Goodbye Sir Holloway

Between World War II and Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975, the best of a generation of Australians, some still teenagers, travelled to the remotest corners of their country’s big tropical colony to administer vast areas and populations of PNG as magistrates, police chiefs, road and bridge builders, health and education supervisors, all roles wrapped in one, that of the patrol officer or ‘kiap’—a word derived from the old days of German New Guinea.

Last month, appropriately on January 26, Australia Day, the best of those best was buried alongside his parents at St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church in the tiny north Tasmanian township of Kimberley, which he had left 60 years earlier.

He is Barry Holloway, the most prominent Australian to stay on in independent Papua New Guinea—and the best-known of a generation of patrol officers who effectively ran the country until independence in 1975, and maintained a key role afterwards too. He was still playing a central role in PNG life until recent days, almost succeeding in recapturing his Eastern Highlands constituency at last year’s election, aged 78.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in a tribute to the man his country knighted: “At independence he was one of the first to take out citizenship. He had no hesitation in embracing the new nation of Papua New Guinea.”

Holloway, a hard-living, empathetic intellectual, typical of the best of the kiaps, arrived in the then Australian territory in 1953, aged just 18, following a six weeks orientation course.

He told ABC Radio: “We were given basic multi-functional activities to do, such as learning how to map, how to handle government stores, and all sorts of clerical work which really dampened our spirits somewhat, because we were coming up for high adventure.”

Which he certainly found.

He was one of about 1,000 ‘kiaps’—patrol officers—who each ruled and helped develop vast areas of the country during the 25 years leading to independence.

He described an early assignment to settle a tribal conflict involving hundreds of fighters. He was accompanied by a handful of PNG police armed with .303 rifles, which he said appeared to the combatants as mere sticks.

“We demonstrated the power of the rifle by lining up about five shields and showing how the bullet would come out causing a great gap at the other side.”

Holloway established himself as a political systems reformer, so impressing Paul Hasluck, as Minister for Territories, on a visit to his Kainantu district in the Eastern Highlands, that Hasluck put him on his aircraft and flew him to headquarters to brief senior officials on a successful mode of introducing local government. He was a founder, with Michael Somare, of the Pangu Party that pressed strongest for independence.

Tony Voutas, who was a fellow patrol officer and then a fellow MP, and was also a founder of Pangu Party, told Islands Business: “When I was elected to PNG’s first House of Assembly in 1966 with its 54 elected and 10 official members, the overall sentiment in the chamber was conservative.

“Concepts such as ‘self-government’ and ‘independence’ were seen as recipes for national disaster—bai kantri i bagarap! Fewer than a handful of the Papua New Guinean members and just one other expatriate were proponents for political change. That expatriate was Barry Holloway.”

Voutas described him as “a combination of a political mastermind and an exceptionally generous person.

“He made a substantial personal and financial contribution in 1966 and onwards to a nascent ‘Left Bank salon’ in the new Port Moresby suburb of Hohola, built for Papua New Guineans recruited into the public service.”

The political salon was centred on the basic fibro houses of the then union activist Albert Maori Kiki and of Holloway, about 150 metres apart.

Voutas said: “The Information and Broadcasting Department’s new recruit, Somare, had an identical house about 400 metres away.

“I couldn’t count the number of political meetings we had in this ‘salon’ between 1966 and 1968. Barry attended nearly every one and even after midnight, exhausted and lying on the floor, he would keep throwing in his ideas on political structure and tactics for pushing reform, never losing his temper, always gentle and conciliatory.”

To push for independence before the 1968 elections was an especially brave move by Holloway, Voutas said, “as his electorate was in the Highlands where many people were as frightened of self-government as if it were an apocalypse.”

But Holloway won his seat, and later became Speaker, from 1972-1975.

He was appointed to the cabinet at independence and held a series of senior portfolios during his 20 years as an MP, including Education and Finance, thus effectively the country’s Treasurer—before eventually falling out with Somare, and forming a new party with the late Anthony Siaguru.
O’Neill said: “Sir Barry was passionate about rural development and education. He was campaigning for better services for the rural majority until just a few weeks ago.

“On behalf of the government and the people of the nation, I pay tribute to his long and distinguished service to PNG, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and his many, many friends.”

He had three wives, Liz from Australia, and Ikini and Fua from PNG, 12 children and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Over the last decade, Holloway could be found at the centre of his final salon, holding court at a leading hotel in Port Moresby every Saturday morning, attracting some of the country’s leading thinkers, politicians and administrators to lively discussions on national policies.

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