Chapter 2: Flower Power hits the Highlands – Papua New Guinea, 1965 to 1987

Part 2 of 3
We were trying to get some unity of purpose between the Huli and the Paiela landowners. If we were to take on CRA, we needed to present a united front. The last thing anyone needed was to have the two groups sniping at one another, while CRA quietly moved towards a mine. We formed what we called the Task Force, a loose grouping of both sides that would work towards forming a single landowner structure, to be called Kare Puga Development Corporation, or KDC. Our Task Force meetings in Port Moresby were getting nowhere. Spokesmen for the landowners were invariably accompanied by a gang of supporters and observers, all of whom demanded to be included in the discussion. It might seem like democracy in action, but the essence of democracy is representative Government, not a thousand individual voices shouting into the wind. Perhaps foolishly, we decided on a meeting at Mount Kare, away from the disaffected intruders that Moresby meetings attracted. It was a disaster. We were sitting in the meeting house built by CRA for just such events, discussing different ways a single corporate organisation could represent all landowners. Akoma Peke objected violently to something I said. While I was writing, he slammed his axe into the table beside my hand, missing it by millimetres.

Highlanders’ axes are not like the blunt, hickory-handled tools bought from the franchised hardware shop down the road. Their axe heads are carefully selected for the quality of the steel, honed to a razor sharpness and fitted with a long, straight black-palm handle, lovingly individualised by its owner for optimum reach, weight and balance. The Highlander’s axe is a precision killing tool, a lethal extension of the person wielding it. When Akoma’s axe bit into the table beside my hand it dug deep and stayed there, making a mute, unmistakable statement. I just looked at it and kept writing, because that’s what you do. The meeting descended into chaos and achieved nothing, although after that we banned all weapons from the meeting room.

For the next meeting we decided to try a venue remote from Moresby and Kare, somewhere more conducive to considered and fruitful discussion. We decided on the Plantation Hotel, outside Madang, and chartered a bus from Mendi to drive most of the participants down. They consumed large quantities of booze on the way, and arrived two days later. I was already in Madang, but I couldn’t get out to the hotel until several hours after they arrived. We had arranged with the hotel that the bar would remain closed at all times, but when I eventually arrived there I walked into a riot. The Highland Task Force members had threatened the coastal barman with death, and booze was flowing freely. Phil Moore, CRA’s Mount Kare liaison officer, had disappeared. Luckily I had my trusty green baseball bat. When I walked in Wapula was sitting on the bar demanding more drink. I walked up to him and said that the bar was now closed. He did not like it one little bit and challenged me, but I stood my ground and he backed down. It was then that I noticed that most of the Task Force members, mainly from the Paiela side, had gone to the beach. I followed them down. They hadn’t gone to stare at the ocean, although many of them had never seen it before.

You need to remember that the Task Force members were rich. They all had gold, many had several kilos of it, and some were carrying it in rice bags. Word had got out, and the good-time girls were attracted like iron filings to a magnet. The scene on the beach was like nothing I have ever known. They were rutting like stoats. Even a sanitized description would offend decent ears. Suffice to say that rabbits are more modest, and better at foreplay, prolonging the carnal act, and saying ‘Thank you’ afterwards. The next day we moved the girls out, many of whom may now have been millionaires. There were sore heads all around, thanks to the combined effect of booze and the bat. Some were still drunk, and it did not augur well for a productive meeting. Paul Torato was there, hijacking the attempted meeting with his hysterical ranting. Although he was told to piss off, there was no way the meeting could even start. The bat probably prevented an all-out riot.

Andi and the Hetapula Directors were extremely frustrated, as was CRA. Against the background of disrupted meetings and threats of violence, equity negotiations were achieving nothing. CRA was offering 10 per cent, Hetapula was standing by 50 per cent, and the middle ground was a quagmire. In early May of 1988 CRA brought a negotiator up from Australia, perhaps thinking that Charles Cole was not being firm enough. Wayne Beaumont had negotiated extensively with Aboriginal landowners around Hamersley, in Western Australia, and might have more success with Hetapula - or so CRA’s wishful thinking may have been. Because the Paiela side was in disarray, the discussions were mainly about the Huli Hetapula and their land around the Gewa River. A meeting was arranged at the Granville Motel in Port Moresby. Wayne introduced himself and spoke at length about how the mine would go ahead, the 10 per cent offer, and the future of Hetapula and CRA. The landowners listened politely, and when he finished he invited them all for a beer.

Wayne bought the first shout, about 20 beers, and chatted amicably about how good it was to talk with sensible people. Much better than negotiating with Aborigines, he said, who could be argumentative and truculent. He told them that it was wonderful to be in PNG where people listened intelligently and accepted what was offered. He was very convivial, if a little patronising. Then Andi bought a shout, another 20 beers, and after that it was Matthew Habe’s turn. Wayne decided that he had gladhanded enough, and thought he should go home. He was told very firmly that according to PNG custom, no one leaves until everyone has had a shout. To do otherwise would show gross discourtesy. After six warm beers he had had enough, and did a runner.
The next morning the meeting convened at ten. Some of the Task Force had partied on, and were feeling very plain. Wayne announced that after yesterday’s discussion he had drawn up an agreement for everyone to sign. Matthew Habe rose to his feet and thanked Wayne for his speech, his beers and his agreement, and explained politely and patiently that the landowners still wanted 50 per cent. There would be no signing of agreements for less. The meeting ended, and Wayne later returned to Australia. It was his last meeting with the landowners.

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