After Robert Menzies was elected Australian Prime Minister in late 1949, JK Murray, the Labor-appointed Administrator of PNG, was regarded with great suspicion. A major rift occurred in 1950 when Murray disagreed with an order from Canberra that Papua New Guineans should not speak directly to a visiting mission from the United Nations.
Murray had tried to pursue a ‘new deal’ for Papua New Guineans, establishing village courts, village councils, cooperative societies, extension courses in agriculture, aid posts, training indigenous medicos and moved the workforce from indenture to free labour. The local white establishment also found Murray’s attitude to Papua New Guineans scandalous. When the Murrays invited Papuans to functions at Government House, the functions were boycotted by whites and Murray was dubbed ‘Kanaka Jack’.
He caused a stir when he addressed the RSL in Lae, saying, “I do not expect all to agree with me, but I give it as an informed opinion that the IQ of the native people of this Territory is not greatly different from that of a cross-section of Europe…what the native people have lacked is opportunity.”
He further scandalised the white community by commenting, “I do not think it would be unfair to suggest that what is sauce for the goose may also be sauce for the gander and if we prohibit native people without passes being present in Port Moresby after 9 pm similarly we might prohibit Europeans, Malays etc. being in Hanuabada Village after 9 pm.”
In April the ASOPA magazine South Pacific quoted new Territories Minister Paul Hasluck as saying the PNG administration would become increasingly centralised in Australia and the same month the South Pacific Post published a news item, Hasluck in ‘Routine’ Visit. The visit was anything but routine, and within weeks Paul Hasluck publicly dismissed Murray without offering him the opportunity to retire or resign, and replaced him with Liberal Party operative Donald Cleland.
The South Pacific Post editorialised: “The ‘resignation’ of Labor-appointed Col Murray just a few convenient months after the arrival of Liberal-appointed Mr Cleland is just a further indication that Canberra regards this Territory as no more than a political playpen.” The newspaper said that Murray would be remembered “as an Administrator who was too much of a gentleman to betray anyone, even the Canberra nincompoops to whom he gave complete allegiance.”
In June Murray wrote in a personal letter to James McAuley at ASOPA: “On a previous occasion, it was proposed that I should leave the Administration, and I succeeded in staying on, as I really hoped to complete the period of service up to 30th June 1954; but this is not to be…. I have been disappointed in what we have done in health and education, but this has been due to factors which were mostly out of the control of the Heads of the Department concerned: not that they haven’t done great work, but I hoped that the situation would have been firmer and less subject to buffeting and depredation of funds as a consequence of political factors … procrastination and an unwillingness to make decisions at the Canberra level.” There was a strong implication that Canberra had starved Murray out.
Finally, in July, Murray commented on his dismissal in an article in the South Pacific Post headlined ‘Hasluck Impertinent, Absurd – Murray’. The former Administrator accused Menzies and Hasluck of removing him from office saying they had “organised a ‘war of nerves’ and created bottlenecks in Canberra.”
From The Blatchford Collection 1952. More in ASOPA People Extra.