Sir Daniel Leahy: Gordon Dick
I am grateful to Bob Curtis for his contribution on Sir Danny Leahy in the March 2009 Una Voce and feel I would like to add a little about Danny’s life and status and the good works he achieved.
One might start from a trivial point in a life: the love of Rugby League. Danny’s involvement in the game was passionate, and extended from his playing days (for Goroka, for New Guinea and for Papua New Guinea) to his years of supporting and developing the game, notably as PNG’s President, in the only country in the world where Rugby League is acknowledged as the national game.
Danny started the hard way as Bob outlines. But as the Collins and Leahy success story unfolded the dynamism and unlimited ambitions reached into many fields. Some years ago I attended a meeting in Danny’s office where Danny and a principal of Griffith-Salway (Accountants) measured off what they might bring to a joint timber enterprise. The size and scope of the Collins-and-Leahy-plus-Steamships businesses were breathtaking. Collins and Leahy were employing over 12 000 Papua New Guineans in retail businesses alone. They had the second largest trucking fleet in the country, an airline with over thirty heavy lift helicopters plus some fixed wing aircraft, most of the coastal shipping fleet and key stevedoring operations. They also owned hotels and cattle and coffee interests.
The great story behind all this was the pro-Papua New Guinea nationalism which became a feature of Danny’s life. Thirty years ago I doubt whether Meg Taylor and other outstanding Papua New Guineans would have viewed ‘Collins and Leahy’ with the goodwill they have come to. It was a frontier organisation in a rough and sometimes lawless world. It presented a tough, hard and impregnable face to the world and got on with making money and growing. Yet inside there was always integrity and fairness.
Danny Leahy’s finest hour was in confronting the rioters—and there were thousands of them–pouring into Goroka in anger and bewilderment at the news of Iambaki Okuk’s death. Almost certainly Goroka would have been destroyed that day. Danny’s first move was to go to the District Office, but he got no help there. Staff were battening down and many were leaving. Danny took a loud-hailer and drove as far as he could into the town centre. He climbed onto the roof of his Landcruiser, conscious of the target he offered and the fact that many in the mob were armed. He held forth in impassioned pidgin imploring the people not to throw away the gains they had made. He spoke of their coffee and small businesses, and how Okuk had supported them. He said that Goroka was not an Australian town: it belonged to the Eastern Highlands. He used his own life story as an example of starting in the fields planting coffee, and later working in a sawmill before going into business. The mood changed and sorrow replaced anger.
Although Danny’s family remained based in Toowoomba his feelings for Papua New Guinea were very strong and he noted the changes and progress of the young nation. Once when he was returning from Hong Kong to Port Moresby he took a walk up to the flight deck and was surprised to find that all the crew were Papua New Guineans. He checked the cabin crew and they, too, were all indigenes. Danny was delighted. No wonder then that many of his Heavy Lift helicopters, deployed from Russia to New Zealand are piloted by Papua New Guineans.
PNG has lost an extraordinary man in Danny Leahy. We can only hope that the products of his life’s work continue to contribute to its growth and prosperity.