IT WAS almost four years ago, November 2012. The afternoon sun setting behind Brigadier Hill cast its last red yellowish rays through a thick line of rain trees that guarded the soldier’s football field.
Just a short distance away was the PNG Defence Force headquarters at Murray Barracks in Port Moresby.
The strong, sweet-smelling fragrance of crushed coconut oil and yellow ginger mixed with leaves filled the air as groups of elderly men and women swayed to the rattling of sea shells and the rhythmic beat of bamboo and kundu.
Huge pigs grunted from under a long table filled with bananas, taro, vegetables of all kinds and freshly butchered pork.
It was on this day that the Department of Defence put behind it past differences in a true Melanesian way and exchanged symbolic items with the PNG Defence Force in a significant move to establish a harmonious working relationship as one solid defence organisation.
That day that went into the history books.
Since then, at the anniversary of that day, sweaty departmental staff struggle under the hot afternoon sun to calm the squealing pigs tied to stakes beside fresh bananas just beyond the freshly cut lawn of the Officers Mess.
The squeals disturbed the speeches but added authentic humour to the traditional ceremony that reaffirmed the friendship and strong bond of relationship between the two sides of the house.
In the place of rattling sea shells and traditional drums were colourfully-dressed young Bougainvillean girls who swayed skillfully to their own original island’s bamboo beats.
Then Defence secretary John Porti, who had initiated the ceremony, confirmed that the event wanted to emphasise to the newly-appointed PNGDF commander Brigadier Gilbert Toropo, that the Defence Department was still focused on meeting its constitutionally mandated requirements.
Porti said Defence is the only organisation which has two heads serving under the Ministry as stipulated under the Defence Act.
He said the Department is there for the PNGDF and workplace differences and any attitude of working in isolation would be gravel on the pathway to a failed organisation.
The trust that has prevailed in recent years is the key to guide both entities to generate a more effective workforce to meet the demands of the government and people of PNG.
Mr Porti highlighted that the Defence organisation had been severely criticised over many years for what were described as internal administrative impasses that had communicated a negative image to the public and stakeholders.
Commander Toropo shared the same sentiments and said it was one of his priorities to establish unity within the PNGDF and the Department to generate tangible change for the betterment of the force.
Mr Porti, Commander Toropo and Francis Agwi, now High Commissioner to New Zealand, shared a private moment together during the ceremony, shaking hands, exchanging gifts and words as well as jokes and jovially whispering into each other’s ears in an unexpected gesture indicating a friendly relationship.
The nonstop squealing of the hungry pigs drowned out the laughter and happy conversation as the clanking of plates around the long table full of food and the last reddish glow of the setting sun behind the Brigadier Hill signalled the end of the ceremony.