News: Journalism in a newly independent nation

by Barry Morris

Looking to the future... Barry Morris with PNG Information Minister Reuben Taureka outside Trinity Press in Rabaul, 1976.
More than 30 years ago I gave up my job with top-rating radio station 2SM to run a newspaper in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

I flew into Port Moresby on September 16, 1976, the first anniversary of the nation’s independence.

My wife Jill and daughters, Jodie, 12, and Emma, 11, arrived a few weeks after I had settled into Rabaul, then a well-laid out town on a small but breathtakingly beautiful harbour. Our house looked across at one of the active volcanoes that were to devastate the town 22 years later.

My task was to bring out the Island Trader, an English weekly newspaper owned by the United Church in Rabaul. Jill was later to help in its production after I came down with what I thought was dengue fever. It was tonsillitis. We also discovered she had a talent for designing advertisements.

Although the stay was short – just under a year- the experience will always live with us.

We got to love the local Tolai people, the easy-going way of life, the youngsters who swarmed around the newspaper office after school seeking the children’s column, local beaches, climbing down a dormant volcano after a lakatoi ride across the water from Matupit village, sailing on Rabaul Harbour, frog races at the local yacht club, garlic prawns at the Travelodge Motel restaurant and home visits from the elderly Fr Bernard Franke MSC.

Our daughters went to the Catholic school populated by mainly New Guineans, Indonesians Malaysians and a few other “Europeans”.

There were challenges; earth tremors and power failures often disrupted the printing presses and newspaper deadlines were foreign to Melanesians.  When I arrived the paper was aimed at a small white readership. We changed that by placing emphasis on local people, their festivals and, of course, sport.

When we left to return to Australia we had wonderful memories of the people and the many life lessons that we had learned. We had lived a much simpler life and loved it. Our daughters had experienced a culture far removed from what we had in Australia. We learned a lot and, without being patronizing, hoped that we had passed on some of our skills to the local people.

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