I have always thought that honesty prevents many troubles and even saves money but more recently I thought that maybe that’s not always true.
When I applied for an Australian visa for my recent McKinnon-Paga Hill and PNG Attitude sponsored study tour to Australia with Daniel Kumbon and Martyn Namorong, I struck a tough spot on the application form.
Among the many questions I had to answer, there was one on tuberculosis.
I suppose I could have lied for convenience and expediency but I knew that would be very wrong. So I stated the facts about my encounter with pleural effusion.
On the application form I responded that I was once diagnosed with extra-pulmonary tuberculosis and was prescribed and completed chemotherapy for three months.
I further stated that I twice went for a post-treatment review and each time there was no sign of TB or pleural effusion.
Pleural effusion is not TB and is not a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying cause, of which there may be many. The commonly known are pneumonia, congestive heart failure, liver disease, cancer or TB.
Because pleural effusion is commonly associated with extra-pulmonary TB, doctors often tend to regard it as TB-related and, in most cases without further tests, to confirm the presence of TB.
I was thinking that Australian High Commission would take my word and easily confirm the facts by consulting any of the senior medical officers at Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital in Kundiawa.
They had attended to me and knew all the circumstances – including the clear result. I didn’t think that truth would lead me to problems or costly hurdles.
But, being prudent, the immigration and border protection authorities at the Australian High Commission instructed me to go through new visa medicals to affirm my clear condition. They provided me a list of approved doctors. None was based in Kundiawa – or the highlands.
There was an American doctor at Lapilo New Tribe Mission on the Okuk Highway outside Goroka but he serviced only Goroka residents. Furthermore, he was infrequently at Lapilo.
But I decided to travel to Lapilo by PMV anyway. It was in vain. The doctor was away. Disappointed, I made the long and uncomfortable trek back to Kundiawa knowing that Port Moresby was now my only option.
I flew to Moresby from Mt Hagen because Kundiawa Airstrip is closed for maintenance work.
My wife came with me because I was going to spend a week in Port Moresby doing the medicals. Given my paraplegia, I would need support.
After I completed the medicals and the doctor told me that I was perfectly OK, the pain and the cost hit home. It was the price for telling the truth.
But I also looked at the other side of the coin.
Often we take little notice of the underlying rationale of immigration and health regulations and quarantine laws until we get tangled in them. That’s when we realise their justification and importance.
Australia like every other sovereign nation has a responsibility to protect its territorial boundaries, its people, animals and environment from foreign intrusion and harmful and destructive matters including sickness and disease.
This is the ultimate purpose of immigration and border protection requirements. Every foreigner wanting to enter not only Australia but every other nation has to comply with these laws. The interest of a nation is bigger than that of an individual.
Embassy staff are bound to adhere to these laws and it is up to the intending traveller to cooperate or quit. That was what I had experienced with the Australian High Commission.
My adherence to their call saw mutual understanding and cooperation that resulted in a positive outcome but at a price. Nevertheless, looking back, it was worthwhile experience.
I got my clearance – and my visa - with just two days to spare
Thanks to Keith Jackson and the High Commission’s Tim Bryson and Andrew Tarte for building the bridges and creating the milieu that enabled the permission for me to cross the border and fulfill my assignment – to bring Papua New Guinean literature to Australia.