One place that I have enjoyed going to over the years is Papua New Guinea. My first experience there was as a very young Australian Volunteer when my wife Robyn and I went to Hagita High School and Plantation in 1976 near Alatou in Milne Bay Province. I managed a copra and cattle plantation and Robyn taught at the Catholic High School. This was just after independence and it was great to experience the hope and confidence of this new nation. One claim to fame – at least for Robyn – was making the outfits for the school brass band to welcome the Queen on a visit to Alotau.
Our next sojourn to PNG was from 1981-84 when we went to Banz near Mt Hagen from 1981-84 to use my poultry management skills to manage Girumbin Poultry – a commercial enterprise associated with the interdenominational Christian Leaders Training College. While I managed the poultry, Robyn worked with the many pre-schoolers that belonged to staff and children. The Highlands was very different to the coastal areas – cooler, more people around…. and more conflict. It had a terrific climate – ideal for poultry – the only down side was the cost of bringing imported feed up the long Highland’s Highway from Lae. The poultry operation was based around breeders, a hatchery, sale of day old chickens and a layer farm – and was quite profitable while provided training and jobs for a good number of highlanders. It was here that our eldest daughter started school – at the Banz International school (which I believe is no longer there).
Since then, we have been involved in a number of projects which has meant regular trips to the country and having the chance to watch it grapple with nationhood and wielding a diverse culture into one that speaks the same language of measured development. A favourite destination has been East New Britain Province – an island in the north – and The University of Vudal. There we have been involved in working with the agricultural department and providing a range of training packages to staff. East New Britain – despite the destruction to much of the capital Rabaul from the volcanic eruption – has a good steady development and very stable community – and always a pleasure to visit and work with the people. In one project – an AusAid funded training project – training in a range of topics was undertaken in the villages themselves with University or Department of Agriculture staff (using adult learning approaches). Our role was to monitor and evaluate the process and impact of the training – and there was a lot of positive impacts that we observed from the project!
Another project was known as the PNG Scientific Communication Project (SciCom) – funded by the AusAid through Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). I was project leader, Robyn was the gender advisor and various staff from the University of Queensland paired with PNG national staff to develop post-graduate training courses. Dr Ken Rickert from Toowoomba was the academic leader and Laurie Fooks managed the project from Lae. The project came about largely through the efforts of Robert Songan – who at the time was on the staff at Unitech in Lae – who had a vision for such a course. These courses could be delivered in one-week blocks and aimed to develop the skills of university staff and researchers in government or private agencies to better communicate the outputs of their research. The most exciting part of this project was seeing the way that the PNG national staff embraced the concept and became such advocates and deliverers of the course throughout PNG.
Its been more than a year now since my last visit to the country. I miss the smiles and “Moning tru…yu stap orait?”…the people and their resilience faced with sometimes very difficult circumstances. It is their country and they know it well. They put up gracefully as we ‘foreigners’ come in with yet another project to help. Maybe…I will have chance to get back someday.