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36 posts from April 2008

A job well done should be a job recognised

“The kiaps gave exemplary service to the people of TPNG for 75 years,” says ex kiap Norm Richardson. “They went where others feared to tread and did so without unnecessary bloodshed or disruption of the life of the people, frequently to the detriment of their own health and well being. The country was changed from a state of constant fear and predation, village upon village, to one of free travel, cooperation across language groups and peace between long standing tribal combatants.”

They are eloquent words, and they are all true. Now another ex-kiap, Chris Viner-Smith, author of the book ‘Australia's Forgotten Frontier’, is preparing a submission to the Federal Government seeking recognition of the outstanding contribution that District Services personnel made to the development of Papua New Guinea.

I believe a good case can be made for recognition and, while I cannot speak for the Papua New Guinea Association, I believe it should strongly support these representations. Kiaps had a unique pioneering and leadership role in PNG's evolution to nationhood and I don’t believe for a moment that others of us, and we also played our parts, would begrudge official acknowledgement of the special nature of the kiap’s role.

Chris Viner-Smith already has the support of the Australian Police Association, the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association, ACT MP Annette Ellis and ACT Senator Garry Humphries. He says he has “partial support from the PNGAA who say they cannot give full support as they represent all expats not only kiaps.”

Norm Richardson has pointed out that, in 1942, the 2/12, 2/31 and other battalions could not have carried out their defence of Australia on the Kokoda Track without the active participation of patrol officers. In addition, coastwatchers were, in the main, kiaps.

Robert Cruickshank, an ex-kiap who also served as a member of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, says his “duties as a Patrol Officer were far more onerous, and at times more dangerous, than most of my military service".

At the first meeting of the new PNGAA executive committee this coming Sunday, I will move that the Association give its wholehearted support to this initiative. It’s an excellent proposal, and it deserves to succeed.

ASOPA, TPNG and then the world

In the half decade after Papua New Guinea attained national independence in 1975, thousands of Australians voluntarily relinquished their positions and moved to other locales and other roles. Most of them too young to retire, they went on to have second careers. Most of their stories are interesting and some are spectacular, and occasionally we relate one of them on ASOPA PEOPLE.

When Chris Owner left PNG in 1977, he decided to live and work in the United States. He returned to university and obtained a PhD from the University of Washington in Seattle. He now lives and works in Virginia, is married with four children and a grandchild, with another on the way.

He's now the Clinical Sciences Director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington DC. The AFIP is a US government institution concerned with diagnostic consultation, education, and research. The unique character of AFIP rests in the expertise of its diagnostic pathologists, whose daily work involves cases that are difficult to diagnose owing to their rarity. AFIP was very busy, for example, during the anthrax scares post 9/11.

“Life has been very kind to me and my brood,” Chris says.” The only downside is that I don't see [brother] Mike often enough. His eldest son Tim lives near me and plays for the Virginia orchestra. I hope that if any of the ASOPA folks make it here they will let me know and will come and see me.”

If you’d like to get in touch, you can email Chris here.

A convivial evening with the Bergmanns

Paul Oates

On patrol out of Kabwum in late 1971, or was it early 1972, I visited the Bergmanns at Ulap. We had just walked through a cloudburst and the patrol were drowned rats. It was like swimming upright. Rev Bergmann said the station received nearly 10 inches in 4½ hours that day.

The Bergmanns gave me dry clothes to wear, while my khakis dried, and put me up for the night. During the evening, Rev Bergmann excused himself and conducted a reception test of a shortwave broadcast from Germany, saying he was required to report on reception strength. He was very official during this listening test and appeared to almost sit to attention. He took readings and notes that he said he had to send back to Germany.

Mrs Bergmann showed me where I was going wrong with my bread making. My bread improved significantly after that. Rev Bergmann gave me home made beer before dinner and home made wine during dinner. He produced the beer and wine using his wife's bread making yeast. From memory dinner was a very nice meat stew.

Not long before I left next morning, Rev Bergmann allowed me to admire his home made Rosella liqueur. He held the bottle up to the sunlight and it was a lovely purple red in colour and tasted exceptionally nice. I can still remember the wonderful taste on the back of my tongue.

You can help find the ‘Montevideo Maru’

Montevideo_maru Australia’s greatest ever maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in the South China Sea off the Philippines in 1942, has special relevance for anyone associated with Papua New Guinea. The tragedy claimed the lives of 1053 Australians - 845 prisoners of war and 208 civilians who had been taken aboard the ship on 22 June after internment at Rabaul. The vessel was bound for Hainan.

In the early hours of 1 July, Montevideo Maru was intercepted and sunk by USS Sturgeon about 100 km west of Cape Luzon. The submarine commander, Lieutenant William ‘Bull’ Wright, had no way of knowing the ship was carrying allied troops and civilians. His log makes chilling reading.

30 June 1942: At 2216 sighted a darkened ship … after a few minutes observation it was evident he was on a westerly course, and going at high speed. Put on all engines and worked up to full power, proceeding to westward in attempt to get ahead of him. For an hour and a half we couldn't make a nickel. This fellow was really going, making at least 17 knots, and probably a bit more, as he appeared to be zig-zagging. Determined to hang on in the hope he would slow … sure enough, about midnight he slowed to about 12 knots. After that it was easy.

1 July 1942: Proceeding to intercept target … Altered course to gain position ahead of him, and dove at 0146. When he got in periscope range, it could be seen that he was larger than first believed. At 0225 fired four-torpedo spread, range 4000 yards. At 0229 heard and observed explosion about 75-100 feet abaft stuck. At 0240 observed ship sink stern first. He was a big one.

Among the missing were many members of the Rabaul community, the uncle of former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and the grandfather of Federal Minister Peter Garrett.

David Mearns, the renowned wreck hunter who recently found HMAS Sydney and Kormoran, says the 3.7km sea depth at the sinking site does not prohibit a search, “it just ensures that the expedition will be costly and run into the millions of dollars”.

The Rudd Government is considering providing funds to find Montevideo Maru. But there is no guarantee. In 2003 the Howard government rejected a petition to support a search.

The editor of the PNGAA journal, Una Voce, Andrea Williams, a relative of some of the victims, wants the site of the sinking to be located and then commemorated as a war shrine. “It is important that the loss of the men from Rabaul in 1942 is acknowledged and has a special place in our Australian history," she says. “I know that there are many descendants of those men who will like to see some closure on the events that led to their disappearance".

It would be great if each ASOPA PEOPLE reader could add their names to an online petition asking the Federal government to fund the search. The petition can be found by clicking through here - you can add your name in the space entitled ‘Write A Comment’, which is about halfway down the page.

Despatches from the front – that AGM

Pngaa_2 Yesterday’s annual general meeting of the Papua New Guinea Association recognised it was time to pass on the baton to the next generation. In my view, it was very appropriate that this happened at a contested election – the first in the Association’s 57-year history.

I say this because the election provided a clear choice to members between an Association that would continue in its present state and one that would seek a new and more expansive direction. Members chose the latter.

