BACK in the 1960s – I know I’m showing my age – you could not live in Port Moresby and live your life in a bubble.
The town, as it was then, was utilitarian, confronting, pragmatic and, culturally, barely part of Papua New Guinea at all.
It was a transit stop between somewhere else and adventure. More Cairns than Kandep. And many of us colonials had little taste for it. We preferred the outstations and the bush.
All that’s changed. Now expats can live a life transiting between secure apartment compound, secure office block and secure yacht club all in a secure alarm-buttoned, back-to-base connected SUV.
Rarely out of the aircon and exposed to the outside world mainly in shopping centres where the aromas and people of Mosbi are allowed through the gates, these temporary residents can operate in personal disconnect with PNG’s realities.
Even the wonderfully seedy, disorganised and ‘welcome-to-your-new-life-mug’ Jackson's airport has given way to air-bridges, air-conditioning and brisk efficiency, although the domestic terminal remains a relic.
But, if you live in that Mosbi bubble, Papua New Guinea can seem so far away.
The challenge of expat life in the PNG capital is to get out of the bubble and begin to understand the country and its people. And to do that you still need a taste for adventure.
Ingrid and I had flown from Brisbane on a sparsely occupied morning jet. An upgrade to business class courtesy of Qantas points made the trip a therapy.
The recently reintroduced free visa on arrival for short-term visitors was honoured and well-organised and the family was there to greet and orientate us into the initial Port Moresby leg of a two-week re-engagement with a country I had known so well and loved so much as a young man.
Demanding comfort these days, I’d booked us into the new, grand, gated Stanley hotel where Ben and Becky have an apartment and where the book launch of My Walk to Equality is to be held in two weeks.
This is courtesy of Gummi Fridriksson and the Paga Hill Development Company, which sounds like a sixties mellow rock band but is a local mega-construction outfit that, in recent years, has provided vital sponsorship to help sustain PNG’s present day literary resurgence.
We spent an afternoon exploring the immediate Waigani environs of The Stanley, strolling through Vision City shopping complex where I tracked down a copy of the Post-Courier containing an agreeable full-page feature on My Walk to Equality by reporter Leiao Gerega, whose work is represented in the collection by the poems Quietly Like a Mouse and One Day the Men all Bargained for a Price.
On my journey, I was waylaid by writer, linguist and PNG Attitude reader Samantha Kusari who recognised me by my face, frizz and girth and who, in the course of pleasant conversation, I invited to the book launch,
Later, in a nearby bar, I cut the rust off my Tok Pisin with Arthur from Oro (thanks Arthur, we’ll do it again) and had a drink and a snack with some media mates at the yacht club where we watched the sun set over Fairfax Harbour and I was reminded of those evanescent and dusty dusks of 50 years ago and remembered there are beautiful things that never change. Some moments when, intentionally or not, you manage to escape the bubble.