THE fortieth anniversary of Papua New Guinea’s Independence will be celebrated this year.
The name of the late Sir Thomas Kavali, already mentioned in some reflections on independence, will be remembered.
In 1972, before independence, Thomas Kavali, who was from Maekmol in the middle Jimi Valley, was elected as the member of the House of Assembly for the Jimi constituency.
His National Party supported Michael Somare and was in coalition with Pangu and two other parties led by Julius Chan and John Guise (see image). When Somare’s party formed government, Kavali was made Minister for Works.
In the Jimi area, it was widely believed that Thomas had persuaded his wantok Kaibelt Diria, from Minj, to support the move for independence and thus give Michael Somare the numbers he needed. Kavali was later made Minister for Lands and was knighted.
In 1972, I was based at the Catholic mission at Karap in the Jimi Valley. There was a road from Banz to Karap and from Karap to Tabibuga where the government station was.
The road was rough, narrow, hilly and dangerous. The bridges were mostly made of tree trunks and planks. Landslides were not uncommon.
If the road was in good condition, the journey from Banz to Karap took two hours and from Karap to Tabibuga one hour. It could be a frightening trip, especially for newcomers.
In the Jimi, we heard by radio that Thomas Kavali had been made Minister for Works and there was generally a sense of pride and jubilation.
Late one Saturday afternoon in Karap, I was chatting with some people outside my hilltop house overlooking the road from Banz when we saw a lone, well-dressed figure walking down the road.
As the figure came closer we recognised Thomas Kavali. We were surprised to see him walking. He was now a Minister in the Somare Government and we wondered why he was walking. We went to greet him and enquired about why he was walking.
Thomas explained he had arrived in Hagen by plane from Port Moresby. An expatriate man from the Public Works Department was selected to drive him in a 4WD Landcruiser to Tabibuga where Thomas had a house. The drive from Hagen to Banz took the usual hour.
The driver then headed into the Jimi. The road through Kwiona was not great and the bridges creaked as they drove over them. Up at the Gate there had been a few minor landslides. After about an hour on the Jimi road, Thomas could see that the driver was getting more and more nervous.
At Kauwil the driver asked him if there was far to go, mentioning that he hoped to get back to Hagen before dark.
Thomas knew that it would be at least another two hours before they would reach Tabibuga. If they went all the way, the driver would have to go back in the dark.
Thomas Kavali told the anxious driver to stop. He told him that his village was nearby and he could now walk the rest of the way.
The relieved driver found a place to turn around and gratefully headed back to Banz and Hagen. Thomas continued by foot. It was a Saturday afternoon and there were no coffee buyers on the road and no other cars or trucks. So Thomas kept walking and eventually came to Karap.
We listened to his story and shook our heads in wonder. We did not know whether to be angry at the driver for turning back or to be amazed at the calm serenity and kindness of the Minister who let the driver go back to Hagen.
Anyway we spared Thomas Kavali further walking. I happily drove him to Tabibuga and called in to inform kiaps Jack Edwards, Ken Logan and Rod Cantlay about the triumphal return to his electorate of the National Minister for Works, the Honourable Thomas Kavali.
Sir Thomas Kavali died several years ago. I remember him as a true gentleman.
The Papua New Guinea Ministry at Independence: Thomas Kavali (National Party) Minister for Works; Julius Chan (People’s Progress Party) Finance Minister; Reuben Taureka (Pangu Party) Minister for Health; John Poe (PPP) Minister for Trade and Industry; Bruce Jephcott (PPP) Minister for Transport; Michael Somare (Pangu) Chief Minister; Paulus Arek (Independent) Minister for Information; Paul Lapun (Pangu) Minister for Mines; Gavera Rea (Pangu) Minister for Labour; Boyamo Sali (Pangu) Minister for Local Government; Ebia Olewale (Pangu) Minister for Education; Albert Maori Kiki (Pangu) Minister for Lands and Environment; Donatus Mola (PPP) Minister for Business Development; John Guise (Independent) Dep. Chief Minister and Minister for the Interior; Kaibelt Diria (Nat) Minister for Post and Telegraphs; Moses Sasakila (Nat) Minister for Forests; Iambakey Okuk (Nat) Minister for Agriculture, Stocks and Fisheries