IT IS JANE BELFIELD’s 80th birthday today and, amongst the congratulatory buzz, presents and cake, I thought I’d write some words about her once unusual, perhaps unique, role in Papua New Guinea broadcasting.
Jane and her then husband Michael Belfield moved to PNG in 1956 after Michael was posted to the Epo Agricultural Station near Popondetta. Jane was to remain in PNG for 23 years.
The family also lived in Mt Hagen before moving to Port Moresby, as most of us did in those years immediately before PNG’s independence in 1975.
In the early days, Jane freelanced for the ABC and the Post Courier and was agriculture correspondent for the late and lamented Pacific Islands Monthly. She later studied for her diploma in journalism through the University of Queensland.
Around 1970, Jane was appointed to the position of assistant editor in the newsroom of the Department of Information and Extension Services (DIES). I was recruited at about the same time and became station manager of Radio Rabaul and then Radio Bougainville.
Jane and I were on the opposite ends of the country and at opposite ends of the news distribution system.
In those days, of course, there was no email or fax. We did not even have a teleprinter service. So information was distributed to the 18 radio stations scattered across the country from the Central News Room (CNR) in Port Moresby through a dedicated broadcast channel.
In addition to writing and editing the news, Jane was the voice of CNR, reading the news – written in simple English ready for translation into a score of local languages – in measured, carefully modulated tones, spelling out the killer words, and repeating anything she judged to be especially complex.
At the 18 radio stations, the news would be transcribed and then translated into Pidgin English, Hiri Motu and a clutch of PNG’s hundreds of vernacular languages; whereupon it would take its place along with locally-collected news in the many news bulletins that were broadcast each day.
And so, even before we met this lovely woman, most of us out at the stations felt we knew her well just through the medium of CNR.
Later, in 1973, when the ABC and the Department of Information and Extension Services amalgamated to form the National Broadcasting Commission, Jane became chief sub-editor and was one of the first white women to be offered a government contract in the new independent PNG.
Ironically, in my own new position of NBC director of policy and planning, I had less to do with Jane when we occupied the same building than when we had been 1,000 km apart.
But we both had the exhilarating experience of working in journalism when a new nation was born and on seeing it move through the rigours of independence.
Jane has had a luminous career and I wish her well on this momentous milestone.