Graham Taylor, A Kiap’s Story: A decade in the life and work of an Australian Patrol Officer in the Kokoda, Madang, New Britain, New Ireland and Sepik Regions of Papua New Guinea 1948-1958, ISBN: 978-1502703453, 402 pages, including illustrations. Pukpuk Publishing. Available from Amazon Books, Paperback $20, Kindle $4.66
AT 92, and as one of the very few surviving kiaps who served throughout the 30 year Trusteeship period in Papua New Guinea between the Pacific War’s end in 1945 and Independence in 1975, and having read scores of books on New Guinea, I did not expect at this late stage to come upon such a gem as this one.
Australia’s initial reluctant involvement in the New Guinea region was totally a strategic and defence consideration and, in prolonged and harsh economic times, development had a very low priority.
In 1945, apart from a narrow coastal fringe and the island regions (ravaged by the war), most of Papua New Guinea remained in its stone-age slumber, substantially undisturbed by external world influences.
Then followed only 30 years of Australian administration, under United Nations Trusteeship Council direction, to independence – an extraordinarily short time to meld hundreds of mutually hostile, linguistically divided primitive tribes into a nation.
Rapid decolonisation was a high UN priority, but at the grass roots level a vast gap had to be closed. Australia expanded its scant pre-war administrative services as quickly as human and material resources permitted.
The kiaps and their detachments of indigenous police, who patrolled into partly and totally uncontrolled areas and remained amongst the people on patrol posts in early pacification days, were the totality of government.
In parochial habitation almost no-one ventured beyond their tribal boundaries in a lifetime. Fighting with neighbours over land was endemic, fear of attack was ever pervasive, sorcery was rife, people remained isolated.
The kiap and his police detachment brought hitherto unknown law and order with a unifying, stable, impartial alternative to brute force and savagery and constant fear.
Graham Taylor was a product of the Australian School of Pacific Administration on Middle Head in Sydney. ASOPA evolved at the Pacific war’s end from the School of Civil Affairs, which was established in 1944 with much foresight by the Army’s Directorate of Research to train patrol officers for the post war reconstruction and development of Papua New Guinea.
It is here that his story begins and he skilfully weaves the relevance of law, anthropology, colonial administration and other subjects into the practical field work descriptions that follow.
Some 1,500 post-war kiaps passed through ASOPA over 30 years and from here their strong fraternity and bonding developed.
The author’s 10 years as a patrol officer in the early days of trusteeship were in five different regions of Papua New Guinea - whose geography is just as diverse as its people - from the idyllic blue waters and white sands of the New Ireland coast to the Guam River swamps where the inhabitants endured an unbelievably harsh, miserable, disease ridden existence.
Graham’s accounts of day to day work and life are vital and captivating. He was lucky to have served twice under legendary District Commissioner Ian Downs OBE who went to New Guinea in the depression of the late 1930s when his entire Navy Cadet Course was sacked on graduation.
Taylor writes skilfully and reflectively more than 50 years after he lived his story, with an outstanding communications career in between. He introduces humour, his prose is vibrant, he tells it all. He makes history live.
Fundamentally the relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia has always been very close. At Independence in 1975 the first Governor General, Sir John Guise observed we are lowering the Australian flag, not tearing it down.
The part played by the kiap and his police detachment in achieving inter-tribal peace will always remain significant in Papua New Guinean history.
Well could it be remembered by a joint project of the Papua New Guinea and Australian Governments in the form of a national memorial, such as an academic institution, a sporting complex or a public building of national significance.
Harry West OAM was a District Commissioner in the Territory of Papua New Guinea