Samarai Island: Once A District Nerve-Centre

The south side of Samarai Island. The sight of a lone man in his canoe – still the main mode of transport for many people in these islands.

It was a short trip to Samarai from Doini Island – less than 30 minutes. I had never seen the island from this side before.

The Kwato Mission boats, MV Osiri and MV Labini would berth here some Saturdays bringing shoppers from Kwato and the famous homemade Kwato bread and buns. These were a popular hit as the ladies always returned to Kwato with the large empty bread basins.

Simply known as Government wharf - where all the Government workboats used to berth.
Many happy memories of this wharf especially when the mission boats, MV Osiri and MV Labini would berth here for Kwato islanders to do their shopping at Samarai’s two main department stores – Steamships and Burns Philp and many other shops such as the hardware store.
 
The natural swimming pool at Samarai - you can jump into the pool from Government Wharf.
Samarai was the District headquarters for the Milne Bay District before the advent of provinces. It was a hub for many islanders and a government nerve-centre for Milne Bay District in the south eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.
 
The once iconic Anglican Church on the main drag to the town centre. Sadly, it is falling apart. Once gone, a part of our history and heritage will go with it.
To a little girl growing up on the neighbouring island of Kwato in the mid-60s, Samarai had everything from a post office to two hospitals, two prisons, two clubs (mind you the two of everything meant one for whites and one for natives) but one bank, one dedicated hardware store, one bakery that turns out beautiful Samarai bread (the ones that come close to this size of bread could be found at Brumby’s bakery in Vision City in Port Moresby), a fresh local vegetable market and so on.
 
Samarai was an exciting place to be. There were lots of colonial government officers mainly Australian and a number of mixed race families lived here too.
 
We used to visit the dentist on Samarai a couple of times a year – arrrrgh that was a visit no kid wants to make but such was life for 7-8 year olds in the early ’60s.
 
The Robinson Memorial, stands at what could have been a traffic intersection (mostly pedestrian traffic perhaps).
 
This memorial stands on one of the main drags leading to the many lovely colonial residences and the Samarai cricket ground. Many of these houses were built like the ones you can still see today in Cairns, Australia.
 
The message on this memorial is not politically correct now but it must have been in those days or how else would they have got the message etched on the thing in the first place. As a young girl I never paid attention to the message until much later.
 
I don’t know why this memorial still stands with its politically incorrect message. To my knowledge no-one had tried to remove it from this beautiful island. I dare to think now that perhaps its historical heritage value is considered more than by removing it.
 
In fact I think this is a classic example of a memorial that could be regarded as offensive, yet it tells a story of what times were like then. Particularly the colonial mentality that reigned supreme in those days.  How different would Milne Bay have been or for that matter PNG if this message were to have continued into the 21st Century. I dare not think about that. The value now would be in tourism mostly and something to see when at Samarai or in these islands.
 
What remains of the memorable Burns Philp department store. We used to buy Paul's icecream here. I even bought a book on Greek mythology in this store. Those were the days.
Samarai was self-sufficient. It had everything we needed in the islands and more. There was a bank – the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) which was situated in the heart of the town and a tea shop where meat pies and coca cola were the popular items on the menu. 
 
Samarai was the place to be on Saturdays for grocery shopping, native vegetables, smoked fish, cooked chestnuts in coconut, Logea aigaru (unique green leaves that are found in Milne Bay and absolutely delicious when cooked in coconut and as an accompaniment to smoked fish) and many other exciting bits and  pieces such as icecream, apples and meat pies not to mention Buntings biscuits (white) and navy bread biscuits. My faourite sweet biscuits in those days were called ‘MilkyWay’ and ‘Tea Cake’.
 
This island was a heavenly treasure trove for us ‘other’ neighbouring islanders who were fortunate to be on Samarai on Saturdays, ANZAC Day and Kaihea (cultural festival) events.
Memorial Hall at Samarai. We would congregate here after the ANZAC Day march around the island led by the PIR Band. Those were the days.
 On ANZAC Day (25th April) school children would gather to march around the island led by the Pacific Island Regiment Band. This was an exciting time for us. We’d come over from Kwato to join in the celebration. Everyone would congregate infront of the Memorial Hall for speeches etc. We’d also sing hymns and the one I especially remember is “O God Our Help In Ages Past”.

 

We came from Kwato Island to join in the commemoration. We would join the parade with the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) and march along the identified route which brought us back to the Memorial Hall. I didn’t quite understand why we had to do this but it felt good to be marching in our Brownie uniforms. I was fascinated with the bagpipes that the PIR carried and played as we marched to the tunes.
 
