BY MALUM NALU
THE BIRTH of a baby boy outside Goroka, Eastern Highlands, named Kevin Rudd Jr rates among the highlights of the three-year career of Australian Associated Press Papua New Guinea correspondent Ilya Gridneff [pictured].
Gridneff was mistaken for Rudd when he visited Degi village, outside Goroka, that he was feted like royalty and carried on the shoulders of singing villagers when he went to visit the birthplace of Kevin Rudd Jr.
The boy was given the name five minutes after the then Australian prime minister visited a local hospital on 7 March 2008. Kevin Jr has become somewhat of minor celebrity in PNG, with media attention and international tourists visiting.
Gridneff, 31, leaves today after three memorable years in PNG covering the good, bad and ugly from the ‘land of the unexpected’. His success is Eoin (pronounced Owen) Blackwell.
Friends and colleagues gathered at the botanical gardens in Port Moresby on Saturday to say farewell to a good mate.
“I’ve covered many memorable things,” Gridneff told me. “It’s hard to pick one which stands out, however, the hospitality of Eastern Highlands people when visiting Kevin Rudd Jr, and them thinking I was the prime minister, stands out.
“And also of an all-in brawl with hundreds of angry Sepik pukpuks, in the car park of Wewak yacht Club, at the Sepik Iron Man in 2009 – it’s something I will never forget.
“But it’s also some of the small things like a night out with local journos, ending up at Baret Club or Club 22, and coming home when the sun is shining are some of the things I’ll never be able to forget.
“I’ll just go bek to village blo mi, Sydney, and just malolo. Mi no klia what I’m going to do, maybe write a book about PNG, or enter into politics for Moresby South in 2012,” Gridneff says with a laugh.”
Gridneff’s last words: “PNG, you deserve much, much more, and taim blo yu to question ol lida bilong yu, because you’ve got all the talent, resources, cash flow and ability but are being let down by all the conmen who call themselves leaders and bikman.”
Keith Jackson writes: I thank Ilya for his regular reports published in PNG Attitude and for his comradeship. Over the last couple of years we’ve shared a lot of information and, during his visits to Sydney, a quiet and reflective drink or two.
Ilya has always shown a good journalist’s commitment to and respect of his subject – in this case a nation and its people – while never shying away from the hard reporting. He is also a photographer of rare ability.
In his time in PNG he was threatened by the guilty, shunned by diplomats and fought a constant battle with his AAP superiors in Sydney to get a better run for PNG stories.
It seems hard to believe that PNG has heard the last of Ilya. But AAP probably has. One of the news organisations final messages to him sought the return of $61.32 because of “0.7631 days (of leave) which needs to be recovered”.
When you think of the hundreds of unpaid hours that journalists like Ilya put into their job each year, not to mention the dangers and discomforts they face, this final act of bureaucracy seemed unnecessarily ungenerous and insensitive.
I can't believe that AAP let him go. He should be up there on the shiny bum floor helping run the show. Be prepared to see this talented young journalist go places.