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.

Friday, July 29, 2005

AVI Shakeup

Got an e-mail from my volunteer agency the other day. They are rejoicing that their contract with the Australian government (specifically with AusAID) has been reinstated. They have been at close to panic stations for the last two years - funnily enough coinciding with my association with them - and have done a lot of shaking up of their previous 'sewing circle clique' life.

Most of that shake up has meant trimming the fat, which was quite a lot. Some may say - me - that they may have gone a tad over board with their retrenchments, closing state offices, sackings and trying to make others walk. The AVI PNG program had when I was first offered this position, in October 2003, 6 people working on it. Now it has dwindled to 2.

It seems things might become a bit more realistic now that the ones left remaining have secure jobs. They are now looking at installing an in-country manager for most of their main countries of operation. This will be a significant shift in a policy that was always based on jet-lag travel from Melbourne HQ.

PNG is targeted to get an in-country manager to be based in Madang, between Jan and June 2006. Coincidently I finish my contract December 2005. I have briefly thought perhaps I could go for the position - get to live in the best town, get to travel all over the country and hang out with volunteers. Sounds good fun. But then I thought, two years is enough time in the one country, it will be time to stretch the legs and wander about again.

Besides I don't think I would fit in with the AVI crowd, I don't have breasts.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Technical Toolheads

Warning: Another rant .. and about technical stuff to boot

There was no better time yesterday than to use the statement "if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself"! After weeks of watching dithering dickheads try to go about what they are surprisingly paid for, it was time to step in. I don't like stepping in on other people's territory, but honestly these guys are useless and it was causing major issues for our department.

The personnel (not to mention names) I am talking about are in another department. A department that we are unfortunately linked to IT wise. We have to go through this department (not for much longer hopefully) to be linked to the rest of uni's network. And over three weeks ago, while I was on holiday, their Router died. This caused them and us to drop off the network. No Internet, no e-mail etc. Like most places we have become reliant on these services.

So in a process akin to watching paint dry, the responsible personnel in this said department went about trying to restore this said router. In most cases a router is a specialised piece of equipment, something like a Cisco router usually springs to mind, but in this case it is just a hunk of junk ancient computer with two network cards in it.

In a perfect example of thinking inside the square, the techie guys there work on trying to get this hunk of junk back up and running. They require some equipment. So they order it. The order has to come from Australia, this soaks up the first few weeks.

Meanwhile I arrive back from my holiday and discover what is going on. I discover that there are two options for my department to get back on the network. Firstly wait for the router to work at the other department .. or .. we can buy fibre optic equipment that will enable us to bypass the others and have our own link. The second option is what we should have anyway so while waiting for them I purchase and we wait for our own equipment.

I decide to have a little bit more faith in the other department. Our bit of equipment is still on the way but theirs had arrived mid last week. So for the last week while we twiddle our thumbs and wait, they have been in the slow and drawn out 'think inside the square' process.

The main guy takes two days off, last Friday and this Monday. The second guy is no better at getting the PC to work. They dilly-dally and dilly-dally to the point where I keep barging in and making suggestions on how to resurrect the machine. It falls on deaf ears.

Finally frustration maximisation is reached. After a week of watching them painfully wrestle with their hunk of junk, I pull together bits of computer I have under my desk and build a new computer with two network cards, and configure it to do the Routing all in about 30 minutes.

I walk over with the newly built PC under the arm and drop it onto the bench. "This" I say "will be here, until my own equipment for our own link is operational, after that you can go back to getting your own machine to work". And with that we plug it in and get back up and operational.

And so I am now merrily surfing the net and posting back onto to my blog. It only took 3½ weeks!

In hindsight I really should have just built my machine a week earlier, but hey hindsight is good isn't it. My equipment to get our own link working will be here tomorrow. I will be much happier when we bypass others incompetence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Caption Comp Winner

and the winner is ...

... well not just yet. First I thought I would collect all the ones received together in the same spot. Some came in via email and the others seemed to get scattered around in various comments. So this is what I got anyway:

E: "If this city feller gets me lost....I wonder if he tastes like chicken...."

"6 Degrees 44.233 seconds south, 147 degrees 0.406 seconds east, Yep this must be the yacht club."

"..If I keep fiddling with this, surely I can pick up the scores from Lords somehow.."

E: "Alas Yoda, I have failed to teach this Jedi to trust the guide within".

E: "Does that thing plot dangerous animals?"

"Now if I press this other button his head should swivel to the left".

E: "if I turn my head this way, I can escape the smell of that shirt".
This last one is actually mine, but I took my liberty on it from a suggestion from Alma.

So as to the winner, well I think I do like the Lord's score one from J, but I think I will have to go with ".. press this other button .." caption which came in via e-mail. Emmanuel certainly looks like he has a robotic quality to him - and the way he carried that pack was no less than machine like.

The prize is as hinted is a copy of the short film DVD with films mostly made by Wendy last year. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Operation Cheapskate

After 19 months in the wilderness (but who's counting) I am finally coming back to civilization. Well back to the world of telly anyway, and only for the next couple of months.

My mate has loaned me his old TV now that they have got a big new beaut, super-duper, picture-in-picture, cinescope viewing colossus (OK so it is not that big, but big enough for a traditional TV with a tube). It is on a loan agreement and will be promptly handed back mid September once I have finished watching what I want to watch.

So it got delivered over the weekend. Getting it out required me sitting in the back seat while it took pride of place in the front - one hand was attached while pot-holes negotiated - and it is now in my spare bed-room, hooked up to the aerial that has forever slipped in through a high ceiling vent.

Turning it on and there is only one problem - no picture. I am not connected to the universities cable, they have left me unplugged. To get this done I have to pay my installation fee and monthly rate of K40 for the privilege of the dozen or so channels.

This put me in a fix, be buggered if I am going to pay money just for 6 or so weeks worth of TV. I got through 18 months of living in London without ever having to pay the Licence Fee, surely I can get around my own universities campus cable system without coughing up. Only thing I have to do is get on my roof. My only problem I don't have or know anyone with a massive long ladder.

So enter Operation Cheapskate. It is a multi step affair.

Step 1. Shimmy up unused linen cupboard on second floor landing.

Step 2. Remove louvre glass panels. Pull out hacksaw. Cut through security bar. Cut hole in fly wire.

Step 3. Climb onto roof. Literally kill two birds with one stone and shoo away noisy roosting birds and plug in cable.

Step 4. Climb back in hole. Stitch up fly wire. Replace security bar and glass louvres. Shimmy back down to second floor landing. Turn on TV and tune.

There you have it. Sounds easy enough. And the reason I am going to this trouble? Well besides having an internal roof access that will allow me once and for all to clean my solar water heater, and to get rid of the birds, I am doing it for the cricket.

Being the mad cricket lover I am, going without live coverage of the Ashes is not good. So getting the chance to borrow a TV for a bit is something I leapt at. Pity I have already missed the first test though. Not pitying the score.

Monday, July 25, 2005


It has taken a long time, but it has finally boiled up in me and I just want to yell "what is wrong with you people?".

It's the rubbish. I am sick of it. I am also sick of the attitude, that chucking it on the ground is OK. "Someone else will pick it up" is no doubt the thought. Or perhaps they just believe it will disappear or dissolve. My haus meri seems to think this is what happens, she constantly throws plastic bags on my compost heap even though I tell her it is for organic scraps only.

It was truly dispiriting walking to and from work today. Plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere. Mostly left over from the weekend soccer games. Chip packets, ice block skins, biscuit wrappers, heavy-duty meat tray packaging, it was all there. I would like to think that the general lack of rubbish bins played a big part of the mess, but a most of the rubbish was with in close range of an (empty) 44 gallon drum.

The attitude is wide spread. I have witnessed it numerous times. A couple of incidences that still stick in my mind: travelling out to the airport early in my placement I was horrified to see the packet from the Twisties I had bought my mate get tossed when done; climbing the highest mountain in the country and seeing our guide throw the empty plastic wrapper away in the pristine alpine environment; constant empty coke bottles (usually filled bright red and brimming with buai spit) chucked from the bus along the highlands highway.

I did occaisionally try to reason with the person about the act they did - especially the Mount Wilhelm guide - but now I just give up. It sounds upon deaf ears.

Wondering about why this so entrenched leads me to a few conclusions. Perhaps their attitude stems from the old Melanesian instincts that everything was easily grown or got and therefore even easier to discard. Or perhaps they just believe someone else will clean it up (which probably is what will happen at the sports fields). Though I can't see this happening (and it doesn't) along the roadsides.

Perhaps incentives to recycle could be introduced. This certainly works for aluminium cans, you never see any of those around, but I suspect the recycling plant which would be needed first is not high on any priority lists.

A PNG equivalent of Clean Up Australia Day would be a great idea and a little bit (or more) of education would be good steps. I won't be making bets on anytime soon though. Arn't I just turning into the pessimist now?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


I am feeling generous and if you have been reading the comments from the previous post you will see that I am going to give a prize to the best witty caption for the photo of me and emmanuel.

So far de nada! But I won't give up just yet. Someone out there must have a witty sense of humour. I even managed to come up with two without thinking particularly hard.

Prize is yet to be determined, but will most likely be a homemade PNG DVD of short films, including the Mouse Trap, which people keep telling me they love.

So when else do you get the chance to be funny at my expense and win something?! Double bonus. Hurry before I change my mind.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Two Weeks Ago ...

If I wasn't walking, I would have been doing something like this:

Yes, playing with my new GPS device. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I do like gadgets, and this one was fantastic. It kept, among other things, a record of how far we had walked and approximately the altitude, which was great for climbing that false crescent mountain.

I particularly like this photo for the way Emmanuel looks. He has that intent distant look, like he is pondering world politics, though was probably in actual fact wondering, like I was, if there really was 6 satellites straight above us.

p.s. There won't be any more sorry sick talk on this blog. Much improved today, just like I predicted. Mental note: take the full course of medicine this time!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Malaria & Me ...

