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.
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@ bigpond.com. It costs $A40, including postage.