Tweed teacher saw Honiara burning
By ED SOUTHORN
CRYSTAL Creek Public School principal Laurie Gee was held up at a roadblock manned by Solomons police in Honiara last Thursday night as the Pacific nation's capital burned and violent looters roamed the streets.
Mr Gee and a group of friends had delivered donated books and clothes to a new school on the Solomons' Ramata island and were diverted via other small islands because some planes had been grounded due to the rioting, before arriving at Honiara Airport at about 7.15pm.
They were ushered into a small hangar in the dark with other passengers who wondered how they might arrange rides into the city.
Mr Gee's group was lucky to have previously arranged a taxi lift to their hotel.
The first roadblock they encountered was manned by newly arrived Australian troops.
"They were young soldiers in full battle dress, fully armed with nightscopes and covered in sweat," Mr Gee said.
As he was driven through the city, Mr Gee saw Chinatown burning, people guarding their shops, a "totally gutted" casino and in- digenous islanders lurking in the shadows.
"It was spooky driving through the dark, wondering what was in store for us," Mr Gee said.
Despite the menacing atmosphere on the streets, Mr Gee's group had no trouble during the four hours they waited at their hotel before returning to the airport to catch an Air Vanuatu flight to Brisbane, although one of the group temporarily lost his passport.
There were some anxious minutes when they were detained by Solomons police at a roadblock before they arrived back at the Honiara airport.
The local police at the roadblock were at first not convinced Mr Gee and his mates were Australians.
"They were suspicious but eventually let us through," Mr Gee said.
The Australian High Commission had been trying to determine if Mr Gee's group was alright and had phoned family members to check if anyone knew their whereabouts.
Mr Gee said he was relieved to land back in Australia, although his group had left behind some of their luggage in the chaos.
"It was an amazing experience," he said.