Reflections on 40 years of PNG Independence
How PNG independence happened – 16 September 1975

A night at the Lowy Institute - 40 years of PNG Independence

The Lowy Institute in SydneyBARBARA SHORT

A few nights ago I hired a limousine driven by a man named Eric and went into the city of Sydney at about five in the evening.

The traffic was horrendous as there was a breakdown in the Harbour Tunnel but Eric was able to take the bus lane so we arrived at our destination in half an hour.

I was let into a building, a very old one, constructed from sandstone. It had been a men's club long ago and had high ceilings and tall walls covered with paintings. I was shown into a huge room that seated 100 people and provided a lovely cool orange drink.

The evening was organised by some charming young Australian girls and boys who work for the Lowy Institute for International Relations.

The room soon place filled and the speakers arrived including Serena Sumanop, who recognised me and we warmly exchanged greetings. Back in the early 1970s at Brandi, I had taught her father-in-law, Francis Sumanop.

Then along came Allan Bird, a huge fellow. I told him who I was, a Sydney Sepik and a reporter for the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum on Facebook. Yes, it is a very long title. Anyway he knew what I was talking about even though he is not a member of our forum.

I mentioned that I had posted about his hotel, and his wife had thanked me. We talked about Wewak, its current development and the problems with the hospital and generally got to know each other.

I also met Jeffry Feeger, an artist and a friendly soul and his manager, Rae Smart, another older Australian who tries to help Papua New Guinea.

The main activity of the night began at six and it took the form of an interview of the three Papua New Guineans by Sean Dorney, the well-known Australian who was an ABC correspondent in PNG and the Pacific for a long, long time.

Due to my poor hearing, I couldn’t follow all that was said but softly clapped when Allan Bird mentioned the plight of poor Boram Hospital which I think he called the most run-down hospital in PNG.

Serena was delightful, but I don't know if her microphone was turned on. I caught the bit about the need for everyone to listen to their "inner voice".

They said many worthwhile things and I'm hoping someone will write a good report on this which I can share.

But I feel the talking was not the main thing. There weren't prepared speeches by important people. Rather they were three young PNG people just talking about PNG and their ideas on the country and the people and where things were going.

It wasn't the content that mattered, it was the event itself. The love shown between Australians of all ages and the few Papua New Guineans there. The audience included many people who had contributed a lot to the development of PNG. I know Professor Ted Wolfers was there sitting behind me and I sat next to one of my old students from PLC, the Presbyterian Ladies College in Sydney, Andrea Williams, whose family was the Cootes of Rabaul plantation fame. Andrea is now president of the PNG Association of Australia, an important sponsor of the Crocodile Prize.

After the talks, I approached a group of fine young men to find they included Steven Paisi from Passam who is studying Law at the University of NSW and Lawrence Gerry from Simbu doing a PhD in Education also at UNSW.

I ended up talking with Allan Bird again and met a lady from SBS TV. Maybe we can get her to the Sepik one day to do a program.

On the way out, I posed with Serena for a photo so she can show her father-in-law what his old teacher now looks like, 40 years later.

As I waited for Eric and his limousine to arrive to take me home, I had a great chat to Consul General Sumasy Singin who told me he had spent two years working as a lawyer for the East Sepik Province in Wewak.

The journey home was smooth and I slept well last! I felt good and happy. Papua New Guinea was changing, developing and in good hands.


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