Holiday Fever
100 of the best as Jimmy Drekore’s bush poetry is published

When Australia botched a chance to do the right thing in Bougainville

Bill BrownIn 1966, kiap BILL BROWN found himself posted to Bougainville as preparations to develop the Panguna copper and gold mine moved into top gear. He was far from impressed by what he found and by what he was called upon to do…

AFTER two weeks I needed a break. I wanted to see my family and I needed to report to Denehy, even though I had no good news.

The people were not interested in any promises of financial rewards, and their opposition to prospecting was intense.

I predicted there would be violence, and I thought there might even be suicides. Perhaps I surprised Denehy when I said that I intended to visit all the villages in the Guava Division on a formal patrol and that I would update the census in each village.

At the rollcall, when all the people were present, I would be able to explain the law about mining, and I would be certain that the people knew about the changes to the mining legislation that provided for financial rewards to landowners:

….an occupation fee of $1 per acre ($2.47 per hectare) per annum in respect of land actually occupied within Prospecting Authorities, and $2 per acre ($4.94 per hectare) per annum in respect of a Mining Lease.

At the time, I thought the changes to the legislation had been driven by altruism. In fact, CRA had been wooing the Department of Territories since October 1964 with the objective of changing the mining laws (which were designed for relatively small-scale operations) to permit the prospecting and mining of huge areas, and to guarantee a successful prospector the right to a mining title.

The Company’s efforts were successful. On 7 December 1964, Secretary for Territories, [George] Warwick Smith, wrote to the Administrator:

It is considered that experienced and sound financial companies such as CRA should be given every encouragement to carry out large scale prospecting. Once minerals have been found in sufficient quantities … The matter is considered to be of the utmost importance and every effort should be made to ensure that the Ordinances are amended at the next session of the House of Assembly.

In November 1966, after five months in and around Guava village, I needed some helping hands, I needed company and I needed to move into the area where the exploratory drilling was taking place.

Patrol Officer John Dagge at Ambunti and a Senior-Constable from Maprik were plucked out of the Sepik District to join me, and we moved to our new base, a disused, ramshackle house at Barapina in the Kawerong Valley.

Dagge and I were the forerunners of a long line of kiaps, thrown into a situation that we detested; trying to convince the people that, even though they owned the land, they did not own the mineral rights.

That we could live in Guava and move around the Guava Division, sometimes with a few police – sometimes with none, was a testament to the fortitude, forbearance and dignity of the Nasioi people. They maintained that discipline throughout, and they were respected by every kiap that worked with them.

Denehy departed on leave in December 1966, and I inherited the Kieta Sub-District and the CRA operation. Assistant Director [of District Administration] T G Aitchison arrived from Port Moresby on 27 December, disturbing our Christmas–New Year break.

At Canberra’s behest, he had come to find out the facts: what were the real attitudes of the local people in the mining area, and were some Marist priests playing a part in the dispute?

He talked to people in Kieta; I took him to Barapina to speak with Anthony Ampei (Guava), Damien Damen (Irang), Gregory Korpa (Moroni) and their supporters; and he travelled by helicopter around Bougainville, visiting some of the Catholic missions.

Aitchison told me that he thought the operation should be slowed down to allow the people to adjust.

His report to Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs) - that he had told me to advise CRA that the [proposed] Kokorei operation should not proceed if physical resistance [was] offered - was not endorsed; the Assistant Administrator advising Canberra that:

(a) CRA to be encouraged to proceed to the next stage of prospecting, including the location of drills and roads to Kokorei land, and any other land to which native land owners wish to deny the Company access.

(b) The Administration to be prepared to protect Company personnel carrying out these operations, if necessary, with an adequate Police detachment.

An extract from ‘Australians in Papua New Guinea, 1960-1975’, University of Queensland Press, 2014, 352 pp, $38.50. More information here


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Peter Turner

Beg your pardon Bill, I got my info from a copy of an old RPNGC Newsletter which have been reproduced in the Historical Section of the RPNGC Legacy website.

I should have known better than to query Des Martin's info. Won't happen again. After all MBE (My Bloody Effort) and OBE (Other Bastard's Efforts).

Bill Brown

Thank you to Peter Turner and Kristian Lasslett for the kind words.

