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Graham Pople dies in Cairns – one of PNG’s first elected MPs

First suits
New MPs John Pasquarelli, Simogun Pita, Sinake Giregire and Graham Pople show off their new suits - tailored free of charge to wear in parliament - soon after their election to PNG's first House of Assembly in 1964


TOWNSVILLE – My long friendship and onetime political partnership with Graham Pople MBE has ended. My old buddy died in Cairns earlier this month.

He was 83 and had been ill for some time.

Graham and I were amongst Papua New Guinea’s first parliamentarians democratically elected on a common roll.

PNG’s first election, involving the entire adult population of the then Australian territory, was held in February-March 1964, 55 years ago.

Graham Pople, Keith Tetley, Keith Levy, Barry Holloway and I were five white men elected to what were described as parliament’s ‘open seats’ (that is, open to all comers, black, white or brindle).

The House of Assembly was a 100-member chamber which, apart from open seats, had ‘special seats’ reserved for expatriates and ‘official seats’ reserved for white bureaucrats appointed by the Australian Administration.

My association with PNG had begun in 1960 when I was briefly a Cadet Patrol Officer but had to resign after an altercation with the Catholic Mission on the Sepik River. I then decided to start trading along the Sepik, which I did for almost 20 years.

Before his election, Graham had been a patrol officer in the Gumina region of the Chimbu District in the central highlands. He was comfortably elected when he stood for the newly-created seat of Gumine.

In 1964, members of the House of Assembly were initially unpaid but we had our travel and accommodation paid for by the Administration. We later received a salary for the next three years of our four-year term.

Graham and I quickly 'clicked' and joined forces with John Stuntz who had won a special seat.

The three of us and many Papua New Guinea MPs stood against a hasty rush by PNG towards independence. But little did we know that Canberra had already made up its mind. 

Graham Pople soon after his election in 1964

Our four years in Moresby were lively but, at the end, I did not stand again and went back to trading on the Sepik. 

Many years later I met Graham when he was managing the Weigh Inn Hotel in Port Moresby and we reminisced over a few beers. 

Graham married a woman from the Trobriand Islands and they remained together until age and illness brought them to a retirement home in Cairns where Graham died.

His wife remains there, wheelchair bound.

Graham was two years older than me and, sooner rather than later, we may meet up again in another place.

You can read more about Graham's life and career here.


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Barry Kneen

Graham was elected in 1964 for the Gumine electorate (in southern Chimbu).

I knew Graham when he was the Patrol Officer in charge at Henganofi and I was a PO in Goroka and Kainantu (1961-63).

I attended a memorable party hosted by Graham at Henganofi and, together with Barry Holloway and Pat Dwyer, we had a couple of air charter escape weekends to Port Moresby.

Graham was a very intelligent and articulate officer, and became a true representative of the people who elected him.

He was indeed a faithful MP, Barry - in Chimbu they called him Gram Bomai, Graham of the South - KJ

Chips Mackellar

Farewell Graham, but not for long, because we will all soon meet again in that big Patrol Post in the Sky.

There's a Patrol Post up there in the Sky, above the sea near Lae,
Nor'nor west of Samarai, south-east of Hansa Bay.
It has palm trees waving in the moon, where mosquitoes sting at night,
And canoes out on the blue lagoon, awaiting fish to bite.
It smels of kunai in the rain, and smoke from the valley floor,
And you'll hear the pounding surf again, on the reef beyond the shore.
It's the place where all the kiaps go, when their life on earth is through,
And they talk with all the friends they know, and of the things they used to do.
They talk of all the times now past, and of places far away,
And all the memories that last, of Independence Day.
They talk of sights and sounds and smells, and of people they all knew,
Of bugle calls and mission bells, of garamut and kundu.
Of days gone by in Samarai, and windswept coral cays,
Of tribal fights and freezing nights, and misty Highland days,
Of black-palm floors and tidal bores, and life on the River Fly,
The Kavieng Club and the Bottom Pub, with a thirst you couldn't buy,
Of carrier loads, and Highland roads, at the time when we were there
Of bailer-shell pearls and Trobriand girls, with flowers in their hair.
And when we say goodbye to you, don't mourn us when we go,
For the Big D.C. will call us too, and this of course we know.
That last patrol will take us all, along that well worn track,
But the difference for this final call, is that we won't be coming back.
And our parting should not cause you pain, it's not sad for us to die,
For we shall all soon meet again, in that Patrol Post in the sky.

Chips Mackellar

Arthur Williams

In PNGAA his obituary says he won the Hagen Open seat "..against their own tribal leaders: no mean task for a European' in 1st House of Assembly".

He set up Bitten plantation.

Apologies Daniel, Arthur has done his research - KJ

Daniel Kumbon

I can remember the name Keith Levy. A cousin brought his poster to my village in Kandep. Wonder which people in Western Highlands he represented in the House of Assembly.

I thought he represented a Gulf electorate, Daniel, but memory may be up to mischief - KJ

John Rosser

Sad news. I remember Graham well from the early 1990s & didn’t realise he was living in Cairns.

Raymond Sigimet

Sir Pita Simogun is still remembered and considered a great leader by his Dagua Arapesh people.

Phillipa Jenkins

I only have one memory of Graham Pople.

I was standing in the doorway of my room at the Weigh Inn Hotel back in 2010. He walked past me and asked where I was from. I said I was from ANU and doing work on Ok Tedi.

He said "wait a moment" and came back and handed me a stack of printouts from PNG Attitude and said, "I think you'll enjoy this".

Sad to hear of his passing.

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