By HELEN TARAWA
DECISIONS we make when we are young have consequences we can never foresee. I listened to Ray Lacey, a former Australian coastwatcher and plantation owner and the chiefs on Anir and that had made all the difference.”
These were the recollections of New Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan at his 80th birthday celebrations at the Parliament House on Aug 22, just a few days away from his actual birth date of Aug 29.
The birthday celebration was organised jointly by the office of the Speaker of Parliament, office of Mining Minister and deputy leader of People’s Progress Party (PPP) Johnson Tuke, and the family and friends of Sir Julius.
Sir Julius was born on Aug 29, 1939 on Tanga Island just before World War II.
“My mother Miriam Tinkoris was a native New Irelander. My father, Chin Pak, a Chinese migrant from Taishan, Guangdong. I was the fifth born of seven children.
“Three days later – Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II. And, of course, within another two years the war came to the Pacific when the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor.
“We felt that war in Tanga, Anir and New Ireland. I was two and a half when the Japanese invaded New Britain and New Ireland. Suddenly there were soldiers, with rifles and warships and tanks. I remember my youngest brother – just a baby – died of fright from the constant bombings nearby. And they forced us all into a labour camp in Namatanai. My father’s brother, Captain Chin Him, was put in the Duke of York camp, where he was tortured.
Family moves to Rabaul
“We sailed to Rabaul. I remember it was an Australian skipper named Robinson took us on a boat from Namatanai to Rabaul – he was the first Australian I ever saw, and he was a hero to us.
“In Rabaul the family, including uncle Chin Him, all lived together. Chin Him and my father started a small cargo carrier, shipping goods around the islands region. From an early age, I learned there is only one way to succeed. You have to work. Work hard.
“I never attended school until I was 10 or 11. I had to really work at the Rabaul Sacred Heart Catholic School. School is the first place I ever spoke English – until then I spoke only Cantonese, Tok Pisin and tokples from Susurunga.
“In early 1954, when I was just 14 my father sent me and my cousin, Joe Chan, to boarding school at Marist Brothers, Ashgrove, in Brisbane. It was a long trip to a foreign land, a trip both exciting and frightening.
“I found schoolwork tough because I had to jump from sixth grade to eighth in Australia – Scholarship Grade, when you qualified for secondary school,” he said.
Sir Julius was a sportsman, especially with a keen interest in rugby. He represented the school’s First XV for three straight years and later at Queensland University and was up for selection to the Australian Under 19s Colts to face the All Blacks.
He had an accident riding a motorbike on a rainy day in Toowong, Brisbane and was in hospital for several months and had to abandon his studies and rugby career, and returned to Rabaul.
Sir Julius applied for a position as cooperative officer in the public service in Port Moresby, where he learned basic accounting and business.
He also spent six months in cooperative training at Nasinu Teacher’s College in Fiji.
“One night I was taken to the Kone Club by an Englishman and we were asked to leave. I knew the real reason as I had experienced being kicked out of Four Mile Donga when I had first arrived.
“I made an appeal to my boss, JK McCarthy, the Director of Native Affairs. After the club refused to have me as a member, McCarthy and several others resigned their membership in protest. It still showed me that in the late 1960s things were changing. Many Australians supported Papua New Guineans having a more equal place in their own country.
“I soon returned to Rabaul to help my father in the shipping business. I had every intent of being a businessman for the rest of my life.
Sir Julius met Ray Lacey a former Australian coastwatcher and plantation owner who urged him to stand for election to the House of Assembly.
Elected into office at 29
Lacey got the local chiefs to pressure him and he was elected in 1968 at the age of 29.
“Administrator Les Johnson appointed me Minister for Internal Finance and suddenly I was in the engine room. I was the Chief Engineer keeping the Ship of State on a true course for Captain Somare.
Since PNG was UN Trust territory, we had to go to the United Nations to get endorsement for self-government. Sir David Hay, then the administrator, asked me to go to New York City. I told the UN Trusteeship Council that we were ready for self-government; soon for Independence and the world heard me and agreed.
Back in Port Moresby, I met with the Administrator Johnson who told me bluntly ‘You have a long way to go to catch up. We have to move; we have to move now’. He said the key was establishing a strong economic base. We had to create a central bank and set up a commercial banking system. I had no idea how to proceed, but that didn’t stop me.
“On December 1, 1973, PNG became a self-governing territory. Now Independence was looming, and there was still a huge amount to do,” he said.