A plaque (photo on the right) honouring the fallen in Gallipoli reminds us that war is not a cool thing then and now.  I could not recall ever having seeing this plaque but that’s probably because we only went anywhere near the Memorial Hall only when invited or when there was a good reason to be anywhere near it such as the ANZAC Day commemorative events.
 
Remains of the main wharf where many a tourist cruise liner would berth such as the Bulolo or Malaita. I was really sad just standing there and looking at this. Oh, if I had a couple of million Kina to spare....
I dug into my memory bank and recalled that hundreds of copra bags full of copra waiting to be shipped would be piled high on one side of the main wharf. We’d look for the dried coconuts that fell out on the side – they made such a lovely snack!
 
Looking across to Kwato and Logea - silhouettes against the early evening sky.
Walking down to Government Wharf and our boat to take us back to Alotau, I felt a pang of homesickness. Well, even a grown-up feels that from time to time. We are all captives of the tranquility of these islands. Especially the peace it brings especially when the day is done and one is in a reflective mood which I admit was my state of mind as we strolled towards the boat.
 
We assembled at Government Wharf and boarded our boat. There was no-one I knew I could wave aioni (good bye) to. Kind of sad. We pulled away from the wharf and as we set the course for Alotau we passed the main wharf and what used to be the Steamships wharf and all I could see was critical infrastructure falling apart and no-one seems to be doing anything about it.
 
Views of the seafront where the Samarai CBD was once the hub of financial, economic, and social activities. 
 
The main wharf and old Steamies wharf - alongside eachother. What a tragedy? or can we still save this heritage site?
 This seafront was a hive of acivity in the ’60s and ’70s which made Samarai Island the place to be. Even during the early ’80s and ’90s. It was a meeting place for all sorts of people I reckon – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Samarai was such an iconic place then.
 
Would we be able to rekindle that illustrious past maybe in another way and make it once again the hub every province needs. Each province needs more than one hub to get services to remote areas of the province.
 
Looking back at the once awesome nerve centre of Milne Bay, I struggled to hold back the tears.
 “Back to Samarai the island of my dreams….” courtesy of the Island Sounds resonates with all those who came to love this idyllic little island, once full of life.
 
In the distance, only a few posts remain of the walkway that led to the 'restroom' over the water.
So the visit to Samarai was a painful reminder that we seem to let our history and heritage fade before our very eyes. We seem to take what was really good and practical in the past so much for granted and which we can use and turn to our advantage in our current development plans and activities. We seem to go for new things rather than building on the ones we already have. Samarai is a very real case in point.
 
It is still worth a visit if you are in Alotau and need to stretch your legs or do some island-hopping over a weekend. Samarai is worthy of a stop.
 
I believe there is time for a major resucitation and facelift. Let’s get government services back to the smaller islands in the southeast of Milne Bay by making Samarai a critical stopover place. It is bound to grow from its hibernating roots if given even a dog’s chance, to revive itself with the help of those who loved the island and still do.  Perhaps the ‘Samarai Island diaspora’ is an excellent start. What sayeth ye?
 

PNG Still Makes Me Smile Regardless

Returning from Tawali Resort - a view to remember...eneeeeeeee

At this point in time in Port Moresby with all the prevailing confusion caused by the political leadership tussle and no one piece of  news gives us any consolation that a solution is nigh, one needs to reach out to the lovely things that make Papua New Guinea a beautiful country. Those lovely things are the real deal.

Yesterday with all that was being reported over the radio, the national dailies and in Facebook etc, I observed that most people in the downtown Port Moresby area and surrounds were busy going about their business.

It did occur to me that in times like this the lovely things about Papua New Guinea must come out. My thoughts turned to the hundreds of photos I’ve taken since my return from England and how it would be great to share these magical moments on this blog…

So here are some of the many images I’ve snapped of this beautiful country which should not be trashed and tarnished through the reckless and callous actions of a few.

My photoblog starts today sharing some more magic moments in PNG…

Sunset on the Tawala side – returning from Tawali Resort
 

A lone fisherman on an outrigger canoe in the bay. The mountains on the Tawala side looked ever so majestic.
The above photo was taken from a Driftwood Resort dinghy taking us on a day trip to Kwato, Doini and Samarai just after last year’s Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau.
 
In sum, regardless of the current ridiculous political wrangling and confusion that is and can be unsettling if you are in Port Moresby right now, there are things that can still make one smile. Those things are real and tangible within the heart of every peace-loving Papua New Guinean and those whose spirits have made the connection to the beauty of this country and its people.
 
