A Kiap's Chronicle: 3 - Kairuku
Peter O’Neill’s book of dreams finally sees the light of day

One of the iconic PNG books is now available for free


IN MY estimation, Phil Fitzpatrick’s book Bamahuta – Leaving Papua ranks with Trevor Shearston’s Something in the Blood as one of those iconic books about Papua New Guinea written by Australians.

And it’s just been made available for free download courtesy of Pandanus Online Publications and the Australian National University.

Access the book here.

I want to offer you two reviews of the book. The first dates back to March 2005 when it appeared in that month’s issue of the PNG Association of Australia’s journal, Una Voce.

Subsequently the review was censored and not allowed to be published on the PNGAA website. 

I’m delighted to say that the PNGAA today, under the firm hand of Andrea Williams, has a very much more enlightened committee than it had back then.

Anyway, to the reviews….

This is a book you will not be able to put down.


The adventures of Philip Fitzpatrick prior to independence are told with wit, humour and pathos. The style is refreshingly crisp and this makes for the telling of a compelling and intriguing series of stories.

There are some unforgettable moments.

Fitzpatrick reduced to his leopard skin jockettes leading a patrol in the oppressive heat of the Western District comes face to face with a group of nuns with their habits hitched up around their knees and wearing white rubber boots. One of the nuns, a French Canadian, who once worked as a dancer in a strip club, reacts in an unpredictable manner much to the consternation of the group.

The story of the contact with the border crossers on the West Irian border carrying the still conscious elder who has been disembowelled by Indonesian soldiers as an example to potential refugees, is heart rending and disturbingly real.

Seconded to the Security and Intelligence Branch in Moresby, Fitzpatrick is rostered for night surveillance duties around Government House during the visit of the Australian Prime Minister, John Gorton. What eventuates is a series of hilarious incidents.

Woven through these adventures is the question of the timing of independence. Fitzpatrick appears to avoid the temptation to overstate the obvious and instead skilfully canvasses the attitudes of others, although he could be forgiven for a little self-indulgence.

His relationship with Ihini, the young, attractive Papuan journalist on the Post Courier, is an integral part of the story.  Fitzpatrick generally resists telling us the detail and leaves the reader to fill in the gaps. Perhaps it might have been better not to tell us of Ihini’s fate.

This story will be irresistible to those who have lived, visited or heard of Papua New Guinea. To those who have friends who only borrow from libraries or from others, do everyone a favour and buy an extra copy.

Bamahuta: gripping, wry, humorous read


People who lived and worked in Papua New Guinea prior to 1975, when independence was prematurely thrust on an ill-prepared and largely unwilling population by the Australian Government, are becoming thin on the ground as the years roll on.

Most former colonies including PNG have coped with their new status with varying degrees of success, and a recently republished book by former Kiap Philip Fitzpatrick would be a welcome addition to any collector of stories written by the men who brought youth, stamina and dedication to the task of preparing a stone age country for political independence.

Rescued from its out of print oblivion by niche publisher Diane Andrews of Cairns, Bamahuta. Leaving Papua reeks of authenticity and personal acquaintance with the people of Papua New Guinea by a writer who lived and worked with them as a Kiap in the final years of Australia's occupation of Papua from 1967-73, two years before independence.

Like others who returned to PNG after 1975, including the writer of this review, Philip returned from time to time after the departure of the Australian administration, and was appalled and saddened by the shambolic and lawless depths to which the country he knew and loved had descended.

The opening chapter of the book has a vivid account of an armed payroll hijack at a remote airstrip which Fitzpatrick survived after his driver was shot and badly injured. It makes gripping reading.

There is much humour and wry comment by this percipient and acute observer of mankind, both black and white, some of it racier and more personal than in books written by former kiaps like Ivan Champion, Jack Hides and JK McCarthy, but it deserves a place alongside these in the Papua New Guinea


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Rashmii Bell

I read 'Bamahuta Leaving Papua' this week and am glad to have done so. I was enlightened and re-educated about the role and immense contribution of the kiap to PNG's history (inc PNG-Aust relationship). So much more than 'policeman' as what I'd heard kiaps referred to in my younger years.

What I appreciated about the book was the depth of personalities presented - particularly that of Administration staff. It is interesting to hear the reasoning of the Administartion as well as the perspectives of how kiaps approached their job and the PNGns. The inclusion of West Papuans crossing into the border and how kiaps were to deal with such incidents is quite interesting.

