming the icy night air like old friends.