‘The only PNGn in a crowd of 200’
Ok Tedi accused of causing more damage

Kiaps’ role - ‘sheer force of character’

I want to thank my esteemed friend, former Bougainville District Commissioner Bill Brown, for drawing my attention to the following extract from Sir Paul Hasluck’s memoir, A Time for Building.

Hasluck is not much mentioned these days but he was a great Australian statesman, in his time considered by many as a rival for Menzies’ job as Prime Minister, especially after Menzies nearly lost the 1961 election. But Hasluck was too much of a gentleman to engage in the cut and thrust of political intrigue until very late in his career, when, with the Liberal Party in trouble, he was beaten for the job by John Gorton. An intellectual and a man of accomplishment, Hasluck knew what of he wrote.

Sir William (Uncle Bill) Slim came from a lower middle class English family, fought at Gallipoli and, as a Field Marshall, led the British Army in Burma in World War 2. He was wounded in action three times and became one of Australia’s most distinguished Governors General (1952-60). It has been written that “Slim was a popular choice since he was an authentic war hero who had fought alongside Australians at Gallipoli and in the Middle East”. He knew what of he spoke.

Now try this quote from Hasluck for size…

I experienced a proud and moving moment in Perth in 1960 when I had a conversation with Sir William (later Viscount) Slim at the conclusion of his term as Governor-General of Australia. Slim had taken a great interest in all the Australian territories and had visited them and gone into some outback places on several tours. As the senior Federal Cabinet Minister from Western Australia I had to farewell him at Fremantle on his final departure from Australia...

We discussed one or two official matters and then a little gruffly, as was his habit he came to the edge of sentiment, he asked me to accept a copy of one of his books. He had written on the flyleaf, “To Paul Hasluck, with admiration for what he has done in the Territories, Bill Slim.” I thanked him. He looked out of the window and looked at his watch and his mouth creased into the grim line that served him as a smile. “In an hour or two, I’ll be out to sea and I won’t be Governor-General any longer’, he said, ‘so I’m going to say something that I suppose I should not say.

“I don’t admire everyone in your Government and I don’t admire everything your Government has done. In fact I think they’ve done some damn silly things and some of your colleagues have said even more silly things than they have done. But there is at least one thing that your Government has done well and perhaps it is their best job.

“I do admire you and I do admire what you have done in New Guinea. I know something about this. It is the sort of thing that I was trying to do during most of my life. Your young chaps in New Guinea have gone out where I would never have gone without a battalion and they have done on their own by sheer force of character what I could only do with troops. I don’t think there’s been anything like it in the modern world...”

What moved me was his particular reference to our patrol officers. When every other word of criticism has been spoken and other defects in our administration have been discussed, I stand in amazement close to reverence at what was done, to my personal knowledge, in the ten years between approximately 1952 and 1962 by young Australian patrol officers and district officers in areas of first contact. There were a few mistakes and a few weak brothers, but the achievement, with the resources available, revealed a quality of character and manhood that should make our nation mightily proud that these fellows were Australians.

Paul Hasluck, ‘A Time For Building’, Melbourne University Press, 1976, ISBN 0522840914

A timely reminder as the Federal Government ponders the question of whether to pay tribute to this unique group of Australians - never numbering more than a few hundred - through some form of official recognition of the momentous nation-building task they performed in Papua New Guinea.


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