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.
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.