The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

So! This is PNG?

It's Sandi's birthday today. Jesse made her a Sticky Date Pudding for her birthday cake. We had it for lunch: it was delicious! The boys seem insistent that they were going to buy her something else (small) for her birthday, me too I think: it's ridiculous – they only get K2.00 a fortnight pocket money! I bought her a cup with a nice fine edge from which she likes to drink tea. I also wrote her a song (I wish I could sing though).

Is time different in PNG compared to Australia? Time, as a concept, is very different. Most people do not own watches, and don't have clocks in their houses or villages. I'm not sure about words for time in their own tokples. In Pidgin, you greet people with " monin ", " apinun " and " gudnait "; although many people are not sure when one should change from monin to apinun. Gudnait is easy: it's when it's tudak. When people run late, the one who's waiting will often comment with raised eyebrows, "It's PNG time!"; but PNG time can be early too. When there was an official opening for the local Health Sub-Centre (officially: Sub-Health Centre), the start ran one and a half-hours late and finished half an hour early (see PNG Taim )! When some brave person commented to a priest that he was late for Mass, he said, "I'm not late at all: Mass starts when I arrive!" PNG time can be blamed for lots of personal disorganisation, but travelling anywhere in this country – from across the road to all the way to Mt. Hagen or the coast – can produce delays that can not be avoided: people that just have to stop and shake your hand, road blocks and traffic jams, sometimes even getting lost or just standing in a long queue (everyone stands in a queue here: one person just has to stand behind another, and very soon a third will join them, and so on). One has to learn to be flexible, to fit in to the environment that you find yourself in. Of course we are in the same time zone: Australian EST.

The Adoorable Cat
We have a cat In Pidgin, it is known as a puskat, or just pusi. I literally stumbled upon him one day in the tools shed. His mother, the college cat decided to have her liner there. This pikanini puskat must have fallen off the shelf and onto the floor, right next to the door. When I tried to enter by this very same door, I was astonished to see this kitten appearing, progressively, under the opening door! Once the realisation of exactly what was happening dawned upon me, just in time for this poor cat, I closed the door sufficiently to pull the cat away by pulling my arm around behind the door "Poor little puskat! So small and sweet!" The kitten then sealed it fate (if you believe in such an out-dated concept?), he nestled up under my chin, in my beard. So cute! He must have thought, "Mother! Where have you been? Oooh! You smell quite different. Will I learn to walk on two legs too?"

The boys had been asking if we could have one of the kittens, this seemed the ideal opportunity: the kitten was actually not trying to disembowel me at this point in time and seemed to have confused me with its mother! His siblings were unchanged: they hissed at me from their hiding place. The boys were delighted! The name was a problem though:

What to call the scrawny thing? There was very little consensus for many weeks around the dinner table, until, like lightning, the inspiration came: P.K. That is, Puskat. He is now known, far and wide, as PK.

Click to enlarge Of course, as all kittens are, he is a very funny animal. His initial beard snuggling continued to develop: he just loves standing on my chest and rubbing his face against my beard flat out while I scratch his back. He also loves to sit on your shoulders. He'll sit there for ages while you do almost anything: he's even been known to sit on my shoulders while I'm on the toilet. Actually, he is a regular visitor when I'm on the toilet: maybe he knows a captive audience when he sees one? When he was smaller, he used to wander in, and climb into my pants, which made a nice little receptacle around my ankles. He'd sit there, and look up at me with those big eyes! Lately, he's more likely to come in and jump up onto my knee.

He is quite a large kitten now: his hunting expertise extends mainly to cockroaches, grasshoppers and moths, but the other day, also included a mouse! As he has grown he has become more and more a lap cat: the effervescent kitten energy is being replaced with the well-known feline aloofness! He is still good fun to play with, which the boys often do.

Sandi is sure that he is a cat of very little brain - why was he the one that fell out of his nest, anyway? PK has an odd eating habit: he will remove the food from his bowl first before consuming it on the floor. This has made a real mess of the kitchen, because not only did he leave half eaten meals all over the floor, but the floor then became a living Jackson Pollack in black and tan as the marauding ants came in to clean up the mess. We moved the cat's dining area to the laundry. The problem is that he can never find his food! He'll meow his little head off while we tell him, in ever increasing volume, that his food (from the last 7 days too!) is in the laundry. Even when he was a little kitten, he would sit next to his bowl and meow at us for food. We had to push his nose into it before he would start drinking.

