‘We are not here for ourselves alone’ GRAHAM HENRY JOHN POPLE, MBE 1935–2019
He loved his adopted country and the people within it—although he retired to Australia, his heart remained in Papua New Guinea, and he retained his PNG citizenship until his passing. Graham Pople’s life work and efforts have allowed his legacy to continue, not only with his current and future descendants, but also in the lives of those that he has touched, and the country itself—Papua New Guinea.
Born in Armidale NSW, on 14 March 1935, Graham’s family moved to Beecroft NSW for the war years before returning to Armidale where he completed primary and secondary schooling.
Being very skilled in both academic and athletic ability, he played numerous sports including cricket, boxing and rugby union. Following his high school years, he enlisted and served on HMAS Australia (II).
Returning from his time at sea he moved to Sydney and studied at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA).
In 1956, after attaining his certifications and completing the course, he applied for an advertised vacancy for a cadet patrol officer in Papua New Guinea. He was successful in gaining a position and his journey as a kiap began. As the role was due to commence shortly after his successful appointment, he flew to Port Moresby where he celebrated his twenty-first birthday with the late Sir Barry Holloway and many others at the Papua Hotel.
In his role as a patrol officer, his first posting was in Daru, PNG and in 1963, he was later posted to Gumine. It didn’t take long for the locals to see the values and ideals that he always held close to him, and in 1964 he became the pioneer-elected National Member of the first House of Assembly for Gumine district in Papua New Guinea.
He was chosen by his peers in 1965 as one of eight to travel to Australia on a familiarisation tour. During their visit to Australia, four of the party appeared on the ABC show, Four Corners. A little hindsight came into play as when he watched the aired version of the episode, and realised that his refusal to apply makeup before appearing on camera, aged him considerably on the show.
The tour took them to Canberra and allowed them to all to meet then prime minister, Bob Menzies, and granted them a short meeting with the leader of the opposition, Gough Whitlam.
He completed his four-year term in Gumine and in 1968 stood for the Chimbu regional seat. On initial count, he lost by 200 votes, but following a recount later, the appointment was offered to him, which he declined, due to his lack of interest in the finer details of politics. This ended up being a great decision, as a role in politics would not suit someone as honest as he was.
Not long after, he relocated to the Trobriand Islands in 1970, and set up a base for himself with the local store and post office under his command. It didn’t take long for him to take note of a local girl who caught his eye riding a bicycle in the heavy rain while holding an umbrella. Meeting Julia changed his life, and on 10 April 1971 he wed his island sweetheart in Losuia Uniting Church.
The next stage in his journey was very much due to weather as a cyclone hit Tufi, a town in PNG’s Oro Province, hard. He relocated his new family there and worked hard to rebuild the Tufi Lodge and lengthen the airport runway. In a very short time, the lodge was refurbished and extended. With the extension came the additional opportunities within Tufi, which ended up with him setting up many of the still standing services. Included in this was the guest house, post office, bank, general store, airline agency and the local fuel agency. To put it in simpler terms, at the time, Graham Pople was Tufi, and he built it up from scratch following the cyclone.
The news of his father’s passing influenced his decision to sell up at Tufi and relocate his family back to Australia. After a short stay in Port Macquarie, he settled with his family in Redcliffe QLD. As he did for everyone, he tried everything possible to provide for his family, with short bursts in different industries.
In 1985, following the death of his father-in-law in PNG, the decision was made that he would return there to seek employment as, at the time, there were more opportunities for his growing family due to economy and opportunity factors. With his skills and proven abilities, he was quickly able to secure a position as the general manager of DIFCO, stationed at Murray Barracks in Port Moresby. Within this newfound role, he oversaw the delivery of vital goods and services to military barracks throughout Papua New Guinea, and he was able to arrange that all barracks across the country were given access to cable television technologies.
He then took up the position of general manager with Territorial Enterprises, now known as TPNG. Following a few years of loyal service to the company, the decision was made in 1988 to establish Tomota Trading, which was the key to commencing trading as the Korobosea General Store.
Throughout the many ups and downs of the new business, he kept steadfast with his morals and life values. On more than one occasion, he visited homes of his staff to ensure that they were safe and taken care of, regardless of the situation or his personal safety.
He was approached with many opportunities, but eventually accepted an offer to join Porgera Gold Mine in 1992 as a community affairs officer. This new role granted him the opportunity to travel via helicopter to mines. His fluency in many local languages, including Motu and Kiwai, allowed him to connect and interact with locals which helped to ease some of the burdens of his role.
Before long, other mining companies learned of his prowess in his roles and he transitioned to the country manager for Barracuda (Madison). Based from a hotel room at the Weigh Inn in Port Moresby, he oversaw the successful management of the mining company. At the same time, he made continuous suggestions to the running of the Weigh Inn. The suggestions that he put forward were heard and actioned, and when the Mt Kare Joint Venture declined, he accepted the role of general manager at the Weigh Inn Hotel.
Even after the official cease of employment with the mining company, he continued to liaise and facilitate many of the company’s functions on a contractual basis until the company ceased to operate. With the change of industry from mining to hospitality, he became a friendly face at the Weigh Inn, and continued to manage the hotel for the next five years.
Due to some managerial conflicts, the decision was made to leave employment at the Weigh Inn and a similar position at the Hideaway Hotel was offered and accepted. This new position saw him enhance the hotel’s offerings substantially before his retirement to Australia two years later, where he set up base in Woody Point, QLD (part of the Redcliffe Peninsula). Here he enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle and weekly beachside walks with his wife, Julia.
In November of 2011, he made a trip to Port Moresby and was presented an MBE by the Governor-General for his community service and long-term efforts in rural Papua New Guinea.
On 12 September 2014, both he and his wife, Julia, relocated to Cairns into the Regis facility at Redlynch. Five years of frequent visits from his family, he saw his last days through until his passing on 11 February 2019.
He was a gentleman and always carried with him an essence of respect and honour for others. He lived by the Pople family motto of: ‘we are not here for ourselves alone’.
MWEISI CARRA, née POPLE
An edited extract from Graham’s eulogy