While the returning officers merely announced the result of yesterday’s election, not the precise count, I understand the policies I espoused secured the overwhelming support of members who voted at the meeting and the overwhelming number of members who voted by proxy. The new committee therefore has been given the clearest mandate for change by those members interested enough to vote.

Change, however, does not mean disregarding or disrespecting the inheritance and history of the Association. On the contrary, the committee will be seeking new ways to honour the past and the senior members of the PNGAA, who care for the organisation so passionately.

Yesterday was also an opportunity for members to pay fitting tribute to outgoing president Harry West, stepping down after 25 years at the helm.

Harry’s PNG experience began as a young Lieutenant in the Australian Army and saw him tasked with many exacting roles including representing the then Territory at the United Nations Trusteeship Council and, when District Commissioner in Rabaul, leading the Administration’s response to the Mataungan uprising on the Gazelle Peninsula.

Harry was honoured by his peers yesterday by being given life membership of the Association. I also intend to ask the new committee to create a position of ‘President Emeritus’ that Harry can occupy at his pleasure.

I encourage readers of ASOPA PEOPLE who are not PNGAA members to join the Association. The excellent quarterly journal, Una Voce, which is only available to members, is alone worth the membership fee of just $20 a year. You can click through to the membership form here.

PNG election offers mandate for change

The tumult and the shouting died, the captains and the kings departed, and now the real work begins. The annual general meeting of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia elected me President today and I’m going to spend the week between now and the first committee meeting next Sunday pondering how to begin implementing an ambitious agenda while protecting the many good things about the Association that must be maintained.

In my pre-election address I committed myself as follows:

First, I want to emphasise fellowship and caring: not only organising social events but also focusing on the needs of senior members of the Association.

Secondly, I feel strongly that the Association should be active in strengthening relationships between the people of Australia and the people of Papua New Guinea. There seems no reason why it should not evolve as the leading civil body to protect and advance such relationships and I see this as a great opportunity for the incoming committee.

Thirdly, it is clear that the communications activities of the Association are integral to its effectiveness. Arguably the publication of Una Voce is our most important continuing function and I would like to see more people working with Andrea Williams and Ross Johnson on this important project. I also believe we can make the Association’s website a more vital channel of continuing communication. And I see a role for the Association in organising talks and seminars on Australia-PNG affairs.

Fourthly, I’d like the Association to play a role in history and scholarship: collecting manuscripts and documents, including those in private collections, recording oral histories and keeping an eye on revisionist historians. Some of you are aware that I’m trying to persuade our Federal politicians to develop the former ASOPA site on Middle Head as a regional centre and as a continuing symbol of Australia’s contribution to PNG. I’d like to see the Association join this challenge.

Finally, the financial, administrative and membership responsibilities of the Association must continue to be managed effectively. One of my goals is to increase the membership of the Association including establishing a corporate membership category to help strengthen our finances.

It’s clear the Association will need to restructure itself in a fundamental way to cope with the weight of these aspirations. I look forward to the task ahead. The vote is in. The mandate is clear. It’s time to get on with it.

Read Keith Jackson's address in full here.  Download election_remarks.pdf

When history is not all that it seems

I’ve known Bill Brown for more than 35 years and I know he doesn’t mince words. In ASOPA PEOPLE last August  I wrote: “It’s been called ‘one of the most impressive pieces of historical scholarship to come out of PNG’... ‘It’ is My Gun, My Brother, the story of the PNG colonial police in the years between 1920 and 1960... The author, Dr August Kituai is an academic historian at the University of PNG. A reviewer has written “If [it] sounds a rather wooden topic, a dry administrative history, don't be fooled. This is a book full of rich stories….”

Well, ‘stories’ seems to be the operative word. Tall stories. Bill Brown has drawn my attention to a major deficiency in Prof Kituai’s scholarship. But more about this shortly. Bill also highlighted another major error in an official Foreign Affairs document, an error relating to an incident in Bougainville of which Bill had first hand experience, and has the documentary evidence to back it up. Bill’s point is straightforward - that errors of historical fact are unacceptable and, when the evidence is adduced, they must be fully corrected. In both cases - Kituai and DFAT - despite the proof being tabled there has been no correction.

In 2001, former District Commissioner Bob Cole identified at least 25 errors in just three pages of My Gun, My Brother. Cole said that substituted words and deleted paragraphs “completely distort[ed] the meaning of the original documents”. And, in warping the facts, Kituai had “cast a slur on the character of a particularly fine field officer, Mr Roger Claridge”.

The brief background is that Claridge’s patrol ran into trouble five hours walk from Mendi in November 1955. The patrol came under arrow attack from a party of 30 warriors, one of whom was killed by Claridge returning fire. Claridge was later exonerated by a coronial inquiry, which Kituai – adding to his other errors of fact - managed to translate into a reprimand.

In the interests of historical accuracy, Bob Cole’s full documentation of this case can be found here in a link to the Ex Kiap website.

The other matter Bill refers to is official Australian documentation that claims then PNG Administrator David Hay personally directed police operations during the Rorovana incident on Bougainville in August 1969. In fact, Hay was not on the island at all. While Bill has received official acknowledgement of what is a significant error, there has been no rectification. Bill is concerned the misrepresentation will become entrenched mythology as a result of "all those copies of the book donated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to all the major libraries, archives and the universities ... left uncorrected for researchers and students to perpetuate the nonsense”.

In order to place on the Internet the real story of the Rorovana incident, not the one recorded in Documents on Australian Foreign Policy, Australia and Papua New Guinea 1966-1969, we offer Bill's evidence in a downloadable document here.  Download Rorovana.pdf   

I agree with Bill that it would be great to see the perpetrators of these errors take positive steps to correct them. I also know that correcting the record in ASOPA PEOPLE is second best. But it will have to do for now.

We can take some solace in the fact that every person googling 'Kituai' or 'Claridge' or 'My Gun, My Brother' or 'Rorovana' or 'David Hay' or 'DFAT' or 'Australian Foreign Policy' will alight upon this page. And be alerted to both corrupted interpretation and the cleansing strength of hard evidence.

Over to the historians.

How Bob Menzies got interested in PNG

On 2 April 1957, the PNG Deputy Director of Education, GT Roscoe, wrote a plaintive letter to the District Education Officer in Wewak. “I used to think,” said Roscoe, “that the Department was passing through a temporary crisis and some day we would be functioning normally, but I know now that crisis is the normal state of the Department and if it is ever to be any different, it will be after I am gone.”

In the straitened circumstances of 1957, Roscoe could hardly be blamed for his despondency, but in fact government education in Papua New Guinea was on the threshold of explosive growth: a rapid expansion, which just the following year he would begin to oversee when he took over as Director.

In 1957 there were between 300,000 and 500,000 school age children in PNG, of which less than 14,000 attended government schools with another 15,000 in registered mission schools. “It is accurate to say that only 10% of the native children of this Territory of school age are under effective instruction,” said Director of Education, Bill Groves.

Menzies_bob The Australian Government had been under increasing pressure from the United Nations to accelerate educational development in the Territories but, as The Blatchford Collection reveals, progress in the first half of the 1950s was painfully slow. Then, in late April 1957, Australian Prime Minister Bob Menzies arrived for his first and, so far as we know, his only visit to Papua New Guinea.

