Mount Giluwe by Graham Hardy
A recent ABC TV news item regarding a move to develop Mt. Giluwe as a tourist destination caught my attention; it stirred up memories of my own experience in the early 1960s as a patrol officer at Tambul in the then Western Highlands of PNG.
Tambul lay at 7, 250 feet on the valley floor at the foot of that mountain which is a magnificent spectacle from any angle. The old boundary between the two territories of Papua and New Guinea showed on maps as just an unmarked straight line between the patrol post and the mountain itself which are only a couple of miles apart. An entomologist named Lynn Gressett visited us at Tambul to climb the mountain for scientific reasons, so I took the opportunity to accompany him. Lynn was from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and had been working from the museum’s field station at Wau in the Morobe District.
Access to the mountain from Tambul was simple and it was an easy climb from the northern foot of the mountain through the forest, past the tree line at approximately nine to ten thousand feet and into the tundra grassland above. There were traditional tracks across the mountain at various places but it was possible to wander about almost anywhere in the grassland on the northern (Tambul) end of the mountain as far as the three dominant spires which were the crest and which stood just over 13,000 feet. The western side of the mountain was much rougher than the northern and eastern faces and the rugged terrain was spectacular.
I recall a valley descending from near the crest down the western side and its sides were of a smooth shape which Lynn said would indicate it was an ancient glacier. From time to time from various places in the surrounding Western Highlands temporary snow drifts could be seen but these only lasted for a day or so after a snow fall. There was no sign of snow during Lynn’s and my visit.
We spent five days there and made a camp at about 12,000 feet. Lynn had recently visited one of the Australian islands in the Antarctic Ocean and said that the flora and fauna on the Giluwe tundra was similar to the Antarctic tundra. I became involved in copying Lynn’ s examining of the myriad of tiny creatures and plants and I became fascinated by the amount of life that existed and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The weather was good except for a thunder storm one afternoon that dropped heaps of hail which still lay about next day. Lynn was keen to climb the highest of the three spires, so we set off to do so. I had a headache for the whole time since we had made camp, and when we got to the foot of the spires I became slightly dizzy and ended up lying on the grass and hanging on to grass tufts as I imagined I would slide down the slope. Lynn however carried on with one of our locals and he made it to the top of the highest point. There was a cloud settled on the crest and all I got was a photo of a faint figure in the mist. We walked off the mountain on a track on the eastern side leading to the Tambul/Ialibu road, which was also an easy walk.
I did not see or hear of Lynn again before I left PNG for good in 1975. Many years later I happened to be in the Brisbane Museum and struck up a conversation with an entomologist who worked there. It came out that he had worked with Lynn at Wau. He asked me if I knew Lynn had died.
He then told me the story. Lynn’s parents were missionaries in China before the Second World War where Lynn was born and grew up. They left China when the Communists took control. About forty years after they left China, Lynn received an invitation from the Chinese government to visit the place where the family had lived. Lynn and his wife were very excited at the prospect of seeing his old home. As their aircraft was on approach to land it crashed and every body was killed. Although I had only met Lynn once, it was quite a shock and I treasure the experience I had with someone who was a fine person and an interesting scientist in an area I had not previously encountered.
Graham Hardy (January 2018)