“YOU might have heard about Sam,” the email from Moale Rivu began. “He has been sick for a while and has passed over to the other side.”
Dammit, Moale, he can’t be dead. When we were together in October he was fine. He told me he was in great shape.
We spent two days driving around the Gazelle in his clapped out car, visiting the places he wanted us to see and meeting his sweet wife and his grandkids and having dinner together on the Orion.
Moale Rivu is the best PR man in Papua New Guinea. He’s a decent man and a respected man. And he tells the truth.
Sam Piniau OBE is dead at 68 and I have lost a very great mate.
Sam, whose father was a pastor in Rabaul, had been a bright young man. So sharp-witted his teachers found a place for him at a top high school in Australia – where he turned out to be as good a footballer as he was a student.
Returning to Papua New Guinea, he got into radio broadcasting just as it was beginning to burgeon and, after cutting his teeth on some tough assignments - like Bougainville when the secession movement was on the boil, before long found himself as Chairman and CEO of the National Broadcasting Commission.
In 1970, I took over Radio Bougainville from Sam, the couple of days spent handing over the station was the first time I’d met him. We liked each other, had a lot in common and got on like a house on fire.
He went to Moresby, eventually to run the NBC, and, after some years in Bougainville, I went to Indonesia to set up an educational radio service. In 1973 he persuaded me back to Moresby to head the policy and planning unit of the new NBC.
Together we prepared the NBC’s first five year plan, opened new stations, guided the organisation through Independence and tried desperately to manage a worsening financial situation.
It was this problem that directly led to my leaving the organisation and which indirectly led to Sam’s departure. In 1975, as the NBC Act allowed, we tried to introduce advertising on to one of our networks to generate much-needed revenue.
There was a monumental political fight in which character assassination became the ordure of the day. I left shortly before the Somare government moved in Parliament to amend the NBC Act to prohibit advertising.
The government was defeated on the floor of the house. And soon thereafter, commercial broadcasting came to PNG.
But what had been a close friendship between Sam and Somare had been sorely tested, and Sam quit the NBC. Somare offered him the job of High Commissioner to Canberra, but Sam refused. He’d had a gutful of politics and of being a public servant.
While he contributed to national life thereafter, mainly though his involvement in the National Sports Commission, he never again went anywhere near politics.
When Sam died he was growing and trading in cocoa and vanilla. He leaves behind Dulcie, six grown-up kids and a host of grandkids. He was such a fine man.
Photos: Upper - Sam. Mid - Sam [left] visiting Brisbane as a young man. Lower – Sam and I sharing a glass (me SP, Sam Sunkist) at a Kokopo restaurant in October. I wrote in my diary at the time: “Death. When old mates get together, the subject they move to before most others ... ”