Rehearsal on set with little Tunjie, William, Peter and Ulli Beier
Firstly, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to William's family, his children, and his many friends for their great loss.
Portrait of William as Man Friday
I had the great privilege to have known William as a friend and colleague, working together in theatre, radio production and writing during the most-productive period of both our lives.
I first met William when he arrived at the new University of PNG in 1968 to commence an undergraduate degree in law.
William soon realised that the dry demands of law were not for him!
His heart was set on more artistic endeavors, especially to be a performing artist and an actor.
Fortunately, the then recently-formed National Art School had commenced recruiting actors, dancers and musicians to be the nucleus of a National Theatre Company.
Funds were provided by the Government's National Cultural Council.
Here, William quickly established himself along with other talented young people from all over the country.
His colleagues included people like Kilori Susuve, Roslyn Bobom, Rodney Kove, Markham Galut, Tania Daure, Sam Paulas, Sebastian Miyoni, Michael Tavil, Domba Galang, Joe Mararos, Matalau Nakikus, Gundu Raka-Kagl, Nicolas Gioni, Golila Pepe, and Pengau Nengo, under the directorship of Arthur Jawodimbari.
. Together with William, they became PNG's first theatre professionals.
The company's repertoire included scripted plays such as Voices From the Ridge and Wilma, Wait, improvised plays and traditional dances devised by the actors.
As anyone fortunate enough to have seen these plays, they will recall that the presentations were often enlivened by comedy - which audiences loved.
A popular village-originated performance piece was the bawdy and very physical sketch about the trials of a poor man suffering elephantiasis.
This play – Bik Bal, was typical of the company's early successes.
Around this time, I was asked to join the company's board of directors with Arthur Jawodimbari, Nora Vagi Brash, Jon Bili Tokome and Rose Kekedo.
I helped organise and direct their first national tour to Lae, Kainantu, Goroka, Mt Hagen, Wapanamanda, Wewak, and Madang.
The tour's highlight was a comedy written by William (in Tok Pisin) called Pekato Bilong Man.
Very loosely based on the Bible's Book of Genesis. William adapted to a PNG setting, a Nigerian play The Fall by Ulli Beier.
In William's version, God's tree of the forbidden fruit became PNG'S betel nut palm!
Because of his success with the company, William attended a special course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney (NIDA).
His fellow students included Mel Gibson and Judy Davis.
William's NIDA teachers, such as Margaret Barr, admired his ability in improvisation, movement and acting skills.
One legacy of William's NIDA study was his adaptation of the ancient Greek play, Medea about a woman's terrible revenge on her husband.
Transposed to PNG Highlands with dialogue in Tok Pisin, the play had William's fellow NIDA student Helen Jones (later featured in the film Bliss) as the vengeful Medea.
Helen, as the outsider, convincingly became the character in William's conception, against the cast of National Theatre Company players.
For the National Broadcasting Commision, where I worked as senior producer drama and features, William's vocal talent was heard in many radio dramas such as As the River Flows (with Pauline Beni), and in his friend Albert Toro's serial The Sugar Cane Days – about the notorious Queensland 'Kanaka' trade.
Under my direction, and with the encouragement of Ulli Beier (then head of the Institute of PNG Studies), William starred in what would become his most-famous role.
This was as Man Friday in Adrian Mitchell's parable of colonialism.
Norman Vaughton (Crusoe) and Friday
Man Friday had original music by Sanguma and members of the National Theatre and Music School.
Man Friday shows his tribe how to play cricket
Above all, Takaku was charismatic, charming and dignified as the central character.
After this great success, William later appeared in my production of John Kolia's play Going Finish, set in contemporary Port Moresby.
William played a radical PNG student, patronised by an Australian accountant (Ian Boden).
Ian Boden and William in Going Finish
Audience preconceptions were challenged by the physicality of Takaku's character in an interracial sexual relationship.
The review by Rowan Callick in the Times of PNG commented on William's role: "Another strong performance by one of Papua New Guinea's finest actors...”
Following these stage successes, William was cast again as Man Friday in the 1997 American-financed film Robinson Crusoe opposite the Irish actor and (ex-James Bond) Pierce Brosnan.
Punishment as education
The film was first shown on US cable TV, and then given a world-wide release.
This was not William's first venture into filming.
In 1992, with his wantok Albert Toro, he co-wrote, directed and appeared in the television mini-series Warriors in Transit.
The series had theme music by Sanguma and followed a story line of a family's struggle in a Port Moresby squatter's settlement.
There were eight, 25 minute episodes.
Warriors In Transit was hailed as: "The first ever television drama wholly conceived and produced by Papua New Guineans”.
One of the themes of the mini-series was the destruction of the environment in the service of 'progress'.
Earlier, William had composed and written a folk opera called Erberia.
He based the libretto on traditional creation legends from Bouganville.
Erberia was performed at the PNG Festival of Arts.
All his life William had a deep concern for the environment.
He felt the need to preserve and maintain the natural world of forest, islands, mountains and sea that were the birthright of all Papua New Guineans.
After his time with the National Theatre Company, William directed the Milne Bay Provincial Theatre Group.
Here concerns were focused on the increasing destruction by international logging companies of the pristine forests of Milne Bay islands, such as Woodlark.
William and his theatre group performed plays for villagers that expressed concern at the consequence of this environmental destruction.
“Ceremonial art was integral to the ordering of society.
“Stories often used environmental metaphors. Tradition was based on a respect for the environment, a harmonious relationship with it.”
William's continuing legacy and example to us all should be to maintain the creative spirit he so trusted and valued.
He believed in the strength of art, expressed through performance, writing, music and creativity.
William dedicated his own life to enrich the cultural heritage of his country, Papua New Guinea.
Vale! dear friend.