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20 April 2014

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When I arrived in Koroba in 1971 as a liklik Kiap, Bert Speer's name was still very fresh in the minds of many Huli's and quite a number of expatriates who had known him.

Jim Sinclair mentions him as his compadre on many of his perambulations around the Huli - Duna area, when they were conducting the initial contact patrols for what was then known as the Duna Sub District.

Though our paths never crossed, I heard his name mentioned often over the years, and in every case the comments were positive and warm.

Good on you cobber, your contribution was significant. Go with God.

Bert was the catalyst who brought my parents together in PNG and was an amazing force in our lives. He was always a dear friend to both Mum and Dad, and his sense of humour and honour were but 2 of the constant hallmarks of his intellect and humanity.

In our family, to the children, he was our Uncle Bert; and as I grew into an adult, he became a mentor to me with his wise and never judgemental assessments, and his quick and wicked wit always challenging me to strive, to contribute and to be civically aware and engaged.

One of the patrols he and my father Neil Grant undertook, led by Jim Sinclair, was captured on film more than 50 years ago. Produced by Ron Maslyn Williams, directed by Peter Dimond and shot by John Leake, this was the 1958 film known as New Guinea Patrol which was some of the first film evidence provided to the General Assembly at the United Nations and depicted a "first contact" or exploratory patrol into the highlands as it occurred and not with any staging or artifice.
(http://www.abc.net.au/aplacetothink/html/new_guinea.htm).

You can get a palpable sense of the challenges of these patrols from the film; but also glean a fantastic insight into the character of those on the 70 day journey.

A humble, erudite, curious and tenacious liberalist of the greatest integrity; Bert spent a life living and learning and chronicling, giving always of his time generously in support of others, uncovering precious lost facts and fighting for many worthy endeavours and as a tireless supporter of PNG.

Some of my fondest memories of him, with his soft cap neatly positioned on his head and probably wearing a buttoned down waistcoat; are of him leafing through the meticulous folders and folios he would collate as he researched a particular topic or event; often pausing to narrate some oral history of someone he had interviewed or to read aloud from various items of correspondence, starting with the words "Now, my dear...".

Certainly he had an adventurous life; with some nearly 40 years on the frontiers of PNG literally making history with others who ventured there with the Administration. His impact on our national conversation around PNG and his contribution to local history were great; but mostly he was an incredibly spirited human who helped shaped my conscience and sense of justice ... as I am sure will be the same for many others who knew him.

He will be buried today and we will remember him forever in our hearts; and poignant ever more that the vale will occur the day before Anzac Day.

Albert Speer was a cousin of my mother and a presence in my life for many years.

My memories of Albert are of a man who always dressed well, and seemed very distinguished.

I was only made aware of his work in New Guinea about twenty years ago, and his MBE more recently than that. It seems to be the way of our family not overstate awards.

Perhaps this is a trait of members of his generation, and the area in which he grew up.

I was with my mother when she received the news of Albert's passing. Since then she has retold some of the stories about her childhood and his part in it.

Telling her favourite story of how Albert would put her on the handle bars of his bicycle and carry her part of the way to school. Because he felt that her little legs could not carry her all the way, about 3 miles. Albert being seven years older than my mother.

I recall his visits to our home and the conversations about history, a passion which we both shared.

A great man who will be missed.

I vividly remember flying out of a geology survey camp that we had just closed down in the highlands with Warren and his battered old 206.

This was in the late 1990s when the whole PNG central cordillera was blanketed in smoke from the Indonesian forest fires.

I was expecting to be left behind because I couldn't imagine how he was going to get all of us and our gear into the little plane.

He put the conductors on the Japanese railways to shame. We had guys crammed on top of each other and wedged against the roof. Warren barely had room to steer.

When we descended from the murk into Mount Hagen there was an collective release of breath in the little balus.

Someone who knew him better needs to write a tribute to Warren.

It is to unsung heroes, ladies and gentlemen who were simply decent, conscientious human beings towards which my people, my country, owes a continued debt of honour.

Albert Speer and Warren Hansen are two such, though I have never known them, I am glad to have heard of such good people who have had faith and hope for PNG.

God has called them to His Hausman.


Bert’s funeral service will be held on Thursday, 24 April at 10:30am at the Anglican Church, 205 Willoughby Road, Naremburn, NSW. Burial will follow at Woronora Cemetery, 121 Linden Street, Sutherland.

Thank you for the touching tribute Keith. Albert is truly a great man who sacrificed countless hours and dollars to help other people in need.

Even if it was something as small as a general question he would set his mind to the task and not stop until the answer was found.

He saved the lives of many a person - and he almost died almost as many times with the adventurous streak he had in him!

Thank you for sharing the news about the death of Warren Hansen. May God reward him for who and what he was.

I know nothing about his Sepik River years, but I knew him during his Wewak years while I was there. I knew his wife also, a nurse at Boram when they married. Warren and I met now and then him one way or another; we had some common interests, mainly aviation and electronics.

When we would meet by chance in town or elsewhere, he would often stop for a chat. Now and then he came to me or our Wirui Electronics Shop for parts or some help with a problem. I remember him coming to Wirui to check out how we had set up our satellite system for TV. We shared some ideas on those things.

You mentioned his vege shop at Boram. He originally got a Cessna, a 180 or a 185, to supply trade stores he had out in the bush. Later, he upgraded to a Cessna 206. One or more of those stores was on or near the Sepik.

His often flying back to Wewak empty gave him the idea of continuing on to the Highlands to bringing back a full load of fresh vegetables. As I recall, he did that about once a week. Also, as I recall, he later began a second once weekly trip like that bringing back fresh bakery goods from a Mt Hagen bakery.

Those commodities were very welcome in Wewak in those days! He usually returned from the Highlands late in the morning. On those days there were long lines of cars parked at his shop and all along that road waiting for him to arrive. By the way, some wags affectionately called him Captain Cabbage.

As I recall, his flying career came to an end because of an accident. I am not sure of these details now but, . . . I think it as somewhere between Maprik and Pagui that his plane, the 206, developed an engine problem.

He was lining up to make an emergency landing on the road between those two places when a PMV came along. He swerved off to avoid that vehicle and came down off the road. The plane was badly damaged and he was seriously injured. I think he was hospitalized in Australia for some time.

Warren Hanson gone! I went to the Sepik as a CPO [Cadet Patrol Officer] in 1960 and was stationed at Angoram until I pulled the pin very early in the piece.

Warren was at Ambunti as the office clerk and Wayne Heathcote was there as a Kiap.

I started Las Kompani and built a trade store at Ambunti and then, in 1964, I was elected to the first House of Assembly and needed someone to run the place in my absence.

So Warren became my manager. I sold Las Kompani to Warren in 1968.

I have just heard the sad news that Warren Hansen passed away about a week ago after a bout of what is believed to be influenza.

He went to the Wewak Hospital and as there was no weekend doctor, he could not be admitted but was given an injection and died some hours later.

Warren was at Ambunti on the Sepik River as District Office cash clerk in the late 1950s and then worked for John Pasquarelli looking after his interests at Ambunti.

For many years -near Boram Airstrip - he had the only fresh vegetable outlet as he had a small Cessna and would do flights to the Highlands and bring back goodies including vegetables, milk and cream.

For the last 10 years or so he was the guy to see if you wanted satellite TV. Warren was very clever at it.

He was a long time Wewak/Sepik institution who will be very sadly missed by so many people.

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