... don't get along. I am currently zonked out, trying to type this on my bed. It is turning into an effort.

It is mainly my fault that it has got to this point. Last week I had all the symptoms and started a course of Artemether to kill it off. It worked and I was back and bouncing. But I only did two days worth of dosage when I should have done a whole weeks worth. Now the parasite is back up from the canvas and landing some serious body blows.

It must have got a good hit on the stomach because that currently feels like it is twisted. For most of the day I have felt like I need to throw up but haven't. It is also giving the head a whacking, a good headache is the result.

Stupidly tried to go into work at lunch time during a period of feeling better. The effort from the walk, had me recovering on my office chair for an hour. Got one of the guys to give me a lift back home and to bed.

I have no doubt I will be back and fully fit in 24 hours, just don't like the thought of those hours though.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Miracles Do Happen

I am not particularly religious but I was saying "amen" this afternoon. The reason - my new Server arrived.

I had given up hope on it. Ever since my original memo with attached quotations to purchase one over twelve months ago was knocked back and then my subsequent memo with the revised plan to just get one server and not two was buried somewhere in the paper work structure of the uni, I figured that it was never going to come. A few follow up memos this year and no response. Perhaps the price tag was a tad optimistic, all K27,000 of it.

Then all of a sudden I get a call this afternoon to come and collect some big heavy boxes. I had no idea what they were talking about. I went over and still did not believe they were mine. Only the other day when asking the boss what the story was with it he told me the uni weren't going to buy it until we sorted out budgeting after the extension work we are still doing.

I still do not know who put in the order to buy it, or how long ago, but this machine has been slowly working its way to me over the last few months. They were shipped from down south somewhere and then on to us.

Now I get a chance to really notch up a gear.

For the techy minded people, the gear is pretty good. It is an Intel Stanyon Server, rackmount 2U high, 2 Gigs of memory, RAID controller card with quite a few harddisks - somewhere over 100gb (I have forgotten). I will mirror a couple of them and stripe the others. Comes with a 1kVA APC UPS, and DVD burner for back-ups (tape backups are worthless here). All good fun. Now just have to get Linux onto it. Another learning curve to climb.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My Kokoda Campaign - Part 2

Day 3 - Erora Creek to 1900
Grey pale dawn, rustling, campfires lit, quiet chatting, smoke wafting, stiff neck, sleeping bag kicked off - another day starts.

It takes a while to get organised. We attempt to dry the tent from the overnight rain, to leech off some of the beaded water. I am carrying the fly and any excess weight was not wanted. The drying starts with a shake and hang over a pole, then progresses later to using my chamois towel to mop up.

The WA guys leave ahead of us. We slowly stumble behind at our usual time of 7:30, with dad taking off first to get a head start. The first part of the day is another long climb up and we have already worked out that the old man will make it in his own time, better for him to start early and for us to catch up. Which is what we do after about 10 minutes on the uphill trek.

After about 2 hours of the uphill struggle we finally get the chance to really test out our downhill skills on the way down to Templeton's Crossing 2, and these require a whole new lot of muscles. Some of us do better than others. Dad it seems doesn't like the downhill at all. On the first day he broke his super-duper carbon fibre light-weight walking stick, with compass in the handle, by slipping and falling onto it. I had shook my head when he told me he had bought it, and now he was using a hewn sapling like the rest of us.

The old man successfully negotiating a typical downhill section

It was good to know as well that it wasn't only me who sweats buckets. The old man must have passed me his genes. Unfortunately he had only brought along cotton shirts, which while good in most situations here they are a pain to dry once they get wet. Being the kind son that I am I give him my spare shirt made of one those new fibres that dries quickly, unfortunately it was my only other shirt and it means that I would be wearing the same shirt for the rest of the trek.

Lunch was a relief at Templeton's Crossing 1. Getting there was an exhausting affair from TC2 and involved another unwanted climb and down. Once arrived I collapsed in a sweaty heap and rested while the ever swift Emmanuel got a fire going and cooked us some two-minute noodles. He was turning into a big asset, not only lugging a 20kilo pack full of food for us, but cooking it as well.

It was after 2 o'clock when we took off. We had caught the WA guys at the lunch spot but they had again taken off before us. We wanted to make tracks this day seeing as the day before had turned into a shorter one, luckily the weather was perfect for hiking all day - mist enshrouded to keep it cool along with the altitude. This part of the track would take us over the highest point on the whole track, a nice 2190 metres as it passed nearby to Mount Bellamy.

At the track high point we were running a tad late, and Emmanuel started to worry about getting caught in afternoon rains, so I was given the rest of the tent, and me and Grant headed off quickly downhill for the campsite to set it up, while Dad and Emmanuel came behind.

We reached 1900 (the campsite is named after its altitude) at 4:30 and set up our tent near to the WA guys. A similar sized group who were heading the other way joined the site and although it was a long time before we got to see the trekkers come in we were contented with watching the porters lug in all their gear and set it up. One porter came in carrying two packs, one as normal on his back and the other carried bilum style, with the shoulder strap around his forehead and rest balancing on top of the other pack.

