One of the Royal Australian Navy’s hydrographic ships, HMAS Shepparton, recently deployed to the north east coast of Papua New Guinea and was given more than simply a warm welcome.
The ship and crew were in the region to conduct a hydrographic survey aimed at promoting the quality of charting in the area.
As a routine part of this activity, Shepparton went to anchor on 8 March just offshore from Berube village to conduct some damage control training.
This activity intrigued some of the locals who paddled out and as a result of the conversation they relayed a message that the chief of Berube (Urugari) village would be very happy to meet the ‘chief’ of Shepparton. Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ian Jackson accepted the kind invitation and took a delegation ashore.
“We were warmly welcomed into Berube village, and made to feel very welcome,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson said.
“We were the guests of honour for the welcome ceremony and made honorary members of the village.”
Upon landing on the shore of the village, the crew were greeted by the ‘head man’, Dunstan, who then lead the group towards the villagers who were wearing traditional outfits woven from bark.
The crew were then treated to a traditional welcome song and dance and then invited to enter a woven shelter to drink from coconuts and wear shell necklaces.
Lieutenant Commander Ian Jackson was bestowed with the title of ‘head man’ for the day and gifted a shell head band to signify this honour. Some members of our crew brought a rugby ball to play with the locals, when asked if they played footy the villagers replied with soccer, despite this they played a mean game of rugby.
After sharing a meal of steamed vegetables the Navy crew were given a tour of the village and the opportunity to gain further insight into village life in Papua New Guinea.
For many from Shepparton, it was the first time they had stepped into the traditional wooden houses built on stilts (designed in case of floods) and had a chance to admire the beautiful and varied tropical kitchen gardens.
A highlight for many was being shown traditional canoes made from a single piece of bark, and the remarkable amount of craftsmanship that goes into the creation of each canoe.
Gifts were exchanged for the goodwill and hospitality.
“It was sad to leave our new friends but we had to return to the ship to restart survey operations,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson said.
“It was amazing to have had the chance to experience a culture that is so different from our own western culture.
“This kind of regional engagement has so many benefits and will contribute to the success of our deployment to Papua New Guinea.”