An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Trouble With Tavurvur

Damn Geoff. Damn him for sending that email telling me how he managed to climb the volcano. Damn, damn and damn! He did it, and I didn't. I hate that and the way he put the idea in my head. I was so very, very keen to follow in his footsteps and look down into the crater of a volcano for the first time ... bugger.

Oh well at least I tried and survived. It could have been worse and I not survive. Thankfully we won't know. What I did do though has since been called "nuts", which in hindsight I would partially have to agree with.

But back to the beginning. I had been staying at Kokopo all week and the idea since arriving on the Tuesday was that I would take the Friday off and go and climb the volcano, Tavurvur (pronounced TAV-oo-vor), around near the old provincial capital of Rabaul.

Rabaul, from all accounts, used to be the prettiest town in the South Pacific, then in 1994 nearby volcanos of Tavurvur and Vulcan blew up and covered most of the town in tonnes of ash. Parts of it have since been rebuilt, but it has never returned to its former glory.

Getting up early so that I could climb the little devil before the main heat of the day, I jumped on a PMV bus and headed around the coast for the 20 minute bus trip. I had organised to meet up with a wantok of my work colleague, but he was running on PNG time and didn't surface at the designating time. In the end I was glad he didn't show, because I didn't need him and he would have got in the way.

Instead I found out from the women in the market that if I wanted to get up close with Tavurvur that I needed to go to Matupit and then catch a canoe across. They then proceeded to point out a conveniently passing PMV ute that stopped and let me on the back to the looks a bunch of bemused women. It obviously bemused the driver as well because he insisted that I jump in the front with him after he kicked out a local guy. He was a nice guy who used to be a cop in Lae.

The road proceeded through the old part of town that was destroyed Pompeii style. On kerb and gutted roads with banks heaped with metres of black ash we drove past the shell of the pervious provincial headquarters, then past the unrecognisable former golf course and down the airstrip which is now part of the road. It was all a weird sight.

Matupit turned out to be a nice sizeable village in one of the most unenviable locations - pretty as it is. Somehow it had managed to escape the full extent of the eruption when the winds blew the ash instead all over the Rabaul. My driving mate told me he would get me in touch with a local guy to canoe me across the bay to the angry mountain. In typical PNG style this was achieved by telling a couple of local girls that I needed Tony, who then escorted me through the village all the while calling out "Tony", "Tony" etc.

He was eventually found down on the beach with what seemed like the rest of the men from the village and most of the kids. Men's business was being conducted with the slaughtering of a pig.

On the beach butchery

The full reason for the pig killing I did not find out - pigs don't get killed unless there is a good reason - but I suspect it was something to do with the fact another villager had recently been killed. In the market I had heard that there was a Matupit man that had died after trying to dig up Megapode eggs. These are a local delicacy that is apparently only found in the soil close to volcanos, no doubt for the heat. Paul Theroux writes about these eggs in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania.

Our unlucky chap from Matupit was two days before trying to dig up some of these eggs on the lower ground around Tavurvur from a depth of 2 metres when the hole he was in collapsed on top of him. Nobody spotted that he was covered until too late.

While I got my camera out and took pics of the kids, the pig and the volcano, Tony got the canoe ready. With a helping hand from the local kids in their usual lively mode we pushed off and started the 20 minute, or so, paddle over the bay.

The village kids giving me a push off

Looking at Rabaul's famous volcano from a distance and it is not that scary a prospect. It sits like a squat little baby, not yet at the crawling stage, being looked over by other family members - Mother and Daughter. The little baby though does not know when to keep quiet and is almost continually having a dummy spit. This, unbeknownst to me, was to be my downfall from the start.

Click to enlarge. From left to right: Rabaul on a harbour, Vulcan in the foreground, Matupit peninsula in the middle, The Mother in the background, Tavurvur throwing ash and The Daughter on the right

I started to notice that things were amiss when I realised that Tony was only wearing thongs for footwear. I was hoping that he would climb the thing with me, so he could guide me around the crags and crevices. With those thin bits of rubber he wouldn't be climbing anywhere up the side - they would probably melt.

Upon hitting the beach, I got the official word, "Mi bai stap hia, yu tasol go up na kisim piksa" (I will stay here, you alone go up and take photos). Hmmm not good news, I wanted someone to go with who had done it before. Then the instructions on where to go came. Now if you have ever received directions in pidgin you will know straight away how infuriatingly vague a language it is. "Go long barret, klostu whitepela graun, go raun liklik na up long hapwe" and all the while pointing.

I got him to repeat his directions twice more and I still wasn't sure. In pidgin long can mean on, in, under, basically any conjoining word. Was I supposed to go in one of those nasty looking crevices or on top of the bank. There was only one way to find out.