Sir Julius put together a core group from Finance, and in less than a year they drafted the Central Bank Act, and it was passed by Parliament. They established the PNG Banking Corporation that took over the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
“We needed to become part of the international financial community. So, with a team of Harry Ritchie, the Treasurer, and Mekere Morauta, Secretary for Finance I travelled to London, Switzerland and Germany.
“We got a loan of five million Swiss Francs from the Swiss Bank Corporation. It meant we were trusted. We could tap into international financial markets. We paid in full in three years, two years earlier,” he said.
Launching the new currency before Independence was the biggest public relations challenge in history. Sir Julius set up a currency working group chaired by Henry ToRobert and including Mekere Morauta.
“Working non-stop we managed, against great opposition, to launch the kina on 19 April 1975, on the very day my fourth child was born. He was actually named by Sir John Guise and Michael Somare. That was Toea.
“People felt the Aussie dollar was the only “real” currency, so we introduced a dual based currency at first. But after six months I insisted on raising the value of the kina by five per cent against the Australian dollar. When people saw they could get more for a kina than a dollar they all became patriots. Everyone loved the kina and Australian dollars came out of hiding and were changed into kina,” he said.
Sir Julius said there were other challenges. Not everyone wanted to be a part of a new country called Papua New Guinea. Papua wanted to go its own way – Papua Besena, under the leadership of Josephine Abaijah, wanted a separate Papua. The Mataungan Association, with people like John Kaputin was talking independence. And, of course, Bougainville was already declaring independence with Dr John Momis now president of Autonomous Bougainville government in the lead.
Intact PNG becomes independent
“But we all managed to come together and it was Independence Day.
“I’ll never forget Sir John Guise saying just after midnight, in the first few minutes of September 16th, 1975, that “Papua New Guinea is now independent. The Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea is now in effect. We have at this point in time broken with our colonial past and we now stand as an independent nation in our own right.”
“We needed to get membership in international lending and aid organisations. Before Independence I had arranged PNG’s membership in the Asian Development Bank, and within six months of Independence we gained entry to the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and World Bank. On July 12, 1976, I travelled to Manila and made PNG’s inaugural address to a joint meeting of the Bank and IMF.
“In five years, I was deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Primary Industry. I dealt with agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries. I gained a deep appreciation of how important those sectors are to our people and the prosperity of our nation.
“Then, on March 11, 1980 I took over the reins from Sir Michael Somare and became the second prime minister of PNG.”
Sir Julius said the New Hebrides was a condominium ruled jointly by Britain and France. It was both French speaking and English speaking, both Francophone and Anglophone. And it was scheduled to become the independent country of Vanuatu on July 30, 1980. But there was a separatist movement on the largest island, Espiritu Santo, led by Jimmy Stevens. Father Walter Lini, the Prime Minister, asked Britain and France for help in quelling the rebellion. But France and Britain did nothing while both Australia and New Zealand declined to help.
“Just at this time I was to attend the South Pacific Forum in Kiribati. I had heard that Father Lini was going to attend to get support from Pacific Countries for the suppression of the rebellion, and he wanted to meet a Melanesian brother – I arranged to meet him.
“When I got to Kiribati it was July 11. I met with Father Lini and his chief of staff, Barak Sope. We agreed that PNG would assist a Melanesian brother.
“I contacted Commander of the PNGDF at that time Ted Diro to come to for two reasons to meet with Father Lini and Barak Sope to pick my bags which had their own trip from Manila to Australia, then Port Moresby.
“Diro brought my bags to Tarawa in Kiribati. There were no real hotels in those days, so we had a single room with only one bed in it. As Prime Minister I got a bed while all my staff, including Foreign Affairs, Defence Department and the Commander of the PNG Defence Force, had to sleep on the floor.
“After the meeting in Tarawa, I sent Diro to Vanuatu to conduct surveillance on the ground. When he came back to PNG I said to him that we should help Father Lini. Ted said ‘I cannot guarantee that, but I can say that we are the best jungle fighters in the Pacific.’
“In Parliament despite some strong opposition, we got a 55 to 40 votes to send the Kumul Force, under Colonel Tony Huai, to Vanuatu. Colonel Huai and the Kumul Force put down the rebellion and ensured the independence of a united Vanuatu. And, thanks to Ted Diro and Tony Huai, we did it all without the loss of a single soldier.
“Kumul Highway in Port Vila was named for the Defence Force because, as a Vanuatu Daily Post reporter said, “Vanuatu’s children tomorrow must always remember that if it was not for the Kumul Forces, the struggle for self-determination would have been painted in blood.”
Sir Julius’ second time as Prime Minister from 1994 to 1997 was also an eventful period.
