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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arek, Paulus (1929–1973)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Paulus Arek (1929-1973), teacher, trade unionist and politician, was born on 3 December 1929 at Wanigela in the Northern District of Papua; his father, previously a cook for the Anglican bishop of New Guinea, was a mission schoolteacher. Because of his youth, Paulus avoided forced labour for the occupying Japanese. He received primary education at the local mission school and in 1946 went to the new Sogeri Education Centre, near Port Moresby, for further training.

In 1951 Arek began a seventeen-year association with the Education Department as a teacher at Sogeri; in 1953 he was a delegate to the second South Pacific Conference in Noumea. About this time at Wanigela he married Ethel Breda with Anglican rites. Transferred to Manus Island in 1954, he became headmaster at Popondetta (1956), Iokea (1957) and Daru (1958). Having displeased the authorities, he was exiled to a school five hundred miles (805 km) up the Fly River; after a year he was allowed to return to Popondetta with reduced status. He resigned to contest the seat of Popondetta in the 1964 elections for the new House of Assembly, but finished second in the poll.

For the next four years Arek again served as headmaster of Popondetta Primary School, while playing an active part in local affairs. As founder and president of the Northern District Workers' Association, he negotiated a pay increase for plantation and other workers. He was also founder and president of the Popondetta Workers' Club and vice-president of the Higituru Local Government Council. When elections for the assembly were called in 1968, Arek nominated for the Ijivitari Open electorate and defeated five opponents with an absolute majority.

Although sympathetic to the aims of the Pangu Pati, Arek declared himself an Independent. He met informally with other union leaders in the House to discuss issues affecting workers and was foundation president (1970) of the Federation of Papua New Guinea Workers' Associations. An ardent nationalist, he advocated localization of the public service and decisive planning for self-government and independence.

In 1968 Arek was one of two special representatives to the United Nations General Assembly where he heard an Afro-Arab resolution calling for prompt independence for Papua New Guinea. Impressed by the conviction of the African nationalists, whose countries he visited, Arek nevertheless felt that they had underestimated the difficulties of a rapid transition. Following his motion in the assembly, in October 1969 a select committee on constitutional development was established with representatives from all parties and Arek as chairman. In 1970-71 it held hearings throughout the country. Although he was supported by the Pangu representatives—and by such regions as Bougainville and the Gazelle Peninsula—in his objective of an early transfer of power, Arek was sensitive to the qualms of the conservative committee-members and cautious Highlanders, as well as to the political advantages of compromise. The committee's report, presented to the assembly in March 1971, recommended preparations for self-determination in 1972-76. Its proposals concerning the structure of parliament and the electorates formed the blueprint for self-government (1973) and independence (1975).

Re-elected in 1972, he was appointed minister for information in (Sir) Michael Somare's coalition government. Arek subsequently joined the People's Progress Party, Pangu's coalition partner. His main achievement as minister was to oversee the creation of the National Broadcasting Commission. He died of cancer on 22 November 1973 in the General Hospital, Port Moresby, just eight days before self-government was proclaimed and the N.B.C. inaugurated.

Arek's career as a responsible and diplomatic politician was at odds with his more turbulent personal life. A tall, handsome, well-built man with close-cropped hair and beard, he was no 'pillar of rectitude'. His forceful personality, flamboyance, quick temper and addiction to alcohol combined on several occasions to put him on the wrong side of the law. One colleague recalled him as a charming, likeable and clever rogue. For all that, he was respected—in Chief Minister Somare's words—as 'a true nationalist'. Five thousand people attended the service at St John's Anglican Church which preceded Arek's burial in Port Moresby cemetery. His wife and eight children survived him; one son Hudson became chairman of the P.P.P.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Assembly, Papua New Guinea), 3, no 18-24, Aug-Nov 1973, p 3186
  • Herald (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1968, 6 Jan 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27, 30 Dec 1968, 10 Jan, 16 Aug 1969, 18 Nov 1970, 5 Jan, 17 June 1971, 29 Apr, 24 June, 29 Aug 1972, 22 June, 23 Nov 1973
  • Canberra Times, 4 Oct 1969
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1969, 23 May 1970, 23 May, 13 June, 25 May 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 June 1970, 23 Nov 1973
  • Australian, 20 Nov 1970
  • Post Courier, 23, 27 Nov 1973
  • 'Arek, Goresau Paulus', Dictionary of Contemporary Papua New Guinea Biography drafts (held at University of Papua New Guinea).

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Arek, Paulus (1929–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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