We had to have a serious talk with the boys the other day. Many mornings there would be little puddles around the toilet. "We all understand how difficult it is when you are half asleep, but we just wanted you to know what was happening, to get it into your subconscious." Sandi asked if I thought it would work? "It can't hurt." I replied, hoping against hope.

Then last night, just as we were going to sleep: "You punky cat!" Jesse, full of voice, voice full of anger, anger full of movement, marching the cat towards the front door!

Feebly, I asked, "What's all the noise about?"

"The cat has just done wees in my room!"

When I emerged from my room, I could plainly see the watery trail that lead from Jesse's room to the front door. It wasn't long before we put two and two together: those puddles around the toilet didn't have much splash associated with them, in fact, nothing to indicate that they'd descended from a height at all? We all naturally thought that the cat was successfully house trained: was this a relapse or a revelation?

Our Weekly Trip to Hagen
Click to go to the maps page We generally make one trip to Hagen a week (sometimes, this is one trip too many for our energy reserves). Tuesday is the day: I think it has become law. My predecessor's day was Tuesday. (I always thought I was a free radical looking for a home!). Our day starts at around 7:00am; the builders come about 7:30 and want their keys. The boys leave for their short walk to school about 7:45, although Nathanael tends to leave earlier as he is the key monitor and needs to open the classroom. Breakfast on Tuesday always seems to be the calm before the storm, something seem's to be brooding about to break as we lookout the window from our dining table.

Before we actually get into a car and drive off; there can be a myriad of tasks to complete: must check with the builders to make sure they are set up for the day, to see if they need anything ( John Nambis is likely to want a longish conversation about his letter he is giving me: a list of things to buy), students' mail needs collecting, grab some money for shopping at the markets, pick up the staff mail, grab cheque books and banking, get the staff food requirements from Francis (who should have given it to me the day before so that I could fax it off), check if we need communion wine or more hosts and be polite to every man and his dog who comes and gives you something to do for them in town. We often don't get out the gate until about 9am (once or twice it's been 10am, which really puts pressure on the rest of the day!)

The drive into Hagen generally takes 45 minutes, and is quite pleasant really. Our first stop for the day is a couple of minutes down the road on the Banz Highway in the Banz township, where we pick up the mail. The post office opens about 8am and closes about 4pm with an hour lunch between 12 and 1pm, although the hours are very flexible and can change on the proprietor's whims. The proprietor is a lovely lady, Irene, who really does an excellent job. Although she has an off-sider who is virtually illiterate, which must make life difficult working in a post office. The are no mall deliveries, everyone has a mall box, and I'm sure he just matches the alphanumerics on the envelope with that above the pigeonholes. Neither weigh large letters or small parcels, she'll pick the article up, eyeing it carefully - turning it over a number of times in her fingers. She'll rest it on her upturned palm, bouncing it gently: judging its weight. Then she may do the same with her other hand: testing the accuracy of her scaling. She will then pronounce, with just enough authority, that this article deserves such-a-such denomination stamp. Posting from Banz is always cheaper than in at Mt. Hagen: sometimes by half!

After collecting the mail, we may need to fill up on diesel. All our vehicles run on diesel, as do most vehicles on the road. Many belch thick black smoke from their exhausts, which is characteristic of a dirty air filter. Sometimes its like trying to follow James Bond when he's using a smoke screen. Click to enlarge Overtaking in these circumstances can be quite awkward: you are never sure of what is on the other side of the road coming your way until you exit the smoke screen by moving onto the other side of the road to overtake! Public Motor Vehicles ( PMVs ) are often the worst. PMVs are the public transportation system here, I think the government regulates them in some sort of fashion, but generally the standards are very low. Nearly every windshield is full of cracks and holes, and red betel nut glue to hold the thing together. I saw one car the other day whose windshield had been reduced to an opaque lining of broken glass around the edges and clear air in the middle. When we got the inspection done for registration, we asked the fellow how bad they could get. He said, "Just as long as it's not falling in! " I suppose once it has fallen in, it's not going to fall in any more, eh?

