THE late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare maybe from Sepik, but he is a universal Papua New Guinean, says Sir Jerry Nalau.
Sir Jerry met Sir Michael while attending Dregerhafen High School in Finschhafen, Morobe, in the early 1950s.
It was there that they forged a friendship that would eventually pave the country’s path into gaining independence from Australia colonial rule.
From Sir Jerry’s earliest memories of the late Somare, he was confident and outspoken “compared to us village boys.
“ We were a bit reserved and shy,” he recalled.
“He was our school soccer team captain but he would hardly kick the ball.
“He would run around in the field shouting and directing us the whole time that we’d tell him to talk less so that we could hear the referee.”
Somare was a year ahead of Nalau.
He went to Sogeri High School where he pursued his teaching qualification.
Nalau passed to Kerevat National High from Dregerhafen and went on to be a patrol officer.
Sir Jerry said years after their separate way, they met again in 1965 at the administrative college, 6-Mile annex (new Waigani) for the public service certificate.
“This was basically to groom us, where in the case if anything happens tomorrow, we will fill in the vacancies as administrators,” he explained.
Sir Jerry said this meet was a strategic point in the history of Papua New Guinea.
“This is where the idea of early self-government independence started,” he said.
“This is also where our bond became even stronger. Most of us were patrol officers and Somare was a journalist.
“After college, we were posted to strategic posts around the country, based on our physique and our level of confidence.
“We became like feeders – we would observe from our posts and feed Somare (who was in Port Moresby) with information – just basic research and maneuvering people’s minds towards the idea of independence.”
When Somare contested the second National Elections in 1968 and won, Nalau became one of his most trusted assets, assuming roles to the most difficult of tasks.
“The situation in Highlands at that time was that only the younger generation wanted independence,” he recalled.
“Bulk of the older generation wanted to remain under colonial rule.
“So I was posted to Chimbu province as the district commissioner in 1973 with the intention to also convince our people in this region.”
Sir Jerry said he would later use this to his advantage to manipulate a detour in Prince Charles’ itinerary during his state visit to Papua New Guinea, to spend a night in Kundiawa.
“My relationship with Somare was very close and our families have remained close,” he said.
“When I got news that he passed away, I cried the whole night; but it’s a new day and I have wiped my tears.
“Still, in my heart I have lost a personal friend – he pushed and guided me in critical areas that has made me who I am.”
Sir Jerry described Sir Somare as a great man.
“He never held back anything and just from how generous he was, we decided that he would be the right candidate and the perfect leader in our transition into independence, he said.”
“So we did all our best that he should get it. Somare was the only person pushing for unity and the best interest of the country.
“Now., with him gone, I am concerned about PNG’s future.”
Sir Jerry extended his condolence to the immediate family of late Sir Michael and, particularly, to Lady Veronica Somare.
A man with traditional leadership skills: Philemon
FORMER four-term Lae MP Bart Philemon has paid tribute to Sir Michael Somare as a traditional leader with unique skills which united PNG.
“I join all Papua New Guineans in expressing my deepest grief on his passing.
“I feel honoured that I was able to get to know Sir Michael, working with him in pursuing dreams to build a safe, happy and prosperous Papua New Guinea.”
Philemon said the “most diversified nation on earth would require an exceptional leader to overcome all these challenges and be able to establish an independent country, bring all Papua New Guineans together and establish successfully the notion of one people, one nation, one country.”
He said to take over the responsibility of governing PNG from the Australian government “with very few talented and well educated Papua New Guineans was a real risk to take then”.
“But Somare and others took that risk.”
On Sept 15, 1975, there was a huge gathering at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium when the Australian flag was lowered for the last time.
Sir John Guise said: “We are proud that the Australian flag was lowered and had been handed over to the governor-general of Australia and it was not torn to pieces.”
Sir John meant to say that we never shed blood to gain independence.
“Under the leadership of Sir Michael and others at that time, it was a peaceful transition and I thought that was a significant part when one compare us with other countries that gained independence at that time.
“That is the quality of people who represented us led by Sir Michael Somare.”
Philemon said a lot of Papua New Guineans did not really understand independence then.
“They moved around the country to educate people to really understand independence. To be able to make a lot of decision at that time took a lot of courage.”
Philemon won the Lae Open seat in 1992.
“I chose to go with Sir Michael, the man who spearheaded the independence of this country,” he said.
“We had to look up to them because there is no one brave enough to do what they have done then.
“He was truly an icon of this country, together with others that stood for the independence, who were still serving when I joined like Sir Peter Lus, Sir Julius Chan, Pias Wingti and Sir Michael.
“I respected him (Sir Michael) very much as a founding father of this great nation.
“When we started National Alliance in 1997, we were looking for a leader, a man who could attract numbers to form the government.”
Philemon, Sir Bernard Narakobi, Dr John Momis, Dame Carol Kidu, Sir Moi Avei, Musket Iangalio, John Nilkare and Steven Pokawin approached Sir Michael after he was voted out of the Pangu Pati leadership.
Sir Michael accepted the leadership and led the new party.
“He was truly an outstanding leader not only in PNG but throughout the Pacific” he said.
“He was a school teacher, so his level of education is lower than Sir Rabbie Namaliu, myself, Sir Mekere and others.
“He was truly a traditional leader, a common sense guy, a very religious and humble person.
“He had become a role model for all of us and will continue to be for those who will learn the politics of PNG.”
Philemon said it would take a long time for PNG to see another leader in the calibre of Sir Michael.
“He had great respect among Australians because of the way he handled the transition when PNG got independence,” he said.
“Corruption is main problem Papua New Guinea is facing right now, and we need leaders like Sir Michael and others to be example sfor the rest to follow.
“We do not have enough true quality leaders in PNG.”
“ My wish is that we will learn to treat our adopted system of government with unwavering respect.” – Sir Michael