Alafua resident returns to Samoa after 36 years

An Australian man, who lived in Apia in the late 1970s, says he is impressed with how much Samoa has changed over the past thirty plus years.

Ian McMahon, 87, worked in the Finance department of the University of the South Pacific's Alafua Campus from 1977 to 1983.

He played a key role in setting up the university's financial systems when it became part of the U.S.P.

"During that time, Alafua became part of the university and then I had to spend time over here in Samoa organizing the fitting in of their financial systems to work with the university’s (systems)," he said.

Working as a volunteer at the U.S.P. Alafua Campus in 1983, Mr. McMahon identified and fixed issues with the university's finances before he retired from work permanently.

But he never got over his appreciation of Samoa and its people during his six years stay in Apia, even after he exited the U.S.P. Alafua Campus and left the country.

He always looked for an opportunity to return one day. 

"I always liked being in Samoa and the Samoan people, so when I had the opportunity to come on over with a Samoan, I grabbed it with both hands and I’m probably too old to travel but still worth it to come across and have a look at how Samoa has developed."

He recently traveled to Samoa for a week, accompanied by Samoan, Ken Moala.

The capital Apia has changed tremendously, according to the former Alafua resident, from a "few streets and couple of churches" to a metropolis that he barely recognises today.

"When I was here, it was only more or less a few streets and a couple of churches and Aggie Grey’s of course. But now when I come over I would not have recognised the cars and the streets and the traffic and so forth," he said.

"Certainly from Apia it’s a nice clean place and Alafua itself is unrecognisable, I couldn’t even find where my office was."

Even Samoan representation on organisations' boards, specifically at the Alafua Campus, has increased. 

But it has been the friendship of the Samoans which has been infectious for the former Alafua resident. 

"But it’s a long time since I was here and some things are still the same and that’s the attitude and friendliness of the people in Samoa. 

"They go out of their way to be polite and helpful when considering that I’m confined to using a stick and almost a wheelchair," he said.

After World War II, a number of employment opportunities in the Pacific Islands came around and Papua New Guinea was Mr McMahon's first port of call in the region.

"When the war finished there was plenty of employment in those days so I got a job in the bank and nearly 1950s I went to work in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the financial field of course and I never worked again in Australia," he said.

He spent 18 years in PNG, seven years in Fiji, five years in Seychelles before ending up in Samoa, where he ended up with the U.S.P. Alafua Campus and retired after six years.

Mr. McMahon only returned to Australia when he retired but continued to work as an Australian volunteer in rural areas and spent some time in educational institutions where he officially retired in 1998 at the age of 66.

"But I think all of those countries I worked at, there have been enormous changes in that period, I haven’t visited them all but maybe one day I will.

"I know the University at Alafua has expanded widely and I could have gone to visit Fiji but I never had the same feelings for Fiji as I had for Samoa," he said.

Asked what sets Samoa apart from all the other countries he worked in, he said it was the people.

"Well just the friendliness of the people I had to work with were very pleasant and helpful but it’s the ordinary people that I met in the streets and so forth when I was here on the longer period.

"I don’t think I ever had a cross word with a western Samoan, I don’t know it’s possible but I didn’t have any anyway. 

"And the staff who worked for me were very very competent and reliable."

Mr. McMahon has never been married and does not have children. 

"I’ve never married, I was always working in a foreign country and my mother always wanted me to marry an Australian so there it was.

 "And sometimes I didn’t have time to think about marriage anyway," he said.

Mr. McMahon, who hails from from South of Sydney, said it has been great seeing Samoa move forward and also wishes the country well.

"I’m really delighted to see Samoa advancing so much and I have really enjoyed this one week here. I think a week is about enough, now I’m feeling a little bit tired but hope everything goes well for the future."

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