Click to enlarge The PMV drivers are also generally good: but obviously, the more trips they can take, the more money they make. Though this money does not look like getting spent on the vehicle, most PMV's are in fairly poor condition (and those that aren't, soon will be). This competition leads to excessive speeds (excessive at least for the actual vehicles poor state of maintenance), and radical driving. I came over a blind hill one day to see two identical PMV vans driving towards me, side by side, on both sides of the road. One was overtaking the other, and both were coming toward me at breakneck speed. All I could do was to brake heavily (not easy for a car which is full of people and supplies), swerve and hope that God and His angels were in control. I was really dumbfounded. They do have road markings, but they mean little. Praise God the three of us managed to pass one another safely: it really was a close call and underlined the need of our prayer before we leave each day.

The drive in is generally uneventful, apart from the stunning beauty we drive through and the people who constantly wave and smile. We would have thought they would have been used to white people, but they still stare. The 45 minutes passes quickly, sometimes too quickly. It's a great time for Sandi and I to relax, talk, discuss matters privately, hold hands&

"Look out! Watch the road!"

"Oh, goodness, I was so relaxed, I thought I was in our lounge room! I must have closed my eyes? It's been a long day, and it's only just begun!"

One day we saw a clump of bamboo come into contact with the power lines: the most amazing display of ice blue flames we have ever seen! The roadsides are flanked by heavy vegetation, slashed at times to increase visibility. Gardens everywhere: coffee and tea plantations, fields of pineapples, Kaukau and flowers growing where ever they can without being slashed and burnt.

Mt. Hagen is a small town, nice gardens, a couple of parks, a little dirty (soil mainly, although we did see a mother getting her toddler to go toilet in the street: not in the gutter, halfway across the road, and without toilet paper!). There is a public toilet (not recommended though) and lots of people: walking, looking, greeting one another and looking at us (do we really look so different? They don't look so different from what I think I look like. In fact, we often see someone who will have a remarkable resemblance to a friend in Australia! "Look there goes so-and-so!").

Our day is broken up into two parts. The first part, and, um, the second part. The division comes from our lunch break: we luncheon at the Catholic Mission of the Holy Trinity. That is the main mission in the diocese, and houses the Archbishop (a very approachable bloke who likes asking me about his citrus trees); the catholic offices and many religious; not to mention all the usual bits and pieces that goes along with a mission station: the church, primary and secondary schools (and possibly tertiary as well), mechanics shop, urban health clinic and all the religious houses. It's actually a very welcome break in the day: it feels like a retreat, a safe haven, a place you can sit on the toilet in peace. Everyone there has certainly been most kind and we have been made to feel most welcome. Their cooks prepare a cooked lunch for the whole community (I'm sure they must pray beforehand, because the quantities are generally fairly good: actually, we tend to get there a little late on purpose. That way, most of the food will be gone, and we can have avocado and salad sandwiches without feeling too guilty! Actually, in season, the Avocado tree just outside the back door provides a plentiful supply.)

