Journey to the Sinking Lands

A witness to the world's first evacuation of an entire people due to climate change

Things I have learned

PNG sounds like a confusingly amazing place, unlike anything I have seen before. Here are 10 things  that have amazed me…

(This should come with a disclaimer; pretty much everything that follows is lifted from the Lonely Planet guide to Papua New Guinea. It’s not that I’m trying to advertise the LP, just to make it clear that I deserve no credit for any of this at all.)

1. Shark Calling.

2. The Cult of Lyndon B. Johnson.

3. PNG in people are big fans of State of Origin. Good. I will take my NSW jersey.



4. It is worth taking photos of any animals / birds you see in case they turn out to be a new species, previously unknown to science.

5. Cassowaries. I’ve been chased by a Cassowary family, in far-north Queensland. That was a little worrying at the time, but we threw them some bannanas and they quickly lost interest.



6. Money. “Traditional currencies, such as shell money and leaf money,are still occassionally used. you’ll see women on the Trobriand Islands carrying doba or leaf money, which is dried bannana skins with patterns incised on them.” (from the LP).

7. It really is expensive. A hotel room in Port Moresby? That’ll be about £150. A room in Buka? About the same, please. I can’t afford this, so will have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

8.The LP chapter on Bougainville has the following, under ‘Dangers and Annoyances’:

Francis On, former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) military commander, and a few of his diehards still control the area around the abandoned Panguna mine – the original source of discontent [the mine, in the central highlands of Bougainville, sparked a 10-year civil war. I am being a little glib here about PNG history, the reality of course is that it does contain passages of tragedy]. this area is called the ‘no-go’ zone, and it is not safe for any outsiders. Care needs to be taken elsewhere in Bougainville because, until very recently, there has been a lot of violence and retribution. Families turned on each other during ‘the Crisis’ – it’s possible that old wounds could reopen.” 

9. Admiral Yamamoto’s aircraft wreck.

10. The Carteret Islands are not in the LP.

Despite all this amazement, the Lonely Planet by itself is never going to be enough. I’ve also ordered a slew of other books about PNG, all of which have been recommended. They are:

Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the
South-West Pacific by Michael Moran.

Throwim Way Leg: An Adventure by Tim Flannery.

Into the Crocodile Nest: A Journey Inside New Guinea by Benedict Allen.

Coincidentally, I have just realised that I have met, spoken to or exchanged emails with all of these authors. Michael Moran is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), which is funding this journey. He emailled me  just this morning to say Buka is a fabulous place and he is “just overjoyed someone is going to give these lovely people some publicity in their frightful dilemma”. Tim Flannery is an Australian scientist and explorer who I spoke to briefly for a newspaper article about climate change. He was very polite about it but made me realise that I knew almost nothing about the subject and should really go away and learn some more. Benedict Allen is a British explorer who likes to do things the hard way and then write books about it. I had lunch with him a few months ago. He has huge shoulders.


1 Comment»

  Don wrote @

RE your Bougainville material — Francis Ona has been dead for a couple of years. And as early as 2001 I (a white outsider) went into and through the no-go zone, without incident. I am not the only one who did. LP is woefully out of date — it would have been good for you to have checked things out a bit.

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