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Fred Kaad: 100 years of courage & achievement

Brown 11 Brown Kaad
Bill Brown MBE and Fred Kaad OBE - two outstanding figures in the late colonial history of Papua New Guinea, Sydney, 2018 - KJ


SYDNEY - Fred Kaad is an inspiration. And this day, 12 September 2020, marks a notable anniversary for this remarkable man.

We salute his wonderful achievements, his steadfastness and courage and his contribution to all our lives and to the lives of so many others.

This is a tribute of respect and admiration for Fred Kaad on his 100th birthday.

Frederick Peter Christian Kaad OBE was born on this day 100 years ago.

He has served humanity in war and peace and in good times and in bad.

He has experienced triumph and tragedy.

And he has never failed or faded on this journey.

Brown 2 Hurdler
Fred competing for Sydney Boys High School in the GPS open hurdles, 1937 (High Bulletin)

Fred was always a leader and a competitor. They are traits he honed at school when representing Sydney Boys High in athletics, rowing and Rugby Union between 1937 and 1939.

As an outstanding athlete, he broke long-standing records in sprinting, the broad jump and the 120-yard hurdles – in this latter event he was the fastest man out of the blocks in Australia.

In 1940 Australia was at war against Germany and Italy. Fred was keen to join the fray, but his parents refused to sign the papers that would allow him be posted overseas. Undeterred, Fred joined the Citizen Military Forces.

On 4 August 1940, at the age of 19, he enlisted as N74666 Gunner Kaad, serving with the coastal artillery battery at Signal Head Fort near the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

In Australia at that time the war felt far away and perhaps, realising Fred’s athletics record and prowess as a Rugby Union winger, the top brass thought a Sydney-based Fred would be a valuable asset to help Army win the inter-service competitions against the Navy and the Air Force.

But that was before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and the war began to rapidly move south towards Australia.

Suffering from the after effects of concussion, Fred was discharged medically unfit from the CMF in January 1942.

But just a month later he enlisted in the AIF, the Australian Imperial Force, neither revealing he had previously served in the CMF nor that he had been discharged medically unfit.

SS Taroona
SS Taroona, which ran the Bass Strait service in peacetime, was deployed as a troopship in World War II

It was at about this time, in January 1942, that Papua New Guinea was drawn into the war when the Japanese invaded Rabaul.

Later that year, on 8 December 1942, as NX89868, Private Kaad embarked on the troopship SS Taroona at Townsville bound for Port Moresby.

He did not know it then but Fred’s long association with Papua New Guinea had begun.

By the following month, the Japanese Army was well on the offensive, moving towards Port Moresby and attempting to capture the town of Wau.

Fred and his unit flew to Wau as reinforcements for the 2/7th Infantry Battalion, their aircraft landing on the town’s notorious uphill airstrip which was under enemy small arms fire.

The Japanese invaders were repulsed and Australian troops won the Battle of Wau.

Then in June 1943, Fred was unexpectedly transferred to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) and promoted to warrant officer.

Later in 1943, accompanied only by a small detachment of police, Fred conducted two solo patrols. in Papua's Northern Division. His task was to restore the local people’s confidence in the Australian administration following the withdrawal of Japanese forces.

Around this time Fred got to know officers who were to play roles in his post-war career: Lieutenant-Colonels Sydney Elliott-Smith and J H Jones, Majors Horrie Niall, Allan Roberts and Jim Taylor, and Captain J B McKenna.

In 1944 Fred was attached to Cole Force, a small ANGAU group led by Captain Bob Cole MC supporting the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade as it advanced through the rugged Torricelli Mountains towards Maprik against stubborn Japanese resistance.  Fred was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 24 February 1945

Yarawa of the Royal Papuan Constabulary with Brigadier Ivan Dougherty and an ANGAU warrant officer

The task of Cole Force was "to locate and destroy enemy in the area; to obtain intelligence of enemy movements, to contact and rehabilitate the local people, and to recruit native labour."