So, the previous and the later parts of our day are made up of trying to put a little tick next to each item on the list we'd drawn up. The list can compose just about anything. There is always banking. Always posting. We try and do the dropping off things during the first part, because then we can safely leave the car by itself: empty. After we start buying things, one of us needs to stay with the car (I was very amused one day to be sitting next to a fellow who had locked his keys into his car. Judging by the little pile of bent wires, coat hangers and strips of packing, he had been trying for quite some time to get into his car. He was slowly losing his grip on his temper. Mainly people walked past, asked what was going on, maybe suggested something, and wandered then on. Some even tried an unsuccessful attempt. One very disreputable looking fellow came along, had a quiet talk with the owner, pulled something from his pocket, poked and twisted it at the door and the door opened. About 15 seconds! The owner turned around to thank the fellow, but he had already melted into the crowd! They are very quick and very good: they'll even lock the door for you when they've taken your goods!). We always go to Best Buy, which is the closest thing to a department store in Hagen. It also has a supermarket sort of thing, butcher and baker (and has recently started selling highly coloured ice-creams in quite a few flavours that all taste like food colouring. We don't ask the boys what flavour they'd like, we ask them what colour they want!). Brian Bell is also often on the list. Brian Bell is a country wide chain of stores that sell quite up-market items: Commercial kitchen items, expensive kitchen ware, as well as hardware items, musical instruments, whitegoods and TV and hi-fi equipment. Actually, most stores in Hagen sell a huge mixture of items: mostly the same mixture funnily enough. "If you've seen one store, you've seen them all", sort of thing. Hagen is neatly commercially divided: There are the Asian stores (independently owned) and the Bromley and Manton conglomerate stores (Bromley and Manton own Best Buy (a retailer), Haus Kago (a wholesaler); they own Steamships Hardware and Steamships owns Renbo Stoa (a retailer); they own Mitre Hardware … and probably a lot more I do not know about.

Click to enlarge By 3pm we've generally finished with the shops and head toward the markets. A week or so ago, Sandi beat off a huge group of attackers who had taken a blood oath to pick her pockets or die in the process! Well, I'm sure this story is headed for urban mythville: it has steadily grown from its small beginnings (usually with a smile on my face!). Sandi does the fruit and vegetable shopping, generally because the car is the more unsafe place to be: protecting a fully laden vehicle by yourself. She wanders off with her bilim around her neck and falling on her chest: this makes it hard for someone to snatch, without taking your head off in the process! She wanders around the various paths with garden produce laid out on old fertiliser bags, looking and buying. The sellers constantly dribble water onto their crops, which keeps them clean and gives them an inviting lustre; it also makes the paths very muddy. There is no bargaining in this culture: you buy at the usually written price. If you forget your bilim you can buy plastics in various sizes.

I was sitting in the rear watching the people walking in and out of the market. Next to the front entrance there is a huge refuse pile where everyone puts their peelings and other rubbish. Sugar cane is very popular. It is eaten by first peeling the outside of the cane off with your teeth: grip the comer in your molars and move the can upwards with a quick, jerky movement. Remove the part in your mouth into your free hand, and repeat until the segment is completely peeled. Then the peeled part is processed a mouthful at a time: usually a large mouthful! When all the sweet sap had been removed, the pulp is removed to the free hand as well, and the process repeated on the next segment. The pulp and peelings are deposited on the refuse heap with banana skins, peanut shells, fruit stems (cucumber and guava are the most common). This heap is cleaned away daily (or nightly?).

Click to enlarge

This particular week I suddenly saw everyone run toward a certain part of the market, all looking, asking. I overheard one mother tell her daughter, "Em i pait." I hoped Sandi was not too close to it, and prayed she would be safe and settled back down to perusing the paper and watching. Not long alter that I saw Sandi coming out of the markets, with a strange smile on her face. Then there was a skirmish behind her. There was a crowd of people dragging a poor young boy along, kicking and hitting him, and put him into what seemed to be a purpose build structure next to the entrance way.

Sandi got gently into the car. "I think there was some kind of fight in there today?", I said looking up from my paper. She replied "No. I had a boy pick my pocket." I suddenly felt guilty about my repose, and her apparent lack of safety.

"I was walking along as normal, when I suddenly felt a tug in my pocket. Luckily, the boy was crossing my path behind me: I turned around and caught his hand as he passed. "That belongs to me, I believe!" I said as I snatched my money back and let him go."

The crowd was not as forgiving or harassed or flustered as Sandi: they circled the boy and loudly "Boooed" him, then took him off to the 'lockup' until the police came (we supposed). Sandi was shaken, the adrenaline worked it's way out of her system, and she was left feeling a little empty. She cried.

That was the one and only time that anything like that has happened in Mt. Hagen. We hope it never will again. We pray. Last week I saw two ladies fighting in the street. This drew a large crowd, not just to look, they were active in trying to separate the two, who had good handfuls of the others hair: they certainly were not wearing wigs! The fight calmed and erupted 2 or 3 times: obviously a lack of reconciliation. It was all fairly gentle really, until one girl picked up a rock from the gutter, her intention to do serious damage, but thankfully the two aggressors never managed to meet again in the milling crowds. We were warned that this society was very violent, outwardly so, but we have not really witnessed that much.

The drive home generally includes a stop to Kabuka: a food wholesaler. On a bad day, it can take hours to get in and out of Kabuka, though now I try and fax my order first. It is usually a long and tiring day, I feel as though sometimes the car upholstery is slowly absorbing me on the journey home. As we pass through Kudjip about 15 minutes from home – we pass a tea plantation and more often than not the incredibly seductive aroma of fresh tea wafts its way across our path. Sandi will slowly turn her head toward me, eyes closed, her expression approaching enrapturement "Hrnmmmm!"

"Cup of tea time?" It's hard to concentrate on the sinuous curves of the road at that point; it's hard not to depress the accelerator more than I should, it's hard not to close my own eyes....

The showdown at the O.K. Staffroom
I had obviously disrupted some sort of status quo when I came to be the new bursar. Communication with some staff members had progressively got more and more strained. It was to culminate in this: a showdown, to see who would prevail in the power stakes of the College. I hadn't realised that I'd walked into the middle of a power struggle, but now, I was actually part of it!

The PALMS orientation course included conflict resolution, but, hey, I thought we were going to a religious institution? I've never been involved with one before, I should have listened to those that had! I know the religious are just ordinary people, with the same problems as ordinary people, the shock of this situation came from being continually confronted by these people and their problems; expecting them to do better, or to be able to do better, expecting my expectations to be filled: and nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

The meeting was little more than a lightly concealed power play. I didn't mind: well, to be honest, quite a bit of it was quite hurtful. I was though, relatively happy with the idea of the disaffected ones winning as long as peace came. I was disappointed that those that had complaints with some decisions I had made did not come to me personally to discuss it. After all, I was the new kid on the block (chopping block?), if no one told me, how would I know? Most of the gripers got their way, but peace did not come.

One of the religious here, who has quite deep resentments against some of the other staff members (which are equally reciprocated), produced his own version of the minutes (there were no official minutes). 13 pages of loveless honesty that was used as a blunt instrument. A copy found it's way into my hands: this was a powerful poison. I read it twice, Sandi refused to read it at all: it was this document that opened my eyes. This place was in danger of going up in a mushroom cloud of bitterness and resentment, hate and distrust. I joined in prayer with the rector on our doorstep one night.

So, after all that, what has come out of the showdown? Nothing much really, there have been a few cosmetic changes to various systems so some peoples' pride can remain intact — no relationships were healed (it's probable that they were only further broken). But significantly, I think the devil over played his hand: while the disruptions and lack of unity were without his overt provocation, it was easy enough to accept that it was purely humans not getting on. But he made a mistake! "Why? Why is the Devil attacking?" The answer that occurs to me, is that Satan knows more about what God wants to do here than we do: but now we have an inkling, don't we?

My Birthday: 28th June, 1998
"Happy birthday Dad! " It was Jesse, shaking my shoulder. Glancing at my watch, I could see that I'd dozed for another 45 minutes since I'd originally woken at 7am: couldn't face the morning that early on my birthday! Everyone else was up, the younger boys finishing their cards; Sandi and Jesse setting the breakfast table.

My birthday, fancy that! Yesterday had been an afternoon of celebrations as well. A surprise outing; I was told that I was not allowed to work, and that we were going out. I didn't know who, when, where, what or how?? Just after lunch (consumed in the new and relaxing haus win we've built - a thatched pergola, I guess), we received a surprise (unscheduled) visit from the German volunteers down the road at the Fatima Vocational School - Andy & Iris (pronounced "Earess"). They are a lovely couple, younger than us and full of life. Sandi invited them on an impromptu picnic the day after my birthday. Still can't believe it!) , and then made our apologies for rushing off; but, "something's been organised."

