My role is as a Field Manager on one of the many plantations on West New Britain. Let me tell you how that works.
My day starts at 3.55am when my alarm goes off, it then ends 30 seconds later when I hit the snooze button, and fall back to sleep. I then wake up again about 4.10am, kick the dogs off the bed and roll, bleary eyed through to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I never used to think I needed a coffee in the morning, but I definitely do now. I wash, get dressed, then I am out the door, a ‘good morning’ to Paul, our security guard, then into the Land cruiser and off. A 10 minute drive and I’m in the office for 4.30am.
The working day begins as I check over my emails and other correspondence. Check roll with Division 1 is at 4.45am when my assistant, his supervisors and their boss bois appear at my office to go over what they completed the day before, and what the plan is for the day ahead.
By about 5.20am my meetings with the Assistants are complete and the workforce starts to appear. Tractor drivers are usually first to check in and at the same time refuel and check their vehicles. For tractor fans, these are mostly all the John Deere 5000 series. The company does use some of the 6000 series, but they are employed in heavier work is required on other plantations and the mills. There is still an old Ford or Massey Ferguson hanging in there and it’s not unusual to see tractors held together with pieces of inner tube rubber. It is the duct tape of PNG. If you can’t fix something with a knife, an adjustable spanner and some tyre rubber then you really are in trouble. My latest fix involved using blu tac to hold and insulate a loose starter wire on a tractor, perhaps not quite out of the John Deere maintenance manual, but that particular vehicle is still going strong.
My next meeting of the day is with the Security Supervisor who will come in and inform me whether there was any trouble overnight. Domestic violence is a serious problem here and is often linked, as is true all over the globe, to the excessive use of alcohol and subsequent drunkenness. There is usually about one report of domestic violence a week in some shape or form but that has declined since we have taken a harder line. Drunkenness is also a constant problem in the compound. It is not the use of alcohol which is the problem, but the issues that result from it. Papua New Guineans are an inherently friendly people for the most part, however, when roused to anger and with minds affected by matuka, the local illicit spirit, they do not hold back. It is not unusual for bush knifes to be drawn over a small domestic argument. I am sad to say that I have seen more dead bodies in my short time here than I ever would have expected.
At this point in the day I usually take the opportunity to take a wander round the yard. It is time well-spent to talk to the workers and get an idea of the atmosphere on the ground. A few well chosen comments to the assistants that their workers are taking too long to arrive usually gets the day moving faster. There is no doubt that it is an early start, and no one is terribly enthusiastic however it is important to get work started in the cooler part of the day. The sooner we can get everyone out to the fields and working, the more productive that day is. By 6.15am check roll should be nearly finished and the workers loaded up on the trailers for carriage to the field for 6.30am.
After this it’s back to the office to focus on the daily admin. First task is organising the loading and transportation of the fruit to the mills by reporting on what we expect to cut that day and how much fruit we have carried forward from the previous day. The fruit is transported from the plantation in skips that hold about 15 tonnes of fruit and are filled from a scissor lift trailer.
In a normal day we should expect 4 or 5 harvesters to cut enough fruit to fill one bin. Depending on the season we should be sending about 150-180 tonnes of fruit per day from our plantation. Then there is paperwork to be signed, and requisitions to be raised for tools, fuels, repairs, services, etc. Early morning duties end with a quick run round the plantation to ensure that each division is harvesting in the right area, and that no major calamities have happened. All being well by 8-8.30am I am heading back home for breakfast.
Breakfast is time for a cup of coffee, some sardines on toast, and 20 minutes to catch up on the international news. The only channel I can get on this particular plantation is the national operator EMTV, which shows the Australian Channel 7 ‘Sunrise’ program each morning. I could pay for a satellite dish and decoder but I am holding out on that for now. For the first year I was here I didn’t bother with any television at all and relied on the internet. On my new plantation, however, I get no phone signal and the office relies on an unreliable satellite link for the internet (there are no wired phone lines here!).