Wednesday, 5 December 2007
Life started to unravel very quickly. We finally realised that it really was time to go: that the New Guinea we had known and called home for over 25 years was fast vanishing, and we were no longer welcome.
Panguna, now one of the biggest open-cut mines in the world, was facing rapidly developing opposition from disgruntled Bougainville villagers, overwhelmed by the transformation of their island into an industrial maelstrom of men and machinery; something they had not asked for and did not understand.
Plantations, which continued to produce the Copra and Cocoa on which the new nation relied on to supplement Australian aid dollars were finding the cheap, reliable labour on which these enterprises depended harder to obtain: workers had become less and less amenable to the ordered monotony of plantation life which required the laborer to rise before dawn six days out of seven for two years before returning to the indolent stop-start pattern of village life.
The police force lost almost all its experienced expatriate officers. The force now followed the same pattern as other government departments; rapidly promoting junior officers to senior positions far above their level of experience or competancy. For the first time, bribery and corruption started to infiltrate commercial life. It has now become the norm, and very little can be accomplished without it in today's PNG.
By the time the import of all this had sunk in, the possibility of finding a shadow local partner had come and gone. Banks and other lenders were now very reluctant to finance such arrangements, and the only thing left to do was to sell our physical assets; houses, buildings and vehicles etc.
This was still possible, but it was a buyer's market and values were less than a third of what could have been obtained a few short years previously. The commercial buildings were bought by Hagermeyer, a Dutch trading firm far more experienced in dealing with new Third World governments than I was. Our house went to an Australian bank whose manager lost no time in moving into a far more comfortable home than that formerly provided by his employers. The fleet of vehicles was bought by a local dealer with the exception of my Volvo which was shipped to Australia together with furniture and personal effects including an extensive library of New Guinea and Solomon Islands books and papers. Our leased bulk store was returned to its owners and our aircraft was loaded for a last flight from Kieta to Cairns in North Queensland.
Divested of all its assets, our now unsaleable business was placed in voluntary liquidation and life in New Guinea ended in a mixture of sadness to be leaving and relief at escaping the increasingly hostile and insecure atmosphere which now prevailed.
Was it all worth it ?... yes it was. We should have faced reality and got away sooner, but for all but the last few years, New Guinea gave us a safe, satisfying and adventurous lifestyle with an income far greater than we would probably have achieved in Australia. We had more than enough money to start again in Australia, which begged the question, what now?.........
to be continued