Corruption case against Peter O'Neill hits another obstacle
Waiting games

Poking the fire on PNG Attitude


POSSIBLY the largest two bodies of expatriates in Papua New Guinea prior to independence were the kiaps and the teachers.

They tended to be posted all over the country and often in the remotest areas. They had more contact with Papua New Guinean people at the grassroots level than any other group.

By the time PNG Attitude got going they were all either retired or on the cusp of retirement with time on their hands.

They were also at an age where many had become reflective, and a great deal of that reflection involved their time in Papua New Guinea.

If anyone from Australia was going to contribute to PNG Attitude it was this group.

Curiously, considerably more kiaps have done this than teachers. Considering that the blog began life as a newsletter for teachers this is even more puzzling. Why this has been so is a mystery; both groups have stories worth telling and to philosophise about.

In a broader context it has also been the kiaps who have produced more books, often self-published, about their Papua New Guinean experience. Perhaps it is because their past roles had more of a romantic and adventurous tinge.

In any event, this tendency to philosophise is a very significant factor on PNG Attitude.

On the one hand it feeds historical information to Papua New Guinean readers and helps fill the void caused by the lack of a f/ormal historical narrative in modern Papua New Guinean society, especially in its schools.

Whenever a kiap, and very occasionally a teacher, describes pre-independence life and events, they have attracted a large number of comments from both Papua New Guineans and Australians.

On the other hand these articles act as an ongoing stimulus for Papua New Guinean readers. Any gardener will tell you that well-fertilised soil will bear more bountiful crops than a barren tract, and the same principle applies to PNG Attitude.

I’m pretty sure that many expatriate contributors are aware of the proximity of this readership, even if unconsciously. It certainly colours many of the articles I have written for the blog. There are, of course, several Papua New Guinean contributors doing the same thing.

I particularly enjoy the role of gadfly, deliberately writing about contentious issues to generate comments. Some of the other writers do the same thing and in the selection of articles from other media sources for reproduction on the blog I know Keith often has the same thing in mind.

It isn’t seeking to sensationalise issues in the tabloid sense but laying out a basis for continued discussion; PNG Attitude is, after all, a continuing debate.

The biggest stimulant in a political and literary sense is the Crocodile Prize and the same principle seems to apply there.

I think it all works very well and enlivens the pages of the blog and contributes to its popularity.


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

Ed Brumby

We all resent authoritarianism, Oscar and I’ve no doubt that Papua New Guineans and non-kiap expatriates alike held kiaps in mixed regard.

I recall my own resentment when the No. 2 kiap at Angoram, despite my strenuous protests, insisted that one of my Standard 6 boys be caned on his bare buttocks for, allegedly, having intimate relations with a policeman’s wife – without the benefit of any formal court proceedings.

The kiaps’ manner and methods may have been questionable at times, but their motivations and purpose were benign and, ultimately, beneficial.

And, unlike some missionaries, they were generally respectful of, and did not interfere unduly with local culture and customary practices.

I think, also, that you’ve overlooked the valuable role that kiaps played in helping to establish local government councils throughout PNG, thus providing the grassroots foundations for local autonomy and, ultimately, political independence.

I don’t know why more teachers like myself do not contribute to PNG Attitude, but I doubt, very much, that it has anything to do with our former relationships with kiaps.

I dispute, strongly, your assertion that we ‘had no time for each other’ during our time in PNG.

Indeed, I would assert that teachers and kiaps, for the most part, enjoyed harmonious and mutually respectful relationships, and that many teacher-kiap friendships forged back then endure today.

Daniel Kumbon

PNG must have been like Mt Everest. You had to be equally tough to conquor it, to archive an outcome. I think everybody who worked under the colonial administration - kiaps, teachers, missionaries etc had the guts and the willingness to help - and thats why they were here.

Just imagine uniting over 800 different people all speaking different landguages - all wild, armed to the teeth to destroy each other. bUT The kiaps had to be a cut above the rest to tame these people. I take off my highlands cap for giving us unity and peace.