I was blown away at the amount of gear they had. All the trekkers, which turned out to be about eight of them, had their own one man tents. Plastic stools to sit on were produced, an aluminium table was unfolded, a kilogram of flour to make damper arose, and in the morning a huge box of cereal and a monster coffee plunger held centre court on the table top. This wasn't rough trekking, it was luxury camping. Even the WA guys with their big daily rations packs and airdropped food supply had to laugh, we just felt like the poor cousins sitting on the ground around a fire.

Dinner, needless to say, for us was a tad bland affair. Rice coupled with noodles and some added chewy beef jerky. At least I was allowed to sleep comfortably in the large guesthouse with the rest of the porters instead of a single-man tent.

Day 4 - 1900 to Efogi Creek 1
The days were starting to blur into one. It was getting harder to distinguish what we had had done the day before with what had passed two days ago. The all important score in the previous nights Rugby League State of Origin spread through the campsite. There was a radio somewhere that someone had brought. I caught snippets of the coverage as I drifted off into the land of nod.

Emmanuel turned out to be a Queensland supported so was a bit sulky at our breakfast. This consisted as it had done the previous days of cracker biscuits and a cup of Milo. We eyed the nearby cereal and coffee plunger with jealous distain.

A table. Who brings a table?

We never got to really chat to the live-it-up style trekkers before we broke camp and continued south, following again in the tracks of the Army Reservist guys. We overtook them at any rate as they decided to do a side trip to Myola Lakes to see a plane wreck, unfortunately for them there was a current long running land dispute around the area and the disputee had decided to sneak off with most of the wreck as a vendetta against the alleged owner.

The day was mostly downhill all the way. We had made it over the high point in the track and it was time to reap its rewards. I pitied the poor souls who would have to climb up what we were going down because we even passed locals, with boxes of supplies for the Getaway group, looking puffed.

The wooded track that we had been following so far for the entire length finally decided to change into an open kunai grassland type. This was good in the fact that we got a chance to have a clear look over the valley we were in and not so good because the sun was now beating down and incredibly hot.

We passed through the village of Naduli and down another steep decent to a creek side to spend lunch at. On the way we passed a red-face group climbing up on their day 5. Grant and me were a tad disappointed to see some cute girls in their group who we chatted to and wondered why we couldn't have been luckier and got them going our way. Instead we got a bunch of 40 year old Army Reservists to play tag team with.

Lunch time billy at a creek

After lunch we got a chance to do some serious uphill climbing. Easily the steepest ascent so far with the track like a root and mud ladder in some parts. It persisted for a painful puff inducing 45 minutes before easing out into a gentler uphill of the kind we were used to.

We passed through Efogi Creek village number 2 and got a great view of where we would be staying at number 1. The Army Reservists finally caught up to us at this point and we headed down to the village together, stopping at the creek to jointly do some washing. What they say about smelling yourself is true, you can't, but you can certainly smell your clothes and mine stunk.

The guesthouse was a big and pleasant surprise (there were even pillows, but unfortunately no mattresses) when we arrived at 3:30, and we whiled away the rest of the daylight hours finishing off some clothes washing, and eying off the WA guys food supply drop - Efogi Creek has a airstrip. They were restocking on everything, including a hell of a lot of Milo, which we were running out of.

Day 5 - Efogi Creek 1 to Menari
The shortest day so far. The usual leave at 7:30 and a steep ascent up and over Brigand hill and the easy descent for the rest of the time down to another creek. We managed to pass a huge number of trekkers going the other way, a total of 3 different groups in all, they all seemed to be on their day 5.

In the last group I got chatting to a guide who is the only PNG expert in white-water rafting. It was no surprise then to find out that he had been part of the Israeli white-water rafting group on the Watut. He told me all the details of what happened on that fateful day, even though clearly he was sick of telling the story.

Lunch at the creek was joined by yet another group, before we hiked the short distance up to the village of Menari. We were there by 1:30 and it was here that we would stay in another nice guesthouse. We arranged for the guesthouse owner to cook us a meal, and because it was a Seventh Day Adventist village this meant that it was prepared long before the Sabbath was due to start at around 5pm. I don't think I have ever sat down to dinner at 3:30, but there is always a first time for everything.

There was another group staying in the village, but it was full of rather fat blokes who decided to make a hell of a racket and play touch football. Not a pretty picture watching man boobs flying around. Our WA Reservists mates had made a dash to escape from us and had headed off ahead to the next village. We were going to have to make tracks so that we would have someone to be sociable with. Sadly the male-female ratio on the Kokoda track is unsurprisingly weighed heavily to one side.

Speaking of ratios I was really starting to ponder at this stage if we had done something wrong. Every other group we passed had more porters than trekkers and here we were out-numbering Emmanuel 3 to one. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I wasn't paying Au$450 to $600 for the privilege of someone to carry my gear.

We chatted briefly to the other group and they gave us some more things to ponder. There had been a trekker who had been airlifted out in the morning after slipping and knocking his head on a rock. There were also a couple of sick guys in their group - bad water? It made us count our blessings that we were having an easy time of it, even without Puritabs.

