By PAUL MINGA
IT is a dream for almost every young Papua New Guinean to travel overseas.
I was no exception when I was younger.
Australia, our former colonial master and closest neighbour is the obvious first choice for travel – for reasons varying from sight-seeing to study tours and even permanent residency.
In my case, I just wanted to explore the nearest part of Australia I could reach by a single flight out from Port Moresby. The desire to explore a part of Australia had driven me into saving a fraction of my fortnightly salary from an odd job in Port Moresby in 1996.
The little pay from the odd job could not cater for too many items in an expensive city like Port Moresby but the interest to discover Australia made me save up at all cost under a tight budget. While saving up, I looked out for airline special packages in the daily newspapers.
I came across a newspaper advertisement of a special package put up by Air Niugini. I quickly got my passport done.
Soon after that I enquired for information regarding the special airfares an Air Niugini ticketing office. To my amazement, I found out that it was only K800 for the special fares. That K800 package include return airfares, hotel accommodation and transport to and from a hotel in Brisbane.
It was too good to miss so wasted no time and purchased tickets straight away. I was then advised to obtain an Australian visa. That was done a few days after I got the airline ticket.
I still remember, it was April 24, 1996, the day I had been scheduled to depart for a country that I had been wishing for too long to visit since as a small school boy.
On the morning of my departure, I was at Jacksons Airport very early at around 7am. The morning part of the day at Jacksons Airport was spent reading a daily newspaper to avoid feeling restless.
It was also a good time for me to to see different types of aircraft landing and taking off.
After the 2pm check in, I walked out from the terminal and went over to the airport perimeter fence, viewing planes that were parked at the parking bay. There among them was the Air Niugini Boeing 747 aircraft that we were to board in a short while.
Upon entering the aircraft, I felt a little uneasy and confused but the helpful flight attendant aided me into taking up my allocated seat.
I looked around inside the aircraft and saw that it was very spacious. What fascinated me at first sight were a set of screens placed in equal distance apart for passengers to watch movies in flight. The aircraft’s enormous interior appeared similar to that a classroom or a chapel. Oh gosh, what a huge plane, I thought to myself.
As soon as all the passengers had taken up their seats, the plane’s door was shut. From inside the aircraft, there was hardly any noise except pop music on the public address system. Then I felt that the plane was in motion. What looked like a huge and immovable monster steered its way out of the parking bay. I was excited and knew for sure that I would be taken away to a country that I had longed to see as a small boy.
The plane steered its way out onto the main runway and then came to a halt at the main stretch of the runway. A few minutes stop at the main stretch of the runway was done purposely for the pilot to accelerate its engine for sufficient power to enable its taxiing and take off. When that was done and the engine gained full momentum, the giant aircraft swiftly taxied on the runway and eventually made its leap into the sky.
A while later the aircraft was in cruise, the pilot’s voice came on through the public address system. We were advised that our flight into Brisbane would take about exactly two hours.
When it was meal time, I was shocked to learn that we were served a decent meal with metal eating utensils. I didn`t expected that as I thought we would be using disposable utensils.
Then the captain’s voice came on again – announcing that we would be landing shortly at Brisbane Airport.
I could feel the aircraft was shifting gears and the engine was making quite a different noise. It was a signal that we would be landing shortly. As the plane was descending the landscape of Australia’s Queensland state came into view from my window. I was filled with excitement, thinking that in a matter of minutes I would step out of the plane and to see the land I had dreamed of visiting for a long time. Finally we made a smooth landing on the runway of Brisbane International Airport.
I was surprised to hear the name of the captain who was in command. He was my fellow Western Highlander who was a household name in our province.
Although I was from the same province as the captain, I never come across him in person. I wished I could sight him at that time but he was in the cockpit.
My brief stay in Brisbane was to be for only two days. I had to discover as much of Queensland within those two days. The next day, I woke up as early as 6am and took a stroll out of the hotel vicinity.
I realised that the railway was only a short distance away from the hotel. I decided to take a train so as to get a feel of the train rather than to travel by taxi, bus or a walk to Brisbane that morning. I walked over to the train ticket sales point and purchased a ticket at a value of about six dollars.