Rashmii Bell

Hi Oscar - I do hope you will expand on your views. I am very interested to read about history from your perspective.

mathias kin

When I first joined the PNG Attitude, I had hoped one of my old teachers (1978 to 1983) would pop up somewhere here. But I have been disappointed since. over these years I was thought by a Canadian, many English men and women, a Scotsman, an Americans, many Australians and one Philippino over this time. They were all jolly good blokes. I remember my best times growing in the late 1970s and 1980s was being in school with these expatriate teachers. I drove my first tractor in grade nine thought by an Australian Mr Bollinger at Chuave High School. He thought me how to shoot a rifle too.
My best recollection of the white kiaps (late 1960s) was when I and the village kids used to run into the gully to hide when the kiaps came to our village. I was so scared of them. Back then some of my grand fathers, even at that time, still believed these people were the return of our dead people.

Michael Dom

Oscar - thanks for your comment, it reveals the pages of another story. Perhaps you would care to write it for us, if indeed your motives are altruistic towards Pngians understanding their history.

I hope you are not merely being 'Oscar the grouch'.

Chris Overland

Even in my dotage I can understand where Oscar is coming from when he suggests that kiaps were "generally hated".

The colonial administration in PNG was not a democracy and, as its principal agents, kiaps could and did behave in a very authoritarian manner.

There were often good grounds for doing so: imposing the rule of law necessarily required coercive force at times.

Equally, giving a lot of power to young men of sometimes dubious judgement is always going to result in incidents where they overstep the mark and act in ways that are inappropriate.

For example, in my case, when told to clear sex workers away from a oil drilling camp near Baimuru (because they were spreading gonorrhoea), I decided to burn down the houses that were being used as brothels as well. In doing so, I effectively dispossessed both the guilty and the innocent and my District Commissioner was not well pleased.

Doubtless the hapless victims of my decision hated my actions and, quite possibly, me as well. With the perspective of hindsight, I could hardly blame them for feeling that way.

This sort of high handed and over zealous approach was bound to cause resentment and my guess is that most kiaps would say, with the benefit of hindsight, that they had been guilty of a similar over reaction from time to time.

So, I agree that any judgement about the historic record of kiaps needs to weigh in the balance the good things they did against the not so good.

As an ex-kiap I cannot possibly present myself as totally unbiased about the historic record and do not attempt to do so. Nor, so far as I can tell, do most if not all of the ex-kiaps who contribute to PNG Attitude.

I do not think we have collectively been blind to the sins of the past. Rather, I think that we have, generally speaking, striven to put things in their proper context, be they good, bad or just plain ugly.

By doing so, my hope and, I think, that of my colleagues, is that future historians will be better placed to make an overall judgement about the worth or otherwise of our efforts to build PNG into a viable nation state.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's very fair comment Oscar.

What is required is a PNG perspective on the colonial period.

Although there are a few publications in this vein it seems to be a bit of a void in the PNG consciousness of this period in history.

I would be interested if you could enlarge on your point and offer it for debate on PNG Attitude.

The record, as you say, is a bit lopsided at the moment.


As difficult as this is to say to you, Phil, have you ever thought that kiaps were, generally, hated in TPNG?

Kiaps were the police agents of the colonial administration and, as such, were charged with ensuring that thoughts of the local population to gain any form of autonomy or independence were quickly suppressed.

Everybody knew that kiaps operated in a personal vacuum and with the ultimate authority. They could do whatever they wanted, even ordering local people to build airstrips or roads, and were beyond the usual rule of law.

In remote locations, kiaps were like 'god' and held awful power over local people and expats alike. One can only imagine how many excesses occurred and were covered up.

In their dotage, kiaps have come to believe that they were saviours who did only good things and, if not for their efforts, the country would never have advanced.

These were the same men (no women kiaps) whose right-wing views sought to keep Somare and Whitlam's desire for PNG's independence at bay.

Phil, the reason that teachers don't contribute is probably because they, like many of us, now watch askance as kiaps seek to whitewash their pasts and tell us how wonderful things were when they ruled the roost.

They omit the bits about pushing people around, whether indigenous or expats, and treating others as beneath them.

Old age brings about a lot of strange things, not the least being alliances between people who had no time for each other when they actually lived in the TPNG.

No wonder teachers, whom the kiaps looked down upon as being 'socialists', don't want any part of your rantings on the blog in the 21st century.

Now Oscar, we can all be heroes in our anonymity. It would be nice if you had provided your full name. And, by the way, there are plenty of former PNG chalkies who read and contribute to this blog. And welcome they are too. As for Phil, well, we all have to put up with his provocations. They're a test of our mettle - KJ

Francis Nii

Phil, these great men and women -the ex-kiaps, teachers and not forgeting the msissionaries had done a lot setting the stage for PNG to move forward to the modern era. Some of you are still doing anything you could even in your old and retired age towards the development of your ex- country and PNG Attitude, Crocodile Prize and Pukpuk Publishing are shiny examples of this discourse to revive literature in PNG.