Day 6 - Menari to Ofi Creek
If the previous day had been the easiest one, this one was the time we played catch-up. Dawn had only just broke and we were already hitting our strides out of the village. Unfortunately as per usual the strides shortened and slowed as we had to make our way up and over a mountain.

Back on day one I had been told you go a bit loopy on day 3 and 4, well I never encountered that, but I was starting to dream that we were almost finished. We were certainly over the half way mark and we were scheduling ourselves to complete the thing on Monday morning. It was now Saturday morning and I could almost smell the finish line. I kept looking at the map marking our progress and saying "not that far now".

The mid section of the days trek took us through a new landscape, a swampy area along the banks of the Brown river. It was here that we passed another large group heading to Kokoda, they were again on their fifth day. I was beginning to wonder if there were any groups that weren't on day 5. We decided that we would inform any new group we now passed that we were on day 5 - that should screw with their minds we thought.

Lunch at the village of Narao. We enviously eyed off the guesthouse, which we were passing up - they had mattresses! I was tempted to just say "fuck it! Enough for the day, I am sleeping on that". But we kept going as usual up one of the worst sections for the entire trek - the twelve false crescents.

The false crescent section means that you struggle up a hill seeing what you think is the peak, only to get to the top, go along a flat section and then see there is more to climb. Highly demoralising and to make matters worse it had decided to rain. So we had to pull out the yet unused rain gear and cover up. Mine was just a plastic poncho, which caused me to look like I had just run away from the Notre Dame belfry. But who's for vanity in the middle of the Papuan bush.

Rain causes the hunchbacks to emerge

Getting down from the top was almost as bad as getting there. A descent of 750 metres with the last section one of the steepest of the whole track. Needless to say by the time we arrived at the Ofi Creek campsite at 5pm, to the stunned greetings of the WA Reservists, we were absolutely had it. On the map we had made massive ground, the day's trek had been over 20kms unfortunately the next day something similar was planned.

Day 7 - Ofi Creek to Uberi
The bones were old and stiff and unwilling to move. The tent had been needed again for the night and that had meant Emmanuel and me slept in the only building available, the house of the family that looked after the campsite. I awoke at various times to hear a baby cry from behind the thin dividing wall or the building shake when someone rolled over or the dreadful smell from my disgusting T-shirt that I was wearing, the same one I had been wearing most days underneath my shirt.

My main shirt was now starting to look worse for wear as well. I had lost a couple of buttons wringing the thing out during washing at Efogi Creek and I had now melted part of the inside webbing when I draped it over the fire to warm it up. I consoled myself that it only had to last a couple more days now.

Like the previous day we had two mountains to cross. The first one was Ioribaiwa the furthest advance the Japanese made during the war and the second was Imita Ridge, where the Australians had held the line against that advance.

Climbing up to the top of Ioribaiwa was for me the hardest part of the whole trek. Not so much physically as more mentally. I was at the stage where I was dreaming about all the luxuries that lay at the end of the track. Hot showers. Cold beer. Soft bed. Variety of food. And the biggest problem was that it was all so close now. Just one more full day of hiking and then the small climb out of here.

We conquered this second last mountain (we were counting them down now) and headed into a new type of territory - the many rocky creek crossings of Va Ure creek. I discovered that my boots were excellent at climbing and descending muddy tracks, but hopeless at getting grip on the slippery rocks. After a couple of moments when I almost went arse-over-tit, I took it especially slow through this area. The last thing we all wanted to do was crack our heads slipping over here.

We made it through unscathed, and had lunch at the bottom of the last mountain we had to cross. It took over an hour to recover, as all of us had found the 20 or so creek crossings particularly exhausting. After the break we reluctantly hoisted our packs for the final big ascent - the 450 metre climb to the top of Imita Ridge.

On the way up we passed a new group coming the other way. They informed us they were on day 1. Finally a group not on Day 5 and a chance for me to mess with someone else's head just like those bastards did on our day 1. Alas they were in a hurry and didn't want to chat for long, one though was cheeky enough to inform me "you've got a bit to go", my retort was "so have you!".

Getting to the top Imita Ridge was a great feeling mentally, even if physically we were close to spent. We made it there a lot later in the day than we had planned, at around 4pm, so obviously we didn't stay long and headed down to the last campsite before darkness or the threatening rain descended.

Absolutely stuffed on Imita Ridge

At camp the WA guys were there already and they greeted us and we all set up ourselves underneath one giant communal tent. Everyone had a party like feel as we joked and talked about the track so far and the fact that it was almost completed. Spirits were indeed high.

Day 8 - Uberi to Port Moresby
Early rise and shine. We were making tracks before 7. I am not sure why we were leaving so bloody early on the last day when we had all day to walk a few kilometres. But the WA guys were heading out and we wanted to tag along so that we could catch a lift on their truck back to Moresby.

We made it to Goldie River before 8 and had one last bit of track fun before we hiked up the hill to Ower's Corner. We got a chance to wade through the river up to our waist. Thankfully the porters carried through our packs on their heads as the current was quite strong and took some surefootedness to stop us going for a swim.

