Malnutrition: What you need to know and do
A cultural setback

Rose Kekedo’s string of firsts

Rose kekedo
Dame Rose Kekedo

| Ples Singsing | Edited

Dame Rose Kekedo by Eric Johns, pamphlet, Famous People of PNG series, 27 pages. Pearson & Longman Publisher, South Melbourne, Australia, 1 January 2002, ISBN-10: 0733933300. Available on Amazon for US$39.99 at this link

WAIGANI – This is a short biography of Dame Rose Violet Kekedo (1942-2005), the first Papua New Guinean first woman to venture into fields and roles that had been traditionally reserved for men.

Like her mother, Dame Mary Kekedo, she was knighted for her services to the government and people of PNG before and after independence.

Rose Kekedo coverThe author, Eric Johns, begins by telling the story of Dame Rose’s family background and how Mary was determined for Rose and her brother Roland to have a good education.

Dame Rose was born in Abau District in Central Province in 1942, the second eldest in a family of 10 children, six girls and four boys. She never married but raised three nephews and a niece.

Later the family moved to Kokoda, where Dame Mary set up a school which grew to have 200 children attending including Rose and her brother. Sadly, the volcanic eruption of Mt Lamington forced the school to close.

Despite this, her parents, Mary and Walter, were determined that Rose should continue her education and sent her to St Agnes Primary School at Dokina. Rose described her two years there as the loneliest of her life.

Eventually, as conditions got better, she returned to Kokoda to complete her education. Her grades were good and her parents sent her to attend the government intermediate school at Popondetta. Here she completed a teacher training course at the age of 13.

In 1956, Rose won a scholarship to study at the Good Samaritan College to complete her secondary education. This was made possible by a special scheme for 20 PNG students each year to study in Australia.

Upon returning from Queensland, Rose undertook a further teacher training course at Port Moresby Teachers’ College and gained a Diploma in School Administration. In 1967 she entered public life as the first woman to represent PNG at the United Nations in New York.

In 1968, at Madang Teachers College, she was the first Papua New Guinean woman to hold a permanent lecturer’s position.

Rose studied at the University of Northern Colorado in the USA from which she graduated in 1972, one of few Papua New Guineans at the time with a tertiary degree.

There were to be many other firsts. Rose was the first female principal of Port Moresby Teachers College in 1974, the first female head of the Department of Community and Family Services in 1980, the first female head for the Department of Labour in 1983 and the first female chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea in 1996.

It’s interesting to see how the author recounts Dame Rose’s story during the colonial period in PNG. In 1955, Paul Hasluck, Australia’s minister for external territories, had decided secondary education would not expand in PNG until more primary schools were built.

Girls comprised only 20% of students in primary school and very few entered secondary school. Rose was fortunate to be one of the very few girls who did. The rapid changes occurring in the education system through the 1960s contributed to her journey.

This good fortune gave her the drive to work hard in her later professional career and to help and encourage girls and young women to do the same. Rose was committed to working towards the welfare of the needy and continued to advocate and encourage girls and women to aspire in their personal and professional life.

Rose was a respected leader who abided by the rules and expectations of the public offices she held. But her achievements in traditionally male areas of government service did not come without challenges.

In 1990, she accepted an invitation to join Steamships Pty Ltd as controller of personnel, the first Papua New Guinean woman to hold a senior management position in the private sector.

In 1995, Rose’s service and hard work were recognised when she was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, becoming the second woman in her family to be so honoured.

Her mother Dame Mary Kekedo had been knighted in 1987 for her work in educating and supporting the people in Kokoda. The family is indeed remarkable. Rose’s sister Jean graduated from the Adelaide University also became well known for her work with corporate and government organisations.

Eric John’s form of short biography is highly recommended for upper primary and secondary school children and college and university students. This book is also a useful reference for anyone interested in PNG history, especially about remarkable women.

It will surely inspire young Papua New Guinean women in their personal and professional lives to reach for the stars and learn that even when they fall short, there is always a way to move forward. Dame Rose Kekedo is an amazing role model for young PNG girls and women.


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Daniel Doyle

Rose was also the first Papua New Guinean principal of Port Moresby Teachers College, not just the first female.

Albert Schram

Truly impressive achievements by Dame Mary Kekedo and Dame Rose Kekedo. The mother set up a school, the daughter graduated in the USA and became a lecturer. UNITECH rightly named a building after her.

The younger sister Jean, however, never graduated. She got a pilot's license, and I believe that's what she should have stuck to.

Instead, Jean got involved in public service. In working with her at UNITECH - where Jean was Chancellor - my experience was that she lacked a proper understanding of her role in governance, and left chaos and conflict in her wake as politics and xenophobia emerged.

Let's reflect. We need to move away from reverence of traditional leaders and the hereditary monarchical principle. We must allow competence and merit to prevail. We need to create institutions which appoint and operate only on merit.

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