The decision you and Keith made last year to entrust the administration of the Croc Prize to all-PNG crew to oversee it and eventually take ownership was a wise decision.

Before the last lot of ex-kiaps, teachers and missionaries who are now active writers and partakers in discussions on Attitude mentoring PNG literature have called it quit from active life, Crocrodile Prize must have a strong footing overseen by PNGeans and, I think Baka and the team are on track.

Michael Dom

The more I learn about the influence of the early church in PNG and elsewhere, the more skeptical I am of their overall benefit to humanity as a whole.

Good intentions don't always work out the way we think they will.

Eric Johns

Hi Phil,

I have not been one to partake in blogging - just my nature I guess. But I have kept a close eye on what is being said on Keith's PNG Attitude, and have found your comments always interesting. It has been fascinating to watch the journey of the Crocodile Prize, especially in the context of PNG's literary history.

I am participating in affairs in a different way, by researching and writing PNG's fascinating history. A way to go still, but in a couple of years I hope it will be of some help to PNG students by adding to what is already available.

Eric Johns (ex-schoolie)

(1960-1972: at Rigo [pre-Kwikila], Bugandi and Kilakila high schools and Port Moresby Teachers College)

 Gordon Barry Shirley

My mother( Dorothy Blake) was a missionary in the Milne Bay region and Oro from 1926 to 1940. She lived in a local house and spoke two local languages. She never interacted with Europeans unless she went to the main station at Dogura. She was a teacher and a nurse . Regards Gordon Shirley

Paul Oates

One of my beliefs is that when you go to live in another country you must learn the local language. I threw myself into learning Tok Pisin and believe I was reasonably fluent after a couple of years of solid and unremitting practice. It sure saved my life and that of my patrol a number of times.

I was however asked many times: 'Was your father a missionary?" Clearly there was some connection in some PNGian's minds between being seen as fluent in Melanesian and being a missionary.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not sure that I would classify missionaries as expatriates Donald. Expatriate comes from the Latin 'patria' - native land. Most of them came to stay and a lot of them are still there so they are sort of adopted PNGs.

But, yes, I forgot about them. And they have produced a body of literature which is a genre all by itself. Not my cup of tea so I haven't read a lot of it.

Daniel Kumbon

I am in contact with the first kiaps and missionaries who came to Kandep but not the teachers except Moira Warr my grade 5 teacher.

Mr McRae was my very first teacher at Kandep, Mr Carmichael was my grade 2 teacher at Catholic Mission Mariant primary school, Glen Warwick was my Grade 6 teacher in 1971. Lucky for him, he was not drafted into the army to fight in the Vietnam War.

Mr Gilmore who was married to a lady from Samarai gave me my first motorbike ride. I still remember their names and wish I knew what they are up to now.

In my more youthful and more adventurous days in PNG, I wrote to Canberra asking how I could enlist for Vietnam. I received a response after some weeks advising that Administration personnel in TPNG were excluded from the draft. Just as well for me, as I ended up a strong opponent of the war - KJ

Barbara Short

Well said, Phil. I have also enjoyed the lively scene on the PNG Social Media - a few blogs and dozens of Facebook Group forums.

Yesterday I put your story of Yauwiga, a great Sepik hero, on the Sepik Capital PNG Wewak Facebook page. I've added Steven Winduo's blog article too. Plus recent photos of his gravesite.

This Facebook group was left to me to run but the Wewak Mayor, Charles Malenki, has just added some excellent photos of a team of Sepik admin men, including himself and the Hon. Amkat Mai and Hon. Ian Samuel, who went on an official trip to Jarkarta.

On the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum Facebook page we are busy discussing the fact that one of Somare's daughters has just joined the Pangu Party and we are wondering if she will contest the next election.

We are also discussing many other things... e.g. the firm who was awarded the job to build the Police Barracks at Yangoru.

I have also been asked to write about life in the East Sepik and Wewak Pre Independence for a future Sunday Chronicle supplement. Only 1000 words. It is hard to summarize. I have a book full of memories!

Anyone who wants to help me can write to me at John Pasquarelli is helping me.

Donald Lippert

Kiaps & teachers ... Yes. But what about missionaries? I bet they were the largest expat group. In any case, a thoughtful article.

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.)