Ageing prelate speaks out on hot PNG issues
Back in the village there’s email & social development

PNG: The Australian media’s mad - I love the place


EVER SINCE THE AUSTRALIAN MEDIA told us that Papua New Guinea is a terrible place, I’ve been pondering the paradox of why I keep going back.  For some reason the old excuse of just liking it doesn’t seem adequate anymore.

Perhaps it’s the money I can make working in PNG.  That’s a laugh!  I’m a natural follower of the late Hoyt Axton’s ‘greenback dollar’ principle – ‘spend it as fast as I can’.

Besides, I’ve been consciously dematerialising for a long time now.  Not in the ‘beam me up Scotty’ sense but in the sense of detaching myself from the need to keep accumulating stuff that is bigger and better than the stuff my neighbour has got.

This confuses my poor neighbour no end, as well as my friends and relatives, which is an affect I enjoy, but it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, worse than giving up smoking.

When I think about that aspect of my life, the influence of Papua New Guinea becomes apparent.  Wandering around the villages the possibility of living a life without the overriding need to chase money becomes very apparent.  In my warped view of the world, the lot of the subsistence farmer is absolutely precious.

Ask the average subsistence farmer or hunter-gatherer how he fared during the last global economic crisis and he’ll wonder what you’re banging on about.  Then he might stretch and yawn and go sit in the sun for a while or maybe take the kids for a swim or, perhaps, tickle his wife under the chin.

And that’s another thing I like about the place; the laid-back attitude, especially to time.  ‘She’ll be right mate’ reaches a whole new zenith in Papua New Guinea.

It’s something that frustrates the hell out of most of the expatriate business people I work for.  Watching someone - who has deadlines to meet, pennies to watch and bosses to please - realising that his entire workforce has decided to go fishing and that the boatload of gear he’s expecting tomorrow might now turn up next week, or maybe the week after, is a delight to watch.

It’s almost as good as seeing him realise that the phones don’t work, the road has fallen into the river, the airstrip he wants to use has two-metre high kunai growing on it and no one has a clue about where the district administrator disappeared to three weeks ago.

When you point out the stunning view from the camp across the top of the rainforest to the river and the mountains beyond, he looks at you as if you are mad.

He might have a point about the mad part but you must admit the scenery is splendid no matter where you go in Papua New Guinea.

I’ve spent most of my time in the mountains and swamps of Western and Gulf Provinces and I’ve walked in places where very few human beings, black, white or brindle, have set foot before.  Where else can you do that for goodness sake?

But at the same time I’ve got a soft spot for dusty old Mosbi.  Not just watching the magnificent sunsets over Fairfax Harbour with a brown bottle in my hand but also walking around the streets and settlements talking to people. 

Don’t frown.  This city of polyglot diversity is quite safe as long as you are sensible and take the right companions with you.  What you see and hear will surprise you; travelling beyond your comfort zone can be scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Perhaps this is part of the attraction of Papua New Guinea; ‘the land of the unexpected’ doesn’t just need to refer to the scenery and befeathered singsings but to the opportunity to experience things in a different light and maybe, just maybe, to reconsider the way you see the world.

Hopefully the resources boom won’t change Papua New Guinea into a second rate mirror of Australia, as everyone seems to want.  That would be a shame.


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Damien (Mangi Wedau) Farrer

Thanks Phil. On the other hand, I wish I hadn't read your piece It takes me back so vividly to sone of the best times of my life!

Takes me back to the most serene days of my life, the mid-1990s - my mid-20s - a few years living in a village somewhere in Milne Bay Province, and then my 12 visits to PNG since then.

And Port Moresby, a fun yet crazy place to be. Love POM!

Phil Fitzpatrick

I reckon you should get rid of the cattle Paul and plant roses. Failing that why not go outside and roll in the grass. But you're right. Ain't that sad?

Apropos of roads and development I came across this interesting poem by Paul Kup-Ogut called "Nupela Rot". It appeared in "Kovave" Vol 4 No 2 in 1973:

Boom! Ai em wanem?
Samting i pairap,
Sikin tu i guria ya
Masin i karai
Na maunten bilong tumbuna i pundaun,
Gavman i wokim rot ol i tok.
Lukim! Gaden i bagarap,
Bus bilong kilim magani i bagarap tu
Na bun bilong tumbuna i wait olsem karanas.