I did not intend to become involved in this discussion, but I am dragged into it by Peter Turner’s erroneous assertion that I received an OBE. Des Martin was correct when he said that the award was an MBE.

Des Martin wrote his article in February 1990; more than thirty-four years after he had left New Guinea, and more than thirty-two years after the events he describes. And he wrote for a Canberra-based audience. Perhaps that explains some of the inaccuracies?

He talks about: “land acquisition” perhaps suggesting the land owners agreed to dispose of their land, and he mentions “police rifles being brandished.”

I do not know of any landowners in the mine area ever agreeing to the acquisition of their land. I do not believe that they ever did so, nor do I believe that the rifle brandishing incident took place. Of course, the events that took place at Rorovana in August 1969 (not mentioned in the article) were far worse!

The statement that “the Kiap who had the unenviable task of convincing the people to give up their land received an MBE after the purchases had been completed” contains more errors.

I received my award in January 1968; Panguna was still in the evaluation stage—very much an uncertainty. There had been no purchases of land, the Guava people wanted CRA to leave, the rest of Bougainville wanted CRA to stay, but only at Panguna.

The Company and the Administration wanted the landowners to accept occupation fees, but the landowners were not interested. In subsequent years, the landowners reluctantly changed their position, but there was NEVER any purchase of land for the mine. It was never contemplated, nor ever desired.

The complete story is, of course, more complicated. My new book, as yet unpublished, covers a period of nine years: from 1964, when CRA made the first incursion, to 1972, when the mine commenced commercial operation.

Its prime focus is on the role of the forty-odd kiaps involved; a factual account drawn from the Archives, a collection of Field Officer’s Journals, and my own collection of files. The completed book is just around the corner.

Paul Oates

Having recently viewed the NZ film 'Mr Pip', the observations of Des Martin so long ago seems to been very prophetic.

Why oh why are those who have been there and done that never listened to?

Kristian Lasslett

Thanks KJ for posting this excerpt, I will have to get a copy of the book.

I agree Peter, Bill is a meticulous and thought provoking author (and a charming man too!). But best of all he is honest - a much under-appreciated quality in an age where writers are so selective with the facts.

On the interesting subsequent comments, the historical record on these events has grown since 1990, and we now know a little more about what was occurring behind the scenes during 1989-90.

I interviewed many of the key players involved in managing Australia's response to the uprising, which included officials from the High Commission, ADF, DFAT and Dept of Defence. Australia considered boots on the ground, but baulked at the idea because of the messy nature of the intervention they would be involved in.

But there was a strong consensus that Australia's weight was heavily in favour of PNGDF intervention, and this was made known in no uncertain terms to the PNG Prime Minister, who to be fair was not initially in favour of a military solution.

In parallel Australia planned a rather significant package of military support, broadly like US involvement in Vietnam pre 1965. So they were in effect providing a lot of the technical capacity, including ADF officers (who worked on Bougainville with their PNGDF counterparts), armaments, capital goods, training, indeed as one ADF officers remarked, 'we', Australia, were even flying the PNGDF to Bougainville.

Many of the officials I spoke with were thoroughly honest and if you listened have fascinating insights. Unlike the politicians, there was no denial of the atrocities that occurred, nor the blood on Australia's hands.

The problem was the Australian government had embarked on an ambitious foreign policy strategy, that held out the South Pacific region as a litmus test of their credibility - and as Defence were keen to note, Australia's role as the guardian of the 'free world' in the South Pacific, and to an extent SE Asia, was something they leveraged with the US.

And so when the first major challenge to this credibility occurred, they could not be seen to shy away from a decisive solution.

Poor Bougainville!

More so because there was no conspiracy between the Australian government and Rio Tinto (which was a hypothesis I had initially developed and subsequently abandoned) - the significance of Bougainville went well beyond the mine, and intersected with the foreign policy heart of the Hawke government.

Sadly this important and lamentable episode in Australian history is known by few - frequently my own scholarship on the matteris dismissed as left-wing rubbish (as is my work on Rio Tinto/BCL). Which is frustrating, because all the assertions are rooted in a rich body of interview-data, generously provided by key officials involved in this tragic episode of history.

Facts and honesty, as I said, are under-rated commodities these days.

Peter Turner

Of course Des Martin's article was written and published 25 years ago, not 15.


