CAIRNS - A great and generous man of Papua New Guinea - as gritty as the highlands people he respected so much - died here early yesterday morning.
Just turned 77, Terry Shelley succumbed in Cairns Hospital. Direly ill, he had travelled there by what he termed “Dr Qantas” as the cancer he suspected, but did little to address, eventually overwhelmed him.
Terry had little time for ill health, doctors, Australia or the Papua New Guinean elite. But he had every minute he could muster for his family and the people of PNG whom he served so well for 55 years.
His son, Trevor, who he admired and loved like he did all his family, sent me a note yesterday afternoon to convey the wretched news. Trev is an information technology consultant with BHP Billiton in Perth following upon a distinguished career in Australia’s Army.
“Dad passed away early this morning in Cairns,” Trev wrote. “The silly bugger was riddled with cancer and, because he is a stubborn old bastard, did not seek any medical treatment - he would have had this [the cancer] for some time given the amount he had. Refused to seek help until he was cooked.
“Anyway Keith, I know Dad thought the world of you so I thought that I would let you know. Current thinking is to cremate Dad in Cairns and send him home to the masses for a wake. Mum can then send him home to Simbu or keep him in Goroka.”
Terry was as tough as they come and smart as a whip. We had spent some good hours together in Goroka at the Pacific Gardens Hotel on the last day of February this year, relishing the old days and the power of friendship to survive years out of contact but, thanks to PNG Attitude, never out of touch.
He refused a beer (“don't drink it now”) but cradled a whisky or two, still a great storyteller with the memories of days half a century ago as fresh as if those days were with us still.
We get old and family and friends die, and we know this is our fate and that we ourselves will go soon enough. But despite all this knowledge and experience there are some deaths that affect us much more deeply than others. For me, Terry’s is one of those.
And this is because that famous strength and candour, pugnacity and steeliness, thinly veneered a heart as big as Papua New Guinea and an enormous passion for its people and progress. This energy sat alongside the greatest contempt and scorn for the politicians and other exploiters that, whatever form they took or colours they wore, always managed to betray the ordinary people - the people who mattered most.
Terry's early career was as a cooperatives officer based in Kundiawa, where he and I and a rambunctious drunk named John Jones shared the ramshackle haus pik alongside the Chimbu Club. He worked with the farmers of Chimbu to grow and market coffee as a cash crop, later joining his wife, daughter and sons as he established Nowek Ltd in Goroka.
Nowek became a major local company concentrating initially on coffee processing and later diversifying into a thriving winery (strawberries and other local fruits providing the raw material) and a host of spin-offs in the manner of the true entrepreneur.
He drove his employees hard, paid them well and looked after them grandly and always showed huge benevolence to the ordinary people of the Chimbu and Eastern Highlands whom he loved.
Terry, Murray Bladwell and others collaborated on a number of projects carting books and medical equipment from Australia to PNG – much of it paid for by PNG Attitude readers with Terry always the most benevolent.
Just before Christmas last year, for example, over 100 Simbu schools and rural health centres were showered with boxes of books gifted by the Toowong Rotary Club in Brisbane. Murray and Terry worked together to deliver the Books for Simbu project, resulting in a huge shipping container of 11,000 books and health items.
Terry’s companies Nowek and Winestar kicked in the K25,000 required to buy and ship the container from Brisbane to Goroka and Kundiawa.
Although based in Goroka and making his business there over many years, Terry was always regarded as one of the great waitsikin man blo Simbu.
He fell in love with one of Simbu’s beautiful mountain orchids, Lyn from the Kamaneku tribe, and they married. Lyn became Terry’s lifetime partner and they had beautiful children: Louis (deceased), Trevor, Sarah, Ben, Terry Jnr, Joe and Jasmin.
Ben and Joe now run the family businesses in Goroka (including coffee, wine, construction, aggregates and bricks and cement). After many years in Winestar, Sarah recently made the transition to public service and the Ministry of Police. Terry Jr is Brisbane and Trev is in Perth.
Terry's dear Simbu friend, the author Francis Nii, wrote overnight:
Oh, Keith, I am shattered and mentally crushed by this sad news. Tears are uncontrollably streaming down my cheeks. In my life as a paraplegic, there are very few people who are so close to my heart apart from my daughters and father and Terry because of their kindness, and now I lost one of them and this person is Terry.
Terry was a very kind man and his passing leaves a big vacuum in my life. I met him as a bank officer in 1997 and from there we developed a strong bond that spanned over 20 years. Losing him is like a part of me has been chopped off. I will truly miss him.
We were still in touch up to this year but I never knew he had cancer. It is heartbreaking for me because he assisted me personally as well as the Simbu writers and schools in many ways. I will cherish his kindness forever.
My heartfelt condolences to the wife Lyn and all the children. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Terry would write irregularly for PNG Attitude but his words were always feisty, often witty and he was a constant truth teller.
In 2016, responding to disgraceful scenes in parliament as MPs laughed and mocked as the Health Minister joked about slashing K50 million from church-run health facilities, Terry wrote:
We have to get our priorities right. I keep telling people who are being turned away from Goroka Hospital that they should remember that we just had the most expensive and lavish Pacific Games ever with millions spent on fireworks etc and lack of medical and rural services will just have to wait. What should be realised is that whatever these 111 so-called leaders decide along with the 80,000 plus public servants is totally irrelevant to the daily struggle of 90% of the population of PNG. PNG - Poverty. Neglect. Greed.
