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Reflections on the Jimi road & the role of the kiap


Jimi River roadIN 1965, I BEGAN MY kiap career as a Cadet Patrol Officer in Minj, being promoted to patrol officer and  posted to Tabibuga Patrol Post in the Jimi in late 1967.

The Jimi and the Waghi valleys are separated by the Waghi-Sepik divide, very rough country indeed - uninhabited and virtually uninhabitable.

Public Works had been asked to look for a possible road route from the Jimi to the Waghi and after aerial surveys said, “Forget it”. 

That was just the challenge Assistant District Commissioner Ross Allen needed – the Jimi would have a road.  Ross had a brilliant grasp of how to execute a project of this magnitude, and was the driving force behind it.

There was no shortage of desire for the road to happen. The people knew that, without a road, there was little chance of economic development. 

There was huge willingness to get on with the job, all they wanted was some help.  We received about $3,000 in government funds that didn’t go very far, with spades from Government Stores costing $1.50 each and crowbars $3 for a workforce varying between 1,000 and 2,000.

It was obvious that the construction was going to take a long time and an unbelievable amount of hard physical work. The amazing thing was that the people knew this and were still happy to do the work.

The keys to getting the road built were ensuring that the people continued to share a vision of what might happen once they had a road, that they all understood how we were collectively going to approach the task, that they equally shared in the labour, and that they all accepted the kiap’s role in carrying out the project.

I have often since wondered whether they realised the kiap was about five minutes ahead of them when it came to road-building knowledge and experience. They knew.

I was given an Abney level (a rudimentary protractor fitted to a spirit level) and told to build a road from Tabibuga to Banz.

It took couple of months to find and survey the route, which for the most part would have no more than a three to five degree gradient.  The eventual route proved to be many times the direct line distance because we had to keep the gradient manageable.

I guess only a few people have ever tried to mark out a road route through virgin rainforest with no tracks along very steep mountain sides up to about 8,000 feet – it is a character-building exercise.

There were 25,000 people in the Jimi and the next step was to allocate each clan a length of road that they became responsible for digging.  Trying to estimate equal allocations was a nightmare but eventually everybody was happy.

Patrol Officer Rob Kelvin arrived as officer-in-charge at Tabibuga and for the next 18 months we lived, breathed and dreamed the road.  The Jimi local government council president, Kolye Suwi, was a hugely influential driving force.

To get to their section, people had to walk from home, in many cases 2-3 hard days walk.  That meant carrying enough food to get there, spend three days on the job and for the 2-3 days walk home. A week at home, then do it again. 

They had to construct temporary shelters at the worksite.  The digging was like nothing Australians could envisage.  Clear rainforest using only axes, dig the road using spades, crowbars and dainamit bilong mipela (burning huge fires around immovable rock outcrops, then tipping water onto them to crack the hot rock).

Too often we watched the previous month’s work slide down the mountain after a downpour, but work would start again in good spirits.

And all the time, the people would tolerate the kiap complaining about digging not following the mak, work not proceeding fast enough, the bloody weather and the rest of it.

At the height of activity, there were 2,000 men digging sections of the road that would eventually connect.

No-one was paid a cent for their work.

In 24 months, these amazing people dug 40 km miles of road (in reality, a rough 4-wheel drive track) through impossible country that did its best to destroy construction as quickly as it was completed.

Jim Moore, Ceb Barnes and Peter Nixon (Photo - PNGAA)The finished task was considered of such note that the road was officially opened in June 1970 by C E (Ceb) Barnes, Australian Minister for External Territories, and Peter Nixon, Interior Minister (pictured here with Jim Moore).

Nearly 30 years later, in 1998, I returned to the Jimi.  Our Cessna couldn’t land at Tabibuga – the strip had been closed and was covered in scrub.  We put down at Kol, to where the road had been extended.

I wondered whether the young people of the Jimi knew what their fathers had contributed to build that road.

I remembered the true communal spirit and ethos of the enterprise that had gone into it.  If the people did not want to build a road, then all the posturing and yelling by two skinny white kiaps (not much more than kids) would not have helped.

