Village life: The waging of warfare & the making of peace
Delilah Gore’s leadership – from ray of hope to spent flame

Kiaps need to get off the defensive & acknowledge their flaws


MY first posting as a Cadet Patrol Officer in Papua New Guinea was to Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands.

The District Commissioner at the time was the legendary Tom Ellis (pictured).  Ellis ruled his domain with an iron fist and brooked no dissension from anyone.

Apart from the kiaps and a miscellany of other public servants, at the time there was a society of European planters in the highlands.  As for the locals, they still got around in traditional dress, arse-grass, bare breasts and wigs.

Most of the kiaps and a lot of the public servants wore an unofficial uniform of khaki.  The whole place had the aura of an outpost of empire with the Raj firmly in place.

My superiors made me understand that highlanders were a fractious people who had to be administered with a firm hand.

I was told that they would take advantage of any weakness I exhibited and that I had to be strong, resolute and decisive in my dealings with them.

This bothered me at the time because I was very young and not particularly resolute or strong, neither was I especially decisive.

At the same time I was reminded of European superiority. Terms like coon, boong and rock ape were liberally scattered throughout the everyday conversation of the expatriates.

Young and comely local women were known as ‘titters’. 

This was not racism, I was told, but simply the way things were.  To my deep regret I took all this on board and ran with it for some time.

Luckily, after a year or so, I came across people like Wamp Wan and an old bloke out at Wara in the Mul area called Kopan.

Wamp probably needs no introduction but not many people would have heard of Kopan.  He was vice-president of the local government council, number two to the pugnacious Pung Nimp.

Kopan was an exceedingly gentle man with the patience of Job.  He was a philosopher in the biblical sense.  Children followed him around and he avoided stepping on ants and other insects.

He was held in high esteem by his people.  He was the perfect counterpoint to what my superiors had told me.

All this led me to ask for a posting to a non-highland area when my first term expired.  I liked the highlanders but the expatriates tested my patience.

It was a relief to get posted to the impoverished Western District where the kiaps were much more laid back and wore normal clothes to work.

The Western District was fun and I cherish my memories of it back in those days but eventually the kiap thing ran its course and I bailed out and went to work for the Lands Department.

Just recently, having read a couple of articles by Mathias Kin and some chapters of the book he is working on and seeing the accolades that Gough Whitlam is receiving following his death, I began thinking about the kiap legacy and the myths that have built up around it in recent years.

The thing what struck me about Gough’s passing is his sudden elevation to god-like status despite his very obvious shortcomings.  I think a similar thing has happened to the kiaps.

When I returned to Australia, I got a job at the South Australian Museum and was exposed, for the first, time to academia. 

Among other things, I quickly learned not to mention that I had once been a kiap. 

Colonialism was on-the-nose in those days.  The pendulum now seems to have swung back the other way, maybe a tad too far.

The kiaps definitely weren’t gods.  Like any other human being they were flawed.  They were generally deeply conservative, poorly educated, egotistical, racist, often brutal and unfeeling, and decidedly arrogant. 

Some would say they had to be like that to do their job.  However, there were quite a few kiaps who were deeply compassionate and conscientious men who put the lie to the theory.

A couple of years ago I watched with bemusement as a group of ex-kiaps lobbied for a medal in recognition of their service in Papua New Guinea.  Scott Morrison, the current Immigration Minister, championed their cause.

This naked quest for glory was somewhat unsettling.  Later, too, was the flack that Mathias Kin copped when he wrote his article about post-World War II shootings in Simbu. 

His research is extensive, careful and mindful of the times and I don’t think his critics have been fair to him.  It was almost like they were throwing their wagons into a circle and loading guns ready for a siege.

In the long run I don’t think this attitude is going to do anyone any good, least of all the memory of the kiaps and especially Papua New Guinea’s view of its own history.

The pendulum has to swing back to the centre and a reasoned and considerate debate has to take place if researchers like Mathias are going to make any headway.

The kiaps need to get off the defensive and acknowledge that they may have made mistakes and were not the gods that some of them wish to be.

Papua New Guineans also need to leaven what they write with the knowledge that pre-1975 was a different time.

