Papua New Guinea

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By MiningFM's regular contributor Nicky Way

Did you know that there are more than seven million people living just 160km off the most northern point of Australia? Where? Papua New Guinea (PNG) of course!

Port Moresby (or POM as the locals call it) is the capital of PNG but it's home to only a few hundred thousand people. Most of the population lives in rural and remote areas, spread across 400,000 square kilometres and speaking more than 800 languages including Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and English. The country is divided into four regions: Highlands, Islands, Momase and Papua, where the capital city is located.

According to Australia's Foreign Affairs Department, PNG and its regions are part of the seventh fastest growing economy in the world because of increasing growth in the mining and resources sectors. Mineral resources exported from PNG include oil, copper, gold and liquefied natural gas. Some of the major companies include Xstrata Copper, Oki Tedi Mining (copper) and Newcrest Mining (formerly Lihir Gold). While the resource sector booms, 85 per cent of the population works in agriculture. Products include coffee, cocoa, palm oil, tea, copra, sugar, rubber, sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables, vanilla, poultry, pork and shellfish.

One of the first things you learn when you start researching PNG is that the country has some serious problems with law and order. Expats in PNG often live in high-walled, high-security compounds (we’re talking razor wire and several security guards). Car jackings can be quite common - I've heard of expats driving with their kids on their lap, particularly at night, in case they don’t have time to get them out of their car seat in time.

Many expat homes have a Haus Meri/cleaner and/or a Pikinini Meri/children’s nanny. From reading a few expat blogs, it seems some of these helpers are better than others. You might also find that it gets lonely if you don’t have a nanny to look after your children (anecdotally, it seems the social invitations tend to go to those mums who choose to lunch without kids!)

When it comes to accommodation, only PNG nationals can own freehold land, and very little of PNG is privately owned. A quick look at rentals on sites like LJ Hooker and Century 21 PNG and you can find units from around $375 (AUD) a week right up to $2700 a week. Units for sale go from $540,000 up to $2.9m, and housing ranges from $135,000 to $2.25m.

Medical facilities

Medical care is quite expensive (they have what we call 'white man' prices) and aside from the medical centre in Boroko or International SOS (I highly recommend membership with them if you move here and aren't with the Aussie High Comm), you would try to avoid the other services if possible and just get medivac'd out to Cairns, Townsville or Brisbane. Port Moresby General Hospital has a new Emergency Department where most of the Doctor's were trained in Townsville. I would personally only go there to be stabilised before getting out to Australia on a medivac. As for maternity care, there is a Doctor here who lots of women see for their check ups but they all get their major scans done in Australia and deliver in Australia.

PNG expat Brooke Batchelor* says medical care in PNG is expensive (or "white man prices", as the locals say). Embassies for countries like Australia and America provide medical services for their own staff. For others, expats recommend the medical centre in Boroko or International SOS (membership is highly recommended with the latter if you're not with a high commission). The other hospital is the Pacific International Private Hospital - it has the only CT scan and mammogram equipment in the country, but care there isn't rated highly. Port Moresby General Hospital has a new emergency department and most of the doctors are trained in Townsville, so care there is a reliable starting point. According to Brooke, it's a good idea to get stabilised before asking to be sent out to Australia on a medivac to Cairns, Townsville or Brisbane. As for maternity care, lots of women see one particular doctor for their check ups but most get their major scans and birthing done in Australia. For any routine or other medical services that aren’t life threatening, the expat advice is get in done in Australia if you can.

It pays to have in the back of your mind that the local PNG population is dealing with several major health issues including one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the pacific region, high rates of infant and maternal mortality, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition.

Education

If you've got kids you'll want to get them into school and there's a few to choose from. There are several 'international schools' including Ela Murray from 18 months to Grade 7 and Port Moresby and Koroboro International School which together provide education from early childhood right through to high school. St Joseph's International Catholic College has schooling from pre-school to Grade 12 and provides options like the PNG and NSW Higher Schools Certificate. The schools of choice for expats are Ela Murray (priced at around $21,000 AUD) and St Joseph’s ($8100 AUD), but as you can see they’re not cheap! Peter Pan is another option and it is more reasonably priced. There are also six universities. If your kids are younger, a good place to start is the Port Moresby Yacht Club on a Thursday morning. It’s a popular playgroup-type meeting place for around 40 expat families.

For transport, most major towns and remote villages outside Port Moresby can only be reached by light aircraft or on foot, so planes are the preferred method of travel for people and products. PNG’s main airport is Jackson International Airport located about 8km away from the capital, from here Air Niugini and Airlines PNG provide domestic, international (mainly to Brisbane and Cairns) and medivac flights. There are also 578 local airstrips in varying states of repair!

There's not a lot of choice when it comes to shopping, but you will find small air-conditioned malls and plenty of supermarkets. The newest retail mecca is the Vision City Mega Mall which opened in May 2011. For more authentic PNG keepsakes and locally made products, expats suggest the Ela Beach Craft Market on the last Saturday of each month, or the Port Moresby Grammar School market on the second Saturday of each month.

R&R

PNG loves its festivals. There's the Coffee Festival in Goroka (May); National Mask Festival in Rabaul (July); Mt Hagen Show (August); Goroka Show (September); Hiri Moale Festival in Port Moresby (September); Morobe Show in Lae (October); and the Kundu & Canoe Festival in Alotau (November).

Rugby league is the most popular sport by far in PNG, followed by Aussie Rules, association football, cricket and hiking. You can battle the Kokoda Trail, the site of a famous World War II battle between Australia and Japan, or climb Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG.

So there you have it: PNG, the good and the bad. There are plenty of expats in PNG so be sure to take on board their advice. Once you're settled, you can enjoy the natural beauty and the vibrant, colourful country that is Papua New Guinea.

* Thank you to Brooke Batchelor for her insights into PNG. Find out more at her blog. Brooke has relocated to Townsville, but is happy to answer any queries you might have on PNG.

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Testimonial

"Living in PNG has certainly had its challenges however once I overcame these and embraced the differences, I really started to enjoy it. Observing the cultural differences among various tribes, can be rewarding as you gain an understanding of the interconnectedness that holds PNG together. The very essence of their being is 'community' and without that, they fear a very lonely life. Working on PNG time (i.e. late for everything) has taught me patience and that there is no need to rush life because otherwise it will pass you by. The many smiling faces of the locals are the reminder that life is to be enjoyed and time with those that you love, important. It's a place to be experienced and a journey worth taking."

- Brooke Batchelor, wife and mum of one, PNG expat and registered nurse

Ever worked and/or lived in Papua New Guinea? We'd love to hear your story!


Other great testimonials from overseas:

Q&A: what to expect when moving overseas