Matilda Pilacapio

Matilda Pilacapio
Interviewed by Jonathan Ritchie and Catherine Nolan Aug 18 2015

Matilda Pilacapio has been a human rights advocate and environmental campaigner for over 30 years. In this interview she recalls her time working at the Burns Philp company on Samarai Island and reflects on the growing momentum of the independence movement.

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Matilda Pilacapio is welcomed to the interview and describes her first contact with Europeans and her upbringing on a coconut plantation. She states that she is the daughter of a mixed race planter, and her father had both a liquor and a gun licence. She states that she mixed with her father's colonial friends including Kiaps. She states that she went to an Anglican Mission School as a boarder.

education, Filippino

Matilda Pilacapio recalls that it was at school that she first heard about independence. She recalls that at school she had pictorial education magazines from which she learnt about Africa. She states that her father was very political and listended regularly to radio and read newspapers and the Papuan Villager magazine.

Africa, Indonesia, John Guise, magazines, newspapers, radio

Matilda Pilacapio describes working on Samarai Island in 1964 as an assistant ledger machinist for Burns Philp and the racial segregation of work in the office. She states that she was trained to use the ledger machine.

Burns Philp, Milne Bay, Samarai Island

Matilda Pilacapio states that she learnt about independence while working for Burns Philp. She recalls the Milne Bay politician Alice Wedega who was in the national government. She recalls that she hoped that the white people would not leave at independence, and that there would not be bloodshed as in Africa.

Africa, Alice Wedega, Burns Philp, independence

Matilda Pilacapio describes how Burns Philp gave her a house on Samarai Island in 1964 as her wedding present, an unusual thing. She recalls having the day off for her wedding and going cycling and diving. She relates that she named her daughter born on 11 August 1969 Fraulein Silvia, after a German woman Fraulein and after Salitia Pipit a fast runner and competitor in the South Pacific Games.

Burns Philp, marriage, Salitia Pipit, South Pacific Games

Matilda Pilacapio discusses how she was treated by the whites in PNG, saying she mixed well. She recalls joining the Girl Guides Movement and then took her uniform back and joined the Boy Scouts instead and became a cub master. She states that Samarai was a small island and everyone played soccer or cricket and mixed together.

Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Samarai Island, sport

Matilda Pilacapio discusses the church backgrounds of Papuan leaders and the importance of her own Anglican background.

Alice Wedega, John Guise, Kwato Church

Matilda Pilacapio states that she drew a bigger wage at  Burns Philp than her husband who was a medical midwife. She reflects on the flexibility of gender roles in Milne Bay, and the importance of the matrilineal society in men respecting women.

Burns Philp, matrilineal society, Milne Bay, status of women, wages

Matilda Pilacapio recalls that although she was earning more than her husband she was not earning as much as white women at Burns Philp.

Burns Philp, wages

Matilda Pilacapio recalls that during the 1968 election she voted for John Guise. She describes his leadership style as humble, eating brown rice and bully beef during his campaigning and travelling on the copra boats. She recalls that he would wear a t-shirt and brown khaki half-tone shorts and campaign on the beach. She states that in the house of assembly he would challenge anybody and recalls him taking on Bishop David Hand. She recalled that that Bishop Hand also wore khaki clothes, trying to look more like a patrol officer than a bishop.

1968 election, David Hand, John Guise, leadership, political campaign

Matilda Pilacapio discusses the presumption that Michael Somare would be prime minister in 1972, saying she rallied behind John Guise. She recalls that John Guise was probably the only one who could be governor general. She describes the balance of Papuans in the leadership positions.

Albert Maori Kiki, Barry Holloway, John Guise, Michael Somare

Matilda Pilacapio states that she was disappointed the country did not have 10 years transition from self government to independence, training public servants and others. She describes the fear of bloodshed prior to independence and her father noticing that whites and mixed race people were leaving the country.

independence, Matthias Toliman, Tei Abal

Matilda Pilacapio discusses the church's position on independence.

Dawa Solomon, university graduates

Matilda Pilacapio discusses the transition of the capital of Milne Bay from Samarai Island to Alotau in 1964.

Alotau, Burns Philp, Milne Bay, Samarai Island

Matilda Pilacapio relates how after her daughter was born in 1969 she left Samarai Island and went back to the plantation on the mainland as her husband was away often, before moving to Woodlark Island. She reaclls the sadness around losing her father in 1970.

Samarai Island, Woodlark Island

Matilda Pilacapio describes her first time in Port Moresby to deal with legal issues surrounding her late father's plantation and her involvement with complex legal system of Australia and PNG in her divorce. She recalls that she had the same lawyer as Talair owner Dennis Buchanan, leading later to his support for her 1977 election campaign.

1977 elections, Dennis Buchanan, legal system, Talair

Matilda Pilacapio gives her impression of Port Moresby in 1971, saying she was shocked by the number of houses and thought perhaps the houses would be taken away when the white people left or that they would be given to black people at independence. She relates that she had access in Port Moresby to several exclusively white clubs.

Port Moresby

Matilda Pilacapio discusses Papua Besana and Josephine Abaijah and some ambivalence about supporting her, and the rise of many factions which some thought would split the country apart at independence and lead to bloodshed.

bloodshed, Josephine Abaijah, Papua Besena movement

Matilda Pilacapio states that she heard about factions by listening to radio and reading newspapers and the South Pacific Post. She describes Nahau Rooney travelling out to try and bring the factions together.

Nahau Rooney, newspapers, radio, South Pacific Post

Matilda Pilacapio describes working in 1974 at PNG Motors in Port Moresby during the day and at a restaurant at night. She recalls leaving in 1975 to work for PNG Printing where Ray Thurecht was chair of the Papua New Guinea Independence Air Race.

Papua New Guinea Independence Air Race, Ray Thurecht

Matilda Pilacapio describes travelling on independence eve back to Samarai Island with a bottle of whisky to celebrate 'Happy Underpants' Day.

independence, Samarai Island

Interview concludes.