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Tei Abal knew that independence came too soon


Tei Abal press clipTHE ACCOMPANYING CLIPPING from the Post-Courier of 1 December 1973 was based on a Tok Pisin interview with Tei Abal, then Leader of the Opposition in Papua New Guinea.

Tei Abal was a man with very little formal education, but who knew his own people well.

Looking back, names come to mind like Andrew Peacock, Bill Morrison and, last but certainly not least, Gough Whitlam: Australian politicians who were pushing PNG towards independence. This is without mentioning PNG leaders like Michael Somare and John Guise.

In 1973, a former PNG politician, Wally Lussick, was Tei Abal’s private secretary and advisor and in my book knew far more about PNG and its people than any of the above-named Australian politicians.

Deborah Ruiz Wall, a newly arrived Filipino in PNG, was Mr Abal’s press secretary and research officer.

She was not considered a conservative by anyone at the time, having been active in the student protest movement in Manila and very anti-Marcos. But she fully agreed with her boss that PNG was not ready for independence and should not be pushed into it.

The people of PNG were not asked what they wanted. Had they been asked in a referendum, I’m sure that the vote would have gone strongly against early independence.

The shame of the whole thing is that the wisdom of Tei Abal was not heeded in the corridors of power.

With the wisdom of hindsight, and given the problems PNG now has, the question could be raised again: was the country ready for independence?

I’d like to conduct a survey in the town of Angoram and put this to the people there.

It’s probably little comfort to you now, Tei, wherever you are in the afterlife, but you were right, and Whitlam was wrong.


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Harry Topham

John - About time someone told it as it is; name blaming and navel gazing belongs in the past.

Australia’s record of development in PNG pre independence was in may respects far greater that that exercised by other colonial powers.

In the late 1970’s I visited Vanuatu and the Solomon islands on a long and slow return trip back to PNG.

One thing I noticed that at the time was that neither Colonial powers in both those countries apart from educating a small and select clique of local elites did much in matters of social or economic development.

PNG at Independence inherited a well-structured governmental system of administration.

Although it was not perfect the entire framework was in place for future generations to build upon.

It now seems that both the architect in charge and the builders just downed tools and took a long extended holiday and due to no ongoing maintenance the structures then started to collapse.

I believe that there are two reasons that could be attributed for the later malaise that took over PNG.

The first relates to the reason why the labour Government prematurely handed over its responsibilities of management.

If anyone can remember the events, at the time in the early 1970’s, the Papua Besena movement was raising its head, the Bougainville crisis was just starting and the events occurring in the Gazelle peninsular as a result of the Mataugan uprising and associated murder of the District Commissioner Jack Emmanuel would have given the Australian Government quite cold shiver.

Taking a pragmatic view that Australian government of the time probably felt it was time to cut their losses and get out before things deteriorated further.

The second and probably more salient reason for the lack of discipline and abrogation of its responsibilities to its people shown by later independent governments of PNG probably has some genesis in the mindset of the time.

As anyone who lived in PNG at that time would remember, social controls were strongly influenced by the Church missions based in PNG and not wanting to rock the boat the Australian Government of the time reinforced the Christian moralistic view point by taking a rather paternalistic approach policy by protecting the local population from the evils of the outside world with result that most of PNG’s citizens lived in a cotton wool wrapped cloistered world.

Once independence came and went, the responsibilities attaching to new freedoms won did not occur and in essence the citizens more likely thought, “ The gloves are off and anything goes”.

Unfortunately the result of freedom with any responsibility attaching was an upsurge in hedonism, a malady that seems to be still current today.

Maureen Wari

Bull's eye, Michael Dom!

Fada Abraham em tingim long taim yet, na autim long Gettysburg Address blong em, na mi ting em makim gut olgeta tingting lo article na comments.

"...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain..."

"...of the people, by the people, for the people..."

[Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P Basier. This above from the "Bliss Copy"]

Corney Korokan Alone

Thanks David Wall. Good history! Appreciated the enlarged newspaper article as well. That was good. Made good reading - a 65Mb file, for those who are interested to download it.

I do agree with all the comments urging us to embrace history and go forward. That’s the right mindset we must cultivate.

Yes, we have started sailing already. We have to continue with hopeful and deliberate determination. However sluggish our progress has been should not sap our energy, motivation, dreams and aspiration to aim higher.

We're approaching 40 years of nationhood. The old guards had their fair share of contributions - relative to the schooling, country's income and influences.

Like a grown-up child, who has been meandering aimlessly we must come to the "realization that the pig pens" are not where we are supposed to be.

Our grandparents and fathers were dreamers, futuristic in their planning and intrinsically wise in their way of life.