This year, responding to my return visit to Kundiawa, he penned this note for PNG Attitude:
You have just driven the Okuk ‘Highway’ after 50 years and no doubt you were surprised and I would say saddened by the shambles it has been allowed to become. You no doubt saw the highland mammas washing themselves, kaukau, pikininis and second hand clothes in the gutters on the side of the ‘highway’. The last 41 years have forgotten these people like the vast majority of PNG citizens. Where is the equality for these people and their children?
And on another occasion:
Yes, things are simmering in PNG. I think the big driver is poverty and frustration amongst the young. Only 10% of the population is in the formal economy while the rest are left behind, with nothing but hardship and hunger down the track. Youths are no longer hunter gathers or gardeners. They are unemployed, poverty-stricken urban mobs and, yes, there is more to come.
He praised Murray Bladwell - who he knew was a kindred humanitarian - in 2011 as Murray turned 70:
Congrats Bladders on making 70 not out. You do not look a day over 30. Or are my eyes fading? On my many trips to Kundiawa, I often think of you as I pass through Chuave and have great memories of the wonderful displays you created of the sub-district for the Goroka Show with the local landscape of Mt Elimbari and Kongo made from paper and chicken wire. They really were works of art. All the best and keep going.
In 2014, I wrote a series of articles looking back 50 years to the early days of the Kundiawa News including its reportage of an ailing Chimbu Club, £2,000 in debt and denied credit for beer supplies. Terry provided a postscript: “Ah Taddie, home sweet home. I paid my bar bill and so the club was saved.”
And it was he who gave me the nickname Tadpole (or Taddy) because I was such a slender, immature creature back then.
Infrequently Terry would allow his thoughts to extend to more than 50 or so words, but when the pen did run free he knew how to hit the target. This from 25 August 2013:
Unequal distribution of PNG revenue is ‘obscene’
By Terry Shelley
GOROKA - The founding fathers of Papua New Guinea, conscious of the fact that we were erecting a nation out of more ethnic groups than any other nation on earth, framed a Constitution which emphasises that sharing what we have to allow all of us to develop at the same pace.
The Constitution's First National Goal calls for "every effort to be made to achieve an equitable distribution of incomes and other benefits of development among individuals and throughout the various parts of the country."
lt also states "equalisation of services in all parts of the country and every citizen to have equal access to legal processes and all services, governmental or otherwise, that are required for the fulfilment of his or her real need and aspirations".
Previous governments and this present government are guilty of gross dereliction of duty under the Constitution.
So what will be the legacy benefit to the vast majority PNG citizens who do not live in the national capital? Huge contracts are being handed out mainly to contractors of Chinese and Mediterranean ethnic links with Papua New Guineans picking up the crumbs of being labourers, plant operators and the like.
There is a virtual gold rush in the NCD which is awash with cash. This money belongs to all Papua New Guineans from all provinces and should be shared as per the Constitution.
The continuing media blitz telling us what a wonderful job is being done in vapourising one billion kina on the venues for the Pacific Games is becoming extremely annoying although it is hard at times to distinguish who is being promoted, the Games or the Minister.
PNG already has a silver medal on the world stage and that is for being second only to Afghanistan in infant and mother mortalities in child birth. This is something that we should be ashamed of.
The vast sums of money being allocated to NCD actually belong to all the people of PNG.
These disenfranchised asset owners will not be found in the bars and eateries of the likes of the Grand Papua or Airways but in the villages and hamlets throughout PNG mainland and the islands of the far flung atolls of the maritime provinces.
We ask the Prime Minister and his Sports Minister that on the next occasion of ground breaking on ribbon cutting ceremonies in NCD, they stop for a moment and give a thought for the rural people who have suffered in silence and for the many women and children who have paid the ultimate price due to lack of basic medical services.
And, to wrap this tribute, I republish a light-hearted piece Terry wrote for PNG Attitude on Christmas Day 2009:
Of rats, false teeth and Euclidean geometry
By Terry Shelley
GOROKA – I want to report for PNG Attitude on a couple of incidents that happened here during the year so that the B4s may know all is not doom and gloom.
One of the night shift workers came to me one morning stating he had liklik worry.
When I asked what the problem was he explained he had taken his false teeth out to eat his Navy Biscuit and, when went to pick them up, he saw a rat racing off with them.
Unfortunately he was unable to catch the rat before it disappeared down a hole.
He requested if he could have the teeth replaced as they were his front ones. Goroka Hospital came to the rescue at K20 per tooth.
On another occasion I requested my welder to measure the circumference of a screening barrel.
He replied: "Maski, em hat tumas.” [Forget it, it's too hard]
I was just about to give him a good old serve when he pulled out a tape measure and measured the diameter. Then he punched the number into his Nokia Mobile.
He then said: “Em ia, em mak bilong em." [Got it, here's the measurement]
I was astounded and asked him: "Yu savi long pi r²?” [You know pi r²?]
To which he replied "Nogat, mi savi long 3.146.” [No, but I know 3.146]
Who said there was no progress in PNG?
As we talked together for that last time at the Pacific Gardens Hotel, Terry mused on his failing health ("bloody arthritis") and his view that, whenever his time came, that would be OK. He told me he had no wish to return to Australia, that the Papua New Guinea highlands was his home, and that he was proud, so proud, of his family.
When we parted he suggested, briefly, that we should get together once more the following morning. But we both knew that would not advance the cause. We had met again, we knew we were both OK with each other and that we would now proceed alone with whatever lay in store. The bond had been maintained. That's what mattered.
Terry pulled himself up into the cab of his truck, gave a desultory wave and drove off into the night.