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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Battle Lost

I really hate to admit it but I am raising the white flag. The tail is between the legs and I'm running for the safety of the familiar. I am finally surrendering in the battle with Linux and am resorting back to the use of the evil empire software - Micro$oft Windows Server.

The decision to change at this stage is mainly a practical one. I will be leaving soon and there is really no way I could have left the server half working with Linux on it when I don't even have anyone here to hand it over to yet. No one else on campus is clued up about the open-source operating system, so the only real option is to resort back to what I and others here know about already. It is debunking the Uni's new IT director in his efforts to move to an open-source environment, but that's the way it goes at this stage of the game. More training required.

So Bill Gates wins, and even though I do loathe Microsoft (which is a bit of a paradox for me, considering that is what I am technically proficient at - it is now 7 years since I became one of their giamen Certified Systems Engineers) I must say that Mr Gates himself is not such a bad old chap. After all he recently donated some big bucks to the Institute of Medical Research up in Goroka for combating Malaria. A few of my volunteer wantoks work there and I am certainly no fan of Malaria, so I think I feel a bit more of a kinship with him now.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Food For All

Biak's market selection. Take home spice packs. Eat and go satay. Deep fried whitebait. Dried salted fish.

Spice pack

Satay balls


Dried fish

click the pics for large versions

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bachelor x 2

Times are changing. Starting from tomorrow my house may not be solely inhabitated by me any more. With the count down now on for my finishing date, I have offered my house to a new volunteer who is flying in tomorrow.

The vol will be working in my department designing and packaging material for distance learning, and seeing as I now only have about 6 weeks left, I figured that he may as well just bunk up with me in my spare room and then take it over when I go.

Not sure how this arrangement will pan out, considering from all accounts he is quite older than me, so my entrenched habits may need refining. Then again, he will just have to put up with me I guess. I said before that I like sharing with other people and this still hasn't change. I suppose I just like to know them beforehand that's all.

He may not accept. He still has the option to stay at the guest house for a while at least. But then again I don't think he will mind. When he was emailing me about the position, he was wondering if he would have to live in dorm style accommodation.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's Good For The Goose Is ...

I mentioned last December about how some Aussie government big wigs were in Lae at the time discussing ideas about seasonal work visas (or working holiday visas as I then thought) for Papuan New Guineans.

Well John Howard, who is finally in PNG at the moment for the Pacific Islands Forum (he is staying at the Madang Resort where I stayed earlier this year - I wonder if he gets the 50% discount), yesterday came out and trampled all over the idea.

The problem as I see it though is that the Pacific island states, like PNG, are trying to sell the idea from completely the wrong angle. They are making the argument that Papua New Guineans (or Fijians, Tongans or whoever) could be used for seasonal work only. Australia gives them a short term visa, 6 months perhaps, and they fly down there and pick oranges, apples or whatever. The apparent benefit of this is that PNGns earn some cash and gain experience (although I can't see how picking fruit for 6 months will cover the cost of living and the flights).

What the Pacific states should be arguing is that Australia allows their countries to give their nationals who are under 30 the option to get a visa for one year. They can only get this visa once and they will be allowed to work for up to 3 months with any given employer. With this it will give Pacific islanders the chance to gain experience in a big country, earn money from the experience and take all that experience back home with them.

The claim made by little Johnny yesterday that "Either you invite someone into your country to stay as a permanent resident or citizen or you don't" is complete rubbish, because Australia already has exactly the same type of visas I have spelled out, in place for about 20 different rich countries. They are called Working Holiday Maker visas.

His other worry, which he has not alluded to, is overstayers. Helen Clark was a little less light footed around the issue when she said "We do not want to have a growing number of illegals who come and skip at the end of permits" when asked about the same sort of seasonal worker scenario for New Zealand. If Australia is really worried about that, which of course they are, they can either cap the number of visas allocated, or make it a requirement to have a return ticket.

Sure there will be a few illegals that do turn up, but as statistics have shown, it won't be anywhere as big as the biggest group of illegal nationals in Australia, more than the Iraqis and Afghanis etc, the Brits.

But at least the Brits can show the Australians a thing or too about generosity, because they at least have now extended their working holiday visa scheme to Papua new Guineans, and I don't even think PNG was asking for it. Oh and it is not for one year but two.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Invasion of the Stick Insects

Over the last month the guava tree out the back of the house has become full of big brown stick insects. A colony of them has established itself there and are obviously enjoying themselves - munching the leaves off and making baby stick insects.

The interesting thing is (if that wasn't good enough) is that with the stick insects being there, we now have ripe guavas on the tree again. My source tells me that stick insects are seen as a bad omen. To walk under a tree full of them will cause you to lose your virility.