Well, it certainly was a revelation! I didn't know my family could be so devious: a cake was baked secretly, because of its delicate nature it was left unconcealed on the floor of the van), musical instruments hidden, muffins were baked and hidden without my knowing, salads hidden, swimmers and towels hidden: no one telling me where we were going. We all climbed in and Sandi drove us… somewhere. Thankfully they didn't blindfold me too! We ended up at Jim and Kathy's place at Kudjip (The Kudjip Nazarene Hospital. Jim is the surgeon there – has been for 13 years. The boys play basketball with their kids: Ben, 17; Beck, 15; Tim, 12; Cilla, and Joe 2).

Click to enlarge We took all their old tyre tubes out to a river and floated peacefully down the smoother sections, screamed fearfully down the rapids and yelled bloodcurdling oaths when our bottoms, dangling out the hole, hit rocks. This is called tubing or gumi in Pidgin. Sandi said, "That was a real hum-dinger!" I thought, "More of a Bumdinger, if you ask me!

During one of the more peaceful parts, I was struck with the fact of my birthday. I tried to recall how old I would be (no one had given me a card yet, so I had no clues). I knew it ended in a nine: was it 29, 39 or 49? Funny I must be 29, because I can't remember ever being over 30!

The river was really pleasant, a little cold initially perhaps, but it's amazing how fear can warm the body. Sandi wore her dress, and I, my clothes; I'm not sure why my bathing costumes were not included in the secret gathering? Lets see, if Jesse is 16 and I'm 29, that means I was 13 when he was born. Funny, I don 't remember being in school when Jesse was born?

We dripped our way back to Jim & Kathy's, changed into clothes they kindly loaned to us, and had a cup of tea with a banana muffin (one of the secret baking and transportations!). Kathy had prepared sweet & sour chicken, and they had naughtily bought me a present too. After dinner, we all got our instruments out (Jim & Keren on trumpet, Tim on cornet, Jesse on clarinet, Kathy on flute, myself on guitar and little Joe earpiercingly on Sandi's recorder) and played selections from the themes from the film "The Mission", some choruses and a late rendition of a self composed piece called "Boris, the Budgie".

We finally left about 9pm: which is very late here in dangerous PNG where you are not meant to travel at night! That was one reason why I slept in a little more this morning a used to be a little more resilient than that when I was younger: maybe I am a little older than 29?) "Hmm, must get up quickly, we are going down to Communion at Fatima this morning."

The breakfast table was nicely set out with bread, bananas and peanut butter (the 3 most important items for my tropical breakfast) and a pot of tea (locally grown and produced!). Birthday Cards all in a row, a small pile of presents and the most beautiful family I know sitting around the table smiling at me! Gosh, Jesse looks so big, and old, maybe I'm 49? I don 't feel like 49, though!

Church at Fatima was more of an endurance test than an act of worship: the local people here love an audience, and a captive audience is even better! We popped into Andy & Iris's place to confirm the picnic, had drinks (cordial: all alcohol is banned in this province). Iris came proudly out of the house carrying the last remaining slice of a cake, "Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! How old are you now?" Well that was easy to answer: Keren had kindly cut his card out in the shape of a 39. "I'm 39 today." I replied confidently. I knew I couldn't be 49! I don't feel that old! They suggested asking Karl and Peggy (more German volunteers ) too. We're all trying to speak only in Pidgin, it's nice: we're all learning and laughing at our mistakes. "Mipela igo wakabaut long haus bilong mipela, mi kam bek gen na mipela kisim yupela igo long kaikai long wara wahgi." Big broad smiles, dancing eyes and belly laughs.

The picnic was lovely [see Picnic on the Wahgi ]. We walked down through Fatima (sort of a Catholic village) and down through Fatima coffee (a coffee plantation owned by the church) to the Wahgi River [see The Walk to the Wahgi ]. About 30-40 minutes walk. Everyone brought something: smoked oysters, tomato salad, bean salad, bread and home cooked bread, lettuce, mayonnaise, cheese and scones. We even managed a thermos, coffee, powdered milk and two cups! We made the coffee and passed the cup around. It was so peaceful, the coffee plantation uses Acacias as shade trees (which we sat underneath), the fluffy clouds dancing to the tune of the gurgling of the river, the soft lap of my wife to lay my head. if this is what birthdays are about, I want one everyday!

