PNG soldiers praised for help during fires

AFTER lending a helping hand in the Victorian town of Omeo during the summer's bushfire crisis, Papua New Guinean troops are preparing to head home.
PNG soldiers praised for help during fires PNG soldiers praised for help during fires PNG soldiers praised for help during fires PNG soldiers praised for help during fires PNG soldiers praised for help during fires

A traditional mumu feast being prepared by PNG Defence Force soldiers. Picture: ABC Pacific Beat

ABC Pacific Beat

Australian authorities described their contribution as essential work to help reconnect isolated communities with schools and services after the blazes ripped through the mountain region and across East Gippsland, the Australian Broadcast Corporation's Pacific Watch reported.
 
Across Victoria, 1.5 million hectares were burnt and more than 400 homes lost. The Omeo community was also devastated by the loss of firefighter Bill Slade, who died trying to contain a blaze in the region.
 
PNG Defence Force Second Lieutenant Sherwin Pohonai said she wanted to give back after Australia's support for PNG during times of crisis.
 
"It strengthened the relationship that we have with the Australian Defence Force, by coming down and helping them in a small way," she said.
 
"Most of the time they are the first responders to any natural disaster, or any time of need when we need their support, they're always there."
 
She said she and the other troops were warmly welcomed by the Omeo community.
 
"A little smile on their face speaks a lot to us, the environment was welcoming to us. We are very happy and pleased to see the smiles on peoples' faces," Pohonai said.
 
"Omeo was a mission accomplished."
 
Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp, said the troops from PNG played a critical role in ensuring roads were open so school bus routes would be up and running, helping them get back to normal life.
 
"This is only the third time that the PNG Defence Force has actually deployed overseas, and this is the largest deployment ever," he said.
 
"I've just been talking to some of the Australian soldiers, and they were just saying that the integration has worked so well, and I think that's based on history over many, many years, with PNG being one of our closest and friendliest neighbours."
 
Before their departure from Omeo, members of the PNG community in Melbourne travelled to the region at the weekend, serving up a classic PNG mumu meal and treating the troops to a farewell song and dance — as well as a spot of backyard cricket.
 
Among them was 13-year-old Joa Kinten Atagomo, who chose to celebrate her birthday by giving back to others.
 
Originally from the town of Goroka in PNG, she now lives in Melbourne and was helping to slice up some crackling pork from the mumu — a traditional way of cooking meat and vegetables on hot stones.
 
"It's very emotional to be here, because there are some people that I recognise who are like my family, so it's a very special moment for me," she said.
 
The troops also helped to build a memorial at a school in the nearby community of Swifts Creek, and went into schools reading books to children.
 
Members of the Australian Defence Forces and PNG troops were also treated to a lively singsing, a traditional PNG song and dance.
 
Locals were also touched by PNG troops singing hymns, Lieutenant Sharon Coates said.
 
"One of the joys that the locals have liked the most is the fact that in the evening, the soldiers often do their devotions or sing several hymns, and people find it really beautiful to listen to and really relaxing," she said.
 
"It's lovely to see that culture brought to our country and here in Omeo, and even to the point that they've welcomed the locals to come in and sit while they've been doing devotion."
 
The full report and pictures may be found at this address: https://ab.co/37GXnKg
 

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