George Ivan Smith and what he did for West Papua

Published in:

George Ivan Smith, and what he did for West Papua

George Ivan Smith AO (1915-1995) is a little known but remarkable Australian, the son of a prison governor, educated at Goulbourn and Bathurst high schools, who started Radio Australia, the BBC’s WWII Pacific Service and the UN Information Service. Conor Cruise O’Brien, another UN Executive, claimed Ivan Smith loved ‘poetry both good and bad,’ had ‘an exuberant sense of humour’ with ‘a face like a sunset over a sheep farm’. The tough and wily Australian was a trusted associate of Dag Hammarskjöld and understood how and why the Secretary-General was escalating West Papua’s self-determination in 1961.

The addition of George Ivan Smith to the tree-memorials in 2021 celebrates the illuminative moment in 1983 when he told Australian academic Greg Poulgrain about the Sec-General’s OPEX Decolonisation program for West Papua and his plan to introduce to the 1961 UN General Assembly. No one else has spoken or written about this program that would have deterred Indonesia from invading the territory in 1962, and thus rendered unnecessary the UN’s so-called peace treaty (New York Agreement) that enabled a belligerent state to incorporate a UN Non-Self-Governing Territory. The Sec-General’s program, which he had quietly discussed with relevant and influential figures in New York and Europe, would have:

i) Annulled the Dutch and Indonesian claims to sovereignty over Papua;
ii) Recognised the Papuan people as the sovereign owners of their land;
iii) Inserted UN technical officers to assist the new state for five years.

The West Papua Womens Office is including George Ivan Smith in the final six months of its tree-planting project for Dag Hammarskjöld and his OPEX Decolonisation Program for West Papua. In 2020 the office organised the planting of 60 memorials around the world which increased awareness of the facts (and fictions) behind Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua in 1962, and advanced support for a motion that the General Assembly in September 2021 acknowledges West Papua’s position on the UN Decolonisation List. It needs to be noted that in 2019 the Pacific Islands Forum (18 UN member-states, including Australia and New Zealand) and the African Caribbean Pacific Group (79 member-states) passed motions of preparatory support for the 2021 General Assembly to recognise West Papua’s position on the UN Decolonisation List.

Australian trade unions and media organisations are requested to make a two-minute video of their tree-planting ceremony and email it to the office, ready for presentation to the current UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 2021 General Assembly in September. Please email your videos by 18 September, the day in 1961 that Dag Hammarskjöld was killed, a murder that shouldn’t have but did so white-ant the West Papuans’ self-determination that the UN (illegally) gifted its Non-Self-Governing Territory to a fragile belligerent state.

How does planting a tree help West Papua at the UN?

Many UN member-states now recognise that their failure to uphold West Papua’s self-determination in November 1961 enabled the brutal subjugation of an indigenous people by a foreign state, Indonesia, which has never recognised self-determination in word or in deed (despite being a UN member since 1950). They also know that despite Indonesia’s claims of ‘being a democracy’ and ‘developing West Papua’ since the overthrow of Suharto’s New Order regime, behind Covid in 2020 the military killed numerous Papuan priests and pastors, activists and children (as well as freedom fighters) and a number of Papuan politicians remain ‘disappeared’. In other words, little of substance has changed since 1962 when West Papuans constituted 99% of the population (in 2030 they are projected to be just 15%).

Example of a speech for your tree-planting ceremony ceremony

We plant this tree to honour the work of Dag Hammarskjöld and George Ivan Smith. We lament the Secretary-General’s untimely death in 1961, and that the OPEX Decolonisation Program he developed for West Papua was never implemented. We remember these two men for their ethical, moral, visionary, and humane peace-making at this time of the United Nations 75th birthday when our world is in need of qualities such as these to help self-determination for nations struggling against oppression, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. May the legacy of their work and writings inspire present and future leaders to assist and refine the UN’s role to bring peace and healing to our world. May this tree be a reminder that truth, justice, liberation and love cannot die. Happy Birthday to the United Nations.

Inquiries; Louise 0424 745 155;
To send video Go to and upload your video
Email to

Photo-essay: Dag Hammarskjöld-West Papua-George Ivan Smith Tree Memorial

George Ivan Smith, Sydney Airport, December 1962, Fairfax Media Archives (Getty Images)

  • Document Search

    Search Terms: Document Type: Publication Year:

  • Top