The Goroka Show has seen good times and bad over the half century since it was started in 1957 by Eastern Highlands District Commissioner Bill Seale, with sterling support from Harry West (“keep away from the women,” Seale barked at an unsuspecting Murray Bladwell and me at our mercifully brief PNG orientation session in his office in 1963). For that first show, Seale instructed his kiaps to construct round houses representative of each highlands district in which were displayed agricultural produce and cultural artefacts.
The kiaps also organised singsing parties from across the 29 highlands language groups and there were footraces and archery and spear throwing contests in a bravura demonstration of social and economic progress and inter-tribal harmony.
As Harry tells it, at the first show Gerry Pentland, one of the new breed of highlands coffee planters and a World War I fighter pilot, submitted a fine entry for the best collection of farm produce. Unfortunately for Gerry an observant judge turned over an egg to find it stamped ‘Egg Board of NSW’.
In subsequent years, the shows alternated between Goroka and Mt Hagen and they became celebrated and, for participants, consuming events. Bladwell worked on a three-dimensional paper mache map of the Chimbu for months before the 1964 show. It even had flashing lights. I produced a massive Show edition of the Kundiawa News that was a comprehensive guide to the Chimbu. Insurance agent Fred J Cook loved it because it included the name, occupation and location of every expatriate living in the sub-district.
Over the years since PNG Independence, the Goroka Show’s fortunes have waxed and waned. There have been events that were less than the promised spectacle and even some financial finagling. But this year (13th and 14th September), the show was back to something approaching the quality of its golden era, assured by an organising committee driven by my old mate, rugby league tragic and coffee planter Terry Shelley, ably assisted by Cynthea Leahy and other members of Goroka Chamber of Commerce.
Photograph: Goroka Show 2008 - John Fowkes