Caroline Tiriman: Papua New Guinea’s runaway broadcaster


Caroline Tiriman, one of the most recognised voices in the Pacific, is retiring after more than 40 years behind the microphone. Kevin McQuillan reports.

Caroline was just 16 when her father helped her run away from her Rabaul home to Port Moresby, on a path that eventually led her to become one of the most recognised broadcasters in Melanesia.

Every morning at 11am at high school in Rabaul, Tiriman and her eighth-grade classmates would listen to the ABC news and current affairs program Ring for the Record.

‘I didn’t know where it was coming from. And so I used to wonder how did these people get into that radio,’ she says with a laugh.

The presenter was usually an Australian, but sometimes it was Papua New Guinean Pearson Vetuna, who later become her boss.

‘I knew that he was from Rabaul and I thought maybe I could get a job like that too. It was hard (to establish a career), coming from a little village in East New Britain, but fate guided me,’ Tiriman says.

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When she turned 16, her mother wanted her to stay at home to have a bride price (an arranged marriage).

‘One thing that pushed me to work was the service to our people, especially those in rural areas. They are hungry for information.’

‘That really broke my heart, because I had plans to work and help my mum and dad with school fees because there were 10 of us.’

She went to her father.

‘He was really sympathetic. He was the cook for the local Catholic priests and had met a lot of clergy, from Germany, Ireland and Australia. He knew there was a whole new world out there. And so I think he thought, ‘maybe one of my children can get a job somewhere outside of my little village’. I am so thankful he had that vision.’

Becoming the most recognised voice on the Pacific

She told the school’s career officer she wanted a job, not to get married. He found her a clerical job in Port Moresby with the Post and Telegraph Office. Her father gave his permission for her to go.

‘In fact, he helped me run away. He took me to the airport, put me on the plane and saw me off.’

Four months later a job came up with the national broadcaster, NBC. It was a clerical position, but Tiriman thought it might lead to an on-air job. It did, and she ended up reporting health, the environment, conservation and agriculture.

‘I enjoyed it because, at the time, the ABC had given over its broadcasting role to the new NBC. It was independence time.

‘I was in awe of experienced broadcasters because I didn’t know anything about broadcasting. It was on-the-job reporter training.’

‘I was very scared. My first language was Kuanua, and English second. We rarely spoke Tok Pisin in the village.’

It also meant being sent to Sydney for training, and on one occasion, a Tok Pisin broadcasting job at Radio Australia was advertised. Four months later, the head of the Tok Pisin service, George Sivigs, called her to invite her to do a Tok Pisin language translation test.

‘I was very scared. My first language was Kuanua, and English second. We rarely spoke Tok Pisin in the village. But George was very kind and said, “stay calm, take it slowly but finish”.’

It took her 90 minutes to translate the 10-minute English language bulletin into Pidgin.

Four months later, Sivigs rang and offered her the job. ‘Inside I was screaming with delight but my poor darling dad had cancer. So I rang him at the hospital in Lae and told him I had a job in Australia. He said: ‘Just go. I will be here when you come back. So just go’.”

He died on the weekend that Tiriman was due to go to Australia, so instead she went home to Rabaul for the funeral. A month later, she arrived in Melbourne and stayed for another 40 years.

This is an excerpt of the story ‘The runaway broadcaster’, which was first published in the July-August edition of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of AirNiugini.


  1. Peter Rai Kepesa says

    Well done Caroline. Congratulations for the long career path you have traveled and challenges you have overcome in your era. You are an inspiration to our young Papua New Guinean women whom are still facing challenges and struggling even though we in an era where technology have speed into our very own finger tips.
    Papua New Guinean women folk have not changed much in many ways especially those brought up in the remote villages but have bigger dreams like yours to achieve in life.
    Please come back to our beloved country and assist women folk in any way possible to elevate their standards from your great experiences.

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