Hal Holman OL, OAM – honoured by Australia, now by Papua New Guinea
Some notes on changes to these Notes

The day Somare ignored a racist taunt

Flag lowering From time to time in Papua New Guinea I kept a work diary that was so obsessively on theme that my only reference to Independence Day, Tuesday 16 September 1975, was ‘Holiday’. But I vividly remember the ceremony at Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, the somewhat incongruous soccer match that preceded it, Prince Charles and the pomp and ceremony, the swearing in of Michael Somare as Prime Minister, the glowing pride of my boss and friend, National Broadcasting Commission chairman Sam Piniau, and the measured lowering of the Australian flag and raising of the PNG kumul/logohu. The NBC expatriate staff gave the chairman a Kawage copper beating as an Independence gift. But, I’m afraid, for us and for the most of the nation from then on, it was business as usual.

So, with my diary for that great day offering so little, to mark PNG Independence Day, to remind us of how things used to be and to provide Kabot from Tavuruvur [see Recent Comments] with more in the way of history, I turn to my diary for early 1973, when I was manager of Radio Bougainville. This short illustration, I hope, offers something of the effervescent flavour of the times.

Wednesday 10 January - With Chief Minister Michael Somare on the island, 2000 people are at a fiery four-hour meeting outside Kieta sub-district office to demonstrate anger at the ‘invasion’ of Bougainville by outsiders. I attend for the duration and phone reports to Moresby from time to time. Write a 68-line story for our local news bulletin. A Wabag man is found murdered near Nairovi. Seems like a payback by Tolais for a killing in Kieta at Christmas.

Thursday 11 January - Jim Leigh [Controller of Broadcasting] rings about the killing of the Wabag man. I inform him we ran facts of story but would not reveal the race of the killer(s) if and when found. We’ve had so many rumours recently that it pays to run factual stories when they’re available but at same time it’s a good policy to ignore rumours except where they pose a threat to public order.

A dramatic afternoon. Somare is flown out of Panguna by helicopter after Paul Lapun and John Momis expressed fears for his safety. I get the story from Gus Smales [Melbourne Herald] and transmit it to our Central Newsroom in time for the afternoon bulletin. Eighty weapons-carrying villagers were resentful at Somare’s departure. They said they intended him no harm and the weapons were symbolic. The feeling is that his departure, and the consequent cancellation of the Panguna meeting, was a mistake.

Friday 12 January - Gravelle from Central Newsroom rings about my Somare-Panguna story yesterday. There’s concern about inconsistencies with the ABC story. These are more apparent than real and the Post-Courier has confirmed my version. Leigh rings and says a Western Highlands District man has told him that Western Highlanders around Arawa are planning a payback for death of a Laiagam man. Check with District Officer but he has heard nothing.

Saturday 13 January – Get to Davara Motel with equipment about 11.15 am preparatory to the arrival of Michael Somare, who turns up two hours late. I lunch with him and record a 12-minute talk reviewing his visit to Bougainville. He invites me to dinner and drinks tonight…

Luke Umbo [Radio Bougainville journalist] and I walk into the Davara dining room just behind the Chief Minister. As we find our table, a European diner, unknown to us, gestures towards Somare and calls out, “Look at that kanaka in a laplap”. Somare is angered, momentarily baulks, but moves on, effectively neutralising the issue – though it easily could have developed into something worse. The Chief Minister shows great poise. Bougainville is volatile enough right now without a high level political firestorm.

Photo: The Australian flag comes down for the last time in Papua New Guinea


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