‘Culture of intoxication’ threatens development
Foreign security companies pose threat to PNG

Factual razor: youthful whimsy put to the test


Michael O'Connor, ‘New Guinea Days’. Australian Scholarly Publishing. 2010, 165pp. $39.95

Maprik_De L'Isle
recounts author Michael O’Connor’s youthful whimsies of the almost nine years he spent as a kiap, recalled and published some 50 years later.

He and Jim Fenton, two newly appointed Cadet Patrol Officers, arrived in the Sepik District in 1957. Fred Kaad was acting District Commissioner, and Tom Ellis was acting District Officer.

O’Connor and Fenton were posted to outstations; O’Connor to Lumi and Fenton to Aitape. (O’Connor incorrectly recalls that Fenton’s first posting was Telefomin.)

At Lumi, where Frank Jones was Assistant District Officer, O’Connor needed to be taken on his first patrol, but Jones “was a bit long in the tooth for what was a physically demanding job”. Frank Jones was then 38 years of age.

Four years earlier, Jones and others had crisscrossed the mountain ranges surrounding the Eliptamin, Om and Tekin valleys in pursuit of the murderers of Constables Buritori and Purari, CPO Geoffrey Harris and PO Gerald Szarka.

Early in 1954, Jones and his party scaled a cliff in a midnight raid, to capture the last of the ringleaders.

The following year, 1955, Frank Jones, Ron Neville and I were ordered to the Palei-MaiMai to sort out a cargo cult. Neville, ADO at Maprik, walked in from the road head at Dreikikir, and I climbed from Aitape, on the coast, via the Yapunda gap.

Jones, at Lumi, had the hardest slog of all. He and his patrol had to traverse the “endless series of north-south ridges” between Lumi and Seim.

The records show that the same, perhaps not so decrepit, Frank Jones led other patrols from Lumi, in 1956-57 and in 1957-58.

In 1958, O’Connor was transferred to Aitape where “Bill Brown was Assistant District Officer until Geoff Burfoot took over”. (There are three references to that unremarkable event.)

At Aitape he learnt “from some of our superiors’ comments on my patrol reports that Geoff had a reputation for letting the young blokes do the hard work. Geoff was no oldie but maybe he got the habit of sitting down from those very superiors.”

Patrol Reports were forwarded to headquarters with comments made over the signature of the District Officer. Any response from headquarters staff was made over the signature of the Director.

Alan Roberts was Director and Tom Ellis was District Officer. Neither would have permitted any officer to be denigrated or disparaged in a public document, and neither tolerated lethargy.

Describing an incident at Aitape, O’Connor tells of his reaction to a communication from the District Commissioner: “I do not know whether he, in his normally ponderous fashion, was being facetious.”

He does not name the DC, but Tom Ellis was acting DC while Bob Cole, who had taken over from Kaad, was on leave. There were one or two ponderous District Commissioners, but Tom Ellis was not one of them, neither was Bob Cole nor Fred Kaad.

In 1959, after three months leave, O’Connor was posted to Maprik, “and very smartly reported to the Assistant District Officer, Bob Bunting, another somewhat chair-ridden old timer.”

The chair-ridden old timer was 37 years of age and as a World War II Spitfire pilot had been awarded the DFC in 1943 for a lone attack on 50 German aircraft.

He had also been awarded a United States DFC for his aerial exploits during the invasion of Italy. He retained that determination and drive as a Patrol Officer in the Eastern and Western Highlands, Milne Bay and Morobe Districts.

At Maprik, Bunting had his hands full - three Local Government Councils, two Patrol Posts, two Agricultural Stations, four missionary groups (Roman Catholic Society of the Divine Word, Seventh Day Adventists, South Seas Evangelical Mission and Assemblies Of God), and the densest population in lowland mainland New Guinea.

The field activities of the Malaria Control and Medical Research units, the three-month’s visit of the ANU/CSIRO Arbovirus Research Team and the almost daily arrival of official visitors from Australia added to the burden.

Bunting Office_Maprik Bunting did not complete a full term at Maprik, but left his mark. He designed and commenced the construction of the trend-setting sub-district office [right], importing a machine to make concrete blocks.

He set PO Nigel Van Ruth to the task of hand painting the 20-metre oil-on-masonite façade and commissioned Agwi, from the middle Sepik river village of Korogo, to hand carve the four massive kwila posts that had been hauled to the site for the frontal pillars.

The “chair ridden old-timer” also revitalised the artefact industry and designed a short golf course of six sand greens, with bunkers and traps. They configured to a nine-hole course and most weekends Bunting trudged in the heat, playing at least two games of 18 holes.

O’Connor rails against the “clever people … those academics, bureaucrats and others drawn from their experience of a sophisticated metropolitan society”.

The clever people “decided that DDT should not be used because birds might die. So the program was abandoned, malaria returned in full force and people died as a result … the malarial control program that involved spraying every hut and house with DDT”.

In fact, the program morphed through many stages, brought about as adjustments were made to the WHO’s worldwide eradication program, in the early days with considerable input from the Maprik based malariologist, Dr Wally Peters.

The first insecticide used, dieldrin, had a short residual effect and it was replaced by DDT in 1959. The people were the strongest opponents of DDT, sometimes resorting to threats of violence to prevent their villages being sprayed.

In 1969 the program was modified, and the spray changed to a mix of malathion and DDT, but overall DDT was sprayed for some 30 years.

The clever people are lambasted in several references because they caused the withdrawal of police and magisterial powers from the kiaps.

David Derham, Professor of Jurisprudence at Melbourne University, made those recommendations after touring the Territory for 37 days in 1960.

He was escorted and assisted by Peter Lalor, Public Solicitor, and former kiap, and visited seven main centres and seven outstations and interviewed senior and junior district staff.

It was Minister Paul Hasluck, whom O’Connor lauds, who commissioned Derham, and it was Hasluck who ignored Derham’s advice that the recommended changes be made slowly. The Minister insisted instead on their speedy implementation.

That haste certainly led to a rapid break down of law and order, but perhaps those incidents that O’Connor recalls may have contributed to the urgency: felling a person with a truncheon blow to the temple to prevent a harangue, or convicting a person on two counts in the Court for Native Affairs to avoid proceedings in the Supreme Court, where a milder sentence was likely.

At Kiunga, in 1964, O’Connor encountered “the new breed of cadets employed on six year contracts. These were good lads but in retrospect they lacked the personal commitment to the long term of my contemporaries.”

By 1973, there were almost 300 contract officer kiaps, including 134 Assistant District Officers and 162 Patrol Officers. They served in every role, in every District, and in all the danger spots.

They were committed, they were dedicated and they were there for the long haul. They stayed beyond 1966 - most staying until Independence, and some staying long after. Sadly, at least four lost their lives while on duty.

* Bill Brown MBE was a District Commissioner in pre-independence PNG

Top: The Governor-General of Australia, Viscount De L'Isle VC KG GCMG GCVO KStJ PC, with Bill Brown and wife Pam (seated) gives an address at the elaborately-decorated sub-district office at Maprik [Department of Information & Extension Services]


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