EAST Sepik Governor Allan Bird says that the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare had a level of tolerance for differing views that was profound.
“He was unique (and) he stood apart,” Bird said in his tribute to Sir Michael.
Bird recalled a time when Sir Michael was called a “stranger” in 2012 during a Parliament sitting after Sir Michael was removed as prime minister.
“He (Sir Michael) stood in front of several MPs who wanted to fight and urged them not to. He forgave them,” Bird said.
Bird also recalled a time in 2015 at a dinner hosted by Sir Michael. Some young East Sepik people confronted Sir Michael and asked: “Father, you will soon retire but our country is in ruins. Are you also thinking of us?”
Bird said Sir Michael calmly responded by saying: “I know that a lot of Sepik people are not happy with me for not doing a lot of things in our place. But this is not our way of doing things. You all need to understand that when I became prime minster I must also think of the people on the islands, the people on the coastal areas, the people who live on the mountains and by the river side. It is not only we Sepiks that make up PNG.”
Bird said he had goose-bumps when he heard Sir Michael’s response.
“He built no solid infrastructure and yet he stitched together a nation of many tribes through the sheer power of his charisma,” Bird said.
“Such was the heart of the man that he saw beyond his own clan, tribe and province. He saw the entire country before it was a country.
“We are so privileged that Lady Veronica, Betha, Sana, Arthur, Michael, Dulciana and the grandchildren shared him with us. Your generosity gave the entire nation a father and grandfather. Thank you for his life.
“We are richer, better, confident and bold because we had in our lifetime someone such as Sir Michael Somare. A man who saw what others did not and he stood in front of the canoe and pointed out the path for us. Because of him, we are able to dream of a better tomorrow.
“When the country needed a vision, he provided it. From a tiny strip of land bordered by sea on one side and mangroves on the other, from Murik, Somare came. And we are better for it,” he said.
“Two hundred years from now, Papua New Guineans will remember him and they will speak his name with reverence and pride. For when they needed a father, he stepped up and birthed a nation.”
Bird said Sir Michael had left a dream of a united, strong and prosperous country.
“Today we grieve for him. Tomorrow we must honour his legacy and continue to build the country he dreamed of and spent most of his life serving. Farewell Tunga. You have served well. Now rest, draw down your canoe, paddle out and fish with your ancestors. We will remember you.”
Political rivals at times but friends to the end, says Sir Julius Chan
SPANNING over 50 years, the friendship between Sir Julius Chan and Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare went beyond political lines and was of mutual respect and appreciation.
Born into a Tolai environment, but raised as a man from East Sepik, Sir Michael was taught to respect but was charismatic.
“Sir Michael was born in that environment, he was able to pull the two forces together (East New Britain and East Sepik),” Sir Julius said.
“I want to add my voice to what I know is already a chorus of voices acknowledging and confirming the pivotal and influential role played by the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare in the history of Papua New Guinea.
“Who could have foreseen that the birth of a child on April 9, 1936, in Rabaul was the beginning of a journey that would not only carry Sir Michael through a tumultuous and exciting life, but would also lead to the birth of a new nation, a diverse nation of a thousand tribes, unlike any other nation ever born in the history of the world.”
Last September (2020) during the country’s 45th Independence celebrations Sir Michael attended the opening of the Legislative Assembly in Kavieng, New Ireland province. Sir Michael spent a couple of nights in Kavieng.
When Sir Michael arrived at the airport to leave Kavieng on Sept 17, Sir Julius held his hand and walked with him to the airplane, carefully holding onto him and sharing a joke. There was a hug, and Sir Michael boarded. He tipped his hat at Sir Julius smiled at him and he went into the plane.
When Sir Julius turned, there was a look on his face that didn’t need words, for that was the last time Sir Michael visited New Ireland.
New Ireland is the province Sir Michael arrived to as a young teacher straight out of Sogeri National High School.
He taught at the province’s oldest school Utu Secondary School in 1956.
His old home is now the school library, the road to the dormitories and staff homes is now known as the Sir Michael Somare Road which Sir Michael opened himself.
Sir Julius when asked on what he remembered, said that there was one thing he remembered of Sir Michael was that he was jovial, confident, but represented the people of Papua New Guinea at a time Australia was still in charge of the country.
Going back 53 years ago Sir Julius recalled both he and Sir Michael being elected back to the Second House of Assembly in 1968.
“I remember those early days very well. They were days of adventure, days of daring dreams, days when it seemed we could do almost anything we dreamed of doing. It was a small group in those first days, a small group of dreamers. It included Sir Michael and myself, Sir John Guise, Sir Albert Maori Kiki, Sir John Kaputin and just a few others.
“And we both shared what seemed at first like a fantastic dream – that the territories of Papua and New Guinea should come together. And not only come together, but as an independent country, a member of the World of Nations, standing on our own two feet, equal to any in the world.
“The first government of Papua New Guinea was the best, we had the country at heart and we did not deviate at all by power plays.
“The period of self-government right through as I served as Finance Minister for five years, the first minister for internal finance before Independence, Australia maintained rule, we were not able to do anything outside of the Australia control. I was only responsible for internal matters, it didn’t matter we were learning all the time.
“The toughest period for Sir Michael and I would have been the constant dialogue with our Australian counterparts prior to Independence.
“There was also changing times in Australia, we were able to talk about process to self-governance and independence, and we had set up the Central Bank with the assistance of Australia, set up our own currency, and become a member of international organisations,” Sir Julius said.
“We had after hours talk with agendas open subject to Australian government.”
The Prime Minister of Australia at the time, Gough Whitlam, was tough to deal with, says Sir Julius.
“One day we travelled together to Australia and went to the Kiribilli House, the PM’s residence in Sydney.
“We all dressed up and we arrived at the residence, Australia is a completely new world, we were Kanakas from PNG, we waited for Whitlam, and he kept us waiting for over an hour.
“At that time, the Concord was known as the fastest plane and Whitlam was testing the flight, Sir Albert Maori Kiki pulled us aside and told us to leave.”
“Sir Michael was patient and said let’s wait and see what would happen, we had the session with Whitlam, and this tested Sir Michael’s will.”
Sir Julius said: “Generally speaking working on policy and establishment of various institutions we never seemed to have any problem, Sir Michael and I we were personal friends and we meet each other after hours, of course we didn’t behave like politicians of today where they are busy always busy, we always spoke after hours.
“The get together pacified the tensions that often arose when you run the country.”
He remembers following the third House of Assembly elections in 1972 when they formed Government. Sir Michael and Pangu joined with the People’s Progress Party (PPP) to form a partnership that would take the country to Independence. Sir Michael headed Government, became Chief Minister with self-government in 1973, and Sir J served as Minister for Internal Finance.
“The one time I saw Sir Michael cry was when we the Peoples Progress Party left the coalition party because several portfolios were cut from PPP,” Sir Julius said.
“The whole PPP (in the history of this country), PPP left the Government biggest split ever in the country’s history of politics, nowadays they just jump from one party to another, in those days we had principle.
“I saw Sir Michael weep when we left him when that happened, Sir Michael did not want us to go, but that was politics.”
Sir Michael was the captain of the ship, with a great crew by his side he maneuvered through uncharted waters. He had to keep a country of a thousand tribes united, even though some parts of the country were adamant on breaking away.
“We knew that if our country split apart – if our country became the country of Papua, the country of New Guinea and the country of Bougainville, we would be lost. We needed each other. If we were divided we would have been much weaker. Papua New Guinea can never repay the debt we owe to Sir Michael Somare.”
“ Accountability, humility and passion sit at the centre of any kind of success.” – Sir Michael