Paul Oates

At the risk of raining on everyone's parade, you all know the only way we can enjoy this wonderful utopian dream is because someone, somewhere is working hard to keep us in the manner to which we might like to become accustomed to.

Without the conveniences of modern life we wouldn't know or be able to converse with each other. We wouldn't have modern medicine to keep us alive or an eduction that may have taught us to read and write.

Let us also not lose track of the fact that unless you are prepared to defend your way of life, you can easily lose it to others who want what you have and are prepared to take it, by force if necessary.

So by all means sit back and smell the roses or whatever takes your fancy but don't lose sight of reality. It can and will bite you at the least most appropriate time.

Let there be a balance in all things including how we approach life in general.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Sitting on my veranda this morning watching the kids trundling off to school with cars whizzing past on the road, I realised something else about why I like PNG.

When I was a kiap at Olsobip in the Western Province there were no vehicle roads at all. If I wanted to go anywhere I had to walk.

When I transferred to Nomad River our first Toyota arrived in a big wooden box and we had to put it together. That took a while and we had some bits left over.

After a while the novelty of running it along the few kilometres of road that the ADC (Assistant District Commissioner) had built towards the base camp at Obeimi the novelty wore off, and it sat in its haus win near the office most of the time.

Good roads and the infrastructure that goes with them is well and good but it is also great to live in a place where its safe to walk around and there are no cars spewing fumes and dust everywhere.

PNG is one of the few places in the world where it is still possible to do that.

Yvonne Hani

Thanks Phil. Nice piece. Reminds us to be thankful for whatever little we have despite what others say.

What a life these 'mad media' personnel may have, stressful I reckon, too busy painting a ghastly pic of PNG while the subsistence farmer sits back at home enjoying his betelnut. Such is life, one man's loss is one man's gain.

If I were one of those 'mad media' personnel reading this, I'd interpret the underlying message in this article as 'please get a life'.

Mrs Barbara Short

Phil's article takes me back to the first time I sat in a shade house on the banks of the Sepik River with some village people.

Nobody spoke, we just sat, and sat, and watched the river roll by....for ages, smiling at each other.

What bliss! I slowly began to appreciate what PNG could offer the world....peace and contentment with one's lot in life.

Steven Gimbo

Too true, that! I wouldn't trade my village for anything in the world, nor would I trade the dying embers of the fire on an early foggy morning. That special feeling that keeps me connected to my roots still lingers strong, as I age!

And now that, I have spend my youth working and travelling this vast world, I look forward to the serenity and simplicities of life in my small hamlet, living off the land, forest, river and through the seasons of the year!

Thank you for reminding us of what we have here!

Steve W Labuan

Even a few well educated Papua New Guineans appreciate their country the way Phil has.

But their's is a real dilemma. There must be a way to keep a balance between what they have and what is out there in the world.

This is not only about the land, villages and people, but what is inside of them, their beliefs and how these clashes with introduced ones, and the competition of beliefs in creating realities in the education system, business dealings, government polices etc.

The majority of educated PNGeans care little so long as they have what it takes in the world of the education they have.

Truly, lives, cultures and time change quickly in PNG.

Lapieh Landu

Indeed, naturally, all human kind share that inkling to being competitive. As time goes one, our wants exceed our needs with the advancement of technology and the desire to acquiring it is ridiculous.

As a young adult in this ever changing world, it is a challenge to being content with what I have and not having the urge to splurge and to really settling for the more important and intangible things in life.

Thank you Phil for that gentle reminder of unhitching oneself from the substantial thingamajigs of life! I couldn't agree more...

Kevin O'Regan

Well Phil, you are not on your own. Brothers in NZ and kids in Australia practically disown me for not coming "home"...

I am home here as I to love the place and also have walked and been places only longlongs would go....the mangrove swamps around Aird Hills.. that's a test.

Will continue to do it as long as the ageing joints allow .

Aurelia Balpe | Suva, Fiji

Thank you Phil for these wonderful reminders of what life should be about.

Robin Lillicrapp

But have you parted with your old "Landy" yet?

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