I put my boots on and got one final instruction before I set off up towards this rocky, steamy, smelly peak. "Yu noken go antap, go hapwe tasol. Em toktok plenti nau. Smok na bikpela ston kam up. Antap itambu stret". Ahh shit, I had been given word not to climb to the crater.

This was the first time I actually realised that it wasn't a good idea to climb up a volcano when it is throwing out ash and rock. Later I found out that Geoff had had the luxury of Tavurvur being quiet the whole of last year. I, it seems, had picked a bad time.

I set off anyway, may as well climb something now that I had just put my boots on. So I picked my way up the beach and off towards the crevices. One look at them and I realised it was not a good to walk up those. Steam, heat, yellow sulphur encrusted ground - nasty.

On top of the bank I picked my way up trying not to walk on too much of the white encrusted ground or head towards the area which was steaming. This made my path go along the edge of one of the nasty crags. I made sure I didn't step too close, there was no telling how stable this ground was.

I wasn't keen to fall in one of these crags

Taking my time I managed to find a safe enough route to get up half way of the volcano. It wasn't particularly high and it didn't take long (20 or 30 mins?) but when I looked down at my shirt and saw it was saturated in sweat I realised this little climb had certainly made me exert. This was emphasized when I gulped a whole bottle of water down.

Standing just at the point where the slope rises up the last 40 or 50 metres to the rim of the crater I suddenly had the incredible urge to finish the rest of the climb off and get to the top and have a look down. The volcano had been quiet the whole time I was climbing and it would only take another 5-10 minutes to get to the top. It was one of those ultimate indecisive moments. "do it" part of me said, "no don't" the other counted, "the local guy told you not to". Argg. I would set off one way up then turn around and then stop and look back up.

My decision was made for me when Tavurvur decided to talk. With an angry roar, a huge rumble and a ground shake, a spectacular column of ash ballooned and billowed into the sky, easily reaching a couple of hundred metres into the air. In amongst the dark cloud I could see chunks of black rocks (or were they boulders) being flung recklessly. My thoughts were as follows. "that is impressive", "I'm glad the wind is blowing that way and I'm standing on this side of the volcano", "where's my camera?".

Tavurvur was angry with me

I decided to head down - obviously. The rocks were crashing down on the other side of the volcano, making a scary cracking noise. I was satisfied with what I had done, but wish I had picked a better time to do it.

Tony was still on the beach when I walked sweatily up and plocked myself on the bow of the canoe. "Yu kisim piksa?", "em nau, yumi go".

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Don't Trust A Chemical Engineer

The annual Soroptimist Trivia night was on last night. A night of fierce competition, heated debate (on and off our table), very slow proceedings, late finishing, dubious questions and down-right wrong answers. The last bit has still got me pissed off.

It was in the PNG section, one of the 10 groups of 10 questions, where the question arose. "What is the height of Mount Wilhelm?". No brainer for me. I have read about it, written about it, climbed it (twice), had my photo taken with the sign* and ingrained it in my memory - 4509m. Then the quiz master gives a hint, "It is between 4300m and 4400m". WTF! ... whatever, we are putting on our answer sheet 4509m!

I take the answer sheet up to the judge's table for marking. Their answer - 4350m. "Where the hell did you come up with that? I have climbed the thing twice and I can safely say that is wrong!". Luckily the judge I was abusing happened to be my neighbour and she knew I had climbed it and decided to take up my case at the end of all the marking.

She did and she conferred (and I argued) with the head judge, some Chemical Engineer boffin, who refuted my height and sticks to his 4350 which he says he pulled from some book. I tell him he should throw away his book. All the books and maps and signs that I have seen certainly show otherwise.

Their mistake didn't effect our overall result, we ended up winning the thing .. again .. second year running. I now have a nice new fan swinging away keeping me cool, which is better than the aluminium pots we won last year. Though the prizes were almost irrelevant. Out of the 27 tables, I think there were 20 prizes given for places. Of course some were crap (plastic buckets).

Our result was a good effort all round, though the competition was stiffer than it was last year. Instead of the 82 points (out of a 100) we ended up with last year and the 12 point buffer to second place, this year it was 77 points and 4 point buffer.

There were some good pick up on some rounds. We did surprisingly well in Literature (getting 7/10) but unfortunately for some strange reason not so well with Science, only getting 5 points. Geography was blitzed with a 9 pointer. And of course Sport was excelled, an 8 pointer, with a dubious question about the Cricket World Cup, which was read out 3 different times in 3 slightly different ways, making the result slightly different each time.

All of our team, called the Lae Say Fairs (other suggestions were The Easy Laes, The Quick Laes or simply Last Years Winners), pitched in with some good pick ups. The only ones that I can remember now were ones that I managed to come away with, eg "Which book from the 20th century has a leading character named Winston Smith?" and "What is the capital of Kyrgyzstan?" - don't ask me how I remember these things.

