BY JOHN FOWKE
WHILST 99% of what
Paul Oates’ writes is very well-informed and very well-put, one can't help but wonder why "a few hundred kiaps" and their toil - and subsequent
alleged travail - engender repetitive reference and a pervading air of
The day of the kiaps is generally revered among ordinary
village-dwelling Papua New Guineans and among much of the urban middle-class of
educated people, even though there have always been critics within the academic
and political worlds.
Somare himself may have spoken dismissively of the
"age of white kiaps" in years gone by. But such is the way of leaders
of newly-independent colonies.
The decline of the "kiap system" as such,
pre-dates Somare's rise to prominence, beginning with the enforcement under
Chief Justice Sir Allan Mann of the "separation of powers" ideal. Something
which realistically had to happen.
Be assured, the kiap legacy is positive, alive and well,
in PNG, even if the beer-and-barbecue-based consumer society we have allowed to
arise in Oz over the past fifty years has no interest at all in PNG, let alone
the record of a few hundred Australian public servants more than 34 years ago.
So let’s abandon this irritating recurring reference to the
age of the kiap and the sadness and frustration of being relegated to being
yesterday's men; the constant and wearisome carping criticism of what is going
on now in this land we have all been in love with at some time in our lives.
We don’t see similar comment from ex-E-Course chalkies,
for instance, who as idealistic and often wet-behind-the ears young men from
all sorts of walks of life were dumped in villages in a generally much more isolated
and challenging environment than Cadet Patrol Officers faced in their
These are men who might express just as much frustration
about the state of things in PNG today as one or two ex-kiaps do.
Of course, chalkies were not, for instance, lower court
magistrates, as I was at age 22, manning a one-man patrol-post in the middle of
one of the world's larger swamps. But what they were involved in - a specialist
or single-mission role - was very important.
Their psychology was necessarily a bit different from
ours, and maybe they are more tolerant of what they read and hear about PNG
today as a consequence. But they were there, out in Woop-Woop, coping and
working with an ideal in mind, just as almost all field-based Aussie officers were.
I think by far the great majority of ex-kiaps are
realistic enough to understand that you don’t give a thousands-years-old
multi-tribal society the benefit of some 30 years of training to enter a world
which it only began to understand during World War II.
You just can’t expect it to be an up-and-running, modern,
western-style society in that time.
Australians, Paul included, need to understand that PNG
moves along a very difficult path, despite all the help it has received, and continues
to receive, from Australia
The end of this road lies far enough in the future that
none of us PNG Attituders will be
here to see it.
A perspective from
where I sit now
Evolution and the spread of innovation has brought me to
type this article on an internet-enabled computer.
But my distant Celtic/Pictish MagAodh (later McKee) tribal
ancestors - who murdered and ate their male enemies, who married the terrified
women, who were tattooed all over, and who ultimately became founders of what
we now know as Scotland -
were in a state of small-tribe semi-anarchy when the Romans colonised Britain.
These tribes resisted the advance of civilisation for
several centuries after the construction of Hadrian's famous wall (built to
keep them out of Roman Britain) and the tentative approaches of Christian
missionaries like St Columba.
So do give PNG's digitally-enabled generation of leaders
and the educated middle-class, which is largely the product of Australian
assistance, a generation or two more, at least.
It has encountered and is weathering a transformation of
society, the nitty-gritty of which we are very hard put to fully understand.
And these people deserve our admiration and our ongoing assistance, even though
this may be accompanied by periods of frustration.
The problems of coping with the gas-and-minerals decade to
come, and the entry of vast numbers of Asian workers in addition to those tens
of thousands already there, are huge indeed.
As a society PNG is well aware of the shortcomings of the
current politico-fiscal-administrative regime. Constructive assistance is
needed, not the carping criticism which has become wearisome on this and other
As for Somare and the kiaps, obviously many kiaps left PNG
both before and shortly after independence. This was not because they were
forced out by Somare or anyone else. It was a response to changing times and
the altered environment, and to the offer of a career compensation package
known as "the golden handshake."
Quite a number of men stayed on for many years, doing
valuable work for which they are remembered in PNG. These men had to
accommodate the obvious major changes in methods and the philosophy of
management which emerged in accord with the rise of local officers to the most
They did so, and were successful, and useful and positive.
And they were not discriminated against by Somare or anyone else. They finally
left of their own choice, or for reason of health, as late as in the mid-1990s.
One, Graham Tuck, only recently retired from the PNG public service at the end
of 40 years continuous work, most recently in the area of Local Level
Government policy and training.
Graham now works with another ex-kiap, Sir Barry Holloway,
as a policy and program adviser attached to the Public Service Reform Advisory
Group, a government-funded, detached organisation which is working at getting
through to politicians on all the issues we on PNG Attitude so often feel disappointed or aggrieved about.
Sir Barry and Graham are among those in PNG who will welcome
any help they can get from anyone who has a practical, and importantly a
practicable, idea to contribute to their mission.