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25 June 2017


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As I recall back in the 1960s when Tom Ellis was District Commissioner there were serious suggestions that Mount Hagen would be a better capital than Port Moresby - mainly because of its pleasant climate and picturesque setting.

That upset Ian Downs in Goroka and the idea was shelved, although there were still suggestions about using it as a 'summer' capital in the style of Simla in India.

I guess Hagen still has a pleasant climate but I'm not sure its picturesque any more.

Phil, I am in Port Moresby on my way back from Hagen to Madang. Stuck in POM; Madang flight cancelled. Some things do not change.

Hagen has a beautiful new airport terminal, but road from Kagamuga to Hagen town is the worst I have seen in over 40 years.

There are plans for a new dual carriageway Hagen- Kagamuga - so reluctance to fix the old road.

Many new buildings in Hagen including some high rise 6 or 7 story. Huge population increase.

Thanks Phil and Robert. I guess the best advice is that offered by Felix Dennis in his "A glass half full."

Never go back. Never go back.
Never return to the haunts of your youth.
Keep to the track, the beaten track.
Memory holds all you need of the truth.

Let us remember PNG the way it was when we were there.

As most Attitude readers know and remember well, hanging around airports hoping to get on a flight has been a feature of PNG life for a long while. I lost count of the number of times I was bumped from flights between Wewak and POM via Lae because of what was then the common practice by airlines of overbooking flights in the expectation that some passengers would not arrive, on time or not at all. There was some solace, perhaps, in the accommodation provided by TAA at the then fairly new Melanesian Hotel.

Such forced layovers were not limited to PNG, either. I left Townsville early one Friday afternoon after spending Christmas with my family to fly back to POM via Cairns, expecting to be back in my Boroko home by 8pm or thereabouts. At Cairns we were advised that the scheduled aircraft was u/s and we'd have to overnight at the Hides Hotel and await a replacement aircraft - which duly arrived mid Saturday afternoon when we were then advised that the pilots were 'out of hours', which meant another overnight delay until said pilots had accumulated the requisite hours of sleep. I eventually arrived back in POM late on the Monday morning

Great story Phil and the only words of advice I would offer to ex PNG's going back to try and relive their previous lives in PNG is do not be reliant on a travel timetable.(Phil's story encapsulates this perfectly) and also,be prepared for the worst and you will not be disappointed.
Again, Philip is correct about Madang having being taken over completely and trashed by the highlanders and if that wasn't enough, there is another road almost complete now direct from the Enga province that will come down through Aiome/and along the Bogia road. Talk about letting the geni out of the bottle!

On my last visit to Madang this year, I drove to Alexishaven and did not recognise anything because all coconut plantations have closed down and are over grown and miles of squatter settlements (Highlanders)bordering the road.

Also looked for my house on Modillion road near the SP brewery. Lovely large open block. All gone, now a large double story concrete block with shiny copper façade to impress the locals and attract them to the plentiful supply of Chinese made trade crap! to be found inside and sold at exorbitant prices
Friends! the PNG we all loved has I fear gone for good!

It is indeed an interesting experience going back to these places that you knew from way back Chips.

A lot of the old Australian administration houses are still in use, even in places like Port Moresby. A drive along Lawes Road is interesting. Remember the old metal rubbish bins on posts? Quite a few of them are still outside the houses. You can still go to the Aviat Club, which is in much the same condition as it was 40 years ago. I swear there is the same bitumen on some of the roads that I drove over in 1967 and the drains made out of local stone are still there. The Post Courier building still looks exactly as it did in 1967.

The old Yacht Club building is still on Champion Parade. It was being used as a chandlery when I last went there. The flash new one on the reclaimed land doesn't have much character.

Back in the 90s what surprised me was the row of high rise buildings across the road from Steamies. Way back there used to be a nice view from the bottom pub (now an ANZ bank) over Fairfax Harbour but now all you get is a view of a pink monolith.

On my first visit back to Balimo I couldn't place anything, even the airstrip (still boggy grass) didn't seem in the right place.

When you get out to the provinces there are recognisable places like sub-district offices and AR20 and AR16 houses still in use. How much asbestos is in those old places is anyone's guess. Lots of blue and red paint has been used to coat many of them.

At Ihu in Gulf all that's left of the OIC's house is the metal stilts. The wharf at Baimuru has no planks on it and on it goes.

It was one hell of a shock on that first visit back in the 1990s but my impression is that things have got better since then. Hagen is certainly improved, as are Goroka and Mendi. I think Kundiawa has turned into a nice place. Lae is still a mess and getting worse. Madang has been trashed by highlanders and Wewak still has a few of its old charms. Haven't been back to Rabaul or Kokopo yet.

Thank goodness, as Joe says, the people out in the bush haven't changed much (except everyone wears western clothing now).

Like they advise - never go back, you'll be disappointed.

Thanks, Phil. That is an amazing set of experiences. But tell us more about your subsequent visits to PNG, and what other changes have occurred. A friend of mine recently returned there and went looking for my old house to see if it was still there, but could not drive down the street because the squatter settlements on each side had expanded on to the roadway and there was no longer any room for his car to travel down what used to be the street. Have you had any experiences like this?

Thanks for sharing this, Phil. You are accurate in your descriptions of the obvious changes. What has not changed though are the heart beats of the people, that is, they will empty their hearts to you. Even the raskols would give you the best of their takings. Hopefully this way of life will remain in tact but time will tell.

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