Tuesday, October 17, 2017

LET THE PORT MORESBY ADVENTURES BEGIN! CHAPTER THREE..



Orchid Beach...the beach at the resort on Hinchinbrook Island (Acrylic painting by me)
Orchid Beach...looking down upon it from the top of Cape Richards itself..

PNG Bird of Paradise
Contrasting view of Port Moresby
Me getting ready to leave the island en route to Cairns...then Port Moresby - July, 1987

 

Like well-behaved children, a few hours after our arrival, the nine of us “experts” in tourism met in the hotel lobby at seven o’clock, as instructed by Herr Commandant.

 

We were duly herded into the main function room of “The Islander” by our self-appointed leader, the one with the bellowing voice and an annoying air of arrogance…the one known as “Graeme”.

 

In a rare moment of quietude, he told us our marketing programme would have to be squashed into one day as he had just learned that our last day was a public holiday in Papua New Guinea!

 

The 23rd July is PNG’s “Remembrance Day”, similar to Australia’s Anzac Day.

 

Our party of nine arrived on the afternoon of 21st July, and were booked to leave late afternoon of the 23rd,  following an almost a full day’s business.

 

No one on the Port Moresby end of things bothered to mention this minor fact to the organisers of our expedition/exposition.

 

If someone had thought to advise the organisers, the dates for our visit could have been changed.  When the oversight was discovered, it was too late to do anything other than have a quiet complain amongst ourselves, move on and “grin and bear it”.


A special function was planned for us on our first evening in Moresby.   


At the head table, separated from us lowly members of our troupe, on a  raised dais,  at a higher level looking down upon the rest of the guests, sat people none of us knew, other than one.

Graeme, our “leader of the pack” was centre stage - up on the stage - a position he obviously relished. 

To his left and to right were ex-pats “dignitaries”.  I never did discover who they were, but throughout the evening each gave a “talk”, welcoming our little band of visitors to their shores.

The remaining eight serfs, which included me, of course, were placed at the same table on a more-suitable lower level, and there we remained for the duration of the dinner.  

We didn’t get to meet anyone else at the other tables spread throughout the room. 


Once more together we were, stuck like glue.

However, we were treated royally.  The “red carpet” definitely had been shaken, beaten and vacuumed for our attendance.  As if by magic, our wine glasses remained topped up throughout the dinner. We were looked after extremely well by the doting, courteous hotel staff.

Once seated at the starched, white tablecloth-covered dinner table covered with the rest of my traveling companions, our conversation flowed freely.  After our lengthy time spent together at Cairns airport while we’d waited for our delayed flight, we’d become “old” friends.

Drink orders were taken. A little while after, dinner began being served. We talked among ourselves. I think we all felt a little out of place as we knew no one else at the other tables, and there were quite a number of other tables filled with Aussie ex-pats.  Wait staff buzzed around the room like myriad worker bees in a beehive, busily getting on with the jobs allocated to them.

The time arrived for the “head table” to begin the formal proceedings of the evening.
At moments of seriousness, during meetings, weddings, funerals etc., etc., I have a weird, uncontrollable tendency to recognize, or find, (no matter how minute) humour in such situations, which, at times, can be little disconcerting and disastrous!  I’m hopeless.  I’ve always been this way.  You can’t take me anywhere!

I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the waiters.  His actions had grabbed hold of my attention immediately.  

In your mind, picture the image of “Manuel”, the Spanish waiter out of “Fawlty Towers”, but imagine him as a Papua New Guinea National.

On the night I’m describing, our “Manuel” was also short in stature.  His dark brown eyes darted from here to there, and everywhere…they were never still.  His body moved in nervous accord.   He was out to impress; he tried to do his best.

Scanning down his frame...he was dressed for his role in the night’s performance.  His white shirt, black bow tie, red cummerbund, black trousers were all correct attire, until one’s eyes reached to where his slightly short long trousers met his ankles.  And then, the shock was almost too much to contain (for me, anyway)…Omo white socks worn with beige suede desert boots!

