Saturday, 14 September 2013

At Least He Wasn't Prejudiced!

     I don't know why Australian schoolchildren are never taught about the sterling work their country did in governing Papua New Guinea. Nothing in my schoolboy history mentioned it, and the same was the case with my wife, Esther, who was actually born and educated there. And no-one performed greater service in the field than Sir Hubert Murray, Lieutenant-Governor of Papua from 1908 to 1940, and now largely forgotten by his ungrateful country.
    But it is not the purpose of this post to sing his praise, but rather to recall a somewhat humorous occurrence during his reign. Needless to say, part of his job was to ensure that native workers were properly treated, and not to allow anyone of bad character to recruit them. I shall quote from his biographer, Lewis Lett, in this case, largely dependent on Murray's own unpublished autobiography.
     He was in the Louisiades, conducting his business as Judge in the Magistrate's office at Misima, when it was announced that a certain Greek trader was asking for an interview. His Private Secretary warned Murray that the man appeared to be of huge strength and furiously angry.
     Murray remembered the name as that of a bad character to whom he had refused the renewal of his recruiter's licence, and agreed to receive him. The man came in, huge, powerful; his almost insane anger betrayed by his pallor, his clenched fists, and his bloodshot eyes. Murray himself describes the interview:
     "I have come, Sir," he said, "to ask you why my application for a recruiter's licence has been refused."
     'I looked at the broad shoulders and the resolute face, and said to myself, "I am going to have some trouble with this fellow." So I pulled myself together and said:
     ' "The reason why I refused the licence is that you are man of very bad character. You are a drunkard, a thief, and a libertine; and you are unfit to hold a licence for recruiting or for anything else."
     'And now, I thought, I must look out for myself. But not a bit of it. A pleased smile spread over he man's face.
     ' "Oh, is that the reason?" he said. "Of course that is all right. I thought it was because I am a Greek. And I came here to tell you that it was the Greeks who civilized Europe."
     ' "My dear Sir," I said, "I am fully aware of it. It was the Greeks who civilized not only Europe, but the whole world. I have the greatest admiration for them. In fact, I have a brother who is a professor of Greek. But you happen to be a man of infamous character and I will not give you a licence."
    ' "Oh, that is all right," was the warm reply. "I quite understand now." And we shook hands warmly and parted the best of friends. I always had an admiration for this Greek, who put the reputation of his country far above his own.'
Reference: Lewis Lett (1949), Sir Hubert Murray of Papua (Collins) pp 216 - 217

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