Tabibuga–My experience: Roy Kirkby

The Jimi Primary T School at Tabibuga in 1963. About half the students were boarders from up and down the valley and from 8 different language groups.

Great to have those stories of experiences in the Jimi Valley in previous editions of Una Voce. I was originally a 3rd E course teacher and after expanding the school at Kompiam I was posted to Tabibuga to run the Primary T school there in 1963. The kiap at the time spent every day he could on patrol so I had the addition of running the station when he was away which meant daily radio contact and some station duties but mainly it ran itself with Corporal Poti in charge. I had a great year or so there building up the school and enjoying those lovely evenings looking down the valley from my veranda while listening on
my battery powered record player my only two LP records: the Bruch and Beethoven violin concertos played by Isac Stern. Let me relate a couple of my experiences of Tabibuga and the road.

Those were the days when you could regularly see Birds of Paradise and one of my student’s father took me one day only a few hundred metres from the school to where a male bird of paradise had its courting tree. Custom was that when the bird eventually found a mate and mated then the person on whose land it was had the right to kill the bird and take its feathers. This may take some years to eventuate.

Since I had the only European dwelling–the little aluminium teacher’s house (since the kiap’s house was incomplete)–any Europeans coming in would stay with me. This included the two missionaries in the Upper Jimi Valley. One day I had a radio message from the DC Tom Ellis in Mount Hagen asking me to accommodate two photographers from the Frankfurt Museum for a couple of days to take photos of Birds of Paradise with the help of a local man who would accompany them. They duly arrived in a private charter with equipment covered in long bags. They were not very communicative but polite. The next day they went out and came back and again said as little as possible. The next day they were gone at dawn. I went down to my classroom and about mid-morning I heard a number of gun shots which was unusual because there were no guns I knew of in the Jimi except those of the kiap who was out on patrol down the valley and station police.

A little while later I saw the two Germans with the local man running past the school with their equipment (high powered rifles with telescopic sights) exposed and something in their bags down to the airstrip where a plane was coming in. They got on it and left. At about the same time there was a lot of noise and shouting and a deputation of local men arrived at my classroom very upset and brandishing weapons. I got a translation and it appeared the two Germans had shot and taken a number of Birds of Paradise and left. Soon other groups arrived in a similar mood. I got on the radio but it took more than an hour to eventually get through to Tom Ellis in person, which I had demanded. He said he would be coming across the next morning and I was to send a message out to the kiap to be at the airstrip when he arrived. Meanwhile there were more than a hundred men almost covering the parade ground outside the Patrol Post office. I explained to them that The DC himself would be out the next morning. However they were not happy and for the rest of the afternoon and evening I heard groups arguing about the issue. That night I did not sleep very well. But the next morning I was still alive and about 9 am Tom
Ellis arrived and I met him half way down to the airstrip with the ADO and a couple of police. He shook hands (unusual for Tom to initiate this after all he was known as “God” in the WHD) and greeted me with “We didn’t catch the bastards. They had a plane direct to Moresby and out of the country.”

Tom asked me when I had last been into town. I said it had been some months. He told me to take his plane and go into Hagen for a couple of days but send the plane straight back for him. The result was some government compensation and
Tom Ellis claiming compensation from the Museum and banning various people from the District without his permission: he could do that in his day. And I had a couple of days going from the Pub to the Club!

I later moved to Mount Hagen where I met my wife Nonie. We decided to make our honeymoon, in 1965, a walk from Tabibuga over the range to Banz in the Wahgi. It was a most interesting walk. We would be going through thick bush when suddenly we would come upon a beautiful unsealed perfectly smooth road with a continuous border of colourful plants growing on either side. Then after about a hundred metres it would cease and we would be going through bush on a single person width track. This was of course the early days of the Tabibuga Road. It was the result of a local group of clans doing their bit of road and with others yet to start. We camped the night on top of the range at 8000ft in a little hut and almost froze to death but saved ourselves by using one sleeping bag! On the descent down into Banz there were no stretches of road and for Nonie there was a lot of sliding on her backside it was so steep. But it was an experience not to be forgotten even if it wasn’t the usual kind of honeymoon.

The Patrol Post at Tabibuga in 1963 looking down the Jimi Valley with the Bismarck Range ahead.

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