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Observations of Papua New Guinea

Recently I visited Alotau in PNG located in the Milne Bay province.  Alotau is a town of some 30’000 people (although the proximity of villages and high social mobility makes population estimates difficult).  The local people are incredibly friendly.  There are many positive aspects of PNG that are hard to explain on a blog.   

PNG unemployment is estimated in the 95%+ range.  There is no welfare safety net.  The minimum wage is around 60 kina a week (20 Australian dollars).  Despite this, the subsitence economy of traditional living is influential and still plays a key role in the lives of many people.  Many Australians have negative perceptions of PNG because of things that they have heard or things that have been confirmed.  In the town of Alotau these perceptions are simply untrue.  There are greater social challenges and greater issues of community safety in many Australian locations than there are in Alotau.  An initial glimpse of the above facts brings about negative feelings but this should not substitute the influence of the subsistence economy, the mannerisms and friendliness of people, the hard-work and determination on the part of most PNG citizens to lead productive and sharing lives. 

In PNG, Most locals move between the cash economy and the subsistence economy with relative ease.  Food is plentiful and is easy to grow.  Land ownership is based on traditional structures.  These are just some of the fleeting glimpses observant in PNG, and in the coming months I hope to provide more detail into my experiences.

On one occasion an uncle of Nathanael and Aaliyah, Tom, suggested that the social dysfunction experienced in Aboriginal communities is a result of them receiving money for nothing.  ‘But’, he said chewing on Boi (pronounced boo-eye), ‘sometimes I think that if we had that system here we wouldn’t have so many problems with crime and stealing in PNG’.  There are many problems in this regard, he explains, especially in central regions that serve as a hub for young people and others from the village looking for work.  As there are no jobs available, and without the means to provide for themselves or those around them, they resort to crimes that can often go unpunished.   

In another discussion with a ‘Highlander’ (a person from the Highlands located in the centre of PNG) I gained a glimpse of the extent of knowledge about Australia and its links.  Anita explained in pidgeon that I’m ‘mixed race Aboriginal’, or ‘trick-trick’ (not really indigenous and not really a ‘dim-dim’, an expression used in PNG).  He smiled and looked at me and said ‘your land has been taken away’.  He explained the importance of land to people in PNG and how it is centre to everything.  I replied that many people in Australia, including the media and some Aboriginal leaders, regarded many parts of the land to be ‘handed back’, but this didn’t appear to wash. 

In PNG the land title system reflects customary indigenous law.  Land-owners have absolute control including access (although major towns and regional centres are open to everyone).  Land-owners can divide the land and sell titles to the public.  If land is disrupted compensation is payable.  To the person we were talking to the fact that Aboriginal people remain in disadvantage confirmed the stories he heard about Aboriginal land being stolen.  It appeared that he couldn’t reconcile the fact of Australia’s economic development with the supposed statement that Aboriginal land had been returned, or ‘handed back’.

In Alotau the sand on the beach is black.  The beach meets flat land for only a short distance and then it builds upwards into mountanous ranges.  These ranges used to be volcano’s and I am told that is why the sand is black.  Such effects have also creates small boulders ranging from minute to the size of a watermelon.  These boulders are everywhere, and they are used for ‘moo-moos’ (traditional ovens). 

Continued over the fold.

Continue reading ‘Observations of Papua New Guinea’


Uluru / Kata Tjuta

When I was young my father worked as a Park Ranger at Uluru / Kata Tjuta National Park.  Our house was tucked behind the community of Mutitjulu, near the shades of the rock.  At the back of our house was a sand dune.  It was one of those hills that you run down when you’re young and the speed carries you.

I remember at the time seeing rain on the rock, and how the clouds hung low with water flowing down the naturally formed contours.  It was one of those occasions where a memory connects to emotion for a first time.  I remember being with my family not far away, and how mum and dad were observing the marvel and beauty.   

In relation to the rock in general I didn’t have the breadth of knowledge of the world to quantify its significance.  Last year I returned for a visit.  It is a truly unique place.  Words can’t describe.  Photographs can’t do justice. 

Given the stretch of desert that covers this earth, and how big each particle of sand is, it is amazing to consider why this monolith is so unique.  There are many majestic places on earth, but most have their equivalents or at least part-equivalents.  Uluru appears to be on its own. 

July 2018
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