We are all in some way connected through our smiles and the quiet confidence we exude in the way we have taken this most challenging and historic time in PNG’s political history in our stride.

A Memorable Weekend In Alotau

Looking across to Ealeba from Cameron's Plateau

Don’t get me wrong. I have spent many a memorable weekend in Alotau. It is just that this time I felt I had come of age. For starters, I got to use the ‘live view’ function of my Nikon D90. Then the weather was  my kind of weekend weather – dry and sunny and, I got to see the people I wanted to see whilst in Alotau. I also, as a bonus, ran into a lot of family and friends who I haven’t seen in ages.

I also visited my late grandmother’s village across the bay – Wagawaga. The first time I visited Wagawaga was when I was in primary school. Now that is a long time ago. I was really pleased to hook up with relatives some of whom I was meeting face to face for the first time.

Approaching Wagawaga Village...a postcard of tranquility

I also got to sing with the original members of the Salima Band at the Driftwood Resort and Masurina Lodge respectively over the weekend. I was so pleased that this was possible. We stayed up on Saturday ‘til the early hours of the morning singing our recorded songs, teaching eachother our newer songs and talking about our music. Yes, our music. You see, the Salima signature sound is founded on Milne Bay stringband music with a few improvisations along the way to vary the flavor. But, basically, easy listening music which is the sound that Salima is well-known for.

A restaurant over the sea...at dusk

We were blessed to have some of our diehard fans join us in celebrating the weekend and our music. We are so grateful for their patronage of the Driftwood Resort on the Friday and Sunday nights that Salima played there. Not forgetting family and friends who also enjoyed our music when Salima played at Masurina Lodge on Saturday night. Thank you all so much for your support. Your support and encouragement motivates and inspires us to continue writing our songs to share with you.

Warm reception...

I had a wonderful visit at Alotau International Hotel with the Manager and staff. Some of you who have visited this premier Hotel in Alotau would have enjoyed the stunning views of the bay area. I had a grand tour of the hotel and really enjoyed visiting this seaside hotel. Of course, knowing me, no visit is complete without a sumptuous bowl of icecream, you guessed it – vanilla icecream!

Icecream on a cool Saturday afternoon on the grounds of the Hotel...yummy!

The hotel is situated near the War Memorial and Sanderson Bay. It is within walking distance of the town centre and the market. Can you see yourself enjoying a barbeque on these grounds, a mumu perhaps or pig on a spit or perhaps a wedding reception with the fantastic sweeping views of Ealeba across the bay area? The fun potential of this hotel is endless.

The view reminded me of The Remarkables of Queenstown, New Zealand

When at the water’s edge in Alotau, one gets a real sense of the awesome Owen Stanley Range as it forks out into a lopsided ‘V’ shape, into Tawala  and Ealeba – the sprawling mountain ranges that form the bay area – Milne Bay. These majestic mountain ranges have evoked many a rousing stringband number or sombre and moody melodies. These tunes have become the epitome of the Milne Bay 5-key sound – as slack guitar is to Hawaii. The tunes are endearing and enduring throughout the years and I guess we – this generation – are most fortunate to have grown up with so much of the romanticism of our environment.

An awesome sight even for the locals...I felt really blessed.

I say romanticism because we do not remember the bad weather, the rainy season and the rough seas when we are writing our songs. We consciously disconnect ourselves from reminiscing about the storms and the times when the environment unleashes its fury on the islands during a cyclone or bad weather. We still write and sing songs about being nostalgic, jilted in love or the natural beauty around us. This romanticism translates itself consciously and unconsciously into the care we feel for our islands, our bay area, our reefs, our culture and art, and of course our way of life – the Milne Bay way.

Priceless!

I don’t know but more than anywhere else I know in PNG the stringband songs of Milne Bay always never fail to wake the sleeping romantic in me. I know for a fact that Milne Bay stringbands can still belt out the most melodious, lilting sounds that are close to what I would call ‘island spirituals’. For the many who have an ear or the enduring spirit that connects with this kind of music – it takes you on a journey, oh yeah.

Blue Sails In The Sunset

Beautiful against the sunset...

These were some of the sailing boats that took part in the 2010 Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau, Milne Bay Province last November.

Race you to the shore!

I took these shots from shore looking out into the bay. The Suau word for bay is alotau. In other dialects in the area the word for bay is ‘kalotau’.  The capital town of Milne Bay where the Provincial Headquarters is located is Alotau – taken from the Suau word for bay. I think it is a fitting name and one that conjures up so many lovely memories and warm thoughts about Milne Bay and the Milne Bay way of life. Like the bay, it can be choppy at times but mostly calm.