If coercion occurred, the impetus and authority for it came from the people through their ‘big men’.  Usually, power is exercised by those who hold it only because others are prepared to accept it.  The people accepted kiap power because it was the best system on offer.

“Jackbooted colonialists?” I reject that.  Quasi-militarists, as Phil Fitpatrick describes some of us in “Tin gods, tin medals and the ineptitude of Canberra”?  I wore khaki because it was cheap, serviceable and available.

How would a project like this be approached today?  I suspect we’d still be waiting until somebody found the money to pay for a bulldozer.

Do kiaps deserve a medal?  What is on offer is the wrong medal, the people giving it don’t understand what it was supposed to reward and the reason it is being given recognises only part of what we did.  People may or may not apply.

I wondered, when the issue first arose, whether Papua New Guinea would strike a medal. But then I thought, I have my memories, that is enough.


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Ken Ninimb

Jim, my father was one of the village chiefs of the Mulma Tribe of Kuipin Village. His name was Luluai Ninimb Jange.

I wonder if you have some photos of the people and places while you were there.

My email address is

Garry Roche

Only recently did I come across the piece by Jim Moore on the Jimi road which was posted back in March 2013.

The Jimi Road was officially opened in June 1970. I had the opportunity to frequently use it from June 1971 until June 1972, and occasionally thereafter. The last time I went in as far as Karap was around 1989.

I certainly greatly appreciated the road back then, it was literally a life-saver. Several ill people got medical treatment in time because of it, many lives were saved, life was made easier.

In my opinion, Jim Moore did not exaggerate in any way the difficulties to be overcome in constructing that road. I certainly used to wonder at its construction. Yes there were still landslides, and creaky bridges, but it still was a marvel.

On one occasion, while attempting to drive over a landslip, my LandCruiser got stuck on top of the landslip. I could not get out the driver’s side because there was a straight drop down several hundred feet.

I got out through the passenger door and after securing a rope on the cruiser we managed to somehow get it safely over the landslip.

Some of the temporary shelters that Jim referred to were still standing in 1972, I well remember taking shelter in one of them during a downpour when travelling by motor bike from Karap to Banz.

Efforts were made to maintain the road. I remember a man named Bryson Prior driving a small grader in there ( he also supplied me with a dose of chloroquine when I badly needed it). Coffee buyers made good use of the road also.

I frequently went to Tabibuga and beyond it to Tsengoropa also. Jim Moore mentioned the road later branched out from Karap to Kol. I do not know if that section is still open.

Certainly, it was a great achievement. Something the designers and builders can be proud of.

David Gomay

I feel humbled to read this. Thank you to all our honourable kiaps and patrol officers in the likes of Jim, Ross Allen (ADC) and others who had the energy and a belief in a road linking Jimi and Waghi.

Despite the geographical constraints, you opened the door for the Jimi people to the outside world.

I salute you and pray that God's everlasting peace be with you, your children and their children's children.

When I read through your reflections, my memories flash back to some night stories my late father Goma Yauka told me about the tultuls and kiaps supervising them to build roads from Tabibuga to Banz - you are all very amazing people.

I sincerely wish the PNG government recognises the work and labour you guys put in as your help in the development of PNG.

Thanks alot. David Gomay, Tsingoropa Village, email:

Collin Kolye Kupul

Jim - I was pleasantly surprised to hear you make special mention of my grandfather Sir Kolye Suwi (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the Commonwealth so at least someone amongst you got recognition. Whether it did him any good is debatable).

You said you went to Kol in 1998. Did you by any chance meet him before he passed away that year?

The road itself has opened us Jimi to the wider world and now there are many of us in all parts of the world. I had the privilege of coming to live in Adelaide around 2000 and was told by my dad that one of the kiaps Sir Kolye worked with was from South Australia. Would that have been you?

I would appreciate it if you got in touch so we could possibly talk in more details about the things you did and especially what kind of man my grandfather was.

Your legacy and hard work should be remembered by the next generation of Jimi. There is a lesson to be learnt and you amazing men should not be forgotten in a hurry

You can contact me on
or kole kupul on Facebook.

