Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Agarabi Quartet returns - Part 6

The final days in Port Moresby, including the Kokoda Track

I realise that the preceding chapter was a rather massive one, but it was such an amazing adventure that we all enjoyed. Our time in the Highlands was outstanding and we all felt uplifted by the experience. It was now time to say goodbye and return to Port Moresby, this time on board the Norman Islander with Brenda up front to show the way:A day visit to Ower Corner - the start of the Kokoda Track, was top on our agenda. I was delighted with the vehicle that Budget allocated to us. It was a new 4WD (essential) and had room for eight people. Might be a bit sluggish, but a comfortable vehicle appropriate for our need. I had invited Leontine, Jerry and Ian Tamate to come with us, partly because they are good friends whose company we appreciate, but also because of security. 'Rascals' could be lurking near Ower Corner and it made sense to have some additional strength with us. Being nationals, also helps.

We left in high spirits and hit the Sogeri road - all old terrain from the sixties. The big difference is that today the road is sealed, which makes for greater comfort and we didn't have to breath in dust! When we neared Ower Corner, we came across McDonalds Corner, which we remembered very well because of this photo in 1971:Brenda and Mark re-enacted the shot, but note well that the 303 rifle has been replaced by a bit of shaped iron. Perhaps the local 'rascals' had pinched the 303 and restored it for criminal purposes:A family picture was very appropriate:And one of the Tamates, who very much enjoyed this spot too. It was all new to them!:When we lived in Port Moresby, a rubber plantation was located at McDonalds Corner, but is no longer operational. We were told that there is renewed interest in producing rubber and that old plantations could reopen:Leaving McDonalds Corner, it was not much further to Ower Corner, which is the official start of the Kokoda Track. But it still took a while to get there because of a very poor road (TRACK!). Finally, we were treated to the following view that looks out to Imita Ridge, the closest the Japs got to Port Moresby during the Kokoda Campaign in 1942:The Memorial Arch, which depicts the contour of the Owen Stanley mountains, is an impressive site. It remembers not only our own diggers, but also the Papua Carriers that did such stirling work and by their efforts, saved many Australian soldiers. They were affectionately called 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels' by our troops. This has become quite legendary.As we wondered around, we noted that Leontine was deeply affected by this place and she showed the girls the affect this location had on her skins. Remember, neither she nor Jerry and Ian had been here before. She then told us that her father was one of the Carriers used on the Kokoda Track, assisting our soldiers. It made our own hair stand on end. She told us how, when Japanese planes passed over her village during the war, the children would pray, 'Please God. Don't let the bombs fall on my daddy.' Having Leontine, Jerry & Ian with us, made the visit all the more meaningful. Ian told us that only recently he had written a song about his grandfather and he was deeply touched that he could now visit this place where his grandpa served.

The following photo is of Leontine:
Please take a couple of minutes to read the next plaque as it tells its own dramatic story about what took place here in 1942. You will need to click on the image to see it in larger print:In recent times, many Australians have walked the track and all speak about how tough it is. The family just went down the hill a little but of course could not really get any idea how tough it was in the war with a full backpack and snipers constantly a danger:A final shot of the group under the Memorial Arch. We were blessed indeed:There were many who died along the Kokoda Track and most of the Australians, plus a number of Papuans were finally laid to rest in the Bomana War Cemetery:Too many died during the course of the war - any war! These beautiful grounds are carefully maintained by the Australian War Graves Commission and immaculately kept. You will note that guard dogs patrol the ground to protect visitors like us; a sobering reminder that criminals have no respect for any one and will pry on, and indeed attack, the unsuspecting.The CROSS is dominant in every Australian War Cemetery and it always touches me that those who died are buried in the shadow of a Cross. A stark reminder also of the Prince of Peace who died 2000 years ago in order that those who believe in Him will live for evermore.There are numerous graves that contain the remains of servicemen who could not be identied. Their headstone simply says 'Known unto God':Then there were the many who we know died, but whose bodies have never been found. Their names are recorded in the memorial up the hill overlooking the graves. The Cemetery continues to receive remains of men whose aircraft in which they perished are found in recent times. Even while we were there, I was told that a war plane had been located on New Britain and the remains of the crew were being recovered to be interred in Bomana War Cemetery. This is still a regular event in PNG.

The following photo gives more information about this location and also gives statistical details:Bomana was always a favourite place of ours when we lived in Port Moresby. On regular occasions, we would take a pic-nic lunch after church on Sundays and visit the place. Considering it is a place with a background of war and violence, it paradoxically is also one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited.

We recalled the memory of those visits vividly as we wandered around the graves. The following is just one photo taken in 1971:And this is how we were in 2007:As we leave Bomana, our memory will always be reinforced by the Cross that dominates this special place:On our return from Ower Corner, we made a delightful diversion to Crystal Rapids at Sogeri and had a picnic lunch there.The following is just a small sample and gives you some idea how beautiful this spot is and what a great time we had in company of the Tamates:And as we drove back to Port Moresby, just another reminder of the past - Rouna Falls, the site of Port Moresby's Hydro Electricity scheme.Before we left PNG, we visited the Botanical Gardens and came across an old friend, the KOKOMO Bird. It brought back memories of stories told long ago!

