Maprik’s royal visit: Paul Dennett
We were treated in 1970 while in Maprik to a visit from the then Prince Richard, now Duke of Gloucester. Was the Prince making the trip out of personal interest or to show the flag for his cousin, the Queen? No-one in Maprik could say. The children from the Maprik ‘A’ school whom he dropped in upon were expecting someone very imposing, not necessarily wearing armour or cape and coronet, but at least a figure approaching the heroic—perhaps with a plumed hat on his head.
What they got was a slim, diffident young man in a plain long-sleeved shirt and duck trousers. Helen and I were invited along with other local ‘worthies’ as representatives of the Education Department to a reception for him up at the Maprik residency organised by the Assistant District Commissioner, Mike Neal. Dawn, Mike’s wife, and her domestic staff had gone to a lot of trouble producing cakes, sandwiches and scones for the occasion. These had been set out on a table and were safeguarded by a couple of staff who moved briskly about, flapping their hands to keep the many flies at bay.
We assembled in the house’s breezeway to chat with the others and look out over the fine view of Maprik airstrip and the Prince Alexanders while waiting for the arrival of HRH; the District Commissioner, Ted Hicks and party. The Member for Dreikikir, Kokomo Ulia, was there eyeing the kaikai with a small retinue of ladies, each of them rigged out for the occasion in brand new meri blouses and laplaps. Kokomo had been given clear instructions beforehand by the ADC to bring only one of his five wives along to meet the Prince. Either he had ignored these instructions or else they had been overruled by his spouses, for three of the five turned up to be presented to the royal personage.
On HRH’s arrival at the residency the members of the group were individually presented to him by the ADC. Among the first was Kokomo. Mike Neal said, ‘Your Royal Highness, I would like to present Mr Kokomo Ulia, Member of the House of Assembly for Dreikikir, and Mrs Ulia…and Mrs Ulia…and Mrs Ulia.’ HRH’s mask of genteel condescension had quite slipped away and displayed more than polite interest when he came to take the hand of wife number three. t was a scene worthy of Evelyn Waugh or Ronald Firbank.
We then all sat making ourselves comfortable and vivaciously discussed the weather and suitably non-controversial topics while HRH diverted himself studying a line of assertive kurukum ants that he discovered marching along the breezeway railing from a frangipani tree, examining them closely and blocking their progress with his fountain pen and smiling to himself in amusement at their jerky belligerence.