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Sir Henry Chow & the Chow family of Papua New Guinea

Sir Henry Chow and Sir Paulias MataneKEITH JACKSON

SIR Henry Chow, whose tidy appraisal of Papua New Guinea’s march since Independence featured in PNG Attitude last week, is the patriarch of the Chow family - a long-established and respected line whose roots in PNG go back to the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The Chow family’s forefathers were peasant farmers of Guangdong Province in southern China.

In 1895, the colonial government of German New Guinea recruited a family member as a personal servant for one of its administration officers and the young man arrived in Rabaul to be soon followed by two younger brothers.

Over time, the family became part of the history and development of East New Britain and New Ireland and now has its sixth generation in PNG. Members of each generation have been active in community affairs and contributed much to the development and advancement of the areas where they lived.

Sir Henry, a member of the fourth generation, was born in Rabaul in 1933 and educated in Rabaul and Australia, After World War II, he served an apprenticeship and trained as a boat designer and builder in Australia.

He married in Australia and returned to Rabaul in 1958, establishing the Toboi Shipbuilding Company. The business grew quickly, expanded and prospered. Starting with eight local employees in 1958 over the next 14 years it built 170 vessels and increased its workforce to 120.

During that period, Sir Henry formed a joint venture with the Kambara Kisen (shipping) Company to build steel ships for the coastal trade in PNG and the South Pacific. But after building six vessels, the venture collapsed in 1971 due to lack of orders for steel ships.

In 1972 the shipbuilding side of the business was phased out but the Toboi Shipbuilding Company is still active in providing services to the coastal shipping industry and the fishing industry.

Today Sir Henry and his family own, operate and manage a number of successful businesses in the major centres of PNG including shipping, engineering and machining, biscuit manufacture, smallgoods, fast food restaurants, real estate and plantations, fishing, and logging and sawmilling. The business group has 1,200 employees.

Through his companies, Sir Henry is one of the most generous philanthropists in PNG, his companies contributing to 26 sporting clubs, many churches and giving generously to charitable organisations that assist people in need.

From a young age, Sir Henry showed a keen interest in politics. In 1962, aged 29, he was elected vice-president of Rabaul Chamber of Commerce. In 1964 he became a member of Rabaul Town Council, being elected Chairman in 1970, he served four years in the position. From 1970-75 he was national secretary of the PNG Local Government Association.

At the same time, Sir Henry was beginning to make waves in national politics, although he never sought elected office. He was a senior executive officer of the Peoples’ Progress Party (PPP) for 17 years from 1967-84 and was its national coordinator in three elections - 1972, 1977 and 1984.

Sir Henry is assisted by three of his sons in the management of his many business enterprises. Adrian Bernard Chow, Fabian Clement Chow and Ian Andrew Chow are all hands-on managers with many years of experience between them.

For his long service to the people of PNG, he became an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) on Independence Day 1975 and on 1 January in the millennium year, 2000, he was promoted to Knight Bachelor.

Comments

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Arthur Williams

I recall in the 1980s or perhaps the early 1990s asking Morgan Seeto if I should get Navy biscuits from the Lae biscuit factory or the Rabaul biscuit factory.

He replied that it makes no difference they are both owned by my uncles.

John Seeto & Co supplied many traders including the Catholic Mission's many parish stores and plantations in New Ireland.

Among his customers in 60 and 70s were Father Miller at Lavongai and Jim White at Taskul and later on myself at Metekavil. We were still buying plastic bags of broken biscuits. Each bag weighed slightly different so weight was marked on each large bag.

We also used bulk - flour, salt, rice and even sugar in huge hessian bags.

The latter would be measured out by my storeman using a plastic cup marked 10 cents. Sadly as wholesale prices rose I would have to cut off some of the top rim of plastic cup to match rising price.

In 1975 the cup had almost disappeared and I started selling only 1 kg packets. Until SwitKai - 'emi swit moa iet' - began manufacturing 500g ones.

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