But it is time to go to the airport and catch our flight back home to family, friends and responsibilities. God has been most gracious to us. We experienced so much including each other's company (stories were told during this time of things I knew nothing about), the love we shared, the memory of our special mum who was with us in spirit. Above all, we experienced God's overwhelming presence in everything we did and where ever we went. Thanks be to God!!

Up and away.........!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Agarabi Quartet returns - Part 5

Flight over the PNG Highlands!

One of our plans was to charter one of the SIL Cessna 206s to fly us over the highlands from Aiyura to Mt. Hagen to Kandep to Erave and then back to Aiyura with a final fly over the Agarabi school. Apart from re-fueling in Mt. Hagen, we only landed at Erave as the family had their earliest recollections at that place. We prayed for good flying conditions and of course, good weather. If you click on the map, you will get a larger picture that more clearly shows the route we travelled:We were required to be at the airstrip by 7 am and when we woke up it looked like a good day was ahead of us. However, as we arrived at the strip, the following sight met our eyes:But, we were all in good spirits believing this day was to be another special day in our lives. Ann ensured we were entertained:Finally, the weather cleared for take-off at 10.15 am. Let's go!!Strapped in and ready to go, but not before our pilot suggested that we commend the day and the flying to God in prayer, seeking His presence with us throughout the day. Isn't that great! It brought the significance of the day even closer to home of not only God's presence, but also that of Carol, who would have loved this trip:Lots of cloud around, but we were able to make out the Highland Highway through the clouds. A little further, it was 8/8s cloud, but it does make a spectacular view:Thankfully, the cloud lifted and we were left with perfect flying conditions. Goroka in the distance was also in the clear and this is where Brenda & Mark were born. Time did not permit either landing or a visit by car.Now, I have a bit of a problem. There are just so many wonderful sights that we captured along the route, that it will be difficult to contain myself. Let's give you a bit of an idea what we soaked up as we flew over this great country:The terrain is rugged and there aren't many places to land!The Waghi Valley moving towards Mt Hagen:Mt. Wilhelm, at over 15,000' and the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, was basking in sunshine:Christian Leaders Training College at Banz on our right is significant in PNG church development:Kagamuga Airport, Mt Hagen where we refueled at the MAF hanger:Being back at Kagamuga Airport brought memories back for me when the airport was opened by Lord Mountbatten in 1965. Here was one of the shots I took then:By contrast today, modern jet aircraft grace the tarmac:Overflying Mt Hagen, we could make out the school (circled) where I taught for a short time and the house (arrowed) where we lived in 1965:The old Mt Hagen airstrip is now a busy commercial centre:The country between Mt Hagen & Kandep was truly awesome. Have a look:Mt Gulluwe, near Mendi is an awesome sight. It was wonderfully in the clear and its towering 14,200' elevation was impressive. Just a couple of images:Kandep at 7,200' was a pretty cold place and with a very poor house in 1965, the evenings were most uncomfortable to the point where on medical advice, we were transferred to Erave. The house is indicated by the arrow and the school is circled. It looks much larger than how it was in 1965!Erave was very isolated and the terrain over which we flew is one of the most rugged in the country:Villages down below looked peaceful and lovely:The Erave River:And here it is, Erave Station, our home in 1965/66. The house is circled & the Mission station arrowed. The children thought nothing of crossing the airstrip to visit daddy at school and were careful to look left and right and left again for any aircraft that might be on final. Road safety with a difference:Erave does not look very much different from those early days. Well, at least from the air.Another shot showing our house (circled) and the Mission in the foreground:It did not take long to draw a crowd who wanted to know who these drop-ins were:Including a former school students who was totally overcome, as I was:In procession, we went around the old sites, including the UFM (now ECPNG) Mission Station:By now a good crowd was milling around:Babies are cute, whoever they are. This one is no exception. She was lovely!The walk finally took us to where our house was. The verandah is now closed in:And this is how it looked in 1966:The following individual shots of the family are taken from what was the verandah in 1966. First Ann, then followed by Vicki, Brenda and Mark:I can carry on with more photos for a while, but.......our 'coach' is waiting for us:A final shot of those who came to make our visit so memorable:Our return to Aiyura via Mt Hagen continued to be most enjoyable. Just after leaving Erave, we passed over Padre where I witnessed the first baptism in 1966. At the time, the people were building an airstrip. Well, here is a shot of how it looked in 2007:Our Pilot, Christopher, skilfully flew us back and gave us another view of this mountain. We just had to negotiate the low cloud ceiling, but all went well:Finally, back over Kainantu - of course in the clear. How different this place is today compared to those many years ago. The old airstrip is still clearly visible:And to complete this fantastic day, a shot of us all in front of our Cessna 206 together with pilot Christopher.What a wonderful day! we can truly thank God for His presence and His incredible kindness to us!