Saturday, July 23, 2011

Knowing by going!

Left image: End of day commuting.
Right image: Arrival at Ibahaim Primary School.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Sydney: S: 34º 0' E: 151º 0'

My visit to Madang on the north east coast of Papua New Guinea was a wonderful experience and opportunity to meet many students and teachers at the schools in the Province of Madang. As with any place on earth such an area is distinctive, identifiable and unique. This uniqueness is often demonstrated to the visitor thorough the senses and impressions they develop of the environment and people. Whilst such impression may be quite subjective, they provide the visitor with something that the virtual visitor is not able to experience. The smells, heat, dangers, sights, warmth and surprises, to name just a few, are what makes actually visiting a place always superior and more rewarding than just reading, viewing (regardless of the sophistications of the spatial technology) and talking to those who have a visited a place. The personalising of the experience cannot be replicated and is what continues to drive people to visits other places, despite the virtual opportunities now available. Having said that, if it is not possible to visit, the virtual on-line visit is still worthwhile to develop our geographical understanding of a place.
These are my top 10 impressions of the Madang visit that I could never have gained from a virtual, “Knowing without going” exploration of the Madang Province. Quite personal and subjective but impressions that provide a rich multi-dimensional view of a place.

They are;
1. The feeling of claustrophobic heat and humidity walking though a small jungle path leading up to the village of Bongu, 30 kilometers north of Madang.
2. The overwhelming smell of burning arriving in Port Moresby. A smell replicated across the Madang Province as the crops are burnt.
3. The sound of torrential rain falling from the sky for hours on end.
4. The warmth of the people, adults and children, as we arrived at the Ibrahaim and Male primary schools.
5. The carefree attitude to life by the people as we headed out to sea to Male in a small aluminum boat with no lifejackets, flares, radios, enough petrol etc. A liberating (but stupid) feeling in comparison to the safety concerns of our society.
6. Becoming aware of the paucity of resources as I sat and talked to Timothy, the geography teacher at Tusbab Secondary School. Very few books, computers, equipment (compared to what our schools have in Australia). This impression was naturally even more evident at Male and Ibrahaim Primary School.
7. The tranquility and awareness of the cycle of life at the end of the day as villages return to the islands and coastal villages enmasse crowded in tiny boats. A beautiful setting as the boats scuttle at sunset across the Madang bay on their daily journeys, to be repeated again tomorrow and the next day etc.
8. The impression of innocence and welcoming nature of the people as they ask for their photos to be taken as I walked around Madang. Also those who just call out "hello" and come up to shake ones hand.
9. The refreshing sense of pride of the children as they sang their national anthem on our arrival at Ibrahaim Primary School out of Madang. A great sense of pride of PNG’s independence and the future of their people.
10. Flying over the Owen Stanley Range on a clear day and getting a sense of the scale, isolation and ruggedness of the Papua New Guinea landscape.

These are all impressions and experiences I could not get out of a book; unique, precious and always to be remembered aspects of my journey – these are the things which keep people wanting to travel beyond hearing from others, the books and computer.

Despite the wonderful safe experience I had in visiting Madang, very few tourists travel to PNG. The tourist industry does exist, offering resort accommodation, diving, fishing and adventure experiences (Kokoda walks) but it is really on a small scale compared to its potential. It puzzles me why Australians in particular are so reluctant to visit PNG, our nearest neighbor and a country that we have greater linkage with in the 20th and 21st Century than any other. Maybe more about that later.

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