There are signs of a storm developing across the Coral Sea
Tei Abal – founding father who opposed early independence

J K Murray’s farewell to Australia’s tropical territories

JK Murray, 1954TERRY TURNER as told to BOB CLELAND

THERE’S an interesting sidelight on PNG’s history, probably not recorded at the time and long since forgotten by most involved.

During June 1952, Administrator J K Murray covered most of the country on a farewell tour prior to his retirement.

On the morning of 30 June he flew in the Qantas Catalina from Port Moresby to Kikori for a quick goodbye, planning to return in the afternoon for his official handover to Assistant Administrator D M Cleland.

The Administrator’s plane arrived mid-morning for a three hour visit. Colonel Murray inspected the station and then we all met at the District Commissioner’s residence for luncheon.

The plane was to return the Administrator to Port Moresby in mid-afternoon but the fickle Kikori weather determined otherwise. The cloud cover suddenly increased and heavy rain set in without let-up.

Administrator Col J K Murray with Sub Insp John Sweeney June 1949There was no choice but to reschedule the flight for the following morning. This caused a legal problem about the handover of the Administrator’s powers.

I was District Clerk in the Department of District Services and Native Affairs at Kikori at the time and one of my many duties was the operator of the daily radio ‘sked’ (schedule).

So that night, in a special radio hook-up, I spent a few hours in the District Office sitting beside Administrator Murray. I operated the radio while he talked to the Chief Justice and Brigadier Cleland in Port Moresby.

In Port Moresby, they would have gone to the radio centre as the technology of telephone hook-ups did not exist.

Leslie Topue presented with British Empire Medal by Administrator, Brigadier DM Cleland, 1952Between them, they accomplished the official handover of Murray to Cleland on an old push-to-talk radio accompanied by plenty of static and fading.

I suppose a somewhat more ceremonial handover in Port Moresby had been arranged, suitably witnessed by the Chief Justice and in the presence of other dignitaries. But inclement weather in PNG had a reputation for ignoring the ‘best laid plans …’

Next morning, the passenger on the Catalina to Port Moresby was ordinary citizen J K Murray, on his way back to Australia. 


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Philip Fitzpatrick

There's a copy of the photograph in 'A Pictorial History of New Guinea' by Noel Gash & June Whittaker, The Jacaranda Press, 1975, plate 674, page 303.

The original is held by the Commonwealth Archives Office (CRS A24)

Caitlin Stone

I was wondering where you obtained the top photograph of Murray. Thank you.

Unfortunately there is no record of the origin of this image - KJ

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