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Brutal blaze sparks heartfelt Hanuabada homecoming

Copyrights: ABC: Aaron Kearney

Brutal blaze sparks heartfelt Hanuabada homecoming

The Papua New Guinean village Hanuabada is best known for two things — the iconic homes on stilts that cling to its shoreline, and for being the home of cricket in the Pacific nation. These two sides of Hanuabada have been united in the face of tragedy.

Rarua Morea Gau was enjoying his favourite moment of every week — relaxing at his sister's house watching Australia's National Rugby League premiership, specifically his beloved Melbourne Storm cruising to victory over the Newcastle Knights.

"Suddenly I heard people shouting," he recalls.

"When we ran out, I saw smoke coming from where my house was and our house was on fire. We came running down but sorry, too late."

The water supply to Hanuabada was cut off that day, making firefighting almost impossible. Charred stilts now stand where once there were 15 family homes.

"Luckily, no life was lost, but we lost everything," Rarua says, standing on the shoreline where his house used to be.

Hundreds of garbage bags have been piled neatly around the waterfront village. Tonnes of plastic and remnants of family homes painstakingly dragged from mud and water, making the area more pleasant, less confronting and a step closer to repair.

For Rarua and the other victims, this Saturday has been one of the best since that Saturday.

Much of the dirty work has been done by some of PNG's most elite sportspeople, who just happen to be neighbours as well.

The PNG national women's cricket team, the Lewas, and the national under-19 men's side, the Garamuts, have swapped the batting gloves for gardening gloves and are helping to clean up the mess left in the wake of the fire.

In a world where international sportspeople live exclusive, privileged lives, many of these stars were plucked from the streets of Hanuabada with the help of Australian Aid and developed through the Pacific Sports Partnerships.

"They need to pay back to the community," says PNG Cricket Game Development Manager Vaianna Gabba.

"They have to come. It was a must for them — being among the crowd, cleaning up with the crowd. It shows how they respect those who lost their homes in the fire."

But this is no public relations stunt. The Lewas and Garamuts aren't looking after just any community — they are looking after their home village.

Even with the aggressive expansion of cricket across provincial PNG in recent times, Hanuabada is the heartland of the game in this nation and the vast majority of national representatives live here, or are originally from here. This tragedy, and the response to it, is deeply personal.

"This is our home and it is where we belong," says Garamuts Captain Vagi Karoho.

"It was heart-breaking, seeing the devastating fire take them down, leaving families homeless. We need to come down from our busy training schedule to mourn with these people, to cry with these people and be part of this clean-up.

"They need to know they are not alone. My heart goes out to the families and victims of the fire."

Read the full story and view the photo gallery on Australia Plus Webpage

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 13:53