By MALUM NALU
The passing of rugby league player and journalist extraordinaire, Jack Metta, marked the end of an era in the history of Papua New Guinea.
Metta, 57, from Savaiviri village in Gulf province but a born and raised ‘Lae boy’ from Papuan Compound, passed away in his sleep last Sunday night.
|Jack Metta...larger than life|
He has touched so many lives, as seen from the numerous tributes in the newspapers, radio, television and the internet.
His colourful writing style, as exemplified by his streetwise Root Mettas column in The National’s Weekender for many years, entertained so many thousands of people every week.
Metta is survived by his wife Rignald, seven children and 10 grandchildren.
I will never forget him because he was the one who recruited me into the then Talair-owned Niugini Nius in 1988, straight after graduation from University of PNG, where I joined him and Ronald Bulum on the inimitable sports team of the paper, launching me into my career in journalism.
Those were the glory days of club football, before the inter-city rugby league competition killed it in 1990, and the Lloyd Robson Oval was our second home.
We had unforgettable moments, forever etched into my mind, until Talair owner Sir Dennis Buchanan, in a spur-of-the-moment reaction to then Prime Minister Paias Wingti, closed down his airline and newspaper, leaving all of us staff members on the streets.
“So, for Jack, the referee has called it a game and the chief sub-editor has placed the final copy to bed,” Bulum said from Lae this week.
“I’m grateful for the mentoring and the camaraderie.
Metta was born on Oct 13, 1954, at the old Malahang Hospital in the glory days of the old Lae and did his primary schooling at Bumneng and Milfordhaven primary schools.
A brilliant child, he was then sent to Ipswich Grammar School in Queensland where he attained the Australian Junior School certificate.
In 1972 and 1973, Metta attended Sogeri Senior High School where he did his grades 11 and 12.
The following year, he went to Wellington Polytechnic in New Zealand, where he did a one-year journalism course, graduating with the Commonwealth Certificate of Journalism.
Upon his return to his beloved country, he joined the National Broadcasting Commission where from 1975-1979, he worked in Port Moresby, Lae, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Daru and Vanimo.
Metta was part of the great Kumul rugby league side of 1977 that beat the France 37-6, and which included the likes of captain John Wagambie, Dikana ‘Ten Gun’ Boge, Garia Kora, Paul Tore, Vai Karava, Linus Geni, Rod Pearce and Alan Rero.
He was a good mate of my late father, school inspector Mathias Nalu in Goroka, and it was there as a child that I first watched Metta enthralling rugby league-mad Goroka at the show ground (now National Sports Institute).
I can also remember that Sunday on May 29, 1977, when we tuned in to the ever-reliable NBC and listened as Metta and Co whipped France.
He was with Times of PNG from 1980-1984, Niugini Nius from 1985-1990, PNG Rugby Football League from 1990-1996, The National from1996-2003, Post-Courier from 2003-2005, and then rejoined The National from 2005-2009.
He then joined the new rugby league franchise Gulf Isapeas, and for the last two months until the time of his death, was employed by Mineral Resources Development Company as their public relations officer.
“I have been close to late Jack Metta since PRL days in the late 70s, 80s n 90s,” says good mate Michael Malabag.
“We maintained our friendship during his days with Niugini Nius when I used to write sports news on the Gordon touch rugby league which I helped form back in the 80s.
“Jack was kind enough as the sports editor to help me promote the competition
“Over last few years and as you know, I saw him from time to time at the media pool competition.
“His wife Rignald used to work for the Electoral Commission many years ago when I also was a staff there.”
Of the many tributes I have read, perhaps the best was from Pastor Ilaisa Orere, who grew up with Metta as a child.
Orere, incidentally, is the father of promising young The National reporter, Dennis Orere, who has also been inspired by the journalism feats of Metta.
Orere takes up the story: “The passing of Jack Metta brings to an end a story that began in the late 1950s at Samos Street at the Papuan Compound in Lae, where my good brother shared his early childhood days with many of us who grew up there, in a loving and caring environment.
“Jack ‘Kau’ Metta, as we called him, was the son of Metta Sova and his wonderful wife, who were some of those who left behind their ‘Yu iet kam na lukim’ homeland (Gulf) to settle in Lae in the 1950s and early 1960s to find a new future for their families.
“My father and mother also left behind Gavuone village in the Marshall Lagoon area to raise our family in this wonderful community.
“I was fortunate enough to live next door to the Metta family, which included two girls and five boys.
“Among them were Jack and younger brother Sape, who became famous names in PNG media.
“With other brothers and sisters from different cultural backgrounds living in the ‘Compound’ we became one family and lived one lifestyle for the years during which we grew up together.
“Fun-loving and strong-willed like his famous uncle, the great Sape, who was a powerhouse forward of the Goroka and Highlands league for some years, Jack enjoyed adventure and having fun.
“Most of all he loved his family and respected other people and made time for family and friends.
“My part in the Jack Metta legend was brief in his illustrious career but his family and my family shared the best years of our lives together.
“After completing primary education at Milfordhaven Primary School, Jack and I took different journeys, although we always came home for Christmas and spent valuable time as our families had done over many years.
“Jack would come home from Ipswich Grammar School in Brisbane and I was home from Armidale in NSW.
“As Jack developed a career, he also became a rugby league legend by becoming a Kumul.
“Somehow we always kept in touch through friends from our early days and family members.
“In 2007, when my son Dennis, was attached at The National during his holidays from Divine Word University where he was studying journalism, Jack took time to ask Dennis where he was from.
“He called me that day and we kept in touch but every time I called into The National offices to see him, he was out.
“I watched the memorable Test match from the grandstand when Jack, as a member of the Kumul side, defeated the French at the Lloyd Robson oval.
“He said to me after the match, ‘Ol frogs ia rough stret ia. Man mi kisim taim ia’.
“Yes, it was a rough affair and I’m sure other team members, especially Rod Pearce and John Tobin who were in the firing line in some rough scrums, will testify to that.
“But the comment shows his character throughout his life.
“He valued his family and friends and he remained the same for all of us, no matter what the situation was.
“He had just come off a history-making match but his sense of humor remained.
“His brothers and sisters and my brothers and sisters and I will always remember the fun-loving and great leader that he was in sport, in his career and in his family and social life.
“Though he is now gone from this life, the legacy of this great person will live on and will no doubt be an inspiration for his family, relatives and friends and many others.
“And I could go on about the special life that we all shared at the Papuan Compound in Lae.
“It was a special community that existed on the principle of ‘sharing and caring’.
“It was a community with a wide range of religious backgrounds.
“There were Catholic, United Church, Salvation Army, Lutheran and SDA families but we all grew up together as one family.
“Every home was open to all others.
“Jack’s home was our guava, laulau and daga place.
“My home was our comic shop.
“Terry Soi provided the balls for us to play touch.
“Everybody contributed to each other’s need.
“It was an upbringing that raised some popular names in Lae in the likes of Howard Lahari, Jack Manau, Maki and Terry Soi, late Mukura Orere, Pouna Wagi, Ernest Natera, Robert Soro, John Kave, Timothy and Joshua Lokora, Anderson and Wari Vele and many more.
“That is the upbringing that was exemplified in the success story of Jack Metta.
“Humility and commitment to fulfill our ambitions in life is the message that Jack leaves behind for his family and my family.
“Though Jack has gone, the legend lives on, and I believe that his soul will enjoy rest in eternal peace.
“My prayers and sincere condolences go to his wife and children, and the family as we stand with them in this unfortunate time of loss and sorrow.”