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The amazing Fred Kaad OBE dies at 100

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


SYDNEY - Fred Kaad, who died early this morning aged 100, was an inspiration. He experienced triumph and tragedy and served humanity in war and peace, in good times and bad. He has never failed or faded on this journey.

Frederick Peter Christian Kaad OBE was born in Sydney on 12 September 1920 and he was always a leader and a competitor.

These traits were honed at school between 1937 and 1939 when he represented Sydney Boys High in athletics, rowing and rugby union.

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

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

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

On 4 August 1940, aged 19, he enlisted as N74666. Gunner Kaad was deployed to the coastal artillery battery at Signal Head Fort near the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

In Australia at that time the war still felt far away and, realising Fred’s sporting prowess, the Army thought Fred would be a valuable asset to help Army win the inter-service competitions against the Navy and the Air Force.

But then Japan bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and the war moved rapidly 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, not revealing he had previously served in the CMF nor that he had been discharged medically unfit.

SS Taroona, which ran the Bass Strait service between Melbourne and Tasmania 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.

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

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 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 by a small detachment of police, Fred conducted two solo patrols in Papua's Northern Division. His task was to restore the 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.

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."

Fred was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 24 February 1945

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, the Army released Fred to 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, 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 office secretaries.

They had spent 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.

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

Apart from his finding 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 Fred got to know him well.

Fred also renewed his 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.

On 21 January 1951, Fred had just returned from leave in Australia when Mount Lamington savagely exploded, the eruption killing more than 3,000 people and causing a swathe of destruction across 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, he 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.

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

It was here in 1955 that 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.

The film was later released in the United States under the title Walk into Hell.

Walk into Paradise preserved a vital segment of Papua New Guinea’s colonial history and introduced worldwide movie audiences to a glimpse of this remote land.

It included 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.

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 Fred to take over the Maprik Sub-district and he 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

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

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. A peaceful life disrupted by a shocking incident in January 1957 when 19 villagers – men, women, and children – were murdered 50 kilometers north of Telefomin.

This terrible event attracted the attention of the international press, which angered bureaucrats in Canberra who same their mission as suppressing bad news coming out of Papua New Guinea.

But life was not all tough and challenging. Unloading their new-fangled record player and LP records, Fred and June introduced Wewak to loud recorded music including Shirley Bassey.

June established the staid Sepik Club’s Saturday dances 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.

It came as a surprise to many people when the Administrator of the then Territory bypassed a number of more senior officers and appointed Fred to replace Elliott-Smith.

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

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 his 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 was also 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, also with the University of Queensland.

In 1962, he became secretary to the Select Committee on Political Development. Its historic report resulted in the introduction of elections for all and the first House of Assembly in early 1964.

Assistant Administrator Dr John Gunther referred to Fred as “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.

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.

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

Fred - The twisted wreckage of the crashed Dornier (Kaad Family Album)
The twisted wreckage of the crashed Dornier, September 1964 (Kaad Family Album)

On 3 September 1964, Fred 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.

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 travel to Canberra to attend a seminar on Papua New Guinea. Fred concluded his presentation saying, “One day I will get back as a District Commissioner. I am like MacArthur. I shall return.”

Following Fred’s discharge from hospital, the PNG Administration advised it would appoint him to lecture at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney.

He also travelled around Australia to interview applicants for employment in PNG and visited the then Territory a couple of times a year for conferences and consultations.

In 1971, after completing a Diploma in Educational Administration he had started in hospital, Fred undertook a full year as a residential student at the University of New England to obtain a master's degree.

Fred and Gaynor  1971 (Kaad Family Album)
Fred and Gaynor,  1971 (Kaad Family Album)

He was the first student in a wheelchair to permanently study and live 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 Fred’s life, June, passed away 27 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 and graduating in 1973 as a Master of Educational Administration with Honours.

Fred continued as a lecturer and course director when ASOPA transitioned into the International Training Institute (ITI) in 1973 after Australia granted self-government to PNG. His students now came from the developing countries from the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean as well as PNG.

In 1980, on the recommendation of the PNG 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 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 PNG, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Fiji.

His close involvement with the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) began in 1972 and continued until just before his death. 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 the late Philip Michael Jeffery, joined them as patrons in 2003.