Cole Force was with the 17th Brigade when it captured Maprik at the end of April and chased the retreating Japanese forces into the hills around Ulupu and Yamil. The Japanese laid down their arms in Wewak on 13 September 1945.

The war over, eventually the Army let Fred return to civilian life on 18 July 1946. But by now New Guinea was in his blood. Three weeks later, on 9 August, he became a Patrol Officer in the Papua New Guinea administration.

In September 1946, when the former Captain McKenna became Assistant Director of Native Labour, he persuaded Fred to try a new role - as District Labour Officer at Samarai. It was where Fred met the love of his life, June Grosvenor.

June and a friend were working as office secretaries after spending the wartime years as Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) wireless telegraphists at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie in NSW, at the time the largest flying boat base in the Southern Hemisphere.

Brown 7 Dalmatians
Fred with dalmations, Namatanai, August 1950 (Kaad Family Album)

Fred and June were married in Sydney in September 1948. As the Daily Telegraph reported, they drove south to honeymoon at Jervis Bay in a jeep that Fred had brought down from Rabaul.

Apart from his finding glorious June, the job in Samarai did not appeal to Fred, who returned to being a Patrol Officer in February 1949 and was posted to New Ireland. When District Officer and famed Coastwatcher Jack Read DSC sent him to Taskul in New Hanover, he told Fred that the patrol post “would afford ample scope for one of your keenness and experience.”

Not long after, Ian Downs took over from Jack Read as District Officer at Namatanai and, during his 18 months at Taskul, Fred got to know him well.

Fred also renewed a friendship with fellow kiap Gordon Steege, a wartime fighter ace, who was on Manus. When Steege suddenly resigned and returned to Australia, he made sure to drop in and see Fred at Namatanai on the way - to gift him his cane chairs and two dalmatian dogs.

Some of the devastation of the Mt Lamington eruption
Some of the devastation of the Mt Lamington eruption

On 21 January 1951, Fred had just returned from leave in Australia when Mount Lamington, never previously known to be a volcano, savagely exploded. The eruption killed more than 3,000 local people, 35 expatriates and caused a swathe of destruction to sweep through what is now Oro Province.

Fred, familiar with the area and its people from his ANGAU days, volunteered to fly to Popondetta where an emergency operations centre was established. He was on the second flight to land there the day after the eruption.

As Assistant District Officer in charge at Ilimo, Fred led a team engaged in rescue and rehabilitation. The success of the relief and recovery phase was later attributed to "the strong leadership provided by [Administrator] Colonel Murray, Dr Gunther, Ivan Champion and Fred Kaad.”

Fred returned to Australia in December 1951 to attend the Australian School of Pacific Administration for specialist training, declaring that he was 179 centimetres tall, weighed 82.5 kilograms and was brown eyed with auburn hair.

After the ASOPA ‘long course’, Fred returned to the Territory in February 1954, this time to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. District Commissioner Ian Downs, who knew Fred from Taskul days, gave him free rein to implement plans for developing the district.

Brown 1 Kaad
Fred in the role of a District Officer in the film Walk into Paradise

It was here in 1955 that, quite unexpectedly, Fred became a film star. He, police Sergeant-Major Somu Sigob and Qantas pilot Dick Davis played cameo roles in Walk into Paradise, a movie filmed in English and French which, in passing, preserved a vital segment of New Guinea’s colonial history. The film was later released in the United States under the title Walk into Hell.

Walk into Paradise introduced worldwide movie audiences to a glimpse of Papua New Guinea, including basic kiap patrolling and spectacular footage filmed in the Asaro Valley where hundreds of traditionally festooned villagers beat drums and waved spears as they stamped and danced to flatten a newly constructed airfield.

Brown 8 Somu Sigob
Sergeant Major Somu Sigob from Finschhafen in his role of Sergeant Major Towalaka in Walk into Paradise

Released in 1956, the film was a box office success in Australia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Its Sepik River premiere, at Angoram in 1957, was in the world’s first paddle-in theatre – a flotilla of canoes parked side by side and end to end, floating on the river between two anchored schooners. ]

In July 1956, what was a sturdy and orderly kiap world went crazy when District Commissioners were moved into the Department of Administrator. The kiaps’ organisation was renamed the Department of Native Affairs and Fred was temporarily appointed to the new position of District Officer, reporting to the Director in Port Moresby.

