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.