Robert Lenton Parer CMG MBE is by adoption and upbringing a man of the West Sepik, a member of a great Australian family which is famous in Papua New Guinean mining and aviation with Rob himself a prominent trader and friend and advocate of that remote corner in the northwest of PNG adjoining the order of Indonesia West Papua. Franzalbert Joku, a man of West Papua who crossed into PNG as a refugee was, in time, to become a valued citizen of that country and achieved the eminent position of prime minister Sir Julius Chan’s chief of staff. These letters have been edited - KJ
Letter from Rob Parer
BRISBANE - Because of the Indonesian scare, there were a lot of police stationed at the border with an Australian police officer in charge. I was wondering, Franzalbert, if you were in the OPM [Free Papua Movement] camp inland from Wutung in the early 1960s?
The South Pacific Post [now Post-Courier] journalist, old Jack McCarthy, was a friend of mine and the Australian government was trying to stop him getting to the OPM camp. He stayed with me at Aitape on his way to Vanimo and told me he had organised with OPM people at Madang to visit the camp.
So he stayed in our hut and was picked up at two the next morning by OPM canoe and got to the camp without the government knowing. The Sepik District had no telephones but anyone could listen into conversations on the two-way radio, so they knew Jack was around and began asking if anyone had seen him.
He got to the OPM camp and later broke the news to the world, with photos. It was a major embarrassment to the Australian government as it had been denying that the rebel OPM camp existed. In 1968, Jack was awarded the Walkley Award for this article.
Letter from Franzalbert Joku
PORT MORESBY - Rob, your account is true indeed. I had known about the story you are referring to. Jack’s articles made headlines both in PNG and Australia. I recall reading them as we refugee camp inmates were settling into our first temporary accommodation on the eastern edge of Lorengau facing the sea.
[In May 1969, McCarthy went to Manus and filed a story headlined 'Refugee ‘prisoners’ live without hope' about the OPM refugees who had been spirited to Lorengau and reported they existed in depressing conditions. Manus's most recent 'hosting' of refugees was far from ts first.]
I knew Jack for quite a number of years before his death in Port Moresby. And I had professional and personal reasons to share in is life.
Mary Karo's younger brother, the late Kevin Artango, was married to my late sister Jenny. And when Jack died, the grieving McCarthy family asked me to speak and offer a eulogy at the Boroko Drive Anglican Church.
In my eulogy I referred to his journalistic sojourns crossing the border in those days. I spoke about Jack's journalistic passion and career, touching upon his humanity and broader life. I likened Jack's search for justice and truth to Jesus' own earthly life and service despite the dangers which faced him throughout.
Another West Papuan, John Norotouw, and I concluded the eulogy by dedicating a popular hymn in Bahasa Indonesia praising God and honouring Jack on behalf of our people. We sang: “Oh Yerusalem, kota mulia, hatiku rindu kesana. Tak lama lagi Tuhanku datang, bawa saya masuk sana.” [‘Oh Jerusalem, the glorious city, my heart longs there. Soon my Lord comes, take me there’]
Then, much to my surprise and that of an equally stunned congregation, the Anglican Bishop of PNG rose to his feet and, in a firm voice and carefully worded single sentence, announced that the sermon he had intended to deliver was over.
He thanked me and said that, since I had more than done him a favour, his duty now was to appropriately bring the funeral service to an end by offering the closing prayer.
So Rob, you would be pleased to know that your friend Jack had quite a send-off and one that he rightly deserved.