17 Sep 2013

Black Cat Track victim sees the best and worst of PNG

4:51 pm on 17 September 2013

One of the members of a trekking group targetted by a deadly attack last week in Papua New Guinea says what happened was an aberration, and that he will go back to PNG.

Two local porters were hacked to death, and several foreign and local trekkers injured, on Tuesday in an attack by a group of men on the Black Cat Track in Morobe Province.

A third porter later died from his injuries in hospital in Lae where the group were airlifted to on Wednesday.

A New Zealander, Nick Bennett, was one of the trekkers who sustained injuries.

Now back home in Australia, Mr Bennett told Johnny Blades that despite a most brutal attack that was beyond his imagination, he has experienced the best of humanity in Papua New Guinea.

NICK BENNETT: The people that organised us, our safety, that put us up overnight in their houses after the event, and before then, but particularly after the event, organised the evacuation of the critically injured porters, organised the villagers to create the helicopter platform up in the middle of inaccessible jungle, they've been incredible, absolutely incredible. And all of the villagers that we met were so sorry for what happened. They'd come up to you and they'd just say 'We're sorry', you know? And you just feel for them. The travesty is that this robbery-murder was conducted with such brutality. It's a dichotomy of extremes, you know? Here's these gentle people and here's this horrendous action.

JOHNNY BLADES: There are many victims here, I suppose, and the families of those who have been killed and badly injured are really taking a hit, too.

NB: Oh, definitely. And the villages that these men come from. They would have been providing levels of income, small pieces of money they would have earned would have gone filtering through that community at different levels. So not only the families and the kids, particularly, but the whole village will be suffering.

JB: We know that PNG is a rugged place and there are so many remote corners which you might go to on such an activity, like a trek, but no-one expects this. And, of course, there haven't been many tourist ventures targetted at all before this.

NB: That's right. This is definitely the most extreme and the first time anything at this level has been perpetrated. Senseless. The ripples are that the tourism industry up there will be basically devastated. The tracks are closed, the people are out looking for the perpetrators. They say they've captured a few. But the fact is until all this is finished, the whole area will be unsettled. And that's unfair to those villages and certainly to the families of the porters, they rely upon us for their economy.

JB: I understand that you might be involved with setting up some sort of a trust for the victims' families over there. Is that right?

NB: More than 'might be', Johnny, we have established a trust fund. It's called the Black Cat Track Porters Trust Fund. It's up and running. People are donating now from all over the world, actually, which is amazing. The story went global. And given the horrendous nature of it, we're delighted that we've been able to do something positive at this point. We need to ensure that the money will go to benefit the porters in terms of their medical and ongoing medical needs. And then we'll determine how we may use that fund to leave a lasting legacy for the villagers and the children of these people.

JB: Yes, because, obviously, you've heard the news that a third porter died...

NB: I got that information last night, mate. I was gutted, absolutely gutted. Because of the delays in treatment, what I understood is that he basically acquired septicaemia, became septic in his wounds. They amputated his leg, he survived the operation. He came through, and then faded in the afternoon and then had a cardiac arrest last night. That's just terrible. It's just senseless. These people were doing nothing more than making a living. Our injuries are minor, minor. We've got first-world care and these guys are struggling to get care at all. So we're committed to making it happen with this trust.

JB: Despite what you've been through, you've seen some great stuff exhibited by Papua New Guinea people. They do also rally round in many good ways, don't they, when bad things happen.

NB: This is an aberration, I hold that up. Be cautious, but New Guinea is an amazing place to travel in. It is still so wild and rugged. You have an adventure and an experience. The villagers really like to see people like us. They're very curious about us. So it's not about stopping this. It's actually 'plan your trip, get fit, and pick a good company to travel with' and go and enjoy the adventure and experience that Papua New Guinea is.

JB: How are your injuries? Are you on the mend?

NB: I am. Mine, I think, at the moment it's more abbot the emotional challenge I'm dealing with. The physical stuff will always heal. It's bee up and down. I'm sure it's the same for the rest of the guys who were there. We've all been advised to take counselling so I'm definitely going to do that. In fact, I'm on my way there now. I just need to have a conversation to kind of.. not rationalise what's happened, but to put it out in front of myself and to manage it. So it's a very challenging time, mate. I must say that. However, our commitment is to supporting the porters. We'll be fine eventually, and we will go back. There's a commitment from several of the trip members to go back. And that's as a means of supporting the villagers and showing that we believe that there is much more to it than this event.