Monday, September 26, 2016

Peter King, tireless campaigner for West Papua’s struggle for self-determination

PETER KING 1936 - 2016

Peter King, tireless campaigner for West Papua’s struggle for self-determination
It is rare that an Australian academic would be farewelled from this life by a salute from a West Papuan freedom fighter but such was the significance of Peter King's contribution to the international arena that it seemed the perfect gesture to those who attended his "living tribute" a few weeks ago.
Professor Peter King, of the department of government at the University of Sydney, who has died after a short illness, was a modern thinker, an internationalist dedicated to making world affairs intelligible to mid-20th century Australia.

Peter King with Benny Wenda, spokesman for United Liberation Movement of West Papua. Photo: Supplied

Peter King was born in 1936, the son of Philip Cardigan King, who fought and was gassed in the First World War and who later co-founded King and Heath Real Estate. His mother, Ada Emily Lilian King (nee Davey), was an amateur doubles tennis champion.
Peter King earned his bachelor of arts with honours in political science from Melbourne, where he was as admired for his prowess in the athletics team (as a sprinter) as for his eloquence in debate. 
With a PhD in international relations from the Australian National University, King took up a lectureship in government at Sydney University. It was 1965 and the government of Robert Menzies was coming under pressure to back a negotiated settlement to the growing crisis in Vietnam.



Peter King at his "living tribute" saluted by West Papua leader Rex Rumakiek. Photo: Supplied

It was at this point that King came into his own. Campuses across the country were seeing an increasingly radicalised student body opposing the war and King was one of the few lecturers who encouraged them. Among those who jostled for elbow room at his politics classes were many who went on to become luminaries of public life, including Meredith Burgmann, former president of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, who has recalled being "radicalised" by him. Others remember King as a "jaunty" figure, who attended anti-war demos in a proletarian cap – worn at a rakish angle.

Every chapter of his PHD thesis commenced with a quote from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which King assembled in such a way as to make Carroll's classic text seem to purposefully reflect the frightening climate of the Cold War nuclear arms race.
While on secondment from his Sydney post, King spent three formative years of the early 1980s as professor of political and administrative studies at the University of Papua New Guinea. It was here that he became engaged with West Papua's struggle for self-determination while under Indonesian rule. He saw the pressing need for the Australian community to develop a much clearer understanding of the issues in Papua; of our part in creating them, and our responsibility to foster progress towards a just peace.
On his return from Port Moresby, King helped found Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), of which he became first president, then director, combining the role with his duties as a senior lecturer in government.
A short spell overseas followed, as professor of Australian studies at the University of Tokyo. King then came home to Australia to take up his final full-time post before retirement, as professor of politics at the University of Wollongong, before launching CPACS' West Papua Project, in 1999.
King's activist and scholarly fervour never wavered. His work on the Papuan question inspiring the occasional, but persistent thread of Australian journalism on the subject – ensuring that King's passing was marked by generous tributes from distinguished members of the Papuan émigré community. Indeed, during their final, emotional discussion Octo Mote – Secretary General of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua – assured King that he would be "written into the history" on the day West Papua gains independence.
King's interest in nuclear disarmament also continued. A passionate pacifist, he was the first to propose the radical concept of total non-retaliation. More recently, King joined with others, including the veteran campaigner John Hallam, to launch a Human Survival Project at CPACS. Its latest eye-catching public initiative, a people's tribunal in which the leaders of nuclear-armed states were put "on trial", attracted international attention and participation, and dominated what turned out to be the final weeks of his life.
Michael Kirby, the former High Court judge, a former student of King's, recently paid tribute to his endeavours. King, he said, "never gave up the effort to open the eyes of today's generation to the fearsome dangers of nuclear proliferation. All of us should take inspiration from his efforts… This will be his legacy".
Peter King is survived by two sons, Daniel and Nick, from his first marriage to Inese, as well as his second wife, Xue, and their daughter Madeleine. 
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, director of the department of peace and conflict studies

1 comment:

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    Great job.

    self-sacrificing

    ReplyDelete