But enough about the trivia. The other major event for me of course recently has been my trip away to Rabaul. It was my first visit to East New Britain and I must say that before I thought living in Madang would be a good location, but now it would have to be a toss up between there and Rabaul/Kokopo.

There's a tale or too to tell regarding some of my activities (mostly involving a certain volcano), but I will impart fully on all of that soon. As a teaser though and so people don't feel cheated here are some pics from the 5 days to keep you satisfied.

Umbrellas at Kokopo Market

My colleague Joy giving a WWII Japanese barge a tug

A US WWII fighter at the ENB Cultural Museum

* Mr Chemical Engineer, if you are reading, here is a detail from the photo of my first time on top of Mount Wilhelm. Even though the full numbers are slightly obscured, you can see that it definitely does not say 4350m on the sign. Go back to your beakers.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Done & Dusted '05

Well my Tropfest night is now over. Saturday night saw it all happen in front of a huge crowd of an indeterminate number - somewhere between 30 and 100,000.

As expected all things went off like a bang and much enjoyment was had by all - at least I think so, or at least everyone told me so, so they are either good liars or nice people.

People started to rock up around 7, pre-dinner drinks occured and then we started the flicks at 8. Intermission of 45 minutes half way through and then it was back to watch the rest. Finally at the end we watched All and Nothing, Wendy's film, which brought a huge round of applause.

After the films we got into party mode for a while as the crowd gradually dwindled. Unfortunately I did not take too many photos all night. I was too busy organising, chatting, hosting, eating, setting up and running around with a video camera to pull out my digital still.

But I did get a few photos shot off.

Part of the crowd during intermission

Not me with the video camera

Mini Pavlovas were consumed

And so that is it for Tropfest by me. The baton will have to be passed onto someone else next year. It will be good to see if a tradition can start.

p.s. If you don't hear from me for a few days, don't be alarmed (just alert), I won't have fallen off the edge of world, just maybe into a volcano.

Crazy Israelis - Part II

Further update on the crazy Israeli, I met in Goroka, and his white-water rafting team. They have now made the front page after three of them were killed last week by the Watut river, the guy I met was not amongst them. The National has the complete story.

I heard that apparently with all the rain we have had the Watut would have turned into one of the most fearsome in the world. And this seems to have been proved correct as the Israelis abandoned after just 10 minutes in on the second day.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Off To Volcano Wonderland

I don't get excited much anymore, must be part of getting older? Christmas and birthdays don't do it for me, not like when I was 8. But if there is one thing that is guaranteed to get me excited it would have to be travelling somewhere new and seeing/doing new things. So that is why I am getting excited about going to Rabaul and the chance of doing something there that I have wanted to do for a long time - climb a volcano.

My desire was again piqued at the end of last year when now ex-volunteer Geoff, who was at Rabaul (or actually the nearby Duke of York islands), sent me this description and photo of climbing Tavurvur volcano.
I know that I exaggerate. Sometimes I get carried away with wordy passion, so I want to impress on you, that I am not exaggerating in the least, when I say that today, I looked into the anus of the earth. I climbed up Tavurvur, an active volcano, and looked in. It's a sight I will carry with me all my days.

Four of us struggled up its lava and ash-covered slopes, like Hobbits on the way to Mount Doom. At times the ground was hot enough to leave burns on our feet when bits of ash lodged in the straps on our sandals (sandals were the only footwear I had taken ashore). The sulphur fumes were strong, and at times I thought I was going to vomit, but I was determined to reach the top and look in.

When I finally reached the top, no description could have prepared me for such a sight. Its gaping maw was predominantly yellowish-green and white, from the sulphur, and grey ash. There was no lava, but a great, continuous roar of escaping live steam seemed to threaten me, and huge billows of brimstone and steam whirled and swirled around several smaller spires of rock, barely visible in the crater as I stood there, held in its thrall. I felt alone, feeble, puny, captivated, only turning away as pockets of stinking gas, enveloped me and I was forced to turn aside to breathe clean air.

I can remember once writing 'it was just another earthquake'; well, that might be all very well for earthquakes, but you could never say that about a volcano.

Bring it on, I say. First though there is a weekend of Tropfesting and hosting friends. This coming week might just top the Manus week as the best week in the country yet. Touch wood.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

International Radio Star, Moi?

So far this week has been full of pleasant surprises. Apart from the slight worry about the weekend, in other news that has come my way this has been one of best weeks I have had been since being here (it would take a lot to top the Manus week though).

On Tuesday I received an e-mail from a guy I met while at the Brisbane conference in December. He tells me he is coming to PNG in a few weeks and wants to meet me to see what we are up to. He is a bit of a wealthy philanthropists and interestingly an ex-kiap (patrol officer) from the old days of PNG. So part of his trip is to return to old stomping grounds and the other is to look into suitable ventures to start up. His vision is of creating an ICT Managers School (ICT is Information Communication Technologies - a big part of what I do), and that would slot in nicely in what I am currently working on - Telecentres (Internet café and some) set up in a few centres.