Less than a month after he became Prime Minister Tavurvur Volcano erupted in Rabaul, and the entire town including his home and the homes of many of his friends was buried under the volcanic ash.
Rabaul was completely destroyed, and just a month after that his father passed on.
Floating the kina
Sir Julius who is known as the father of kina and toea said the currency was having serious problems.
“After very costly efforts to shore up the kina, I finally decided to let the kina float and find its own level. In October 1994 we floated the kina, it fell, but then stabilised, and we were able to weather the economic storm.
“The most profound problem I faced was the Bougainville Crisis. I was committed to finding a peaceful solution to that conflict. We tried repeatedly to get the Bougainville Interim Government to the negotiating table, but they consistently refused. We encouraged the formation of the Bougainville Transitional Government, under Theodore Miriung, but it was not able to bring the factions together. The BRA continually resisted serious talks, and soon began to fight for independence, after which they were very resistant to negotiating anything.
“After two years of trying, and two years of frustration, I came to believe that only a military solution would work. I asked Australia for additional help, but John Howard would not provide it. So I took another approach. I wanted to minimise casualties on both sides. I turned to an outside military force – Sandline.
“I believe to this day that had the press not sensationalised the arrangement with Sandline, and had Australia, and particularly John Howard, not opposed it so strongly, we might have brought the entire Bougainville saga to an end at that time.
“I remember meeting with Howard at Kirribilli House in Sydney. I said we were an independent country, and I was taking steps to end a conflict that had caused thousands of deaths and untold damage. But he would not listen and he would not help. And the Australian commentators, led by Ray Martin, kept up a non-stop negative barrage against the plans.
“We had to abandon the plan but I did not shirk responsibility. It was my decision and I stood by it. A motion was made in Parliament to call on me to resign, but on 25 March, 1997, the motion was defeated by 59-38. However, I then did the right thing, and resigned to await the court ruling. I was cleared and resumed office in June, 1997. That was a difficult time, but I tried to act with integrity and honesty.
“I thought it was interesting that in a ruling in 2011 concerning official misconduct the PNG Supreme Court said that leaders in public office should voluntarily step down when they are subjects of allegations and investigations. And in their opinion the justices said that a good example was ‘Sir Julius Chan, who decided to step down as Prime Minister during the Sandline crisis’.
“That was a public and national event. It attracted both national and international interest and attention through all forms of media. The fact of Sir Julius Chan’s stepping aside calmed down a lot of anger, frustration and public anxiety,” he said.
Now as Governor of New Ireland Sir Julius is developing effective programmes to ensure that New Ireland leads the way to a future where all the people benefit from its great wealth.
‘You are cleared for take off’
“Sometimes it is still hard to believe that we are actually an independent country with control over our own destiny. It was hectic, so fast and furious that most of the time I couldn’t even grasp what was happening.
“I still remember the exact moment it really came home to me that we were an independent nation.
“It was April 24, 1981 I had just opened the PNG Chancery in Canberra with Malcolm Fraser and Foreign Minister Peacock. I was sitting in the government executive jet – the Kumul 1 – on the runway of Canberra Airport. I heard the control tower calling our cockpit, saying “Kumul One, come in Kumul One. You are cleared for take-off.” And our pilot replied, “Control, this is Kumul One. Roger that. Kumul One is ready for take-off.”
“Kumul 1 at the airport in the capital of Australia – that is when I really felt like the head of an independent nation. When we took off that day I felt, in my gut, for the first time that I had finally broken free of the colonial yoke, that is when I knew we were free,” he said.
Sir Julius said one lesson that he had learned in this journey was that no man is an island.
“The people I have had the privilege of working with have blessed my life: Sir Michael, Sir John Guise, Sir Albert Maori Kiki, former prime ministers – Paias Wingti, Sir Rabbie and Sir Mekere, fellow islanders, Dame Josephine, Sir John Kaputin, Fr (now Mr John) Momis, Ted Diro, Tony Huai and so many more. All I can say is thank you.
“To my wife Stella, brother Michael, Sister Louisa and family – for their patience and support – my children for their sacrifices of not having a father many times.
“It has not been easy. There have been ups and downs but together we have weathered the storms, together we have persevered – and we came out in the end.
“Life is a mystery, always a surprise. And I cannot help but wonder, if I had not listened to Ray Lacey, to the chiefs on Anir, who is to say what road I would have taken? It could have been very different.
“Thank you all for sharing the journey but don’t think you can rest yet; I can assure you the journey is not over,” Sir Julius said.