Peter Turner

The below excerpt, written by former Kiap J. Desmond Martin,was published in the Canberra Times newspaper on 10 February 1990, although written nearly 15 years ago, is germane in light of his comrade, former District Commissioner Bill Brown's contribution on his service in Bougainville, to which Des refers. As far as I can see, his narration errs in only one respect, Bill was awarded the more prestigeous OBE, not an MBE. I was at 'ground zero' when Des wrote this article in 1990 and I disagree with him in only one respect,I believe that the Panguna mine will, one day, re-open for business.

Des, like Bill, started his Kiap service in 1949, having been a very young AIF Sergeant Machine Gunner in the Wewak - Maprik campaign in 1945, later conducted 'initial contact' patrols in 'Las Niugini', the Sepik District, chased murderers in Milne Bay, and was first on the scene after the tragic Mt. Lamington volcanic erruption.

I am not sure that the Editor will publish 2nd hand news articles, even if they are already published historical tomes? If not I will ask Des to post this himself. It is,like Bill's most recent effort, thoughtful and insightful 'insiders' views, well written and informative.

Maybe they should both be considered for a 'Crocodile' award?

Peter Turner


Australia should concentrate on winning hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea according to former Kiap Des Martin


There is a sense of déjà vu with all the talk of a possible Australian military involvement in Bougainville even if only to succour Australians living there (many of whom seem loath to leave anyway.)

I am reminded of an earlier Australian effort to restore law and order in the Pacific in support of the then British Administration in the Solomon Islands in the 1920’s.

The people of the island of Malaita had decided that they had had enough of white rule with all its petty restrictions on traditional pastimes and the upshot was that in early October 1927 they massacred District Commissioner Bell, Cadet Officer Lillies, 20 native police and most of the crew of the government vessel which had brought Bell and company to the island. Foolishly they thought that would be the end of the matter.

As the British had no military muscle in the Pacific and the Solomon Islands’ Police Force was only small and poorly armed they recruited local Europeans many of whom were Australians and ex-servicemen from World War 1 into a Special Force. The Australian Government was also asked for assistance.

The cruiser HMAS Adelaide was despatched forthwith and what with the armed Special Force and a naval landing party with Lewis guns the Malaitans didn’t have much of a chance. A little machine - gunning and rifle fire soon settled the matter and law and order was restored. Of course this was the 1920’s. It couldn’t happen nowadays could it?

I wonder if Federal Minister for Defence Kim Beazley’s military mentors have dusted off the archive files just in case they have to repeat the performance. It would be just too much if the current HMAS Adelaide was on stand-by.

But I digress with this piece of history.

In pre-independence days Bougainville including the smaller island of Buka was one of a number of districts administered by the PNG Territorial Administration, which although quasi independent with its own public service was controlled by the Australian Government through the then Department of Territories.


Bougainville District headquarters was located on Buka but the district was divided into sub-districts and patrol post areas for ease of local administration. This was the norm for all district administration in PNG at the time.

The central government in Port Moresby was remote and of no great consequence to the Bougainville people or to any other village people elsewhere in PNG. Their contact with the functions of government was strictly confined to the local sub-district office or patrol post staffed by one or more “Kiaps”, the Melanesian word for officers of the Department of Native Affairs, that is the patrol officers, assistant district officers, district officers and district commissioners, the latter of whom it was said were called God by God himself.

It was of course a benevolent dictatorship or paternalism or whatever you wish to call it. But it worked because there was a lot of goodwill on both sides.

The Kiap was all things to all men under various laws of the territory. He (there were no female Kiaps) was magistrate, police officer, jailer, collector of customs and wrecks, census taker, tax collector, land surveyor, postmaster and agent for the Commonwealth Savings Bank and he patrolled his district assiduously getting to know the people. With rare exceptions his relationships with the local people were good and he was fluent in the lingua franca (Melanesian Pidgin in New Guinea and Police Motu in Papua.)

Thus up to the time of independence local administration was in the hands of dedicated Kiaps who in effect had devoted their lives and working careers to the well-being of the people. With independence and the onset of the provincial government system this personal relationship between the governed and the governors changed dramatically.