I took an immediate liking to two female characters, espeically Ihini. I daresay a good number of PNG girls and women of today would identify with her - her outlook on life as a woman in PNG, and universally. Of course, the descriptions of the many rural and isolated villages (and people) patrolled by kiaps had me in awe and wondering if one day I will ever see these places for myself. It's hard not to think about the survival and livelihoods of our people in the rural areas and after reading this book.

Phil - a read that was engaging, informative book, at times quite emotive and filled with well-placed humour.

Daniel Kumbon

Phil, I asked you about Ihini after I finished reading Bamahuta but you didn't answer. I pointed out why you ended up with Ihini's grass skirt and not her, the person.

I can guess that you must have come across many beautiful PNG women but took only their memories with you to Australia.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Just who was Ihini – a confession of sorts.

The recent availability of my early book, 'Bamahuta: Leaving Papua' as a downloadable PDF by the Australian National University has strangely prompted a range of questions that I thought had been retired to bed years ago.

Of all the characters and the events in the book people mostly ask me about is Ihini, the young journalist in the narrative.

I lot of people say, ‘I knew you in Papua New Guinea before independence but I never met Ihini, who was she?’

Others make the assumption that Ihini was actually a young Ikini Yaboyang, who went on to marry Barry Holloway.

I tried to make it clear in the introduction to the book that it had been necessary to rearrange some events for narrative purposes and to change the names of some characters to avoid, as my publisher advised, possibilities for litigation.

To make it all work I also had to invent, or at least stretch the truth of some events. That’s why the book was published as fiction, even though it was 95% fact. Or at least fact as I perceived it. I believed then as I believe now that facts often get in the way of truth.

Ihini was two things. First of all she was an amalgam of three different people I knew at various stages in those early days; they are all now sadly passed on.

Secondly she was a clumsy attempt on my part to create a metaphor for Papua, a place I grew to love. In those days I had pretensions to literary writing.

In my mind, then and now, Papua reflects the feminine side of Papua New Guinea. I think this reflects the gentleness of the coastal people more than anything else.

There’s nothing sinister or deeply psychological in this, it is just the way my mind works.

I did, in fact, know Ikini Yaboyang when she was a very young journalist. I first met her at Olsobip when the exploration for Ok Tedi was gearing up and I spent time with her in Port Moresby and elsewhere.

It was a largely platonic relationship because we simply enjoyed each other’s company. And she wasn’t anywhere near as feisty in those days as she later became. And, of course, she wasn’t a Papuan, she came from Finschhafen.

The other parts of the Ihini character I will keep to myself. Neither of them had high profiles and you wouldn’t recognise them.

Let me explain what I tried to do with Ihini as a metaphor.

There is an early scene in the book where I go searching for her because I’m afraid she has met with some sort of accident at a bathing place. When I find her she reveals herself in all her glory.

Quite a few people scoff at this event but what I was trying to convey was the point in my life when the true sense and spirit of Papua was revealed to me.

Following on from that I portray the metaphorical character as a young woman striving to find her place in the world, just as Papua was then doing. To do this she adopted all of the modern western trends of the time, in the way she spoke, thought, dressed and adopted causes like feminism.

It is a theme I attempted to pursue through the rest of the book.

Towards the end, however, she comes to re-evaluate her motives. She goes off in a lakatoi on a modern and untraditional version of a Hiri voyage and eventually marries the man her parents had chosen for her and to whom she had been promised as a child.

That was the point when I realised that although I had come to love Papua my future didn’t lie there and I had to let it go and return to Australia. Many Australians went the other way, of course, and I admire their courage and commitment, it is no small thing.

In some ways I think my re-engagement with Papua New Guinea many years later was some sort of atonement for not staying.

Not that I’ve regretted in any way my subsequent life and the many different worlds I have inhabited.

What I don’t do now, however, is try to create complicated metaphors in my writing, I’ll leave that to the literary crowd.

Among other things it raises too many questions that are hard to answer. It is a lesson now well-learnt and one I hope I have left far behind.

John K Kamasua

I have finally downloaded the book. Thank you Phil.

Michael Dom

Thanks you very much Pandanus Books and Phil Fitzpatrick.

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