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Vale John Biltris – friend of the Gumine

John Mansell Biltris died on 20 March 2008 in Melbourne. He joined the PNG Administration as a Cadet Patrol Officer on 27 February 1961 and served at Gumine in Chimbu thence in various parts of PNG in local government positions. He became town clerk of Lae in 1972 and returned to Australia in 1974.

John was diagnosed with bowel cancer three years ago and underwent treatment. The cancer had unfortunately spread to his lungs and liver, and he was due to commence further treatment at the start of 2008. He decided to make a farewell visit to Gumine first.

The people of Gumine, south of Kundiawa, were a big part of John's life. He had visited them a couple of years earlier and then financed a reciprocal visit to Melbourne of John Dai, the son of traditional leader Kuman Dai, and his wife Helen. Between them, the two Johns organised some small civic projects around Gumine. John was regularly shipping books for the school and clothing to the area.

During his retirement, John enjoyed indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, garage sales, and never ceased to amaze his family with the treasures he scored. It was at garage sales that John collected many of the books and other items he sent to the people of Gumine.

John returned to Melbourne from his last visit on 13 January and was admitted to hospital the next day. He was courageous in his battle and was determined to overcome his illness, but unfortunately remained in hospital until his death.

John is survived by his wife of 42 years, Barbara, his two children, Andrew and Fiona, and two granddaughters, Jaymie and Danielle.

Graham Pople writes: “John’s loss is a huge loss for the people of Gumine. He will not only be missed by his peers, he will be missed by the people of Gumine who held him in high esteem. On his last trip to PNG, John was in agony and couldn’t sleep well due to his cancer but was determined to complete his trip, stating that he knew it was his last.”

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Leonard Greenhall

I knew John Biltris as a kid in school - as teenagers we had a close friendship and knocked around together from during secondary school at Preston Tech.

We wagged it often and had many adventures - I always remember the first foreign language to which John and his brother introduced me - every word began with youraga or ended in urriga - we could converse in this quite well and to the confusion of listeners.

Our best business venture was finding and selling golf balls from the Yarra Bend golf course - in those days a good second golf ball was worth about ten shillings and a man's wage was only about 6 pounds.

We also had a smelting works making copies of First World War soldiers (standing about 2 inches high). We would steal the lead from the local scrapyard and melt to pour into aluminium molds then hawk them from door to door and make a few sales.

He was a great mate in those years and when my bike broke down he would dink me daily to school about 6 miles away.

On one occasion we stripped a neighbours fruit tree and ate almost every apricot from it and were thoughtful enough to leave a thankyou note afterwards.

Life was great fun in those days and we broke a few rules of that time which would seem harmless enough today.

By the age of about 16 we lost track of each other as we began to get into the work world - I bumped into John in my early twenties where we spent a bit of time catching up and he told me of his work in New Guinea and that was the last I ever saw of him but often thought of him down the years.

Thanks John for being a good mate in those fun teen years.

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