When he was about three years old in 1970, Neville Hayes arrived in pre-independence Papua New Guinea with his parents – Cleve and Margaret.
He spent most of his early years in Lae where his dad, worked for Air Niugini and Ansett. His mom worked in the courts and spent a lot of time travelling up the Sepik river working on resolving issues related to native land titles.
“So It was like being born in one country and waking up in another.”
Later, Neville attended the Coronation Primary School. Most of his earliest memories revolved around the feeling of freedom and adventure. He spent a lot of time walking around in the bush and finding machine guns and other war relics.
“We lived on Vee Street in Lae. Some of my memories include chasing butterflies in the Lae botanical garden and looking for large millipedes.”
Neville Hayes, today runs his own business. He also films documentaries that help small towns draw vital tourism revenue.
A few months ago, Neville posted a bit about his early life on Facebook. The post drew a lot of interest, especially, the account of his childhood friends. – Marka, Lina and Ludy.
“He was my best mate. He still is. His Name was Marka, but I called him ‘Marcus.
“What was so special is the happiness and the laughter. We didn’t have toys. All we had was a tyre and a rope… and each other. I guess the bond became strong because that was all we had.”
When Neville was about nine years old, his life in Papua New Guinea came to an abrupt end when he was shipped off to Australia for school. To this day, he recalls that he wasn’t prepared to leave and his departure was quite sudden.
“When your whole life revolves around the mango tree, it’s difficult. We used to play until dark with the local kids and we would get called in by our parents.”
On the day he was leaving, Neville says, the departure was difficult.
“I can still remember looking out the window and all my friends had come to say goodbye. My body may have left, but my heart was left behind.”
In Australia, his teenage years were difficult as he tried to adjust into a society he did not quite understand.
“When they gave me a football, they expected me to know the rules. In New Guinea, we didn’t have white chalk lines, all we had were two coconut trees.
“So I ran as fast as I could. I wasn’t sure when to stop so I ran past the goal mouth some more. They couldn’t catch me. Later They explained that I ran 20 meters past the dead ball line.”
Today, Neville struggles with clinical depression. But he has been able to ride through the challenges.
“That childhood experience has made me a better man. I’ve helped a lot of people. Some people I meet have told me that I have been an inspiration to them. I guess I’ve been able to take some of the New Guinea love and spread it to others.”
Today, connecting with Papua New Guineans is always heartwarming for him.
“When the hunters came to play, I thought I was going to be the only one supporting. But when I got there, It was like the whole stadium was supporting the hunters.
“When I see a Papua New Guinean these days, I don’t have to talk. It’s like our hearts are talking first. Then, we start talking.
“It’s a connection, maybe…”