The climb out was deceptively hard, and just kept on going. Why wouldn't this bloody thing end was all I could think. I had trekked over 90kms, over some of the roughest terrain in this country if not the world and still I had to slog and push the legs to get out of it. Finally we broke out into grassland and the memorial marking the finish line could be seen, and happiness descended upon me. I had survived the Kokoda Track.

Elated and buggered at the finish line

A very happy trio underneath the Ower's Corner memorial

Pats on backs. Handshakes. A sweaty hug with the old guy. Group photos. Broad smiles. A massive sense of achievement. It was all there in that relative obscure place.

No one could now take away that we had finished the Kokoda track. Equally no one would be convincing us to do it again any time soon. I can assure everyone that I won't be rushing back in a hurry. Once is enough for the time being. I can predict the future though and no doubt once the pain and exhaustion is forgotten, nostalgia will creep back. Perhaps I will have to remind myself by looking at the photos.

So why do it in the first place then anyway? Well for me mainly, because it was on the tick box list of things to do in PNG, and the time was right to be able to do it with others. A lot of people go because of the history - the wartime events that were a defining moment in my country's psyche. For me that was never a huge motivation. I was more curious to see what it was like and if I could do it, and in this I achieved my goal.

One more goal had to be achieved though and that was to get into Port Moresby. We didn't as yet have a ride but this didn't bother me, I had just conquered the Kokoda track. It had bothered Emmanuel from the start though and was part of the reason that we had tried to keep up with the WA crowd.

Some highlanders were waiting with a Coaster bus. They had just dropped off a group and were going to be heading back into town empty. When Emmanuel came back from being propositioned by the bus crew with an offer to take us into town for K200, I said forget it. I was sure that they would either drop their price or we could get a lift on the WA guys truck.

We walked on up the hill with the WA blokes and past the waiting bus. They started up and followed us, and then stopped. They offered to take us for K100, I said forget it again, they offered us K30 to Sogeri, where we would have to catch a PMV. I told them K60 to town or nothing, surprisingly they took it and we climbed in. It turned out that being from Mt Hagen they of course knew who my boss was and everyone was happy after that, coupled with me buying them a Coke at a stop along the way.

We got dropped off in the centre of town, at my mate's place and the end of the road had been reached. Hot showers, cold beers, good food to eat, veg out time to be had and TV to immerse in. It had taken no time to find out the score of the State of Origin, but it had taken 3 days to find out there had been bombings in London. It was time to get back to reality.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

My Kokoda Campaign - Part 1

I was involved in an e-mail conversation months ago which went something like this:

Father to son - "Boy, I am on a current fitness campaign, how bout me coming up to PNG and us doing the Kokoda together sometime later this year".

Son to father - "Sure why not".

A month passes and I receive an e-mail from an old school mate.

Mate to me - "Hey I am quitting my job at the end of June and moving to Sydney and will have a month between jobs, how bout me coming up to PNG and doing the Kokoda together then".

Me to mate - "Sure, why not".

Son to father - "How does July suit you?".

Thus a plan was born. Little did I know at that stage what I was getting myself into. Like most of these things I tend to find that it is probably better not to know. Better to just go and do it and find out along the way. Perhaps if I knew what I know now, it may have been different matter.

By not bothering I could have saved myself from over a week of sleeping on something as soft as a concrete tarmac. Being soaked through in sweat from the long days of hiking with a full pack on my back. Forever watching where I plant my steps to make sure they don't trip on a tree root, or slip in mud. And avoid the tropical humidity sapping my energy. But hey what is life for?

The organisation came down to me. The logical choice, seeing as I live in the country. The only problem for the others was that I would try and do the whole thing as cheaply and as independently as possible. No problem for me of course, this is the way I like it.

So with tickets bought, a place to stay at a friends in Port Moresby organised, arrangements made to meet my old man and mate at the International terminal, lists of equipment required sent, accommodation for one night arranged in Popondetta - the town at the northern end of the track - and a track permit purchased, things were set.

The only thing I was worried about was whether I would be fit enough. My regime up to this point had consisted of a 20 minute walk to work, cups of tea during the day and a 20 minute walk home. Not the best preparation I admit for a 90+ km trek over rugged terrain.

At the coordinated time all things went smoothly with the plan. We got to Popondetta without too much of a hitch. And there was only the small detail left of finding someone willing to take us over the track for the next week for me to organise. This was easier than thought when a guy found us instead. Obviously we looked liked the lost tourist types wandering around the big empty streets of the two-horse town. Emmanuel introduced himself and we sussed him out.

He was heading back to his home in Kokoda, so I figured at least we get him to help us get there. I used the cover story that I had sent a letter to a trekking company based in Kokoda and that I had not had a reply from them as yet, so I was just going to play it by ear until I got there. This was in any case all true.

Popondetta on a Sunday is about as lively as a coma patient. We had come here in the hope to have a look down at the beachhead battlefields of Buna and Gona, but our timing was not the best. Sunday was church time and little else.

We did discovered that there was one PMV that would be heading up to Kokoda that day and would be leaving at the later than hoped hour of 4pm. We booked our place on it and headed back to the guesthouse to while away the sleepy afternoon hours - not much else to do in town I can assure you.

The truck eventually turns up after dark at 7pm. Delayed by the need to go halfway up the road to Kokoda, fetch the covering tarpaulin, return to town, attempt to cover the back, find out there is a broken strut that needs welding, find a welder, fix this and then head around and pick up the waiting passengers.

Not long before Dad had informed me about the problem he has with getting grit in his eyes and stuffing up his contacts, when we climbed aboard the back of the truck to take our places on the wooden benches lining the sides at the front we discover that the tarp is covered in dirt and grit. They had obviously left the thing lying on the ground before reattaching it this afternoon. It was a miracle that none managed to get in the old man's eyes, because by the end of the trip it managed to get everywhere else, a fact reconfirmed a week later when it was still falling out of my hair.

Once moving off in the truck I thought we would be lucky enough to have the whole of the thing to ourselves. These hopes were dashed when the truck went to the local bus-stop and managed to fill the entire back to overflowing with villagers returning home. They must have been waiting for the majority of the day just for this truck to show up. It was an eye opener for me to see how many squeezed on, let alone for the PNG new comers joining me on this trip. A rough count was done and it was somewhere in the range between 40 and 50.

Squeezed onto the PMV truck

More PNG style fun was to be had along the road as the truck managed to get itself bogged. Emmanuel jumped off and told us to wait while they hitched a rope and got the paying passengers to pull. I decided to jump off as well and take some pics. In the end my photos were forgotten as I grabbed a free spot on the rope and joined in on
the big tug-of-war. Luckily the truck was not pulling back and managed to be pulled free.

The hilarity didn't stop upon reaching Kokoda three and a half hours after leaving Popondetta. By this stage we had figured that we would hire Emmanuel for the trek, he seemed like a genuine enough guy, so he had offered us his house to sleep in, which in reality is a typical rural school house (his wife is a teacher) with hardly any furniture inside its four walls and a roof. The only problem was that he had to find the key to thing first. He left us stranded in the dark and went off to see if someone had a spare key. Luckily he managed to get one and we got inside and rolled out our bedrolls and promptly dozed off to sleep on the hard floor - the first of many to come.

Day 1 - Kokoda to Isurava
Dawn arrives - I am as stiff as a board. Hard floors take a bit to get used to. A few stretches, the repack of the pack and a cup of Milo seem to straighten me out. We leave the shack and hit the fresh morning air and a few photos later and we are off to see the Kokoda Museum. The Musuem was viewed - after a typical PNG wait to find someone with the key - and finally the track was hit.

The team - (L to R) Emmanuel, Grant, Dad and me. E's house behind.

Long confident strides, along a tractor track and through a cocoa plantation for the first hour and I started to get lulled into a false sense of how easy this thing might be. We pass through the village of Kovolo at the same time as a group was coming the other way on their home stretch out. We chat to them and they were eager to impart their track wisdom just as we were eager to hear what they had to say.

A few tidbits dispensed worried me from then on. "Day 3-4 you start to go loopy!". "We had to evac a couple from our group after they got sick, make sure you pop in your puritabs into your water" - bugger I knew there was something I forgot. Then there was the size of their group, they had about 10 trekkers and an equal number of porters, but most of the trekkers were carrying massive packs as well. Why were they carrying so much stuff I had to wonder? We had three packs between us and one day-pack.

One final bit of advice was heeded "Make sure you get around the Getaway group, they are cutting up the track with their numbers". I had heard about the Australian Channel Nine TV travel show Getaway having a crew on the track beforehand but now I got a chance to find out how many there really were. Apparently the numbers were an astronomical 72 trekkers, including crew, and a 105 porters - was this the biggest ever group on Kokoda since the war? The warning was reinforced, get around them or slush through their wake.

Getaway had a head start on us. They had stayed at the village of Hoi the night before and that was where we were headed next. They were gone by the time we got there at around 10 o'clock, but not by much it seemed. We had a break and the villagers brought out the usual fresh fruit to us to sell. I got a little bit shirty when I discovered that they were trying to hock off a hand of bananas for 5 Kina and a paw paw for the same price. I wasn't born yesterday and this was rip-off territory in my books and I told them subtly so in pidgin. This seemed to have an effect and we ended up leaving with the bananas at a more reasonable half price.

The track starts proper after Hoi. Up and up it goes, through lush vegetation, most of which I recognised as kumu a vegetable staple at my local market, good in stir-fries too. This was about the time that I started to realise that I sweat a lot in these conditions. It was dripping off me and my shirt was already soaking through. I looked around at Grant at various breaks and was stunned to see him hardly in a sheen. Was he from another planet or was it me.

Through the lush green on day one

Endless up and up and up. We had started at the end where there is little relief in the form of a downhill. Along the way was a great spot to overview the valley below and we got to see how far we had come from Kokoda, as the airstrip was now starring us in the face. Not that far away in the scheme of things.

