Christmas cigarettes on Shaggy Ridge, December 1943
Jubilee Australia, Dr Lasslett & questions of good faith

Marching to a different drummer is not a good career move


I HAVE frequently written about the innate conservatism of the kiaps, both when they were serving in Papua New Guinea and later when they were back in Australia.

This predilection was brought home to me by their bid to secure a medal for their service and the way in which their argument was couched. They were, after all, public servants, not soldiers.

I’ve got nothing against conservatism; it is something that adds colour to everyday life and can often be highly entertaining; watching clowns like Tony Abbott was most enjoyable and terrifying at the same time.

And the truth be known we’ve all got bits of conservatism and liberalism and something in between in us anyway.

So when the kiaps got their medal I wished them well and applauded the tireless efforts that went into it. I just couldn’t see my short time as a kiap as deserving of a medal and didn’t apply for one.

The view of kiaps as conservatives and, in some cases, rednecks, has permeated a lot of the literature about them, especially in the academic field. I think this sort of stereotyping is grossly unfair.

Not all kiaps were conservatives. At least not in the classic sense. There were many free thinkers and radicals among them. There were also a lot of eccentrics too.

Like the kiap on a remote one man station making bricks to build a squash court even though he had no one to play against.

Or the kiap on a similarly small station building an aeroplane out of a cannibalised Honda 90 motorbike; he only got caught when he advertised for a set of pram wheels on the district office noticeboard.

And then there was the kiap who built a road through the swamps from his lonely station to a nearby mission because the MAF refused to fly in his beer supplies while the priest at the mission had no objections to putting them on his weekly supply flights.

James Aderson, John McGregor, Helitrans pilot Bob Hamilton c 1964There were eccentrics in the other professions too of course. The chalkie who turned up at the Hagen show in full bilas and charged unsuspecting tourists to take his photograph. The priest who put his toilet on rails so he could grow vegetables in its wake. The list goes on.

Most of them were good-hearted people who did no harm and quite often a lot of good. A few of them had simply gone troppo because of loneliness and heat and humidity.

Most of them found promotion elusive because they had blotted their copy books. The mandarins in Port Moresby diligently kept tabs on them. Some were labelled subversive and some were even sacked, especially the politically eccentric.

I ran into quite a few aging kiaps who had only ever reached assistant district officer level or had been shunted off to obscure roles that were mostly meaningless.

Strangely, most of these men were very good at their jobs out in the bush and got on well with the locals. A lot of them had put principle ahead of ambition.

Some of them were just plain loopy and nutcases too.

It takes all kinds to make this world and the kiaps weren’t anything special; just different and playing by their own rules.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

Chris and Paul; I would hope that you will respect my point of view. I don't think anything I did as a kiap warrants a medal.
It was just a job, albeit a bit uncomfortable at times.

After I left PNG I spent twenty years working in very remote areas with tribal Aborigines. It was equally dangerous and uncomfortable but I don't expect a medal for that either.

That said, I have the utmost respect for my fellow kiaps (with a couple of exceptions) and do not begrudge them receiving a medal in the slightest.

It's just not my bag.

Chris Overland

I sought a job as an Assistant Patrol Officer at the age of 18. The person who interviewed me (the late Bob Bell) wrote on his assessment that I was "the right type".

I still have no clear idea what he meant but my surmise is that he was referring to my evident desire for both adventure and excitement. Also, due to my training in the CMF, I could handle a gun competently if the need arose.

Anyway, I ended up in PNG and, when put to the test on several very arduous and demanding patrols, was not found wanting.

Like Phil, I was conscious that as a contract officer, many permanent officers regarded me as a bit of a tourist, not quite the real deal.

However, I and virtually all other contract officers did exactly the same duties as the permanents and some lost their lives doing so. Danger, disease and death did not discriminate on the basis of employment status.

At various times I contracted malaria (twice), dysentery and infectious hepatitis, all of which, so I was cheerfully informed, were a routine hazard of the job. Like many, I experienced a few pretty hairy aeroplane flights that, mostly through luck, ended well.

Due to my own arrogance and folly I once was assaulted and stabbed by a group angry tribesmen but escaped battered and wiser from that experience.

I served for 5 years and left having refused a posting to Ioma as OIC. I could see the writing on the wall for any career in PNG and it made no sense to me to accept yet another isolated posting when I was happily ensconced at Kokoda.

Basically, I was over being lonely and isolated and it was very clear that "true" patrol work was essentially finished.

I accepted my POSM with humility, glad of the recognition but ever conscious of the far greater deeds performed by the men who preceded me in PNG.

Unlike Phil, I think that 5 years was more than enough service to justify the award, especially when you consider that a Police Officer who spends 6 months in the Solomons automatically qualifies for it.

I was and remain incredibly grateful to have lived and worked in PNG as a kiap. I may not have discovered new places and peoples like my predecessors but I did damn tough job and did it pretty well overall.

Did kiaps collectively advance the interests of Papua New Guineans? I think that the answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. Were we the only ones to do so? The answer is clearly no but, as Paul has pointed out, our situation and task was truly unique and thus being singled out for special recognition is appropriate.

Phil apply for your medal and accept it with both humility and pride. It is a worthy memento of a special and unique experience that will never by repeated.

Paul Oates

I don't know of too many young men who applied to become a Kiap that didn't in some way fit the mould of being interested in pushing the envelope. Why else would anyone volunteer to put themselves in dangerous situations without a sense of adventure and commitment.

Many in other disciplines who went to the then TPNG were almost never put in the same situation as the Kiaps they worked with. As always, those characters who clashed with others on small outstations stand out and are therefore the most commented upon.

