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The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2015 finds a home in Goroka

The backbone of PNG’s early years: the forgotten patrol carrier

Star Mountain CarriersPHIL FITZPATRICK

IN 1974 I was out the back of the South Australian Museum loading up a LandRover for a long field trip to Central Australia.

I was off to work with Pitjantatjara and Yankunytjatjara elders recording sacred sites threatened by mining development.

The destination was the Northwest Aboriginal Reserve, now the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands, and I was working for the quaintly named Aboriginal and Historic Relics Preservation Unit.

Just as I was manhandling a couple of heavy patrol boxes into the back of the Landie, a young anthropologist emerged from the back door of the museum.

“They’re neat boxes,” he said, “why are the handles so long?”

I looked at him for a moment wondering what to say. I’d already learned that advertising my past life as a kiap wasn’t a great idea in those days.

Bugger it, I thought, who cares what he thinks?

“You slip a wooden pole through the handles and put a bloke on either end to carry it,” I replied, waiting for the inevitable reaction.

“That’s disgusting!” he said and huffed off.

I shrugged and kept loading the Landie.

In Papua in 1969, during an influenza epidemic, I’d teamed up with Corporal Kasari and lugged a patrol box through the Star Mountains for several days so our sick carriers could struggle along unencumbered.

We both had sore shoulders by the time we made it to the mission at Bolivip and the healing hands of the nuns. So I knew what it was like to be a carrier.

I’ve still got the patrol boxes; they’ve been back to PNG several times and have seen some pretty remote areas of Australia. The red Fisholac paint has faded and they’re pretty battered but, if I had to go on patrol again, they’d be up to it I reckon.

Getting ready for another day's carrying - Nomad RiverI was rummaging through one of them the other day looking for something when the thought occurred to me that those carriers were the unsung heroes of the early exploration and development of PNG.

As I recall, carrying for a patrol had a certain prestige attached to it. Carrying also provided an opportunity to visit otherwise hostile areas in relative safety and the few dollars or trade goods earned didn’t go astray either.

From my point of view it was a great way to get peaceful interaction going between old enemies and pave the way for a lasting reconciliation.

One had to keep an eye on the carriers so they didn’t take advantage of their hosts under the protection of the patrol’s guns but, by and large, I didn’t have much trouble in that respect.

There were people who were reluctant to carry, of course, but this could be talked through and accommodated. The problems were usually related to fear of going to an area or something to do with village manpower shortages.

Simple recalcitrance was seldom an issue and, anyway, there were no laws to force the matter as there had been during World War II.

The general practise, especially for extended patrols, was to change carriers from area to area. A group would be happy to carry to the borders of their territory but reluctant to go beyond it.

Coordinating changeovers was an important part of patrol organisation. Happily, the new carriers often tried to outdo their predecessors.

And there were always regulars who tried to accompany every patrol over the entire route. These men had built up relationships on previous patrols and used the trips to consolidate trade and other connections. All good stuff in terms of development.

And every patrol had hangers-on or people unsuitable for carrying heavy loads but anxious for the experience anyway. Mostly they were young boys, old men and, occasionally, women seeking safe passage for visits back to home villages.

I clearly remember an old guy in the Star Mountains who came on several patrols with me. He wasn’t an influential man in any way but he had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on me.

He would commander my small backpack and rifle, if I was carrying one, and dutifully trot along a few steps behind me.

Occasionally he would tap me on the arm to point out something interesting and towards the afternoon strike out ahead of the patrol to make sure a fire with a billy of water for tea was bubbling ready for my arrival at the night’s campsite or rest house.

We sometimes extol the virtues of those old-time patrol police but we often forget those dedicated carriers. They helped PNG achieve independence as much as anyone else. Without them it probably wouldn’t have happened.

They deserve a place in PNG history.


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Peter Turner

'Never wore anything other than the canvas and rubber 'jungle boots'.

An eight year old girl from a hamlet near Menapi in the RabaRaba District in Milne Bay tagged herself onto a Patrol heading for Tarakuroro on the tip of Cape Vogel in 1966 and carried a folding chair to earn two bob.

She was mightily impressed with that Kiap, whoever he was, and told everyone that one day she would marry a Kiap.

In your dreams they told her.

After graduating from Balob Teachers College in 1978 and being posted to Simbu, she did. Me.

Blessings be upon that unknown Kiap (or his Corporal) who gave her a job that day.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I took a pair of Paddy Pallin hiking boots with steel cleats into the Western Highlands in 1967. They were great.

I took the same boots into the Western Province in 1969 and immediately sunk up to my navel in mud. Lucky I didn't try stepping into a dugout canoe with them on. I quickly swapped them for a pair of canvas jungle boots with rubber soles.

I tried the latter in the highlands and nearly cooked my toes when the sun playing down on the open grasslands heated up the rubber over the pointy ends.

At other times I went au natural and developed a lifelong pleasure of mud oozing between my toes.

Horses for courses.

Bomai D Witne

Thank you, Phil. The contribution of these loyal carriers has not been recorded in colonial PNG history. They played a major role in bridging the gaps between tribal territories. I know they enjoy their tobacco in heaven now.

Paul Oates

I agree with Phil and Chris about the value of the carriers. Sometimes the official going price per hour seemed paltry but it was often sought after when hard cash was short.

I was once mobbed with offers to carry on a standing patrol out of Wau down to the Papuan border. Out of work miners wanted hard cash and to be fed with the hard rations (bully beef and rice) we carried.

When short of some carriers, I too carried half a patrol box with one of my policemen and I can truthfully say, even though I was fit, it wasn't easy going up the side of a mountain.

Coming down the mountain however I had the advantage over bare feet as I was lucky enough to have hobnail boots.

Some Kiaps swore by their favoured type of footwear but hobnails saved me from a nasty death many times. The 'oldtimers' at ASOPA told me, 'Don't wear rubber soles when you have to walk over slippery trees roots and wet clay.'

Trust your seniors was what I learnt.

Chris Overland

As usual, Phil's article conjures up a rush of memories that have lain dormant for decades.

I agree with his assessment of the value of carriers: without them, kiaps could never have achieved what they did.

On my first patrol I was instructed on the virtue of keeping the carriers happy.

ADO Jon Mundell was very clear: never overload them, never abuse them, fix their cuts and sores and keep them supplied with good tucker and tobacco.

Happy carriers equalled a generally happy patrol and minimal personnel problems when transiting some pretty tough country.

Philip G Kaupa

I wipe a tear for them, they are the rocks that my nation is built on and must not go unnoticed in the shadows of PNG history.

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