08 NOVEMBER 2020
A few years ago the PNG Government decided to rename the well-known Magi Highway after Sir Dr Reuben Taureka. Understandably, the people of Central had mixed reactions and some were anxious and angry about the name change. There was even an alternative suggestion to name the highway Polonsky Highway after one “Taubada Joe” who was well-known to the locals in the 1970s. This is all well and good but why name the highway after a foreigner? No matter how beloved he may have been let us try to remember our historical Papua New Guinean figures and honour them too before honouring foreigners.
Sir Dr Reuben Taureka is indeed a worthy person to be venerated. He was the son of a Papuan pastor (Pacific Islands Monthly 1 January 1961). He graduated from Suva Medical College in 1952 and at the age of 38 was appointed Acting Assistant Director of Medical Services for Papua and New Guinea in 1966. At that time, it was the highest position ever held by a Papuan or New Guinean in the Territory Public Service. When announcing his appointment, Director of the Department of Public Health, Dr R. F. R. Scragg said that Dr Taureka would undergo extensive training in his new position. “This will fit him for senior permanent positions such as regional medical officer or assistant director”, Dr Scragg said. (Canberra Times, 1966)
In 1961, Taureka was the President of the first Papuan Workers’ Association and he was the first “official” indigenous member of the Legislative Council of Papua and New Guinea (Pacific Islands Monthly 1 January 1961). The first indigenous members of the Legislative Council – Simogun, Salin and Dickson – who were appointed by Sir Paul Hasluck in 1951 were “unofficial” members.
When Chief Minister Somare formed PNGs first Ministry in 1975, Taureka was appointed as PNGs first Papua New Guinean Minister for Health.
Sir Reuben Taureka sadly passed away on 11 December 2017.
If you have any information about Sir Dr Reuben Taureka please share and let’s collectively write his story.