Monday, July 28, 2008

Ian Downs


Many of those legendary Australian kiaps (patrol officers) who helped develop Papua New Guinea into what it is today are sadly not be around today.

Such a man was Ian Downs, who died on Tuesday August 24, 2004, in the Gold Coast, aged 89, one of the greatest and most legendary men who walked this country.

Downs is remembered as the principal facilitator of the contruction of the Highlands Highway – linking the Highlands, Lae and Madang - as well as being a powerful influence in the founding of PNG’s great coffee industry.

He was also a member of the first House of Assembly in 1964, when he collected a record majority of over 100,000 votes – which goes to show the respect he commanded – to win the Seat of the New Guinea Highlands, a constituency in the Central Highlands region with a population of over half a million people.

In the face of an increasingly nationalist style of politics he decided not to stand for re-election in 1968, and retired from parliament to take up private interests.

“He’s the one who got the road (Highlands Highway) through,” pioneer Highlands explorer Mick Leahy once said of Downs.

“He’s a man and a half this Downs.

“A few more like him and New Guinea would really get somewhere.”

A man of intellect and a great strength of character, Downs was also a writer of note.

A former patrol officer who rose to the position of Deputy Administrator in the mid-1950s, Downs was a prominent figure in PNG in the last years of the Australian trusteeship, and possibly the only person who combined the roles of administrator, politician, planter and historian.

Ian Fairley Graham Downs was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1915 and was educated at Brighton and Geelong Grammar Schools between 1926 and 1928.

He entered the Royal Australian Naval College as a midshipman in 1929, and in 1935, joined the New Guinea administration as a cadet patrol officer.

Downs took up his appointment to New Guinea in 1936 and was one of the first patrol officers assigned to the Western Highlands.

He accompanied John Black and Jim Taylor on part of their famous Hagen-Sepik patrol in 1938-39.

From 1942 to 1945, Downs was a Coastwatcher with the Royal Australian Navy in New Guinea waters.

Downs returned to New Guinea after World War II and by 1951 was the youngest District Commissioner in the administration, based in Madang.

Between 1952-56 he held the position of District Commissioner in Goroka, before resigning to take up coffee farming and to enter politics.

Succeeding the late George Greathead as District Commissioner to the then Central Highlands, a huge “middle kingdom” of more than a million people stretching from Kassam in the East to the then Dutch New Guinea border in the West.

Disillusioned with official policy, Downs resigned from his post as District Commissioner in 1956 and in the following year gained election as Member for the New Guinea Mainland in the Legislative Council.

As a parliamentarian he was further elected in 1961 to the Administrator's Advisory Council (later known as the Administrator's Executive Council), a board set up to advise the Administrator on policy issues.

Downs resigned from the Government, where he had long been a member of the Legislative Council, to contest this country’s first national elections.

Downs was elected to the first House of Assembly in 1964 with a record majority of over 100, 000 votes.

For the next four years he held the Seat of the New Guinea Highlands, a constituency in the Central Highlands region with a population of over half a million people.

In the face of an increasingly nationalist style of politics he decided not to stand for re-election in 1968, and retired from parliament to take up private interests.

He involved himself deeply in the infant coffee industry, being instrumental in the creating of the original Coffee Marketing Board in 1964, of the coffee exporting company Coffee International Ltd, of the Highlands Farmers & Settlers Association and its trading arm Farmset Ltd, and was active in many areas of PNG’s early political and social development.

It was during these years that Downs pioneered what became known as Korfena Plantations, a group of coffee plantations centred in the Upper Asaro Valley, as well as one of the first village-based coffee marketing groups known as Upper Asaro Coffee Community Ltd.

His novel The Stolen Land was published in 1970, and he returned to Australian in 1970 after 35 years in the country.

His widely respected publication The Australian Trusteeship: Papua NewGuinea, 1945-75 was published in 1980, followed by his autobiography The Last Mountain in 1986.

Ian Downs’ contribution to the founding of modern-day Papua New Guinea was immense, and thousands who knew him well have mourned his passing.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:32 PM

    Dear Mr Nalu,

    I hope you don't mind me pointing out a small error in your article about my uncle Ian Downs. On the second page, where it states that he entered the Royal Australian Naval College as a midshipman in 1915, the year should be 1929 (1915 is the year that he was born).

    Kind regards,


    Louise Wilson
    Edinburgh

    ReplyDelete
  2. Noted your comments Louise and will make those changes.

    Your uncle Ian Downs was indeed a great man.

    Do you have any more information about him?

    If you do, please send.

    malum

    ReplyDelete