By Denika Seeto

Michael Pye of Temarua Central Electrical has been an electrician for almost 50 years. The 67-year-old Arawa local started working at 20-years-old and has since grown his business in Central Bougainville.

I first met Michael when visiting the BCL transit house renovation in Arawa in February this year. He was busy at work when I introduced myself and he started to share with me his story about how he came to be an electrician and owner of Temarua Electrical.

Michael Pye is from Sireonsi Village in the Ioro 2 district. He started his education in Central Sipatako before moving to the mission in Tonou, and Rigu St. Josephs College. “I spent six years in Rigu,” said Michael. “In those days, the highest level of education we could receive was to grade 10. We used to call it form four.”

When it was time to think about his future, Michael had filled out a form with his three top career pathways. “My first choice was to go to Australia with the PNG and Australian Defence Force. My second choice was to join BCL as an administrative officer and lastly was to further my studies at an agricultural college.” His father had refused for him to enter the defence force, so Michael stayed back in Bougainville and opted for his second choice as an administrative officer in Panguna.

Unfortunately, the administration roles had all been filled when Michael travelled to Panguna to apply. “There was only one position available, and that was to be trained to appoint the power station down at Loloho wharf, and that’s where my career began.”

The Loloho wharf was a 135 megawatt steam power station. There were 22 cadets who were split into two groups – electricians and mechanics. This ensured that there were enough skilled tradesmen to undertake ongoing maintenance of the power station once the build had been completed.

“I chose to be an electrical cadet and spent four years with BCL as an apprentice” Michael recalls. “We were trained up to Australian standards and we also had Australian teachers in a number of different subjects, such as electrical technology, doing both practical work and theory, as well as electrical maths and English.”

After four years, all who undertook the apprenticeship graduated with an electrician’s certificate. The students were also encouraged to sit for an electrical licence where a pass would result in the apprentices becoming fully certified electricians, allowing for them to practise their trade in PNG and Australia.

In 1975, Michael was proud to have graduated with a trade certificate and electrician’s licence. He then travelled to Lae, supported by BCL, to undertake another course. “BCL made sure that their workers would get first-hand trade knowledge, so that we were able to look after all machines inside and outside the pit. We were trained to fix the concentrators, crushers as well as the residential houses in Arawa town.

Throughout his studies, he befriended a New Zealander man, by the name of Terry Quinlan, who was also an electrician by trade. He had arrived in Bougainville when Arawa and Panguna were being constructed, and started a small electrical company, winning contracts to maintain Bougainville Copper houses. Terry had noticed Michael’s passion and natural ability for the trade and had approached him to join the company. As Michael was still undergoing training with BCL, he had to decline the offer. Terry and Michael’s friendship, however, grew and Michael eventually resigned from BCL to realise his dream of running a business.

“In 1977 we started Temarua Electrical – we were one of the first electrical companies to establish ourselves in Bougainville,” Michael says with a smile. “Most of our work came from BCL contracts. They also had some overseas contractors from New Zealand and Australia so we were competing with those guys making sure that our service and workmanship was of the same standard as the overseas contractors.”

During the crisis, Terry regrettably had to evacuate from Bougainville for his own safety. He had left the whole company, including all properties they had acquired in Michael’s trust.

In 2008, Michael re-registered the company to claim compensation for the properties damaged and lost in Arawa and Kieta during the crisis. The company was renamed Temarua Central Electrical, to include the whole Central Bougainville region, exercising a sense of patriotism to the Central region where the business is based. Once the business was re-registered, Michael began to trade again.

“I really enjoy being an electrician,” he tells me. “Since Temarua Electrical started back up again in 2008, I haven’t stopped working. I’ve rebuilt the business and regularly train people who are interested in joining me.”

The business currently has four full-time employees, and a number of sub-contractors. The sub-contractors are usually fully trained electricians, however, they do not have a contract licence, so are unable to start their own businesses. “I try to help as many people as I can in this business,” says Michael. “When my sub-contractors complete a job, I would go to inspect their work to ensure that it’s safe and has been properly wired. Once the inspection has been completed, I then recommend the site to PNG power.”

There aren’t many properties that Michael hasn’t worked on. Temarua Central Electrical has connected many local businesses to power including JBerth Plaza, STI Supermarket, Gold Dust Inn and the Butterfly Inn to name a few, and this does not include the residential houses Michael and his team of trusted electricians continue to maintain.

“I was trained by BCL, so I give my credit to them, the company that trained me to become an electrician. Very few people have this trade these days, I hope it continues to grow in popularity in Bougainville. We will need more electricians to help rebuild our nation.”