KUNDIAWA - Death is part of the life cycle mankind must go through, but the passing of both a friend and a good person is an especially painful loss.
When I read Keith Jackson’s obituary about the passing of Murray Bladwell, shared by Robert Parer on his Facebook page, my heart stopped beating for some seconds.
I was shocked. My mind blacked out. I sat still and silent staring at my mobile screen.
After some moments, consciousness returned and the news sank in.
I immediately turned to the PNG Attitude blog and read the story with tears constantly falling from my eyes. I was in deep grief and didn’t have the strength to write. I was lost for words.
I let it go. Now, after some days have passed and the pain and sadness have lessened, I have found the strength to reflect on my life’s encounter with my friend and good mate, the late Murray Bladwell.
“Hello Francis!” was followed by an awkward but warm hug that September afternoon in 2016 at the Harbourside Hotel alongside the Brisbane River.
The memory of this first meeting rekindled my tears as the news of Murray’s passing sank in.
The hug was awkward because I was sitting in a wheelchair and Murray was bending down uncomfortably seeking a suitable position for a hug.
But the embrace, when it came, was executed with tenderness like two souls who had known each other for eons.
Although it was our first face to face encounter, the hug was deeply profound. It was a hallmark of a bond between two peoples and two nations. A strong bond that had sustained down the years.
Murray and his wife Joan were among the outstanding Australians who served my people and my country Papua New Guinea with distinction between 1963 and 1974 preparing our nation for independence.
They both spent many years in the education service as teachers before Murray moved on through the ranks to the policy level at education headquarters in Port Moresby as the executive officer of the National Education Board.
Joan became a lecturer at Port Moresby Teachers College and later developed the health curriculum and health teaching guides before also lecturing at Port Moresby Medical College.
You can read about this, and more, in my PNG Attitude article of November 2016 entitled, ‘Those true Australians maintaining bonds with a flawed nation’.
Author Daniel Kumbon and his wife Julie, writer Martyn Namarong and Ben Jackson and I had arrived at the Harbourside Hotel from Noosa, where we spent two days of our study tour of Australia with Keith Jackson and his family.
At the Harbourside, our accommodation in Brisbane for the writers festival, we met with friends of Papua New Guinea, most of who were prominent contributors to pre-independence development in our country.
On that afternoon, we met Robert Lenton (Rob) Parer, Bob Cleland and Murray Bladwell along with others in the hotel bar, where we had a great time taking some beers and chatting together like old acquaintances.
That was the first time I met those great Australians who had made, and continued to contribute immensely, to the development of PNG. We learnt many things from them and vice versa.
“Francis, I’ll pick you up at 9 o’clock for sightseeing,” Murray said softly when the gathering was winding up.
“I’ll be waiting,” I replied excitedly before pushing my wheelchair back to my room just close by.
In the morning, I was eagerly waiting when Murray picked me up in his car and we headed south-west for Ipswich.
It was on this trip, and in that short time, that I learned about Murray and his beautiful wife Joan’s time in pre-independence PNG and their contribution to the education and health sectors.
At Ipswich, Murray showed me a container packed with 11,000 books, school desks, tables, chairs, encyclopaedias and cartons of high quality hospital bed linen and other things for schools and health centres in my Simbu province.
It was Murray who initiated this benevolent project which was overwhelmingly supported by fellow members of the Rotary Club of Toowong.
Then Murray showed me piles of wheelchairs in the warehouse and instructed me to choose one that I liked. I selected one that I reckoned was suitable for the rough Kundiawa roads and a giant of a man lifted it into the boot of Murray’s car.
After a brief chat with members of the club, we drove back along Brisbane River and then through the Queensland University campus, across a bridge and on to Murray’s residence on the Brisbane River.
Joan was ready to take a ferry ride down the river, leaving with the Simbu bilum that I had brought for her hanging on her side. Murray and I drove back to the hotel.
Many things Murray and I talked about that day. I learned that, after so many years, Murray still cherished the memories of the time he spent in Simbu and Papua New Guinea.
He talked about the warm-heartedness of the village people and the inquisitiveness of the children he and Joan liked so much. He talked with deep affection and it dawned on me that he had a special attachment to the Simbu people and this drew my heart even closer to him.
When I returned to Kundiawa from Australia in December 2016, I brought with me the wheelchair Murray had given to me and donated it to the Accident and Emergency Unit of Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital because the unit had no wheelchair and was in dire need of one.
It is the only wheelchair in the unit since then until now. It has served thousands of patients and is still in good condition. It has helped so many people, thanks to Murray.
Apart from the wheelchair, Murray also arranged a Dell computer for me which was delivered by Ben Jackson, by this time a resident of PNG, sometime after I returned to Simbu.
Murray and I kept in touch through email. That was until recently when he didn’t respond.
My email was about metal bookshelf frames for the Simbu Writers Association library that had been sitting idle in the container for all this time.
I wanted to use the shelves to set up a library in one of the high schools and stock them with PNG-authored books.
I wanted to call this the Murray Bladwell Library in honour of his contribution to the education of the Simbu people and sought his approval.
When he didn’t reply, I thought he didn’t like the idea.
Then I received the news of his passing. It saddens me so much. It breaks my heart. It is painful.
Murray was not just a friend but a good man who had a heart for those he met along the way. I have been very privileged to have known him. Many other Papua New Guineans as well as me will surely miss him.
For me there will be no more emails with kind words from a mate and good man. Only fond memories of Murray’s smiling face and kindness will live on in my heart.
Now that Murray has gone, the idea of setting up a library named after him in one of the Simbu high schools is stronger in me. I and members of the Simbu Writers Association will pursue it until it is done. The progress of the project will be reported in PNG Attitude.
On behalf of my family, members of the Simbu Writers Association namely Mathias Kin, Jimmy Drekore, Jimmy Awagl, Arnold Mundua and Philip Kai and the Simbu Division of Education, I deeply share with Joan and the children the pain and grief you are going through at this time.
I convey our sincere condolences to you all.May God grant you peace and comfort.
And to my brother and good mate, Murray Bladwell, may you rest in eternal peace.
Murray's funeral will be held this coming Friday at 11am at Centenary Memorial Gardens, 353 Wacol Station Road, Sumner in Brisbane