So my philanthropic mate will be here and will get to chat to me and my boss and hopefully we can nut something out, a collaborative effort. In looking at his previous ventures it could be a huge boon - check out and

The positive e-mails flowing back and forth between me and him were making my day and then yesterday I got asked "Do you want to go to Rabaul next week, leaving on Tuesday, coming back on Saturday?". Pause for desired effect "ummm ... yeah that sounds good", break into grin.

Of course it is for 'work', though my work will be basically observing and looking at the facilities of our study centre there, which I would like to say is tough, but it ain't. I still think these type of trips are a rort, especially when you get paid a per-de-em, but how can I say no to this. I haven't been Rabaul before and it was always on the must do's. Perhaps I will even get time to climb one of the volcanos.

Then on top of that I get an e-mail yesterday afternoon from AVI asking me if I would like to appear on Radio Australia on their In The Loop program, which gets broadcast to the Pacific Islands, PNG and Timor. They would like me to appear infrequently in 10 minute segments discussing what I do, why am I here, plug my organisation, talk about what it means to be a volunteer, and give AVI a plug. I replied this morning, "sure why not" he says nonchalantly.

So there you go not such a bad week all round and it is not even finished yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Oh Kenny G. What Have I Done!

* warning * - Post discusses techno geek stuff and scary music

My boss is the proud owner of a new iPod. He has been for a few weeks. Perhaps one of the very few national iPod owners in the country. Certainly they out of reach for most people. But my boss has now got one. Lucky him.

So what do you do when you get a new iPod, well you try and connect it to your computer and add music to it, don't you. So he tried initially by himself to get it working with his laptop. Instructions were read but unfortunately there were problems. The thing talked and then songs went missing and then it was showing the wrong size for the hard drive. Very bizarre.

Of course at this point I naturally had to get it working for him. Perhaps because a) I'm an iPod owner already, b) a supposed guru of computers and c) an employee of his department.

I step in and help. We try numerous different routes. Reformat. Scratch head. Reformat and factory reset. Scratch head. Check internet iPod forums. Find something worthwhile trying. Try. Scratch two day stubble. Find another forum article blaming a possible faulty USB port. Think yes, quite possibly. Set up device on my neighbouring colleagues new PC. Success. It now works correctly. Bloody dodgy Acer laptop computers.

From there I again leave it to him to load on whatever he cares to listen to. He brings his CD collection in. I see Smokey, an ABBA karoke disc, some crap Country & Western group and .. oh no .. not that .. Kenny bloody G.

OK, alright, calm down I think, as long as he only listens to it on his iPod and as long as I don't have to do any long trips with it I don't care. Wishful thinking.

Fast forward to this week. Boss is away, he has been all week. Paul, who owns the neighbouring computer loaded with crap, has discovered a set of old speakers. He hooks them up. Fires up iTunes. He likes Kenny G. Argg.

As often as I keep telling him I can't stand don't like, Kenny G, it keeps on popping on. I'm very, very, very close to sabotage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mild Fret

I tend to think that I am pretty laid back, easy going, cool as a cucumber, whatever, type of guy, but I must say I am a little bit, insy wincey, teeny weeny (pokka dot bikini) worried about this coming weekend.

Why, well Saturday night just happens to be the big social night hosted by me, the oft talked, and hyped, Tropfest Festival.

Of course the event will go like a charm, much merriment by the masses - which from latest estimates will be in the 30+ range. This number will make it a tight fit in my lounge room but loads of fun will be had. The slight little angst I do have is I may have made it a bit too popular with the non-locals. Where the bloody hell are they all going to stay.

Word from Madang is a total of 6 are coming. No word from Goroka, but possibly a similar number and there may be a couple from Moresby yet. I have two spare beds, Martin next door has one, A & J in town have two, and new mate Robert here at uni has one (yet to inform him that he could be hosting someone). I hope some of those coming don't mind dossing on floors with cushions from easy chairs, cause that is probably what they will have to do. I have already informed people to make sure they are bring a sleeping bag and towel cause volunteer hospitality can only stretch so far.

Ahh I now feel much better.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Operation Dream Job

I spilled the beans a while ago how a dream job for me would be to write for Lonely Planet. Brilliant job .. maybe not as good as one with National Geographic but maybe a stepping stone .. anyway I got excited when I read recently that LP have decided to hire more guide writers. So after a check of their criteria I have implemented a phased campaign to see if I can turn a dream into reality. The campaign is going to go something like this:

Phase 1: Fire off emails to Travel sections in major newspapers, asking for information about submitting articles for publication. This has been done and I have so far received a response from The Australian, still waiting for Sydney Morning Herald.

