In the driver’s seat: Paul Dennett

The first set of wheels that I acquired in PNG, soon after I arrived in my first posting, was a bright red Honda 55 trail bike with an upswept exhaust. I think it cost me about £125 landed in Aitape. I remember sitting on it for the first time, throttling it into action, and appreciating the feel of the wind of my face as I tootled round the waterfront. I didn’t bother about registering it for quite a while, and a helmet—why wear one of those? A couple of times when the District Police Chief visited Aitape I was warned by the ADO to lie low so that there was no possibility of an embarrassing incident while he was in town. My little red Honda never missed a beat for the three years I had it. Later I graduated to Honda 90s, a BSA 125cc bike, and then Toyota station wagons.

In the seventies, I was driving down the road beside the Minj golf course late one afternoon returning to my house, which was the last in a line of dwellings that stretched from the Hotel down to the High School. Also going in the same direction was a drunk lurching his way down the middle of the road from the Minj Hotel. While still some distance from him, I gave him a brief toot to warn him of my approach. He obviously resented this and possibly construed my toot an example of a white asserting his superiority. In fury, he swung round to see who had had the temerity to sound the horn at him! He came towards the car full of abuse and anger, but I easily dodged round him for he was quite drunk and the road very wide.  I thought it best to drive into my next-door neighbour’s, Sub-Inspector Jim Papa, the OIC of Minj Police. I told him of my encounter there and then, rather than to show the drunk, who was not far off, the location of my house so that he could pelt it with rocks from the road as he went past now or later on. Jim, a Western Highlander from the Melpa, was home and listened to my complaint with interest. His startlingly coloured eyes—a rich topaz—gleamed as I recounted the events. Eager for the confrontation, he grabbed his keys and drove off to get back up. Twenty minutes later Jim clunked up my stairs to report to me on what action he had taken. He and his off-sider had flung the drunk into the back of the Toyota police vehicle and taken him out to the highway. There they had dumped him roughly onto its hard koronas (compressed crushed coral) surface. With great satisfaction, Jim described the bloodied state of the inebriate’s knees and one elbow as he stood up, only to be told by The Law that he was from then on banned from the township! I mildly protested at the treatment meted out but Jim assured me that anything less would have had no effect at all.

One day we were returning from Mount Hagen along the busy highway after a shopping trip. I was driving and in the station wagon was a full complement of passengers. With no warning, a line of piglets shot out from a roadside hamlet. Before I could stop, they were already rumbling under the car. Because of the considerable build up all along the highway of river gravel by the side of the road, any sharp braking was always a dangerous strategy. In my rear vision mirror, I could see people running out onto the road drawn by the doubtless loud squealing from the animals. I stopped the car. One piglet lay lifeless and a couple were kicking about, injured, unable to move off. A few locals were looking fiercely in my direction. Despite this, I intended to go and speak to the owners of the animals. What did I hope to achieve by this contact? I have no idea, as my reactions were instinctive. Was I prepared to hand over compensation? Goi, our asthmatic little Simbai hausboi, who had accompanied us, realised my intentions, and writhed in horror urging me repeatedly in an importunate whimper to drive on. He was scared of the possible consequences of any attempt to face the owner of the piglets. His real apprehension made me very uneasy so I got quickly back into the car and drove on. On my arrival at Minj, I reported the incident to Jim Papa who assured me that I was not at fault.

My experience made me take particular care on this stretch of road.


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