Was that the Queen?

Was that the Queen?

Tony Friend

Queen Elizabeth II was well-known throughout PNG from the official portrait in every government office: a much-loved regal figure in beautiful robes, wearing a diamond-encrusted crown. Now Missis Kwin was coming to Goroka!

In late 1973 I was advised by senior public servants that the Queen and her family would visit the district headquarters on 24 February 1974, and at Goroka Showgrounds traditional dance groups from throughout the district were to perform at the event. At that time, I was the officer in charge of the small patrol post at Obura, several hours’ drive from Goroka.

The forthcoming visit meant that much preparation was required, not only by government staff at Goroka but also by officers such as myself at all out-stations, sub-districts and patrol posts. We were each given the task of selecting a group of local men and women to perform traditional dances (sing-sing) for the royal party at Goroka. District Commissioner Bernard Borok had to move from his official residence three months before the royal visit, so that it could be completely up-graded to accommodate the Queen and her staff for their one-night stay.

Men and boys from the Asaro area dressed in their finery to welcome the Queen

My duty was to bring to Goroka a group of fifty-six Obura men and women to perform at the showgrounds. On the day before the Queen’s arrival, we set out in four Toyotas that a day earlier had been delivered to the station (pictured above). The journey went well until we reached a particularly bad section on the dirt road to Kainantu, near the Summer Institute of Linguistics, headquarters at Ukarumpa, where all the vehicles became stuck in the mud. With fifty plus willing passengers to push, first one and then the other vehicles out of the deep wheel ruts, we were delayed no longer than an hour.

Without further mishap we drove to Kainantu, after which we were on the tar road of the Highlands Highway all the way to Goroka and the showgrounds. Bush material long houses had been constructed to accommodate overnight all the visiting groups from district out-stations. Huge piles of firewood and sweet potato had also been collected in preparation for the several thousands of village performers and spectators invited to this event.

The Queen and her family arrived by plane in the afternoon. In the evening, in the largest hotel in Goroka, a grand reception was staged. All presidents and vice-presidents of the local government councils in the district were to meet the Queen that evening. The dress code was strictly Western formal evening wear. The men had been measured weeks earlier so that suits could be ordered in addition to the required white shirts and ties. For many it was the first time in their life to wear such attire. Their wives wore specially ordered evening gowns and closed shoes. No traditional dress such as grass skirts or cowrie shell decorations were allowed at this reception. Last minute panic ensued when one woman forgot to bring this new, unaccustomed footwear and turned up in thongs!

Komboro villagers dressed as cassowaries

Next morning at the Goroka Showgrounds, Mr Barry Holloway, Speaker of the House of Assembly and Member for the Eastern Highlands, made speeches to the thousands of people who came to witness this historic event. Then the groups of tribesmen from all over the Eastern Highlands started an enthusiastic sing-sing. The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne, Capt. Mark Phillips (then husband of the Princess) and Earl Louis Mountbatten, accompanied by Barry Holloway, toured around the inside of the showgrounds arena, watching the stunning performance from an open-backed LandCruiser. With their gold-coloured Instamatic cameras they were taking pictures of the traditionally dressed, bewildering crowds of tribesmen who vigorously danced around the arena, facing the touring vehicle.

The Queen wore a pink dress and a flowered hat of a similar colour, while Princess Anne wore a sky-blue dress with white accessories. The male family members were all in tropical white or khaki uniforms.

Each local group of Highlanders wore a different type of dazzling costume. The Obura traditional dress was quite spectacular with men wearing grass skirts, cowrie shell and cockatoo feather head decorations, pig tusk necklaces, as well as a few with bamboo nose plugs denoting initiation. There were also elaborate headbands fashioned from braids with inserted fluorescent green beetles and topped with multi-coloured parrot feathers.

Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and Bernie Borok, Associate District Commissioner, at the Goroka Showground

Some men from Komboro village wore the shiny black cassowary feather costume covering the body from head to waist. Women wore long straw-coloured grass skirts and bark capes. Older men paraded in headgear of metre-long feathers and spectacular Bird of Paradise plumage. Dozens of Asaro ‘mud-men’ wore masks daubed in white pigment completely covering their heads. Others obscured their entire bodies in leaves and feathers, flowing down from head to toe. The Highlanders had done their best to impress the Queen!

In amongst all this tropical finery, the Queen in her understated pink dress, matching shady hat and white gloves appeared under-dressed.

One villager from Obura expressed the bewilderment felt by many used to seeing the Queen only in her official portraits when he asked me:

Okapa people wearing wooden masks and moss costumes

‘Who was the white lady with the big, flowered hat? Was that the Queen? 

‘Why was the Queen not wearing her crown?’•


Tony Friend (1937–2017) of Romford, UK, spent more than thirty years working in Papua New Guinea. In 1972 he started work as a patrol officer, in the following years becoming district officer. As a kiap, he was based in Eastern Highlands (Watabung, Henganofi, Obura) and West Sepik Province (Imonda, Nuku, Oksapmin and Telefomin). During the years 1983–91 he was the Co-ordinator of the Telefomin District Development Agreement, supervising a range of community projects in remote parts of the West Sepik Province.

To commemorate Tony’s life, in 2018 his family and friends set up the Tony Friend Scholarship that provides financial assistance to high school students from the Telefomin District of West Sepik Province. During five years of operations 95,000 Kina (approx. A$40,000) was paid as a contribution towards the school fees of 72 students.
Maria Friend

The official portrait of the Queen (with her crown!)


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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