NOOSA - I arrived in Papua New Guinea in 1963 as a school teacher and left in 1976 as a broadcaster and journalist with 10 years under my belt.
This was to be my first substantive career, and – after many adventures in Asia-Pacific - it culminated in my appointment as a senior executive in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), before I turned my communications activities to public relations in 1988.
During the 1960s, at first I freelanced as a journalist and scriptwriter for the ABC, then edited the school magazines (Yokomo was a personal friend) before joining the ABC full time as a producer.
In the early 1970s I managed Radio Rabaul and Radio Bougainville later being appointed the first director of policy and planning in the National Broadcasting Commission.
The first radio station in PNG had been broadcasting 10 years before I was born, and the history of how the NBC came into being had started way back before World War II.
When 4PM Port Moresby began broadcasting on 25 October 1935, radio was still being pioneered in Australia. But even then radio was not new to Papua because Amalgamated Wireless of Australia, better known as AWA, had operated transmitting and receiving stations for some years. It was a short step from this to a fully-fledged broadcasting service.
Not that 4PM had much impact on the then uncounted people of Papua New Guinea. The transmitter was low powered and had a range of just a few kilometers. It was another 26 years, almost to the day, before another radio station was established elsewhere in PNG.
4PM closed in December 1941, a victim of the war. But just two years later General Douglas MacArthur, commencing his campaign against the Japanese from a tenuous foothold in Port Moresby, decided radio should be used to entertain the troops. So on 26 February 1944, 9PA began broadcasting.
The war moved north and in 1944 the station was handed over to the Australian Army Amenities Section which adopted the call sign 9AA.
It was 9AA that broadcast the first radio program targeted at a Papua New Guinean audience. It was in Hiri Motu and an effort to boost the morale of Papuan labourers and carriers – pressed into service by the Army and gone from their villages for many years.
With the war over and civilian control resumed, on 1 July 1947 the ABC took over 9AA and the call sign reverted to 9PA.
Under the Army the power of the station had been increased but now it was reduced and coverage again limited to the immediate environs of Port Moresby.
It was not until 1963, 15 years later, that the ABC installed a transmitter of sufficient power to enable the provision of anything like a national service.
At this time the station was still geared to an expatriate audience and there were very few programs for Papua New Guineans.
But even so there were disputes over what time of the day the ‘native people’s program’ should be broadcast. The ABC refused to transmit it at what were considered peak listening times for Europeans.
The 30 minute program was shortened to 20 minutes because it was claimed to ‘interfere’ with broadcasts for expatriate children.
The colonial government of PNG – the Administration as it was known – was not happy with this neglect. Nor, given major political changes, was it happy that its own officials couldn’t use the station to promote the acceptance of government policies for PNG.
The ABC was deaf to these complaints. And it caused further irritation to the Administration and amongst the public by failing to expand its service in PNG.
Meanwhile, civil unrest in the Gazelle Peninsula led to the Navuneram riots of August 1958, during which several Tolais were shot by police.
In his report on this tragic event, the Chief Justice of the time recommended that radio broadcasting be used to improve communication between the Administration and the people.
Australia’s Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, agreed and suggested broadcasting be used to explain government policies and contribute to an acceptance of them.
In 1959, funds were set aside to establish a radio station in Rabaul. But the Administration was against any suggestion that the station, and another planned for Lae, be run by the ABC.
There was an argument but finally ABC chairman Sir Richard Boyer agreed that “the regional stations envisaged are not within the orbit of the ABC”. The way was now clear for the Administration to develop its own broadcasting service.
Across the border in what was still Netherlands New Guinea, with Indonesia becoming more strident in its attacks on the colonists, the Dutch had established a powerful network of 12 stations.
This also worried the Australian Administration in PNG. What if it fell into the hands of Indonesia?
Suddenly a new urgency was felt and, when the ABC changed its mind about locating a station in Rabaul but said it would take two years to do it, the Administration decided that was too long to wait and determined to build its own network of stations.
Radio Rabaul started to broadcast on 19 October 1961 and was an immediate hit with the Tolai people.
In the ensuing years prior to Independence other Government Broadcasting Service stations followed at Wewak, Daru, Kerema, Bougainville, Goroka, Alotau – in fact all around the then territory as a network of 16 stations was built.
In 1973, with self-government arriving, the ABC – which still saw itself largely as a service for expatriates - and the Government Broadcasting Service were amalgamated and became the National Broadcasting Commission, with the celebrated broadcaster and sportsman Sam Piniau appointed first chairman.
By the time of independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea had a single fully-fledged broadcasting system offering a wide range of programs at national and provincial levels.
Broadcasting had come a long way from that puny little station in 1935.