NB Mr Rudd: time Kiaps were recognised
14 January 2009
Dr Hank Nelson is one of Australia’s most eminent historians, and – when it comes to the history of Australia in Papua New Guinea – he’s clearly the most eminent. So when Hank Nelson tells an ex-patrol officer who is struggling to gain official recognition for the job his brother Kiaps did in PNG, that “you make a good case”, it’s a fair bet a good case has been made.
Before I proceed, here’s the brief Chris Viner-Smith story. Chris [left] was a Kiap from 1961-71. Three decades later, in 2004, following representations from Chris, ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries wrote to Prime Minister John Howard seeking formal Federal Government recognition for the work patrol officers undertook in PNG. Howard did not respond. Not so much as a form letter. Irritated by this, Chris did what you or I would do – he wrote a book.
In August 2007, Australia’s Forgotten Frontier was launched in Canberra by Annette Ellis MP. The book describes in detail the life of a patrol officer in the sixties. It was a response to rebuttal. It was also a precursor to a renewed effort to gain for Kiaps the official recognition they merit.
And not just in their opinion. British war hero and one time Australian Governor-General Viscount Slim had said to Paul Hasluck in 1960: “I do admire what you have done in New Guinea... 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 Slim wouldn’t have done without a battalion, these young Kiaps did alone.
More recently, Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner has said: “The story of patrol officers is certainly an extraordinary one and one that deserves a higher level of consciousness than that which exists in contemporary Australian society.”
But he hasn’t said what he intends to do about this extraordinary story.
Let’s nail this down. Kiaps in the field, never numbering more than a few hundred, performed a momentous nation-building task. They made possible the pacification and unity of PNG and its peaceful transition to Independence. No less.
Kevin Rudd should understand, as John Howard didn’t, that patrol officers were given the responsibility to bring under governance and the rule of law vast tracts of a land inhabited by warring tribes. To their lasting credit, Kiaps did this with minimal loss of life while maintaining the cultures they encountered.
It was a tough job. Kiaps did it willingly and without thought for reward or their own well-being. But this doesn’t mean they should be taken for granted. Or that they should take themselves for granted. Their deeds were epic and they should be recognised by all Australians.
Thus, on 3 November 2008, Chris Viner-Smith delivered a submission to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd so starting a new phase in the battle for Kiap Recognition. But this time he had the backing of a host of organisations including the Papua New Guinea Association, the Police Federation, the Ex Kiaps Network, the Queensland Police Union and the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veteran’s Association.
But let Hank Nelson have the last word. “It is difficult to know something of the work of the Kiaps without becoming an admirer of their work. I knew at the time, and recognise all the more now, that it was privilege to talk to Ivan Champion, Keith McCarthy and others. Australia was fortunate to have been served by them.”
Let’s hope our country recognises its good fortune through some form of official recognition of its former Kiaps.
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