Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Matupit Volcanic Eruptions in Rabaul 1994 - a narrative

So since I'm going back to PNG in about 10 days time, I thought I'd share a story about when I lived there between 1994-1996.  So when I was 9 my parents moved me and my 3 sisters to a little town in new Ireland Province called Namatanai.  It was an amazing place to grow up and I would recommend it to anyone... we used to run wild in the jungle making proper cubby houses cos we had bush knives (like a machete or a pirate's sword I guess...I google image searched but it came up with a million pictures of george bush and swiss army knives grrr...) and could hack away at bamboo and make awesome hideouts... this is when we weren't swimming in water holes or playing soccer or volleyball with kids that lived near us...

Anyway, so New Ireland Province is next to East New Britain Province, and Rabaul was like the "big smoke" with huge markets and proper shops and actual busy roads etc... and we went for a family holiday on the September Independence weekend (when Australia decolonised PNG in 1975) and just happened to be there when the Volcanoes decided to erupt!!

So here is a totally styling picture of my family before we rowed across to climb the volcano hahahaha. I'm the ratbag in the green t-shirt.  That hat i'm wearing blew off my head down into the pit of the volcano, I was really upset my mum wouldn't let me climb down this chain thing to get it, but she wouldn't let  me because I was wearing thongs... in hindsight probably lucky we didn't go down or we could have burned our feet off or got blown away!!!

So we climed the volcano, and i remember being seriously underwhelmed, there was a little bit of stinky sulfur but other than that not very exciting at all!! Our claim to fame is that we were the last people to climb it before it erupted- how do i know this for a fact? Because we paddled across on the Sunday 18th morning from Matapit village and on the way back over the harbour, you could actually feel earthquakes in the water, and the boys who rowed the out-rigger canoes for us said they were cancelling the afternoon ones as they were worried about climibing the volcanoes when there were regular tremours.  I was really scared about the earthquakes, as they got worse all afternoon, but people who live in Rabaul are so used to them happening they just joked about it being like San Fransisco or something... Anyway there was a really really big earthquake around 1am or something on the 19th, and then around 5am in the morning, we heard all these planes fly out from Rabaul airport (EMPTY PLANES BTW), and then the volcano actually erupted around 7am in the morning.

This is a typical photo of Simpson's harbour in Rabaul, it really was a beautiful town before the eruption.
Pretty freaky huh.

 I will never ever forget the mushroom cloud that rose up above the volcano.  Anyway so we were staying with this Aussie vet and we all piled into his car and drove to some people's place that he knew I guess an hour or so out of Rabaul (can't really remember).  It was so weird though, because most people in PNG don't own cars, adn there isn't exactly public transport systems in place, so on the road out of town, there were people walking along the side of the rpad, carrying everything they could save and just walking in this long straight line.  It was a weird feeling thinking that these people might get covered in volcano ash or die there, but my parents convinced us that everyone would be ok, and i guess we believed them a bit.  Enough to not freak out anyway.  So then it rained volcanic ask for a couple of days and there were 17 of us staying in these people's house.  My Dad is a doctor, and he got called out to help people, and amazingly no one was killed from the volcano, but this old guy had a heart attack, and my dad had to pronounce him dead 3 times lol.  So here are some pictures stolen from the internet, because, of course we'd used up all our film the day we went out to climb the volcano, because we thought we were going home the next day!!!

This is a village house. notice how the ground is just ash.  Immediately after the eruption the palmtrees looked like upsidedown umbrellas because the ash was so heavy the fronds couldn't go the right way :(

Just another day in Paradise!

I didn't take this photo, this one and a couple of the others are from
I have a heap of photos that look a lot like this, but they were all taken on film, when I went back in January 2002.  I used black and white photography and colour prints for the basis of my Year 12 major work for art.  I am still sllightly obsessed with volcanoes, and i don't think that's ever going to change!