Fascinated and entertained, I watched as “Manuel” whizzed up and down the head table, filling and refilling wine glasses...non-stop.  He didn’t miss a beat. He had been instructed well.   

“Make sure everyone’s glass is full”, he’d obviously been told.  “Manuel” was following his instructions to the letter.  No one was going to be thirsty at the head table that evening.

Sitting opposite me at our table down in the boondocks was the North Queensland Manager of one of the major bus/coach companies…Sunliner Express.  

He and I had been making small talk throughout our meal, nothing more, and nothing less.

Politely, we ceased our small talk when those at the main table began their speeches, welcoming our intrepid crew to Port Moresby.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, my mate across the table had a similar sense of the ridiculous as I had or, should I say, still have!

His eyes and mine met…which was unfortunate!   Immediately, it was obvious to both of us we were “on the same page”.  It was fatal. We were on the brink of trying to save our decorum…“Trying” being the operative word.
  
Both of us fell into a fit of the giggles, recognising what each of us was thinking. Vainly, we attempted to, and did succeed, though with much difficulty, to hide our lack of control.

It was very difficult and made even more difficult because we were both not of any help to the other in containing our respective, individual and combined hysteria.  My Sunliner mate was kicking me under the table and I, naturally retaliated.  We tried not to look at each other because that only made us worse. The rest at our table seemed totally oblivious to our reasons for squirming.

The crescendo reached unreachable, unbearable heights when it came time for Graeme, our bumptious, overbearing “big noise” to stand and deliver his speech, something he took very seriously.  After all, he was our leader – our Commander in Chief!

Graeme stood up, ready to take control.

At the exact moment he began to speak, “Manuel” noticed that Graeme’s wine glass was empty.  

In a flurry, “Manuel” grabbed a bottle of white wine from the free-standing chrome ice bucket.  

He had, after all, been instructed to make sure that the guests’ wine glasses at all times were filled.  

“Manuel” scurried to Graeme’s side, wine bottle at the ready. He started to pour the amber liquid.  Gruffly, Graeme shook his head, throwing “Manuel” a filthy look. “Manuel’s” eyes grew even larger, the whites stood out brilliantly against his dark face.

He halted mid-way, wine bottle at half-mast. He didn’t know what to do next, or which way to turn. No one had instructed him what to do if somebody said, “No.”

Poor “Manuel”…like a character in a cartoon, his head spun around on his neck. He searched for the ice bucket. It had only been “there” a moment ago! Finally, he spotted it.  It hadn't moved. His sigh of relief was almost audible across the crowded room.

With two quick steps to his left, he was beside the ice bucket, hoping to God it wouldn’t move.

With a visible flourish of sheer relief, he placed the wicked wine bottle in the bucket, hoping there it would remain.  Throughout the rest of the speeches, “Manuel” remained frozen to the spot, guarding that wine bottle and ice bucket with his life, not game to even move a finger. His eyes never flickered.

The vignette, the brief episode, was so funny.  I wasn’t laughing “at” him.   In fact, I did feel sorry for the fellow because he was only doing what he had been told to do by his superiors.  He'd been following his instructions to the letter.

In no way, did he deserve the rude rebuff from Graeme.  After all, we really were on a “goodwill” mission, and Graeme, in his abruptness had shown him no goodwill.

Once the speeches were completed, the atmosphere relaxed, and so did “Manuel”, who once again commenced his frenetic pace, buzzing up, down and around the table.

With the formalities finally at an end, my partner in mirth and I were able to lift the lids off our laughter, much to our relief.

Friendly conversations spread amicably around our table as we got to know each other further, discussing the respective roles each of us played in tourism.

Towards the end of the evening Graeme decided to “lower” himself and join our motley group to tell us he would be flying further up the coast, and then to the Highlands the following morning.  He wouldn’t return until it was time for our flight back home. We were “on our own”, but I heard no complaints from any of my fellow conspirators.  As one, we were relieved to be relieved of his presence.

The following day it was all business from go to whoa. With or without Graeme the show went on…smoothly.