Leaving the white froth behind as they raced to shore. The folks in the hut must have had a great view.

The bay was reasonably calm but slightly windy. Anyway, the canoes and their skippers were unfazed. It was a good wind for sailing. For me a landlubber, I wouldn’t allow myself to be dragged out on a canoe at that time of the day. I would rather be taking photos of others, like these folks, racing around in open canoes or sailboats.

In the distance against the hills of Ealeba on the other side of the bay.

Am not so sure why the sails are all in blue. It’s either the most popular colour or that’s the only colour they have available. Perhaps it was the only colour available in Alotau at that time. Yeah, let’s not forget this is one part of PNG which is so far southeast of the capital city of Port Moresby. So it is better to get a sail even if it comes only in one colour. So no choice for colours really. That seems to be a common thing in PNG. Sometimes you end up with only one colour, only one size etc. If you get something and it serves your purpose why worry about colour, make, shape etc. The important thing is that it works! Well, I hope some enterprising citizen would provide assorted colours for this year’s Canoe and Kundu Festival. It would be great to have a rainbow of colours for sails than just blue. But hey, it may be that these folks like blue! Who gives a rat’s behind what I think! End of story!

Getting to shore...

Watching these folks deftly move about the boat was worth watching. I thought about the huge sailboats that ply the Milne Bay waters on the Kula Trade routes that take them to as far as the Rossel Islands in the southeastern most tip of Milne Bay from all the way out in Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands).  Now that’s a thought!

Blue sails in the sunset, cruising over an evening sea...

Other craft were also visible (between the two blue sails) and I wasn’t sure whether the folks in the dinghy were heading for the other side of the bay or going out to help someone who went overboard. It’s probably the former.

Almost on terra firma again

These folks looked relaxed and probably happy to be just floating on the sea to shore. I guess the end of a tough afternoon and the fun we landlubber folks had taking shots of the sailboats. They must be in many many photos taken by people like me – amateurs and professionals alike.

Time to bring the sails down...the crew of the Meros

…time for a hot cuppa something and to chew betelnut. One of the favourite pastimes of Milne Bay people…betelnut chewing.

I too packed my camera away and headed for Masurina Lodge for some sumptuous homecooked meal of aiai nugini (taro, sweetpotatoes, greens etc) and a hot cuppa Milo…

It was a wonderful day. It was so nice to be in Alotau, the cleanest town in PNG. Eaide!

Hugging The Coastline To Alotau

Rewarded with this view...

On a recent trip to Alotau, Milne Bay Province, a friend gave up their window seat so I could take photos of scenes on the way.

It was a clear sunny day and a team of us were on our way to the 7th Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau, Milne Bay Province.

Although our flight was delayed, the sights on the way made me forget about the delay.  I anticipated great views on the way and these few shots showed me yet again what a beautiful country Papua New Guinea is. Not because it is my country but because it is!

Here are a few more shots of our journey towards the southeast of Port Moresby and the Central Province.

Stunning!
Another spectacular vista...
Had to include this shot. It added value to the views outside and below.
Coming in to land at Gurney International Airport
What a view...Alotau in the far background
We came in to land, and a familiar sight...
The sight of the oil palm estate below as we came in to land

It was a great trip and the weather was great. I enjoyed being able to take these shots of the coastline as we cruised on towards the southeastern end of the country.

I used my Nikon D90 camera with the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor ED 17-55mm f/2.8 G IF lens. I reckon its a beauty. These shots are proof enough.

I am blessed to have a wonderful friend who gave up their window seat for me. Tenkyu tru SJ.

Gudi!

Hawaiian Dinner Cruise - Honolulu, Hawaii - Dec. 2008

Gudi! (pronounced ‘goooodie’)

This is my first ever blog intended mainly for family and friends, as a way of staying in touch and sharing my magic moments through words and pictures.

So what does ‘gudi’ mean?

It can mean a number of things but don’t be alarmed.

1.  The person addressing you is from the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea.

2. A friendly and informal greeting among friends, family and close associates.

3. It is a lazy way of saying ‘good afternoon’ hence the ‘gudi’ part.

If you are in Milne Bay or anywhere in PNG you most probably will be greeted with a hearty ‘gudi’ in the supermarket, parking lot, on the phone or just about anywhere. It is spreading throughout the country as a common greeting but mostly used by people from Milne Bay. With the viral nature of slang the humble ‘gudi’ will no doubt one day be a common greeting amongst people not even remotely connected to Milne Bay. Hmm…