Sir Peter Barter shall long be remembered


A tribute by
PETER Leslie Charles Barter came to fly for missionaries in the early 1960s.
He went on to fly for TALair in PNG and Qantas relatively young of and at 26 met a young teacher and radio broadcaster called Michael Thomas Somare.
The young Papua New Guinean, full of political and nationalistic fervour, impressed the young Australian and a friendship of a lifetime was forged there.
Michael entered politics in 1968 and Peter went into business, setting up his Melanesian Tourist Services.
Unbeknown to many, Melanesian Tourist Services (MTS) is also the initials of Michael Thomas Somare (MTS).
The connection is deliberate.
They did not always agree but they never let anything stand in the way of their friendship.
A few days before the Grand Chief passed away on Feb 26, 2021, Sir Peter met him and after a few words he shed tears for his friend.
Sir Michael was born in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, in 1936, Sir Peter four years later in Gosford, outside of Sydney, Australia.
Two men, one black and one white, born apart in two countries which were in an antagonistic relationship were brought together by that great arbiter, chance, to forge a friendship which is testimony to that wonderful and paradoxical character of the human person – suspicious, antagonistic, and territorial in nature and sociable, affable and conciliatory in spirit.
In their story is the story of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Sir Michael passed in February 2021 shortly after he was blessed by Cardinal Ribat and farewelled on his death bed by Sir Peter who declared he had been “blessed by an amazing man across 50 years”.
Sir Peter bid the world farewell on June 21, 2022, a man I have known across my life-time too who I too think was an amazing person.
Today, I can declare with every confidence that I have been blessed to know Sir Peter as a friend too.
I like to remember both Sir Michael and Sir Peter in that manner, in the context of the greater things for which each stood and did in their lives – friendship, charity, self rule, reconciliation, determination, courage, and faith unto death.
Let me relate a flight with Sir Peter which began in Gusap near the Ramu Sugar estate in his helicopter which looks, from a distance, like a floating bubble in the sky.
We landed in a field in the middle of nowhere.
We had run out of fuel apparently.
He shut down the engine and picked up some tools and a funnel and tube from the helicopter.
Then he walked across to a pile of grass and yanked and pulled at it.
Bewildered but feeling compelled to help, I walked across and assisted.
Beneath the pile was hidden a 44 gallon fuel drum.
How it had got there in the middle of the bush with no visible tyre marks to indicate vehicular traffic remains a mystery to me to this day.
It was certainly too heavy to have transported it there by this helicopter.
He used his tools to open the lid and then proceeded to refuel the helicopter using the funnel and tube.
Barter was not a man of many words.
While the refuelling was going on, he would look from time to time at me and give me his half smile, daring me to ask him the obvious.
I kept my counsel – until now.
How on God’s earth did he do that?
How long did he keep that fuel drum hidden there?
How did he get it there?
How did he know it would be there when he ran low on fuel halfway between Madang and Lae?
How many other fuel drums were hidden in nondescript places around Madang or Papua New Guinea?
How did he know it would not be stolen by the wandering villager or that it might have been tampered with so that it contained water rather than aviation gasoline?
The faith this man had, trusting his chopper and his life and that of his friend who is recounting this tale, to that one fuel tank in the middle of nowhere.
I suppose if you survive a life time in the rough and tumble of life in Papua New Guinea a large part of it you must trust to fate in faith.
The field we were in had been occupied by his Bruce Jeffcott, a former member for Madang, who had a big cattle ranch there and whose death had produced Sir Peter himself as member for Madang regional in 1997.
After refuelling we followed the serpentine meander of the Ramu river towards its delta, buffeted like a tossing balloon by strong headwinds hurtling inland from the Bismarck Sea.
By and by we reached the coast and he said we should circle Manam volcano which at the time was in eruption at the time.
This was the first time for me to stare into the mouth of a volcano in eruption.
The earth was on fire literally.
It was the most awesome, most fascinating and altogether frightening experience of my life.
I expected a part of the tall cone of that volcano to reach out, such as you see in Moana, the movie, and hurl us out of the sky and out of existence.
As I watched a chunk of smoking earth dislodged at the top of the volcano and rolled downward towards the sea.
The incline is almost 90 degrees so within seconds the earth crashed into the sea with a hiss and steam that I imagined I heard that far up in the sky.
We circled a bit more by which time I had my eyes firmly closed and then headed back towards Madang.
After a little while he brought the chopper to land on the deck of the Explorer, his double-hulled catamarang and locked it in place and we took the balance of the journey in the comfort of this floating hotel.
A journey to remember and now to cherish always.
He picked me up in the same chopper when I was stranded at Annaburg in Ramu once.
I called him on the health centre’s wireless phone and before I had finished the coconut I had started drinking from when I made the call, the chopper was hovering above the field.
I felt so foolish for having called this very busy man.
He was connected to all health centres in the province in this manner and on countless occasions he would perform medical evacuations of women in labour or injured and very sick people.
On another occasion, he offered me and my two children a trip up to Jayapura and enroute we took the chopper for a aerial photograph of Sissano Lagoon near Aitape after the tsunami that killed nearly 3,000 people there.
It is not a fair description to call him a naturalised citizen.
He was as much Papua New Guinean and, in many ways, more so that those of us of indigenous stock.
He loved the country.
Many of us owe allegiance and fealty to tribe and region over the nation.
His kindness, his concern and care he took with him where ever he went in private or public life.
His contribution to tourism is immeasurable.
Many thought he exploited local people.
I think exploitation is subjective and ought to be measured by those affected.
I have not had occasion to hear it from the people of Kranget or any other place where he took his tourists to for local cultural displays.
He has served as minister for health and has been an advocate for peace on Bougainville.
Barter said of his friend MTS that “his legacy will live forever and serve as an example to everyone in the future”.
I borrow his words to describe his own legacy as well.
Sir Peter will always be remembered in the hearts of those he touched and that will be very many people in this fair land.
My flag is at half mast as I bid Sir Peter Leslie Barter a fond farewell.
My condolences and those of my family and people to Sir Peter’s immediate family and the staff of the Melanesian Tourism Services.
He shall long be remembered.