nichollsretirementproject

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

Road-signs you don’t see every day. No 3

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What this means is that from this point, the kids have got a journey of 60km (over 35 miles) before they even get to school.  And added to that is the distance from the students’ homes on the cattle stations to the main road, where they pick up the bus. From what we saw, as we were driving past, that could easily add a lot more kilometres to the overall journey.

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Road-signs you don’t see every day. No 4.

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We saw several trains while we were in Australia, but none of them looked like this!

Road-signs you don’t see every day: No 5

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Aaaah!

Women Collecting Sea-shells,

I have no idea why.

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5.7

Yes, that’s right.  5.7 on the Richter Scale.  That was the size of the earthquake that woke us very early last Thursday morning.

We had felt a smaller earthquake, really just a little shuddering of the house, in the middle of the night. We thought nothing of it and went back to sleep.  Then, some time later, we both shot awake as the house started to rattle quite noticeably.

We were out of bed and assessing whether we needed to get out of the house or position ourselves under a door-frame, when everything went quiet and it was time to put the kettle on. Drama over.

Apparently the epi-centre was about 75 km away from Madang and 50 km underground.

That’s enough, now.  I’ve done earthquakes.  Don’t want any more, thank you.

I Don’t Know What It Was….

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…but I was very glad that it was walking up Linda’s trouser leg and not mine!

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First Impressions.

We never thought we would ever go to Australia, so it was quite exciting to arrive in Cairns at the start of our adventure.  The first thing we saw, however, was a sobering reminder of everyone’s vulnerability to disease in these days of international air travel.

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I was very glad that I didn’t have to “seek help from a border security officer”, given the hysteria that there had been in Australia surrounding the outbreak of ebola in West Africa.  I would probably have found myself back on the next plane to PNG.

The current Australian government refused to send any health workers to help in the international effort to combat ebola, arguing that, if they fell ill, it was an awful long way to bring them home.  The idea that an Australian health worker, who had contracted the deadly disease, would be upset at the prospect of being treated in the UK didn’t seem to occur to them.

This from the government that has just told the asylum seekers who have been protesting at the detention centre on Manus Island (PNG), and who have been asking to be handed over to the UN rather than be resettled in PNG, where they believe that their lives would be at risk, that if they don’t want to be re-settled in PNG, they can be returned to their countries of origin.

That must be such a comfort to those people who risked their lives, and the lives of their families, to escape from those countries in the first place.

Anyway, back to the Australian odyssey, (defined in my dictionary as “a long journey with lots of adventures.”).

Although we had planned to drive from Cairns due south to Sydney, our first trip took us north to the Danetree Rainforest.  (I had no idea that Australia had such things as rainforests!)  Along the way we passed what seemed like hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches, – all of them empty

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On closer investigation we discovered why.  This whole coast is prey to a whole range of jellyfish that can do horrible things to you, including, if you are unlucky, kill you.

Even in Sydney harbor, when we looked over the side of our boat, we saw that the water was full of jellyfish.  Not a pretty sight.

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In some of the coastal towns the local authorities have netted off large areas of the sea, off the popular beaches, so that people can swim safely, without fear of being stung by these nasty creatures.

But, on the up-side, if you found yourself on one of these beautiful, isolated, empty beaches with a plate of chips, there was never any shortage of …

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The Art Gallery, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia.

I din’t know what I expected, but when people said, “If you’re walking up Carnarvon Gorge you must go and see the Art Gallery,” I was not optimistic.  Having seen the up-market shipping container that we were sleeping in, I had visions of a pretty ghastly exhibition of paintings carved into a mountainside.  Fortunately, I was wrong.

At just about the limit of my feet in my very inadequate footwear, we saw the sign for the Art Gallery.  The path led us up another 400 metres or so, where we came upon a cliff-face covered in Aboriginal drawings, stencils and rock-carvings, artwork that was created some 3500 years ago!  Pretty awe-inspiring even when your feet hurt.

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At the end of the Art Gallery.

As we walked along the cliff-face that showed all the aboriginal drawings and stenciling, we came across the area where some visitors, as long ago as the 1950s had obviously thought that they would be enhancing the 3500-year old site by scratching their own names in the rocks right next to the aboriginal paintings.

Why do people do that? What makes them think that the addition of their names in some way adds to the mystery and the beauty of what they have discovered on the cliff-face in front of them?  What kind of arrogance is it that makes them think that their names add anything to the overall spectacle?  I just don’t get it.

