Moem to Taurama in 46 days…the PNGDF patrol that did the 1000km trek in 1975

When Michael Somare and his peers decided they wanted to run their own country, much of the land was  still unconnected by road. It was just a little over 20 years since  the first outsider made contact with people in the highlands

In preparation for that transition, Papua New Guinean soldiers who were,  then,  part of an Australian Army brigade, began preparing for independence.  There was a lot of uncertainty as the Australian administration prepared to leave.

There were also discussions around weather or not the new country needed a military.

In Moem Barracks, Wewak, the command was also in a state of readiness.  

The troops were put through two months of grueling training in preparation for possible civil unrest and for a 1000 kilometer trek that some of them would take from Wewak to Port Moresby.

“The thinking at the time was to prove that the PNG Defence Force was in support of the government.  At the time, there was also talk about not having an army.  This was a way to prove to the government of the day that the army would stand behind it,”  says retired Lt. Col. Geoffrey Key.

As a young lieutenant,  Geoffrey Key was given command of  the 15 man patrol chosen from the two months of training. They were to carry two letters to Port Moresby – one from the District Commissioner and the other from the Moem command.

“I still don’t know the contents of the letters. But I was to hand deliver them to the Chief Minister, Michael Somare.  My commander said: ‘There will be no vehicle, boats  or planes. You walk out of Moem and you walk into Taurama Barracks (Port Moresby).’ And that’s what we did.”

Lt. Geoffrey Key, was born in Finschhafen, Morobe Province. He attended Kerevat National High School  where  was recruited as an army apprentice.  He was trained in Australia as a radio technician.  During the transition period, he was sent for  officer training at Portsea  where he later graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant.   

The journey took them from Wewak to Madang, Morobe then over the Owen Stanley mountains and into Port Moresby.

“We trained on various terrain so that didn’t worry us. We were not given food. They told us to live off the land. I chose the route so we travelled through the most populated areas so it would be easy to find the supplies we needed.”

Among the 15 men, was Private Felix Wama who joined the army  in 1973. He said many people in the rest of the country  didn’t understand the concept of the political independence that was being decided for them.

“They didn’t have a clue. Some, like my fathers and uncles, said let Australia look after us.”

The military was still part of the Australian Defense Force. They said ‘Private Felix Wama, you have been chosen to walk from Wewak to Port Moresby.’”

Wama saw how disconnected the country was back then.

“Many of the roads we know now were all bush tracks. In Wau and Garaina, the terrain was difficult. But we eventually got to Port Moresby,” Wama recalled.

Among his most precious possessions, are three photographs and a laminated letter of commendation from the PNGDF Commander at the time, Brigadier James William Norrie.

In his own words, the Brigadier spoke of a journey that took 46 days and traversed some of the most rugged terrain.

The letters were hand delivered to Chief Minister Somare on Independence day.  

Geoffrey Key continued serving in the army. In 1980, as a major, he commanded troops in Vanuatu when the PNGDF were sent  to help put down a rebellion as the island nation transitioned to political independence.

Felix Wama returned from Port Moresby a corporal, recognized and promoted for his achievements. He left the army after serving for eight years.

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The Phyllia and Michael story of determination and hard work

These two kids are the definition of determination and hard CONSISTENT work.

One day, four years ago, Michael Tamty Pais showed up at the office asking if he could work during the holidays. I didn’t know him then. He talked very fast. I had a bit of difficulty understanding him.

Apparently, he had met up with a crew member and asked if he could have a look at the camera. Crew member ignored him but Michael persisted and eventually came to the EMTV Lae office and expressed his request to work during the holidays. I took him on board not sure what to expect. He worked extremely hard, sometimes, seven days a week. Sometimes, I had to tell him to stay home.

Michael was still in secondary school. His dad passed away several years ago and his mum supports him.

A few days later, Phyllia Pisep showed up at the office. She had seen Michael at work and wanted to do the same. Like Michael, Phyllia was a total stranger to me. It was the first time I was meeting with her. She showed me two phones and enthusiastically said: “I take pictures…I like taking pictures.”