Gough Whitlam did some great things and his achievements far outweigh his failings.  The kiaps also did some great things but they had their failings too.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

That's an interesting comment about Papuan and New Guinean kiaps, Des.

Even in my day there were still shades of difference evident. You read lots of references to it pre-WW2, what with the passengers dividing themselves socially on the boats taking them home on leave etc.

I hadn't thought about it in relation to patrols. It's definitely something that Mathias should take on board.

I wonder whether the New Guinea kiaps took a leaf out of the German's book.

I wouldn't mind reading your article either.

There were a lot of Tom Ellis acolytes among his senior officers in the Western Highlands and his influence was widespread. Made life difficult for us wimps.

Des Martin

A couple of comments. First, Phil Fitzpatrick was unfortunate to have been posted as a cadet under the irascible Tom Ellis.

He was either greatly admired or greatly hated by those who served under him. Indeed some were afraid of him.

My second comment is to Mathias Kin, whom I respect for his efforts to seek out the history of his people.

He should try and get hold of a book with the strange title of "Not a Poor Man's Field" by Michael Waterhouse. The main theme is the history of the search for gold in New Guinea (not Papua) in the 1920's and 30's up to 1942.

It covers in depth the murders of miners and their workers and some Kiaps and police and importantly the aggressive attitude of the NG Administration of those days.

The policy was retaliation and attacks on patrols were countered with lethal force and there is strong evidence of punitive expeditions to get the message across that attacks on government patrols and miners would not be tolerated.

The situation was different in Papua and immediately post WW2 there was tension between the Kiaps posted there and those in New Guinea .

The old pre war Papuan Kiaps, the Resident and Assistant Resident Magistrates, disliked their NG counterparts and even as late as 1956 on my first posting to Papua after three terms in NG the pre-war Papuan who was DC at the time took me aside and to my astonishment warned me against using New Guinea style administration methods now I was in Papua.

I recently wrote an article on Law and Justice in my years in the then TPNG. If Mathias Kin could pride an e-mail address I would be happy to send him a copy which he might find interesting.

Thanks Des. Mathias's email address is [email protected] - KJ

Bob Cleland

Good on you Phil. Good that you have opened discussion about kiaps in this way.

I've always put kiaps into three categories - the good the bad and the rest.

Maybe a dozen 'goods', somewhat more than a dozen 'bads', and the big majority competent, flexible in thought and honest.

Perhaps the 'bads' were those who didn't or couldn't learn from their own or others' mistakes or behaviour.

Shakespear was so right in 'Julius Caesar'. 'The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.'

That's our problem.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I've read some of the other draft chapters in Mathias' book and he has some compelling oral accounts, some of which are corroborated by other writers and researchers like Robin Hide, Bill Standish and the late Fr Frank Schaefer.

At the same time he fully acknowledges the nature of Simbu people as warlike and aggressive. He also points out that their internecine wars were structured and governed by rules of conduct, as wars were in many parts of the highlands.

There is also ample evidence elsewhere that, despite what many kiaps thought, their police were often a law unto themselves and were responsible for many atrocities; they seemed to be especially adept at raping local women. Bill Gammage makes this plain in his book 'The Sky Travellers'.

Paul makes a good point when he says that this buccaneering style among the police and kiaps was unknown in his days as a kiap, although I do recall rumours of people being shot at places like Nomad in the Western District in the 1960s that apparently went unreported. I stress that they were rumours never proved.

Chris refers to earlier kiaps like Charles Monckton who shot his way around the Northern District in the days of British rule.

There are similarities between what Monckton encountered and what happened in the highlands - a proud and intractable warrior society colliding head on with the agents of empire, a sure recipe for conflict.

In essence these conflicts were power struggles with the old traditional order resisting a new imposed order. It was not a new story in the history of colonialism by any means.

Those kiaps who went into the highlands in the early days took with them the imperialist Monckton mindset - we are going to civilise these people whether they like it or not.

As Mathias points out in some of his draft chapters, the Simbu, which he describes as a Medieval society, already considered themselves civilised and resented the impudence of the white men.

I think the defining moment in this period was the murder of kiaps Szarka and Harris and their police in 1953.

Whereas the earlier conflicts occurred in remote areas where communication with the outside world was severely limited, the Telefomin incident received widespread media coverage and attention from the new and emboldened United Nations.

