New Zealand adventure photographer, Colin Monteath, says he’s lucky to have survived a violent machete attack in Papua New Guinea, after he refused to hand over his camera to armed bandits.
Monteath (right), along with an Australian pilot and a navigator, were travelling to Rondon Ridge Lodge in Papua New Guinea’s western highlands on June 5, to photograph the landscape, people and wildlife. They were driving up a steep winding jungle road from Mount Hagen City, when a gang chopped down a tree to block them in, slashed the car’s tyres, ripped open the doors and threw the keys into the jungle.
Monteath ordinarily removes memory cards from his cameras between shoots, but left them in this time.
‘For the last 30 years, I took the film or the digital cards out of the cameras. I hadn’t done that [this time],’ he told Stuff.co.nz. ‘So what I stupidly defended was my camera gear.’
The attacker initially struck Monteath about six times with the flat side of the machete, but the photographer wouldn’t hand over his camera gear. The thief then turned the machete around to the sharp blade side and brought one full power blow down on Monteath’s wrist.
‘The miracle was, the machete hit my wristwatch,’ he said. ‘They rushed off with all our baggage including the keys to the aeroplane.’
The $20 watch shattered, protecting his wrist from a more serious injury. The robbery happened in about two minutes. His Australian friends, Chris Hoy and Greg Mortimer, escaped injury after one managed to disarm a thief of their axe.
A local woman who witnessed the attack saw where the minivan keys were thrown and found them. The group then drove back to Mount Hagen with flat tyres, and Monteath was rushed to hospital to have three tendons sewn up.
Local community leaders and councillors retrieved most of the stolen belongings, with cash and phones still missing. PNG police are working with the local community to find the six suspects.
Monteath said ‘hundreds of local people [were] all saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”… They were quite upset for us’. While parts of PNG are known to be dangerous and unsafe for tourists, the owner of Rondon Ridge Lodge said this is the first time such a crime has occurred in the 13 years they have been in operation.
Monteath, a polar and mountain photographer, is back in his hometown of Christchurch and was being seen by local medical staff. According to Stuff.co.nz, he had some ‘delayed shock’ and wasn’t sure what day he arrived home.
This isn’t the 70-year old photographer’s first close call, having had several other near misses while working 31 seasons in Antarctica, four in the Arctic, and 22 expeditions in Himalayan countries. He’s an adventurer, taking his camera on dangerous climbing, skiing, and trekking journeys to capture photos in offbeat locations.
Monteath’s images and feature stories have appeared in National Geographic, Australian Geographic, Terre Sauvage (France), The Geographical Magazine, Conde Nast, Rock and Ice, Action Asia, Time, and Mother Nature. He was the principal photographer for Reader’s Digest book Antarctica – Great Stories from the Frozen Continent (1985), author and principal photographer New Zealand – The land at the end of the Earth (1996), along with many other photo books and guides on Antarctica and New Zealand.
Check out Colin’s work here. Here’s a fascinating interview from 2017, with Colin discussing his life and a few near misses, as well as photography.