John Yocklunn receives his first knighthood from Prince Charles in 1975
John Yocklunn receives his first knighthood from Prince Charles in 1975

Respect the royals says Rockhampton's own Lady Yocklunn

When it comes to reports of royal behaviour, Patricia Yocklunn says she is "increasingly appalled at the utter untruths” perpetuated by the tabloids and so-called women's magazines.

"Meghan was the delight of all papers and magazines before her marriage,” she wrote in yesterday's Morning Bulletin.

"Now that it is all over, the only way to see these putrid magazines and papers is to make her another Diana, someone to sell their wretched stories.”

Sir Yocklunn welcomes HRH Queen Elizabeth II to Port Moresby in 1982
Sir Yocklunn welcomes HRH Queen Elizabeth II to Port Moresby in 1982

Mrs Yocklunn who now lives in South Rockhampton is in a rare position to have an opinion on media hype over the British royals because she moved in their circles during the '70s and '80s.

Her late husband, Sir John Yocklunn, was Director of Protocol while the couple lived in Papua New Guinea.

Twice knighted for services to the Papua New Guinea government and the Queen respectively, Mr Yocklunn arranged visits from royals and other dignitaries over seven years.

A member of the PNG team which negotiated the transfer of power from Australia, Mr Yocklunn helped to organise Prince Charles' visit during independence celebrations in 1975 as well as two visits by the Queen in 1977 and 1982.

Sir John and Lady Patricia Yocklunn on theie 1981 wedding day at the Savoy Chapel in London
HAPPILY WED: Sir John and Lady Patricia Yocklunn on their 1981 wedding day at the Savoy Chapel in London

Mrs Yocklunn recalls sipping cocktails with the Queen's ladies-in-waiting aboard the royal yacht while her Majesty and her husband were in planning meetings.

She dismisses urban myths surrounding situations in which the Queen - whom Mrs Yocklunn describes as "very witty” - would have been placed in a position of embarrassment.

How her husband became national treasurer to the Pangu Party during its first general elections and principal private secretary to the country's longest serving prime minister reads like a saga in its own right.

His family came to Australia in the 1890s looking for gold but ended up farming about 100km north of Perth where some railway siding maps still bear the name Lunn's Landing.

His father's first wife couldn't bear children so Mr Yocklunn brought a 15-year-old concubine out to Australia as his 'niece' but returned her to China when she fell pregnant for fear she would be deported.

PNG Prime Minister and Jack Yocklunn in Shanghai 1976
PNG Prime Minister and Jack Yocklunn in Shanghai 1976

Mr Yocklunn was born Soong Ng-Chung in China in 1933 but, after Japan began its invasion in the lead up to World War II, he and his sister were sent to Australia, leaving behind their mother who later moved to Hong Kong.

Because he knew no English and was bullied at school, Mr Yocklunn describes his first years in Western Australia as "quite traumatic”.

However he went on to win a state scholarship to Perth Modern School and later majored in French and German at the University of Western Australia.

Granted permanent residence by 1950 and citizenship eight years later, he began work in the national treasury before joining the National Library in Canberra where he also completed a degree in politics and public administration.

Sir John Yocklunn, third from left, introduces Mr Gobu Mail Liaison Officer to HRH Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 1982 royal visit.
Sir John Yocklunn, third from left, introduces Mr Gobu Mail Liaison Officer to HRH Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh during the 1982 royal visit.

Lured by "vigorous publicity campaigns” in the 1950s he applied to be a clerk in Papua New Guinea.

The Oceanian territory, which had been captured in a 1914 military campaign by Australia, was subsequently deemed an external territory under Australian administration by the League of Nations.

An ANU friend, Tony Voutas, who worked there told Mr Yocklunn that "great political changes were about to take place in PNG and the group of Papua New Guineans who were best organised, probably by way of a political party, would be in the best position to implement their vision for the country.”

He was then approached by David Chonoweth, who trained PNG locals for senior positions in their public service, to take up the position of college librarian.

Days after he arrived Tony Voutas - who had won a seat in the House of Assembly - took Mr Yocklunn to meet the Secretary of the PNG Union 'Pangu Piti' party which was formed by "younger, better educated public servants” most of whom had trained at the college.

The following five years, he was elected national vice-president of the part and national co-ordinator of its campaign for the 1972 elections which saw them win 25 seats and form a coalition government with Michael Somare as Prime Minister.

Sir John and Lady Patricia Yocklunn in Port Moresby 1982
Sir John and Lady Patricia Yocklunn in Port Moresby 1982

Mr Yocklunn and other "white advisers” faced backlash for seeking to establish the legitimacy of the fledgeling government so he so sojourned to the UK for a year to undertake a master's degree.

Upon his return he was posted to the Public service Board and tasked with establishing a national library.

Following PNG's independence, Mr Yocklunn travelled to official events with Somare including a 1976 round of welcomes and military guard honours in China.

"For him the visit meant acceptance of PNG as a sovereign nation; for me, [it] meant a homecoming to my motherland,” he said during a 1996 Chinese in Australia conference.

"It was a journey that took four decades and detours to Perth, Paris and Port Moresby.”

Mrs Patricia Yocklunn (nee Swann) joined the journey when she moved to Papua New Guinea in 1978 to work at the same library.

Lady Patricia Yocklunn with  her late husband Sir John's coat of arms
Lady Patricia Yocklunn with her late husband Sir John's coat of arms in front of a photo taken during her ballerina days Jann Houley

She grew up outside Launceston and was a founding member of the Tasmanian Ballet Company along with Graeme Murphy who went on to put Sydney Dance Company on the world map.

She brought two children from a previous marriage to live in Papua New Guinea which was "a bit scary at times.”

"My husband John was a lovely, lovely man... and a wonderful cook,” Mrs Yocklunn said.

"He grew up looking after his family after his father died and his stepmother had to work out on the farm,” she said.

"Everything from a traditional Chinese banquet to the finest French croquembouche, cooking was his passion.”

The couple married twice in 1981, with one ceremony in Papua New Guinea presided over by the Prime Minister and another at the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy in London.

The Yockluns in October 1995
The Yockluns in October 1995

Two years they returned to Australia where Mr Yocklunn became Director of Monash University's Gippsland campus library and his wife worked for a signage and recycling company which employed people with a disability.

They ultimately retired to Rockhampton where Mrs Yocklunn's daughter Fiona lives with her son Liam who is now a 15-year-old student at The Cathedral College.

Mr Yocklunn's sons Christopher and David retired to Tasmania but regularly travel to Rockhampton to visit.

Her husband remained active in the community including serving on the Regional Arts Development committee which allocates funds to local artists.

Sadly, Mr Yocklunn suffered a series of strokes and spent five years at the Eventide nursing home before he passed away two years ago.

Mrs Yocklunn is now bundling up her husband's papers and other mementos to donate to Australia's Chinese museum in Melbourne.

"He was such a fascinating man in himself but he was always interested in getting to know all about other people,” she said.

"One of the Papua New Guineans once said to him 'John, you've got a black heart' and that was intended as the highest form of compliment.”

A Chinese boy who lived in Australia when his family members couldn't be citizens, pilloried by the Western world as the PNG Prime Minister's "white” adviser, a man whose "black heart” loved his wife and French cooking... who knew such a dignitary spent his retired years quietly in Rockhampton?

Vale John Yocklunn.