My father worked for a bank in Port Moresby in the eighties.
Back then there was no television network in Papua New Guinea. We got our news like we got our movies and sitcoms – on dodgy pirated VHS tapes we rented. These were taped directly off the free to air channels back in Australia, complete with ads.
When a story about Australian women being raped in Port Moresby was aired on Australian airwaves, the news quickly filtered through to the local expats. Staff at my dad’s workplace secured a copy of the program in question and maybe half a dozen families gathered at our house to watch it.
A familiar Australian television reporter told how dreadfully dire things were if you were white and female in Port Moresby and how the local police weren’t even interested in catching the rapists. How did he know? Simple – they hadn’t caught any.
And yet, in the space of a couple of days, this reporter was able to find a rapist to interview for the show.
The Papua New Guinean man was asked outright if he’d raped Australian women and he nodded and said he had. He looked every bit like you’d expect a rapist to look. He looked cold hearted. He looked hard. He looked savage.
He looked familiar.
Maybe twenty seconds had passed in the interview before I tugged on my dad’s arm.
“Dad,” I said. “I know him.”
“Shhh,” said my father, eyes glued to the screen.
“I know the guy they’re interviewing. I worked with him last holidays.”
I went to boarding school while my family was in Port Moresby, coming home four times a year for school holidays. When I was fifteen my father started to arrange a bit of work for me through his connections so I could earn some pocket money.
“What?” said my dad, reluctantly tearing his eyes away from the screen. “You can’t know him.” I went to say something and he shushed me again. Despite it being on a VHS tape, and so able to be replayed at whim, everyone was keen to draw in every word on the first take. “We’ll talk later.”
Later was after everyone had left.
“I know the guy he was interviewing,” I reminded my dad. I told him about a staff member at the warehouse where I’d worked the previous holidays, making up orders of imported frozen goods for distribution to local stores and restaurants. “He had a kind of crescent scar on his forehead. It’s the same guy.”
The following day, Dad drove me to the warehouse.
“Just go in and see if the guy still works here,” he said. But I knew what Dad was asking me to do was go in and make sure I wasn’t mistaken.
My plan was to check out the guy from the window in the office. I was only fifteen and didn’t fancy coming face to face with a criminal I was about to send to jail. But even back then, things rarely turned out the way I planned them.
I opened the office door and there he was, walking straight towards me.
“Lukim you,” I said to the guy, all nervous smiles. My eyes were drawn to the scar on his forehead. The same scar I saw on the telly.
“Lukim you,” he said back, grinning good-naturedly before disappearing past me and out the door on some errand.
I waited inside for a full minute before I raced back to my father’s car and we high-tailed it out of there.
“It’s definitely him,” I told my dad.
The police came and got the guy that very afternoon.
But here’s where the story gets really interesting. Despite confirming it was him in the interview admitting to raping women, he wasn’t charged. And before you start thinking the reporter was right about the Papua New Guinean police, it turns out they did just fine.
What they discovered was the reporter had paid Mr Crescent-Scar-On-His-Forehead to be interviewed on camera saying he did these dreadful things.
“They needed their story, I guess,” my father told me. “And this guy figured there was no television in Papua New Guinea so no way he could be caught telling furphies. He took the money.”
I don’t think this deceit was ever exposed, although my father was informed the reporter was asked never return to Papua New Guinea.
One thing’s for sure, since then I’ve always taken everything I’m told by the media with a grain of salt.
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It really does make a difference 🙂 Thanks.