Then, pointing to Michael who was already a week into the job, she said: “…And I saw that boy taking pictures and I want to do the same…”

At his grade 10 exams, Michael scored all distinctions. Over the next two years, maintained his high academic performance and juggled leadership roles in school until he graduated in October from Bumayong Seconday.

In 2017, Phyllia graduated from Lae Secondary School. She was not accepted at DWU where she wanted to go but instead got accepted to go to ITI. She later withdrew from ITI because fees were too expensive. She did it without telling her mum that day. Then, in 2018, she took her papers and hand delivered them to Divine Word University’s Communication Arts Department in 2019, got accepted, found a sponsorship. She just completed her first year in communication arts last month.

Since visiting DWU in 2018, Michael has been determined to study journalism. He has applied and is waiting for the result.

They have been doing work experience at EMTV during holidays every year since 2016.

Moral of the story: If you want something, just go do it. Don’t wait for approval from your parents or community. Don’t follow your peers. Just go do what you want and work long and hard. Work when everyone is sleeping. Be consistent. Learn as much as you can.

Caroline Tiriman, veteran ABC broadcaster retires after 40 years

ct2For a Tolai girl growing up between 1960 and 1970, career options were very limited. Forty years ago, that was part of the story for now veteran ABC broadcaster, Caroline Tiriman.

“My mother wanted me to get married,” Caroline says. “It was an arranged married. I didn’t know the guy. He was from the next village and I went to school with his sisters.”

Caroline Tiriman, had just completed high school at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) and her mother insisted that she ditch any plans for a job outside of the East New Britain Province. While Caroline was under a lot of pressure from her mother, her dad, George, was quietly supportive. George Tiriman was a cook who worked for the small community of foreign Catholic priests.

He encouraged his daughter to follow her heart.

“I was so unhappy and I ran away back to the school. I told the principal that my mother wanted me to get married and I didn’t want to do that.”

Through the school’s help, Caroline was assisted by a careers officer who found her a job with the old government Post and Telecommunications company as a clerk. George, was very happy when Caroline told him that she had found a job in Port Moresby.

“He helped me run away to Port Moresby. He took me to town and then to the airport and saw me off.”

It wasn’t long before another opportunity presented itself. Caroline applied for another clerical job with the NBC, which was set up by the ABC in 1973.. Her path towards broadcasting was largely due to a childhood fascination for radio broadcasting.

“I used to wonder: ‘Who were those people talking in the radio? When I was in grade eight or nine, the NBC had a program called Ring for Record and it was wonderful. We also listened to news and current affairs in class.”

If there is one important lesson from Caroline’s life, it’s the willingness to seize opportunities even if the possibilities are seemingly impossible. Whilst at the NBC in Port Moresby, her colleague and fellow veteran broadcaster, Kenya Kala, encouraged her to apply for a job with the ABC Tok Pisin service in Melbourne.

The job was advertised in the Age newspaper. She applied and within four months, her new boss, George Sivijs, called her up to welcome her to the ABC.

“During the interview, he gave me a 10 minute bulletin to translate into Tok Pisin. And in Rabaul, we didn’t speak Tok Pisin. I learned a bit of Tok Pisin in school but I didn’t speak much of it. “Here, I was expected to translate English into Tok Pisin. It took me about an hour to translate the bulletin.”

Within the next few months, Caroline prepared for the biggest transition in her life – her move to Australia permanently. As she was about to leave for Melbourne, she called her dad who was in Lae, ill with cancer.

“I said I got a job with the ABC and I am going to Australia. He said: That’s alright. You can go.”

But within weeks, her brother called and asked her to delay her travel to Australia because her dad, her greatest supporter had passed away. Instead of traveling to Australia, Caroline spent the next month being with her mother and her family. Over the next 40 years, Caroline became one of the most recognized Melanesian voices in PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Along with the small family of Australian based PNG broadcasters, Caroline Tiriman, was among several others who set the standards for PNG’s Tok Pisin broadcasters.

Today, when she was asked what she was going to do after 40 years, she said: “I just want to take it easy… listen to the birds, go to the bush and look for galip nuts and just talk with family late into the night.”

Jurgen Ruh, ‘helicopter driver’ who did more than 500 medivacs out of Morobe

jrFor helicopter pilot,  Jurgen Ruh,   each day begins very  early.  Jurgen is a 30 year veteran in the Papua New Guinea aviation industry.

