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Sir Peter Barter, great figure in PNG, dies at 82

'Three times a year from 1998 to 2013, I travelled from Mt Hagen to Madang for meetings of the University Council, where I associated with Sir Peter. Quite often several of us would be lodged at his Madang Resort. I only have good memories of those times'

Peter Barter and Sir Michael Somare
Sir Peter Barter and Sir Michael Somare at a Divine Word University function in Madang (Garry Roche)


MAYNOOTH, IRELAND - Sir Peter Barter, 82, who passed away in Cairns after a short illness on Wednesday 22 June, was well known and respected as a politician and businessman.

It is widely acknowledged that he achieved much in his time especially for both Madang Town and Madang Province.

Certainly the Peter Barter I knew was a good man.

Sir Peter Leslie Charles Barter GCL OBE was born in Australia but later became a naturalised Papua New Guinean citizen.

He attended Newington College in Sydney before training as a pilot and flying for Qantas Airways.

He established, owned and operated the popular Madang Resort and, as early as 1980, created the Melanesian Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which invested in remote communities that had shown great hospitality to tourists and other visitors.

Sir Peter was elected Governor of Madang Province in 1997, serving a five year term.

In 2001, he was knighted for his services to PNG and the tourism industry.

While in parliament he also served as Minister for Health and Minister for Bougainville Affairs.

In this latter role, he played an active and fruitful part in the process of reconciliation following the Bougainville civil war of the 1990s. He was highly regarded and trusted by both sides.

In addition to his political and business activities, Sir Peter was a long-serving member of the Governing Council of Divine Word University (DWU) in Madang.

It was through my own involvement over many years on the University Council that I got to know him.

About three times each year between 1998 and 2013, I travelled from Mt Hagen to Madang for meetings of the Council, and was pleased to associate with Sir Peter at these meetings.

Quite often, if there was no accommodation available on the university campus, several of us Council members would be lodged at Sir Peter’s Madang Resort.

I only have good memories of those times.

Peter BarterSir Peter rarely missed a Council meeting and he genuinely seemed to enjoy the opportunity of mixing with people from different backgrounds and discussing matters relating to education and the university itself.

The Council included people from industry and the academic world, and from different faith backgrounds, not only Catholic but also from the Lutheran, Anglican and United churches.

Sir Peter participated in Council meetings in a polite and serious way and his contributions were always worthwhile.

He never tried to browbeat or be officious. I would describe him as being genuinely humble in his contributions to our meetings.

So I only have very good memories of Sir Peter.

My condolence goes to his family members.

You can all be so very proud of the late Sir Peter Barter.


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Jim Moore

Certainly Michael, make whatever use you want of the article.

Anything that helps people realise Sir Peter's contribution to PNG should be welcomed.

Michael Dom | Ples Singsing

Agreed Garrett Roche. And if we may have Jim Moore's permission too, I believe both anecdotes will do an excellent job of revealing more about the quiet knight's philanthropic exploits and humbling humanity.

Garrett Roche

Betty Wakia, yes you can use my brief article if you so wish. I would not call it excellent. Jim Moore's contribution adds much more.

Betty Wakia

Hello Garry Roche - We at Ples Singsing would like to get your permission to reprint your excellent article in our 'Sumatin Magazine' for June 2022 (Vol.1 No.2).

Jim Moore

The most striking thing to me about Sir Peter Barter's passing is the comparative lack of comment on this site from both PNG and Australia.

I had a lot of contact with Sir Peter while working with the Madang Provincial Disaster Committee from December 2004 to March 2005 after the Manam Island volcano eruption.

He was Minister for Provincial and Local Government and his portfolio included the National Disaster and Emergency Service.

Sir Peter impressed me as one of the most driven, determined and hardworking people I have ever encountered.

He told me about his early days flying Cessnas for Divine Word Airways, the Catholic aviation service.

He said little about his commercial activities, building up the tourist business and the Madang Resort. He obviously did extremely well in this field, but did not flaunt his wealth.

