We were way up in the mountains above Mt Hagen in PNG, building a gold mine.
Anyway one day, myself and several local blokes were putting together steel frames to go on top of some tanks. All the tanks were the same, so we fitted one frame together on the ground, numbered the various beams, and were assembling the same numbers one on top of each other.
All peaceful, and easy easy.
Then I heard a yell, looked around, and one of our local crew, Peter, was having a push and shove with an unknown tribal man. I jumped off the steelwork, and gently separated them. The tribal bloke went away, and dill that I am, thought that was it.
Uh uh, not so.
Two hours later there’s another wild yell, and here is the same man with five mates coming around the corner of our office building. They are all wearing greatcoats, and pulling out gleaming machetes from under them. It’s Peter they are after. He starts leaping here and there on the built up steel frames, while they are running around below, intent on chopping him to bits.
I race around, get Peter to jump down, and run him into the office.
It is at this point that everything changes.
.. so here is an incident which shines light on our present mine site drama.
Many years before, Sharon and I lived in Port Moresby, so knew full well how the unique system of PNG works. There were frequent riots and fights all over the place back then, but if you were not directly involved, (say it was Chimbus vrs Goilalas), you could walk clean through all the chaos easy as pie.
Anyway this incident happened in Port Moresby. Rugby League was THE big sport, and once a year Papua played New Guinea. In 1972 the game was in Moresby. There were more than 12,000 spectators within a 4m barb wire fence, another 4m fence safeguarded the playing field, plus there were more spectators outside.
Europeans and local Papuans were in the main grandstand and outer stands, while all the outer parts were teeming with wild New Guinea highlanders.
Anyway, after Papua won the game these lads started running amok.
All the Europeans and Papuans elected to stay right where they were behind big fences, and leave ’em to it. But I could see this might get a lot bigger, and as Sharon was out at the airport skydiving, wanted to go find her. All the boys said no, you can’t, but I started out, only to see 3 Papuan blokes running across the car park for their very lives. There was a gate, I pushed that open, they raced through, I shut it, but their pursuers hit it flat strap, and it flew open to crack me in the head.
Now sometimes I’m easy scared, but do seem to hold calm when it comes to the crunch .. so with blood running down my face, managed a smile, and a sort of, so what shrug. They left it at that, and Dr J, stitched me up. Then, despite all the boys trying to stop me, I went out through the secure fence again. Sharon was at the airport, this was sure to blow up bigger, and I had to get her safely home.
I began walking to our car, but must have been a little in ga-ga land, cos half way across the car park I looked up – oh oh – here were a 100 or more Highland rioters giving me such a very strange look. “Steady lad, steady. There are two things you never do with these wild men, show anger or fear. Try and run, no matter how fast you are, you’re dead”. So I kept walking towards them, all the time trying to work out why they were looking at me like this?
Then it dawned. I had just played for the Papuan footy side, so I was involved.
It was far too late for anything else, so I said a quick prayer, smiled and waltzed straight in “Heey wantok, emi savy gutpela tru yu smashim algeta car.” .loved the way you tipped those cars over etc”, they all laughed and let me straight through.
Whew. But that just shows how serious things in PNG can walk a very fine line, if you are involved. .
Now, many years later, I was involved again. Peter and I were in a demountable office, with blokes outside whacking at the door with machetes and tomahawks.
Eventually they went away, and our head local man, Dominic, (who was Peters’ brother), showed up.
I asked him what would happen?
“Oh, they will wait at the main gate and kill him when he comes out .. and probably they are looking for you too.
So we smuggled Peter out in another Companies’ truck, but when I drove past for a look, they were all there, waiting by the gate. Anyway I slept with a Tomahawk in one hand, but next morning Dominic bounces up all smiles.
“It’s all ok. What happened was Peter said to that man you can’t be on this site without shoes – he said it’s my land, don’t tell me what to do – so Peter pushed him. He went back, told his friends a man pushed him, and they said let’s go kill him.”
(Simple as that, in broad daylight, in the middle of a major construction site!)
“But I know these men, so last night I found them and said, Peter is my brother, you don’t know him because he has been away at school.”
“Ohh they said, if he’s local that’s ok. Still he did push Ebbe, and that will cost two cans of Coca Cola”
Then Dominic nearly burst his sides laughing :-
“..but because they tried to kill Peter, that cost them 3 cans of Coke!”
So there you go. Imagine all the rigmarole. Police; Judges; Barristers; paper work etc, that a case of attempted murder would invoke in the west .. yet here it’s all solved quick as blink, by one can of coca cola !