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5 posts from April 2007


Valetta, Malta: The posts in this log have been infrequent recently as the MV Insignia made its way through the Greek islands and satellite communications was not always reliable. The ASOPA diaspora, however, continues to communicate and from time to time I can plug into these conversations. So keep the information flowing.

Eric Johns [ASOPA 1958-59] writes that for the past few years (in his retirement) he been writing books for PNG schools on the history of PNG and expects two of them to be taken into the education system by next year. “This is a long sought after project of mine (dreamed about since the 1970s),” says Eric, “and I am still at it with another effort due for completion around 2009.

Eric will be attending the Cedar Lake reunion at Advancetown for 1961-62 Asopians with wife Shirley (nee Coffin), a CEO of that vintage. “Allen Muscio and his wife Jan are coming with us. Allen and I were CEOs together and would love to meet other CEOs of those years (or anyone else we know) when we go up north in August. Allen and Jan live in Campbelltown, Sydney, and Shirley and I are in Canberra.” If you want to talk to Eric about the PNG history project, you can email him here.


Athens, Greece: The death at 85 of Lexy Burns MBE draws the curtain on an era when Port Moresby, the hot and dusty capital of Papua New Guinea, was an effervescent and feisty colonial town – populated by hard-bitten administrators, whey-faced missionaries, idealists, chancers and yachties, neophyte chalkies, big drinking kiaps, remittance men and steely entrepreneurs who knew the first million was not too far away.

In 1947 into this tropical melange walked Alexa Holman. Before embarking on the Malaita she’d asked younger brother Hal what the Territory was like. “It wasn’t much chop during the war,” he’d responded laconically, reflecting his experiences in the Ramu, Chimbu and New Britain. Hal Holman OAM, in his own good time, returned to the Territory and his art and sculpture became defining images in forging an identity for the new nation both before and after Independence in 1975.

Lexy quickly found work in post-war Port Moresby, starting as a barmaid in the legendary ‘Bottom Pub’ with its infamous bar, known as the snakepit. Before too long Lexy met and married builder Mick Burns, the great love of her life even after they divorced, and together they began to make a mark on the national capital. They opened the first restaurant (The Twilight Café) and the first guesthouse (Tradewinds, on Tuguba Hill).

Lexy’s reputation burgeoned as a shrewd businesswoman, capable organiser and formidable hostess and she also became Moresby’s acknowledged ‘Queen of Catering’ while involving herself in many other civic activities including The Orchid Society, charity events and royal tours. This she did for 50 years until ill health forced her return to Australia in 1997, where she lived on Bribie Island. Lexy died in Redcliffe Hospital near Brisbane and her ashes will be scattered in her beloved Port Moresby.


Warwick Athens, Greece. The phone call was timely. It came at 8 am on the first morning of an international public relations conference I'm attending in the Greek capital - and I was in the process of over-sleeping. On the line was a bloke who identified himself as Warwick Raymont, "although you may know me better as Warwick Ring," he added helpfully. The voice was educated, cultivated, and the name one to conjure with. I'd last seen Warwick Ring late in 1962 at ASOPA. As I recall, he dropped out in the first year. But he went on to get his PhD and other awards as he pursued an academic career based in Adelaide.

While ASOPA came to be part of Warwick's distant past, he told me – as I tried to work out whether I was in Athens or Atherton – that he’d often wondered what became of the people he met during that formative period of his career. Earlier this year,  Warwick got something of an answer. A friend provided him with a clipping from a 2002 Sydney Morning Herald, which sought the whereabouts of one Warwick Ring, Asopian of 1962. It turned out we didn't locate him in 2002 because he'd changed his surname from Ring to Raymont. "I changed it because of Abba," he told me. I could not but agree this was a shrewd move. After all "Raymont, Raymont, Raymont, why don't you give me a call" doesn't have the same, well, ring about it. So, after all these years, we're back in touch and I hope we'll be able to welcome our mate Warwick to the reunion in Brisbane later this year.

I’ve visited Warwick’s website and find that he’s now a research scientist who has devoted much of his life to the development of health Care Products that assist people cope better with an increasingly polluted environment.He earned his first doctorate in 1970 [Organic Chemistry] and his early work concentrated on the distribution of trace chemicals such as DDT on the environment and human health. At the time, Warwick sparked considerable controversy with his findings on DDT in human breast milk, his opposition to the fluoridation of drinking water and his early predictions of global warming.


Pagello London, Saturday: It's good news indeed that Dr Joseph (Joe) Pagelio, PNG's Secretary for Education, has accepted an invitation to attend - and speak at - October's ASOPA reunion in Brisbane.  He will join his 40-something year predecessor, Dr Ken McKinnon, in what will be an historic moment  - literally one where the past meets the future. Since his appointment as Secretary early last year, Joe has shown his has both the bottle and the brainpower to introduce and pursue a number of necessary reforms in PNG's education system. It'll be a real honour to meet him.

Charles Rowley

Charles_rowley I can’t go back to the former ASOPA campus, and I return from time to time, without recapturing the spirit of Professor Charles Rowley – who taught me, and many others, both at the School and at the University of Papua New Guinea. He was a great man – knowledgeable, reasoned, patient and kind.

Back at ASOPA again on Saturday, along with Rowley’s ghost, I reflected on what the late Donald Horne wrote of him in one of his last articles, which was about the so-called ‘history wars’. “One of the achievements of the '60s,” Horne said, ”was the careful conceptualisation by the social scientist Charles Rowley that what went with that dispossession was as, above all, ‘the destruction of Aboriginal society’. What mattered most was not how many massacres there had been, but that dispossession disintegrated the structure of the Aboriginal societies.

“In his index, Rowley gave almost two columns to ‘society’ and less than a sixth of a column to ‘massacres’. (Another aberration? If everyone involved in the Windschuttle skirmish had set their course by Rowley's clear conceptual vision, discussion would not have veered into the squalid and the plain silly.)”

[Source: ‘Still lucky, but getting smarter’ by Donald Horne, The Age, 28 August 2004]