THERE are no street machines in Papua New Guinea. The roads are real bad thanks to tropical rain and constant landslides, with trees falling down across the dirt every other day, demanding widespread use of four-wheel-drive stuff and heavy trucks.
I know this because I recently flew into PNG (with a mate as a minder, as at my age I tend to fall down some of the time) to be there at Kundiawa in the highlands for the dedication of a new grave memorial to my fatherís brother.
George Tuckey fought along with my dad in New Guinea through the Second World War, and survived that bloody awful conflict to return to PNG early in 1946 to work in the uplands as a patrol officer, or Kiap. He was living in a tent and overseeing a worker group who were shifting a mob of cattle from Goroka to Kundiawa to build up a productive herd, when one of these wild cows turned on him and gored him with her horns. Unfortunately, George contracted tetanus and died shortly after, to be buried on a hill overlooking the thenbeginning town with a simple white cross as a marker. That was in June 1946, and his grave was gradually forgotten throughout the passing 70-odd years.
The Kiaps (whose name comes from the German word kapitan; Germans colonised north-east New Guinea before World War I), were all tough young men from Australia, and when PNG was granted independence by Whitlamís government in 1975, they formed an association of ex-Kiaps, with some staying in PNG, and the rest moving back to Australia.
One of these ex-Kiaps, Peter Turner, used to walk past Georgeís grave every morning and wonder what sort of a man he was, and later contacted the Port Moresby RSL to see if a proper headstone could be made and laid there in place of the rotted-away white cross.
Somebody donated the money, word got through to the Simbu Provincial Government that this was happening, and they decided to fund a proper concrete-and-tile above-ground tomb for George, and the work commenced.
There was going to be a huge dedication of the memorial at Kundiawa early in 2017, and a search to contact surviving relatives of George began. Australian-based ex-Kiap David Tierney got hold of me by phone one night to see if I was connected to the family. I knew that Georgeís widow lived in Sydney and had an only child, Lynette, so my wife Jan, with help from David, managed to reach her in that city after she had returned from many years in England with two sons, Nick and Michael. Her mother Phyllis had passed away, Nick was living in America and Michael and his mother were unable to make the possibly dangerous trip to be there at the dedication, which the people of the Simbu rated highly in importance as a major part of their history.
So as I was born in Wau and evacuated by boat at just nine months of age, I flew into Port Moresby with my mate Kevin, jumped on a flight to Mount Hagen, then travelled a potholed and landslide-blocked main highway in a police convoy to Kundiawa.
The ceremony was huge. The indigenous population treated us like visiting gods and couldnít do enough for us on that day. We returned smiles and shook so many hands that it was really difficult to finally rejoin the convoy and leave.
From there we flew to Lae to visit my fatherís grave in the war cemetery; he didnít quite make the end of the conflict through being shot by a Japanese soldier. Then we returned home after five days in the incredible world of PNG.
But they do have a violence problem over there. The ĎRaskolí gangs not only kill each other in payback, they attack visitors and vehicles to the extent where there are almost no cars driving the roads, and almost all the commercial stuff is heavily glass-protected by sheets of expanded metal, with a small hole in front of the driver so they can see where they are going. Hotel compounds have wire-topped walls and thousands of security guards are employed to foil robberies, but we had great service everywhere and never had a problem.
Kevin kept saying that he wished he had the franchise for selling Toyota Coaster buses, for there were literally hundreds used as indigenous transport on the incredibly busy dirt road Ė although there is a new four-lane highway from Lae leading halfway to the Nazdab airport, where we had to stop briefly while PNG workers cleared a tree that had fallen across the dirt road bit.
We didnít see a single street machine Ė you need lots of vehicle ground clearance in PNG just to get in and out of the potholes! s