Over the last 10 years,  Jurgen’s   company,   Manolos Aviation,  has since  become an integral part of Morobe’s  community aviation story.  This is  primarily  because  of  the work he has personally  done over the  decade.   It’s sometimes difficult to convince him  that he played an important role  in saving many lives.

“I’m just a driver of a helicopter who  happens to have the resources which is helicopter and pilots and the will to help others,” Jurgen says.

In 2017,  Jurgen and his team of pilots,  engineers and nurses, did more than 250 medivacs.  In 2018, over 170 people were brought  in for medical treatment. Most of  those  flown in were  women suffering from birth complications who come from places that don’t have road access.  Jurgen flies nearly all of the company’s medivacs and  does the  riskiest flights.  The most satisfying part of  his job making sure people get to hospital.

As the daughter of the most sought after helicopter pilot in Morobe, Alexandra Ruh,  grew up in a home where her father was usually away at work. 

“Growing up, he  wasn’t really there all the time. I never really knew what he was actually doing with his life. I thought he was just flying helicopters.”

It took  medivac to change all that.  Jurgen invited Alexandra to fly with him  when she was in 10. The weather was bad and  when they got to the location,  Jurgen had to hover  to allow the nurse to get off because there was nowhere  safe enough to land.

“I never really appreciated what he was doing until much later.  Every day that that he missed for me, a child had his mother and a wife had her husband.  That to me is the most beautiful give you can give anyone.

“Over time,I went for arguing with my father to laughing with my father and crying with my father.”

Jurgen’s  personal mission to save lives began in 2009 after the death of a patient he transported to Lae. He flew  a  16-year-old with a birth complication  from Lablab to Lae.  But overnight, the teen died because nobody attended to her.

“After that, I said to myself, you can do better than this.”

When Jurgen  first came to the country, he  ran a marine salvage business. In 2004, he decided to  include an aviation arm  to his  marine operation.  When the 2008 global  financial crisis hit the US and other large economies, demand in the  maritime sector shrunk and as the shipping industry itself against the downturn. But domestically,  helicopter businesses grew  as  mining companies invested in exploration.

One  of the  medivacs that stands out  happened  On Easter 2017 when  the Manolos crew received a distress call from  Marawaka in the Eastern Highlands.  A mother had just given birth to triplets  and the local aid post could not  deal with the emergency.

“We had to do a lot of research because the location was not on the government gazette,” Jurgen said after the rescue.  “The triplets were babies four, five and six. She had two other pregnancies and two babies died.  That’s gives you an idea of how difficult it is for mothers in rural areas.”

The triplets and their mother spent a little over two months at Angau hospital.  They were also supported by the Manolos crew during their stay.  It’s something the crew do for nearly every patient admitted to hospital.  When the time came for the mothers and babies to go back, the Manolos crew was at the center of the celebrations.

“It was an emotional time for us all,” Nurse Pendek Sitong who went on the initial rescue  recalled. “Usually we  rescue one baby. This was a jackpot.”

 Over three decades,  his job as a helicopter pilot, has given Jurgen a unique insight  into the problems faced by  people in the most remote parts of Papua New Guinea.  In many aid posts,   it is difficult to treat some of the most basic illnesses.  The logistical difficulties  adds to the challenges faced by  the people.

Continuing the vital services  into the future remains a critical priority for  Jurgen Ruh.  Six years ago, he  began an apprentice program for  aircraft maintenance engineers.   There are now six women training  to become certified  engineers  all of them come from rural districts.

“I am very biased in that manner. I have a lot more women than men. But it’s a good way to be an unequal employer.

“I thought If I should give opportunities for women to become engineers, then they should comes from rural areas because a woman from a rural district will have the  least opportunity to get into aviation.”

Armed with a school: How a couple are healing tribal conflict & breaking barriers

Students studying the foundations  of electrical wiring.

In 2015, when Thomas Kopari and his wife Martina started the Ipau technical vocational education and training (TVET) school outside of Tari town, they didn’t expect the school to grow as rapidly as it did.

