John Pasquarelli - Biography
John Pasquarelli was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on 15.2.1937 and his brother Leon was born in 1941. John’s father Joe(Guiseppe) Pasquarelli had come to Ingham, Queensland, Australia before WW1 from Conzano in Northern Italy, with his parents Luigi and Raimonda and his two elder sisters. Joe Pasquarelli graduated in Medicine at Melbourne University with ‘Weary’ Dunlop and served in New Guinea WW2. Luigi Pasquarelli was a ‘gun’ canecutter who fought off the racist and thuggish AWU which tried to stop him becoming a sub-contractor. John’s mother Marie Florence Nelson was born in Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and was the youngest daughter of Leonard Nelson, Australia’s premier vaudeville star of the 1920s. The family moved from Brisbane to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, in 1948 due to Leon’s medical problems and before the family settled in Colac, Victoria, John attended a number of state schools before being expelled from Colac High School and finishing his education as a boarder at Ballarat Grammar School in 1956. He enrolled for Arts/Law at Melbourne University and was a foundation student at International House which accommodated Asian and Australian students as part of the then Colombo Plan. Law school was not for John and in 1959 he went to the Coober Pedy opal fields with John Bennett and Peter Sykes and some good opal was found. A ruptured appendix had him rushed to Melbourne where ‘Weary’ Dunlop operated on him and in 1960, John was posted to the Sepik River as a Cadet Patrol Officer with the Australian Administration. In those days the contract of service for both private enterprise and the public service was 21 months on, 3 months off but John and the public service lasted no time at all with his resignation and he started shooting crocodiles and trading with the natives.
John’s trading company was ‘Las Kompani Pty Ltd’ and he had trading posts at Ambunti on the upper Sepik, Amboin on the Karawari River and May River as well as outboard powered double canoes which served as mobile trade stores. Due to his natural artistic instinct, John was drawn to the powerful and colourful carvings and architecture of the Sepik peoples and became the official collector for the famous Basel Museum. Whilst on a shield collecting trip to the Frieda River in 1963, John discovered significant traces of gold and copper mineralisation which has since been extensively prospected by Mt Isa Mines and Xstrata. The find has been described as ‘one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and gold’ but is yet unmined. In 1970-71, John and his friends Frank and Norm Martin built an airstrip at Paupe on the Frieda which still operates. At this time John and the Martins were also building Karawari Lodge at Amboin on the Karawari River which attracted many overseas tourists but PNG Independence in 1975 brought with it problems that still stifle what should have been a multi-billion dollar industry. In 1964 John was elected by the Sepik people to PNG’s first parliament as the Member for Angoram Open 1964-68 and Michael Somare’s father was one of his opponents. John chose not to stand again as his political antenna was picking up that the road ahead for PNG would be very rocky indeed. During his term in the PNG Parliament, John had the famous Haus Tambaran at Kanganaman on the Middle Sepik declared National Cultural Property and was the prime mover behind the Gavien Land Resettlement Scheme, designed to resettle those Sepik people who had been historically living in swamps on the lower Sepik. For a while John was a licensed Private Eye in Sydney and Melbourne but still maintained his interest in politics. In 1987 he was preselected by the Liberals to stand in the Victorian Federal Seat of Jagajaga as a John Howard candidate. John doorknocked 20,000 homes but to no avail. In 1990 he worked for National Party Senator John Stone who stood for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax but was beaten by the Liberal candidate. In 1990 John returned to PNG and started working on what would become Moro airstrip in the Southern Highlands of PNG. He supervised construction of a helipad for the first commercial landing in PNG of the then world’s largest helicopter, the Russian Mi-26. Returning to Kikori in the Papuan Gulf where he was doing other work for mining companies, John had his first attack of Meniere’s Disease which was to take him out of action for 6 years, literally bankrupting him.
Through his long time friend John Bennett, John met the maverick Labor MP for Kalgoorlie, Graeme Campbell, who had been sacked by Hawke and Keating for being ‘racist’ in his views on multiculturalism. It was 1996 and John was recovering from his Meniere’s Disease and desperately needed to find work. He went to Kalgoorlie and helped Campbell fight for the seat of Kalgoorlie as an Independent in the 1996 Federal election. Graeme cruised in with help from Liberal voters and it was that night watching the election results that Graeme and John saw that Pauline Hanson had won the seat of Oxley in Queensland as an independent. John told Graeme, ‘you’ll be sitting next to her in parliament’ – to which Graeme replied, ‘hop on the next plane and go and see her.’ As they say, ‘the rest is history.’ John wrote Pauline’s maiden speech, a left-wing academic describing it as ‘the most significant maiden speech in Australia’s political history.’ A tumultuous 1996 came to an end with Pauline sacking John and his assistant Geoff Dabb. John returned to PNG in 2000 hoping to have one last tilt at making some big money from constructing oil and gas drill rig sites but his bad luck persisted when he was deported as the result of some old political enemies getting square. In the same month he was deported John received a ‘gong’ from the PNG Governor General!
When he was 10 in 1947, John had been encouraged by his beloved Aunt Dolores(Dorothy), to attend at the Stanley Hobday Art School in Queen Street Brisbane, on Saturday mornings. One Saturday morning, Dorothy, who was John’s mother’s sister was shot as she was waiting for a tram at Coorparoo to go and take John to his art school. Dorothy was shot by a madman who had been stalking her. The gunman killed himself at the scene and John’s medico father tried to save Dorothy at the Mater Hospital but she died. Fast forward to John’s house at Newstead in country Victoria in 2000 – 2001 and John had picked up the paintbrushes again after a 55 year break! In 2001 he stood as an Independent in the Federal Seat of Bendigo and got lots of publicity but few votes! In September 2003 he had his first art show at the Collins Street Gallery owned by the well known Gary Morgan, the show being opened by Labor’s Barry Jones! John had 4 successful shows but then bad luck intervened yet again with the GFC and changed rules that once allowed superannuants to use artworks to their advantage. John has moved to Townsville and visits PNG regularly. He is recognised as an expert on Oceanic Art and was a substantial contributor to the PNG National Museum. John collected for international museums and well known private collectors and he is currently advising the Abbott Government to help the PNG Museum survive given the problems it has.