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Death of another PNG independence great

Sir jerry nalau
Sir Jerry Nalau was part the small group that accelerated PNG independence and provided the political skills the country required


NOOSA - Sir Jerry Kasip Nalau has died in Lae aged 83 just two months after the death of his great friend and Bully Beef Club comrade, Sir Michael Somare.

Nalau and Somare met while attending Dregerhafen High School in Finschhafen in the early 1950s. Somare was in the year ahead of him.

The friendship they forged eventually brought them together again in an important moment in Papua New Guinea’s journey to independence.

Nalau was a member of the Bully Beef Club, the small group that accelerated independence and provided the political skills the country required.

He was one of PNG’s first indigenous patrol officers and, in 1973, became one of its first district commissioners.

He spent a career in public service, being for a time premier of Morobe Province, and was knighted in 2008 for services to public administration, politics and the community.

After Somare’s death on 26 February, Nalau told The National newspaper of those early days at Dregerhafen.

He recalled that Somare “was confident and outspoken compared to us village boys. He was our school soccer team captain but would hardly kick the ball.

“He would run around in the field shouting and directing us the whole time. We’d tell him to talk less so we could hear the referee.”

Nalau and Somare met again in 1965 at the Administrative College in Port Moresby where they were among a group of talented young Papua New Guinean public servants being groomed for senior administrative positions.

Nalau recalled:

“This is where the idea of early self-government and independence started.

"This is where our bond became even stronger. Most of us were patrol officers and Somare was a journalist.

“After college, we were posted to strategic posts around the country, based on our physique and our level of confidence.

“We became like feeders. We would observe from our posts and feed Somare (in Port Moresby) with information; just basic research and maneuvering people’s minds towards the idea of independence.”

Jerry Nalau when District Commissioner in Simbu  Independence Day  1975 (James Sinclair)
Jerry Nalau when District Commissioner in Simbu,  Independence Day,  1975 (James Sinclair)

By the time independence arrived in 1975, Nalau was already well experienced, having served several years in the political hot spots of Bougainville and Rabaul before being posted to Chimbu Province as district commissioner in 1973.

On the eve of Independence Day in 2014, journalist Scott Waide interviewed him for My Land, My Country.

Nalau told him the story of how, in 1973, then chief minister Somare told him he was to be transferred to Kundiawa.

Nalau recalled his initial reluctance to be posted to Chimbu Province:

“Somare said to me, ‘I want you to go to the highlands’. And I said, ‘Somare, I’m not the only one! What about the others?’

“Somare responded, ‘You go to the highlands because you Finschhafens took the Word of God to the highlands calling God’s name, Anutu. Anutu. Anutu. I think if you go, they will respect you.”

Nalau told Waide that Somare had promised him he could have whatever he asked for if he agreed to take the highlands assignment.

So, Waide records, on the eve of independence in September 1975, Prince Charles, representing Queen Elizabeth II, was due to visit PNG for the handover of power from Australia to the new nation.

And Nalau had a request:

“According to the Prince’s itinerary, he was to travel to Manus and Wewak then onward to Goroka. Then drive through Simbu and then rest in Mt Hagen.

Sir Jerry Nalau looks at old photos of him and Michael Somare (Gloria Bauai)
Sir Jerry Nalau two months ago, looking through old photos of himself and Michael Somare (Gloria Bauai)

“I called Somare and I said: ‘Somare, do you remember what you said? You sent me from Bougainville to Simbu and you promised you would give me whatever I wanted.

“So I have a small request. I want Prince Charles to sleep in Kundiawa instead of going straight to Hagen.”

“Somare said later, ‘Jerry, it was a problem to me but your request is granted’.”

Prince Charles rested in Kundiawa and, not only that, was part of the entourage that witnessed the crowning of the winner of a Simbu beauty pageant.

Sir Jerry Nalau, a man who got things done, is survived by six children, 21 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


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Bill Brown MBE

Jerry Kasip Nalau. What a man!

Jerry was a gentle giant by any standard but certainly a colossus in Papua New Guinea.

He was a patrol officer with me at Maprik for some months at the end of 1963, and then I transferred him to Yangoru Patrol Post as OIC - with John Dagge to give a hand if needed.

On one occasion, when Jerry was showing a VIP around the station, there was a brawl or somesuch with someone screaming obscenities. Jerry snuck away, leaving the VIP with Daggge, and the screaming stopped.

When asked what had stopped the screaming, Jerry replied, "I thumped him." The moral: You can only provoke a gentle giant so far. (Ask John Dagge if you want to know the details.)

Jerry Kasip Nalau joined me in Bougainville in 1973. Promoted to Deputy District Commissioner in August, he took over the Chimbu District from Laurie Doolan at the end of 1973. The gentle giant was on the move and never stopped climbing.

RIP, old friend.

Ross Wilkinson

I echo Bob's comments about what a wonderful person Jerry Nalau was in all respects. He showed tremendous loyalty to all his staff regardless of their nationality.

My wife, Louise, was born in ANGAU Hospital when her father was flying out of Lae.

As soon as Jerry found out he made Louise feel immediately at ease when he dubbed her a "Morobe meri" and claimed her as a wantok.

He will be missed by many.

Bob Patterson

I served under Jerry Nalau in Kundiawa and Madang. A finer man you would never meet, a true gentleman and an inspiration to expats and nationals alike.

Judy Warrillow

A tall man of great physical stature, quietly spoken.

He was humble enough to suck bad blood out of my mum's foot due to snake bite. I was small and can't recall everything but he relayed the story to Bill Brown who told my husband, Chris Warrillow.

My dad never forgot this giant of man who went out his way to save my mum's life.

I pray, Sir Jerry Nalau, that you rest in peace.

Geoffrey Hancock

Papua New Guinea has lost two great Morobe men who both made substantial contributions to the sport of basketball as players and administrators, with the passing of Sir Jerry Nalau and recently Noah Giali. R.I.P.

Daniel Kumbon

"When a great tree falls in the forest, trees on other mountain tops would also fall, the shock and reverberations felt for miles around" - Old Engan saying.

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