Paul Oates

I’m sure Chris would like to thank everyone for their positive contributions in this, his now eleven year struggle to have the Australian government recognise the shared history we have with PNG and how the role of the kiap helped build capacity for nationhood.

This is a very long patrol and every positive step along the way helps keep us advancing up the tall, mud covered slopes of that mountain of disbelief they call ‘The system’.

In our pluralistic society, there will always be many differing views and that’s a very healthy sign. It’s also a distinct Aussie trait that the ‘little Aussie battler’ is given encouragement and assistance against which in many cases, there initially seems impossible odds.

As many know, the difference between a ‘long we liklik’ and a ‘long we tru’ is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. For some who have decided to take a different path around or up the mountain, it’s important to understand that we are all doing our best to get to the same objectives.

‘Bai yumi winnim yet’.

Keith Jackson

Early in his representations, I assisted Chris Viner-Smith lobby Canberra on this matter, on one occasion meeting with then Minister for State Senator John Faulkner's staff.

I tried assiduously to persuade Chris to broaden his 'police' focus to a 'nation-building' theme, which I thought would maximise the prospects of some appropriate recognition.

This was never adequately done although Chris's work did result in some trinkets being thrown the kiaps' way.

A short commentary by me written in January 2010 may be instructive -

Paul Oates

Phil, Maybe you have a point there. If the PNG government did do something to recognise what everyone from both sides of the Torres Strait achieved it would help raise PNG's profile in Australia?

Many PNG people know about what was achieved by everyone previously but the vast majority of Australians don't know anything about our shared history or about our next door neighbour.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I won’t be applying for the medal but that’s just a personal thing.

I can’t help thinking that you guys must be pissed off with what’s on offer though. I know you put in some effort with Chris and I even had a try but the outcome to me doesn’t seem to be very satisfactory.

Maybe you need to saddle up the old nag and tilt at a few more windmills. Tony Abbott and his new government might be a bit more sympathetic. Except this time I’d also try for formal recognition from the PNG government.

There’s more support up there than you’ll ever get in Australia and it might have a bit more meaning anyway.

Paul Oates

Phil, just don't apply mate. It's as simple as that.

One could however observe that at least the police and their association recognise some of what was achieved before we all are dead.

Who knows, the PNG government may yet recognise everyone who contributed to the nation building prior to Independence. Husat isave?

John Fowke

Yes, Ross did like to dress appropriately.

I remember great efforts on the part of myself and the late Don Simmons at ASOPA (on the CPO orientation course)trying to get him satisfactorily wound into and buttoned up in a red cummerbund and mess-jacket-type outfit for the Chalkies' ball.

Ross was a bright spark, happy and idealistic, and only 17 years old from memory - whilst we two "men-of-the=world", a mere year or two older - were more the Buena Vista Hotel
habitue sort of callow young men.

That's when the kiaps were still allowed to drink at the Buena Vista - KJ

Phil Fitzpatrick

That's where it started wasn't it Paul, seeking recognition of the collective role of the kiaps?

Somehow the process has been subverted and misinterpreted in Canberra as a quest for personal recognition.

As Jim says, " What is on offer is the wrong medal, the people giving it don’t understand what it was supposed to reward and the reason it is being given recognises only part of what we did".

It's a sop to keep a bunch of old farts happy. I'd be inclined to tell them to stick their police medal up their jumper.

Paul Oates

The essence of any recognition is merely to represent the indelible amalgam that was forged between young Australians and the PNG people prior to Independence.

Jim Moore's story is one that many Kiaps and the people they worked alongside could easily identify with.

The whole exercise of recognition has nothing to do with personal recognition, as some may have previously misread the initiative.

It is to raise awareness of the bond our work created with our PNG friends and what was achieved. No less than creating the basis of a modern nation.

Only a few hundred Kiaps at any one time virtually administered the rural 95% on PNG at a fraction of the cost of today and with very little resources except the goodwill and energy of the PNG people.

