Obituary – Hank Nelson


by Gavan Daws (Peter Temple read it and thought it would be of interest to readers…and he was dead right)

From Peter: here is a link to a great obit for Hank Nelson, a much-loved prof at the ANU, written by a colleague and lifelong friend, Gavan Daws. Hank was such a quintessential Aussie that the obit deserves a wider audience. I know you and all footy and cricket lovers will relish the bits about country games.

Keep up good work.


  1. John Harms says

    Peter, thanks for this recommendation. Just brilliant. There are so many elements in this that warm my heart. I suspect I was born at the wrong time.

  2. PETER, Gavan and Darky: Hank was a considerable figure in the PNG times when we were both present in and around Moresby.

    I was in PNG from 1963-76, inclusive, and Hank would have been there for quite a portion of those years.

    UPNG was a fledgling institution, but all the better for Hank’s input.

    If you would like to read an obituary based on PNG experiences go to Keith Jackson’s PNG Attitude, scroll down the right-hand side until you get to “obituaries” and take the cursor down to the H. Nelson entry.

    Don’t forget to read the comments at the end of the article. Quite a few Papua New Guineans have left their remarks about what Hank meant to them — either as students, colleagues or just fellow citizens.

    Thanks to Gavan I now know that Hank was a more than handy footballer. I can well imagine those little archaic changing rooms/kiosks/ablution blocks in back country footy leagues. I see a few of them still around central Victoria, especially at the ovals used by the Heathcote District and Loddon Valley F.L’s.

  3. tony robb says

    Terrific read about a man who got more out of life in week than many would in their whole life. I coached a number of teachers from PNG who would do a year OS training In Canberra. They were terrific people although there was some tension between Coastal to Hill tribesman at times. We had a fellow called Joey Lomou who played CHF in the Papuan nationa team and was a great pick up. I remember fondly him not turning up until half time in a major semi and without boots. One of the boys had taken to car and left in town the night before. Anyway we found some boots and Joey was so upset that he had let me down that he vowed tomake up for his tardiness 6 goals later and and 30 odd touches in the secong half kind of did the trick He ran everywhere and just demanded the footie. All the other Papuans had tribals chant going. Just Brillinat. I can see how a man like Hank would be so embraced in such a culture
    Thanks for sharing

  4. Ian Hauser says


    I venture to think that those of us who try to throw a few words together would feel that we had really made it if we could write something as loving/moving/beautiful/meaningful/touching/respectful as this! A wonderful homage to your friend.

    Thinking back to my own uni days (Flinders Uni, early 70s), it was a History tutor, John Mallon, who first “taught” me that, in the end, it’s the human element, what happens to the ordinary bloke, that counts. This approach was later expanded on by another History lecturer and tutor, Dr Janet Phillips. What they had was not unlike your Nelson – a grounded, intelligent, people-centred, no bullshit common sense that seems lacking all too often.

    One can only hope that their type is still out there somewhere.

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