Phase 2: Bombard them with reworked Mount Wilhelm article - one that will really blow their mind and written in a Travel section style way. Then wait for an assessment and cross fingers that they like it. I think a Wilhelm article would be good for a Travel section, not many people in Australia know that there is a mountain 4509m high that is quite easy to climb and not far from Australia. It is also the highest mountain in Australasia (depending on your criteria) and I think that might prick their interest.

Phase 3: Dance victory loop of joy if someone publishes, if not go back to Phase 2 and try again with another paper/magazine.

Phase 4: March along two major hiking trails here in PNG - the Black Cat Track and the Kokoda taking plenty of notes. Black Cat is planned for next month and Kokoda is happening at the start of July with a friend from school and my old man.

Phase 5: Rework write-ups in a LP look for Mount Wilhelm, Black Cat and Kokoda.

Phase 6: Submit request to LP to update a new edition of "Bushwalking in PNG" sharing the reworked sections. Send CV as well with details of newly published article(s). No request for authors for this title are listed on their list, but seeing as it is 12 years since the last one, I think they may be interested in me being in the country and ready to update one.

Phase 7: Thank Buddha, God, Allah and any Hindu gods I can think of if they come back saying "yes" and then plan to hike all the other tracks listed in Bushwalking in PNG. If they say "no" ask for a job with them anyway and go back and submit more article for publication with other newspapers.

So there you go, my attack plan. A phased campaign. Let me know if you can see holes in it, and I will keep posting about how things are going.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Wenge Kicks Out The ECP

Latest news in case you missed it. The Enhanced Cooperation Package that Australia has tried to set-up in PNG has returned full circle to its original sticking point; the immunity of the cops. It has been judged unconstitutional by the PNG Supreme Court and the cops have now been stood down and are likely to be withdrawn.

As to my opinion on this, I think the way the whole thing was set-up from the beginning it was bound to come unstuck. Australia were arrogant and tried to get the constitution changed so as to make it all legal in the first place - just like they did with RAMSI in the Solomons. But Somare and co here were certain that the constitution would not be changed. They came to what has turned out to be an unconstitutional arrangement.

Whether Australia (just like the U.S. who didn't sign up to the International court which funnily Australia did) really needed it's cops to be above the law is another discussion. Personally I think it really was not all that necessary, and was an arrogant position to take. Huge White seems to agree with me on this. Probably the first time I agree with a view he has taken.

Discussing this last night, I agree with my mate who said and they could have gone down a completely different route from the beginning by recruiting police from Australia with experience and placing them directly into all levels of the PNG Royal Constabulary (sort of like a volunteer program for cops but with better pay) and not set up a massive bolt on the side operation.

With proper support from a new joint police department the cops could have carried out duties with their colleagues and "skills transfer" (I hate that term, but it is better than "capacity build", argg). New necessary equipment could have been identified from the ground up and been purchased and brought in where it was needed. But alas Downer and co would no doubt pooh pooh this idea.

Another point is of course that Wenge (with backing from the local police) is just protecting his own corrupt self interests in kicking out the cops. He can't have police from Oz sniffing around and seeing the kick-backs that are coming from the Asians and others. There seems to be no other motivation for him to launch the whole legal challenge other than to protect himself and his corrupt police mates.

Hopefully the whole thing can get back on track. I am sure though it will be long after I have left PNG that it will occur. Interesting to note as well in the latest Australian budget PNG is getting a major increase in Aid money. Two years ago it was at $300 million (the level it had been for a long time), now with increases in last years budget and this years it is up to $492 million. This money is different from the ECP, which was $800 million (mostly in salary though).


In other semi related news this e-mail was in my inbox on Thursday morning.
Sent: Wed 11/05/2005 19:04
Subject: Advice : Travel Advice for Perth has changed

This is a message to let you know that Perth is dangerous at this time of year.


The next morning this was sent.
Sent: Thu 12/05/2005 10:16
Subject: Message sent in error to travel advisories list

Dear travel advice subscriber,

Some e-mail subscribers may have recently received a message referring to Perth.

This was a test message sent in error by an external contractor while testing a new mail system.

The privacy of your e-mail address has not been compromised and we have taken action to ensure that this cannot happen again.

Our apologies for any confusion.

Alan Walsh
Website Manager
Images of Australia Branch
Public Diplomacy Division
Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade
Ph +61 2 6261 3980
Fax +61 2 6261 1221

One word, Classic. It even made BBC News. I am sure the contractor will be getting his arse kicked. Speaking from experience working on e-mail servers in a big organisation I know that these things happen quite often. Test emails going to the wrong list. It is a slightly different story when the list happens to include world news organisations. Doh.

Speaking of news, and more digressing, how funny is the quote from the Victorian Ambulance service in the story about the teenagers iPod exploding.
"We treated him on the scene for minor breathing difficulties but he was fine and then we scooted out and helped save the rest of Melbourne," she said.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Campus Life: Part 1 - The Kopi Haus

I have decided to share pieces of my world. The world in which I live. My habitation. Current domain. Residence. Greater abode. The strange world that is a PNG university campus.

