#71 Prose:”PNG has town planners???”

He walked in ahead of me, shook hands, and wrapped himself into of those large meeting seats that sat around the conference table that took up too much space in the small room. 

I took in the room. It was small but it was designed to impress, and impress it did. Their time in the game had given them the title of serious players. They’d transcended the need for medals and recognition to collecting trophies of local artwork from the likes of Mathias Kauage and those sketches. 

I wondered over to the sketches of tree houses and long houses. They roused a familiarity like an old song does years later.

I was transfixed. Transported. 

I hadn’t seen those sketches since I was a child. Nights from my childhood were spent trying to re-draw those sketches while waiting for dad to finish marking papers.

I remembered the haunting concrete Building and Architecture Department at Unitech where the conference room table was also large with its large chairs. I remembered studying the sketches framed onto the conference room wall, as they were in this room.  

The images had etched themselves onto my memory. Now I’d recognise them anywhere. 

They were the reference point to what I would later learn was called vernacular architecture. They were the dribs and drabs that gave me a determined appreciation for the critical approach to what my mentors would expose as the malaise of the modernist ideals of city building. They were necessary to what I had become.

“Lapun Mac Ruff…”, I blurted out. “Wow!”

One of the architects we’d come to meet mumbled something to which I only caught,  “Unitech….Professor Mac Ruff.”

“Are you an architect?”, he inquired. The interest dislodged my attention from the sketches.

“Urban Planner”. My response was unintentionally abrupt.

There was a confidence I had collected from joining him in these meetings. We were actively developing his precincts plan and my being an urban planner helped him with the semantics I’d collected in bucket loads.

But no words could prepare me for what came next.

“…PNG has town planners?!”. The architect shot the words at me with astonishment. I didn’t have time to dodge them.

We had not yet exchanged pleasantries but he had managed to put me on the back foot.

“…There aren’t that many of us”, was all I could muster. 

It wasn’t an excuse. It was definitively true. There really were very few of us in Papua New Guinea. We were a rare species. Yet where we exist, we make invaluable contributions (when they are valued). 

Many of those few trained planners exist in the public sphere as regulators and enforcers of the planning framework, few float about in the private sector sitting at the coal face. I fall into the latter group. A space cadet of sorts who finds himself drifting around the development industry. 


Hans Lee

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