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Reflections on Independence Day, Port Moresby 2013

Tribute to Kevin Trueman – a real islands entrepreneur

PETER JOHNSON | Deberigny Blog

A young Kevin Trueman in AngoramKevin William Patrick Trueman (b. Winchester, England 20 September 1944 d. Port Vila, Vanuatu 7 June 2013)

THE SUDDEN DEATH of Kevin Trueman in Port Vila, Vanuatu on the night of 7 June, surprised and shocked his family and multitude of friends around the South Pacific.

Kevin, of English and Irish parentage, was born in the ancient cathedral city of Winchester, Hampshire, England. His family migrated to Australia whilst Kevin was still in his teens.

After several ordinary jobs, he teamed up with Sava Maksic in kangaroo and crocodile hunting ventures. They sold crocodile skins to an Armenian reptile skin tanner, Arshak Catchatoor Galstaun, and in 1967 came, as two young married couples, to Angoram, where Galstaun was the new proprietor of England’s Hotel, the ladies managed the hotel and Kevin and Sava shot crocodiles.

Neither the job not the partnership lasted long, for Kevin was not by nature an employee. He was soon trading, shooting and artefact dealing on his own account, travelling the Sepik River in the Heron, a small trawler he bought from Nils Madsen.

Two lovely daughters, Laena and Justine, were born in Wewak, and Kevin’s restless enthusiasm saw him move to Wewak in about 1971 to take advantage of the booming coffee industry around the Maprik area. 

Kevin put in 10 and 12 hour working days, and still had time for a hectic social life. He took virtual charge of building the Wewak Yacht Club, was for several years the Commodore, and subsequently made a life member.

In 1976, he built a steel workboat, Elenjay, and sailed her to Honiara and Port Vila. I was privileged to be a crew member on that adventurous voyage – the only other crew was a pot smoking Kiwi hippy yachtie who neither of us knew.

On arrival, Kevin was jailed for a day for the illegal landing of an unnamed vessel flying no national flag. The prosecuting Harbour Master later became a good friend and helped Kevin to secure a coastal coxswain’s ticket.

Kevin succeeded in selling his boat, eventually coming back to New Guinea to buy and sell another after trading around the islands for a while.

An entrepreneur who saw the big picture, around 1980 Kevin invested in an ocean-going freighter, Bismarck Sea, later expanding with a second. The ship tramped between Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Vietnam, but a serious accident at Palau and difficulties with the waterside workers of evil memory, and big line competition caused the closure of this enterprise.

Kevin turned his thoughts and attention to the land, and in 1983 bought Wetlands Station near Augathella in western Queensland – my sons and I enjoyed a week of the Truemans’ wonderful hospitality, shooting and eating, with my sons joining the girls in School of the Air lessons.

Around 1990 Kevin was asked to return to Wewak to manage a recovery of the troubled Sepik Producers Coffee Association, a locally owned, but badly run cooperative. He accepted this almost thankless task with the full backing of the then prime minister, Sir Michael Somare.

He established a most capable management team of Evelyn, Herman Baumann, Geoff Payne and Dieter Idzikowsky. Kevin had an inclusive style which made his efforts popular with his New Guinean shareholders and customers, and after a campaign against the “rice and tin fish” Asian competition (as Kevin called it), the business started to boom.

He expanded into wholesale and retail sales of hardware, whitegoods and commercial vehicle repair. Again wanting to be completely his own boss he eventually resigned and returned to Australia…but not for long.

Kevin and Evelyn accepted jobs in Honiara with Kevin managing a large hardware business and Evelyn a soap factory. They settled down just in time to experience the horror of the unrest in the Solomons which eventually resulted in the establishment of the RAMSI peacekeeping force.

In 2006 Kevin made what was to be his last island relocation as he moved from the troubled Solomons back to Vanuatu and established himself as a respected businessman, restaurateur, and political commentator.

A true island entrepreneur of the “old school,” Kevin will lie in Pango cemetery, Port Vila, a fitting last resting place.

He will be fondly remembered as a generous, vital, outgoing personality of warmth and almost boyish enthusiasm for the numerous projects and ventures he pursued.

Kevin, a loving husband and father leaves a widow, Evelyn Avis, daughters Laena, Justine, and Alexandra, four grand-children and an army of friends across much of Oceania.


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Graham Watts

Thank you Peter Johnson, former MHA, for your amazing summary of your late wantok, Kevin's, life which has left me with revitalised memories of Arshak Galstaun, Sava Maksic and Geoff Payne in riverside Angoram and Tobacco Road.

I celebrated my 21st birthday at the Angoram Club next door to England's hotel along with my future tambu, the late police inspector Ivan Tagai.

I was advised of Kevin's passing at the time by a former PNG expat, Peter Jones, who also had relocated to Vanuatu via Australia but had no idea of the exciting and adventurous life the Trueman family experienced since leaving the East Sepik up until the completion of the resort in Vanuatu after his death.

Kevin truly was a phenomenon that will not be repeated. A belated best wishes to Evelyn and the family, and thanks for the memories.

Laena Trueman

Dad's latest legacy is the resort he was building in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The accommodation is now finally ready for guests. You can see it in its glory at http://www.conquistadorsvanuatu.com.

I've also set up a Facebook and google plus page if anyone would like to Share or Like the page - it can be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Conquistadors-resort/405174622944305?ref=hl

Or even better - have a relaxing holiday and book a room! Look out for his portrait in the Bar, painted by me.

Sonja Barry Ramoi

Thank you Mr Johnson for the great tribute to Kevin Trueman.

I recall being in a 'banana boat' with him on a trip to tiny Kerasau Island when the weather turned stormy and huge waves threatened to smash and sink us.

Kevin took command and steered us safely over the huge waves with no sign of fear whatsoever. He was a great man.

Kevin's old partner Sava (another great man) can be contacted via savamuruk@gmail.com, savamuruk@hotmail.com or +61449293339.

I am pleased to advise that Sava is still very much a 'wheeler and dealer' and will be soon showcasing PNG in the heart of Cairns in a style not yet seen anywhere else.

I look forward to publicly revealing more about his latest joint venture soon.

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