Perhaps that factor alone is why it's taken so much effort to get anyone to recognise this aspect. It's just too hard for anyone who was not there and took part to actually imagine.

I can only repeat the comments of some of my PNG friends have made about the time of the Kiap and that I read out at the National Archives Shared History day in Canberra a couple of years ago.

'You lit a fire and we've kept it burning.'

'You planted a tree and its grown tall and strong.'

Napway Kunum

Thank you Jim. And I say this with the deepest gratitude. If it wasn't for the driving force to build this road from yourself and Ross and others, there will be no road linking Jimi to Banz and the people of Jimi would, to this day, still be in the jungle.

I grew up hearing the great stories from older folks in building this stretch of road, how they managed it and the onstant "yelling from the white man”.

The Tabibuga airstrip was closed to build the Jimi High School in a central location but then it was decided (by politicians) to relocate to Kol. They haven’t re-opened the airstrip.

A lot of kids came out of the Jimi valley in pursuit of education that led them to different places because of this road.

And I am one of them. I did engineering and am working for Woodside in Western Australia.

I often wondered where the kiaps who build this section of road are.

So thank you Jim, and that doesn’t cover it.

Jim Moore

The road from the Baiyer to the Jimi was intended to end at the grass flatlands at Ruti, where Danny Otley had a nascent cattle enterprise.

I was stationed at Baiyer in 1972 and the road had gone nowhere, because the people weren't interested in working on something that would have provided them with no direct benefit. Fair enough, I say.

Phil, you are right. Say what one might, Ross Allen was a special man. It's only with the benefit of later life experience that I realised how unique he was.

I found in some old papers recently, a memo from him to his officers, castigating some (unnamed) for turning up at a riot looking like "...rock musicians or anthropolgists..".

His attitude to dress was only one minor aspect of his style, and one I can easily forgive.

As time goes by, my only regret about my time in Papua New Guinea was that I hadn't by then learned what I later learned.

To paraphrase Rumsfeld, I didn't know what I didn't know, and in some circumstances, that is not at all good.

Phil Fitzpatrick

When I arrived in Hagen in 1967, Wal Cawthorne and Dick Olive were building a road to Jimi from Baiyer River. At least I think that's where it was going. I think Wal was ADO and Dick was a CPO.

Do you know whether that was ever finished, Jim.

Ross Allen was a stickler for the khaki gear (I remember him having words when I fronted up in desert boots, a definite no-no, polished boots only) but Rob Kelvin (who became a newsreader on Channel 9 in Adelaide and tragically lost his son to a paedophile) and Wal Cawthorne favoured white shirts with a blue check.

Rob had a habit of perching on the end of his desk like a parrot, which annoyed Ross too.

Ross was one of those kiaps who fitted the first part of Tony Radford's description. A ball of energy sadly lost before he had time to grow old.

William Dunlop

Jim, I had the pleasure to be at the opening in the PNG
Director of Transport's party.

Trevor Freestone

The patrol officers did achieve great things under the most difficult circumstances. Similarly the communities into which they ventured, at first considered the patrol officers as intruders, but eventually came to realize that by working under the same difficult circumstances, they could develop their communities into far better places for their children to grow up in.

Initially the Patrol officers were the "MASTERS" but as time passed their attitudes and responsibilities changed and they became highly respected advisers to the village elders.

So many projects reflect their dedication to the tasks at hand; projects like the Jimmy Road and the Highlands Highway are two examples.

Like most of the Australians working for the Government they knew the people and the problems that these people faced. Unfortunately most of them were never consulted about the direction PNG should take. The Australian Government had big blinkers on and although they had some fine Papua New Guineans to assist them they should have listened to what the ordinary villagers were saying.

These fine Patrol officers really do deserve to be recognized for their dedicated service, however I am sure they would much prefer to see Papua New Guinea develop into the wonderful country it has the potential for; thus knowing that their efforts were not in vain.

Today's Papua New Guineans need to remember the sacrifices and hard ships their ancestors suffered so that the people of today could have a better life.

You have the obligation to thank them by continuing to develop PNG into the wonderful country they envisaged.

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