TUMBY BAY - The Papua New Guinea that I knew in the 1960s and 1970s bears little resemblance to the Papua New Guinea of today.
Outwardly the physical appearance has not greatly changed, the towns are bigger and busier as the world over, but the rural areas are still remarkably familiar. So too are the ordinary people.
Where the real difference lies is the way the country runs, the way it operates, the way it gets things done or in many cases not done.
That’s a simplistic summary, it’s much more complicated than that, but one conclusion many people make is that the time before was much better than the time now.
Of course, older people around the world refer to “the good old days” or something similar.
It’s a product of human nature, just like we don’t remember pain we tend to forget the bad times and remember only the good.
However, in the case of Papua New Guinea, I think there is more than a grain of truth in the comparison.
Which brings me to my point.
Deep in expatriates’ heart of hearts, I think most of us knew that democracy in Papua New Guinea just wasn’t going to work.
Or at least not in the way everyone expected it should.
And I think we also knew that the timing of independence had very little to do with it. Be it in 1975 or 1985 or even 1995, it wasn’t going to work.
We felt that democracy and the people of Papua New Guinea were never going to come together successfully. We felt each was incompatible with the other.
As a kiap I was in a position to have a direct insight into this situation and had deep misgivings about the whole process.
I wasn’t alone. Among the expatriate community it was a common belief. Those in power also shared these misgivings.
So why did the leaders proceed as they did?
I suppose they had little choice, they were under pressure from an ignorant government in Canberra and a vocal Papua New Guinean intelligentsia in Port Moresby.
But more than that though, I think they still had hope. They hoped it would work and on that basis they were prepared to take the gamble.
Unfortunately for Papua New Guinea they lost.
Papua New Guinea is not now the emulation of western democracy that it was supposed to become.
I don’t know what PNG is now. Kleptocracy springs to mind, as does autocracy and other unflattering descriptions. Maybe there isn’t a word to describe it.
Some say PNG is broken and needs to be fixed but I don’t really think that, as a nation state, it has ever been unbroken.
It is what it has always been, a loose collection of warring tribes (to which have been added elite fiefdoms) scrabbling to survive in a predatory and uncaring world. That’s not something from which a democracy can be easily built.
Perhaps if we had recognised that way back then we could have plotted a more pragmatic course into the future for the country and its people.
Perhaps that’s what Papua New Guinea’s so-called leaders should really be thinking about too.