It all started from their passion for education. Thomas was the former Catholic Education Secretary and Martina, has managed the school since it began. They didn’t have any outside funding to began with. They used their own savings to pay for building materials, stationary and every other cost the school incurred.

“I can’t tell you how much we spent,” Martina says. “I’ve forgotten.”

Martina and Thomas Kopari

Initially they wanted to train school leavers and offer an alternative technical pathway. But they were confronted with a huge demand for education and technical training. Nearly everyone – young and old, men and women, wanted to learn. So they took in as many as they could, charged them a small fee of K50 and began classes.


“The K50 we charge is for administration costs,” Thomas says. “We tell them that if they can’t pay in cash, they can pay in kind. If they don’t have money, they can bring a small pig or building materials wroth K50 or K100. The people were very happy with that arrangement.”

The opportunity for an education encouraged older men and women to enroll at what is now called Ipau TVET School.

“We couldn’t restrict people because of age. We found that while many of the older students didn’t have formal qualifications, they had years of experience and that has been beneficial for younger students,” Thomas said.

The classrooms are made from a mix of traditional building materials, iron sheeting and cement. In one of the classrooms, electrician and instructor, John Feku teaches a small class of students who are training to be electricians.

Apart from a blackboard and desks made out of packing cases, there is little else. They try as much as possible to find the equipment that will give them the much needed technical experience. It’s a difficult job, but there is no way, these people are giving up.

“This year, we are teaching them the basics of residential wiring and semi commercial wiring,” Feku says. “ After the first year, we sent them off to technical colleges in Mt. Hagen, Simbu and other parts of the country. This is the pathway for them.”

Up on the hill, several other classes are in session. In the motor mechanic class, there are a few older students in their 50s and 60s and a woman. Ipau TVET School also breaking barriers and challenging cultural mindsets that tend to segregate women and isolate the old. It is also uniting the communities.

Older students of the motor mechanic class. 

Breaking barriers: The only woman in the motor mechanic class. Many of the other women attend the tourism and hospitality training run by Martina Kopari. 

“In the Hela culture, men don’t sit with the women. But when they come here, I tell them, sit at the same desk and they are finding that they are sharing an experience together. It’s changing mindsets in a small way.

“Many of the people who come here are traditional enemies. I tell them, to leave their weapons at the gate when they come to learn. This school is slowly changing the way people behave,” Thomas says.

Thomas and Martina soon found that they also needed to start an elementary school, so that smaller children could learn close to where their parents were getting educated.

Ipau Vocational School has become a community learning center in the truest sense.

The parents learn technical skills, their kids go to an elementary school on the same campus and the people contribute to the maintenance and construction of the school.

Determined to learn, children sit on the earthen floor and write on books placed on their laps. 

“When the parents come to school, there’s nobody to take care of their kids. So they bring their kids who school and the kids attend the elementary school.”


Many of the women come to learn tourism and hospitality. Martina doubles as the center’s manager and the tourism and hospitality instructor. She never thought it would come this far.

Many of the younger students expect to go on to other institutions. Many of the older students say small communities don’t need university degrees at this stage, but technical skills are highly valued in their villages.

West Papuan matriarch who arrived in PNG at age 16 celebrates her 70th birthday | By Sincha Dimara


sincha's mumDominguis & Dolfintje Dimara taken on the day they were married (right) Dolfintje Imbab Dimara and their first child (left)

I once asked my mother how was it that she married at the tender age of 16 and left home for foreign land never to see family again for more than three decades.   She told me: “When your father left for work and I was left alone, it dawned on me that I may never see my family again.


“Silent tears flowed in those quiet moments, tanta (aunty) Wanma noticed, she asked me if papa was not nice to me, I shook my head, ‘no’… it was only after the birth of my first child, that my whole world changed.”

My mother Dolfintje Imbab was born on the 4th of December 1949, four years after World World Two.  She is 70 today (4th December, 2018).

She was born somewhere on the banks of Warfor river on Supiori Island, part of Biak islands in West Papua at a time villagers were forced  to move inland to escape the horrors of war.

She completed her primary education in 1960, in what was then a  Dutch colony.  She was not considered for further studies because most women back then were told to return home to assist the family male members of the family to continue their education.  This meant gardening, fishing and other daily chores to sustain the family.