He left Goroka in November and, after three months leave in Australia, took up duty in the Sepik. District Officer Tom Aitchison, probably influenced by District Commissioner Elliott Smith, assigned him to take over the Maprik Sub-district and Fred moved into a dilapidated residence with wide verandahs and a cement obelisk at the front steps with the solemn dedication on a copper plaque:

In appreciation of the gallant services
Rendered by the natives of New Guinea to
17th Aus. Inf. Bde. In operations against
the Japs in 1945

Brown 9 Singsing
Fred at a singsing near Maprik, 1956

Fred was never without a range of tasks on which to apply his energy. He would dash around the Sub-district in a Land Rover, variously pioneering the construction of accommodation with rammed adobe walls and starting aquaculture near the river by building above-ground fishponds with high earthen walls.

Then came the rains. The adobe walls survived, but not the fishponds. The tilapia fingerlings flushed downstream into the mighty Sepik River where, within a few months, they were fully grown and had packed the waterway.

At the end of November 1956 when Aitchison departed to Australia on leave Fred took over as District Officer. His life was peaceful with the exception of an incident in January 1957 when 19 villagers – men, women, and children – were murdered 50 kilometres north of Telefomin.

It was a shocking event that attracted the attention of the international press, which angered the bureaucrats in Canberra who constantly tried to suppress any bad news coming out of Papua New Guinea.

But life was not all hard and exacting. Unloading their new-fangled record player and LP records, Fred and June introduced Wewak to loud recorded music including Shirley Bassey, and June introduced the staid Sepik Club’s Saturday dances to gay costumes and a spectacular Arabian Nights Ball.

Fred had only served five months as District Officer when District Commissioner Elliott-Smith, smitten by the love bug, abandoned his post and disappeared to Australia. Surprising many people, the Administrator bypassed a number of more senior officers and appointed Fred to replace him.

Fred remained as acting District Commissioner of the Sepik until Bob Cole took over. Then in 1959 he decided to attend the University of Queensland as a full time student, completing a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Then in May 1960, back in Papua New Guinea, Fred became the first person to have joined the Administration since the war to be promoted to District Commissioner. In December he was appointed to administer the Central District from Port Moresby.

The next four years were frenetic as he added other weighty tasks to the District Commissioner’s responsibilities. In March 1961, he represented Papua New Guinea at a meeting in Noumea which led to the inauguration of the South Pacific Games.

He also was active as Assistant Commissioner of the Papua New Guinea Branch of the Boy Scouts and added to his arts degree by completing a Postgraduate Diploma of Public Administration with the University of Queensland.

In 1962, he became secretary to the Select Committee on Political Development. Its historical report resulted in the introduction of universal suffrage and the first House of Assembly of Papua New Guinea in early 1964.

Dr  John Gunther
Assistant Administrator Dr John Gunther referred to Fred as Fred was “one of the best-educated and most able of the District Commissioners”

Also in 1962, he was elected President of the Amateur Athletic Union of Papua New Guinea and captained the Papua New Guinea athletics team at the Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia.

This hectic level of activity continued in 1963 when Australia’s Territories Minister Paul Hasluck appointed Fred as executive officer of the Commission on Higher Education. (Assistant Administrator John Gunther’s recommendation was that Fred was “one of the best-educated and most able of the District Commissioners.”)

In this role Fred accompanied the three commissioners - Sir George Currie, Dr John Gunther and Professor Oscar Spate - across Papua New Guinea and to universities in Australia and the Pacific. When Hasluck tabled the Commission's report in the House of Representatives, Fred was despatched to Canberra to discuss it with the Department of Territories.

Fred had just returned to the Territory and settled into a new appointment as District Commissioner, Madang, when disaster struck.