Speaking at Ela Beach, Menzies said: “I shall in future provide a much more intelligent audience for [Territories Minister] Mr Hasluck than perhaps I have provided in the past. There is hardly a week in the year in which I don’t find a peremptory knock on my door and my friend Hasluck coming to see me, ingratiatingly, quietly, smoothly, explaining to me by fine logic what ought to be done, and before I know what happens I’ve cost the Treasurer another half million.

"This great Territory represents the greatest single experience that the Commonwealth has ever made outside its own immediate boundaries. We will be judged by it. It is because we know that we will be judged by it that year after year we pay more and more and closer and closer attention to it.”

Perhaps frustrated by the lack of any meaningful budget response to Menzies’ words, and emboldened by the imminence of his own retirement, Bill Groves decided to act. As the South Pacific Post reported in October: “Groves startled the Legislative Council last week with a plea to keep most native secondary students in the Territory and for ₤10 million a year, apart from the normal budget to meet the Territory’s education requirements. Hasluck told the House of Representatives that he believed Mr Groves had not been reported accurately. Groves said, “I can provide plans for the use of that money (₤10 million) tomorrow, and they won’t be elaborate or extravagant. Most will be spent on buildings. We need buildings, buildings and more buildings.”

Fadden_arthur This was too much for Federal Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden [left], who, arguing that his approach to PNG was ‘progressive’, “angrily threatened to close a news conference following press questions about more money for the education of natives in the Territory. He said that they could not get more money for the simple reason that the Commonwealth did not have the money.” An editorial in the South Pacific Post took Sir Arthur to task, suggesting “the Director of Education should be turned loose on him”.

“The Director of Education who is an erstwhile teacher should be encouraged to take his backward pupil, the Treasurer, by the ear and explain in simple terms the exact reasons why ₤10 million should be taken from the Colombo Plan and used to educate our own people. The Directory while he is at it, could also take a thin cane to the Treasurer for that complacent, ill-advised, and untruthful use of the word progressive.”

If a turning point is to be found in the expansion of public education in PNG, 1957 seems to provide it.

See full summaries of the 1957 educational records in The Blatchford Collection.

The Anzac on the Wall

A poem by Jim Brown

Thanks to Paul Oates for drawing the attention of ASOPA PEOPLE to this elegy marking Anzac Day written by talented poet Jim Brown. Jim lives at 12 Adrian Court, Heathmont. Victoria 3135. He has recorded the poem on CD (the recitation is by Jim) and it’s available for $25 from the foregoing address or contact Jim by sending him an email here.Beersheba_3


I wandered thru a country town 'cos I had time to spare,
And went into an antique shop to see what was in there.
Old Bikes and pumps and kero lamps, but hidden by it all,
A photo of a soldier boy - an Anzac on the Wall.

"The Anzac have a name?" I asked. The old man answered "No,.
The ones who could have told me mate, have passed on long ago."
The old man kept on talking and, according to his tale,
The photo was unwanted junk bought from a clearance sale.

"I asked around," the old man said, "but no one knows his face,
He's been on that wall twenty years, deserves a better place.
For someone must have loved him so, it seems a shame somehow."
I nodded in agreement and then said, "I'll take him now."

My nameless digger's photo, well it was a sorry sight,
A cracked glass pane and a broken frame - I had to make it right.
To prise the photo from its frame I took care just in case,
'Cause only sticky paper held the cardboard back in place.

I peeled away the faded screed and much to my surprise,
Two letters and a telegram appeared before my eyes.
The first reveals my Anzac's name and regiment of course,
John Mathew Francis Stuart - of Australia's own Light Horse.

This letter written from the front, my interest now was keen,
This note was dated August seventh 1917.
"Dear Mum, I'm at Khalasa Springs not far from the Red Sea,
They say it's in the Bible - looks like a Billabong to me.

"My Kathy wrote I'm in her prayers she's still my bride to be,
I just can't wait to see you both you're all the world to me.
And Mum you'll soon meet Bluey, last month they shipped him out,
I told him to call on you when he's up and about."

"That Bluey is a larrikin and we all thought it funny,
He lobbed a Turkish hand grenade into the CO's dunny.
I told you how he dragged me wounded in from no man's land,
He stopped the bleeding closed the wound with only his bare hand."

"Then he copped it at the front from some stray shrapnel blast,
It was my turn to drag him in and I thought he wouldn't last.
He woke up in hospital and nearly lost his mind,
Cause out there on the battlefield he'd left one leg behind."

"He's been in a bad way mum, he knows he'll ride no more,
Like me he loves a horse's back, he was a champ before.
So please Mum can you take him in, he's been like my brother,
Raised in a Queensland orphanage he's never known a mother."

But struth, I miss Australia mum and in my mind each day,
I am a mountain cattleman on high plains far away.
I'm mustering white-faced cattle, with no camel's hump in sight,
And I waltz my Matilda by a campfire every night.

I wonder who rides Billy, I heard the pub burnt down,
I'll always love you and please say hooroo to all in town".
The second letter I could see was in a lady's hand,
An answer to her soldier son there in a foreign land.

Her copperplate was perfect, the pages neat and clean,
It bore the date November 3rd 1917.
''Twas hard enough to lose your Dad, without you at the war,
I'd hoped you would be home by now - each day I miss you more"

"Your Kathy calls around a lot since you have been away,
To share with me her hopes and dreams about your wedding day.
And Bluey has arrived - and what a godsend he has been,
We talked and laughed for days about the things you've done and seen."

"He really is a comfort and works hard around the farm,
I read the same hope in his eyes that you won't come to harm.
Mc Connell's kids rode Billy but suddenly that changed,
We had a violent lightning storm and it was really strange."

"Last Wednesday just on midnight, not a single cloud in sight,
It raged for several minutes, it gave us all a fright.
It really spooked your Billy - and he screamed and bucked and reared,
And then he rushed the sliprail fence, which by a foot he cleared."

"They brought him back next afternoon but something's changed I fear,
It's like the day you brought him home, for no one can get near.
Remember when you caught him with his black and flowing mane?,
Now horse breakers fear the beast that only you can tame,"

"That's why we need you home son" - then the flow of ink went dry,
This letter was unfinished and I couldn't work out why.
Until I started reading the letter number three,
A yellow telegram delivered news of tragedy.

Her son killed in action - oh - what pain that must have been,
The same date as her letter - 3rd November 1917.
This letter which was never sent, became then one of three,
She sealed behind the photo's face - the face she longed to see.

And John's home town's old timers -children when he went to war,
Would say no greater cattleman had left the town before.
They knew his widowed mother well - and with respect did tell,
How when she lost her only boy she lost her mind as well.

She could not face the awful truth, to strangers she would speak,
"My Johnny's at the war you know, he's coming home next week."
They all remembered Bluey, he stayed on to the end,
A younger man with wooden leg became her closest friend.

And he would go and find her when she wandered old and weak,
And always softly say, "Yes dear - John will be home next week."
Then when she died Bluey moved on, to Queensland some did say,
I tried to find out where he went but don't know to this day.

