MORRISET – The man in the photograph is Brian Leonard Cooper; convicted in Papua New Guinea and jailed in Australia for sedition.
His crime? Advocating independence for the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
His fate? Suicide.
Brian Cooper was born in Melbourne in 1936 and was a cooperatives officer in the Territory’s Department of Native Affairs.
Cooper was working in Madang in September 1960 when, at a series of informal lunchtime meetings, he encouraged Papua New Guineans to demand independence.
He had previously come under official surveillance by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 1958 shortly before he left Australia for PNG.
A state police Special Branch detective observed him listening to talks by Communist Party members at Melbourne’s Yarra Bank, a traditional forum for political speakers.
Cooper was informed on following the remarks he made in Madang and charged with “exciting disaffection against the government”.
He was returned to Australia and then, on the instruction of prime minister Robert Menzies, dramatically arrested at Pyrmont in Sydney and extradited to Port Moresby for trial.
In six-centimeter capitals the Sydney Sun newspaper screamed, ‘EXTRADITED’.
At this time, the Menzies government was facing political difficulties on several fronts.
The Australian economy was in trouble, Menzies’ person popularity had collapsed and in PNG discontent was growing on a number of issues: racial discrimination; segregated schools; political censorship; and the denial of basic democratic rights.
By early 1961, disaffection in PNG sparked a mutiny of Pacific Islands Regiment soldiers in Port Moresby who assaulted their officers after six soldiers were jailed for leading demands for higher pay.
Cooper was prosecuted under Queensland’s Criminal Code for urging the natives of Papua New Guinea to demand independence from Australia.
His trial for sedition rested on dubious processes.
ASIO proffered suspicious evidence against him and he was tried without a jury and by a judge who wrongly admitted ASIO’s unproven claims of his alleged ‘Communist’ and ‘atheist’ views.
After what gave every appearance of a show trial, Cooper was convicted and sentenced to two months' imprisonment with hard labour.
His appeal against his conviction was unsuccessful.
Four years later, although by then a free man, Brian Leonard Cooper committed suicide.
The man who wanted independence for Papua New Guinea should be remembered.
Source: WR Stent, ‘An Individual vs the State’, Overland, vol 79, 1980