A Rough Landing

A Rough Landing

Picking tea Garaina Tea Plantation (Kathleen Vellacott-Jones)

Ken Woodward

After three years in Fiji, I got a job as Senior Agricultural Economist with the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries (DASF). So, at the start of 1971, with my wife Sue and two ankle biters aged four and two, we headed to Port Moresby. We landed at the normal arrival time in the middle of the day. It was hot but we had been acclimatised in Suva. There were big crowds everywhere and all buildings had often ugly security screens which correctly suggested more of a crime problem than in Suva. We were met by one of my new colleagues, George Yeats.

George broke the bad news that there was no motel or hotel accommodation available and that we had to move straight into our new house. This was in Tokarara on a relatively new street on the side of a hill.

I had negotiated for a three-bedroom house, but this was an AR20 with only two. So that was another bit of bad news. Not only that, but there was no access from the street to the house, only a vertical bank about a metre high which was a challenge for all and pretty well impossible for the kids. But there was more! Don’t send any money! The furniture was all inside but still in flat packs a la Ikea. And the power was not connected.

Without the help of George I may have gone mad or committed murder. We decided a car was absolutely necessary and I had a contact at Boroko Motors, courtesy of an old university mate, Bob Kearney, who was working for the Fisheries Department in Moresby. So, we left Sue and the kids in the house assembling furniture while George and I went to Boroko Motors to buy a car. I got a white Datsun 1200, brand new, and was mobile.

Then George took me to Elcom where we were able to get the power turned on after which I returned to the house to help with the furniture. We had been given the standard ‘emergency kit’, supposedly containing enough household goods to keep one going until one’s own chattels arrived. Ours contained eleven towels but no sheets. Pots and pans, etc. were more adequately supplied but sleeping on and covered by towels is not luxury.

That was not the end of it though. The AR20 was a small house with only one external door and the lock was such that one needed a key to gain admission from the outside. We were all, except Kylie, working on something outside when a gust of wind slammed the door shut. And the key was inside. Kylie was our only hope of getting in and she had just turned two. She remained calm but could not reach the inside door handle. We talked her into getting one of the newly assembled chairs and putting it against the door so that she could stand on it and open it which, to her great credit, she did. This had all taken a fair bit of time and nervous energy.

By this time it was getting dark so we decided to look for somewhere to get a feed. We drove off in the new car, but I discovered I did not know how to switch the lights on in this newfangled machine. Of course, I hadn’t considered looking at the manual. We picked up a hitch-hiking couple and the bloke showed me the light switch and we were able to get a Chinese meal in Boroko. But it had been a hard day and we were pleased to settle down for the night in our towels.

I did a bit of jumping up and down next day and things soon looked up. We were allocated a bigger AR23 house at Waigani, which was more accessible and my hitherto unknown workmates turned out to be great colleagues. It had been a rough start but, fortunately, the rest of our seven years in PNG went much more smoothly.


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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