A large function room had been set aside for our purposes.  We were each allocated our own special section in which to handle our pre-set appointments.  Therein we greeting the interested parties and discussed our respective businesses.

After lunch, individually, we had to make a solo presentation of our particular “product/s”, standing behind a podium, to the congregation of ex-pat business people.

I was always thankful when a podium was supplied at such events, as I felt the podium hid my shaking knee. Yes, that’s right, “knee”. Only my right knee used to get the shakes! Once I got underway with my spiel after the initial couple of moments of sheer terror had dissipated, I was fine. My knee behaved itself, and no one else was the wiser.

I believed in the “product” I was marketing, which was the resort on Hinchinbrook Island, and the island in total.  When believing in the product is the case, it’s easy to “sell” or educate others. 

A full day of business had been planned for us, plus, I imagined, a bit extra was squashed in seeing we had lost a whole day of business because of the public holiday.

Lunchtime arrived.  We were grateful for the break.  It was time to catch our breath and re-group.  

The business of the day had kicked off at 8am.  We broke for lunch at 12.30pm.  It’d been an intense morning filled with non-stop talking.

A long queue lined up in front of the small temporary bar that had been set up in another function room, the one in which the previous night's dinner had been held.

It was then I realised why the outside bar we'd visited the afternoon before upon our arrival had so many staff manning it.   Service in Port Moresby was a bit like "maƱana".

The barman on that day was very methodical, and very, very slow.  I was dying for a scotch and soda with ice.  The person in front of me ordered a scotch and soda…and that was the beginning of an epic almost as long as “Gone with the Wind”!

“Manuel” was running around the room that day, but he wasn’t behind the bar.  I saw him run into a swinging door at one stage. Nothing had changed for the poor guy!

I waited patiently for the person in front of me at the bar to get his scotch and soda.  

The waiter, of the same persuasion as “Manuel”, stood his ground firmly behind the small makeshift, low bar.  Nothing and no one was going to make him move, or make him move faster.

Looking about him, to his surprise, he discovered a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red.  I swear he did jump a little when he spotted the bottle.  Reaching for the Scotch, he plonked it down in front of him staring at the bottle as if daring it to move.

Slowly casting his eyes about, he located a glass.  Whew!   That was lucky!

The next problem he faced was finding the ice cubes . Ahh…there they are! Two cubes, no, three, were gingerly placed into the glass.

Now, where did that bottle of scotch get to?  

Okay…he found it. Off came the top, which became used as the nip measure. 
  
Carefully, he poured Scotch into the bottle cap.

Into the glass over the ice trickled the nip of scotch. 

Cautiously, he screwed the cap back onto the bottle.  He then tentatively placed the bottle back in its spot.

Next, he was faced with had a major problem. Where the hell was the soda?

His eyes, too, grew larger like “Manuel’s” had the previous night, until finally he found the soda, which, by the way, was right in front of him.

Another problem raised its head.  Where was the glass with the ice and the nip of scotch?

Okay!  To his undisguised surprise, it was still where he had placed it. He unscrewed the top off the bottle of soda, not taking his eyes off that damned glass.  Eyes still glued to the glass, he poured soda over the existing contents.

Eventually, he proudly beamed the largest smile and handed his success to the gentleman in front of me.

Then, it was my turn to be served.

“Could I have a beer, please?” I asked with a smile. 

There was no way I was going to go through that performance again!  There are only so many hours in one day, and only one hour in a lunch hour!

To Be Continued.....



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

LET THE PORT MORESBY ADVENTURES BEGIN! CHAPTER TWO....


The Islander Hotel now known as "Gateway Hotel", Port Moresby
Port Moresby
Another side of Port Moresby
Volunteers at work in Port Moresby
PNG Parliament House - first created in 1964 as the House of Assembly of Papua and New Guinea...before gaining independence in 1975




A market at Boroko, a suburb of Port Moresby
A couple of colourful local lads

Soon, the islands of the Strait were in the distance – in the rear view mirror.

The Torres Strait Island group, approximately 274 in total, lying between Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea, are part of Queensland. They are administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority, a special authority fitting the native, Melanesian, land rights.

