Notes from the NT: Jim Toner

December 2015

Harry West OAM, who died on 13 July aged 92, spent 28 years in PNG so was known to a large number of our members. As his clerk at Mendi and Rabaul for almost four years, I got to know him well and enjoyed visits with him at Canberra and Sydney post-Independence. Fred Kaad, OBE, in Una Voce June 2008, described Harry as ‘Gentle Man and Gentleman’ and I need do no more than echo that.

One of the now much reduced band of wantoks who settled in Darwin, Harry Coehn (ASOPA 1958-59), has a somewhat more vivid memory about District Commissioner West at Rabaul in 1971. Prior to the outbreak of violence by the Mataungan Association in the Gazelle Peninsula, the younger Harry was Headmaster at Matupit Primary School. He received an unexpected visit from three Tolais including ToGita who was minus one hand. They instructed him to cease teaching the Matupit children anything to do with Australia or the Government. When Harry rejected this demand they jammed him up against a wall with the stump of ToGita’s arm thrust under his throat and warned him of the lethal penalty for non-compliance.

On learning of this thuggery Harry West offered his namesake a police guard and authorised possession of a firearm. ‘Chalkie’ Harry accepted the former and declined the latter. But he has not forgotten the personal interest the long-time kiap took in the welfare of a staff member and family. Harry went on to become principal at the Bavaroko school, Moresby, before moving to Darwin and a post at the NT Supreme Court.

In my own case 1971 was rather more memorable for matrimony than Mataungan. Harry West, seated in the chair of the Nambawan Kiap at Konedobu, previously titled Director of Native Affairs, was a most welcome guest at my wedding. Which thought reminds me that, back in 1958, he had arrived at Mendi as DC Southern Highlands shortly after his own wedding. Kerry Leen, the sub-district ADO, for whom I also clerked told me that one evening he had thought it necessary to go to the Residency to apprise Harry of some problem but on arrival about 7.30 pm found all the lights out. Ever mischievous Kerry said he had contemplated arousing the presumably dormant occupants but decided to abide by the Australian principle of ‘Fair Go’ and left the newly-weds alone until next day.

Rest in Peace, Harry