The issue both Des and I have with Phil is one of perspective. Phil does tend to take a dismal view where others believe Kiaps did perform valuable and worthwhile service for their country and for the people they worked with.

As the list of those who lived through this period gets smaller by the year, so those who wish to concentrate on any negative aspects (and there will always be some in any operation), seem to amplify their apparently negative views with what seems some vitriol and forget or purposely ignore how it was for most of us.

While previous service in the Army or another armed service may well have helped us in the work we did, nothing in today's employment opportunities comes close to what we did and our working conditions.

The real reason most of us stayed on for as long as we could is that we could see we were able to make a positive difference for the PNG people we worked with. Many would have stayed longer but for what is now seen as a myopic decision to rush Independence.

As has been commented before, nothing really compares to what it was like. If Phil now rejects the equivalent of what in the Army would be a campaign medal that can be awarded for less than 6 years service then that's his pejorative. Why impugn others who welcome this very belated recognition?

Andy, if you can imagine being a junior officer, with usually only a half a Section of police to maintain law and order with sometimes 10 to 20,000 tribal people, poor to no means of communication with your immediate supervisor or the outside world and often, total isolation, perhaps you may get an inkling of what it was like for most of us.

To suggest that we all now think like Phil or some others who wish to add their two bobs worth is to do a total disservice to a good many men and their spouses who dedicated their lives to help bring the PNG people out of the Stone Age and into the Modern Age in mostly one generation. Many, in roughly the some percentage as those soldiers who went to Vietnam, gave their lives whilst working as Kiaps.

Phil, I think we owe it to those people alone to accentuate the positives.

Andy McNabb

Phil, I am ex Oz Regular Army (20 years). The standard approach to length of service yarns in the messes was that six years was "tourist class" - "get some time up!". It was not until one had 14 years or more that one could be called a "member".

Perhaps they were right. It was not until I had 12 years under my belt that I started to see the machinations of the "system". The "system" was knowing how it worked - the way to get things done (or not done).

It was just like other organisations - wantok system, sycophants, "who's who in the zoo", knowing when to move or not to move. Really just inhabited by humans with all the classic human characteristics - insecurity, strengths, weaknesses, kindness, chicanery, altruism, vanity, ambition, jealousy in varying and changing doses across the board.

I avoided most of the culture, served with some of the finest men and women I have ever met, and we had a good share of eccentrics and loopies.

Most of the eccentrics left early because most eccentrics do not like the company of other eccentrics. Some eccentrics were encouraged to keep serving - they provided a counterfoil to a sometimes dreary "system".

Sounds a bit like the kiap organisation.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I think you came from a different era Des and had experiences that us Johhny come latelies could only dream about.

I think you post-war era kiaps deserve to have your services recognised with the POSM.

When I thought about applying for the medal I balanced my meagre six years service against you guys for whom kiaping was a lifetime vocation and decided it would be presumptuous to compare myself to you blokes.

That said, I find it hard to believe you never ran into any loonies in the ranks.

Des Martin

This geriatric ex WW2 infantry Sergeant and post war Kiap is proud to have had his TPNG service recognised by the Australian government after years of lobbying by Chris Viner Smith. I am sad to note that Phil rejected the award. Once we all take that last patrol without the award of the POSM there will be no other material recognition of what we represented in TPNG on behalf of Australia.
I am also sorry that Phil had to put up with colleagues that were balmy or eccentric. He must have served in a different universe to me. All the ADO's, PO's Cadets and senior officers with whom I had the privilege to have served with and those others I met were all serious minded, good at what they did, dedicated to the job and were a credit to the Kiap service.

Richard Jones

Talk about loopy Phil. In my last outstation posting as a chalkie, so maybe 1970 which seems a hell of a long time ago now, I was at Amazon Bay in the far east of the Central District.

The in-situ kiap was a perfectly reasonable bloke and his wife earned a quid as a chalkie.

However up the coast was the Abau sub-district office. And a gent named Shorty Jordan had been the incumbent kiap there for a period. Maybe he'd been the ADO. Memory's a bit blurred.

However Shorty had an unerring method of gaining the villagers' undivided attention.

To announce his arrival in a village he'd fire a round or three into the air. Then the villagers would gather all about him.

If he was there when a dispute was brewing, or indeed if it was underway, he'd holster the small arm and fire a few shots into the air from the long-arm.
Quite a character was Shorty. Very keen on a cool drink as the tropical twilight faded into darkness.

He gathered a smallish but avid clique around him when on safari around Moresby's drinking clubs.

Incidentally I joined the Labour Department in 1971, after the chalkie days had run their race. I worked there until Xmas 1976, all the while honing my writing and broadcasting skills at the ABC and the Post Courier (later put to use in full-time employment).

Doug Lockwood paid the magic sum of three cents (three toea, perhaps) a line for written yarns published in the Post-Courier.

KJ may also have reaped the benefits of Doug's largesse.
Doug later offered me a full-time job in Central Victoria at the daily, the Bendigo Advertiser.

But that's a whole separate story and the pay was quite a bit better than three cents a line.

Going rates, c 1960s: ABC $15 a story (another $15 if it made the national news in Australia); ABC 15 mt radio script $30; Pacific Islands Monthly 5 cents a word; Nation 3 cents a word (if George Munster was in funds and chose to pay); South Pacific Post, as it was, slung me a miserly $30 for two weeks spent reporting athletics at the South Pacific Games. It's a buck a word these days, which isn't bad - KJ

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