1916 ~ 04-12-1995
Andrée Norma Millar was born in France in 1917 and passed away in PNG in 1995. She arrived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1947 with her husband, (a mining engineer), where they stayed there until ca. 1992 and became part of the country as an explorer, patriot, a person in love with its people, gadfly, disciplinarian and a botanist synonymous with its orchids.
Life in PNG started in a “place of eternal spring, the gold mining camp of Bulolo” where she discovered the land and its people and a country she grew to love, and where she started her orchid collection. It did not take long for her to become known as “long-long Misis bilong plaua,” PNG pidgin English for “slightly mad white woman who collected flowers, useless flowers which were fit for nothing”.
For years Andrée moved all over PNG in whatever conveyances were available, boats, small planes, helicopters, motor vehicles and on foot. The country was wild, dangerous and unexplored, but she felt endangered only once she said: “a spear suddenly landed in front of us, just a few feet from me . . . I was frankly terrified, and we all stood like statues, watching it quiver in front of us . . . the spear thrower was the first of a welcome party, demonstrating that we were . . . welcome. If we had not been, the spear would not have fallen short . . . ” She later stated that it would have been nice to know this in advance.
This was not to be the only time she was brave. On one such occasion there was a riot in PNG. Most expatriates hid in their houses but she faced the rioters. Not her, she would yell at the “bloody bastards”, in her pseudo gruff voice, (she liked to use some rough but not terribly crude language (as many could tell you))” and didn’t they run.”
Workers and rioters were not the only people Andrée would yell at. Minsters, including the Minister of Health soon to become Prime Minister (Michael Somare) were not spared either. And they took it.
Andrée started to send plants to the Lae Herbarium and Botanical Garden. In 1955 Andrée joined the staff of the botanical gardens in Lae and by the late 1960 she had moved to Port Moresby to work at the National Botanic Gardens at the University of PNG in Port Moresby. In 1971 Andrée became director of the garden and remained there until ill health forced her to leave.
Her encyclopaedic knowledge of orchids soon gathered her many awards and honours collecting along the way, the Papua New Guinea 10 Year Independence Medal, the Gold Medal of the Orchid Society of South East Asia, an Award of Honor from the Australian Orchid Council, in 1975 an OBE from Britain, an honorary doctorate and even a chance to be presented to the Queen of England. She did not refuse the latter but sent her assistants instead to honor them and because “I am an old lady now and it will mean more to them.”
Andrée worked on her last book on and off for many years. It was not complete at the time of her death but was completed by her photographers and long time friends Roy and Margaret Mackay.
Andrée Norma Millar, OBE passed away on December 5th 1995. (Aged 82).
Sir Michael Somare, MP, on Andrée’s passing wrote to her family; “On behalf of the people of the East Sepik Province I would like to offer our sincere condolences in your loss. She was the one who started the National Capital District Botanical Gardens. Papua New Guinea was her second home. Her heart and love will remain in Papua New Guinea forever”
A donation has been made to the Australian Orchid Trust Fund by the Directors of The Australian Orchid Foundation.