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Oala-Rarua, Oala (1934–1980)

by Murray Groves

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Oala Oala-Rarua, n.d.

Oala Oala-Rarua, n.d.

photo supplied by his son, Oala Oala-Rarua

Oala Oala-Rarua (1934-1980), teacher, trade-union leader, politician and diplomat, was born on 12 June 1934 at Pari village, near Port Moresby, son of Oala Oala-Rarua, pastor, and his wife Asi, née Daroa. He received his early education in village mission schools before transferring in 1948 to the Sogeri education centre where he was trained, and then employed, as a teacher. In 1955 he began teaching at Kwato mission, Milne Bay, an outpost of the Moral Rearmament Movement, under whose auspices he visited New Zealand, the United States of America and Europe. In 1957 he joined the Territory of Papua and New Guinea's administration as a teacher. He was headmaster of the Kerepunu school in the Marshall Lagoon area when, in 1962, he was recalled to Port Moresby to become assistant to (Sir) John Gunther, the assistant-administrator. Recognizing his ability, and his fluency in English, Gunther gave him a number of specialized tasks, including appointment (1963) as assistant executive officer for the Commission on Higher Education.

In 1962 Oala-Rarua was elected president of the Port Moresby Workers' Association. He resigned from the administration in 1965 to work full time for the new Territory-wide Federation of Workers' Associations, which he had helped to establish. Within several years, however, both organizations were defunct, and he took a job with a private firm in Port Moresby.

Oala-Rarua stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Council in 1961 and for the House of Assembly in 1964. In the following year he founded the short-lived New Guinea United National Party. He was a founding member (1967) and co-chairman of the Pangu (Papua and New Guinea Union) Pati, but soon left because of policy differences. In 1968 he was elected to the House of Assembly as member for the Central Regional Electorate and was appointed assistant-minister for the Treasury.

In the House, Oala-Rarua's contributions to debate were forthright, cogent and uncompromising. As a 'straight-out nationalist', he consistently argued for the country's advance towards independence and for 'the betterment of its people regardless of colour, race, or creed'. He was a member of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development which reported in 1971. While urging Papua-New Guinea's development as one nation, he also recognized that there was an imbalance in the allocation of funds which should be redressed in Papua's favour. He persistently advocated the development of Port Moresby as the national capital. Elected president of the Port Moresby Town Council in 1971, he became its first mayor in 1972.

After his defeat in the 1972 election, Oala-Rarua was chosen in 1974 to set up Papua New Guinea's first diplomatic office in Australia. When the nation gained its independence in 1975, he became its first high commissioner to Australia. At the end of his term he returned to Papua New Guinea and stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Moresby South Open electorate in the 1977 election. Retiring from politics, he pursued business interests. He died suddenly of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 17 May 1980 in Port Moresby and was buried at Pari village; his wife Paruru Rarua, three daughters and two sons survived him.

Able, intelligent, personable and urbane, Oala-Rarua mixed easily with Australians, indigenous Papua New Guinea leaders and his own Motu people. He was part of an elite group who carried the burden of the expectations of Papua New Guineans and Australian government officials as the country approached independence. One of the few Papuans of his generation with education beyond primary level, he was thrust into responsibilities which did not always suit his talents or temperament. (Sir) Michael Somare paid tribute to him as 'one of the pioneers of our nation, a wonderful man and a dedicated . . . nationalist'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. G. Bettison et al (eds), The Papua-New Guinea Elections 1964 (Canb, 1965)
  • A. L. Epstein et al (eds), The Politics of Dependence (Canb, 1971)
  • D. Woolford, Papua New Guinea (Brisb, 1976)
  • R. R. Premdas and J. S. Steeves, Electoral Politics in a Third World City (Port Moresby, 1978)
  • Australian External Territories, 9, no 4, 1969, p 28
  • Post-Courier, 19, 21 May 1980
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Murray Groves, 'Oala-Rarua, Oala (1934–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/oala-rarua-oala-11270/text20105, accessed 24 September 2017.

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