Some of the islands lie just off the coast of New Guinea.

Because of drastic depletion of their cultural artifacts in 1888-1880 by the visiting Cambridge Anthropological Expedition, in 1904, the islanders became subject to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897- Qld).

Papua New Guinea is about the size of California. Approximately 96% of its population of approximately 5.8million is Christian.  PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975. The Torres Strait Islands and Islanders remained Australian.

The New Guinea government objected to Australia having complete control over the waters of the strait. Both governments came to an agreement that suited each country. 

The islands and islanders remained Australian, but as the maritime border between Australia and Papua New Guinea runs through the centre of the strait, both countries manage the resources of the area.

From the tip of Cape York to New Guinea the distance is approximately 150kms at the narrowest point. The islands scatter over some 200-300kms, east to west.

At the termination of the last Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago, the rising sea submerged what was formerly a land-bridge between our two countries.  Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are the remaining peaks of the former land-bridge that weren’t completely submerged when the ocean levels rose thousands of years ago.

Torres Strait Islanders are Melanesians, distinct from the Australian Aboriginal. The population of the islands is approximately 8,000.

After our lengthy stay at Cairns airport, trying to hide our impatience as we waited for our delayed flight to arrive (or take off), we were finally on our way northward.

Seated next to me on the flight to Port Moresby was the North Queensland Area Manager for Avis Car Rental.    

He had made many previous business trips to New Guinea, so he was familiar with all that was going on, and about the country to which we were headed.

I was interested in hearing from him what to expect upon arrival in Moresby. Time was limited on the flight, however.  One barely had time to buckle up, unbuckle, have one beer, and then buckle up again before beginning our descent into Port Moresby airport.   
Hardly time to say “Cheers!”

My flight companion told me to expect to see the New Guinea Nationals walking everywhere.

“What do you mean?” I asked. My curiosity aroused.

“Just that…they walk everywhere…coming and going, coming and going…never in a hurry…just walking….walking.  I don’t know if they ever get to where they’re going, or from where they started…but, you’ll see…they just…walk.  You’ll understand what I mean when we get there.”

Port Moresby airport overflowed with people.  People were everywhere.  They can’t all be catching flights or meeting people, I thought.  What on earth was going on?

Crowds milled around inside and outside the terminal building.

Some sat on the floor, with their backs resting against the walls, or whatever support they could find.  Others didn’t bother with any support.  

Security guards and police, with sniffer German Shepherds at their sides, created an ominous presence.

“Anyone trying to smuggle drugs into this country would be a fool!” I mumbled softly out of the corner of my mouth to my flight companion, to whose side I’d purposely become glued, no Supa Glue or Blu-Tack required.

Finally, we collected our luggage, eagerly exiting the airport terminal to our waiting Avis cars.

Outside, everywhere I looked, the Nationals (Papua New Guineans) were crouched under trees, palm trees, on lawns, on the footpaths, anywhere they could find a spot on which to sit.
  
En route to our hotel, named “The Islander”, I began to understand what Tony, my well-informed flight companion, had tried to explain to me.

All along the way, on both sides of the road leading into Moresby proper, people were walking, some that way, some this way, and others the other way.

Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get to where they were going, or vice versa. They “just walked”!

The trip from the airport to our hotel didn’t take long.

Driving into the grounds of the hotel, once again I noticed New Guinea Nationals sitting along the fence line, under the decorative palm trees, next to shrubs, in the hotel gardens… everywhere.

Alighting from our respective vehicles at the hotel, we gathered together in a cluster. Standing on the stairs leading to the foyer and reception desk were three or four well-built, serious-looking New Guinea policemen with large black batons attached to their belts. Their hands frequently strayed to finger the threatening-looking, thick truncheons. It appeared to me, the police needed little, if any, provocation in using their trusty cudgels. From the look of the weapons worn proudly on their hips, they had the capacity to do much harm.

The government elections had been held just prior to our visit (July, 1987), and while the votes were being collected and counted, a prohibition on alcohol had been in force.

