I’VE just returned to Honiara after a four day walk along the Weathercoast and back across central Guadalcanal.
I was accompanied by my wife Dawn and three High Commission colleagues: Ben O’Reilly, Tanya Morjanoff and Warrant Officer Gary Fuss.
The remarkable Pastor Selwyn Saro guided us through the whole journey.
For us, the walkabout was an opportunity to visit the communities on the Weathercoast and central Guadalcanal; and to learn more about their lives and the challenges they face.
So I wanted to share with Solomon Star readers some of the things we learned along the way.
We learned that Guadalcanal is an island with two completely different climates.
The weather on the Weathercoast is so different to Honiara that it’s like being in a different country.
While our colleagues in Honiara were reporting that the skies were clear and the seas were calm, over on the Weathercoast we were struggling through tempestuous seas, driving rain and raging rivers.
We heard that for Weathercoast people, these conditions are quite normal.
They are tough people and they live with the challenges of nature every day. But it means that moving around on the Weathercoast is very difficult indeed.
And because of this, it’s very hard to deliver goods or services or to attract tourists.
We also learned that the traditional culture of Guadalcanal is alive and well in places like Komovalu, Chimialava and Nanala.
In all these places we were treated to a wonderfully warm welcome from people whose lives are relatively uncorrupted by the modern world.
I know that many Australians would love to visit such communities and learn more about their rich culture. If only they weren’t so difficult to reach.
We learned that the people of the Weathercoast and central Guadalcanal are strong, determined and resilient.
In every community we visited, we saw people working hard to survive and prosper in very isolated, challenging places.
And we were humbled by the efforts of our Guale guides and hosts to keep us safe and comfortable.
For example, because the rivers were swollen and dangerous to cross, on the second day of our walkabout we made very slow progress and couldn’t reachChimialava by nightfall.
We had no option but to make a bush camp and sleep in the jungle.
Led by Pastor Selwyn, our amazing guides worked furiously for hours to build a sturdy shelter of sticks and leaves, so we would be dry.
They spent hours more slowly building a fire with wet wood, so we could have some hot rice and stay warm.
And they stayed awake all night to watch over us and keep the fire going. Dawn and I were deeply moved by the care and compassion shown to us by these hard-working men and women.
Finally, we learned about our own frailties and limitations.
Four days of navigating churning seas, crossing swollen rivers and climbing huge mountains certainly pushed me to the limits of my own courage and endurance.
But it was a small taste of what the people of the Weathercoast and central Guadalcanal endure every day.
It’s a terrible irony that they live amid such glorious natural beauty but face such hardship and isolation.
Dawn, Ben, Tanya, Gary and I all feel honoured to have walked among such strong and resilient people, if only for a few days.
So I would like to thank the people of NiuAreata, Purakike, Kopiu, Komovalu, Kuma, Chimialava and Nanala for welcoming us into their communities, sharing their culture and giving us a glimpse into their daily lives.
Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands