Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rabaul and the Ring of Fire

Sunset - Rabaul
The Rabaul that I knew in the late 1970's has changed rather dramatically due to a series of violent volcanic eruptions in September of 1994.  The entire population was evacuated as a result.

The town that I remember was an idyllic place with lagoons fringed with palm trees, friendly Tolai's and an environment littered with war wreckage. It is situated on the Gazelle Peninsular of East New Britain.

Rabaul was the main Japanese naval base for the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns during the War in the Pacific and the scene of bitter fighting (by 1943 there were about 110,000 Japanese troops based in Rabaul), so it is not surprising that so much wreckage still littered the place.

Bombed Dredge - Rabaul Harbour
Take the example of the dredge pictured above.  This was reputedly captured from the British with the fall Singapore to the Japanese.  The latter decided later to tow it to Rabaul to service their harbour there.  The Allies monitored the progress of this voyage to see where it was heading, but waited until it had reached its destination before bombing it.

Rabaul also suffered from a sustained bombing campaign in November of 1943 which was a prelude to the Allied invasion of nearby Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

I spent a holiday at Kurakakul which was on the coast near Rabaul and the scene of the sunset above.  The house was a government one belonging to an Expat fisheries expert and he swapped with me for a week while he stayed in my house in Goroka.  This was not an uncommon practice between contracted offices of the PNG government.  He left me a large bowl of prawns to enjoy on the verandah of the old bungalow -  I remember them still.

Since the eruption the prosperous Rabaul has been replaced by one beset with problems, not the least being unemployment and crime from bands of rascals.  What was once a jewel of the Pacific is now a shadow of its former self and I was lucky to experience it at its best.

Tolai Woman -  taken at the Goroka Show in Eastern Highlands Province
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

News Of An Old Pupil

I was delighted to come across another blog site featuring the work of one of my former pupils, Larry Santana, or 'Larry Mike' as he was called when I taught him.

Larry was a third year student at the School of Art & Design in Goroka in 1979 and by far the most talented of his intake.

It would appear that he too is now treading the teaching path; at Tusbab High School in Madang.

Larry Santana - Madang

By all accounts he has had a tough life in later years while living in Port Moresby - loss of his advertising agency job and then his house, living in the notorious shanty area of Six Mile Dump and scavenging for food scraps.

It saddens me that he and his family had these experiences but at last he seems to be experiencing a much happier existence now, in Madang.

At least he has never lost his smile!

Larry Santana

Image source: Malum Nalu blog
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Friday, May 6, 2011

Making Fire

Making Fire - Eastern Highlands
Roger Smith, 1980
Dry moss (Old Man's Beard?) is used as tinder and and kept dry in a gourd.  The friction created by rubbing sticks together was traditionally used.

The slash and burn technique of agriculture was widely used to clear the bush and grasslands in preparation for crops.

Note the bilas decoration of the demonstrator which includes a toucan bill and pig tusks.

This photograph was taken in a village near to Goroka.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Bee Line

One of my earliest meetings with an Eastern Highland's National was with Ian Mopafli who was an apiarist who had studied honey production in New Zealand.  He spent time in my home country, under an aid scheme, and returned to the Eastern Highlands to establish a viable honey industry.

I visited his home village and saw at first hand how hives were dispersed. My interested in this form of agriculture had been pricked a few years previously when I had an idea to quit teaching and become and apiarist. I even went as far as joining a Rotorua bee keeping club but nothing more came of it.

Prior to leaving for PNG I paid a deposit on a large section of bush covered land near Kennedys Bay, on the Coromandel Peninsula. It was subdivided by Jim Rabarts at Tuateawa and was part of my self sufficiency master-plan; painting and bee-keeping. In hindsight totally impractical but such is the fervour of youth!

Once in Goroka I decided not pursue the Coromandel purchase but did discover where most of the rich Papua New Guinea honey ended up - in Rothmans cigarettes.

Rothmans had a large tobacco factory outside Goroka as they grew their tobacco in its rich soils.  The EHP honey was one of the several additives that were used.

The other thing I remember was that there was also a thin cigarette produced for local consumption which used recycled paper sheets from old texts as its outer sheath.  It was not uncommon to come across one that had a copy of the Psalms printed on the outside, such was the proliferation of bibles and religious texts in the Highlands.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food and Failures

The climate of Goroka was spring like all year around and as a result there was always and abundance of fresh vegetables to be found in the local market.

Being a central location the market was also the place to pick up a PMV (Passenger Motor Vehicle) for a trip further up or down the Highlands Highway.  While some of these were vans, many were open decked ISUZU trucks.

The Saturday market was one of the best and all of the activity took place in a designated area.  The first vendors could use the concrete slab tables and many preferred to set up on ground mats or the ubiquitous blue tarpaulins that were used for drying coffee.

Kau Kau - Goroka Market
Photo: Roger Smith
The local street potato was kau kau and somewhat coarser version of the New Zealand native tuber, the kumara.  Kau kau along with sago was a staple in the diet but this was supplemented with green leaf vegetables.

There were small piles of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower in season. The buying process meant negotiating for a pile of what you fancied rather than an individual item of fruit or vegetable.  All were incredibly cheap in a subsistence economy founded on fertile soils.

One particular favourite were freshly cooked peanuts, still smoky in taste from the fire and costing ten toea in local moni. There were ten toea in one kina, the local equivalent of a dollar.

Sugar cane was also sold although I always found the chewing a piece less than satisfying.  Fresh carrots, capsicums and more exotic fare such as jackfruit could also be bought.

Goroka Market -  from left, cucumbers, tomatoes, sugar cane, potatoes and in front, kau kau
Photo: Roger Smith
One of the best purchases were the local bananas which grew throughout the highlands at this altitude. Pineapples were also be had and although small were delicious.  The same could be said for local passion-fruit.

Goroka Market - at back are limes and in the front jackfruit
Photo: Roger Smith
Goroka market is not all about food and there was a separate section for clothing where one could buy the colourful laplaps or container made out of local bamboo.

Next to the market was the local town butchery selling pork and chicken in large quantities. This was a controlled environment but most of the expatriate population chose to buy their meat from the supermarket in town.

Buying frozen food from the local supermarket could be counter-productive as there were frequent power cuts.  Most people had a back up petrol generator to keep their fridge and freezers going in the event of such an emergency.  Imported food while not cheap was often of the best quality.  I tasted some of the best frozen New Zealand fish that I have ever had in Goroka and at a similar price to buying it in the country of origin!

The plus side was that when the supermarkets own freezers malfunctioned they quickly sold off their food as hugely discounted prices.  Most of the power outages who be laid at the feet of those who were meant to maintain the large Ramu Valley power plant which supplied the Highlands electricity.  As its intakes in the Yonki Dam were slowly but surely silting up and maintenance was piecemeal (to be charitable), the long term prognosis for the plant was not great.

One of the biggest supermarkets in Goroka was owned by Collins and Leahy. They put in the first elevator while I was there and were inundated with local villagers who came from far and wide to try out this novelty; they spent all day going up and down the wondrous mechanical staircase without making a single purchase much to the annoyance of the staff.
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PNG Art Work

Untitled Drawing 1979....charcoal and chalk
Roger Smith. Click image to see larger verson.