Whereas before, a punitive patrol to teach the Min a lesson might have been contemplated, this scrutiny from outside dictated an entirely different approach whereby the tenets of the law had to be strictly adhered to by field officers.

Despite the tragedy of the incident, it ultimately had a beneficial effect on the way justice was administered in PNG thereafter and accounts for why Paul, in his day, observed entirely different attitudes and approaches.

None of this negates the need to investigate and come to terms with those tumultuous years up to the immediate post-war period. If people like Mathias want to do this they should not be discouraged.

The Simbu are still aggressive, opinionated and haven't lost their argumentative character. That's one reason why we're getting so many writers and successful businessmen from up there.

In reading some of Mathias's oral accounts, I get the feeling that those old men to whom he has talked were not so much appalled by the actions of the kiaps and police but in awe of the possibilities their superior firepower presented.

As history has shown, highlanders have taken to the gun like ducks to water.

Paul Oates

Hi Mathias, I don’t know of anyone who regularly reads the Attitude who wouldn’t hasten to support your literary efforts and encourage you to continue.

What your previous brief article unfortunately raised was something most Kiaps that I know were never aware of. That aspect alone makes it worthy of writing about.

The problem is that all the Kiaps I know never participated in anything like what you described. I therefore felt very offended when other readers then suggested all Kiaps were murderers.

I’m sure you would feel aggrieved in the same way if you had been branded with whatever violent actions occurred elsewhere in PNG history by people other than your own.

Especially so, since statistically this was obviously a very small sample of a very large and positive picture.

The point raised previously is that by concentrating on a small example of what was wrong, it tends to give the impression to those who weren’t there that that was how it was everywhere. Nothing could be less than the case.

PNG was able to develop because the Kiaps kept the peace in extremely difficult and at times violent environments with very little in the way of direct support or infrastructure.

I do hope however that there isn’t an attempt to sensationalise any future publication by some who might be encouraging public controversy.

You should be congratulated for writing PNG history and a balanced viewpoint will undoubtedly be supported on all sides. I'm sure Phil would agree.

Chris Overland

Mathias Kin has seriously misrepresented my position in relation to the alleged "massacres" carried out by kiaps or upon the orders of kiaps.

I have never maintained that they did not occur. What I have said is that, if events of the magnitude alleged took place, then they could not possibly have been covered up indefinitely: someone would have found out and reported such events.

For what it is worth, I think that there are certain to have been incidents where excessive force was used, either by kiaps or by police acting under their orders.

I have previously written about two clear examples of kiaps who used violence on a scale that attracted serious criticism at the time and for which there is ample evidence available.

I have also never said that kiaps were individually and collectively paragons of virtue. They certainly were not: there are many examples of poor judgement, stupidity and reckless behaviour on the part of kiaps.

Kiaps were part of an authoritarian regime. This gave ample opportunity for those kiaps with authoritarian or dictatorial tendencies to act in ways that would never have been permitted otherwise.

Kiaps were, so far as I can tell, selected specifically because they seemed to possess the qualities of independence, tough mindedness and decisiveness that were needed to be effective in a sometimes difficult and dangerous role.

They were mostly young men who are, as we all know, more prone to recklessness and poor judgement than older and (hopefully) wiser men. In a crisis situation, it is no surprise to me that some made quite grievous errors in judgement, including the use of excessive force.

Like Phil, I believe that there were cultural differences between Papuan kiaps and those in the highlands. The latter seemed to me to be more authoritarian in outlook and behaviour than those working in the coastal and island areas.

As a general rule, the population in the highlands was much more prone to resort to violence than the coastal people, whose experience of the colonial regime was much longer and who had had more time to adjust to the rule of law.

Consequently, a different style of administration was used, with kiaps placing relatively more emphasis on law enforcement activities in the highlands than was the case in most Papuan Districts.

I do not wish to be cast as a defender of kiaps, right or wrong. I am a historian first and foremost and want to find the truth, in so far as it can be known.

As usual, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I that that the truth in this case will be seldom pure and never simple.

Mathias Kin

I posted “The sad story of the colonial massacre of Golen Keri, Simbu” on PNG Attitude as a prelude to this book I am “struggling” on.