But back to Bougainville. It was only an act of history that Bougainville was not included in the Solomon Islands. A bit of 19th century carving up of the Pacific by the British and the Germans deeded Bougainville to the latter who lost it after World War 1 when it was given to Australia under a League of Nations Mandate.

Bougainville people are different from other Papua New Guineans who in the main tend to be brown skinned. Bougainville people are black. There used to be, maybe still is, a Pidgin expression to describe something as black in colour – “olsem Buka” (black) like a Buka; Buka being the generic term for anyone from the Bougainville District.

Bougainville people had a reputation for being tough and bloody minded. Despite this they were highly regarded as domestic servants and made excellent policemen. Not because they were subservient in any way; far from it, but because they had and innate sense of loyalty to people they respected.

The land acquisition for Bougainville Copper mine was being undertaken when I left PNG in the late 1960’s after some 20 years service as a Kiap. The land involved was not owned by any one clan but by a variety of different groups all of whom had to agree to part with their land.

The land acquisition took a long time and there was a lot of resistance. On at least one occasion to my knowledge police rifles had to be brandished to prevent a tense situation from leading to bloodshed over a clash with recalcitrant landowners who were loath to part with their land. The Kiap who had the unenviable task of convincing the people to give up their land received an MBE after the purchases had been completed.

There was strong resistance by many landowners and a great deal of difficulty was encountered during the acquisition. The people were not very happy.

These events occurred well before independence and given the magnitude of the land requirement for the mining venture and perceived economic advantages in the long term there must have been a great deal of pressure from Australia on the Territory Administration right down to local Bougainville District level to see that the land was acquired.

It must also be understood that at the time of the land procurement, the mid 1960’s, the landowners were relatively unsophisticated and unable to comprehend that the land would be lost to them for all time let alone that their ancestral home would be totally devastated by the mining.

The monetary compensation although generous enough would have had no real impact at that time because most Papua New Guineans were involved in a small scale monetary economy their perceptions of large amounts was just not there.

The difference between say $100 or $10,000 is lost on people whose use of money is limited and then only in small amounts of a few dollars to purchase minor foodstuffs, bush knives and the like.

This brings us to another point, possibly the most important in the whole question of land alienation in PNG. The people of Bougainville and like communities have a spiritual attachment to their land which is incomprehensible to Europeans where land is just another commodity to be bought or sold.


In a strict sense Papua New Guineans do not own land. They have inherited it from the long departed ancestors and hold it in trust for future generations. Theoretically no native can sell land because it is not owned in the European sense of ownership. It is occupied and used jointly by the clan group during their lifetime and then passed on to their descendants.

To further complicate the issue the clan land is not only occupied by the living but also by ancestral spirits and spirits of departed clan members. The spirit world is real to Papua New Guineans and when going about normal pursuits such as gardening for subsistence agriculture or hunting it is common practice to commune with spirits who in traditional term have just as much right to occupy the land as do the living clan members.

If you have watched television you will have seen what the mining has done to an area which was once totally covered by jungle rain forest. To European eyes it is nothing more than the normal results of mining with which we are familiar. However the original landowners see the total devastation and worse the desecration of the habitat once occupied by them and their ancestral spirits.

The present leadership in PNG although better educated and more sophisticated than the generation who lost their land to Bougainville Copper are well aware of the spiritual aspects of land ownership in their country but are conveniently overlooking this in favour of economic gain. They are paying the price.

The initial reaction to the trouble on Bougainville when it was said that the landowners (now read rebels) just wanted more money was just wishful thinking. The basic cause of the problem is historical and ethnic in that the Bougainville people want out of PNG to become independent or perhaps some sort of alliance with the Solomon Islands – but I suspect the former. But I doubt this is being discussed at village level.

The catalyst has been the devastation and desecration of the land caused by mining and probably a latent fear that it could happen elsewhere. I very much doubt that Bougainville Copper mine will ever reopen.

I am saddened by of both the PNG and Australian governments who seem to think that a military training program plus more sophisticated weapons will resolve the situation.

Surely someone in government has read Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” and Chairman Mao on guerrilla warfare.

The former outlines a number of case histories where popes and kings adopted policies contrary to and defiance of all evidence and indications with disastrous results and in some cases the collapse of their regimes because of their folly.

