Papua New Guinea
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Port Moresby yesterday and today

The name said it all. It was the one place to be, an important destination far away; lost in the imaginings.

To go to Port Moresby was an accomplishment because it was the big town. But when you look at the city today, it is hard to imagine that the presence of a big village nearby supported the settlement by white settlers.

The city has grown around Hanuabada and, well; its pioneering role almost pushed aside.

The Hiri trade of the bygone days played a huge role in building Port Moresby. Gabi, the village beside Hanuabada and Elevala peninsula was started during the Hiri trade when the Motuans allowed their trading partners from the Gulf of Papua to settle. Kaugere was called Rabia Camp, that is sago camp. There is not a single sago palm in the city that is visible. But the sago is connected to the Hiri Trade.

Then you have Kila horse camp. When you turn off from Sabama to go to Pari, at the junction to the right used to be the quarantine station and that is where horses were kept. So, what do horses have to do with sago, one might ask? Well, the influence of the Hiri trade reached the horses! The Gulf people’s integration into the Motu-Koita society is significant; they have successfully become part of Motu-Koita.

There was a huge squatter settlement at Badili along Scratchley Road. The settlers were the first wave of people to start the urban drift in search of work and attracted by the bright lights. Most of them worked as domestic servants for the white population. The squatter settlement of Badili was for a long time, the unwanted image of Port Moresby until it was changed in the ‘90s.

The Hubert Murray Highway was the only major thoroughfare and the eyesore was unavoidable. It made one feel embarrassed to see such acute poverty in the middle of town, the squalid conditions and nearly all law and order problems were said to come from rascals living in squatter settlements.

The term rascal is almost native to Port Moresby. It was not heard in Australia and the Pacific Islands. It described a thief, burglar, pick-pocketer, bag-snatcher, car thief and anyone who was unwanted. The rascal was therefore the society’s reject and squatter settlements were frowned upon to the point of being hated because of that.

Before the advent of organised transport in Port Moresby with the Port Moresby Bus Service, there was a fleet of something that resembled Jeepney called Buang Taxi. Buang of course is in Morobe but they made a name in the big town. Many Buang people were employed as domestic servants by the white people because they were to be trusted and the Buang Taxi image helped immensely with that. The Port Moresby Bus Service, located at what is now Hanuabada Market was discontinued under the government’s localisation policy.

What were called Taverns are long gone. There was one at Badili, opposite the current day police station and at Konedobu, the site now occupied by Weigh-in Hotel. They were places where you could sit out in the open and have a few beers while live bands played. Beer in the brown bottle was the favourite.

But you could also feed yourself with fish and chips. The fish and chips of those days were not only affordable but the size of it was astounding compared to today’s piecemeal affair. The chips were chunky and the battered fish big and long. They sprinkled salt, wrapped it in bulky paper and gave it to you from the steamy corner where the attendant dipped the fish and chips into the sizzling oil with a strainer while the 10 guitars played a song for you.


Songs like Aku Pokina by Delepo, Speedy Bogo – the teenage lover – by The Copycats, were very popular in those days and the sound of electric guitar coming out of big speakers added their own momentum to the winds of change blowing over Port Moresby. The men wore shorts and stockings. They liked to carry briefcase if they could afford one. Inside was their work and anything else, kept out of sight; only the owner knew the dark secret. One such thing was a fishing line and the truth was that this only happened in the village.

On weekends, you could only wear shorts and walk bare-chested into any shop. That was real fun. No one took a second look because it was the norm. Friday was the dance night and popular with men and women who lived in government hostels and government institutions. And on Sundays, it was Listener’s Choice when you could ring the only radio station and request a song. Beautiful Sunday by Daniel Boone was popular as well as Pacific tunes like Flower from an old Bouquet by Daphne Walker and Waiting on the Beach by Pepe and the Rarotongans. Love blossomed in those days and in dusty old Port Moresby, it was all in your imaginings to deal with the pangs of loneliness.

Hanuabada was the birthplace of rugby league. Some players became popular like Arebo Taumaku. But in the days before the ‘and’ was dropped in the country’s name, rugby league was played in cowboy style when New Guinea challenged Papua. There was an incident in the early ‘70s when a match at Loyd Robson Oval went wrong when New Guinea was defeated. There were ugly scenes in the streets and shops while bashings occurred inside public transport.

Cowboy in the true sense of the word was someone on horseback who rounded up cattle or drove the beasts to greener pastures. But they also played the acoustic guitar and sang in camp fires. And because of their daredevil antics, the word rascal emerged like a substitute for cowboy. Any misbehaviour was loosely referred to as being akin to rascal or cowboy.

Papua New Guineans were born with wings so to speak. The country was not connected by road or ferries so flying became the only choice. Girua, the shortest trunk route was $30 return. There was an observation deck so you could watch your loved one take off to the skies.

The introduction of refreshment during flights was slowly discontinued. But not before an incident I recall with fondness. On the way to Lae, I was given a paradise biscuit with a cup of coffee. I could not open the biscuit and took it all the way to the hotel where I found a knife to do the job. I didn’t want to use my teeth; not that I didn’t have teeth that were not strong but I thought I would look like a savage if I did that.

Let’s end by revisiting the squatter settlements. They became formal settlements somewhat when gainfully employed people had to fend for themselves in the absence of formal government housing. And the government-provided houses and flats have not been repaired and are totally run down, reminiscent of the early days.

The irony is that the eviction that started at Scratchley Road Badili is now affecting the formal settlements because of private interests. Where the evicted will end up is anyone’s guess. Weird still is that the settlements were driving urbanisation with the government not having a plan of its own and we still blame the rascal problem on settlements. Its like the city itself; it begins nowhere and ends nowhere.