A while later, a rattling and whistling sound was heard. Then came into view in the midst of the cold and foggy morning was a clumsy looking machine. Its length was unbelievable when I first caught sight of it. I was unable to work out its length. I even didn’t figure out which end of the train was the driver’s cabin as both ends looked alike.
First train ride
One other thing that fascinated me most were its wheels. I was astonished to see it didn’t have tyres like buses and trucks. Its wheels were made of pure metal. Its track- the railway was also made of pure metal.
“How on earth can metal rub smoothly against another metal surface?” I wondered.
The short train ride into Brisbane city ended at the city main transit centre at Roma Street. I got off and decided to make the next leg of journey by bus to Gold Coast, a city which is widely known all over the world as Australia`s most loved tourist destination.
The ride through Bruce Highway was very comfortable. While enjoying the bus ride, I looked out of the window and had glimpses of different places along the way. If I had planned ahead to write a book before my travel, then I would have recorded the names of places in their order and took photographs of every place but since that was not in my plan, I didn’t do so.
However, some of the places that I sighted and still recall their names along the Bruce Highway are Mt Griffith, Mackay, Elensvale, Ipswich, Whynnum, Logan, Redcliffe, the Sea World and Movie World.
At Gold Coast or Surfers Paradise I got off the bus, pretending as best as possible that I was not a newcomer to the place.
I was truly thrilled at first sight when seeing Gold Coast – of its modern skyscrapers of various lengths and architectural designs.
Gold Coast seemed like another big city of Australia but it was just another small town within the state of Queensland and the territorial capital Brisbane. I walked around spectacular developments, landscaping and the surroundings of Gold Coast. During the brief tour of the city, I came across a lone man who was fishing in a lake within the city precinct. I approached him to take photographs with him.
He told me that most tall skyscrapers, shops and hotels that were in Gold Coast were owned by Asians and not Australians.
I walked into a shop operated by a woman of Asian descent. She told me that her husband was operating their shop in Port Moresby and she was looking after another of their shops in Gold Coast.
I really admired the city and its natural surroundings. The city was found to have built on a flat landscape and was located just near the sea of Pacific Ocean. It had been remarkable and indeed a rewarding idea to have set up a city in such a location where it looked spectacular with its beautiful scenery.
I looked at the watch and saw that it went past lunch time. I walked over to the bus stop and got on a waiting coach for a ride back to Brisbane. In Brisbane, I took a stroll down to Roma Street and had rested near the Queensland Police headquarters skyscraper.
Time-conscious public servant
While resting, I noticed something unusual. It was in fact a good story to take back to tell fellow Papua New Guineans. A man who appeared to be an office worker, came out of the Queensland Police headquarters building for an afternoon tea break. I watched him from the distance as he took a packet of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. He lit one and started smoking. He puffed a few rounds and then looked at his watch. All of a sudden he put out the glow.
I saw that the cigarette was not even half smoked but the office worker squeezed it and dumped it in a garbage bin. And this happened in a rush as if something was wrong or someone was rushing him to up.
That sight made me think twice and hard. If it was in PNG, the office worker would have stayed on to finish his cigarette, drink, food or go on read a newspaper. That’s because in PNG, time and punctuality are not taken seriously office workers or students.
What I saw was a good experience for me. It was in fact an unusual sight for me as a Papua New Guinean and I learnt a good deal from an Australian office worker. His action showed how serious Australian people were with time.
A single day tour was not enough to discover every part of Brisbane. Therefore, I only had views of its central business district (CBD) and other places that were in sight from the taxi, train or bus ride.
The next day, April 25, 1996 was the Anzac Day, a special day observed annually by Australians and New Zealanders in remembering the war deaths of their soldiers who served in the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War.
What made realise that it was Anzac Day was the display of banners and posters put up on power poles, trees and building walls in and around Bribane city.
- This is a shorter version of one of the 10 short stories freelancer Paul Minga has written and hope to publish in book.