November 19, 2007 at 10:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

My friends said, “don’t go back, you’ll be so disappointed. This view seemed to be reinforced by reading Professor Patience’s article: “The other disaster on our doorstep,” in which he writes of Papua New Guinea as a “vast administrative and political mess”.My desire to return to the Sepik, however, remained strong. This was an area I had worked in in the sixties and early seventies. I have many friends still living there.The few words I write are based on first impressions and appearances, but perhaps provide something of an authentic insight by one who saw stark contrasts between the colonial East Sepik district and the present East Sepik province. But what had not changed was perhaps something most fundamental.This was the fine quality of the Sepik people. They were still essentially the same friendly, hospitable, accepting and genuine people I knew of old.Wewak is still a vibrant township, but with obvious signs of degeneration and decay that somewhat mar first impressions: pot holes on  roads, litter and inappropriate dumping of rubbish. Existing buildings and structures appear to be in general poorly maintained. The Wewak hospital looks rundown and, I remarked to someone that maintenance in the last thirty years or so seems to have been at a minimum. The local people told me about the inadequate medical supplies in stock at the hospital, and the time taken to get a diagnosis. From what I could see, there has been a general breakdown of government health services. Aid posts no longer exist in the villages.

The anti-malaria campaign of the past has been stopped. The one rural hospital that I observed in Angoram is a little more than a clinic with no in-patients. This is at a time when there is an emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic.In Wewak, the stores in town seem to employ as many security guards as assistants.The fate of Angoram, a past vigorous and lively town on the Sepik River, makes me so sad for the people still living there.

Shortly before I visited Angoram, I met Sir Michael Somare, the Prime Minister, at a yacht club function in Wewak. Somare was known to me in my younger days. We are both seventy years old and my first impressions of him were that he was a shadow of his former self, but then again, he may have been only somewhat tired and if he remembered me, he may have thought that I was also a shadow of my former self.

Anyhow, I told him that I intended to visit Angoram and he informed me that it was just the same. It was perhaps just the same as it was in the previous week, but it is certainly not the same town I remembered in the old days.

Angoram no longer has a functioning airstrip, wharf, or power plant. In fact, there has been no power for four years. Buildings are in an appalling state of repair, and in many cases no longer exist. The people are disillusioned and distrustful of their politicians.

The feeling I got was that if a referendum was held posing the question of whether the country should be returned to Australian rule, 90 percent of the Sepik people would vote yes.

I did also visit Maprik and Dreikikir and I was much more impressed with what seems to be happening in terms of road building and erection of permanent structures in these towns and surrounding villages. Maprik is a bustling little township and a lot of dynamism I observed in the area is said to have sprung from an energetic local member, Gabriel Kapris, who was elected in 2002.

I left the East Sepik Province with a lot of troubling questions unanswered. Why was a Malaysian logging company allowed to start operations in such a sensitive ecological forest in the area behind Kaup and the Murik Lakes? Why are priceless teak trees being sold to a Thai logging company for as little as K100 each in the villages around Yangoru?

The Sepik people deserve more than they have been given by their government and particularly my friends who are still living in Angoram.

David Wall
Newtown, NSW

“Islands Business” September 06


1 Comment

  1. Keltenulsesog said,

    Make love, not war!

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