Grim news reminds me how lucky we are

Jacinta CantatoreHarvey-Waroona Reporter
A COVID checkpoint set up near Waroona during lockdown.
Camera IconA COVID checkpoint set up near Waroona during lockdown. Credit: Jakeb Waddell/Bunbury Herald/Jakeb Waddell

When I was 10, my parents followed their dream to move to Papua New Guinea.

When we arrived we were fish out of water, living in one of several family residences set up for teachers on the grounds of a boarding school.

We were a four-hour drive from the nearest big town, on mostly unsealed roads, and we had to use the phone in the school’s convent to talk to family back home.

A lot from that time has faded into the rosy-tinted fog of childhood memories, but there are a few things I will never forget.

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One is the bare and absolute grief of everyone who attends a child’s funeral.

Far too many times, I saw families carrying tiny coffins through the grassy tracks from the village to the church.

Little children and babies died every day of preventable diseases — ones that had been eradicated in Australia long ago.

Another thing was the amount of guns and machetes.

We lived there at a time when provincial government reforms were coming into effect, threatening to destabilise a tenuous status quo between the northern highlands and coastal lowlands in our district.

Although our village was far from the civil war in Bougainville, the rage from this conflict was also far reaching.

One day, travelling in the back of a public transport van with my mum, men carrying huge machine guns stopped us at a roadblock.

I vividly remember the guns were taller than I was.

In an expat briefing about local politics months earlier, we had been told rebels and soldiers constructed these checkpoints and we should just hand over any valuables.

Lucky for us, on that day the men at the roadblock were soldiers.

We were safe.

We knew others who were not so lucky.

Covid testing at a facility in Papua New Guinea.
Camera IconCovid testing at a facility in Papua New Guinea. Credit: METHODE

I hadn’t thought about PNG too much until earlier this month, when the country’s COVID-19 cases began to soar and hospitals were forced to shut down, having reached capacity.

Health experts on the ground predict case numbers could reach 1 million in coming months.

Parts of the country have gone into lockdown, but the response has been slow and difficult.

Reading through these grim news stories makes me realise once again how much I love Australia, and our little South West pocket of the world even more.

Here, vaccinations are a choice not intrinsically linked to survival, and the only roadblocks I have to deal with are there to stop holidaymakers breaching lockdown restrictions.

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