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It's getting to be a holiday habit another late annual letter from the Gambles.

This was a bit of a difficult year with Neil working in Port Moresby and Usa, Roger & Rex being in Sydney.  But it doesn't mean nothing happened.

Roger completed his final year at school!  (In Australia we refer to "school" as K-12.)  He finished his HSC, similar to the SAT / ACT in the US and "A" levels in the UK.  The good news is he achieved an ATAR of 82.65 which means he got better results than 82.65% of the students in NSW and the ATAR is a consistent ranking across all of Australia except for Queensland.  In terms of university entrance it means that based on historical results there is a good chance he will get into the University of Sydney to study for a Bachelor of Science majoring in Psychology, which is his goal.  He may even get into a double degree B.Sc. & B.A. where he can also major in English literature, which he enjoys.  University offers are made in mid-January, so he has to wait until then to know whether he gets what he wants.  Fingers crossed.

The HSC process in Australia is a pressure cooker 2 years of senior high that focuses entirely on the HSC with results consisting of coursework / assessments through the last 12 months and formal, standardized exams at the end of the year.  Roger was always "advised" (by guess who?) that he spent too much time looking at heavy metal archives on the Internet and watching YouTube videos so he is proud that he has proven us wrong.  He has his own style.  But he always says he should have done better; we guess it's his way of playing with us.  It doesn't matter how he got there the important thing is that it looks like he'll get to do what he wants and we're all very happy with the result. 

Another milestone will come in February when Roger turns 18 recognized as adulthood in Australia although by tradition we normally celebrate the 21st birthday.  It means he can legally drink and vote (in that order if he wants).

Rex had a great year in school, his Year 9 (or Grade 9).  It seems high school suits him because he has really blossomed in his 3 years there compared to primary (elementary) school.  (We don't have middle school in Australia.)  He received 3 awards for achieving the top marks in his grade and another one for "citizenship", which according to him means he helps at school and the teachers like him.  His report card contained two 1st places, a 2nd place, a 3rd, a 6th and a 9th across all students in his courses.  His "worst" result was 13th out of 120 in PE which he isn't very stressed about.  Two first places but three prizes how does that work?  He received a 3rd award for a subject called "Beyond Visible" which is a special, non-assessed course at his school that combines maths and science.  This year because of Beyond Visible he entered an engineering competition at the University of NSW, controlled a radio telescope via videoconference in the Australian town of Parkes and studied nanotechnology.  (Neil has a note to look up what that means.)  This is university level material Rex studied in Grade 9 and he loved it. 

Usa continued with her coffee shop in Seaforth and while Neil didn't get blow by blow accounts he understands that she worked far too many hours, opened early, closed late and then often came home to cook / bake treats to sell the next day.  She managed to take one day off a fortnight starting sometime in the middle of the year.

Neil was re-introduced to hard work at BSP.  While BSP has businesses in PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Niue, the majority of Group profits are made in PNG, so that was the priority.  In terms of achievements it was a very good year for BSP's IT Dept.

PNG certainly lives up to its reputation of the Land of the Unexpected; here are some of the interesting items from the year:

  • Power outages occur in Port Moresby an average of 3-4 times a week; even with that the data center didn't lose power once in 2011 (as opposed to 2 outages in 2010).  Port Moresby is the capital city and has a more stable electricity supply than the rest of the country (!)

  • When we lose power we generate our own.  Unlike developed countries we have to pay the electricity company when we generate our own power!  There's no concept of "contributing to the grid" here

  • In the middle of the year three of Neil's staff were carjacked in 3 months.  All of them had guns pointed at them to encourage them to give up the car

  • There's one guy in the Bank (not working for Neil) who has a colorful life.  He was robbed on the street when walking near home; pulled over by "police" when driving and taken to an ATM to withdraw funds to pay an "on the spot" fine; separately taken into police custody for unexplained reasons; followed out of a supermarket car park and chased by a private security squad that fired gunshots at his car to stop him, pulled him out of the car and spread eagled him on the ground with guns pointing at him only to be released after 15 mins with the explanation it is was a case of "mistaken identity".  All this in his first 4 months in the country; surprisingly, he is still working for the Bank

  • A news headline early in the year titled "Man Eats Baby"

  • News stories after Christmas of a cannibal in Port Moresby who has attacked three people; in his latest attack he bit off the bottom lips of a woman shopping at a local market

  • A political / constitutional crisis near the end of the year where we had 2 governments, 2 Prime Ministers, 2 cabinets and 2 police forces.  One was supported by the Parliament; the other was supported by the Courts.  After a week of uncertainty the Parliament version won out.

There are lots more stories but it's too hard to remember them because so many unusual things happen.  There is a saying here, that "misfits, mercenaries and missionaries come to the South Pacific" having been in PNG for a bit more than a year Neil thinks it makes sense.

At the end of 2011 Neil and Rex went to Adelaide to spend Christmas with Neil's mother and sister, who both live there, and his father who was also visiting.  It was terrific to have so many of the family together, especially as Neil's mother is 84 and father is 86.  We had a great Christmas lunch prepared by Neil's sister.  Rex & Neil managed to squeeze in 2 movies as well; that's a treat for Neil because there are no cinemas in Port Moresby, but we're told one might open in the coming year.

One last thing.  We haven't posted many photos yet for 2011.  Come back and visit the photos page from time to time because we will get around to it.  Several of the 2011 photos show the view from Neil's apt in Port Moresby with some stunning sunsets.  There should also be some interesting photos from the BSP Family Day and a PNG cultural festival.

Best wishes for a happy and successful New Year from the Gambles in PNG and Sydney.  If the Mayans are wrong we'll prepare another letter for 2012.  It may even be sent early, just in case the Mayans were right.

All the best Neil, Usa, Roger and Rex 


PNG isn't a well known place, so here are are some country facts, mainly extracted from the CIA world fact book:

  • Population is 6.5 million

  • Life expectancy is 66; that didn't help Fred, the IT Dept driver, who died in his sleep on Dec 30 in his mid-forties; Fred was the 2nd person in Neil's dept to pass away in 2010

  • 13% of the population lives in urban areas

  • 85% of the population is unbanked

  • There are an estimated 1.9 million mobile phones

  • Median age is only 22 years old

  • Literacy of people 15 years and older is (only) 57.3%

  • There are 43.3 deaths per 1,000 births, a world ranking of #52; a bit worse than Iran with 42.2, but much better than Angola which has 175.9 and much worse than (say) the US with 6.1 or Australia with 4.6

  • 0.9% of the population has HIV/AIDS ranked #50 in the world.  Within PNG we are told we have one of the highest HIV / AIDS infection rates outside of Africa.  Looking at the official figures you'd have to think that the PNG figures are under-reported

  • 80% of the eligible population is unemployed (contrary to the CIA figure of 1.8% in 2004, which is probably a PNG govt figure)

  • The recent govt budget had total spending of K10 billion (US$4 billion), an incredibly small amount for a govt's total spending.

2012 (assuming we all make it) ...