While we had been relaxing, black clouds were approaching over the mountains at our back. We'd only just started our walk back, and the first drops were falling. We have had quite dry weather lately (we are all on water restrictions: we not only shower with a friend to save water, but now, we don't even turn the water on!), so we were not too disturbed: it actually felt like a birthday present from Jesus. It was so lovely walking back through the rain, to know that Jesus was looking after us. We all had to have hot showers when we got home (very short ones: in fact I almost made the whole family get into the shower at once!), we had chilled off considerably. Getting warm and dry was never so pleasant! Hot Cocoa to drink, and finish the book we are reading as a family, "The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass"

So, the end of my birthday. Many times throughout the weekend I just marvelled at being so loved by my family: and now I know I'm 39! Still don't feel like 39!

The highlands of Papua New Guinea: horticulturally speaking
The gardens of PNG. I'm not sure what I expected, but I am sure I wasn't expecting what I see now! I had thought, "Papua New Guinea, tropical, thick dense growth, you can watch everything grow before your eyes, a huge mixture of species." First of all, I was surprised by the predominance of Eucalypts. I have not managed to get really close, and I don't have any keys to help: but they do resemble E. viminalis. Tall, straight trunked, often ribbony bark: how many Eucalypts match that description? They are all gum trees here anyway, planted in long, tall rows. E. robusta is also quite common, or at least it looks like it! There is a Casuarina here too, that the locals say is indigenous; not unlike C. littoralis, but bigger. The local name is Ya. A silk tree ( Albizia I presume) also grows everywhere. In the coffee plantations they plant luceena or sometimes the Casuarina or an Acacia of some sort. Luceena is a tree I am unfamiliar with, but apparently fixes a huge amount of nitrogen in the soil each year. The landscape, because of these trees, has a very autumnal feel: something I did not expect!

Click to enlarge The landscapes of the plantations are really awesome. Some of them are huge. Tea is clipped into formal hedges, either by 6m high lawn mowers, or by hand. You'll be pleased to know that the hand picked tea is much better quality, and the bushes fair much better!) To see the sinuous curves of these formal hedges decorating the rolling hills of this valley quite catches my breath.

The coffee is planted in similar fashion to the tea, although it is unclipped Trees are often planted for shade (and nitrogen). Walking through a plantation gives me the feeling of being in a botanical garden: I realise that the number of plant species will only amount to 2 or 3 in the hectares that it covers, it's more the structure - close plantings at ground level, high light shade trees and many connected paths in-between.

Click to enlarge Most of the Wahgi Valley was swamp before white men came, I guess it will become swamp again if they all left again too! The drainage system is large and important. All garden beds are raised 300mm from surrounding ground, the garden area will have a deep barret (drainage ditch) around it, which will connect with others and will finally drain to one of the large rivers. Apparently the first explorers were amazed to find rectangular gardens here, it is a characteristic of their gardening style.

The planted gardens could be described as a rich tapestry of colours and species, but I often find that the effect is too loud, too raucous. Lots of reds and yellows. Zinnias, Canna Lilies - mostly red, Marigolds, something like a Tree Dahlia, Cuphea, Dracaena, Sunflowers, Day Lilies, Hibiscus, Tibouchina, a few Jacarandas, the most amazing blue flowered vine (Bignoniaceae), Black Eyed Susan, not many Azaleas or Gardenias, Melaleucas & Bottlebrush. Many Latin names have deserted me completely since coming to PNG: I should have brought my horticulture books.

To start a new flower garden, first the soil is turned, then cuttings taken from close bushes are planted in the ground. No watering. No care. A huge unplanned mixture is always planted, a good proportion strike. Mt Hagen has the only planned gardens in the area, sometimes formal clipped hedges.

The growth rates are nothing to what I expect, I think they are quite slow really; apart from the grass which is awesome. The soil at the college is a clay, with exceptional structure: very stable! In fact, I saw the students here rotary hoeing a bed 15 minutes after it had rained heavily with no ill effect! During the dry season the drainage can be too great, there is no irrigation system set up.