Ahi retires to Salamaua after 30 years

Weekender
TRAVEL
Wagu Ahi at his home at Salamaua.

By NATHA LATI
SALAMAUA is my birth place and the place where I grew up and went to school, then got employed and lived away for many years, reminisces 67-year-old Wagu Ahi.
“Returning to Salamaua and enjoying my retirement feels better than elsewhere I have worked and lived.”
Ahi tells of his early childhood with experiences of growing up in a war-torn Salamaua, going to school there and finally ending up being a telecommunications technician for PNG Telikom in Port Moresby until his retrenchment in 2002.
He is one of those few people who have invested their time, trades and skills to make the telecommunication earth station located at Gerehu to where it is now by adapting into the changing trends in technology.
Ahi was retrenched in 2002 and decided to go back to his birthplace and enjoy his retirement peacefully in the place which holds most of his childhood memories and is dear to his heart. His current house has been built opposite the area which used to be generator shed for whole of Salamaua government station facing the beautiful bay towards the Huon Gulf.
His retirement was more like counting the steps backward again to recollect the fond memories of the childhood days and replaying into cognition.
The beauty and serenity of the place would definitely make such as Ahi to rewind his life in the imaginary world and smile away in awe for a satisfaction over his life or regrets but such life experiences makes up the balance of life in the process of living.
From historical facts, Salamaua was one of the earliest townships developed by the explorers and colonial administration. Ahi has some knowledge of Salamaua oral history.
One of the stories that is retold to this day in Salamaua is the significance of Black Cat Track. The Allied forces might have military reasons for using the track, however, according to Ahi, the gold from Bulolo was transported on the track to Salamaua and shipped out of the country from there.
On the other hand, Japanese forces with the quest for expansion and dominance in the Pacific had targeted Salamaua to establish a strategic base for their eastern New Guinea and Coral Sea areas campagins. As per the historical records, in March 1942, the Japanese contingent landed in Salamaua and the small Australian garrison in the area withdrew as the Japanese landed and did not contest the invasion.
The Japanese invasion of Salamaua was to construct an airfield and establish a base to cover and support the advancement of Japanese forces on the ultimately unsuccessful Japanese land offensive towards Port Moresby along the Kokoda Track.

The retreat area for Lae Biscuit Company at Salamaua.
WW2 reamains at Salamaua.

The Allied forces did not give up the hopes of reoccupying Salamaua to cause havoc on any further advancement plans by the Japanese. Hence, in an effort to repossess Salamaua, the Allied forces launched a secret and undetected attack via the Gulf of Papua and over the Owen Stanley Ranges into Salamaua and raided the area with a total of 104 bombers that accounted for 130 deaths and 250 wounded Japanese with more than 10 ships including seaplanes destroyed in the raid at Salamaua.
The raid caused severe destruction to most of the infrastructures built by the colonial administration and Allied forces as well as Japanese during its time of occupancy.
The area must have been lifeless with debris all over as result of air raids by 104 bombers repeatedly.
When WWII was over with contest for dominance and expansion of territory between Allied Forces and Japanese in the Pacific and similar raids were conducted elsewhere in PNG as bloody battles were fought destroying life, properties, the environment and livelihoods of the people which was beyond the imagination like in Salamaua.
As such the life Ahi experienced and growing up in Salamaua after the war was still filled with fresh tales and reminders of the war. He thinks he was born five or seven years after the WWII and the big air raid on Salamaua by the Allied forces. He recalled growing amidst the damaged structures in Salamaua. The once major seaport and seawall are now under the sea due to the combined effects from bombs and sea corrosion.
Now the seawall is a major concern for the villagers of Salamaua as the effect from global warming is showing impacts on their coastlines and the area has been declared as Potential Disaster Zone by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) under its Disaster Risk Management Project which educates communities to be vigilant in natural disasters and develop plans on risks and mitigation.
Ahi said that under his watchful eyes as a local citizen, things have changed for Salamaua physically. Business houses in Lae have established retreat centers in Salamaua and it changed the setting of the area physically but naturally the sea is eating away the peninsula and soon the Salamaua Point will be an island off the mainland.
In fact, Salamaua is eminent in history books. As well it is embedded in the memories of people who are in one way or another connected to the place. The places holds historical significance to PNG and is a national tourism asset and area of interest. The war relics, the natural vegetation and landscape of the beautiful coastline and mountain ranges which Black Cat Track passes through, makes it a sure attraction to visitors.
The area has features possible to create a tagline for itself among the world’s best coastal destinations like Phuket or Bali.
To open up Salamaua as an area of interest for tourists, there is some work that needs doing with the community in collaboration with the provincial government to realise the benefits of tourism for locals.
There are some operators involved in tourism at a smaller scale by selling Salamaua in their packages at the moment but making it community-wide and expanding the operations and sharing the benefits entirely will somehow make the magic of the place work for people of Morobe and Salamaua.

  • Nathan Lati is a product development officer at the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority.

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