On 3 September 1964, he was seated alongside pilot Ray Jaensch in the front seat of a Dornier aircraft that crashed on take-off at Tauta in the Ramu Valley. Dr Lawrence Malcolm, Assistant District Officer Vince Smith and Patrol Officer Tony Cooke were seated in the rear section of the aircraft.

Jaensch did not survive and Fred suffered damage to his spinal cord, rendering him a paraplegic, and received extensive burns to his legs. The accident was to dramatically change Fred’s life.

Brown 6 Wreckage of Dornier
The wreckage of the crashed Dornier (Kaad Family Album)

He was medically evacuated to Sydney and spent six weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital followed by nine months in the Spinal Injuries Unit. Never one to waste time, it was there he commenced a postgraduate Diploma in Educational Administration by correspondence, again through the University of Queensland.

Fred displayed more of that indomitable spirit on 30 March 1965 when his medical team allowed him to attend a seminar on New Guinea in Canberra. Fred concluded his presentation saying, “One day I will get back as a District Commissioner. I am like MacArthur. I shall return.”

After his discharge from hospital, the Papua New Guinea Administration seconded him to Sydney to lecture at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA). He also travelled around Australia to interview applicants for employment in PNG and visited the Territory a couple of times a year for conferences and consultations.

After completing the Diploma in Educational Administration he had started in hospital, in 1971 Fred undertook a full year as a live-in student at the University of New England studying towards a master's degree. He was the first student in a wheelchair to permanently study and reside for a full academic year in a university college.

At the end of each weekend in Sydney, he drove his old Ford Fairlane back to Armidale with his wheelchair on the bench seat behind him. His eldest daughter, Gaynor, kept him company on each trip then flew back to Sydney.

When the love of his life, June, passed away 26 years ago, Gaynor took over the role of Fred’s carer, constant companion and guardian angel.

In 1972 Fred retired from Papua New Guinea service on medical grounds and was appointed as a lecturer and course director at ASOPA, completing his master's degree by correspondence – graduating in 1973 as a Master of Educational Administration (Hons).

Fred & Gaynor 1971He continued as a lecturer and course director when ASOPA was transitioned into the International Training Institute (ITI) in 1973 – the year Australia granted self-government to Papua New Guinea. His students now came from the developing countries of the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean as well as PNG.

In 1980, on the recommendation of the Papua New Guinea government, the Queen made Fred an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) “for public service and services to the training of Papua New Guineans.”

Papua New Guinea added to his OBE by awarding him its 30th Anniversary Commemorative Medal in 2005 and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Centenary Medal in 2008.

Fred retired from ITI in 1985 but continued to undertake consulting work in Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Fiji.

His close involvement with the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) began in 1972 and continues to this day. He served as honorary secretary as well as editor of the Association’s journal, Una Voce, until 1989.

He signed off the October 1981 newsletter with a message he could authentically offer: “Remember when you are fed up, tired and wondering whether it’s worth it – many clouds do have a silver lining, and the sun will shine tomorrow.”

In 2001 Fred and Mrs Roma Bates were appointed PNGAA patrons “in recognition of your distinguished service to the community, to Papua New Guinea, and in particular to our Association.” Governor-General, Major General Philip Michael Jeffery, joined them as patrons in 2003.

Fred’s family, friends and acquaintances look back over the last 56 years with wonder and amazement. Despite his injuries and constant pain, his enthusiasm was contagious. Fred spread happiness and encouragement wherever he was.

The members of Spinal Injuries Unit of Royal North Shore Hospital - doctors John Grant AO, John Yeo AO and Dr Sue Rutowski, matron-in-charge Nancy Joyce and nurses Barbara Hoefnagels and Susie Hirst - became life-long friends.

Soon after leaving hospital, Fred was adding the challenges of the wider community to his endeavours.

Among his other activities, he was International Commissioner representing PNG with the Scout Association of Australia (1966-1972); a Trustee of Airmen’s Memorial Foundation of PNG and a board member since its inception in 1969; a Member of Australia Council on New Guinea Affairs (1968-1975); Deputy Chair of the Organising Committee for the Far Eastern and South Pacific Games for the Disabled held in Sydney in 1974; and a director of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW (ParaQuad) from 1966 and Vice President from 1975 to 1998.

