Sir Dan Leahy came to Papua New Guinea in 1947 as a boy of 17 to join one of his uncles as a farmhand on a farm near Lae. The Leahy family was already famous in the area through the prewar exploration of the Highlands. Dan’s uncle Michael Leahy led the first expedition by Europeans – to discover that the Highlands were already well populated.
Dan himself came up to Goroka in 1949. It was a different place then, tree-less, with scattered villages, and people who had been little affected by European contact. Everything was done by hand. Timber was hand-sawn in the Leahy family saw-mill. Roads, of a sort, were being carved out of the hillsides by hand. Before long the young man saw an opportunity to strike out on his own. Starting in a grass house, he began trading in a modest way, supplying salt, knives, tomahawks and spades to the local people. The currency was shell, which had to come up from the coast by footpath. It was the era of Australian colonial policy. Peace was enforced by the Kiaps. The road from Lae to Hagen was built. Dan sold clothes, matches, tinned fish, bully-beef, hard biscuit, rice. More Europeans arrived. In the early sixties Dan teamed up with his cousin, Edgar Collins, and formed a company – Collins and Leahy.
In the early 80’s the road from Lae through Goroka to Mt Hagen was sealed (metalled) and, with electrification, trade increased greatly in the Highlands.
In 1986 Collins and Leahy acquired a one-third share in “Steamies” (Steamships Trading Company) and so got involved in hotels, property, shipping, transport, steel fabrication, timber, automotive and industrial services.
Manufacturing soon followed, the products being soft drinks, ice-cream and such. By 1994 the company listed aviation and road transport as major areas of activity with the 100% ownership of a helicopter company. There is also an agricultural sector specialising in coffee, cattle and cocoa. Collins and Leahy is a wholly PNG-owned company. It employs 2,500 people of whom all but the odd hundred or so are PNG nationals. It has come a long way since the early days when Dan Leahy traded tomahawks and kina shell in a grass house somewhere near Goroka but it remains close to its roots, its future closely bound to that of the Highlands