The Mighty Fly River
A mother and her kids paddles through the river on a dugout canoe
River of Life
I spent most of my recent Papua New Guinea trip in the Western Province where the lives of almost the whole population revolve around the mighty Fly River. “The Fly”, which flows mostly through the province and crosses the south-western lowlands before flowing into the Gulf of Papua; is the second longest river in the country, the largest in Oceania, and the largest in the world without a single dam in its catchment. The river took its name from the corvette HMS Fly which discovered it in 1842 under the command of Francis Blackwood.
This is the first of my photo essays on Papua New Guinea.
The Fly River and its tributaries have been providing an indigenous transportation network in the region for centuries.
Smaller dugout canoes ply its inlets and tributaries where locals fish in its waters
Some 120 villages, around 50,000 people, rely on the river and its resources
Many of them live along its banks
Storehouses (mainly for outboard engines and other equipment) are built and maintained along the river
Families refresh themselves from the humid tropical afternoons along the river bank.
Land along the river is mostly flat and covered with thick, fertile alluvial soil.
The flood plains contain subsistence farms of taro, bananas and sago palm -- the staples of the local diet and main sources of income for local farmers
Rubber plantations along the river represent the more sustainable form of agriculture. These 'rubber cakes' are about to be delivered to the market.
But the locals are not alone on the river. Rubber is being transported from the province to as far as Germany.
Huge mining operations upstream also transport copper and gold through the Fly River. The mines account for over half of the entire province's economy and 25.7% of the country's entire export earnings. Mining companies have been responsible for a large amount of the infrastructure in the area.
Transport choppers of these companies are a regular feature of the airspace above the river
But development comes at a high price. Mine operators discharge 80 million tons of contaminated tailings into the river system each year. Chemicals from the tailings killed or contaminated fish, causing harm to animal species and indigenous populations. The dumping changed the riverbed, causing the river to become shallower and develop rapids thereby disrupting indigenous transportation routes. Flooding caused by the raised riverbed left a thick layer of contaminated mud on the flood plains where local subsistence farms used to thrive.
But the Mighty Fly River continues to flow and its indigenous population continues to navigate its waters side by side with the intrepid guests -- both hesitantly acknowledging the environmental horrors that lurk beneath them.
- Dug-out 1 (travellingartist.wordpress.com)
- Children of Papua 1 (travellingartist.wordpress.com)
- Children of Papua 2 (travellingartist.wordpress.com)
- Barefoot in Paradise (travellingartist.wordpress.com)