Our guava loving day-guard is obviously a believer and would like a few more for the clan.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Survivor: Papua New Guinea

The post-courier reports today that there is a two man team from the popular American show, Survivor, scouting the coasts of Madang and New Ireland provinces for uninhabited islands to use for a new version of the show.

Good news for PNG, bit of extra exposure in the world. People outside of Australia may actually learn where the place is (although a lot of Australians could do with a touch up as well).

But come on, using another island for the show, is a soft mans Survivor. They have done the island to death. Most of the shows, apart from Survivor: The Outback, have been on islands and it is now a given, you can survive on a bloody island. Coconuts, bananas, etc - easy life.

If they want to make a Survivor: PNG, let the contestants do it hard. Stick them in a patch of the highlands between two warring tribes and see how they go when they come in with their machine guns. Make them catch and kill wild pigs and cuscuses to eat. Get them to plant kau kau and carry bilums full of garden food on their heads up mountains. Let them walk for days to get to the nearest aid post when they get injured.

Now that is trying to survive! ... oh wait, there are over a million people in this country doing that every day, day in and out, already. I guess this has been done to death too.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I'm a Technician, I Am, I Am

Please Note: The below story is fiction ... for all insurance agents reading this.

You may remember my poor old volunteer mate, whose camera was made baggarup by the flailing phalluses of the Goroka Coffee Ball earlier this year. Well, unfortunately for her, getting it repaired has become one of those all time drawn out sagas.

It has been down to Australia three times. The first two times being brought back being told various stories from the people who looked at it. Now it is down there for the third time at the Pentax authorised repair centre, and it is going to cost her $300 to get it fixed.

Warranty won't cover it as it was dropped (or whacked) so to cover the cost she has told her insurer. She also happened to inform the insurer that it was looked at by a technician here in Lae. Well it was, in sorts ... I looked at it and told her to send it to the Pentax crew. Now the insurer wants a statement from this Lae Technician stating that it needed to go down to Oz.

So it is me to the rescue, anything to dupe those nasty insurance people. I have asked a guy from the university's servicing unit, who owes me a favour, to give me one of their servicing forms. With this I can make up a suitably impressive reason that the camera could not be fixed here. Which should be easy ... "Camera was inspected. Lens fails to retract. Case damaged. Refer to manufacturer. Signed Senior Technician".

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


After a year and half of not needing the thing, a while ago I finally pulled it out of the cupboard and got it setup. The moment was in the middle of the night, waking up to find myself the evening meal for a hoard of mosquitos. So in one of those frantic, stumbling, half-zombie, midnight scenes, I was pulling my bed out from the wall, standing on the bed-head, screwing hooks in the ceiling and erecting my mossie net.

It was around the time of when I put Operation Cheapskate into action. I had just cut a big hole in the flywire, to enact the operation, so this could partially explain why I was suddenly being invaded. Being the lazy bachelor that I am, I still haven't quite got around to stitching up the hole, so the mossie net is still in place.

I quite like it though. It is nice to wake up under. I was worried that it would make it too hot, but it seems to be fine with the ceiling fan going. It does take a bit to get in and out, carefully trying not to rip it on the corners of the bed, but once this is achieved it is not so painful.

This is not like my right knee at the moment, which is quite painful. In some bizarre sleeping act last night, I must have whacked it against something, because now it hurts just to straighten and bend. If anyone knows how you can damage your knee while sleeping, I am all ears.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Meeting The Colonel

It is not everyday you get to meet a colonel from the clandestine Free Papua Movement (or OPM), then again you don't expect a rotund man wearing a "No Worries" T-shirt and asking whether you want to go scuba-diving with him, to be paramilitary.

But this is exactly what happened when I ventured out for a walk while on Biak. Heading down side street to go and view the fish market I get hailed by "Roy". My initial response from this on the street meeting was to chat back.

Being in Indonesia, the language issue had been quite tiresome, so having a chat with someone with good English felt like a good way to find out a bit more about the place I was currently in - even if I did have to side-step the initial "want to go scuba-diving" question.

A few minutes into the conversation and the topic turns political. I ask him what he thinks about the Free Papua Movement and my surprised response is that he is well and truly amongst it. He then goes on to elucidate an event that I did not know had happened and certainly wasn't written about in the two guidebooks I had photocopied and brought along. The event was the "Bloody Biak" massacre.

Little tells the story well on her blog, but the general gist of it was in July 1998 a group of Papuan nationalists raised their Independence flag at the Biak city water tower and a few days later they were herded up and slaughtered by the Indonesian military (the TNI). All up, according to Roy, 300 people were killed.

