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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Editorial August 26th 2022

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

I first became aware of the fact that I lived in a parallel universe at the age of thirteen when I undertook my very first high-school project on the subject of Food, Clothing and Shelter. The project required a presentation to the class of a large coloured card backing board that could be clipped to a display easel. I explained to my parents that I needed cardboard, crayons, glue, magazines with photos, etc to complete the task. Unlike the others in the class my project was a montage of hand drawings glued to a panel of a washing machine box by a mixture of flour and water. But it wasn’t about the presentation. My project failed to get the marks because it was out of context.

The problem was that I was in a high-school in Port Moresby that was running the NSW curriculum. All the subjects were of that curriculum, the teaching, the tests and the final exams were all based solely on that curriculum. Like little parrots, if we ingested and regurgitated the curriculum at matriculation we had entry to Australian jobs and universities.

Alas, as a thirteen year old, I didn’t know this as I prepared my Food, Clothing and Shelter project. As a child growing up in a country that was only a few decades removed from the stone-age in many of its more remote regions I was more than familiar with the absolutes of those living without food, clothing or shelter. So my project depicted the plight of many of the transmigratory tribes who moved away from their traditional lands to the larger cities to find food and shelter. In the early days it wasn’t uncommon to see traditional clothing of arse grass and penis gourds, with near naked men working on labour lines and topless women in the local markets. Their lives were reduced to two essentials. Food and shelter.

As they were transients they had no shelter so had to improvise making small huts on vacant land using whatever material they could find. Often just big enough to huddle under if it rained. In time, with luck, they were able to expand the huts into something more structural to withstand the wet season. The downside was that the land was not vacant. It belonged to a local tribe and was simply not used because it was either, poor, too steep, or flood prone. But still they charged rent. If the rent couldn’t be paid then it was paid in other ways.

So far so good for my project. Shelter. Very on point given the reality I was describing was just outside the window and two of my best friends lived in such conditions.

AS you can imagine the way I addressed the element of Food was also outside of the box. Coming from a poor family I didn’t have the luxury of coins in my pocket for a tuck-shop lunch. So at lunchtimes I would find what I could in the nearby gardens and on the hill behind the school. Wild cucumbers, wild passionfruit, guavas, ochari nuts, mangos with a squeeze of fresh mulli. Sometimes luck would provide a discarded drink bottle or two that could be cashed in at the local trade store for dried octopus or chilli coated ginger.

Best of all though for my project I lived one bay away from the largest local market in the town. Koki Market was my playground as a boy. Next to the sea it provided an incredible diversity of local seafood, added to that was smoked local wallaby, bush greens, yams, sago and fruit. So much fruit.

Yes, the market place had a smell about it. Especially under tropical noon day heat, but it was like no other place I knew of with so many tribes present, so many languages and, funnily enough, no white folk. For them the Koki Market may as well have been on Mars.

I must say at this point that my Food Clothing Shelter project looked somewhat different to those of my fellow classmates. Their displays were more Australian focused, with glossy cuttings from magazines that depicted food products, fashion and very smart houses. It was clear by the teacher’s attitude that mine was not a winner.

Maybe I had overthought it but my display also had two additional elements. Health and Wealth. Having been a patient in various Outposts and in the Lae and Port Moresby General Hospital I was well aware of the race divide in the wards and treatment available. Pulling up short on the more than obvious race divide in local health I focused on the fact that PNG was wanting and as a consequence had one of the highest mortality rates on the planet. My point was that Health was directly tied to Food availability, quality of shelter and access to clothing for warmth. The missing element to a quality life was Wealth and being able to afford the other Four.

At the time I despised Miss Hetherington, my teacher, for her scathing comments and the low mark she gave me for failing to refer my project to the geography textbook (The NSW Curriculum bible that must be adhered to without fail). But then I acknowledge that I was the outsider and that in the State of NSW it appeared that Wealth and Health were taken as a given and that the consideration and discussion around Food, Clothing and Shelter were little more than industry and a matter of choice of what one might enjoy.

At the time there was still the Great Australian Dream of a white picket fenced, half acre block that hosted a happy, healthy family with the world at their feet.

The majority of the kids in the class knew this. It was their Dream. Me and my mates Boi Galava and Willie Willie had no idea and could only look out the window, beyond the sea of government houses towards the villages of Kila Kila and Hanuabada and the gullies in between filled with squatter shacks. That was the Moresby we knew.

Moving on from 1969 to the present very little, if anything has changed in Papua New Guinea. Food is unaffordable, local food is scarce, shelter is still a major issue, clothing is of poor quality, much of it landed into the country from rejects or dumped from failed sales elsewhere. But the biggest failure of all is around health and wealth. PNG is one of the poorest countries in the world and its health system reflects that.

Reflecting back on my thirteen year old class display I felt that I had considered the topic well. Fifty three years on I would happily clip it back up and discuss it at length for all of the failings it represented.

Food, Clothing Shelter, Health, Wealth.

In an auditorium somewhere in Canberra next week the great minds of Australian politics will be assembled to a Jobs and Skills summit. The idea of the summit is to recognise the mire that we are currently in and try to move forward.

But we need more than a Jobs and Skills summit. We need to go back to the very foundations of Food, Shelter, Clothing and Health and work out how we came to get all that so wrong before we can progress with the ideas, such as Jobs and Skills, to fix it.

There is little doubt that the summit will see a diversity of display boards, just like those of my classmates in 1969 that all came from the same text book. There is little doubt that no-one will advise throwing the text book away and instead encouraging the assembled to look out the window.

We need labour for our food. But that labour needs to be paid fairly and the farmers need to be paid fairly. How is it that we all can collectively stand by and watch as our farmers are underpaid by major corporations, or tolerate the continued abuse of underpaid Pasifika pickers and backpackers yet still expect our food to be cheap. It is of little wonder that, as a nation we are turning our backs on quality fresh food and reaching instead for the cheaper manufactured carbs and sugars. What Jobs and Skills would improve this?

Like PNG, what is missing to Food, Shelter, Clothing and Health is Wealth. With more wealth in our pockets we can all afford better food, have access to shelter, have clothing enough to keep warm and dry and most importantly have access to Health, delivered by a functioning and relative resource that provides for the community from birth to death.

But we trip over at the very first hurdles. Inflation usually acknowledges the real cost of a good or service. We haven’t been paying a fair price for food, we defiantly haven’t been paying a fair price for clothing and most of the imported goods we buy and now the real costs of providing shelter are having an impact. Our universal Health resources are wanting, from birth to death.

Jobs and Skills 2022. I believe the summit is decades too late. Blind Freddy could see the storm clouds brewing long ago as Australia took its eye off the prize. The prize being affordable quality fresh food, shelter for all, community health that is well resourced, and education and opportunity enough for all.

Maybe now they might welcome my 1969 school project, as a starting point for discussion. Some mention of a Universal wage would be worthy of inclusion to the debate as well. Let’s see.

Until next lei

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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