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Eulogy for Paul Derek Coleman OBE

paulThis has been adapted with the kind permission of Captain Stuart Cooper from the eulogy he delivered at the funeral service for Paul, held at the Cathedral of St Stephen Brisbane on 11 September 2015

Paul was born in Cyprus on 4 July 1957. His dad was serving in the British Army at the time and the family was away from the UK on an overseas posting.

Later events saw Paul spend some of his life and schooling in Benghazi in Africa, in England and in Germany, so he was quite a seasoned little traveller by the time his mum and dad graced us with his presence when they chose to immigrate here in 1972, eventually settling in Port Lincoln in South Australia.

I understand that his grandfather on his mum’s side was the last British commandant of the now famous UNESCO heritage site called the Red Fort in Delhi in India. Perhaps this esteemed military lineage in his family was the reason that he also chose to spend a short time himself in the Australian army. His natural talents were immediately recognized to the extent that he was offered a commission to become an officer. In typically modest style, Paul decided that he wanted to stick with his new found mates and serve out his time as a regular digger.

I do recall him telling me once about a particularly arduous route march where they were given a ludicrously short time to complete the course. The army dangled the usual carrot at them by saying that should they achieve this then they could have the coming weekend off but, if anyone was to fall by the wayside, then the entire group would be confined to barracks for the weekend while repeating the exercise until they all got it right. Paul was evidently teamed up with a much larger and heavier compatriot than he was, but who was clearly suffering quite badly from the effects of this physical exertion and looked like wilting before the finish line. Unperturbed, Paul lifted him over his shoulders fireman style and, complete with the additional pack and weapon, managed to struggle across the line in time carrying his mate. Such was the physical and mental strength, coupled with a dogged determination, which this giant of a man could produce when called upon.

In August 1981­, after his discharge from the army and finally completing his university studies to become a geologist, Paul joined­ CRA, as Rio Tinto was formerly known back in those days.

Paul’s early years with the company saw him in more of an administrative role, starting off in Townsville before then moving to Mt Isa. His excellent work performances soon gave him a reputation of being a ‘Mr. Fix-it’ and the go to man when times were tough. Thus, in typical Aussie fashion, he was given a nickname and dubbed ‘Radar’, after that well known character in the popular television series M*A*S*H. I believe that he didn’t really appreciate this moniker, but I think it was quite clever and very apt.

Paul then moved to the Sydney office in 1986, where his work ethic continued to impress to the extent that a senior geologist within the Company suggested that he go to PNG, as he could clearly see that Paul possessed the necessary attributes to get on with the difficult jobs while having the ability at the same time to get along with just about everybody.

I can most definitely attest to this latter thought, for when he arrived in PNG in 1989 I met him for the first time when he came to join our running club, Boroko Hash House Harriers. Back in those days, we preferred to be known as a drinking club with a running problem, so Paul fit in just fine!

There isn’t a person in that group back in those days who didn’t consider Paul to be one of the nicest, most unselfish, and most generous men that God ever put air into. Unfortunately, the workplace wasn’t always that kind to Paul. He was involved with a mining project in a remote location called Mt Kare where, for various reasons, the landowners were becoming increasingly disenchanted and took matters into their own hands. The subsequent burning of a helicopter, the presence of guns and shots being fired, rapid evacuations of personnel and the looting and destruction of the camp, which finally resulted in the abandonment of the whole project, had all the hallmarks of a Hollywood blockbuster, in which Paul would most certainly have had one of the starring roles.

With no Mt. Kare, Paul returned to the head office in Melbourne around 1994/95 to be the Property Manager. Paul’s lust for travel and adventure, and no doubt also missing his mates in PNG, saw him return to the head office in Port Moresby in 1996 to be the manager of Systems and Administration, which also included an involvement in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the company that oversaw the huge, world-class copper mine at Panguna on Bougainville Island. It was during this second tour of PNG that he met and married his lovely wife Kym who has been an absolute rock throughout and the light of his life.

Paul was faced with some incredible challenges that emerged in those days, including the “Sandline Affair” (a mercenary group engaged by the PNG Government to retake the Bougainville mine that lead to the Government’s dismissal) and litigation in the U.S. Federal Court that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court some 13 years later. There was also a major issue with tax as well as exchange controls that threatened the finances of Bougainville Copper Limited. In no small way Paul, contributed to a satisfactory outcome for both Rio Tinto and BCL in all those matters.

The quality of his work and his incredible devotion to the needs of others saw the Government of PNG recommend him for the award of the Order of the British Empire for services to commerce, the mining sector and to charities. This prestigious award was bestowed upon him in person by Prince William in Buckingham Palace last year.

For reasons that we are all aware, Paul finally retired from Rio in August 2015 ­ just last month ­ as the Rio Tinto Country Manager PNG and Company Secretary of Bougainville Copper Limited. A truly remarkable, loyal, dedicated and professional service provided to the one organization for some 34 years.

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has conveyed his condolences, stating, in part, that PNG has lost a good friend. There has been a very understandable outpouring of condolence messages received, ­unfortunately far more than time would permit for me to read them all but the essence of those messages has been encapsulated in a letter from the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum.

Paul let it be known that after the funeral service he wanted to buy the gathering a drink or two at one of his favourite watering holes “The Alliance Hotel” situated on the corner of Boundary and Leichardt Streets in Spring Hill.

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