After lunch at a stream we pushed on, through the most undoubtedly hardest section of the day, a steep up to the village of Isurava, which was luckily where we would be staying for the night. Arriving into the village at around 5 was a fantastic feeling, no more bloody walking for the day. We organised a local guesthouse to stay in and got comfortable.

We were trying to conserve food at this point. I realised that we didn't have enough to last us with just what we were carrying so we organised with the guesthouse owner to cook us some local delicacy. Of course delicacy in a PNG village consists of boiled sweet potato and boiled kumu the kind that we had just walked through. I knew I was really going to regret that I couldn't find a small bottle of sweet chilli sauce to bring.

Day 2 - Isurava to Erora Creek
We paid the guesthouse owner and took off for the memorial to a large battle held at Isurava. Word had leaked that the Getaway group had stayed the night there and this would for us be a perfect time to make tracks and get around them.

Luck was with us as by the time we got to the memorial the massive group was still there, and better yet was the fact that they were holding some sort of ceremony. We quietly made our way to the back of the pack and took some seats to watch. NSW member for parliament and Kokoda regular, Charlie Lynn was the organiser of the big group and was holding centre stage at the memorial. He was giving a good speech about the battle which took place here over 60 years ago.

Part of the crowd for the ceremony at Isurava memorial. Getaway camera crew at right

We left when we figured the time was right which was straight after the red shirt donned porters were told to sing hymns, presumably for added ambience. The Getaway team loved this and got them to sing about 10 times while they got a shot from every possible angle no doubt also zooming in on David Reyne looking appreciative. Unfortunately I lucked out in hoping it would be Catriona Rowntree doing the TV hosting.

The day was short compared to the first day. We finished at Erora Creek at 2:30, after a fairly constant amount of up and down. Lunch was at the village of Alolo village and consisted of more kau kau and fruit - we were really saving our food. We bumped into a small group of five Army Reservists from Western Australia heading our way. It seems we were to be tagged with these guys for the rest of the trip, they ending up camping at Erora Creek as well.

At the campsite we set up our tent - no guesthouse here - just as the rain started. There was a lean-to which was good thing because I had only brought a two-man tent for the four of us to use. Dad and Grant could get the relative luxury of that while Emmanuel and me would make do with whatever. In this we had to share with the porters from the other group, thankfully the thing was big enough to hold us all in.

There were some villagers from Alolo camping with us as well, to make sure that we paid them for the campsite. Somehow they also managed to carry in food to cook. Without even asking they prepared about half a dozen different dishes of the best village food I have ever seen to sell to us for a total of five Kina, the mob in Isurava had charged us 15 for their bland effort - I do love a good bargain. The dishes extended way beyond the usual boiled everything, into almost Asian style fried rice and baked pumpkin. Truly unexpected gourmet in the jungle.

The other thing unexpected was the mortar shell that one of the villagers decided to drop in the middle of the campsite. It freaked the Army reservists out no end, but didn't stop us from holding it up and taking photos with it.

Grant inspecting the freshly dug up mortar

We bedded down at the bizarre hour of 7:30 and I got to witness one final unexpected event for the day before drifting off into slumber, a hoard of easily a hundred silent fireflies danced and swirled, blinking their points of greenish light on and off in the campsite clearing in the dark right before my eyes. No one else seemed to notice it, and I felt blessed to witness the five minute spectacle.

... continued in Part 2

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I am back in my cosy little house after an exhausting time bashing along the Kokoda track. There is a lot to tell, and a good story as promised is in the works - I will be working to complete it over the next couple of days while entertaining my track beating companions who are here with me at the moment.

As is my usual approach though here are a few photos from the slog before the big story. I took over 200 of the things so selecting for this little post is no mean feat. But here goes.

There was mud, some more mud, tree roots, lots more roots and oh ... mud and roots ...

Plenty of creeks and rivers to negotiate. Some where you have to wade through, others where slippery rocks are hopped and the ever popular rickety log bridges ...

Various types of terrain to cross - wooded mountains, montane forest mountains, dry kunai grass mountains, every other type of mountain and a swamp ...

Luxury guesthouses to frequent - a bedroom below ...

And there was me looking completely stuffed and soaking in sweat for the majority of the eight days ...

This was my usual "why did we bother again" look. And please note there was no hair product involved in this image, it takes grime, sweat and a weeks worth of no showers to get this look.

Friday, July 01, 2005

All Set and Raring

There is a saying which goes something like "every journey begins with a first step" .. or something .. I can't remember exactly .. or who even said it but it doesn't matter anyway because all I care about is the fact I am off on another adventure. Yay.

Because of this I may not be posting for a little while. But don't distress when I return there will be an epic tale of struggle against adversity, of courage and bravery, woe and angst, subterfuge and deception, love and passion, mystery and suspense ... in fact anything that old Tolstoy can do I will be bettering .. well maybe not.

So before I get more carried away, take care all .. because I will. If not luckily there is a history of help being at hand.

Seeya in a bit.