Thomas Arthur Steen: Part 2 By Bessie Steen

Whilst on leave as a result of a routine chest x ray for T.B. a heart defect was found.

Tom was operated on at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney in March 1964. He was unable to return immediately to P.N.G. and was seconded to the Department of Territories in Sydney where he took visiting Papuan and Guineans to see the sights and places of employment in Sydney. He fully embraced city life and caught up on theatre, films and seeing friends.


On his return to P.N.G. he spent some time in Port Moresby where he was an interpreter in the House of Assembly. He was posted next to Kukipi in the Gulf District. Whilst there he introduced goats to supplement the diet of the prisoners; they flourished to a considerable sized tribe.

Tom wisely insisted that his future wife paid a visit to P.N.G. before they married, this she did. The house he was living in at Kukipi had a line of shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling, left there by a previous occupant.  Bessie thought she could live there but wasn’t keen on the heads or the mosquitoes she recalls a plus point being a magnificent mango tree growing outside.

 Tom’s birth certificate sent by his father did not arrive in time for the wedding,[it turned up about six months later]. The Anglican Church and the Registrar would not marry them without his birth certificate so they were married by The District Commissioner Ron Galloway on the 11th November 1965 in the District Office, Port Moresby. The witnesses were Marjorie Kleckham who Tom first met in the Western

District, Dennis Douglas who Tom knew from his primary school days and Roger Claridge.  Dennis told people that Tom Steen was in town and invited them to a party

at his home in Airvos Avenue after work; where he had put on a reception. There was

a good turnout of friends who could not believe he was married. The next day Tom and his wife sailed on the Kano for Kukipi in the Gulf. Bessie still remembers how sea sick she felt!

The next posting was very briefly to Kikori and then as advisor to Baimuru Local Government Council before returning to Kerema.

He spent leave in Europe and the U.K. where Bessie was originally from and where he would go out in his pyjamas to experience the falling snow. Also, he spent time driving around the Isle of Skye trying to trace his MacKinnon ancestors of which he discovered quite a few.

The next posting was Milne Bay, to Bwagaoia on Misima Island as advisor to the Lousiade Local Government Council. Whilst in Milne Bay, Bessie remembers the Local Council commissioned a traditionally built lakatoi for the museum in Port Moresby. These were the canoes used by the local people in Kula trading expeditions around the Islands.

The Coppard sisters Lulu and Francis lived on Misima and told how they had watched the lights from the Battle of the Coral Sea from the garden of their plantation.

In November 1967 Cyclone Annie passed through. The wind and rain were extreme; 394 points of rain fell in 24 hours. The louvers of the M type house were forced open, rain battered into the lounge to a distance of about eight feet and the building swayed on its cement posts. Full, forty four gallon drums were picked up and carried off by the wind. Sadly, there was loss of life and much devastation.

Tom was moved to Samarai in 1968 when the District Headquarters were moving to Alotau.                                   

Soon after their arrival in Samarai Robbie a cross Kelpie/ Chow joined the family. In August 1969 his eldest daughter Fiona was born at the “Top Hospital”.

 Samarai, in the late sixties was an exciting place to be after the out stations with hospitals, stores, missions, churches, schools, a bank, boat builders, a guest house, Bank Line boats coming and going. Cecil Abel had a business printing fabric with traditional designs. There was a strong Country Women’s association that had a cottage where women from the outstations could stay. Tom proceeded on leave in May 1972 to Australia and then the U K; where his second daughter Catherine was born in August the day after he attended the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.

After leave, in October 1972 he was posted as Political Education Officer to Popondetta in the Northern District. Here was a Vocational School with lots of fresh produce grown at the centre. At the vocational school, Bessie working with the girls established a profitable business, buying tapa cloth, making it into bags and hats and sending it into the Y.M.C.A. Port Moresby to be sold. This developed into buying plain tapa cloth from the area and having it painted after it had been sewn. One local woman called Ida Tilley painted some wonderful clan designs on garments.

Strong memories abound from that time. One of the planes a DC 3 used for travel around the district bore a small metal plaque saying that it had been used by General Douglas MacArthur during World War 11.   Leading up to Independence in September 1975 he was delighted to be asked to write the Official Invitations for the Independence Ceremonies as he always enjoyed Calligraphy.

After independence in 1975 the move was to Galo Place, Port Moresby, where he was seconded to the Department of the Prime Minister. By then he had made the decision that he wanted to live in the U.K. In early 1979 he went to Heptonstall in Yorkshire where for five years he ran the local Paper Shop. He delivered papers to outlying farms and also enjoyed walking the moors with Robbie the dog and a group of local men from the village whose ancestors went back many generations. He read the daily papers cutting out articles of interest and writing to the Editors on a regular basis. It was during this period that he became a member of the Heptonstall and Blackshawhead local Parish Councils, a member of the Calder Valley Police Forum and a founder member of Heptonstall Civic Trust.

In Heptonstall village he will be fondly remembered for having the old traditional red phone box made a Grade 2 listed building.

When his health became a major problem he and his wife moved to Scotland. The Grain Store, part of the farm buildings where his eldest daughter and family live was adapted for his needs. Tom survived his heart operation by almost fifty two years.

 It was his wish to be buried at St, Thomas’s Church Heptonstall; Canon Peter Calvert who had been his friend since he christened his second daughter took part in the service. At the committal a small red butterfly suddenly appeared and fluttered around, a sign of hope on a cold December Day noticed by and delighting even the youngest of the congregation.

The family were very touched by the many messages, cards and e-mails sent from around the world by people who had known him.

He leaves behind his wife Bessie, daughters Fiona and Catherine, grand daughter Nea,

and grandsons Samuel, Conrad, Harrison and Hector, son in laws Charlie and Boyd and his younger brother Philip.

Tom asked the following be written on his grave.

                                        “Bihain  mi lukim yu”

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