Was Daru and PNG’s Western Province a basket case? The area was often described as lawless, poverty-stricken and disease-ridden, where corruption was both normal and pretty much essential. In 2012 major flooding had destroyed many of the coastal villages food supplies. There was no better time for us to both help out and to see the state of the nation for ourselves.
We left Horn Island for PNG with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On board, we had 900 kg of aid. School supplies for grades 1 and 2, fishing gear, sewing and woman’s things, specs and health items, special seeds for sowing with next years crops and lots of clothes compliments of the Thursday Island Rotary Club. Despite the challenges, we planned to find our way directly to the villages and hand the goods over in person.
Our major charity contributor was so concerned about our security they sent us our very own fair dinkum ex-army bodyguard! We were utterly amazed, but more that happy to have him along. Adam turned out to be a great guy, very knowledgeable, capable, and always relaxed. He had done seven tours of duty while in the Army, shot twice, stabbed once, blown up several times and still had 22 pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body,,,, he was a real story in himself.
Clearing into Daru.
Our dramas with officials in Daru were painful. We had been meticulous in preparing our paperwork. But to no avail. After two days of arguing with Customs, they were still insisting we pay GST on the value of the charity goods, plus other obscure charges. We refused, and were at the point of heading back to Australia–with our donations still on board!
But by this time the suffering villagers had heard we were stuck in Daru and were not about to wait around. They were heading our way! To them, our cargo was as valuable as gold.
Their impending arrival turned the tide; we had won the brinkmanship battle.
Everything was offloaded — and our mission was complete.
On the downside, we never did get to visit the villages in person.
P.S The PNG government office in Daru was run down and never even had a working telephone. Looking back, maybe we were a bit harsh, and they also needed a little charity to smooth things out.
Anchoring at Daru PNG
Our anchorage was excellent about 400m of the Daru beach. Our only concern was the security of a night; at least one small boat crept up to us with the apparent intention of theft. We were so pleased to have Adam on board who patrolled and controlled.
We were very glad to have the local head man and his boys escort us around. It’s unsafe, but they kept close to us, and we moved around unhindered. We were fascinated by the market but disgusted by the run down hospital, although admiring of the dedicated staff.
Each day many canoes, little boats, and their occupants arrived from mainland villages to sell and trade, they mostly made camp on the crowded sad town beach. As a whole we found the PNG people to be friendly and happy to chat. They were always full of smiles and made the most of their sorry situation. But, were well aware that their services, infrastructure, & law and order were all in appalling shape.
Daru returning to Horn Island
Rather than cruise straight back to Thursday Island we decided to explore west along the PNG/Aussie border to near the Indonesian divide. The waters were dirty, shallow, very poorly charted, crazy currents, and with fickle tides. It was fun riding the tidal currents over the shallows and going with our gut feelings in many tricky spots. As we reached the little Aussie Island of Boigu Adams wartime injuries started to play up, so we dropped him off to the local nurse and Quarantine officer. He flew back to the mainland, and that’s as far west as we got.
We had not cleared Adam back thru the official customs entry port of Thursday Island, and they were rather put out. On our arrival, we were informed we would be subject to charges with the legal paperwork arriving shortly. But the paperwork never came — somebody took pity on us!
It was satisfying to be able to make a small contribution to our neighbor; just a shame about the crap that we had to swim around in to do it. When next we do a PNG charity mission it will be to the Islands of the East end of PNG — where officialdom is almost nonexistent.
p.s. My hat goes off to the unsung heroes: missionary’s, charity workers and volunteer medics who do marvelous work. Their accomplishments are in the most difficult of circumstances.
*To see more of our images of Daru on our Flickr site click here.
*To get more info on the Western Province of PNG click here