Being floored with this little bit unexpected history about the island, which up until then I had thought a genial and overtly friendly place, made me ask the obvious questions to Roy. If he was a colonel, he would have been in the thick of things back then so were any of his friends killed? His response was a lackadaisical "sure some of my good friends were killed and I got shot myself, but survived", with this he points to his shoulder.

I had read bits about the OPM in the guidebooks I had photocopied. But the overall history of the on the ground conflict was a tad slim - especially now looking back in hindsight with it completely missing out on a massacre (although to be fair the Indonesian media certainly wouldn't have reported it and there would have been no other media in the area).

Based on what I read then and since, the OPM started action by force soon after the Dutch moved out of West Papua in '69 and the Indonesians moved in. Numerous skirmishes have occurred through the years between the TNI and the separatists, but of course without backing from anyone the Indonesians have always overwhelmed the nationalists.

The Indonesians have coupled their military muscle with the more silent transmigrasi program. Simply put, give incentives for residents of crowded Java and other areas to move across and establish themselves in Papua. They even went as far as building completely new towns in the jungle - clear felling a kilometre square patch, building houses and schools from the timber and giving the keys to grateful Jakarta slum dwellers. This program has been so successful now that it is virtually impossible for the OPM to claim a sovereign Papua state, due to half the population being non-Papuan.

This may not discourage them though. The last thing Roy told me was action was being planned for Biak, Jayapura and other areas in the next couple of months. It seems modern technology is helping coordination efforts. Roy pulled out his mobile phone and showed me a text message he had recently received detailing new plans (unfortunately I cannot read Indonesian so I can only take his word on this). Where these plans are coming from is another question - a General? But I am sure the TNI would like to know.

Shaking hands and walking away at this point felt like a good thing to do at the time. I thought it was probably wise not to delve too deep on the subject, less I find out too much. Now though looking back I wish I had tried to unearth more, there are more stories to be told here I am sure. Ones that need a wider audience - any audience.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

By The Sea ...

Three lives, three activities, same sea. Scaling, Canoe, Stingray.

Fish monger Canoe carver Boy and Stingray

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Baton Passes

The 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games relay baton went through the campus yesterday morning. Of course I didn't see it. In fact in a great piece of public relations no one bothered to inform us that it was going to be happening here. A route map was in the newspaper two days before and that was it.

So when I was brushing my teeth ready to head to the office and the helicopter starting buzzing the place outside, I of course had no idea what was going on. So it seemed did the rest of the place. Quite a few disgruntled emails have flowed around the academic staff because of this.

People were being told stories left right and centre by others who also had no idea what was going on. A common theme was that it was Princess Anne, on her way back to the airport and the chopper was for terrorist surveillance. Anne did come to PNG, but last week and only for 36 hours in Port Moresby.

I am not that disappointed about missing seeing the thing - although I did try to catch up to the procession to get a photo for the blog, but the trouble with a relay is that they run - but I am disappointed for the rest of the campus who missed out. I am sure with the right amount of PR and information distribution to the campus population, there would have been a huge turn out to line the streets. Like one of the academic staff said, we always seem to know about the next gospel crusade that is coming through, but not about the Commonwealth Games Relay baton.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Postie-Bike Diary

Kota Biak, Indonesia
Saturday 1st of October 2005


Getting a motorbike sounded like a good idea. Public transport was attempted the day before and although it seems to be quite efficient on the routes it went, it didn't go everywhere. Besides getting off at a particular place to see something and then getting another ride to go further would be a nightmare. And in the end it is certainly not the same as having your own wheels.

For the negotiation in getting one it was by chance a local cool dude - I know this because he came and released a sea turtle, which he bought at the market, that morning outside my room - and tourist friend was met next to the Ojeks (motorbike taxis) stand. We told him what we wanted to do - hire a bike for the day - and he helped us work out the price.

Two minutes later, and the upfront payment of 50,000 Rupiah (5 US dollars) made, me and my brave travel partner mounted "Jazz" the Honda Motorbike and wobbled off. Brave, because the last time I rode a motorbike, it was around the family farm whereupon I hit a rock in the overgrown paddock and got thrown. I was certain the confidence should have returned in the intervening years. None of this was of course mentioned.


A few drops of rain stung my face and this gradually turned into many and shelter was needed before the deluge would soak us. A little kiosk roof proved ideal while we waited, and it gave me the opportunity to stock up on those cheap style Chuppa-Chups - never leave home without them.

The ride to this point involved a few laps of deserted street blocks to reconnect the hardwired bike riding skills stored in deep freeze memory to the limbs which would control the thing. Once out on open road and away from traffic it was a breeze and a very pleasant one at that. Queue Born to be Wild.