Fred was also Pacific Area Consultant for the Commonwealth Council on Educational Administration (1976-1999); Chair of the Spinal Research Foundation (1991-2004) and a Director from 1977 to 1991; a member of the Committee of Management of Physical Disability Council of NSW (1994-1999); a director of the Spinesafe Education Program (now Youthsafe) (1995-1999); and a member of the Educational Advisory Committee for Spinal Injuries at the NSW College of Nursing.

In his own Sydney suburb he was a member of three of Mosman Council’s Community Advisory Groups (1995-2009) and the Australian College of Education invited him to become a Fellow in 1980 and Life Member in 2002. He has been awarded life membership by the ParaQuad Association of NSW, the Papua New Guinea Association, Sydney High School Old Boys Union and Mosman Returned Servicemen's Club. And he has received Rotary's Shine on Award for outstanding support to other people with a disability.

That is a considerable array of success, commitment and achievement, but 2000 may have been the standout year. The Governor-General awarded Fred the Australian Sports Medal and he was selected to be a Paralympic Games torchbearer to carry the flame from a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra to Sydney.

Brown 10 Fred & Gaynor
Fred and Gaynor with Phil and Robin White, National Archives, Canberra, 2010. Robin is the daughter of the late District Commissioner Jack Emanuel (Andrea Williams)

Fred thrilled the crowd when, instead of driving his wheelchair directly down Miller Street, North Sydney, as instructed, he made a complete circuit of the huge Victoria Cross intersection before passing the flame to the next bearer.

Fred Kaad has used his 100 years to great effect in the benefit of mankind. It has not been a century without personal hardship and tragedy but it been a life of remarkable achievement and contribution.

All of us who have known Fred Kaad – and that is a heck of a lot of us - thank him for being in our lives and wish him a glorious and happy 100th birthday.


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Wendy Jaensch

Congratulations to an amazing man. My mother, Betty Jaensch, always admired Mr Kaad. He has been a part of the family memory of our beloved father, Ray Jaensch.

Jenny Meares [Felton]

Dear Fred, happy 100th birthday. What an achievement.

Fred, I met you in C1, Royal North Shore Hospital, in September 1964. It was in the middle of the night and I was there to give you respiratory physiotherapy.

You have always stayed in my mind as a remarkable person. I last saw you when you came to my home in Neutral Bay to wish me well for my wedding on 30 June 1967.

Despite being 76 I am still treating patients and recently a 97 year old Fort Street boy mentioned he tackled you in a rugby match 80 years ago.

It brought back special memories for me and I consequently found this wonderful article.

You have lived an amazing life and have contributed so much to so many people.

I feel very privileged to have known you.

With my very best wishes.

Graham Bowden

Congratulations Fred on reaching an enormous milestone., and much love to Gaynor.

Your erstwhile next-door neighbours, Graham, Margaret, William and David Bowden.

Paul Oates

Congratulations Fred from another liklik kiap at ASOPA in 1969. It may be 51 years ago but I'll never forget our first day when we saw you enter the classroom with your sideburns, brick red face and piecing eyes that challenged us all as to why we thought we had the unmitigated audacity to think we could possibly become kiaps.

Great write up Bill.

Lindsay F Bond

Fred's Oro Province connection is also recalled in the 'notes' part of "Fifty shades of Kiap: of stayers, players & ne’er-do-wells" by Bill Brown in 2012.
Matters from (Mount Lamington) Sumbiripa eruption in 1951, are 'well' etched into pages of history, for so many lives lost, for persons courageous in uncertain tasks, and for the likes of Fred, whom it seems, exuded authority and yet astutely.
Right, right from 1943, eh, Fred?

Ross Wilkinson

Happy Birthday Fred. Great achievement by a great man.

I still remember your lectures at ASOPA being taken in by this wide-eyed young apprentice kiap.

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