The making of a bilum (and why not to buy fakes)
‘Tax hike’ that never happened causes a public storm

The new priest’s year in Karap and the Jimi Valley

Roche - Karap from the air
A 1980s view of Karap from the air gives an indication of the steep mountainsides. Lower left is the road to Tabibuga, upper right the road to Banz, middle left the road to Kol


DUBLIN, IRELAND- I had arrived in Papua New Guinea in October 1970, when it was known as the Territory of Papua New Guinea (it changed its name to just Papua New Guinea in 1972.)

Nine months later, in July 1971, I was sent to take charge of Karap, a parish in the Jimi Valley.

This area is now in Jiwaka Province but back then it was part of the Western Highlands District.

Things were on the move. A new road had been constructed from near Banz through Kwiona, Kauil and Karap to the government station at Tabibuga.

The drive from Banz to Karap normally took at least two hours, and from Karap to Tabiguba about an hour. Four-wheel drive vehicles were necessary.

At Karap there is now a road branching off to Kol in the Upper Jimi, but that road did not exist in the early 1970s.

The 'mansion' in which I lived was a cabin made from pit-sawn timber with a thatched kunai grass roof and a nearby shed was stacked with timber used for building the church and school classrooms.

My house was on a hilltop overlooking the road and there was a great view looking down the valley of the Tsau river.

The nearest expatriate neighbours were the kiaps at Tabibuga. At that time, Jack Edwards was in charge and Ken Logan and Rod Cantlay were also there.

Roche - Timber Shed with Priest’s House at rear. Karap 1971
Timber shed with the priest’s ‘mansion’ at the rear, Karap 1971

They were only an hour away and I enjoyed their company and, if I was at times brash and naïve, they were diplomatic in response. Another kiap, Harry Nash, was for a time based further away in Kol.

At Karap my job including visiting the many outstations. Sheer distance made it impractical for these outlying parishioners to attend the Sunday mass at Karap, so I would regularly set out onpatrol and bring the church to them - offering mass and discussing matters such as schools, sacraments and other things that concerned the people.

Patrolling in one direction I would drive past Tabibuga, leave the car on the roadside and take to the bush, overnighting in such places as Wum, Tsenga, Kumai, Tuckamunga, Maekmol, Por and Kauil before returning to Karap. This would take about week. In the other direction I would go to Manemp, Magin and Olna.

Roche - view from Karap
View from Karap hilltop looking down the Jimi valley. At left, local leader Peter Walep; at right, a catechist

As usual in that part of the highlands, people did not live in villages but in homesteads scattered throughout the hills. When on patrol, we were generally warmly welcomed. Outsiders were still a bit of a novelty and people were curious.

While we brought some supplies with us, the people would usually present a chicken or two and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Looking back at my 12 months in Karap and the Jimi Valley, I know I was lucky to be there at a time when there was a lot of cooperation between the various government agencies and the missions and the people themselves.

Perhaps because conditions were tough, and there was isolation from the rest of the country, there was a great willingness to help anybody who had a problem.

If your vehicle broke down or you got stuck in a landslide, people were always willing to come to your assistance. If a person was very ill or in great need, help was usually offered. I remember well a Nazarene pastor, Wallace White, who, on his way from Kudjip to the Nazarene mission at Tsengoropa, gracefully gave of his time and expertise to fix my motorbike.

Maekmul 1972
Mrs Kavali, a local man named Mission, a young Hagen man named Data, and local children. Mrs Kavali was presenting us with a chicken, Maekmul 1972

Maekmul was the home place of Sir Thomas Kavali (a prominent politician in the years around independence who became Minister for Works). He was not there when we stayed but I do remember Mrs Kavali presenting us with a chicken.

The patrols often involved long treks though the Jimi bush and overnight stays in bush houses. In places like Tsenga and Wum, I also met my share of mosquitoes.

We had been warned about the need to take anti-malarial medicine; at that time chloroquine was generally recommended.  However the malaria threat was not so great in the highlands and, while I regularly swallowed my weekly dose during my first few months in New Guinea, I later stopped taking it altogether.

My reward, if I remember correctly, was that malaria struck me early in 1972. I became ill with severe headaches, muscle pains, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.  I had no supply of chloroquine as I had not bothered to get a new supply after I stopped taking the drug.

Although I was not sure what was wrong with me, I knew I was in a bad way. It was an hour’s drive to the government station at Tabibuga, and it was two hours’ drive in the other direction to Banz.

Luckily for me the Public Works Department had sent a grader into the valley to improve the road from Banz through Karap to Tabibuga.  The grader driver was an Australian named Bryson Pryor, and clever Bryson happened to have chloroquine tablets with him.

He gave me enough to help me over the fever. They may well have been a life saver. I had only met Bryson once or twice on the road. In many ways he was a stranger, but he helped me when I really needed help. I have not forgotten.

Many years later I met a nephew of Bryson in the Mt. Hagen Club.  I told him how Bryson had come to my rescue. He informed me that Bryson had died some years before.

I sporadically kept a diary at the time and on 2 March 1972 I recorded: “Elections at Karap. Jack Edwards up for a few drinks”

Jack was the Assistant District Commissioner and the polling station for our area was at Ngal, just up the road from the mission. Thomas Kavali won that election and was instrumental, together with others, in getting fellow highlands politician Kaibelt Diria to support Michael Somare and his move for Papua New Guinea’s self-government and later independence.

Roche - Crossing the Tsau river
Crossing the Tsau river on a flimsy cane bridge was adventurous, but the bridge was was stronger than it looked

There was some mining exploration in the Jimi at the time. I briefly recorded in my diary: “Saturday 29 April 1972. Bruce and Susie (geologists with Minjur Mines) arrived from Olna. Later in evening Chip and Diana Nichols and Peter McNab arrived.”

I cannot remember Bruce and Susie’s full names, but Chip and Diana Nichols called again later, even staying overnight in my mansion one time. Peter McNab was later much involved with Misima mine in Milne Bay Province.

After 12 months in Karap, I was transferred to Ulga in the Nebyler Valley. I missed Karap and regretted that I was not stationed there for longer. I got to make a few brief return visits, the last one about 1990 when I went to Karap for Christmas.

Maybe we tend to romanticise some of our early experiences. Looking back on those times, there was something almost magical about my year in Karap.

The people in Jimi were very friendly and welcoming and the bush patrol experiences were exceptional. I look back with happy memories.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Garry Roche

Phil, there was a rumour that Harry Nash returned to Australia and was eaten by a crocodile in the Northern Territory ! But this may have been just a rumour.

Philip Kai, thanks for your kind words. The terrain in the Jimi is more like parts of Simbu, very steep hills and mountains. And of course there was more interaction in the Upper Jimi, (Ambullua and Kol) with Simbu.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Harry Nash had a bit of a reputation, if you know what I mean Garry. Probably explains why he was "based further away in Kol". Then again, didn't we all?

I wonder where he is now.

Philip Kai Morre

Fr Garry - Very interesting story of your adventure in this remote part of highlands of PNG. You and most of the SVD missionaries in the past did a lot of work, not only pastoral work but you built schools, hospitals, roads, airstrips and other infrastructure that brings development and change in the highlands.

God will reward you for your work.

Many old missionaries have died and are buried here, others left for retirement and died at home and a few are still living.

We now have more local priests but I regret that the past has gone when the missionaries were more with the people and became part of us.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)