Posts Tagged 'Rugby League'

Origin fever / Badass cops

The third State of Origin game is only about eight minutes old, but I’m already satisfied with the spectacle. Hulking giants heaving each other and indulging in many cringe-worthy ‘eat my shoulder’ moments. Shoulder of ham perhaps, shoulder of brute – I’ll leave that to the professionals.

The popularity of rugby league in PNG is one of the quintessestial facts of this country. The fact that PNG is the only country worldwide where league is the national sport is usually mentioned in the same breath that informs PNG has roughly one third of the world’s known languages and tends to have law and order issues. You can reiterate such details to the extent that they become close to meaningless, just like the Wikipedia entries you only half bother reading. It’s when you delve into the anecdotal that things get interesting again and you get a better idea of how (if not always why) something like a football game is significant.

A few people I’ve spoken to about the crazy popularity of the State of Origin games usually append an anecdote describing the sounds of loud splashing in Koki and Hanuabada – the noise of television sets hitting the water, of course. More scientific-minded types will assure you television sales rise sharply after Origin games thanks to enraged spectators trying to intervene directly in the game’s outcome via their own screens. More dour types (and of course the newspapers) will tell you about husbands venting violent frustrations on wives, or a footy-crazed young men murdering their own brothers for the eminent crime of supporting the other team. I was struck by the silence in our own neighbourhood after the second game, and wondered if it was all a beat-up. Then two days later reports of the brutal murder of three young guys at the hands of a wild mob in the Five-Mile area after the game surfaced. Who knows what they said and why an entire mob had cause (if any) to chop them to pieces. The point is it happened on Origin night, and hence became part of the gory folklore. Why such murderous reputations seem to be reinforced by actual events is beyond many Papua New Guineans. To be fair most people I meet are absolutely perplexed as to why any of their countryfolk would get so worked up over an Australian sporting match. It’s not that they don’t like the game – they invariably do – but they know it’s a game involving Queenslanders and New South Welshmen. Not a Papua New Guinean on the field (except Kumuls player Neville Costigan – depending on how one defines nationality).

Despite the lack of geographical relevance the ‘blues or maroons’? question is a common one this time of year. It’s sometimes hard to explain why, despite being born in NSW and having grown up in NSW, the maroons are my team of choice. It’s a bit technical explaining that the home town was only twenty minutes from the border, that Brisbane was a bigger feature of my youth than Sydney, and I was just going for the same team my mates did. But for some reason I persist. It also helps to weave a ‘conflict with the missus’ aspect into my explanation – ‘missus blo mi em laik blues, tasol mi laik maroons. Mi gat bigpla hevi.’ What I never, NEVER admit is that since I was about 12 years old I haven’t really given a toss about footy. That would be criminal. Besides PNG does funny things to longlong dimdims and I have found myself enjoying the Friday Night Football in a non-ironic fashion from time to time, and as for the game tonight it is good to see the Blues have reclaimed their spirit, I expect that if this had been the second game the series would have been a NSW win, the opening was fierce as you would expect from a real Origin match and GOOD GOD there goes that bastard in the pink shoes again, SMASH HIM!

The police reaction to the aforementioned post-Origin murders was predictable, and yet another ho-hum horror that seems to reflect a standard ‘truth’ about PNG – the cops are badasses. Without going into specifics the police reacted with a mix of burned houses, evicted squatters and beaten heads – and probably a few more murders, who knows. The heavy handedness was because one of the murdered men was in fact the son of an MP. Cops don’t like losing face over here. They don’t mind being off their faces, typically at road blocks, but losing face thanks to a high profile murder or robbery really ticks them off. The so-called millennium bank robbery in Moresby a few years ago involving a brash helicopter escape is a good example. Somehow, mysteriously, none of the robbers survived arrest after their helicopter was shot from the sky – eyewitnesses did report they were quite alive at time of apprehension however. Another great example is an anecdote I heard last night from a guest who lives in the East Sepik bush. He described a local policeman’s solution to a stray dog wandering on an airport runway – unload a full clip from his M-16 in the dog’s general direction. The scene seems so ludicrous when I imagine it, I can’t help but wonder how the dog felt about it all. Yes, the canine survived, but was probably very confused afterwards.

Random observations.

Funniest image so far – just outside the supermarket in Waigani (aka the ‘Stop’n’Shop on the highway), two grown men in security¬†guard uniforms scurrying across the street as the traffic zoomed closer, giggling like school kids and holding hands as they ran. Yes, men hold hands here all the time. Sometimes it’s like a handshake, except there’s not too much shake and you don’t let go. You see friends reaching for each other’s hand’s instinctively in crowds, at PMV stops, on the busy streets of Boroko and Town. What you don’t see much at all is men and women holding hands. Cross-gender touching isn’t well regarded in public here.

Another great image – on one of dozens of posters and banners at big intersections, the portly but stern visage of the governor, Powes Parkop, frowning at bystanders and waggling his finger remonstratively. The posters and banners also bear the slogan ‘MASKI HALF SENSE NA LONG LONG – YU NO KEN SPETIM BUAI LONG ROT NA SPREDIM SIK TB’ (Don’t be half-sensed or crazy – you can’t spit betel nut along the road and spread tuberculosis). And of course the best of these banners and posters feature the unmistakable lurid red splash of buai expectorant all over the governor’s face. TB is a big deal here in PNG and the governor is at the forefront of what needs to be a huge campaign to reduce it. But the idea of getting people over here to quit their betel nut or be more responsible spitters is much like the the proverbial attempt at sweeping shit uphill with a feather duster (or whatever the anology is).

Yet another – the first day we were here, on being driven to the now-familiar but then-zany Gordons Foodworld (it’s actually still a zany place but for utterly different reasons), beholding a short caricature of a man with a fisherman’s cap and a wispy beard proffering a small wallaby to to exiting traffic. The man wore a huge encouraging grin, the wallaby looked anything but encouraged. When we drove out the man and the wallaby were gone. I feared the worst for the marsupial’s welfare.

Still another – at the Renbo markets in the fish section (ie right next to the road), a big awkward jelly-like blob amidst the colourful coral trout and red emperors. The stout woman tending the fish and swatting away flies with a leafy twig notices my interest and says, in the high-pitched lazy PNG meri¬†style: “sqquuuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiidd.” I guess you had to be there. At the same market, half a dozen or so whole fire-charred wallabies, little forepaws sticking in the air in a macabre pose, their teeth locked into horrible grins. Fine dining, settlement style – think of the last time you were starving and in desperate need of protein before you make any judgements.

Last one – images in the Post Courier, ie Murdoch’s very own PNG daily newspaper, of the PNG national rugby league team cavorting like school kids at Wet’n’Wild waterslide park on the Gold Coast. The national team, called the Kumuls, are in the paper every day nowadays thanks to the League world cup, and they are gods over here – if I was confronted with one close-up I would of course assert without hesitation their Herculean status. But the image of the big men reclining butt-to-butt on an inflatable tube, giddy ecitement writ large on their expressions, was simply beautiful.