A prolonged wave of violent crime in Port Moresby had commenced in 1985, culminating in a “state of emergency” in June, 1985.  Left, right and centre there were government party splits going on in parliament. The unrest continued with serious riots erupting throughout the Highlands in 1986.  

Leading up to the election, the vote-collection and counting, the prohibition had been in force for a lengthy period (three months or longer, from memory).  Prohibition had been lifted only a couple of days before our arrival. It was obvious to us that the police were expecting trouble now that the ban was lifted.  They were prepared for trouble and wished to quell it as quickly as possible.

Again, quietly, I mumbled to my companions. “From this moment forth, there is an imaginary chain linking all of us together. Where each one of us goes, the other goes! It’s all for one and one for all!”

Agreement to my plan came from all quarters…no argument.

After depositing my luggage to my room and freshening up, by pre-arrangement, I met Tony, my-flight-companion-Avis-man in the hotel lobby. With another couple of partners-in-crime, he took us on a guided tour around the Port Moresby city centre and the yacht club. I was amazed how dry, how arid the area was. 

I’d never been to Papua New Guinea before that visit...and never have again.  I had ignorantly assumed it was all lush, green rain-forest jungle similar to The Daintree and Cape Tribulations areas of Tropical Far North Queensland, but Tony, during our flight, had corrected my false assumption.

Port Moresby and its close surrounds are part of the red savannah, not dissimilar to the landscape of Normanton, in Queensland’s Gulf Country, an area I was to visit and work in briefly, a few years later.

Moresby was dusty, old-looking and fairly ramshackle in spots..tired and worn-out.

Until my visit to PNG, I’d never seen so much barbed wire and security bars as I did in Port Moresby. And, I've never seen as much since that trip.

Every building, home, store was not without some form of barricade material.

We all commented we couldn’t live under those conditions, being so used to the freedoms of living in our own lucky country, known as "Australia". I guess we do take so much for granted and, at times, need our eyes opened to the world outside.

Leaving the city limits, we drove a few miles out further into the countryside. Tony hadn’t lied. On either side of the roads we traversed were the New Guinea Nationals, walking….walking…  

Dotted along the sides of roads were high-set flimsy shacks. The lower sections of the shacks housed the cooking and eating area.  Their pristine dirt floors were pristine. The dirt floors are continuously swept with hand-made brooms, to the point they appeared to be highly polished. Strangely, those flimsy shacks were extremely clean and tidy, much tidier than some areas of Port Moresby, itself.

Arriving back at our hotel a while later, the four of us, three men and me, decided we’d go into the bar for a drink before showering and changing for the evening’s event, which was due to commence around 7pm.

The bar wasn’t much bigger than my resort bar on Hinchinbrook Island, but where I had only one bar person in attendance at my bar at any given time, the bar in “The Islander” Hotel had six barmen - that I could see - working it, in the short time we were there.  A little over-done, in my opinion.  I learned later...not so much.

We stayed only a couple of minutes.  I looked around the room and the bar.  Very quickly I realized the three men I was with were the only white men in the bar, and I was the only white woman.

Quietly, (whispering had become natural to me), I said to my companions, “I don’t feel very comfortable in here. I’m going back to my room. If anyone wants to join me for a drink there, before we all head out later… or maybe in one of your rooms…please feel free.  But, I’m off…”

As one, my companions nodded in agreement and we retired to someone’s room…I can’t remember whose now.  There we shared a couple of cold beers before going our separate ways, with plans to meet up a little while later at the special dinner which was being held in honour of us, the traveling, tourism troubadours.

As an addendum...I'm not a nervous person, but I am a cautious person, one who likes to keep her eyes open and ears alert.  As proof I'm not the nervous type, I lived on an island, Newry Island, by myself; and I've lived alone for the major part of 31 years since my ex and I parted ways in early 1986.  I try never to be careless or blinkered; and I try at all times to be aware of my surroundings, and likely scenarios that could unfold, without taking things to the extreme...if you know what I mean...

The fun was about to commence!

To Be Continued.....