Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Position

Sorry this post is a touch late – not a good sign for things to come, I know. I had the best intensions of getting into to town to get it updated at the end of last week, but I was held up by my first ‘health issue’ of the stay so far. It was nothing too serious; it came and went within 24 hours. But as a word of advice, when the Travel Medical booklet says ‘don’t eat the prawns’ – don’t eat the prawns. Yet another lesson that could have easily been learned through listening to good (and in this case professionally issued) advice but was instead learned the hard way. At least this time the benefit of hindsight was available in a matter of hours, rather than the years it usually takes for the supposedly obvious to hit home to me.

Anyway, picking up where I left off last time…

I’ve been with the Gazelle (no one can tell me where the name comes from, there are no Gazelles around and never were) District Administration for a little over a month now. I’m settling in nicely and generally enjoying the work, but have unfortunately been given ‘self-supervision’ privileges and as such, my supervisor sees fit to let me play a lot of Microsoft Solitaire. It’s addictive. So much so that I contemplated deleting it altogether the other day until I realised that Minesweeper had gone the same way during my unsuccessful Post Graduate Certificate attempt late last year and that if kept deleting games in my moments of weakness, soon enough I’d have none left. This, of course, would solve the problem of being addicted to computer games (a forced abstinence), but would be admitting that I have a problem – which I’m not willing to do. So it’s status quo with computer Solitaire at the moment – I’m playing a lot and hating myself for it.

But in-between Solitaire marathons I am managing to get a lot of work done on my main project, which is pretty satisfying.

The project is (and I’ll try and balance this so as to appeal to the town planners and not bore the non-planners) to create the Urban Development Plan for the Kerevat Growth Centre. Kerevat is, for want of a better word, the Capital of the Gazelle District.

In essence… Papua New Guinea is divided into a number of Provinces (like Australian States), which are in turn divided into Districts (which are in turn divided into Local Level Governments, which are in turn divided into Wards – but forget about them for the time being, they’ll just confuse you). East New Britain Province has adopted a comprehensive Growth Centres Strategy, which identifies a number of different Growth Centres – of which Kerevat is one.

The layout of the Growth Centre (think ‘New Town’ – they’re looking at increasing the population at least three-fold) has already been designed and surveyed (thankfully, when I first arrived I thought I was actually going to have to plan a town) so what I’ll be doing is preparing a development control document that is roughly like a Local Environmental Plan / Unitary Development Plan.

Hopefully the planners out there will be following this so far (if not, consider a career change). For the non-planners, I’ll explain it this way:

Imagine an example from your town where:

1) a hideously inappropriate building is approved and built, thus destroying the character and amenity of an area; or
2) a seemingly innocuous development – like a car-port that a friend wants to build – is refused for what seems to be no other reason than some bureaucratic nonsense.

Both of the above would not be possible if it weren’t for Planning Instruments (Development Control Documents… call them what you will) and their use/misuse. These are the rules that apply to development of any kind, and are generally administered by the local Council. Town Planning is a pretty complicated business and the issues involved are rarely clear cut. Development Controls are a guide to what can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) happen; they can’t dictate the outcome of development, but at least establish a set of rules that all parties must play by. Like the laws of rugby however, they can be confusing to both participates and spectators and – as any planner driven to alcoholism by the stress of the work will tell you – can be frustratingly difficult to interpret (yet still the game is still beautiful). I’ll be writing the rules.

So I have the power to allow stamp my own unique brand of Burfordness on a whole new town. Whether or not the future residents of Kerevat are living in the chaos of an under-regulated town or conversely bogged down in excessive bureaucracy rests largely on my capability of putting together a decent plan. Poor buggers.

Daunting as it is – I’ve never put together anything like this before – I’m pretty happy with my methodology so far. There is also plenty of help here if I need it, but I have to go looking for it. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Otherwise, things are going pretty well. A mere five weeks after purchase my mobile phone is now working properly, I’ll email the number through for those who may one day wish to call (I’d suggest March 20 would be a good day). It doesn’t seem to support text messaging, so don’t bother with that.

