It was interesting to hear how many of the trekkers were afflicted by lucid dreams while on the track. Not just one or two but many. What was it in the woods that sparked the brain so? Or was it in the air? Or somewhere else? There are sections of the track that some porters fear to go. We spoke to some trekkers yesterday, the perfume of damp sod hanging off them, and voices shrill with the buzz of the experience. They told us they had missed out on Myola because their porters refused to go there. I am not appalled, but rather sympathetic with the porters. There is something strange and foreboding about the place. Even the clouds behave as if possessed, stabbing around the head of the valley as if challenging us. For a change even the dark brooding forests seem safer than these open places. I get why some locals would be superstitious about Myola. That night the boys kept a fire going right through. And we heard later some of the porters were spooked by the forests north of Brigade Hill and are keen to push through without a break. We all find ourselves talking in terms of a spiritual experience. It is a spiritual place alright. Dark and light in juxtaposition. We hear angels singing as they walk with us (and some in the villages we walk through) and watch our step in forests darkly brooding.
My dreams last night were entirely appropriate to the place. Jonathan figured in them larger than life, revisiting the track with us. I woke from a lucid dream into another dream, convinced in both that Jonathan was alive and with us. It was appropriate, you see, for Jonathan was always “PNG”. When I first met him he was my PNG analyst, tucked away in the far corner of the Joint Intelligence Centre doing his own thing, but always with style and panache. He then went to ONA as a PNG specialist, his wisdom and otherwise being dished up to the Prime Minister and others. He was always “Mr PNG” and last night he shared the country with me again.
We leave Port Moresby in a more orderly fashion than the rest of the country leads you to expect might be possible. The terminal has a modicum of order about it and we board our small aluminium tube with the minimum of fuss. And we do so reluctantly, already feeling the magic breaking and the ties to the track easing their grip. The props crash their din around us and we launch back to Cairns, a part of us willing ourselves to stay, another part knowing we could never live here.
We land in Cairns and feel a little bemused. There is always a reverse culture shock coming back to Australia, and in this case the more so for our immersion in the events of 1942 and the vast remoteness of the setting. Did I say anywhere that PNG has the largest rainforest in the world other than Brazil? It is so near yet so remote. Now we wait for our flight to Sydney in a rowdy corner café full of backpackers and older tourists. I check the newspaper for the USD exchange rate, my only concession so far to thinking much about work, then fold it away. Soon enough the onset of the usual issues surrounding work and home without grasping them today. We watch the sunburned Germans (they are lost and arguing) and other European backpackers totter up the street under the weight of their packs. What look like Australian retirees from the bush crowd into a corner and talk to each other as if they are all on separate boundaries of their properties. The din is terrific and American in its style. Tall packs continue to totter past, skinny tanned legs perambulating them along. I wonder what rubbish being carried (hair straighteners?) and watch them pause for a break in the heat as they get their bearings and steady themselves on a lamp-post. It’s a long way from the bus stop to the hostel after all. Listen to me, off the track five minutes and feeling very smug. Or sarcastic. Or both.
Damien Parer was driven to document the events of 1942 in part because he was shocked by the Australian public who seemed to have no appreciation of the pending catastrophe, sitting here Pompei like in their comfort, not understanding the war underneath that might engulf them. I shake off a feeling that all the sunbaking and latte frivolity in Cairns somehow desecrates the ghosts of the men we have just accompanied up the track. The places are connected by fortunate history but no one here on holidays in this sunny town can be blamed for failing to understand the sacrifice made a few short hours from here. I finish in Cairns with a few clear ideas, written down, about how I can perpetuate the memory. Getting back up that track is one of them.
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