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Sir Paulias Matane, an outstanding leader, dies at 90

Paulias Matane
Sir Paulias Matane - "Never let go of his humble roots"

| The Pacific Newsroom

FINSCHHAFEN - Very sad news this morning on the passing of Sir Paulias Matane, a truly great human being.

My mind goes back to the last interview I did with him. It was after he had retired as Papua New Guinea's Governor General.

We met him still living in the same humble home across the road from the school where he first worked as a teacher. This was the first thing that struck me.

How he had reached the highest position in our land as the Queen’s representative, but had never let go of his humble roots. No fancy house. Still living the village life.

He insisted his wife must sit beside him for the entire interview. This was the second thing that struck.

How much he acknowledged his wife being part of his achievements; the strength and security she gave him and the bond of their lifelong partnership.

And finally, I will never forget his words when I asked him to give some advice to young Papua New Guineans.

He repeated several times in that interview, "Set your goals, make your plan and then do it - with commitment, perseverance and total honesty."

‘Commitment, perseverance and total honesty’ has become a mantra for me too, thanks to this advice.

He was this nation's true great servant leader, our most published writer and he remained grounded and uncompromising to the very end.

Current and future generations of this nation need to know about and emulate this great man. If his example is followed then Papua New Guinea will reach its full potential.

Rest in Eternal Peace, Sir Paulias Matane.


Sir Paulias Matane: governor-general, educationist, diplomat & author

Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Paulias Matane, then PNG Governor-General, share a joke at Buckingham Palace, October 2004

| A profile written to mark Sir Paulias’s
90th birthday on 21 September 2021

NOOSA – Sir Paulias Nguna Matane - author, educator, diplomat and former governor-general - turns 90 today, which is a grand age anywhere in the world.

Sir Paulias was born in East New Britain and educated at Toma Village School, Keravat High School and, in 1956, Sogeri Teachers College.

A highly effective teacher, he was given rapid promotion to inspector of schools and, around the time of PNG independence in 1975, he was appointed national director of education.

His popular memoir, ‘My Childhood in New Guinea, which tells of his early life, has been on the school curriculum since the 1970s.

Sir Paulias has been a prolific author with 44 books to his name, many of them written in straightforward English to enable Papua New Guineans, who had only the most elementary schooling, to read them.

He was PNG’s first ambassador to the United States in 1975-76 and ambassador to the United Nations from 1975-79, where he served a term as vice-president of the General Assembly.

In the mid-1980s he headed PNG’s foreign affairs department, taking a special interest in the country’s relationships with Australia and Indonesia.

In 2004, parliament elected Sir Paulias as PNG’s eighth governor-general and he was vested by Queen Elizabeth II in October 2004. He was to serve a second term from 2010, but the supreme court ruled this unconstitutional.

He led a very active retirement telling PNG Attitude in 2008, that, “I went home and continued to work hard for communities, wrote books, weekly columns for one of our dailies, produced weekly EMTV Chit Chats, and travelled the world.”

Not only did Sir Paulias write books, he encouraged other Papua New Guineans to do the same.

“Due to my encouragement, 32 people have had their first books published here and overseas. Five have written their second books. This shows me that there are capable people here who can write.”

In 2011, when the Crocodile Prize was established, Sir Paulias told PNG Attitude that “as a passionate proponent of PNG literature, I welcome it warmly.

“I urge my Papua New Guinean sisters and brothers to ‘write, write, write!’

“We need to have more writers and more readers in our country,” he said. “Our nation has a rich oral tradition which has slowly extended into the written form.

“We want PNG to have a flourishing literature; we want creative and bold writers; and we want the means to publish their work.”

My childhoodIn 2014, Sir Paulias received an award for his lifetime contribution to PNG literature as part of the Crocodile Prize.

Sir Paulias has been much decorated for his outstanding service to his country and throughout his long life has been a faithful member of the United Church.

His wife, Lady Kaludia Matane, who also served PNG with great distinction, died in 2016.


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Richard Jackson

Extraordinary man, Sir Paulias, and very athletic as well as a prolific author.

In 1983 or 1984 I met him in odd circumstances. At the time I was running the forerunner of the now National Research Institute (NRI), the Institute for Applied Social and Economic Research (IASER) at Waigani.

A few months earlier I had received a request from an expatriate member of Sir Paulias's department to assign one of my junior staff to investigate what was alleged to be migration from the border villages between Kiunga and Ningerum across the border into Indonesia.

After checking the Village Directory I had pointed out to the official that there almost certainly was no such emigration to Mindiptana because the Census Unit data on which the allegation was founded was clearly wrong - a misprint.

However, he insisted and three months and a few thousand kina later the good people of Kungembit were confirmed to be all in place. The Government Printer had indeed erred.

Shortly after this, one Saturday I received a telephone call from the same officer who asked me as a matter of urgency to meet with him immediately in the department's offices in Waigani.

I went and was informed that the officer was about to go finish and he wished to donate some of his personal papers to the IASER library.

Anxious to place my bets at the Boroko bookies for the Brisbane races, I bundled them into the car and when I got home put them under my bed intending to pass them onto the IASER librarian the following Monday.

On Sunday morning, feeling lazy, I fished into the box of papers and took out the first document. I was stunned for it was a letter, a few years old, from an OPM (Free Papua Movement) operative to a very senior Highlander member of the PNG government in reference to OPM's need for greater firepower.

Drowsy no more, I skipped round to my friend and neighbour David Hegarty's house: "What should I do?"

David gave me Sir Paulias' home telephone number
and two hours later all the papers were back in their proper place inside Foreign Affairs. He did not enquire how the papers had come into my possession, although later I discovered that the donor had himself been at the airport awaiting his final flight to Cairns when I was reading the OPM correspondence.

Paulias asked me if I played squash, which I did reasonably well, I thought, and we arranged to play the following Saturday.

Unfortunately, I found myself totally out of my depth; despite his giving me a decade in age, Sir Paulias was infinitely fitter, not just a sheer ball of muscle but with enormous skill.

He ran me ragged and the score, under the old system then operating, was 9-0, 9-0, 9-0. I was not invited to play again, but he was always very gracious towards me whenever we met and no matter how elevated his position was.

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