On the contrary, without any doubt he put more of his own money into the Manam volcano relief effort than any other person – far more than any other politician who could have been in a position to match his contribution.

He was scrupulous in ensuring that what relief was available for Manam was distributed equitably through the various agencies (religious and secular) working in the field.

In organising his business affairs, he clearly had access to financial and other technical resources that weren’t available to the average PNG citizen.

His real skill was in harnessing the resources, skills and energy that came by him and putting them to use in a manner that benefited many PNG people.

This activity also contributed to the development of the country. Arguing about whether that was the type of development PNG needed is not really the point now.

I suspect Sir Peter's efforts were far more useful to PNG and its people than those of a great number of other 'developers'.

I heard relatively little either from him or others about his efforts to promote peace in Bougainville. He must have done a lot of unsung work there.

My dealings with him were all to do with the Manam emergency, and I have nothing but the highest respect for the honesty, energy, commitment and sense of responsibility that he showed.

Unfortunately, that drive and energy were not replicated by the bureaucracy, and it drove him to beyond distraction to see the snail pace of relief efforts.

His contribution to education, both in Madang and nationally, are very well known. He was a driving force behind the Divine Word University in Madang, and I suspect (without knowing for sure, maybe Fr Garry would know) a lot of his own money went into the establishment and operations of that institution (even though he was not of the Catholic faith).

During my stay in Madang, he took time out to go to Australia to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the Australian Catholic University.

I asked him what it was for. He was reticent to blow his own trumpet, he muttered a few words about his work on Bougainville and DWU, and that was all I heard from him about them.

Sir Peter Barter was a very good man, he may have had some faults, don’t we all, but his may be excused by saying he tried too hard rather than them being faults of character.

His abilities, his honesty, his drive and his commitment to PNG will be surely missed.

Condolences to his family.

'Te Hikoi'

I first met Sir Peter Barter and his son, Andrew Barter, when I was staying at the Madang Resort (the Resort) for six months in 2005. Through an event related to my assisting the Barters to settle an account with another group staying at the Resort, I discovered 'Team Barter' to be gifted, lateral thinkers, who were more than capable of quite literally living up to their name.

In 2005, Sir Peter was constructing a new set of waterfront dwellings at the eastern end of the Resort grounds. During that construction, the builders were unable to source the timbers they needed to continue working. After conferring with the builders' foreman, Sir Peter and Andrew Barter approached me and asked if I'd assist in brokering a contra-deal between a group of New Zealanders staying at the Resort and the builders constructing the new dwellings. The Kiwis were successfully operating a walkabout sawmill but finding it difficult to pay their bills at the Resort. The builders couldn't get the timber they needed. The Barters suggested that the Kiwis could mill the timber the builders required for the dwellings. That the Resort would pay the Kiwis PGK 'X' per cubic metre for the said timber, and that the payments for the timber would be offset against the Kiwi's Resort bill.

The Kiwis agreed. Thereafter, I met with the foreman each week and received the cutting lists with the dimensions and quantities of timber that the builders required. I delivered this list to the Kiwis, who cut the timber to spec' and then delivered the timber to the Resort. I'd then quantify the timber and deliver the information to Sir Peter's office.

Instead of a scenario emerging wherein construction ground to a halt at one end of the Resort whilst ex-pats were being evicted and litigated against at the other end of the Resort, Sir Peter and his son activated a 'Barter' system that enabled everyone's needs to be rapidly and peacefully achieved. The Kiwi's bills were being paid, the timber the builders urgently needed was being supplied, and the dwellings were being completed on schedule.

To my mind, that event stands as a testimony to the practical, strategic thinking of Sir Peter and his family. The regular contributions of which, I'm sure, will be sorely missed around Madang Province.

As most readers know, I dislike anonymous or pseudonymous contributions unless there's some compelling life-or-death reason. But I've made an exception here for 'Te Hikoi', whose reminiscence of Peter Barter is a beautiful and finely-drawn story - KJ

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