The weather has been pretty much what you’d expect – it’s hot, humid and rains a lot – but I’ve almost acclimatised now, so I don’t notice it much. I can keep up-to-date with the Australian weather (and all other aspects of Australian life) as the one TV channel we get here gets most of its material from Channel Nine – so I watch the Today Show every morning. I even managed to catch the interview with the bogie border attacked off Ballina a few weeks ago. Australian current affairs shows love a good shark survivor story. They also love a good insurance-not-paying story, a good shonky builder story and a good teenage fashion story. I’m worried that in a prolonged separation from my beloved ABC I might actually start believing in the importance of this stuff and lose focus on the things I feel actually matter. I’ve been assured this won’t happen, but I’m already finding myself interested in the latest weight loss techniques that will inevitably be on next weeks show, or taking sides in the council -v- pensioner debates (always coming down on the side of the battler). Its sort of a pantomime I guess – and its easier to enjoy the show and yell at the characters when I’m supposed to than let it offend my sensibilities too much.

Maybe I’m a sucker for the simple stuff – after all, Solitaire doesn’t enjoy the intellectual reputation of (say) chess – or maybe I’m easily addicted to things. Either way, these things are no more than a diversion. The main focus remains the Urban Plan, and I’m sure when the trivial distractions loss their allure, my task will still be there like an Everest to be climbed. And long after I’m gone, the results will still be there – good or bad – as a legacy of my efforts. Hope I don’t fuck it up.

Hope you are well wherever you are.


Friday, February 2, 2007

Just Passing Through

So, this is the first posting of my new Blog. It was supposed to be a lengthy missive about my strained attachment to my home town, how the notion of home is never easily defined and how – as a conclusion – I felt I was simply passing through last time I lived in Ballina (hence the title).

However, in typical Burford fashion I left everything to the last minute – apparently it’s because I’m a Pisces - and several things (the blog included) till after the final bell. So instead of a touching story about how I’m struggling to find my place in the world and will be leaving my home town once more, this time for a spot of volunteer work in the PNG islands, you’re actually getting a post from beautiful Kokopo in the country’s north.

I arrived in Port Moresby just after lunch on Monday (January 8th) and spent a couple of days there sorting out minor administrative details in my ‘in-country induction’. First impressions? Well… it’s poor, but not so much as you might expect. A clear division of wealth is evident, the modern high rise (well, mid rise) business buildings on the harbour wouldn’t be out of place in any Australian city (certainly bigger and shinier than anything we have in Ballina), are in direct contradiction to the settlements pretty much right next door. The city is pretty informally planned. There seem to be no clear distinctions between commercial, industrial and residential areas. As a result, I never really knew where I was.

Port Moresby has taken to the ‘compound living’ lifestyle with aplomb. Almost every shop, house, hotel and well… just about everything is behind a fence and gate. The streets actually feel pretty safe (during the day at least) and are cleaner than I’ve seen in other countries. The walls are simply a fact of life and you get used to them quickly – although I’m sure a good urban designer could integrate them into the streetscape more comprehensively.

On Wednesday Jan 10 I hopped a flight to Rabaul (Tokua) Airport – via Bougainville – and drove to my current accommodation at the Kokopo Lodge (which is actually in a village about 15 minutes outside of Kokopo). This is temporary accommodation, as my actual lodgings are yet to be built. So, its temporary, but I’m settling in all the same.

Kokopo is beautiful, relaxed and pretty much the perfect tropical resort town. Again, its pretty informal and unplanned, but the views over the harbour to the live volcano (it just sort of steams all the time) alone are worth the trip. Pretty sure I’m going to be comfortable spending two years here.

The people are remarkably friendly. On my sem-regular jogs (a moral/physical imperative after the mountains of food I’ve eaten since arrival – its not at all easy in 30 degree heat with 100% humidity), Most of the village comes out to wave as cuss and sweat my way uphill. Maybe they are just taking the piss, but they seem friendly enough.

My work is in Kerevat - about 40 minutes from Kokopo in the rural hinterland - where I'll be assisting in writing the Kerevat Urban Plan. The full details of this will have to wait till another time, but in essence, Kerevat has been designated to be a growth area and they've taken this to mean building a New Town. I'll be writing the development control documents that go with it. For those who've worked with me in development control (how do you spell liasse faire??) in the past, you'll know how laughable this actually is

That’s about all for the time being. The plan is to update the blog on a fortnightly basis, giving me enough time to find something interesting to write about and actually putting in down on paper (so to speak). But at this stage, it’s only a plan, and as I’ve already found out here in PNG, they don’t really count for much. Its all about obervations etc, so I'll make no apologies if I get things wrong while I'm coming to grips with the place.

Hope you are well wherever you are.