The theme of this collage was the events and experiences of my first 28 years so how could I not include a photo which related to the Independence of Papua New Guinea. Regular readers will have read other posts on this topic here so for this story I needed a different angle. It occurred to me that while I’ve talked about the celebratory events, I haven’t actually talked about what it meant on a day to day level.
I asked Mr Cassmob for his thoughts on this last night and to an extent we were surprised at how little practical difference it made to our lives: we went to the same workplaces, we got our pay in the same bank account (even though the bank’s name had been rebadged), we did the same social things and lived in the same government house. For sure the structures and legislation underpinning all of this had changed, and there were more brown faces than white at the top level, but that didn’t bother us as it had been an emerging trend throughout out our then-short careers. We were neither senior enough to be displaced from our positions, nor were in positions which gave us any real power. We just kept on doing our jobs to the best of our ability.
There were some changes to consider at work: the need to consider the implications of a changed currency, from the dollar to the kina or vice versa, on the payment of school subsidies (Pauleen), or the practicalities of helping to establish the diplomatic training corps program at the Administrative College (Peter).
After I moved from Education to Finance I suppose I was involved in minor administrative ways with the new bank Board structures as well as some organisation for visiting delegations from the International Monetary Fund which came to assess PNG’s financial status. We worked with local colleagues who were developing their skills and experience preparing for more senior roles within the public service over the years to come. Working in Finance was the only time I ever got to use the theory I’d learned in my economics degree.
Many Australians did leave after either self-government or Independence. Some of the more colonial types couldn’t handle the relinquishing of power to those whom they’d once had power over. Others, like Peter’s father, left because their jobs were superseded or had been localised. Over the years between self-government and Independence one of the employment trends was the departure of these Australians and the increased reliance on recruitment from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Philippines.
We were pleased to stay for another few years and in the end decided to relocate to Australia so we could re-start our careers there before time got away from us. We were also determined our children would not go to boarding school. Although there were jobs for us in PNG and we loved being there, it was time to go despite our sadness. We had contemplated taking out citizenship but decided against it. Peter had already been challenged that he wasn’t a Papua New Guinean by some over-eager student, to which Peter simply replied “I’ve lived here longer than you’ve been alive”. And so the next stage of our lives began, back in our country of birth, but forever changed by our experiences in that amazing, challenging and exciting country, PNG.
It’s appropriate that the collage photo I chose for today was one of Michael Somare walking towards the Catholic Cathedral near Ela Beach for an Independence service. Lots of dignitaries were there from Prince Charles to Australia’s Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam and former Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock. Apart from being the inaugural Prime Minister Somare was one of a select group of men who were chosen to fill the most senior roles in the country. Among the public service heading departments were Mekere Morauta (Finance), Charles Lepani, Rabbie Namaliu and Tony Siagaru, the commonly named “Gang of Four”, two of whom we worked for either closely or indirectly.