And Kathy never wed - a lonely spinster some found odd,
She wouldn't set foot in a church - she'd turned her back on God.
John's mother left no will I learned on my detective trail,
This explains my photo's journey, that clearance sale.

So I continued digging 'cause I wanted to know more,
I found John's name with thousands in the records of the war.
His last ride proved his courage - a ride you will acclaim,
The Light Horse Charge at Beersheba of everlasting fame.

That last day in October back in 1917,
At 4pm our brave boys fell - that sad fact I did glean.
That's when John's life was sacrificed, the record's crystal clear,
But 4pm in Beersheba is midnight over here.......

So as John's gallant spirit rose to cross the great divide,
Were lightning bolts back home a signal from the other side?
Is that why Billy bolted and went racing as in pain,
Because he'd never feel his master on his back again?

Was it coincidental? Same time - same day - same date?
Some proof of numerology, or just a quirk of fate?
I think it's more than that, you know, as I've heard wiser men,
Acknowledge there are many things that go beyond our ken.

Where craggy peaks guard secrets neath dark skies torn asunder,
Where hoof beats are companions to the rolling waves of thunder.
Where lightning cracks like 303's and ricochets again,
Where howling moaning gusts of wind sound just like dying men.

Some Mountain cattlemen have sworn on lonely alpine track,
They've glimpsed a huge black stallion - Light Horseman on his back.
Yes sceptics say, it's swirling clouds just forming apparitions,
Oh no, my friend you can't dismiss all this as superstition.

The desert of Beersheba - or windswept Aussie range,
John Stuart rides forever there - Now I don't find that strange.
Now some gaze at this photo and they often question me,
And I tell them a small white lie, and say he's family.
"You must be proud of him." they say - I tell them, one and all,
That's why he takes the pride of place - my Anzac on the Wall.

Photograph: The Australian Charge at Beersheba, Eric George Elliott, Range Finder, 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade, 31 October 1917

New Dawn FM takes to the airwaves

Ketsimur_carolus A couple of years ago, Phil Charley and I sat down to lunch in Sydney’s Chinatown with onetime colleague Carolus (Charlie) Ketsimur [left], top flight journalist and accomplished jazz musician. Charlie explained how Bougainville was going through a long process of recovering from a destructive civil war that cost the island 20 percent of its population through murder and disease and most of its infrastructure. And he talked of his ambition to establish a radio station in the north of the island that would assist Bougainville’s rehabilitation from this state of devastation. Charlie even had a name for the station – New Dawn.

Phil, and I said we’d do what we could to help and got in touch with our former PNG media colleague, Martin Hadlow, who had just returned from a gig with UNESCO. Martin, now a professor at Queensland University, had always put up his hand for the tough jobs – Jordan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan – and knew that plugging in a locally-owned radio station could do a lot for the education and development, not to mention the morale, of Bougainvilleans.

After a welter of paperwork – business plans, project proposals, budgets, contracts, assessments, reassessments – we got money from UNESCO. The German Government also provided a timely infusion of funds.

And yesterday afternoon at 2 pm New Dawn FM began its first test broadcast from a studio and transmitter on Buka Island.

Laukai_aloysius_7“We completed the setting up yesterday and double checked that everything was working,” says station manager, Aloysius Laukai [seen here with German officials], who's been driving the project. “The test started at 1400 and went through to 2200. The signal was OK. We got calls from Buka and surrounding villages. It worked very well, and in stereo!”

Testing will continue for the next two weeks and a date for the official launch will be set for around the middle of May.

It will be a golden moment.

Aid money flashpoint in Oz-PNG talks

Somare_presser The 18th PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum is being held in Madang today – the first meeting between the countries in three years after the souring of relations under the Howard Government.

High on the agenda is the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the Kokoda Track. The agreement comes after recent consultation between land owners and Australia over proposed mining in the area around the track. The two countries will also agree frameworks for bilateral cooperation in resources, energy and tourism and a tsunami early warning system. Other issues being discussed are policing assistance, trade, investment and immigration.

PNG Foreign Minister Sir Sam Abal said the forum will consolidate relations between the two countries, on the mend following Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s visit earlier this year. The 15-member Australian delegation is led by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and includes ten Federal Ministers.

After landing in Madang in a RAAF jet, the Australians received a rousing welcome and Mr Smith told an impromptu media conference that he would also look at providing assistance for the Okuk Highway, recently severed near Kundiawa by a major landslide which has caused massive disruption in the highlands.

A flashpoint at the talks could be the PNG Government’s push for $360 million a year AusAID funding to be “better spent”. Mr Abal criticised current spending as ineffective and said funds would be better deployed to infrastructure like roads, wharves and bridges.

“Too much AusAID money is ‘boomerang aid’ that Australia gives to PNG but actually benefits AusAID agencies and staff,” he said. “It’s not that they are abusing it, but the people of Australia have a right to ask where the money is going. PNG, as a recipient, is also asking where the money is going.”

Australia will give PNG $400 million next year after Kevin Rudd announced additional funding during bilateral talks with Sir Michael Somare.

Photo: Sir Michael Somare at a media conference in Port Moresby yesterday [PNG Post-Courier]

Mother & children reunited after 40 years

In PNG the Post Courier reports that a mother who lost her babies to an Australian father 40 years ago met them for the first time on Friday at Sigmil outside Minj in the Western Highlands.

Kopan Amb Opo’s twins were taken to Australia in the late 1960s by their father, who lived in Kundiawa. She says her husband, a teacher, left without saying a word.

The reunion was held in Highlands fashion with a thousand people mourning the lost children returning home. Kopon Amb said she had fulfilled the dreams she had to one day meet her children before she died.

The ABC’s PNG correspondent Steve Marshall organised the reunion. Mr Marshall had broadcast Kopon Amb’s story of searching for her children in an ABC program which one of the children, Anne Marie, heard. When Anne Marie told her twin brother, Steven, they arranged to meet their mother immediately.

Steven said they did not get visas before traveling as they were desperate to meet their mother. When asked if he had any memory of his mother, Steve said he could only remember the day his father took them away. “We could sense something was wrong but you would not know where to start as a three year old,” he said.

Can you assist big Canberra CEO event?

David Weeden

With a bit of help from others, I have now made contact with about 15 CEOs from the Class of 1967-68. We are working to have our own reunion (most likely on the Sunshine Coast) in mid October. Having cut my teeth on this group, I would be very interested in working towards a Canberra reunion for all CEOs possibly in late 2009 or early 2010, provided I can get support from others.

You can contact David here.

Sorry, Mr Wills, but the beer’s off

Noosa calls, so the jottings may be a bit thin this week. Phil Charley tells me there’s a portrait on the wall of the Melbourne Club that carries a strong PNG resonance. It is a representation of a Mr Wills, of Burke and Wills fame, who the accompanying plaque describes as the only member of the Club ever to have died of thirst.

Planning for the future of the PNGAA

With the election for President of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia less than two weeks away, I thought it might be time to provide a little more detail on how I’d like to see the organisation develop over the next few years.

There is first a continuing requirement for fellowship and caring. This objective covers the organisation of social events including reunions and attention to the needs of senior members of the Association, including making sure they remain in continuing contact with the PNG expatriate diaspora. I think the organisation can be judged on how it treats its members and what benefits it’s able to offer them and I’ll be paying very careful attention to this aspect of its operations.

Next I have a strong desire to see the Association strengthen relationships with Papua New Guinea and Papua New Guineans at a personal level. There seems no reason why the PNGAA should not evolve as the leading civil body protecting and advancing that relationship. I think there are splendid opportunities for recruiting more Australians with PNG experience as members. But I also see that any Australian with an abiding interest in PNG and its people should be encouraged to join the Association and participate in its affairs.

Thirdly, I see the communications activities of the Association as integral to its effectiveness as an organisation. Arguably the publication of the excellent Una Voce is the PNGAA’s most important continuing activity. I believe we can do more with the website to make it a key channel of continuing communication and I see us doing more to build a presence in the media.

Then I see that history and scholarship need to be accommodated in the range of activities we pursue. This includes recording oral history, preserving documents, trying to understand and coordinate the many disparate PNG collections in Australia and organising conferences and seminars on PNG affairs. Part of this would be to try to preserve the former ASOPA site on Middle Head as a continuing symbol of Australia’s contribution to PNG and the commitment of individual Australians to our nearest neighbour.

Finally, there’s a need to ensure that the financial, administrative and membership responsibilities of the Association continue to be conducted effectively and transparently.

That’s quite an agenda, and it will take some time to reach a point where it is bearing full fruit. But I believe the implementation of this vision will enable the PNGAA to move into the next era of its development as a major organisation contributing to a good relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

I hope that, if you agree with me and you are a member, you will see fit to cast your vote in my favour.

10,000 issues later – still going strong

Pcfront Andrea Williams, who edits the journal of the PNG Association, Una Voce, alone worth the $20 membership fee, remarks that the PNG Post-Courier [Friday’s front page at left] will be publishing its 10,000th issue in August.

The Post-Courier’s Dave Lornie, who’s been given the job of preparing a supplement to mark this significant publishing event, got in touch with Andrea who asked Richard Jones and me – both freelancers for the newspaper in the 1960s and 1970s - to help out. Which, of course, we will.

Old PNG hands will remember that the Post-Courier took over from the previous South Pacific Post and New Guinea Times-Courier in June 1969. The Post-Courier is owned by News Ltd and remains the largest selling paper in PNG despite some stiff competition from The National, which is Malaysian owned.

The newspaper says it is:

… proud of its record as the voice of PNG. We were there when the nation took its first bold steps towards independence. Since that time, we have fearlessly recorded the nation’s progress.

The Post-Courier unashamedly supports the constitutional rights of Papua New Guineans and will fight to the last drop of ink to protect them. We are accountable to the people of Papua New Guinea first and foremost.Williams_andrea

By the way, you can subscribe to Una Voce by joining the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia The membership fee is $20 and you can find the membership application form here

Photo: ‘Una Voce’ editor Andrea Williams walks the Kokoda Track.

Native or what, there’s a lot in a word

The latest addition to The Blatchford Collection of archival material relevant to PNG education includes insights into a question that much bothered the Territory’s administrators for many years – how to refer to the inhabitants of PNG.

A summary of documents covering events in 1956, compiled by Loch Blatchford and now in ASOPA People Extra, shows that many officials from Territories Minister Paul Hasluck down were agonising over the use of the word ‘Native’.

In March 1956 the South Pacific Post reported in a page one story headlined ‘Official Move to Outlaw Native’ that Hasluck had issued a direction to the Administration that the word ‘Native’ was to be used as little as possible in official correspondence. "It can be used as an adjective," Hasluck advised, “This is to avoid resentment.” Meanwhile, the newspaper editorialised (‘That Nasty Word’) that it approved the Administration’s move to discourage use of the word ‘Native’ in official correspondence but asked ‘what do we substitute?’

A couple of weeks later, in its front page column ‘The Drum’, the Post pointed out that Hasluck, after “he told everyone to ‘lay off’ unnecessary use of the word ‘native’ used it nine times in his next public statement on Papua and New Guinea concerning native teachers.” Touchė.

The debate wasn’t helped when, at around the same time, an Indian member of the UN Visiting Mission, Mr E Chacko, raised racial equality as an issue when the mission was in Rabaul and, as the Post lamented, “whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

“He suggested that natives should be asked to dress the same as Europeans,” the Post snorted.

PNG team mooted for ARL berth

PNG rugby league officials have been in Sydney this week lobbying for a PNG club team to compete in the Australian competition in 2014. Now that’s a fair way off, but what a boost it would be to the only nation where rugby league is considered the national game.

Kerr_duncan Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific island Affairs, Duncan Kerr [left], said talk of a PNG club in the NRL was a positive sign of new found Australian PNG relations. “Sport brings people and nations together,” he said. “Personally, I think it would be an exciting and positive step and it could only further strengthen the friendship between our two countries.”Headshot

My old mate, ABC Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney [right], a tenacious halfback who captained the PNG rugby league side around PNG’s Independence in 1975, observed it was about time the NRL took PNG seriously. “There really is a wealth of untapped league talent in PNG,” he said.

While Australian Rugby league officials welcomed the proposal, they said there was no immediate expansion strategy. That’s a shame since officials from most Sydney teams are quick to admit there are too many clubs in the harbour city and the sooner the game is further decentralised the better.

And could there be a more creative - and exciting - move than to bring a PNG team into the contest?

Thanks to Paul Oates for tipping me off about this story on the Ex Kiap website.

The politics of the PNGAA election

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been asked by a number of ASOPA PEOPLE readers “what’s going on?” These people are referring, of course, to the turbulence surrounding the forthcoming election of a new President of the PNG Association, a contest in which I am involved.

Readers were particularly intrigued by Robert Cabot’s intemperate remarks about my nomination, which you can read along with my reply under Recent Comments. Robert, who I understand is not a member of the PNGAA but who seems to be aligned in some way with the other contender, Chris Johnston, decided to go on the attack. I hope that Chris might disavow Robert’s undignified remarks at an early opportunity.

I leave Robert’s communication on the site because, while it could be seen as damaging to me, it reveals the kind of gossip that might be alive among some PNGAA members, which, in being articulated by Robert, has allowed me to respond with the facts. In this sense, Robert has done us all a favour.

Now I’m no expert on the politics of the PNGAA - although I’m learning quickly – but it seems the executive committee has been ‘factionalised’ for some time. It might not be entirely accurate to characterise this dynamic in a couple of words, but I see it as the ‘historical traditionalists’ pitched against the ‘progressive conservatives’. To my mind, Chris Johnston’s candidacy crystallises the position of the former; mine the position of the latter.

You can read both our statements in the PNGAA Election section at left to pick up the flavour of these respective positions and judge for yourself. And, of course, you can also use ASOPA PEOPLE to say what you think.

In this first contested PNGAA election ever, members are being offered a clear choice.

While the forthcoming ballot may be shrouded in controversy, there’s often a silver lining. In this case it’s the hundreds of visits we’ve had to this website since this matter gained traction. At least this may have enabled people to judge for themselves the validity of Robert’s view of ASOPA PEOPLE as a “self-gratifying website”.

By the way, if you are a PNGAA member and can’t attend the meeting personally, you can obtain a proxy ballot paper from the Secretary at either of these contacts:


Phone or fax (02) 9999 4490

Citizens must assert global rights: Kerr

Kerrbook_2 Elect the Ambassador is a breath of fresh air and worth taking seriously. Duncan Kerr maintains a balance between critics opposed to the growing interconnectedness of nation states and those who argue for the benefits of globalisation without the need for any checks on the integration of national economies. The key assumption is that democracy is still alive and global institutions can be democratised and made responsible. “Cynicism about democracy is fashionable,” he says. “But a belief in the fundamental importance of democracy is the foundation of this book”.

Duncan Kerr claims human societies are increasingly interconnected and emphasises politics as the most important guiding factor. He argues that politics, guided by people, can control globalised markets and counter some of the negative social effects experienced by Australians and other people around the world. Further, politics can provide people with a stake in the globalisation process that is above and beyond any economic incentive.

Effective democratic participation in our world is now not possible unless we both think and act globally, he argues. Part of our energy and commitment as citizens, therefore, has to be devoted to asserting our rights as members of the global community. The very word ‘foreign’ is becoming obsolete.

Duncan Kerr is Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs.

Source: Duncan Kerr, ‘Elect The Ambassador! Building Democracy in a Globalised World’ (ISBN 1864031328), Sydney, Pluto Press, 2001, 194 pages, paperback, $32.95. Abstracted from a review by Robert Imre, University of Notre Dame.

CEO’s catch up on Central Coast

John Groenewegen

Men_2 Inspired by their experience of the ASOPA Reunion in Brisbane last October, a group of former Cadet Education Officers [1958-60 vintage] enjoyed a mid-week overnight stay on the Central Coast late in January. The event was meticulously planned and generously hosted by Kay and Bob Cochrane, and Jean and Dale Fotheringham.

Bob and Jean (nee Edgar) were members of the Class of 1958-59. Grateful recipients of the hospitality (which included a banquet on the Tuesday and brunch on the Wednesday) were Barbara and John Groenewegen, Eric Johns, Jan and Allen Muscio, Barbara and Ian Robertson, Rosalind Smith (nee McCarthy) and Bob Turner.

Apart from providing ample opportunity to indulge further in reminiscences of ASOPA and TPNG, the gathering had special poignancy for the seven former CEOs for whom it was almost exactly 50 years ago that they began their ASOPA experience, blazers and all!Women_2

Top photo: Dale Fotheringham, Ian Robertson, Bob Turner, Eric Johns, Allen Muscio, Bob Cochrane, John Groenewegen (seated)

Lower photo: Jean Fotheringham, Rosalind Smith, Kay Cochrane, Jan Muscio, Barbara Groenewegen, Barbara Robertson

PNGAA announces election methodology

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia has announced that a new executive committee will be elected at its annual general meeting at Killara in Sydney on Sunday 27 April. While nominations have yet to close, the only contested position so far is for President with the current nominees being Keith Jackson and Chris Johnston.

Members who cannot attend the meeting in person can vote by proxy and a ballot form will be provided upon application through any of these channels:

By emailing the Secretary of the PNGAA at

By phoning or faxing the Secretary of the PNGAA on (02) 9999 4490

An intense conversation with CD Rowley

Bob Jenkins

The references to CD Rowley in The Blatchford Collection cause me to relate a small anecdote.

While at ASOPA, Val Murphy and I, being itinerant Sandgropers, decided to venture home by train following the end of our first year in 1961. It was never a wild ride across the desert. Such were the state of our finances that we were only able to have one stubby each at mealtime on the train, and I had borrowed five pounds from my sister in Melbourne in order to have any funds at all.

For reasons lost in time Valmore and I were a week late getting back to ASOPA. We had entirely missed 'The Camp!' at Lake lodge. It was then that we got up close and personal with CD Rowley. We were both called into his office and read the riot act. I recall we were called irresponsible, juvenile and any number of other adjectives. We were lectured on how much good money had been wasted on educating us for the previous 12 months, when others could have been chosen who would have been more appreciative.

The session ended with us being sternly asked what we would have to say if he then informed us that our cadetships were to be cancelled. He then dismissed us and left us to stew for a time. I guess we must have both appeared suitably chastened, or perhaps we muttered some lame excuse about the train from the West being overbooked due to the Christmas rush. Whatever, the dreaded axe obviously never fell and I don't ever recall any other conversation with CD during our remaining time at ASOPA.

Down to sea in fairly heavy boats

Rod Hard

Rod_closeup I read with sadness of the passing of Bert Edwards. We spent valuable time together when I was at Ela Beach School and he was at Korobosea School. (I think Bob Davis may have followed him into Korobosea). I have special memories of Bert as he provided the first opportunity I had to sail. He had bought a Heavyweight Sharpie for a song and we spent the next two months returning it to its former glory. Weekend after weekend sanding, polishing, sanding, polishing. None of these lightweight modern fibreglass boats for us!

When finished, Bert was ready to put our potential to the test. I had never been on a boat and no idea what to do, but Bert was not dismayed. Our first venture was in a Moresby Regatta. Bert did not believe in sea trials. It was straight into the fray with the same derring-do as Mulga Bill of Eaglehawk - and with the same amount of success.

Bert immediately installed me as forward hand/trapeze and, although it was a three-man boat, we were a crew of two. Not that it made any difference. We capsized about 100 metres after the start and spent the next hour or so in that position whilst the other competitors completed the race.

When we eventually came ashore it was at Hanuabada, having drifted some way from the Yacht Club; sunburnt and with feet rather tender from tiptoeing across sea anemones and the like.

We actually competed in four regattas that season and were the most consistent crew – last, last, last, second last (another team had a major gear breakage). Bert was one of the most unflappable men I have met. Nothing was too much trouble and nothing seemed to upset him.

Top PNG honour for veteran broadcaster

Headshot I recruited Justin Kili to his first job in the media at Radio Bougainville in 1972. After a stellar broadcasting career, Justin is now executive director of the Media Council of PNG and has received a second national award to add to his MBE.

Justin was promoted to Officer of the Order of Logohu in the PNG national honours announced on New Year’s day by Governor General, Sir Paulias Matane. The citation was “for services over 35 years to media work, promotion and publication of PNG music and providing and promoting International primary education to PNG children.”

Unfortunately, not long after the award was announced, Justin was seriously injured in a freak motor accident and has spent most of the last three months lying in bed. “The accident rendered me a cracked dislocated hip and pelvis,” he says. “But the doctors said it was nothing they couldn’t fix. So they strapped a metal contraption, steel braces, drilling four holes in my hip and hooking four metal pins to fix the problem.”At_desk

His doctors removed the braces last week, and Justin immediately went back to work. He’d missed out on the investiture ceremony at Government House for his new award, but will now receive it from Sir Paulias in June.

Footnote: Justin has just completed a draft submission to the PNG Government for funding to start a newspaper in Bougainville. His proposal has the strong backing of Bougainville’s President Kabui and the people of the autonomous province. Justin promises to keep us informed of progress.

Let PNGns work in Australia: Downer

Serious_right The Howard Government wouldn’t have a bar of it while he was Australia's foreign minister but now Alexander Downer is urging Kevin Rudd to give people from South Pacific nations special rights to work in Australia. And Mr Downer says would use this labour mobility as a trade off for Pacific nations’ showing commitment to minimum standards of governance.

“I think the idea of going to these countries and saying, look, we will give you a whole series of medium-term commitments including funding commitments, aid program commitments and some commitments in terms of labour mobility into Australia, personally I don't have a problem with that, although it wasn't the policy of the Howard government.”

But Mr Downer says there will need to be minimum standards of governance met by nations in the Pacific. “If they don't meet those minimum standards of governance then the deal is off. I do think that's a very good idea,” he said.

“I'm not sure how popular this will be with the public or with politicians in Australia,” Mr Downer said, “but it's something that needs to be examined. I've always thought that, and I argued that in years gone by.

“In the case of a country like Nauru, you've got around 11,000 people with no real long-term economic prospects. The prognosis for Nauru is pretty dire. I think in time we will have to allow Nauruans some access to the Australian labour market.”

Should Australia offer the same access to Papua New Guinea? “I think it’s something the new government will want to talk to them about,” Mr Downer said. “I think it would depend very much on what sort of terms you negotiate. You wouldn't want to give them carte blanche and say you’ll definitely do it. I think you'd want to see what they would offer. That is, it should be tied up with the continual development of the enhanced cooperation program with Papua New Guinea, not just granted to them.”

Original source: ABC Correspondents Report, 5 April 2008

Piniau honoured as NBC gets funds boost

Sam_piniau In the biggest boost to broadcasting in PNG since the halcyon days of the great Sam Piniau OBE in the 1970s, the PNG Government has allocated K21 million to the National Broadcasting Corporation for the rehabilitation of its radio network and a further K12 million for the pilot phase of a proposed national television project. Communication and Information Minister, Patrick Tammur, said the contributions were positive signals for the NBC network to move forward.

As NBC Chairman from 1973, Sam oversaw a huge expansion of the NBC that took its radio stations into every Province and significantly boosted the skills of the national broadcaster. Thirty-five years later, however, the broadcasting system, where it is working at all, is decrepit.

The PNG Government’s announcement comes as Sam Piniau’s relatives prepare to celebrate his life at a large ceremony in Rabaul. “In September 2008 the family is hosting a feast to commemorate Dad’s life,” says eldest son Harold Piniau, a bank manager. “It will also to complete the Tolai tradition of saying ‘thank you’. This process involves a lot of preparation like breeding pigs and growing garden foods leading up to the event.”

The tentative date for the feast is Thursday 18 September when it is expected many hundreds of the Tolai people will turn out to mark the life of a man who, after doing much for his own country turned his attention to the welfare of his own people in the Gazelle Peninsula.

When I was in Rabaul late in 2006, just before Sam died, he talked of his family and children and told me how proud he was of them. I’m grateful for the two days Sam and I spent together, he and Dulcie perfect hosts. I did not realise then that he’d been very ill, and Sam was too dignified to mention it. In retrospect, it was great good fortune that took Ingrid and me to Rabaul at that time - otherwise Sam and I would never have seen each other again.

Sam died of metastatic lung cancer on 20 February 2007. “In his final moments he wrote down his last words of what he wanted done,” writes Harold. “He prepared himself before he departed us. His last moments with us were indeed very sad. Amongst other things, I knew Dad as a very humble man. His passing has basically changed my life in terms of my spiritual relationship with God and also my outlook on life in general, especially not taking life for granted any more.”

Any of Sam’s friends who wish to contribute to the final celebration of his life in September can do so by arranging a telegraphic transfer with your bank to the following address:

Beneficiary Name: Stella Piniau
Account Number: 880482
BSB: 8907
Bank Name: ANZ Bank Wewak
Bank Swift code for ANZ PNG: ANZBPGPX

The fascination of PNG’s 800 languages

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) has been doing fine work researching the 800 plus languages of Papua New Guinea for 52 years. PNG is linguistically the most complex nation of the world and the SIL website, which you can find here, is a rich repository of the 389 of these languages it has already researched. Right now there are over 300 SIL members actively researching 190 other languages.

The SIL website provides information on many of these and includes phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy and other materials, as well as detailed language maps. The stories of the languages are fascinating. Unserdeutsch, for example, has about 100 speakers around Vunapope and is nearly extinct.

Unserdeutsch is the descendant of a pidginised form of Standard German, also known as Rabaul Creole German, which originated among the Catholic mixed-race community of the Gazelle Peninsula during German colonial times. With increased mobility and intermarriage, it’s been gradually disappearing over the last few decades.

Most speakers are older adults, although many younger members of the community can understand it. All speakers are fluent in at least two of Standard German, English or Tok Pisin. Some speak Kuanua.

Then there’s Rotokas, a language spoken by about 4,300 people in central Bougainville. With just eleven consonants and vowels, the fewest of any language (there are 44 in standard English). The Rotokas eleven are A, E, I, O, U, B, G, K, P, R, T.

Kerr-Jackson correspondence continues

Hon Duncan Kerr SC MP
Parliamentary Secretary for
Pacific Island Affairs
Parliament House

Dear Mr Kerr,

Thank you for you response to my letter about the concept of an Australian-based institution designed to address critical issues and build relationships within our region.

While the working title I gave this institution - ‘School of the Pacific’ – was designed to pay tribute to what, in its time, was a place that provided a significant contribution to Australia’s administration of Papua New Guinea, I was not thinking of the former Australian School of Pacific Administration as a model.

ASOPA was a training establishment for ‘colonial officials’ and, of course, such an archetype would lack any current relevance.

ASOPA’s successor organisation, the International Training Institute, which flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, provides a more appropriate model. Although ITI had its institutional and systemic weaknesses, it contained more than the germ of an excellent idea.

The ‘School of the Pacific’, as I conceive it, would not be primarily, or even at all, a training establishment – but a high level institute for the joint consideration of major regional issues. It would both seek solutions through dialogue and expertise but, just as importantly, seek to build lasting relationships between the people who participated in its programs. In doing this, it would hope to link Australian professionals in continuing contact with their Asia-Pacific counterparts.

I hope that you and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will give earnest consideration to this proposal, whether within the Pacific Partnerships or some other program, and that you will be able to keep me and my colleagues informed of developments.

Yours sincerely,

Keith Jackson AM

Historic contest for PNGAA election

This month’s contest for the presidency of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia is said to be the first in the 57-year history of the organisation. The two candidates who have so far nominated for President are electrical retailer and oyster grower Chris Johnston and me. The PNGAA executive committee has yet to announce what form the election will take.

My credentials statement is available in the ‘PNGAA Election’ section of ASOPA People Extra at left. You can find readers' comments on my candidacy under Recent Comments at right. Other information about the election will be published as it is received from the PNGAA.

If you're a PNGAA member, I am seeking your vote for me as president of an association capable of effectively linking its history with the strong future direction canvassed in my statement in the 'PNGAA Election' section.

The true story of ASOPA’s interregnum

Hal Wootten AC QC

Dinner_suit In The Mail and ASOPA PEOPLE there has been discussion of the Principal's position at ASOPA between [Alf] Conlon's departure and [Charles] Rowley's arrival. I was a full time member of ASOPA Staff from 1946 to the end of 1951 and, at the time we are talking about, I was Senior Lecturer in Law. We didn't worry much about seniority, but [James] McAuley was clearly regarded as the senior member of the academic staff and we worked closely together on everything relating to the School.

I agree with the conclusion attributed to Ruth Fink that “there was no other Principal between Conlon (August 1948-September 1949) and Rowley’s appointment late in 1950.” We simply got along without a Principal. No major policy decisions were made, and any day to day decisions that arose in running the school were made by consultation and consensus.

Wilfred Arthur was a very capable and energetic Registrar, but he certainly did not become Principal, which was always clearly an academic position. He certainly exercised a comprehensive oversight to ensure that the School continued to run smoothly, and that any unpostponable decisions beyond the Registrar's powers were resolved by academic staff or referred to Canberra, as appropriate. Students may well have taken to him issues they would have otherwise taken to a Principal.

It is certainly true that the staff were greatly relieved by Rowley's appointment. For years there had been controversy and uncertainty about the future of ASOPA, and one of the reasons the staff combined in demanding Conlon's resignation was that we felt that Conlon's style of Principalship unnecessarily fanned the flames of conflict with the Department. He still harboured delusions of grandeur for ASOPA that everyone else considered unrealistic.Young_2

After he departed we were concerned that one of several things would happen - perhaps no Principal would be appointed and ASOPA allowed to run down, perhaps a nonentity would be appointed and ASOPA's reputation lowered, perhaps there would be a vindictive bureaucratic appointment. We were delighted to find in Rowley a man of real scholarship, adequate administrative ability, a shared vision of the future of Papua New Guinea, an encouraging and nurturing attitude to the mostly young academic staff, and a sensible, business-like attitude to relations with the Department.

Photos: Hal Wootten, now and then

Vale Bert ‘Whyte’ Edwards

Edwards_bert I first met Bert Edwards in Goroka in 1963 not long after I arrived in Papua New Guinea. He was in his early forties which, to a 19-year old, already put him in the veteran class, but the age gap was quickly overwhelmed by Bert’s warmth and invariably good nature. In addition, his daughters were considered the prettiest women in town.

Bert, who has died on the Gold Coast at the age of 87, went to PNG as a teacher in 1962. His first posting was to Asaro Primary T School and he later served in Goroka and Port Moresby before leaving PNG around the time of Independence in 1975. His son Jon was born and still lives in Goroka, working in the coffee industry. Bert’s daughter Laura was a teacher in PNG from 1967-77, having been a Cadet Education Officer at ASOPA in 1965-66. Laura is now married to former Asopian David Keating.

Bert is survived by five children, ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

PNG economy on strong growth path

Coin The past five years has seen the longest period of uninterrupted growth in PNG since Independence, according to the World Bank. In its half yearly assessment of Pacific economies, the Bank said PNG’s gross domestic product rose by 6% last year, the highest economic growth in the past decade. This has generated an increase in employment of about ten percent a year since 2005. The leading sectors are construction, telecommunications, mining and export-oriented agriculture (coffee, copra and palm oil).

While warm in its approval of PNG’s economic performance on most fronts, the World Bank said significant structural and policy challenges limit long term growth potential. Among “critical areas for improvement” are budget integrity, efficient service delivery, the performance of the public service, and transparency and accountability in financial management.

In order to stimulate private investment, particularly outside the mining sector, PNG’s priority was to Gold100kina improve the business climate, especially through encouraging more competition. There is also a need to reduce the regulatory and licensing burden, clarify property rights and maintain law and order.

Source: ‘World Bank: PNG enjoys best growth since independence’ by Brian Gomez, PNG National, 2 April 2008

How about one for the road, Simmo

This wonderful yarn emanates from the rough and tumble days of the Edie Creek goldfields in the late 1920s. It was buried in the letters section of the August 1968 Pacific Islands Monthly and richly deserves resurrection. Pre-war, most miners walked from Salamaua to the diggings at Edie Creek and periodically would walk back for a spot of R & R in town.

Sep Underwood, the letter writer, recalled a character known only as Simmo, who died of blackwater fever, which killed many miners. As Simmo was a regular at the Salamaua pub, it was decided to start his funeral procession from there, the hearse being a hand-cart pushed by two ‘boys’. A couple of the mourners, who'd started the wake early and weren’t capable of walking, were assisted aboard the cart to ride with the corpse.

Simmo’s grave was marked by a simple wooden cross made from a wooden condensed milk Handbox. Whether by design or accident, the bar of the cross bore the words ‘Stow away from boilers’. The grave was dug on the beach just above the high water mark and Simmo was laid to rest. But not for long.

A week after he was buried, waves from a violent storm washed out Simmo's grave and broke up the coffin. When the storm subsided all that could be seen of Simmo was one of his hands protruding stiffly from the sand. The chief mourner, unsure of the etiquette, proceeded to put an empty glass in the hand and fill it with Simmo’s favourite tipple.

PNG Association to elect new president

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia will elect a new president at its annual general meeting in Sydney later this month and I have been invited by a number of senior members to nominate.

The presidency fell vacant after the long-standing occupant of the position, Harry West, announced in December that he would be stepping down.

I must say I am honoured to have been asked and have accepted nomination. As the position is likely to be contested, I’m asking readers who are members of the Association to consider voting for me. Prior to the election I’ll be making a statement about how I see the Association developing in the future.

Suffice it to say for now that, with PNG and Australia seeking to forge a stronger political relationship, it is fitting for those of us who have a special affection for PNG and its people to look at how we can build better personal relationships with Australia’s closest neighbour. And, of course, the PNG Association should have an important role in achieving this.

Golpak – and his crossword

Golpak Now this is an experience I didn’t expect to have well over 40 years after the event. In one of the PNG School Papers I edited from Port Moresby in 1967, I wrote a story and included an accompanying crossword puzzle about the PNG leader and World War II hero, Paramount Luluai Golpak. Golpak, from Sali village in New Britain, at considerable personal risk rescued many Australian and American airmen whose aircraft crashed behind Japanese lines.


I have found the wonderful Australian War Memorial photograph above showing Golpak with Major AG Lowndes of the 6th Infantry Brigade soon after the Australians arrived in New Britain in November 1944. After the war Lowndes was for a time an ABC Commissioner.

After the war Golpak was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his bravery and dedication. On a hilltop overlooking the sea at Pomio, stands a brass plaque with the inscription: ‘An outstanding leader and a firm friend. He placed his loyalty above his own life.’

And on the right is the Golpak crossword, which - for some obscure reason lost in time's thick mists - was reproduced in the Pacific Islands Monthly of January 1968, a fact which remained unknown to me until now.