This sharing will be dropped piecemeal (or as I can be bothered and besides I should be working not writing this) from the warped view that is my mind. They won't attempt to be slightly askew; they will probably just end up that way.

So for the first stage we will take a step in and focus on an integral piece of my world, the all important ...

Kopi Haus

The Kopi Haus (Coffee House) which serves no coffee, is an important institution on campus. Almost as important an institution as the university itself. It is the glue to hold our bellies together. Without it myself and plenty others would go hungry at lunchtime - or at least have to walk farther to the shops outside the gate - and be non-productive.

It serves all manner of culinary delights which upon initial inspection may look suss and after the first few months of trying may force irregular bowel movements but will eventually become a reliable source of nutrition. Nutritional value is of course debatable.

Taking a look in detail at the selection. At lunchtime it is a close call to go for either the brown sausages or the red sausages, or the appropriately named fish flour (i.e. battered fish), the sausage rolls without sausage mince and the pies that may or may not be cold - don't try and return them though. Sauce for those pie and sauce fans will just have to cope without. These selections are all displayed nicely behind glass, in trays that may or may not have been sitting there since the day before - hence previous bowel movements. Once tried though things can only get better. I'm a big believer in the theory that what doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger.

If the hot cooked delights don't take your fancy then the selection extends to the packet biscuits. And as everyone knows PNG is spoilt for choice in this regard. Navy biscuits. Hard biscuits. Bush biscuits. Chicken Snax crackers (my favourite). Beef Snax crackers. Plain Snax crackers. Highway Hardman. Cream crackers. Em Nau crackers. Paradise crackers. Morobeen crackers. Chocolate cream biscuits. Mint cream biscuits. Plain cream biscuits. Delta biscuits. Chocolate cookies. Coconut cookies. And the list continues ... beyond my memory. If you don't like biscuits, too bad.

Stepping back to appreciate the architecture of the building we notice that it is attempting a faux Sepik style haus tambaran look, which I think has been nicely achieved. Facilities include tables for patrons and a couple of old guys selling newspapers. A walk to the Kopi Haus always includes a look at the front and back page of the dailies.

Opening hours are generous - in fact I have never seen it closed. Weekends, Sabbath days, rain, hail, shine, drought, bush fire, pestilence and I am sure it would still be open. To be honest though I suspect pestilence may be already upon it.

Looking at the operators and they are truly world class. There is John the owner who when I suggested only six months ago that they purchase a coffee machine and serve coffee, took these suggestions to heart and regarding them as worthwhile but has since done nothing about. There is Joe, the chef, who not only wears his heart on his sleeve but most of the cooking. A man of great of portent and girth, which can only come from selective samples from the grub he dishes up. Then there are the serving girls who in true PNG fashion will not be rushed or harried even when there is a queue stretching out of the building at lunchtime.

And so that is the Kopi Haus. A part of the campus fabric which removed would cause the university to unravel. A building not just for service but also part of the local society. An integral piece of campus life and anyone who calls it home.

Now go and buy something.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

For The Common Good

I feel very lefty at the moment. I have been updating in my spare time that brilliant web service, Wikipedia. I figured that since I have been using it for various research I should at least be updating it with things that I know about. So when I encountered that certain pages for PNG were rather lacking I jumped to the rescue.

Where before there was no page for Mount Wilhelm, now you can get a whole overview of it. I even lent my pictures from the latest climb. It was the same story for the Highlands Highway. Before there was nothing, now that has been corrected by me creating one. And the article about Lae before was dreadful, at least now it looks a tad better. Still needs padding though. Same again for Wau and Salamaua, both tweaked and updated.

It is a very Left ideology, sharing information for the common good without any benefit, but personally I think it is brilliant. Who needs to pay gazillions for encyclopaedic material when we can all share a little of what we know and therefore collectively accumulate a wealth. Now go out and update things you know about, anyone can do it and I am sure there will be something missing which you can chip in.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Crazy Israeli

While up in Goroka I met an Israeli backpacker. He had a week to spend in the highlands before joining up with an Israeli tour group in Lae to white-water raft down the nearby Watut river. Then after this he was going to hike from Mount Wilhelm to Madang. And then go on a 3-day sea-kayaking expedition around Madang. After all of this if he had time he was going to go to the Sepik River. Lucky bastard.

I think this is all great and the more that come the better. Of course there are a few problems for the backpacker market in this country. One is cost of getting here, another is the cost of getting around and then there is the cost of accommodation - you can see a trend there. It is not a cheap place. And then there is the reputation of the place being violent. In some cases deserved and in some overstated.