Before doing VSO, I taught in a secondary school in Northamptonshire in the UK.  Teaching teenagers is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it, and my last eight years at this school were full of opportunities and highlights.  Amongst these highlights was the chance I had to travel to Peru and subsequently to Southern Africa with groups of young people on four-week long expeditions, run by an organisation called World Challenge.

These expeditions were not for the faint-hearted.  The trip involved trekking, camping and working on a community project.  The students had to organise everything, the food, the accommodation, the travel, everything.  They also had to raise the funds to finance their trips.  The adults were only there as back-up and to make sure that the students didn’t actually come to any real harm.  It was great to see these young people rise to the challenges that were presented to them and overcome them.

In Peru we trekked through mountains and camped beneath magical glaciers that shone in the moonlight.  We slogged through a rainforest, which nearly defeated the group, but which was rewarded by an unforgettable view of Machu Picchu from across a rugged valley, where the tourist buses couldn’t go.

In Botswana we spent several day ‘wild-camping’ with a group of Kalahari bushmen, who showed us how they have survived the Kalahari Desert for hundreds of years by exploiting nature and its hidden supplies of food and water.

And then we went on to Namibia to an area of exceptional natural beauty called the Waterberg Plateau, where we climbed the sandstone rocks and were rewarded by wonderful views over the surrounding plains.

Here, one of our number decided he would carve the name of one of the girls, whom he fancied, into the ancient sandstone next to our camp-site.

I hope she was impressed by this piece of testosterone-driven vandalism, because I certainly wasn’t.  I just did not understand why someone would come to an area of natural beauty and deface it and I made my feelings known to the group.  For me, it was a real low point of my time as a teacher, and, in retrospect, I probably over-reacted in my response.  I was pretty angry about it.

But then then, five years later, I go to Australia and see exactly the same thing.

Funny how things go around! Some things I just don’t understand.

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Guess what happened in Madang today!

We had a visitor.

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In fact we had about 600 visitors.

A cruise ship, the Europa, actually had the courage to brave the ‘rascols’ and dock in Madang! There was a noticeable police presence around town as the poor unsuspecting passengers ventured from the security of their ship and stepped ashore to explore this ‘wild frontier’ town that is Madang. We even saw Australian police officers in town.

Apparently there are a number of Aussie coppers in PNG training local police forces. The Governoof Madang Province had asked them all to come to Madang today to provide extra security for the visit of the cruise ship. This ship was due to stay six hours, but is due to be followed by a succession of cruise ships every couple of weeks for the next three months.

In terms of its geography and cultural diversity, Papua New Guinea could be an absolute mecca for tourists. It’s got everything. Palm-tree fringed beaches, stunning mountains and 820 languages and cultures. One thing I didn’t know before I came here was that the Great Barrier Reef, which brings thousands of visitors to Queensland in Australia every year, actually starts in Papua New Guinea. Who knew?

Indeed some people argue that the coral and sea-life off PNG is equally good, if not better, than what you can see off the Australian coast, because, apart from anything else, the reef does not suffer the damage from pollution and the volume of snorkelers and divers that the reef off Queensland does.

The trouble is that if anyone is thinking of visiting PNG and goes onto the internet to check it out, the first and second things they will learn about is insecurity, (rascolism) and cannibalism. (I don’t think there have been any cases of cannibalism for many years, but a bad reputation takes a long time to live down.)

Insecurity certainly is a problem for anyone trying to promote tourism in this country. Poverty is such that no-one is safe after dark, or even in the couple of hours leading up to the dark. Two weeks ago, we arrived back in Madang at about 5.00pm to find no-one at the airport to meet us. There had been a breakdown in communications at the university and the person who would normally organise for us to be picked up didn’t have us on her list.

We got on the phone and eventually a taxi mini-bus was arranged for us. It arrived at about 6.00pm, a good hour before sundown. Our journey back to the university would take no more than 15 minutes.

The taxi driver arrived with a co-driver/guard in the front seat. He was not a happy man. Between the airstrip and the university you have to drive through a settlement largely made up of people from other parts of PNG who have gravitated to Madang in search of work. Because there is no work to be had, these settlements are not nice places to be and certainly not after dark.

We piled into the mini-bus with all our luggage and settled in for the final leg of our journey that had stated about twelve hours earlier in a taxi in Sydney. The driver chided us for calling him out so late and told us to let him know in advance next time and he would meet the plane. “These people here are bad people,” he said. “Very dangerous here. Anything can happen!”

One the floor of the mini-bus, between his seat and the seat of his passenger was the biggest double-bladed bush knife you’ve ever seen.

You can see why the Governor wanted some extra police resources available when a big ship full of fresh-faced foreigners from Europe tied up in Madang harbor.

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