My wonderful life’s journey with black music
A portrait in words of the world at this moment in Suva

Narapela kain man na meri – the pre-independence expatriates

Expatriate officers, 1960sPHIL FITZPATRICK

DURING one of his sorties to Papua New Guinea, the Great Reformer, Gough Whitlam, opined that the expatriate population was decidedly inferior and second rate.

Some of the people who jumped on that bandwagon added that the expats were in Papua New Guinea because they couldn’t get a job in Australia.

Of the women, the more cruel commentators expressed the view that they were invariably ugly and only in Papua New Guinea to snare a husband, the theory being that limited numbers would make them more attractive.

When I was at ASOPA (the Australian School of Pacific Administration) one of our lecturers told us we were there because we were social misfits, something he happily conceded was exactly what Papua New Guinea needed.

In the old colonial world it was generally accepted that the hotter climes attracted people for three main reasons, God, glory or gold, that is, missionaries, adventurers or plunderers.

All of this negativity tended to wash over most expatriates. They were aware of the view but put it down to a lack of understanding far removed from the truth.

They acknowledged that they tended to march to the beat of a different drummer, but in a good sort of way, which is what the ASOPA lecturer was trying to say.

One of the comments that stuck in my mind came from a highlander way up in the mountains around Tambul. The man, an unsophisticated bushie in arse grass, was talking about kiaps when he said, “Em ol narapela kain man hia.” They are a different breed.

It was cold and wet up there and we’d been struggling to keep open a vital road so supplies could get through. The remark made my day. Not only was it a sorely needed morale booster but it put paid to all the negativity generated by people like Gough Whitlam.

Unlike diplomats who go to Papua New Guinea nowadays wondering what they’ve done wrong to deserve such a posting, the majority of pre-independence expats were there because they wanted to be there and make a contribution.

In later years, I formed the view that the expatriate experience in Papua New Guinea was a tale worth telling, warts and all, even if most of Australia appeared uninterested.

Over the years it has been gratifying to see the regular publication of memoirs by some of those expatriates, notably the old kiaps.

Most of these books have very small print runs and are often privately published. None of them makes any real money and most result in financial loss. The prime objective is to record a largely forgotten part of Australia’s history before it is too late.

A lot of the authors are well advanced in years and it is the only book they will ever write. In most cases they have no interest in exaggeration or self-aggrandisement.

It is an everlasting shame that very few of these books reach Papua New Guinean readers because there is a strong demand for historical matter, something successive PNG governments have ignored.

I had the privilege of helping Graham Taylor publish his memoirs last year.

Graham’s book, A Kiaps Story – a decade in the life and work of an Australian patrol officer in Papua New Guinea – has been enthusiastically received by readers,  many prompted no doubt by Harry West’s compelling foreword….

At 92 and one of the few surviving kiaps who served throughout the 30 year trusteeship period in Papua New Guinea….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…

Graham Taylor was a product of ASOPA….his story begins as he skilfully weaves the relevance of anthropology, colonial administration and other subjects studied into his practical field work descriptions that  follow…his accounts of his day to day work are captivating…he was lucky to serve twice under Ian Downs….

Taylor writes skilfully and reflectively more than 50 years after he lived his story with an outstanding communications career between. He introduces humour, his prose is vibrant he tells it all. He makes history live.

Readers commented….

A wonderful book…a fascinating story….a valuable insight into some aspects of Australia’s early post-war colonial administration of Papua New Guinea

Beautifully written…you have a wonderful way with words… a great experience…….the humour is engaging and entertaining….I enjoyed it immensely.

I’m hoping, before it is too late, that many more narapela man na meri will get their memoirs into print.

Graham’s book is available on line from Amazon and privately as an advanced order from him at tay.29@  It costs $A40, including postage.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bob Cleland

I had Joe Nombri with me compiling the Common Roll (1967 was it?) in the Saruwaget Mountains north of Lae. The most enjoyable, at times hilarious, patrol I ever did.

Mathias Kin

OK, Joseph Nombri too. See if I can put something together.

Phil Fitzpatrick

What would be really good Mathias is something about Joe Nombri. I worked with him in the 1960s.

Mathias Kin

Phil, hopefully we will get New Guineans writing of their experiences in colonial New Guinea.

In Simbu we had the Nilkares, the late Sir Joseph Nombri, the late Jerry Gerry, Kimin Poka, Henry Tokam and many others (all kiaps) who served very well among the Australian kiaps. Sadly all did not write of their experiences.

I have a story line on John Mua Nilkare. I will put this out as soon as I have reviewed at it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)