Meeting the Israeli does reconfirm a suspicion of mine that Israelis like Germans are absolutely adventure travel mad. The only other backpackers I have met in this country were a German and Belgian couple climbing Mt Wilhelm. And previously to this I have met numerous Germans doing mad things in other parts of the world (like riding around Iceland on a bike).

I asked him if he was worried about his personal security while travelling in PNG. His response was "People don't come to Israel because they think they will be blown up, PNG can't be that bad". Right on.

Though after he had said this he did mention that he wanted to hire a car and drive to Tari in the Southern Highlands in his time before going on the white-water rafting trip. I assured him that even though he wouldn't get blown up doing this there would be a chance he could get held up.

* Update * - Monday 16th May
Saw our Israeli mate at the Yacht Club on Friday night (13th). Didn't get a chance to speak to him or any of his new tour buddies. The story of them coming was all over the news, on EM TV and in the newspapers. Didn't see them either.

And speaking of craziness a German has recently run across Australia in 43 days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Flailing Phalluses

As I have alluded, I went to the PNG Coffee Festival Ball in Goroka on Saturday night. It was an all round great night.

Summing it up I would have to say it was a time to put on some cool threads. Kick up the heels. Loosen the shoulders. Have a few drinks. Meet new people. Meet old friends. Have a few chats. See some PNG culture. Have a few more drinks. Chat some more. Watch a fashion parade. Attempt some dancing. Argue about this blog. Slur your words. See some fights. And get driven back to your accommodation at three in the morning sitting on spare tyre in the back of a Land Rover. All good. Apart from the fight bits.

Focusing in more specifically, one of the highlights was the Manus Dancers and their famous flailing. It was the first time I had seen (or even heard about these guys) and it was certainly was an eye opener (and almost eye injurer).

The drums were being beaten in a very fast tribalistic African way. The girls were in the middle dancing from feet to feet in time to the rapid beats. The guys were on the outside rushing the crowd, thrusting their hips and whipping the attached long phalluses around.

Of course this caused no end of hilarity. The closer they got to the crowd (particularly women) the funnier it was. So close in fact that my poor old fellow volunteer from Lae who came with us on the trip got her brand new digital camera whacked out of her hands by one these thrusts. She didn't see it coming.

Luckily I did - or camera did - and if we zoom in and enhance on the above pic (not on that) we can see that she is in the background just before getting an expensive whacking.

Being the token geek in town the camera is currently at my place in bits, trying to be repaired.

The other amusing thing from the night was the Fashion Parade from the House of Odd Shop. It just so happens that The Odd Shop is a second hand clothes store! I have said second hand clothes are good, but I would never believe they would have a fashion parade of them. Now I have seen everything.

And finally, here is a challenge, repeat this saying three times fast - "A fiery festival featuring fifteen in finery flailing phalluses and forgotten threads fashion".

Nuts On Flickr

I have gone a bit nuts uploading my favourite PNG photos onto Flickr. You can check them out here.

And here is a preview of some of the new ones ...

Simbu kids Southern Highlander
Mt Hagen Women Enga Group

Monday, May 09, 2005

Road Trip

A few highlights from this weekends road trip to Goroka. Note these are things that happened on the road alone. Some of the highlights (lowlights) from Goroka itself will come later.

* Using my iPod to play things that I wanted to hear and others liked. Finally I got the chance, on a PNG road trip, to play The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Ben Folds Five, Prodigy and lot's more (mostly mid 90's) stuff - well it is my era.

* Getting a great view from the top of the Kassam Pass on the way up. Deciding to take photos on the way down. Being completely fogged in on the way down.

* Teaching an uninitiated Canadian the lyrics to Tism's '(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River'. Particularly these ones:
I saw his body thrashing round.
I saw his heart rate going down.
I saw him in convulsive throes.
I said, "I'll have one of those."

* Lots of "Ehhh, Ehh, Eh'ing". Watch Little Britain if you don't know.

* Debating which Monty Python's sketch is the best and then remembering that I have the entire The Final Rip Off double CD on my iPod. 'Argument' and 'Cheese Shop' still crack me up - "SHUT THAT BLOODY BAZOUKI OFF!".

* Being disturbed by a P-Mates discussion. If I never hear about these again I will be happy. The intimate details of how it works I'm sure has mentally scarred me for life. Guys just shouldn't have to think about female plumbing.

* Being spooked still when conversation continues, in the back, about how to make your own P-Mate using water bottles or Tetra Pac juice containers.

* Seeing a sign saying "P. Mates Trading Store" along the Markham Valley.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Stop The Presses ...

... here is some of the latest news.


It took me two months but the bloody ice cream is now finished. Here it is, in it's cut-down box, before the last supper (dessert).


Been to Goroka and back this weekend and among other numerous activities some of this below was consumed for the first time in nearly 10 years. Arggg still yuck. Full selective write up will follow - when I can be arsed.


And finally ....