Chairman Mao talked of the “fish” (guerrillas) swimming in the “sea” (people) and argued that no government can succeed in defeating a liberation movement when it is supported by the people. I would have thought that some of Kim Beazley’s advisers would know of this.

The military advisers to the government who are supposed to have a reputation for expertise in counter-insurgency or low level conflict are mad in thinking in terms of more training for the PNG forces. It’s a no-win situation.

With the Bougainville people united against the PNG government further military oppression will make them more bloody-minded and continued military action will lead to disaster and a long drawn out low level conflict with the usual atrocities and outrages on both sides. The PNG army and police force will be bled white. In the long haul I put my money on the Bougainville people.

The first PNG military commander in Bougainville was removed because he was too “humanitarian”. Maybe he was more interested in trying to win hearts and minds than killing people. Or maybe he realised that the PNG military were getting into a situation which if it got out of hand would end up destroying the PNG military forces.

There is no way the PNG government can defeat the Bougainville people if they dig in. My personal belief is that Bougainville is lost albeit that it might take a while and a lot more killing for it to sink in.

If Australia is to become involved we could think of reactivating the excellent civil affairs program (winning hearts and minds) that the army successfully managed in areas under their control in Vietnam and training the PNG military to undertake similar programs. At least that way we won’t end up killing people or encouraging the PNG military to do it.

I suspect that the Australian Army rather than the other services would not reject the possibility of becoming involved in a smaller counter-insurgency conflict as advisers or whatever. The army would deny this of course but at subliminal level there is the problem of having lots of soldiers sitting around in their barracks with nothing much to do except looking forward to the next “Kangaroo” exercise.


A nice little low level conflict would allow a regular rotation of troops, more funds and prestige for the army and maybe a medal or two with only minor possibility of casualties. Don’t get me wrong. I was an infantry soldier in New Guinea in World War 2 and I’m no pacifist. We have a good army. Let us not get it involved in PNG.

The ministers in the Australian Government oversighting our interest in the Bougainville problem have no real empathy with the PNG People. To them it is strictly a political matter and they can’t be blamed for that. But remember “The March to Folly”

The one person in government who does have the empathy and can relate to the PNG people of a generation ago is the present Prime Minister, Bob Hawke who in his previous incarnation spent considerable time and effort in PNG trying to get a fair deal with native wages.

One can hope that he may tighten the reins on his colleagues and their advisers to ensure that Australian involvement concentrates on hearts and minds rather than military options of any sort.

In the longer term this could cost Australia a bit of money in making up the shortfall in revenue caused by the loss of royalties from Bougainville Copper or in trying to pick up the pieces if there is any more fragmentation of the body politic in PNG. However I surmise it will be cheaper in the long run than supporting a running war in Bougainville or elsewhere in PNG.

The main thing is that whatever happens Australia comes out of it with clean hands and retains some of the affection that we had when we left.

9 July 2014

The above article was written by me and published in the Canberra Times on 10 February 1990 when there was talk of Australia becoming involved in the insurgency warfare on Bougainville which dragged on for years and led to many thousands of death and ultimately to Bougainville being granted autonomous status in PNG.

As the original newspaper cutting was badly aged I did the re-type to retain the historical record.

J.D. Martin
9th July 2014

Peter Turner

No Leonard, with respect mate, the 'cruelty' resulted from the 'powers that were' ignoring the assessment and recommendations of perspicacious and intelligent blokes like Bill Brown.

Bill Brown joined the Department of District Administration as a Patrol Officer in 'The Territory' in 1949, a year before I was born, and rose to the top of the Field Branch ladder to become District Commissioner.

One of the best, amongst a generally outstanding bunch. Bill does not need the praise of one of the last of the expatriate Kiap line but that is the plain truth.

Like a lot of his Kiap comrades, he is an erudite and entertaining writer and those who wish to read some more about other extremely interesting periods of his career, from 'the horses mouth', so to speak, or in plain Australian-speak,'the good oil', particularly his service in what the Police referred to as 'Las Niugini', the Sepik District, I would refer you to the Ex Kiap's Website (google Ex Kiap) and simply look for the name Bill Brown.

You will not be disappointed.

Leonard Roka

And this cruelty is what came out hard and strong in 1989 and still affecting us poor Solomon Islanders of Bougainville.

Lord have mercy.

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