Teacher Ted Connors was in his mid-20s when he was sent to Papua New Guinea in 1961 to assist in the development of local schools.
"I'd been a teacher in NSW for about seven years and I was too young for a promotion and was at a bit of a loose end," he said.
"I saw an advertisement from what was then the Department of Territories and was lucky enough to get a two-year secondment to Madang, the most beautiful part.
"It was the most wonderful experience of my life."
Over two years Mr Connors got to know a young teacher of a similar age by the name of Michael Somare.
Mr Somare would go on to lead his country to independence from Australia in 1975, serve multiple terms as prime minister, and - ultimately - be knighted.
Following the death of Sir Michael last week, Mr Connors and local businessman Chris Gryllis got together to reminisce about a man who united and led a country they both grew to love.
"I knew it was to be expected; even so, the man was of such status," said Mr Connors.
"It is the end of an era."
Mr Connors said that Sir Michael was teaching at a secondary school in Tusbab when they first met.
"Michael formed the habit of calling into my place after school; he wanted to talk about the structure education and politics. He was a very avid learner."
He said it was no surprise when Sir Michael entered politics.
Mr Gryllis, a former Orange councillor, first visited PNG in 1989 as part of council's sister city arrangement with Mount Hagen.
He has been back 15 times, and said "every time I go there I have to pinch myself because I am so lucky".
Mr Gryllis described Sir Michael as "very easy to talk to, a lovely person - there was no grandstanding, he was very polite".
He recalled a tale Sir Michael told him in Canberra about legendary horse trainer Bart Cummings.
Sir Michael was in Australia for the race and attended a mass.
"He liked a bit of a punt," said Mr Gryllis.
"One year he thought he'd go to mass the Sunday before the Cup for some blessing from God, some divine assistance, but he didn't read his card well because almost next to him was Bart Cummings.
"He said the divine assistance was there but he didn't notice it - that year Bart Cummings produced the Melbourne Cup winner!"
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