My father Domingus Dimara (that’s a story on its own) came to PNG as a young man in 1963.  He was against Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua then and decided to make PNG home.

He returned in 1965 in search for a bride, my mother was chosen.  My late father was a disciplinarian and always believed in  doing the right thing.   Initially there was resistance  from my maternal grandparents upon hearing that their daughter would marry and move far from home.

My maternal grandmother placed locally made bracelets (Gelang Biak) on both her arms.  The bracelets identify a woman or man as a Biak person.

They were married in May 1965 in Biak town and after meeting legal and customary obligations they travelled to Hollandia, now Jayapura.  From there, they travelled  by plane to Lae,  then on to Port Moresby.

My parents lived with Om and Tanta Marjen (late Aunty & Uncle Marjen) who had earlier moved to Port Moresby after Indonesia gained control of West Papua.  My parents were also accommodated by the Wanma family.  This was in the 60s.  One of her early memories is witnessing the 1969 South Pacific Games in Port Moresby and  the basketball matches played at the Hohola Courts.

A few years later when Port Moresby was beginning to expand and new suburbs sprouted, my father was able to secure a house from the National Housing Commission in 1970.

Dolfintje Imbab Dimara with her sister and grand niece in Jayapura

In 1990, more than 30 years since her arrival in PNG,   she first crossed the border as a PNG citizen into Indonesian territory.  She did so  after communicating with family members through letters for over 20 years.  Her father had passed on but  her mother, my grandmother,  was still alive then.  She would meet family members again over the years.


In 1979 both my parents were granted PNG citizenship along  with other West Papuans.  Among them were the  Marjens, Sarwoms, Wanmas.

Sadly,  my father passed on in 1994.  My mother’s strength and love for the family has kept her going this far.  She lost  three of  her seven  children.  Edward our youngest died of heart failure 1992.  Robin was murdered by criminals  1999 and my sister Salomina died  of breast cancer in 2013.

Throughout all the hardships,  I believe her faith in God has kept her going.  She has mastered the Motu language, speaks a little English and Tok Pisin and made many friends in PNG.

She is also a survivor of breast cancer having gone through treatment in 2011.  In a few weeks’ time she will travel home to visit her place of birth and meet her  siblings again.

I jokingly asked if it was time to return for good. But  I guess she’d rather spend time with the family she created – her  children and grandchildren.

PNG campaigner-poet-student who wrote hilarious letters to Prince Harry passes on


I never got to meet Cleopatra ‘Waerisa’ Kolta in person.

This morning, while going through my message feeds, I came across a few  that said Cleo had passed on after being ill for a while.  She was only 25. She was  an artist, writer, medical student and a bit more.

What initially drew me to Cleo’s work was the humor and  strength of her character written into it.  She was a leader in her own right and an inspirational Papua New Guinean who stood out among others. She packed so much into her short life and lived it with a great deal of passion and determination.

Nothing stood her way.

Through her pen name, Waerisa, she  wrote, in Tok Pisin,  the most outrageously funny letters expressing her love for Prince Harry, proposing marriage and promising economic benefits for PNG and the UK including  through exports of agepa (greens native to the highlands), ginger and bamboo used for cooking.

In another of her letters,  Waerisa  suggested that the Prince hire the ‘Lamp flaps’ mamas as chefs at Buckingham palace while attempting to get the potential love of her life interested in the culinary delights of Port Moresby.

When applying for the position of Princess,  Waerisa  told the young prince, she was also of noble birth and  was more than qualified to run the Royal household.

“My grandfather was a Chief of the hauslain (you see I am royal like you). He used to ride sharks because he is a Tolai boy. I bet your granddaddy only rode horses.”

Her writing shone with brilliance. It was original, witty, but  also  cut to the heart of important issues facing Papua New Guineans like violence against women.

“Where is she going?
Where did she come from?
Where did we all come from?
Were we like this back then?
If only mountains and trees could talk but for now let’s us all be covered in mud and shame for we give stones to them that lift hands to kill.”

Cleo also  campaigned against environmental degradation inequality.  She spoke out against the misconceptions held against people who lived in squatter settlements.

