The infant mortality rate around Lumi in 1970 was officially recorded to be 50% to age 5 years. This was the result of endemic malaria and other parasitic infections, along with acute protein malnutrition from the predominantly sago-based diet.
Part of our job as Didimen was to introduce additional and improved sources of dietary protein to the villages. At the Lumi Extension Centre we bred and distributed ducks, chickens, pigs, gourami fish, guinea pigs, peanuts and high protein varieties of rice.
At the time there were also a few smallholder village cattle projects, each with no more than 10 head of cattle. The original young stock had been airlifted from the coast at Aitape into one of the bush 'strips by small Cessna aircraft.
These cattle were a ragtag mix of British breeds often unsuited to living in the tropics, so the Local Government Council enlisted our support to drove, on foot, a small herd of improved Brahman bulls and cows into Lumi.
Wewak is the major town on New Guinea's north coast, and was the scene of fierce fighting against the Japanese in World War 2. General Adachi, the commander of all Japanese forces in PNG, formally surrendered to Australia at Wewak in 1945 but not before 100,000 of his soldiers had died from starvation.
The Sepik Highway extends inland from Wewak to Lumi. It is not a "highway" in the American or Australian context, but more a winding country road, bitumen sealed in places, but often just a gravel surface.
In 2010 you can comfortably drive from Wewak to Lumi in one day.
It was not so in 1971 when the Sepik Highway fell short of it's final destination by some 100 kilometres. That distance from the roadhead at Dreikikir to Lumi consisted of a disconnected series of road benches which had been constructed through the rainforest-covered mountainous terrain by villagers using nothing more than axes and shovels.
(footnote below provides more details on motorbikes and river crossings)
That 100 km forward journey Lumi to Dreikikir with volunteer worker Ralph Hazel on our Honda 90 Ag motor bikes (loaded with camping gear) took 44 hours of travel time over 4 days. Traction on the steepest most slippery sections was achieved by using low ratio gearing and loops of thick nylon rope threaded at intervals through the spokes and around the rear tyre to provide a "snow chain" gripping effect.
(Ralph Hazel emerging from the undergrowth)
The return journey when we were assisted by 2 local stockmen droving the cattle, took 65 hours over 6 days, a lot of it spent devising ways to cross flooded rivers.
The accompanying pictures hopefully tell part of the story.
(Journal; 13 January Depart Monandin 0900 after rain over unrecognisable road. Abandon motor bikes 1600 then walk to unnamed village Dreikikir area 1900.
(J; 18 January 0600 commence construction of rafts to assist passage of patrol over flooded Bongos River near Yekrumbok village. River 20 feet deep. Crossing accomplished 1630, thence Nuku 2230 overnight.
Our Government supplied Honda 90 motor bikes were excellent little workhorses which saved us many days of walking.
Fast-flowing river crossings of any depth below the high exhaust pipe level could be accomplished (sometimes) by firstly cooling the engine down by splashing water all over it, then coating it, and all electrical components with water dispersant "Jesus Juice" spray, before riding a diagonal downstream track and emerging at some point on the opposite bank entirely determined by the force of the current.
The maximum life expectancy for Honda 90's at Lumi was 2 years or 7000 kilometers, whichever elapsed first.
This story is written in the memory of Ralph Hazel, a mature level-headed mentor, at a time when I probably needed one.
(For access to all stories in this series click the "view my tags" link on the right of screen then click "png history")