Remembering Sister Fairhall

Sister Constance Fairhall cared for lepers on Gemo Island outside of Port Moresby and help build the Gordons-Erima United Church.
Sister Fairhall Memorial Church parents taking part in a Marriage Seminar in 2015, led by Rev Sir Samson Lowa.

I HAD always known for many years a little United Church congregation in the suburb of Gordons-Erima as being the Gordons United Church.
I had visited the church over the years for various combined meetings and programs and was familiar with it. In the synod of 2014, however, I was appointed to be the new pastor of that congregation for the next three years, beginning the following year. It was at that time I began to hear a strange new name instead of the old one – Sister Fairhall Memorial Church (SFMC).
I was aware of the trend in many United Churches to have names of famous people usually associated with the church, added as ‘memorials’ to the church name to remember them by. I made it a point to find out a bit more about this person whose name was associated with the Gordons-Erima congregation.
In April 2015, an anniversary celebration was held, doubling as a church fund raiser. Church members sang and danced as they presented their group contributions to the church. Over K6,000 was raised that day. During the festivities, congregation chairman, Api Leka, gave a bit of information on who Sister Fairhall was and how she was associated with our church. I was fascinated and was determined to do more research into her life. My findings revealed a tremendous person who played a big part in caring for those sick with Leprosy, a contagious and debilitating disease that eats away at the digits and limbs of a person.
Leprosy Mission on Gemo Island
Apart from her service to God in other places, Constance was associated mainly with the Leprosy Mission on Gemo Island. I remember this island from the time when my family lived on Touaguba Hill many years ago. From our veranda, I could look across the Fairfax Harbour to a small island that my parents said was called Gemo. They told me it was where the lepers were confined. Also at around that time, a local song called “Sila” became a hit! The group that sang the song was the “Joy boys of Gemo Island”. I realised these men may have been patients on the island, yet had excellent signing voices!
Born to be a nurse
Constance Fairhall was born in Pimlico, Middlesex, London, to Fredrick George Fairhall and Mary Anne Stonestreet in September, 1886. As a young Christian girl, Constance grew up in London and chose a career in nursing. She became a nursing sister with the London Missionary Society. Among other places where she served, Constance is remembered especially for pioneering the work on Gemo Island in Port Moresby.
Recently, I stumbled across an account by a fellow nursing sister, Myra Macey of Tasmania, who had also served on the island. She described it like this:
“In 1937 Gemo Island was the site chosen to isolate villagers suffering from leprosy and tuberculosis. Gemo is a narrow rocky hump, grass covered in the wet season with few trees and shrubs, about 1.5 km long and 3 km to walk around, in the harbour 3km off-shore from Port Moresby. A small Government launch made the half hour journey twice weekly, but by the time of closure in 1974, made about 4 trips daily.”
“Medical work in the area was undertaken by the London Missionary Society. Nursing sister Constance Fairhall started the work, and with a small team of medical orderlies and patients, they lived on the Island. It was a successful venture, but in those days the recovery rate was low. In 1941 they were evacuated and the Island was used by the Allied Forces for the duration of World War 2.”\
“In 1946, Sister Fairhall returned, gathered up patients and staff, and the good work continued till progress in the management of both diseases meant that isolation was no longer necessary.” The island clinic was closed in 1974.”
This short account tells of the faithful commitment Sister Fairhall made to serve those with leprosy, even returning after the war to continue with the work. Older members of the United Church speak affectionately about their meeting with Sister Fairhall. They describe her as a loving and caring person whom God called specifically to PNG to help our people suffering from that terrible disease. She is also credited to have pledged her retirement money to assist in the establishment of the Gordons United Church. Hence, the decision by the leaders to honour her by naming the church after her.
Sister Fairhall is like many other missionaries before her who came to our shores. She may not be as well-known as some others, but before God, they all stand the same. Each heard the call of God and each left the comforts of their nations to come to PNG. I pray the churches that bear the names of these overseas missionaries carry on with the work of overseas mission. As we have received from the likes of Sister Constance Fairhall, so must we give!

  • Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.

Maxtone-Graham leaves a legacy

PAPUA New Guinea has lost a great leader and statesman who served his country with distinction.
Until the time of his passing, the Late Jamie Maxtone-Graham lived his life exemplary of a leader who practiced free thinking with a voice to live healthy.
Our body is what we eat. These are the famous words from the late Jamie Maxtone-Graham who championed healthful living in Papua New Guinea.
He started his business, Wellness Lodge, in Port Moresby and ran free health programmes – how to reverse diabetes in 30 days, detox programmes and also helped a lot of Papua New Guineans who opted a healthier lifestyle.
Maxtone-Graham passed on at the age of 60 leaving behind his 11 children and 23 grandchildren.
The country will remember the late Jamie Maxtone-Graham as a health guru and advocate who contributed to fighting obesity and non-communicable diseases in the country.
He advocated change as to how people lived and what they put into their body. It was all about education, awareness and mentoring many people on keeping on their health.
Apart from living healthy, the late Jamie Maxtone-Graham served his country with distinction for over 15 years as a national leader who contributed to nation building in a big way.
During his tenure as Minister for Health, the late Jamie Maxtone-Graham travelled abroad raising issues about non-communicable diseases and how they were killing millions of people worldwide.
He was a true ambassador for Papua New Guinea during his tenure in Parliament.
The late Jamie Maxtone-Graham studied civil engineering at Unitech in Lae, Morobe.
He worked in various parts of the country before becoming a public figure and performed high level roles for the State of Papua New Guinea. He started as a personal assistant to then former Prime Minister Paias Wingti between 1990 and1993.
He was then appointed chairman of the Eda Ranu board from 1994-1999, which followed another appointment to acting city administrator for NCDC from 1999 to 2001.
The late Jamie Maxtone-Graham became a mandated leader for his people of Anglimp-South Whagi District in Jiwaka from 2004-2012, after winning the by-elections.
He served as a board chairman and administrator and also national leader who contributed immensely to the development of this nation for 15 years.
The country has lost a great man and public figure who envisioned change and lived until his passing.
The funeral service will be held at 10am next Monday at the St Joseph Catholic Church. The body will arrive in Mt Hagen on Tuesday morning and taken to Minj station at 2pm. He will be laid to rest at his Wasne Village, Minj on Friday, Nov 22.
Haus krai (mourning place) is at Geregere Street, East Boroko and Wasne Village, Jiwaka.

Jamie Maxtone-Graham will be remembered for his fight against obesity and non-communicable diseases. -Family photo.