Sister Margaret McKay in Papua New Guinea
At the graveside of my brother, Doug,(age 20) with my nephew Doug, his namesake.
At the beginning of September, my nephew, Doug McKay and I finally achieved a long-held desire to visit the grave of my brother, Doug, after whom he was named, in the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby.
View of the cemetery, nearly 4000 graves, youngest 16,oldest 69, but most between 18 and 22 - 1 woman - a nurse
The catalyst for this was the Kokoda Trek undertaken by a young relative in 2009, during which she discovered on a visit to Bomana that the inscription on my brother's grave was completely illegible. After phone calls to the War Graves Commission, who couldn't have been more helpful, they agreed to give priority to the renewal of the inscription, one of nearly 4000 graves.
We arrived in Port Moresby on the evening of September 10th to the tune of pouring rain , the first in many months, so it didn't augur too well for our visit to the cemetery next morning.
I stayed with the OLDH Sisters at their Boroko Convent and Doug with the MSC Fathers nearby, quite close to Bomana, and Jason Daniels, the very kind and sensitive Manager of the Cemetery came to collect us next morning, a truly beautiful day.
He took us straight to Doug’s grave and we were very touched to see he had enlarged the tiny photo of Doug I had sent him, to postcard size, laminated it and had it sitting at the foot of the headstone under the beautifully renewed inscription.
We met the PNG man, Gilbert who had done it and he told us his 107-year-old grandfather had been a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel. Jason took us on a conducted tour all over the cemetery, where we spent about two hours. It is a lovely setting and beautifully cared for as you can see by the photograph.
As our time was limited (we really had just two full days), Sister Annette then kindly took us up to the hills to visit their boarding school of 200 girls, before going on to see the entrance to the Kokoda Trail.
By the time we arrived back, the school next door was busy preparing for next day's Mass to celebrate Independence Day, which we were able to attend.
Children, parents and some teachers were arrayed in ceremonial tribal dress, which was quite spectacular and colourful.
Two girls from school next door in ceremonial tribal dress for Independence Day Mass
Where two cultures meet: three-year-old "tribesman" in ceremonial dress with Western Dummy!
Then Sister Annette took us on a tour of Port Moresby, starting with the Markets, stopping for lunch with some very good friends of the Sisters, who had a lovely home overlooking the Bay.
Next was a visit to the other extreme, what was called the Settlements, where the poverty and degradation was unimaginable, a stark contrast to beautiful Parliament House, on the way home for a farewell dinner before leaving early next morning.
It was indeed an extraordinary and fulfilling experience.
Written by Sr Margaret McKay rscj
Photos: courtesy Sr M McKay rscj