Tupela: A memoir of passion & humour
Marriage PNG style: respecting the traditions

Kiaps History Day was a first for Australia


Sen Kate Lundy

LAST SATURDAY some 300 people gathered at the Offices of the National Archives of Australia in East Block, Parkes, Canberra.

The objective of this remarkable get-together was to publicise a three month public display of the work of TPNG Kiaps, Sharing Histories, Kiap Tribute Event.

The National Archives became involved in actively seeking out information about TPNG Kiaps after years of work by Chris Viner-Smith. Chris has been working on trying to get successive Australian governments to recognise the work Kiaps did in PNG prior to Independence.

This work resulted in a meeting between Chris, Keith Jackson and the senior staff of then Special Minister of State, John Faulkner. After that meeting, the Minister directed that the National Archives organise a public display featuring the work of TPNG Kiaps.

Chris Viner-Smith

The National Archives have promised to provide a list of all those who attended the event. They have also implored anyone with any historical document or written information about Australia's role in TPNG to send it to them.

Previously, some former Kiaps were unsure about any effort to have their work recognised as it might look like personally seeking some form of aggrandisement, a trait Australians are not usually noted for.

While everyone can form their own view as to whether they would want any personal recognition were it to ever be offered, it is very evident to those who turned up on Saturday that many, many people do want the work of TPNG Kiaps recognised for what it was.

Michael Jeffery & Jim Sinclair But what was it that provides the central core of what should be recognised and how should it be recognised?

Kiaps were by their very nature, highly individualistic characters. No two would probably do things the same way yet the essence of what Kiaps were was to get things done despite at times, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But how did we, as mere individuals, achieve anything at all? Clearly it was a collaborative effort by all concerned.

While some may refer to the authority given to us through official channels, that authority meant very little to the people who lived in rural PNG.

Mostly, these people then had very little concept of the outside world apart from what they saw happening at a local level. It was the acceptance of the Kiap role; together with way that system operated that seemed to mesh very neatly into the PNG concept of leadership and so ensured practical achievements.

Within the space of one person's lifetime, large parts of PNG emerged into a modern world without a revolution or serious civil war and loss of life. That surely is a remarkable achievement when compared to contemporary world history.

Sharing histories What makes it more remarkable is that the majority of pre Independent PNG still had essentially a highly diverse, rural population and that was administered by a centralised Kiap system?

By the early 1970's, there were no more than a total of a few hundred Kiaps in the then 18 Districts in PNG. Each District had on average, no more than 25 Kiaps stationed in isolated rural outstations and yet responsible for over 90% of a population of over three million people.

Another remarkable factor is that most of the population of the administrating authority, Australia, knew very little about her next door neighbour and this abysmal situation continues to this very day.

Imagine if Britain just ignored Ireland or Germany or France and knew very little about Spain? Imagine if Greece knew nothing about Turkey or Japan virtually forgot about Korea and China? Yet when asked, most Australians would probably say our closest neighbour was Indonesia or even New Zealand.

National Archives Director Ross Gibbs and his staff pulled out all stops to make the Kiap tribute day a huge success and they achieved their goal.

There were so many who turned up that the speeches and discussions in the main auditorium had to be broadcast to other rooms in East Block by CCTV. Archive staff are very keen to promote the opportunity to advertise the displays and to encourage everyone who has any information about this period in Australia and PNG's history to record it and send the information to Archives before that history is lost forever. It is suggested is that former Kiaps and their families contact their local members, (both Federal and State), and make them aware of the display and the Kiap story.

An example of how easily information could be lost was presented by former District Commissioner Jim Sinclair who described how just prior to Independence; he heard that all the confidential records of PNG Kiaps were being burnt in Port Moresby along with many other records.

PNG Dancers He related how he was able to rescue these records just before they were burnt and on return to Australia, brought with him four patrol boxes full of these paper files. These are the confidential staff records that National Archives in Brisbane now has preserved for those who want to access them.

PNG High Commissioner Charles Lepani amazed some during his speech when he related how the current PNG PM, Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare had a few years after Independence, confessed that many areas the new PNG government was administering, were apparently not operating all that well.

According to Mr. Lepani, Somare suggested that perhaps they should bring back the kiaps to fix the problem?

Led by Deveni Temu, a PNG song and dance group with kundu, plumes and grass skirts provided traditional PNG entertainment to enjoyment of everyone and as a wind up for the occasion. They even performed 'Raisi', as a personal request from former DC Fred Kaad.

Those who attended the day were very pleased to meet up with old friends, many of who had not seen each other in over 35 years. We all swapped email addresses and telephone numbers and many continued the reunion afterwards.

The NAA Address is: P.O. Box 7425, Canberra Business Centre, ACT 2610 There are also an e mail contact: www.naa.gov.au


Oates Johnston Sinclair 


(1)   Senator Kate Lundy launches the Day at the National Archives
(2)   Chris Viner-Smith, whose commitment saw the commemoration realised
(3)   Former Governor-General Michael Jeffery and Kiap and author Jim Sinclair
(4)   Sharing histories; sharing a happy moment
(5)   Papua New Guinean dancers at Kiaps History Day
(6)   Panelists Paul Oates, Nancy Johnston and Jim Sinclair


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