Fred’s family, friends and acquaintances look over his life with wonder and amazement. Despite injuries and constant pain, his enthusiasm was contagious. He 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 his lifelong 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 was 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.

Fred and Gaynor with Phil and Robin White  National Archives  Canberra  2010 (Andrea Williams)
Fred and Gaynor with Phil and Robin White,  National Archives Canberra,  2010 (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 used his 100 years to great effect in the benefit of mankind.

It was not without personal hardship and tragedy but it was a life of remarkable achievement and contribution.

All of us who knew Fred Kaad honour him and his achievements and will remember him as a great Australian.


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Ross Wilkinson

Like Paul, I met Fred at ASOPA in 1968 when I was training to become a kiap.

Our group was introduced to this man in a wheelchair who was in obvious pain from time to time. We were told he was a District Commissioner who had been seriously injured in a plane crash.

We spent four months with him telling us what to expect and how to behave but we probably didn’t really get to know him except to recognise his passion for the job.

I never again met Fred but met those who had worked with him and one who was in the plane with him when it crashed.

Joining the PNGAA after returning to Australia I read occasional articles about Fred’s continuing thirst for work and some of his achievements.

But it was on this and the Ex-Kiap site in recent years that his friend and fellow District Commissioner, Bill Brown, began to write about Fred’s life, milestones and achievements and we really got to know who Fred Kaad was.

In recent years I had begun a kiap-related historical project that entailed reading all available patrol reports. His early reports were written with a passion that showed and were favourably commented on by his senior officers.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain for more than half his life, Fred showed what can be achieved by a positive attitude and determination.

Rest in Peace.

Chips Mackellar

Farewell, Fred, until we meet again, in that Big Patrol Post in the Sky.

There's a Patrol Post up there in the sky, above the sea near Lae,
Nor'Nor West of Samarai, South-East of Hansa Bay.
It has palm trees waving in the moon, where mosquitoes sting at night,
And canoes out on the blue lagoon, awaiting fish to bite.
It smells of kunai in the rain, and smoke from the valley floor,
And you'll hear the pounding surf again, on the reef beyond the shore.
It's the place where all the kiaps go, when their life on earth is through,
And they talk with all the friends they know, of the things they used to do.
They talk of all the times now past, and of places far away,
And of all the memories that last, of Independence Day.
They talk of sights and sounds and smells, and of people they all knew,
Of bugle calls and mission bells, of garamut and kundu,
Of days gone by in Samarai, and windswept coral cays,
Of tribal fights and freezing nights, and misty Highland days,
Of black-palm floors and tidal bores, and life on the River Fly,
The Kavieng Club and the Bottom Pub, with a thirst you couldn't buy,
Of carrier loads and Highland roads, at the time when we were there,
And of bailer-shell pearls and Trobriand girls, with flowers in their hair.
And when we say goodbye to you, don't mourn us when we go,
For the BIG D.C. will call us too, and this of course we know.
That Last Patrol will take us all, along that well worn track,
But the difference with this final call, is that we won't be coming back.
And our parting should not cause you pain. It's not sad for us to die,
For we shall all soon meet again, in that Patrol Post in the Sky.

Chips Mackellar

Bob Cleland

Vale Fred Kaad.

The encouragement and advice Fred gave me (a Cadet Patrol Officer) in !953 played a significant part in the building and opening of Daulo Pass.

We've been close friends ever since.

Jane Cush

Freddy and June were long time family friends.

Freddy never let his ‘disability’ get in the way of fun, curiosity about life and embracing experiences that would enrich his life.

He couldn’t have done it without firstly his wife, then his selfless daughter Gaynor. Fond farewell Freddy.

Paul Hopper

Wonderful man.

Paul Oates

At a time when many young people are desperate to find suitable role models, Fred Kaad would be a shining light.

No doubt others will be able to give a more comprehensive eulogy but the memory of meeting Fred for the first time on my first day at ASOPA, 52 years ago, is indelibly etched in my mind. Fred had a presence that could be felt by those around him.

Thanks for the memories.

Chris Overland

A truly remarkable life, full of achievement, much in the face of adversity.

Vale Fred Kaad, a great Australian.

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