ADELAIDE – Kiap and broadcaster Graham Taylor died on Sunday at the age of 90 after being afflicted with prostate cancer for more than 20 years.
Graham was a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea in the early post-war period, transferring to the ABC to produce its ‘native people’s program’ and establish 9RB Rabaul before continuing his career in Australia where he reached a senior level in the organisation as general manager for South Australia.
He recounted his PNG years in the book A Kiap’s Story, published by Phil Fitzpatrick, which Stephen Romei, literary editor of the Weekend Australian Review, asked me to review earlier this year.
This I did (it was published in the issue of 11-12 May) and you can link to the review here.
When he was told I had been commissioned as the reviewer, Graham got in touch in a series of emails which, to mark his passing, I reproduce here.
Graham was delighted his book was gaining public attention in a prominent national newspaper and, from our exchange of emails, I realised this implicit recognition of his life and explicit recognition of his authorship was of great satisfaction to him.
Hi Keith, I am glad to hear you are happy to whip up a review for Stephen. Knowing something of your creative abilities and skills as a wordsmith I am sure it will be just what we wanted.
You remind me – when you talk about ABC philosophy- of the hard yards I did working and writing with vice chairman Boyer the text of an epistle ‘The Role of a National Broadcaster in Contemporary Australia’.
While I guess the traditional role remains pretty much as ever quite clearly the unremitting exponential changes which have occurred in terms of Australia’s recent political history, the growing cultural divide, widespread social changes, the arrival of so many competitors in the media business and of course technological innovation have all put a tremendous strain on Aunty as she grapples with her long-established status as one of Australia’s truly great national institutions.
Were I blessed with sufficient energy I might be tempted to have a crack at an updated version of the earlier Taylor/Boyer paper. Alas, ’tis not to be.
Graham sent me a copy of the book together with a large bundle of notes and references to help me on my way. I replied to thank him and, after doing a quick calculation, mentioned he must be gambolling his way to a 90th birthday. I then received this email:
How kind of you to think of me as gambolling youngster! Alas and alack. I am 90 on 29 May. And I am teetering on the brink of extinction given that I am been fighting prostate cancer for 21 years and am now told that I am losing the battle as life-threatening problems are arising in my kidneys, bladder and lower bowel.
The prognosis isn’t very encouraging. I am not sure how and when the lights will go out. Possibly before this year ends.
I hope you are enjoying whipping up a review for Stephen. It would be personally very satisfying as a first time author were I to make it into the Weekend Oz review.
The review was duly accepted for publication, and after, I let Graham know, I received this response the same morning.
I am overwhelmed. Bravo, bravissimo for you advice and assistance. This is great news and I am so glad that, in a sense, it has been made possible because of the old boys network which, in large part, links us in this undertaking. I know Phil Fitz will be over the moon.
It will be interesting to see how the booksellers react to the review, given that the book is currently in the grip of Amazon and its UK associates, the locals (Dymocks et al) will have to import it for their shelves. So interesting days ahead. I really do appreciate your support. Emdasol, lukautim gut sikin bilong iu.
You did a masterly job on the review. And I am greatly indebted to you - and indeed to Stephen - for the way in which you both have made this happen. My phone has been running hot with Weekend Oz readers who unanimous in their views that it is a great review.
I well remember, incidentally, the tormented hours and gallons of sweat I spent with young Dicky Boyer wrestling with him over the ill-fated future of national broadcasting in Australia.
Your review very succinctly and cleverly hits all the right buttons when it comes to creating and explaining the role of young Aussie kiaps in PNG and the trials and tribulation some of us suffered. While you are kind enough to praise my wordsmithing I am equally conscious of your own prowess. Without your support and input my book may well have been doomed to obscurity.
It will be interesting now to see whether the book sells. It is clearly not in a favoured genre; the anticipated price might be off-putting for some punters; its readership might well be restricted to the dying generation of lapuns who once lived and worked in the Land of Dehori and to this day comfort themselves by recalling the dashing deeds of the past. There may be a few academics who reach out to it for inspiration in matters of interest to them.
We shall wait and see. Again, my sincere thanks and best wishes for a happy life in good old Noosa. NB I first went there is the 1940’s when there was no electricity along the Tewantin riverbank - we used hurricane lamps and candles. Em dasol, Graham.
And I responded.
I’m glad you enjoyed the review. I believe a good book should beget a good review, so I’m glad I managed that. Stephen commented on social media today, “A wonderful piece. Lovely personal touch. Unexpectedly timely too, re today’s ABC.” And, like you, I have received favourable comments from readers of The Australian within my ambit.
I’m delighted Stephen was able to publish the review ahead of your 90th birthday and I wish you well for that and, of course, beyond. And thanks again for your astute management of Dick all those years ago. PS, Tewantin now has the power on!
Later in the month, Graham wrote to Stephen Romei conveying his thanks.
Hi Stephen - I want you to know how much I welcomed your decision to review my book and how grateful I am that you should have printed such a glowing review. For me it is the culmination of an initiative which took me not hundreds but thousands of hours and in the end resulted in a 450,000 word story edited back to 350,000 or so to improve its marketability, given that it is in an isolated genre.
I have thanked Jacko and I know he is well pleased. Phil Fitz is also very happy and joins with me in thanking both Jacko and yourself. It will be interesting to see how much interest/response the review triggers and also whether the Aussie booksellers decide to import copies for their shelves. We will wait and see.
I have my 90th birthday on 29 May. Now I can look back with satisfaction on at least one great achievement in my life which – thanks to you- will remain truly memorable. Best wishes to you for your own future in journalism. Graham Taylor.