“I am Waerisa.
Born in the City.
Raised in the village.
Currently living in the settlement but my future is great.
Yes.  I fetch water outside my house and I am not ashamed of it.
So long as the world is revolving, situations are not here to stay forever.
Don’t be too ashamed of who you are.
Keep going.
It doesn’t matter where you come from, Royalty is a state of mind.”

Cleopatra ‘Waerisa’ Kolta held her mum in high regard.  She was studying to be a medical professional but didn’t get to complete that part of her journey.

This tribute falls short of fully expressing who she was.  She leaves a legacy of her positive life in her writing and her thoughts for the future of the country she loved very much.

You inspired and continue to inspire!

Thank you, Waerisa, “born of the earth and trees”

Simon Lukas: Battling the odds by rebuilding Toyota Landcruisers

Simon Lukas is a Lae businessman who is owed about K60,000 by the Lae City Council.

Mr. Lukas owns Mala Autoparts, a small automotive parts shop in Lae City.

While talking to him about his difficulties, we also found that he has been rebuilding old Toyota Landcruisers for a living.

This is slowing becoming an income stream for him with no shortage of customers willing to pay up to K80,000 for a rebuilt vehicle.

Simon Lukas stumbled upon this revenue earner some years ago after starting up his spare parts business in 2009.

Battling the impacts of a difficult economy and unpaid paid invoices by the Lae City Council, Mr. Lukas has focused on rebuilding that rugged, much loved workhorse.

“I started this business in 2009. I started with K8000. I asked my dad and my older sister to help out with the initial capital.”

“There is a huge market for landcruisers. We have no difficulty selling vehicles which we have rebuilt.”

In recent years, Simon Lukas has had to contend with new challenges. Predominantly Chinese owned spare parts operators who order in bulk and sell cheaper versions of landcruiser parts. This has made have made selling Australian sourced parts difficult.

“It’s something the government needs to look at to protect local businesses. Because if we try to sell at the prices that they are offering, we will be making a loss.”

The inability to sell left him with an oversupply of landcruiser parts. So he came up with the idea of using the parts to rebuild cruisers that nobody wanted any more.

“We thought, why not take our parts and rebuild vehicles? We go to vehicle owners and buy their wrecks. Sometimes, if the engine is still good, we pay up to K10,000.”

In his shed, stands a blue Landcruiser utility. The parts of this blue single cab came from two different vehicles that were involved in separate accidents.

His team, bought in a new engine and gearbox from Australia and rebuilt it. This is now going to be sold to a buyer for K70,000.

Lukas says, there is an ever present demand for landcruisers. Each rebuilt cruiser has been presold before completion.

Edith Babul: A plantation that started from 10 Indian guava seeds

Twenty years ago, Edith Babul’s, young son, collected the seeds of a rather exotic Indian Guava fruit he found smashed on a road.

It was, at the time, a seemingly tiny deed done by a child for his mum. But over two decades, those seeds became a plantation of Indian guava trees whose fruits are now sold in Lae City.

“He found the seeds and said, ‘mum likes this fruit’ and he brought back about 100 seeds,” said Edith Babul. “From those seeds, 10 survived and those are among the trees we have now.”

While Edith loved Indian guava, she didn’t know the cultivation methods that would work efficiently.

“At first it was all trial and error. I didn’t know and I planted the seeds. It took a while.”

In 2000, Edith harvested the first fruits from the initial 10 trees she had planted. She sold over 100 fruits and made K300.

“Because I was still working, I told my husband and children that the demand for this fruit was good and that we had to carefully manage the trees.”

It wasn’t all easy. Some of the trees died and fruits were left to rot or succumbed to pest and disease.

edithAs we walked through the guava plantation, Edith spots a large fruit. She pulls down the branch and picks a fruit which is bigger than her hand. It’s fruits like this that have made her quite popular within agriculture circles.

“Try it,” she says, as we cut open the huge fruit. The guava is soft, delicious and far less acidic than smaller local varieties. Guava cultivation has become an art for Edith Babul.

She gives a lecture on insect management as we walk through the grove.

“Never cut all the grass. When insect populations pick up in in June and July, you have to give them something to eat. Let them start with the grass first. If you remove all the grass, they will eat your fruits and leaves.”