When I returned after taking a deep shower in the cold Warasimbu, I was surprised to find Chris Overland’s strong denial and seeming authoritative avowal on the subject.

Within the next two weeks Des Martin, Harry Topham, Bill Brown, and Paul Oates all had a go at trying to play down the merits contained in my article. Many were very venomous!

The article was whacked, drowned in the River Wahgi and kicked from Kundiawa to Salamaua and back for a long three weeks.

I did say I may have touched something tabu. Did I say I needed that impetus? That pat on the back?

Then two weeks later, Robin and Carolyn Hide posted the “Notes additional to the Study of the Glen Keri Massacre” also on PNG Attitude.

That “sot winned” you all and shot you down from your kiap realm “antap tru”.

Quite recently Joe Kuman’s “Bloodshed & Suffering: A Chronicle of the Yuri people” painted this picture further.

There is no denying there were killings and so many of them were never reported. Some of your most honoured will be put to the blade.

I indicated in many areas of my discussions that I am withholding information on these killings and other killings in the area, for I thought what I posted at the time was enough for your emeritus ranks.

Imagine if six other killings of this magnitude (one of over 100 deaths!), all of them in the Simbu area were posted on the Attitude?

Phil Fitzpatrick

Hmm! I think I might throw that one back.

Before I do that, however, I should acknowledge Jason Clare's efforts. He's a very impressive unit and would make a fine Foreign Minister.

It's a bit disappointing that the kiaps had to fight for recognition rather than having it offered to them. And a Police Service Medal was a strange consolation prize I thought.

Des Martin's recent Logohu seems like something more heartfelt and sincere.

Your reference to my 'recently announced PNG gong' is a bit of a mystery?

The fact that Peter O'Neill's father was a kiap could be taken either way. His Dad would be one of those kiaps I would describe as 'compassionate and conscientious' so I wonder where Peter gets his proclivities.

Tom Ellis, on the other hand, was a bastard, a nice bastard but a bastard nevertheless.

What really got up my nose, however, was the reaction to Mathias. I don't think that was fair by any stretch of the imagination.

My preference is to have it out in the open and deal with it fairly and with a level head, not defensive overreaction.

Paul Oates

Well Phil, it’s almost as if someone has put you up to a ‘fishing’ expedition?

For those who don’t know you, you have a well known and self confessed propensity for throwing out baited hooks to see what you catch. The churlish might call it ‘stirring’.

Could it be that the real reason you have written this conjecture is to create some lively debate among Attitude readers?

There is however an old saying: ‘Never speak ill of the dead.’ An internet search suggests some good advice.

“Show respect to people who have died by not saying anything bad about them. Since dead people can no longer hurt us, or defend themselves, it is better to forget their bad actions and remember only their good ones.”

Origin: This proverb has been traced back to Chilon of Sparta (6th century BC). The Latin version was "De mortuis nil nisi bonum" ("Of the dead say nothing but good").

Let’s get a few ground rules established for the sake of those who weren’t there at the time. Yes, there were many negatives and probably still are. There were also many positives about Kiaps and I believe these more than cancel out the negatives. It all depends on the eye of the beholder and where they were at any given time.

I understand it takes 14 ‘good’ points to cancel out one reference to something ‘bad’. If that is so, then why waste everyone’s time by trying to point score?

Suffice to say, many of your statements are presented as a matter of fact. This is a well-known tactic to put your opposition on the defensive. However failure to mention all the facts often allows the truth to be hidden under a cloud doesn’t it?

I encourage you to review some of your statements of fact: e.g. Scott Morrison did espouse the cause of providing some sort of recognition of the Kiaps before all of them died.

However it was Minister Jason Clare in the previous Labor government who ensured that some recognition of Kiap service was available for those who wanted to apply for it.

I assume you do not want any recognition and that’s your choice. Nevertheless, congratulations on your recently announced PNG gong.

Always remember that if you denigrate your fellow Kiaps it might come back to bite you in the bum. The current PNG PM’s father was a Kiap.

Many of us did experience sometimes severe antipathy for our positive views about the PNG people. Most Kiaps I knew stayed on in PNG because they wanted to help PNG people and could see they were able to do many good things.

So what colour are your glasses? Grey, blue or rosy? It all depends on how you will see the world.

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