Now is the time to get behind the kiaps
Brisbane Asopians maintain the rage

Letter to the Hon Peter Slipper MP

Harry Topham

Dear Peter,

I am writing seeking your assistance for some form of recognition for Australians who previously served their country as patrol officers commonly referred to as Kiaps in Papua New Guinea from 1945 to Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975.

There has been very little recognition of the role former patrol officers played in assisting Papua New Guinea towards independence during that period.

Australia’s role as colonial power was by other colonial country’s histories somewhat brief.

Australia’s role as a former colonial power was by comparison with other colonial powers of that period, something; I believe Australia should be proud of.

Although I like most of my former colleagues, believe that PNG’s independence may have been a little premature due to the insufficient infrastructure and human resource capabilities in place at that time however the role Australia played in assisting that country in economic, social, education and political development is something Australia as a nation should be proud of.

Unfortunately post independence, the PNG government of the day saw Australia’s role in it previous history as being irrelevant and the role of the former administrators, namely the patrol officers as a anachronism and dare I say it a threat to their power base hence most former patrol officers under duress from their new political masters left PNG shortly after independence.

The effect the cultural exposure, patrol officers experienced was to them selves un noticed, living and working with indigenous people at grass roots level tends to change one perceptions and a lot of that culture rubbed off on the kiaps resulting in changed individuals who when eventually returning to Australia, found themselves regarded as being outsiders ironically regarded as a proud term previously cited by Sir Hubert Murray a former Colonial Administrator of Papua who referred to his patrol officers as his “Outside Men”

Those older former patrol officers, who were permanent officers had the advantages of redundancy packages to tide them over, were more fortunate.

Many of the later younger ex kiap generation who were contract officers, post independence found themselves back in Australia having to try to re assimilate and find new less stimulating careers or occupations, a path many found very difficult as too much of PNG had rubbed off on their psyche and their superannuation provident fund insufficient to retire on.

I first journeyed to PNG in 1968 remaining until 1974, as a young 23 year old, initially looking for adventure and challenges and like most of my colleagues were inspired by the written recounts of the previous exploits of pre WW2 patrol officer legends such as Monkton, Hides, Champion, Townsend, Sinclair and others.

Alas, the sense of adventure sought did not take into consideration the hardships that would be faced by those seeking adventure nor the isolation factors associated in living in harsh locations.

The country at that time, was still in early stages of development, the terrain in most instances undeveloped requiring serious hard walking and living in areas with no services available or what services that were available very basic in nature.

These experiences of hardship and isolation, moulded what were initially young, inexperienced and some what naïve young men into stoic, laconic individualists who has a strong sense of esprit de corp often misinterpreted by those living in the urban townships as being conceited and arrogant.

The role kiaps played in the development of PNG has never really been fully documented, a sad fact that probably never will fully be revealed due to the passing of time and that the ranks of ex kiaps are thinning as most ex kiaps now are well over the age of 60 with probabilities that due to past exposures to diseases in PNG they remaining will probably pass away before their natural selection age.

As such I feel it would be timely for the Australian Government to formally recognise the role those young Australians played in the development of PNG and seek your assistance in raising this issue with the relevant current Minister.

Kind Regards

Harry Topham
Ex Kiap


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