Wow! I didn’t know that. I thought to myself… I would have used a lawn mower to cut down all the grass without a second thought and later suffer the consequences.

In 2011, Edith received an offer to study agriculture methods in Queensland through the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) and the Australian Government.

In Australia, she learned various methods that broadened her knowledge on guava cultivation. She came back with renewed zeal and plunged into serious guava cultivation.

“I learned about insect behaviour, marcotting and budding.” Those methods helped speed up the time it took for trees to reach maturity.

To date, Edith Babul has planted over 900 trees. She has built a small business from her beloved Indian guava trees. She sells the fruits to local super markets in Lae and at agricultural shows.

It all started from the seeds collected by her son 20 years ago.

Old hands in the business: The #PNG honey experts who are replacing imports

honeyFor more than 30 years, Tella Loie, worked in the public service as a honeybee specialist.

His entire career was dedicated to building the capacity of bee keepers in the Easter Highlands. While he was presented with opportunities to go into business, he turned them down and continued to help bee keepers in the Eastern Highlands.

In 2016, Tella Loie, quit the public service and, in an old government warehouse, he started a small business.

“The opportunities have always been there,” he said. “But I couldn’t take advantage of it because I was a government worker.

“What dreams I had, slowly began to come out.… everything that was in me in being put into creating more opportunities for bee farmers.”

With costs rising, it has been difficult for bee farmers who import beehives from New Zealand.

Taking his 38 years of bee keeping and management experience, Mr. Loie is now helping farmers reduce their equipment costs.

In Goroka, he is singlehandedly, reducing the need for imports by making beehives and repairing honey trays used by bees to create honeycombs.

This month alone, his small team of workers made over 100 beehives from local timber.

“Being Papua New Guineans, we all have our challenges. The question we should be asking is what can I do to help my country in terms of development… in terms of employment for our people?”

“I am happy because at least in a little way, I’s contributing positively to my people and my country despite receiving no support from the government.

Tella Loie is one of a handful of self-taught bee keeping experts in Papua New Guinea. He says the risk of losing this knowledge is increasing as others like him grow older.

“There are other very resourceful people in the public service who have received training and are keen to do work in the communities. But without funding and resources, all their dreams and aspirations remain in them.

“Then, one day they will go.”

“Honey is yellow gold. It’s just waiting for someone to collect it.”

Outside of Goroka, another bee keeper, Samuel Kuku, shows how honey is harvested.   Mr. Kuku has honed his bee keeping skills over the last 10 years and is now an authority on honey production.

Recently, one of his hives produced record volumes.

“It is a joy for me when I harvest the honey,” he laughs. “I think the bees are very happy with me.

“I was featured in the National Newspaper for my honey trays that weighed seven kilograms each. What they didn’t feature was another one that weighed eight kilograms. That is quite rare.”

For those in the know, the average weight of a of a honey tray when harvested is anything between three and four kilograms.

Samuel Kuku’s income from honey alone has risen in the last three years, in 2017, he made K18,000. For a farmer with kids in university including a son studying for a science degree in agriculture, it is important income.

In the Eastern Highlands, bee keepers are a close knit community of friends.

Samuel was introduced to bee keeping by the Chairman of the Bee Keepers Association of the Eastern Highlands, Jonah Buka.

Like Tella Loie, Mr. Buka, is keen to see honey production grow in the Eastern Highlands. For him, bee keeping is not just a job, it is a passion, an art and a lesson in coexistence.

“Make sure you “smoke” them first so they move out of the way,” he explains as he pumps smoke onto the bees.

The smoker is a tool used to pacify the bees before harvesting.

“Never kill the bees. Honey is their food. We are, in fact, taking their food. So we have to be kind. When we harvest, there has to be one tray left so they feed on it when there is rain and no nectar in the flowers.

“We don’t own them. They live here.”

Comparatively, honey is worth more per kilogram than coffee. Currently, the average price is K13 per kilogram – close to three times the price of coffee.

Honey producers like, Tella Loie and Jonah Buka say that if the same support given to coffee was given to honey production, PNG’s export revenue could reach unprecedented levels.

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