The author of this blog would like to take this opportunity to express his most sincerest apologies for plagiarising another bloggers idea and expanding upon it. Any distress caused is deeply regretted.

For those out of the loop if you look at this post you will now notice it has been amended with some links at the bottom.

Perhaps my ear will now return to it's normal colour after the bashing it received last night.

And for the final word (perhaps) ... blogging is 5% inspiration, 5% motivation and 90% plagiarism.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Something Worthwhile

If you're in Sydney soon head over to the Australian Centre for Photography on Oxford St and check out the current exhibition on PNG.

Looks quite good, but not surprisingly I won't be going. If you do though, you will get to see quality photos like this.

The exhibition runs until May 22.

Thanks to Nicole for pointing this out for me.



Thanks to Wendy, in the comments, she has highlighted that if you are in London you need to get yourself down to the Horniman Museum to see some of Matias Kauage's paintings. Entry is free and it runs to June 30.

Wet Season

It is on. The season has definately now changed. How do I know? Well walking to work has been a lot like this lately.

Walking to work in the rain

Not that I particularly mind. It keeps the place cool. And by mid morning it is usually clear anyway.

In case I haven't mentioned it. Lae gets on average 4500mm of rain a year (as a comparison Sydney gets 1200mm and Melbourne around 650mm) so at some point in time we are bound to get the odd wet day. Which is what we get for 3 or so months in the middle of the year. Luckily though for most of the rest of the time, it just pours at night. Certainly keeps the place green.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What Makes The Front Page

I have noticed a trend in PNG's biggest selling newspaper, The Post Courier, for what appears on it's front page. If it has anything to do with an unusual baby being born, you can guarantee it will make it.

It all kicked off less than two months ago with the infamous 'the snakeheaded baby'. This was first reported on the 18th of March with the headline "Baby born with head like a 'snake'". The photo though did not make the front page until the 11th of April.

Mum obviously changed her position from "I don't want my baby splashed across the front page" to "ohh, that cheque looks nice" and we got the following pic on the 11th of April.

Then a few days after the front page pic of the snakehead bub, another baby pic made the front page. This time it was the 'two headed baby' on the 13th of April. The poor little thing was born with a large growth on the back of it's head. There is an appeal for someone to remove it, I can't remember what the latest is on this now though.

And now today there is another front pager of conjoined twins born in Buka.

If someone can tell me why PNG is starting to have all these unusual birth defects I would be happy. I hope it is not a normal rate. Perhaps the French have resumed secret nuclear testing, close to PNG.

Whatever the reason the Post Courier seems sure of one thing, front cover pics of unusual babies sell newspapers.

*update* - some of the ideas in this post were loosely conceived already on another blog. Mainly here on the 22nd of March, but also mentioned here on the 12th of April.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Kassam Pass

I'll be back up and over the Kassam Pass again this weekend. The fifteen hundred metre barrier between the lowlands of the coast and the highlands.

And it is certainly an impressive barrier, climate wise at least. One minute you are driving along the hot, humid Markham valley and the next your climbing up and up gradually getting cooler and cooler and then you pass over the lip and speed down into the air-conditioned highland valley.

The other beauty about it of course is the views. And there is one thing you don't get sick of in this country and it is the scenic views.

Click for big pic

This panorama was actually done over a year ago and unfortunately not the best quality. It gives you an idea though. Maybe I will get the chance to take a better one this time around.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Your Trash Is My Treasure

I have mentioned before about the second hand clothes stores in this country but hey I will mention again. They are fantastic.

For those Australians who throw away perfectly good shirts into the St Vinnie's clothes bins, they should know that it will most likely be picked up by some hard pressed volunteer working in some Pacific country. These places really are a gold mine.

I have been doing some shopping around the local establishments over the last few weeks looking for some likely threads for the Goroka Coffee Ball, which I will be heading up to this weekend. To start with I really wanted a white suit as the theme is 'Hot as Hollywood'. Casablanca style was what I was thinking but this seemed a harder task than I thought. Not many suits end up in the second hand shops, let alone white ones that would fit.

So plan 'B' was enacted, which I won't give away too many details about, but I managed to find a funky enough shirt and the matching important accessories to give me that current Hollywood chic look - or so I hope.

But back to how good these second hand clothes stores are. I am sure the locals would not have the foggiest idea that most of the shirts that end up here would originally be selling for well over $50 in stores back home. A lot of good business shirts, Pierre Cardin, Country Road, Trent Nathan etc would be well over a $100 and you can pick them up in excellent condition for K1 - K2.

They do tend to up-price some of what they think are the better shirts. At the weekend I grabbed a Mambo shirt with one of those Reg Mombasa designs in perfect condition for a staggering sum of K3.50. A similar shirt was acquired in Madang when I was there, there the prices seemed to be inflated it cost me K4 (approx Au$1.80).

At the end of my stay I plan to ship a crate of stuff home. I know what will be padding it out.