The independence movement that emerged in the African continent after World War II (most of them mostly in the 1960's) were triggered by promises their colonisers and the US made fifteen years earlier in securing their support for the war.

Independence had to be granted, irrespective. Some fought for self-determination.

These war-weary countries were focused on their own rebuilding efforts and every resource and dime counted when deciding between where, what and whom to share that with. They had to “let them go”.

Despite of the challenges of military coups, corruption and costly wars in this ancient continent, seven of the world's fastest ten growing economies today are in the African continent (

There’s buzz and contagious enthusiasm there. There's a host of young people there who are part of the world changers movement.

Back at home, everyone of us (proud citizens) have to do our own little bit from wherever corner we are placed at to make our country tick.

Many a time we ignore and pay little attention to the "circle of influence" we are placed at and always think it's the devil's fault or some other higher authorities' (ir)responsibilities. No, it is not. It’s within each one of us.

We already have powers within us to start using them wisely. There's always the "endless others" out there that we tend to effortlessly upload our bucket loads of blame to.

Let's do it individually (personal contribution) for the love of our country and in service for the God that gave "each one of us a talent each" (be it one, two or five talents, make them count).

The least we can do is to bury them and think what we can do is insignificant - the wisest and selfless teacher’s word (Matthew 25:14 -26).

S Schmidt

History is our teacher and students of PNG history have the opportunity not afforded to many other countries the goldmine of living and breathing people who made our history (especially last 50 years ) and still here to inform us the whys, hows and what of our independence.

We should be learning from our past mistakes and successes and from other countries to ensure that we can build a better PNG for our future generations.

The current generations of citizens still living have not been good stewards and managers. Time for change but ship of PNG not changing course but heading into stormy weather with our Captains at the wheelhouse wide awake and fully aware of the destruction that's the scary part.

John Fowke

Maureen Wari - You're right on the money again. Please allow me to send you my own thoughts on restoring people-power by binding MPs to their own LLGs, acting as agents and go-betweens for the common people represented by the ward-councillors.

It'll meet with heavy opposition from the "parties" with their big vested interest in the status quo.

But this is a Melanesian solution adapted to mesh with the facts of established nationhood and the ancient understanding of democracy in equality of livelihood and clan-binding integrity.

Democracy in the form in which it existed under kastom for so many thousands of years.

Michael Dom

Brilliant questioning Maureen Wari!

It is the simple questions that are the most essential.

Indeed these are questions for everyone to answer - The People, not The Politicians.

I suggest that there is scope within The Crocodile Prize to include essays on your posers.

What is the response of the SWEP team and what say you PNG writers?

Maureen Wari

PNG was not ready for independence in 1975. Ready-or-not independence came.

The 50 million kina question is "what will be done to help PNG now?

My 1 toea questions are:

How can rural PNG help?
How can street kids and youth help?
How can unemployed graduates of all levels help?
How can unemployed men and women help?
How can churches help?
How can inmates help?

How can citizens help?

The vast majority are listed above. Utilizing them will curb the ills that come from them to start and help 37-year-old PNG still blindfolded.

John Fowke

David - Contact a recent visitor to Angoram before you attempt to go there and conduct a survey. Your ideals and memories of Angoram as you knew it even 10 years ago will suffer a battering.

Talk to another ex-Angoram resident who until recently felt much as you and many other ex-Territory white men feel while lodged in homeland comfort and security, a state enabling the pleasurable polishing and propagation of paternal pipe-dreams.

Dreams of what might have been; dreams of what bloody-well should be; I speak of friend and well-known ex-Sepik identity, John Pasquarelli, who has recently suffered a rude confrontation with the world of PNG as it is right now, including Angoram.

As well, all unsuspecting, he recently drove to Tapini. That’s quite a story.

Secondly, the repetitious regurgitation of the whys, wherefores and personal interpretations of the abandonment of PNG (or from the other point of view, the gift of nationality - modern identity - made to a largely inchoate, multi- tribal society in September 1975), is all beside the point and superfluous. Let’s stop looking back.

Independence, precipitate as it may have been in many eyes, was a product of many, many pressures.

It was nevertheless a gift with great meaning to thinking Australians, as well as to thinking Papua New Guineans. A great many Australians bore in mind their own recent experience of colonial rule. Patronising and often high-handed rule by a far-away and very patronising colonial ruler. The Motherland, as another cohort of Australians viewed Britain.

A rule relinquished at Australia’s own, equally-peaceful attainment of independence only 70 years before PNG’s. Seventy years. People tend to forget.

This reality was in the minds of a great many thinking Australians. Thinking Australians didn’t want to continue as "ol lain waitmasta" - and were willing, and who still are willing, to help as much as possible with inter-government agreements and aid.

