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Fearless Aussie govt officials want PNG frontier work honour

By Ilya Gridneff

PORT MORESBY, Oct 30 AAP - The Australian government will be asked to honour the pioneering work of Australian patrol officers who brought modernity and development to Papua New Guinea's tribes between 1949 and 1974.

Chris Viner-Smith, a former patrol officer, or 'kiap', said their efforts are part of a forgotten Australian history that was never officially recognised.

Kiaps brought law and order to PNG's remote tribal areas so Australian teachers, agricultural officers, infrastructure and health workers could work for the first time, he said.

"It's Australia's history, and it was a glorious chapter, I don't know why we've been forgotten," he told AAP.

"We don't put ourselves in the same class as a Kokoda veteran, but both share the remarkable heritage of being Australian and shaping a new future for PNG," he said.

After World War II and before PNG Independence in 1975 more than 8000 Australian public servants ran PNG society as an external Australian territory.

Of those administrators 2500 kiaps regularly trekked to isolated villages to conduct weeks or months worth of surveys while also providing basic services like law and order.

"My first task was to get 40 prisoners to build an air-strip in a swamp. Imagine that as a 21-year-old in PNG in 1961, when there were no roads, no radios, no support.

"You just had to survive or you would die," he said

"It was not the people, it was the country itself. It was an alien land full of danger.

"Often the kiap was the first step towards development and modernisation, then they would administrate and other groups would follow," he said.

Viner-Smith said he has support from politicians, the PNG Association of Australia, the ex-kiap network and the Police Federation.

"There are positive signs we will gain the acknowledgement we deserve," he said.

Pacific Island Affairs Parliamentary Secretary Duncan Kerr said the submission would be viewed seriously as kiaps were an integral part of Australian colonial administration in PNG.

"During the time where PNG was a territory of Australia they represented the face of Australia's administration to hundreds of communities throughout PNG.

"The experience and individual development of many of those who were kiaps in PNG formed the basis of their mutual respect and admiration for the people of PNG. Many of those ex-patrol offices have been PNG advocates since independence

"The governments new partnership approach to PNG and the broader Pacific, an approach based on mutual respect and responsibility, builds on this legacy," he said.


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John Fowke

I am prompted by the report in 'The Mail' (& Keith's blog) of the expressed need for recognition on the part of some of the ex-Kiaps. I am an ex-Kiap myself, although we Papuans tended to fight shy of that particular mode of address, of which we were sometimes derisive for some forgotten reason. However, I deserted and became a Co-op Officer after two terms.

I am sorry to say that part of my retrospective view of the Kiaps is an impression of the sussuration of many hairy legs moving fast as people rushed away from the land they had served as soon as they possibly could prior to and after independence, leaving a very small number, among them stalwarts such as Graham Taylor, Ben Probert, John Corrigan and Rick Giddings, who because they remained in the Highlands where I have also remained until very recently, come immediately to mind.

These men stayed on in the public sphere where they gave years of service above and beyond the levels expected, and under frustrations never encountered, under the old Admin regime.

My advice to the ex-Kiaps who seek recognition is to think a bit harder and to reflect upon the privilege and the pleasure embodied in the opportunity which came to them early in their lives. One which despite inevitable set-backs and confrontations, and despite physical hardships, unquestionably enriched them and delivered them from the humdrum occupations they would in most cases otherwise have carried on in.

May I suggest that the ex-Kiaps who seek recognition for themselves may well receive it within the admittedly-limited sphere of 'The Mail' and the PNGAA by joining in with Keith's proposal to form a collective, beneficial and progressive organisational relationship with the place we are all partly in love with, even despite many memorable moments of exquisite rage. There's still a job to do.

Paul Oates

I understand that the journalist may have misunderstood and confused some of the reported facts in this article. Kiap numbers at their height were probably not more than a little over 1,000 at any time, of which no more than two-thirds would have been in the field on outstations.

Given that these 'bush' kiaps were responsible for the administration of the vast majority of three million PNG people, is it any wonder that no one in either the Australian or PNG governments have previously wanted to recognise this aspect?

Perhaps this is now an issue whose time has finally come? After all, it took the 'Voyager' crew over 30 years to gain some recognition. Is there an historical precedent in comparative time scales here?

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