As stated under the heading 'Economic Climate', Papua New Guinea has its own currency which is based on the dollar in that it is a unit of one hundred.
Toea (pronounced 'toya') is like one cent. It is available in single, two, five, ten, twenty and one hundred Toea coins.
Kina (pronounced Keenar). Except for the large coin with the hole in the middle, Kina comes in two, five, ten, twenty, and fifty Kina notes. It is similar to the dollar as a currency unit.
The following is a list of common-item prices in Papua New Guinea during 1978. The prices, being in local currency, make some items appear the same or even cheaper than in Australia. Don't forget to add 28 per cent to the Australian dollar and about 40 per cent for the American dollar when comparing prices to your own currency. Thus, if an item costs one Kina in Papua New Guinea it will be $01.28 Australian and around $01.40 American.
Diesel Fuel (distillate): 58.4 Toea per gallon. (Much more in Port Moresby.)
Petrol: One Kina per gallon.
Beer (imported from Australia): K11.50 per carton of 24 cans (when in Australia it cost less than $ 10.00).
Doctor (consultation): K9.00.
Prescriptions: K3.00 to K.15.00.
Air Fares: Second highest in the world, with babies charged half fare.
Imported fresh fruit and vegetables are not included in the list because their price depends on location and where they came from. For example, some fresh food from New Zealand can be cheaper than from Australia while local produce procured in a native market is far cheaper than you would pay anywhere in Australia. A mango, for example, that would cost a Sydney-sider at least one dollar costs a mere five Toea in a good Papua New Guinea market and a pile of sweet potato may only cost ten to twenty Toea with a whole bunch of bananas that one can scarcely lift costing no more than one Kina. Local foods are discussed in the next chapter.
But fresh fruit and vegetables imported from either Australia or New Zealand are expensive by anyone's value and they are not always fresh enough to appeal. Apples quite commonly cost 30 Toea each and might be rotten through the core or an orange, costing more than an apple, can be like a dried up old fig inside having not enough juice to sting the lips.
Many engineering and marine fittings are astronomically expensive despite a slightly cheaper import duty on material straight from England. A certain underwater sacrificial anode which a Lae firm wanted K 15.00 for I eventually purchased direct from Australia for $3.00. The mark up was something like six times on retail.
So the big rip-off is alive and thriving in Papua New Guinea. And when you raise a head of steam over the price of some item that you know could not cost that much even if it was sent individually and by registered mail you will get the big shrug, the 'sorry, it's not my fault', attitude. And of course, in most cases, it is not the fault of the man behind the counter. It is the fault of the company which for too many years has hidden behind that rather nebulous and poorly outlined curtain called 'freight'. Everyone who imports material into the country loves the word. It is their excuse for loading prices.
True, freight is an expensive item, there can be no arguing that point, but I personally know of many items which could be flown in special delivery and the cost would still be lower than the local retail outlet is asking.
Therefore as a general rule it must be said that the cost of living in Papua New Guinea is high if you cannot live off local foods and need to buy equipment.
TRADING It has been suggested elsewhere in this book that the art of trading is still alive and well in Papua New Guinea. Not trading for profit; just trading for mutual benefit. For example, a person living the simple life in a village has little need for money. He prefers the things that money can buy. Thus, rather than pay cash for fruit, vegetables, crabs, crayfish or whatever he may prefer to exchange goods.
Goods suitable for trading which can be carried aboard are listed below.
Twist Tobacco The most popular form. Available at any trade store in Papua New Guinea.
Sugar White only. Enthusiastically sought in many villages.
Salt Limited to occasional trading.
Soap Seldom requested but often sought after once the villagers know you have it aboard.
Thongs The villagers love thongs and this is one commodity that they might steal if left in the dinghy or on deck.
Tinned fish Incredibly, they love tinned fish and will even exchange fresh fish for it.
Rice Is the villager's staple food and will always be in demand.
Fishing Gear Hooks, lines and sinkers are one of the best trade items to carry. Keep them small. The villagers do not fish for big game at all.
Biscuits A locally made biscuit which is rather like a giant, but less crumbly, 'Sao' is available at all trade stores and is often known as 'Cabin Bread'. This is very popular.
Clean Old Clothes These never go astray but seldom will a fair trade be enjoyed with them because of their lack of- instant appeal — especially to the men who do most of the bargaining.
Always carry some local money in readiness for the occasional village which prefers money for their goods and never pay or trade at a higher rate than that accepted. This rate, of course, can be difficult to establish, but a few questions in port before leaving should provide guidelines. Also, one occasionally meets a European farmer or a plantation manager or someone in the field who knows the present market value of most commodities.
During 1978, the going price for one small crayfish in the Calvados Chain of islands was two sticks of twist tobacco. Total cost 44 Toea. This price had only just restablised after being upset by an American researcher who spent time in the area and 'felt so sorry for the natives' that she upped the price to twenty five sticks of tobacco. This not only sent the price as high as, if not higher than, restaurant prices but also temporarily destroyed trade in the Calvados Chain immediately after the researcher left because the villagers tried to maintain the new level. Naturally no one paid the price and until it fell back to a sensible level no trading was done.
It can be seen that to raise the price during a trade is not fair to anyone in the long run. Be fair by all means but don't spoil them.
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