PNG is in a mess. What counts so far as we old-timers are concerned is being proactive in any way possible and affordable, as persons with a strong interest, even a love of PNG and its people.

We must keep our own government focussed and as far as possible possessed of a realistic view of what makes PNG tick.

Let’s take positive images in draft, and work on them, and then see if anyone likes our finished brush-strokes.

David Kitchnoge

That's a very statesman like response Michael. I'm with you on this one.

OK let's acknowledge that mistakes were made. But let us not dwell in the past too much and die wondering.

We have a today to live and a tomorrow to shape.

The past is a handy guide but let it not get into the driver's seat today.

Michael Dom

David, this is a timely article for bringing to light an issue which constantly pops up, so that we can finally bury it.

Let it remain in the annals of history where it belongs.

It is less useful as a means of advancing our future to try to point the finger of blame for early independence on those who are not around to gainsay us.

As for your survey - what is your objective? Is it to prove that Somare was impatient? That Whitlam was wrong? That our kiaps knew what was going down but weren't listened to? So they were, so we admit it or argue over it, so what?

I'd rather not spoil my beer, thanks.

I think PNG is well overdue to take ownership of the fact that, like it or not, within the political arena of the day Whitlam was forceful and Somare also had his way. That's politics.

All the other wise and good leaders, PNGian and Aussie were around at the time of the drive for independence.

There were overpowering factors that pushed Somare's agenda forward and the others were left unable to divert the flow of the tide. So sad, so sad, so what?

Independence was granted.

Do we blame Somare? Some do.

And yet our leaders, yes all our wise and good leaders, were in the Haus Tambaran when Somare was re-elected to Prime Minister five times. And yet here we are.

What are we gonna do about it?

Some argue whether leaders are born or bred. But look at it from the 'sheeples' perpsective and you will see that, for good or for bad, we make our leaders.

Australia made Whitlam. PNG made Somare. The others became bystanders.

Are we going to mourn over an event that we may claim ignorance about 37 years in our past? This does not make sense.

Are we going to try to connect the dots and figure out 'who did what, when, where and why'?

I'd suggest that is excellent for history studies at the University of PNG, but not in the live arena where we are making history.

In the real-time events of today’s life, when social strife and economic suffering continue despite massive resource wealth growing the macro economy, we need something more substantial than well described history.

We need realisation. We need a firm grasp of who we are now. Our past does not entirely dictate the actions of our future, it is merely predictive. We have some choices to make.

The last time I looked I thought I lived in "The Land of the Unexpected". But I'm getting pretty bored with the same old political farce being shown at this run down cinema.

We need to take control of the kid’s fooling around on our political playgrounds.

We can't do this by regretting our history.

We must embrace our history.

We must acknowledge all our leaders who took part in that history.

We must thank them for their service during our 'days of ignorance' as we now step into the light of a new day.

We need to take ownership.

We need to take responsibility.

We need to take the power back.

As one poet writes:

At dawn we leap free of these prison walls

Kumul; do you recall how daylight broke?
Over Waigani Hill, spilling red-gold
From those black, black skies – cascading starlight –

Do you recall those dreams of which we spoke?
As we kept company that morning – cold –
Kept faith in friendships strength, born of dark nights;

When we wandered, helpless, each on our own,
Without promise, till our shared certainty
Sparked by each other’s trust; our word, our bond.

So when Sana made that fire light – full grown –
Those flames raged within our sanctuary.
We knew then that we must now go beyond;

Beyond the measure of these shackled halls
Our hearts and minds must leap from prison walls.

Leonard Roka

Wall - This was the situation. PNG was pushed, thus it was not at all proactively prepared to handle the developments that happened parallel to Australia's departure.

Politicians were blinded by the joy of being an independent state.

Thus when problems erupted - for example, corruption, independence movements and so on - they still tried to calm everything with the joy they felt in the state being independent.

But the problems PNG has will never be addressed by the popular phrase 'one people, one country; god bless PNG'.

There is more to it than this.

Tingting tasol.

Trevor Freestone

Tei Abal and many other Papua New Guinean leaders should certainly have been listened to.

There were many senior experienced Australian officers who should also have been given an opportunity to make suggestions about the way independence should have been introduced.

But most importantly the people should have been given the chance to vote on the issue.

They weren't given this option because the Australian government knew that the majority would be against Independence at that time.

They did want to be Independent but only when it was obvious they were ready for it.

The Siane people of the Eastern Highlands also wanted the Australians to stay after Independence so they would be readily available for advice and guidance.

But that's all history, so now the people have got to decide on their own future and how they can achieve this.

David Wall

To enlarge newspaper cutting see:

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