We got away from the kiosk eventually. A wet bum was had for a while, until the wind dried us out. We cruised on through a few villages, wishing I had some mean looking sunglasses to go with the Born to be Wild fantasy. After a while of small narrow remarkably well surfaced roads, we hit upon a huge double lane road in the middle of nowhere. This led into an equally impressive roundabout with monster Asmat style carving stuck in the middle. From there it just got weirder.

One of the branching roads passes underneath a giant Asian style entranceway with Selamat Datung and Welcome in solid wording above. The roadside is devoid of houses and is just covered in the usual lush tropical growth, yet there are street signs naming the streets. There is only one direction I want to take so we head through the grand entrance and away up a hill.

More street signs are passed until a grand gateway is abruptly reached. Hotel Biak Beach announces itself on the impressive sign next to abandoned security huts. Felled light towers block the gateway, so the bike is parked, the key taken from the ignition and we dismount to investigate.

The eerie factor notches up many degrees as we walk silently up to the monstrous buildings. Our own silence matches the buildings which although look grand from afar are ruined and decaying up close. This was once an impressive resort that had suddenly and disastrously collapsed upon itself somehow.

The once opulent entrance to the foyer is now covered in slime. Tiles of worth ripped from the floor and pools of stagnant water lay in their place. Grand columns covered with stylised designs now connect to a roof shedding its tiles, letting light and rain stream in. Bars and lounges are empty and decaying. Grand staircases lead down to water filled pits. Impressive fountains that have not worked for years show their brass tarnished spouts. Above all a haunting silence fills the place.

Spooky was an understatement and I didn't want to venture too far lest Jazz would somehow disappear. Anything was a possibility in this haunted hotel and it was starting to become too creepy. A man with a wheelbarrow silently wheeled it across the entranceway, no doubt from the latest round of looting. We followed after him to the little motorbike and went on our way.

Down the hill we went and it was not until here, viewing the structure from this angle, did we truly realised the scale of the place. There must have been over 400 rooms to the resort and now it stood vacant, empty and ominous like a painted Mayan temple.



A storm brewed again so we attempted to outrun it by heading west. This worked and we passed through Biak city again before deciding that we should journey off to another corner of this magnificent island. The guidebook mentioned a place where a river met the ocean and a waterfall nearby. Consulting out small map and stopping at a kiosk for refreshment and directions I was confident that we could make it there.


An hour of riding and we realised that we must have missed a turn off. Not only were we not near the coast like we should have been but we were nearly out fuel. Breaking down would have been diaster central. The phrase book was consulted and we stopped to find out where we were and where to get fuel at the house of a surprised family.

It turns out that instead of heading west, we were in fact heading north. Luckily there was a minor township ahead where we could get some fuel and as luck would have it a beach that we remembered being told about by our hotel manager. All may not be so disastrous.

At a road side kiosk, fuel was purchased in clear glass bottles. Helpful children did the honours of topping up the tank once it was worked out how to access it. An elderly man was keen to help and gave us some green coconuts to drink. Even though they seemed to be gifts for us as it was incredibly hot during the noon equatorial sun, we gave him a couple of thousand rupiah anyway.

From there we headed off towards the mentioned beach. A swim would be ideal as the sun was starting to take its toll. Passer-by's continually waved and we stopped to ask a few of them on the whereabouts of the beach. They keep telling us to go on and on, seemingly forever.

Finally we struck pay dirt. The beach was more perfect than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams. A golden arc of sand stretching with turquoise water lapping against it. Green lush vegetation and trees framed it on either headland, created a small perfectly bell shaped harbour.

Our bike was dismounted and we almost raced to see the view. The beach was deserted apart from a few figures sitting and talking underneath some trees. We had the entire salt water to ourselves and it was not long before we were plunging in. Reef, stone, rock, slime and weed free, it was best beach I had come across in my time in the tropics. Its only lacking was of waves of decent size. Paddling and swimming around would have to suffice.


Heading south along the same route that we had came along, we raced to return to Biak city at the arranged time of 3pm. We had not wanted to leave the beach but eventually we had to. Before we could escape we were met by a local man with his Foreign Tourist Guest Book. We signed our names, next to the mainly Dutch who get this far - certainly no Australians - made a "donation" and left.

The journey back seemed to take longer than the one north. We were starting to cut it close to getting Jazz back in time. On the outskirts of the city we didn?t even stop when the rain pelted down. So when we pulled up to the Ojek stand and dismounted we were saturated. Our little friendly bike owner raced over to meet us and we thanked him. His day had no doubt would have been a hard one spent gossiping and playing chess with his fellow Ojek riders. He would be keen to have us back tomorrow.

* photo by little

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Travelling with the Astute Traveller

These events are purely fictional ... I assure you.

  • Try to catch a bus back to town on same route taken to get to current location. Stand on the side of the road you think heads back to town. Get picked up by bus. Give destination as Jayapura. Get nod and "Jayapura, Jayapura, ya" from driver. Gaze out the window trying to remember seeing these scenes on incoming journey. Struggle to remember. Bus gets to certain point, turns around and heads back. Driver smiles and says "Jayapura, Jayapura, ya".

  • Have a beer at a café. Watch the sunset. Get a tray delivered with tea pots and deep fried banana fritters. Waitress says something in Bahasa Indonesian. Look at the tray and tea for a while. Enjoy beer. Look back at tray. Assume the waitress has delivered the wrong thing. Take back tray. Get told that it is a traditional gift in Indonesia. Bring back to table and enjoy banana fritters.

  • Go to a Warung (small street restaurant). Look at wall mounted menu. Decide on middle priced dish. Decipher that it is rice with something. Order one using newly learnt Bahasa numbers. Woman runs out to the kitchen without asking what travel partner wants. Woman comes back and asks question and makes cupping motion with hands. By powers of deduction assume this means "do I want a bowl". Answer back "ya". Woman runs off again. Comes back with plastic bag full of food for takeaway. Assume "of course this is what I wanted look". Pay and leave. Eat discovered rice and chicken at hotel.

  • Stand around watching the sunset at café. Get delivered two beers by helpful waiter. Hear a statement in Indonesian from the waiter. Assume he is introducing himself. Issue hand to be shaken and say "my name is ...". Get puzzled look and hand shake back. Waiter leaves and returns with table and chairs.

  • Go to a Warung. Order a Nasi Goreng. Finish it and go to pay. Ask how much to woman owner. Get rapid indecipherable reply is Bahasa. Look at notes in wallet. Have small notes up to 18,000 rupiah. Hope it is around this much. Hand over 10,000. Woman hands stays. Hand over 5,000. Hand stays. Hand over 1,000. Hand still there. Repeat with two more one thousands. Hand hovers still. Give her a 50,000. Get small notes shoved back and 30,000 rupiah change from cash draw. Walk away trying to look cool.

  • Go to Papua New Guinean beachside village. Feel confident on how it works. Decide to go and look at the nearby beach. Wander down with big camera on shoulder. Gaze out and then left and right. See women sitting on beach. They see me. They hastily stand pullling up their shorts or skirts and scuttle into the undergrowth. Quietly slip away. Discover later beach is women's only.

  • Sit in airport terminal. Start conversation with nearby man. See that he has unusual circular patterns on the back of his neck. Assume they are some sort of tribal or traditional scarring or tattooing. Ask what they mean. Get reply and shown circular scabs on arms that did not notice before. Discover it is some sort of skin disease. Try to find another place to sit.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Operation Cross Border Foray: Complete

Back home after the best two week holiday I have ever had. Came back with hundreds of photos and thousands of memories. The latter I will try to transform into some words later and post up on the blog, but the former I will indulge, as is my usual habit after being away awhile, and share a select few.

So here you go.

Saw a sight not seen for a while. Those Twister things are too skinny.

These big-arse fish were pulled up at the fish market just as I was aimlessly wandering around it (again).

Got to visit perfect beaches where no foreigners go - or not many at least, and I saw the foriegn tourist guest book ... slim indeed.

Made creative use of a bathroom washing scoop and ice to chill the important amber fluid.

Back over the border proved to be easy. PNG immigration seemed non-plussed though to see us again. Mr Customs/Immigration asked me what was in my backpack - really tempted to say drugs, guns and porn, but left it at clothes and sleeping bag. [Selamat Jalan = Goodbye].

Discovered what happens to a pawpaw when you leave it on a kitchen bench in the tropics for two weeks. Mask needed for removal.

And finally at the end of it all discover that I am going to be an uncle for the first time in the new year. Yay .. very cool.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Feet Are Still Up

Feet are up, watching the sunset, beer in hand. The usual way to end the day. Life's too tough here.

Don't wanna leave. Stretching it out further and further. Having way too much fun. Plenty of tales to regale later.

Was supposed to fly out of Biak today. Instead cancelled and am now on a waiting list for tomorrow's flight. Would have left on Wednesday, but alas no flight. Could still leave on Thursday, but it is cutting it fine to make our PNG flight on Friday. Shall see how we go.

Just discovered about Bali on Saturday night. Life is completely normal here, and insanely friendly. "Hello Mister" is the catch-cry.