1953 WAS a couple of months old and my wallet and pockets were empty. I had been on leave in Australia for five months and it was time to return to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
I needed a travel warrant, a permit to enter the Territory and a taxation clearance before I booked my flight. The first two were easy, involving a quick visit and a friendly chat, at the Sydney Office of the Department of Territories.
But the taxation clearance was tedious. A long queue, another form, and an interview to convince the Taxation Department I had earned no income whilst on leave and therefore owed no tax.
It was eventually sorted to their satisfaction and I returned to the Territory at the end of March 1953 on the regular Qantas service—a Douglas DC3.
The propellers of the two Pratt and Whitney engines pulled the aircraft along at 270 kilometres an hour and, with a refuelling stop in Brisbane, it took eight hours to reach Townsville for the obligatory overnight stop.
At dawn the next morning, I was on the same aircraft flying from Townsville to Cooktown, where the fuel tanks were topped up and we flew on to Port Moresby, almost 700 kilometres away.
Obeying instructions, I reported to headquarters at Konedobu to be allocated my next posting. Three days later I was in Goroka being hectored by District Commissioner Ian Downs about his beloved Highlands.
Downs talked with admiration about his predecessors, both now growing coffee on Goroka’s outskirts.
Jim (J L) Taylor had been the ANGAU District Officer at Bena-Bena before becoming District Officer of the post-war Central Highlands District, which had a greater population than the whole of Papua.
Downs also spoke of the achievements of his immediate predecessor George Greathead. ‘Farmer George’ had become the first District Commissioner of the Eastern Highlands and had much to do with the planning and development of Goroka town.
When Downs told me about the Chimbu people - who already believed they were socially superior and were striving for political equality - I thought I might be headed there, but it was not to be.
I would be going to Kainantu, where my primary task would be extending control - law and order - into a restricted area: pushing down the Lamari River towards the Papuan border.
On Goroka airstrip the de Havilland DH84 Dragon looked as if it belonged in an aviation museum rather than in service with a commercial airline. The fabric biplane with two 130hp Gypsy Major engines, wooden propellers and fixed wheels did not look fit to fly.
The pilot sat in the nose of the cabin. I perched on the bench seat on the left-hand side and Len Tudor, a planter returning to Kainantu from a District Advisory Council meeting, sat on the opposite bench. An enormous load of cargo was stacked between us strapped to the floor by a cargo net.
I could see through a plastic window on the opposite side of the cabin but the view ahead was very restricted. It was a very brief flight, less than 10 minutes, and we landed on the rough grass strip at Kainantu.
There was not going to be much time for me to become acquainted with my new surroundings – 10 days in fact. That was the period Cadet Patrol Officer Frank (F N.) Harris and I spent preparing for the Lamari patrol: selecting equipment, calculating single and two-man loads, weighing rations, airing and packing tarpaulins and selecting a tent.
Finally we chose the men who would carry the cargo from a pool of volunteers and had them medically examined for fitness.
Frank and I packed on the assumption that we would be a party of 50, including a medical orderly, seven police and 35 carriers. The logistics were fairly simple; most carriers would shoulder a load of 18 kilograms (40 lbs) and bulky items that could not be carried by one man, like patrol boxes, canvas tarpaulins and the tent, would be assembled into loads of 36 kilograms and carried by two men.
Harris and I had been allotted an office in the top level of the government store, an establishment controlled by Beni, a short rotund gentleman from Finschhafen.
A devout Lutheran, Beni was committed to his job and to preserving his nubile young daughter, Katrina, from the wiles of evil young men. She was well endowed but Beni ensured these charms were thoroughly concealed by a ‘Mother Hubbard’ blouse that hung loosely well past her waist.
Each day he arrived at his office, an enclosed area between the pillars under the store, the beautiful Katrina was in tow and his eagle eye was on her throughout the day. I often wondered if she ever managed to escape to the toilet on her own.
I planned to be away for about four weeks. In the regularly patrolled area, we would be able to buy sweet potato and taro to replace rice, but in the restricted areas we would be dependant the rations we carried.
For the first three days we would sleep in rest houses and after that our camp would consist of the tent, tarpaulins and lean-tos of grass, saplings and fronds.
CPO Harris would accompany me for the first week, and return to Kainantu before we reached hostile areas. I reckoned that one inexperienced person on the patrol, me, would be enough of a worry.
I had never been in a restricted area before and with my lack of experience I could have been heading into trouble. That’s why I was going to rely on the three most experienced of the seven constables: Homoguei from Bena Bena; Pita also from Bena Bena; and Tokam from Chimbu. Each of them had been commended highly for their bushcraft and especially for their ability to work calmly with newly contacted people.
I studied and digested ‘Circular Instruction, No 147 of 1952’, fourteen closely-typed pages of sage advice, the dos and don’ts of patrolling in restricted areas. And I digested ADO Gordon (G T) Linsley’s reports of his three earlier Lamari-probing patrols.
Then, the day before we were to leave, we had to change our plans. The people of Amaira village in the nearby Taiora area had started firing arrows at their neighbours and that fracas needed to be stopped. There was little point taking law and order to the uncontrolled area while ignoring a skirmish nearer to home in a controlled area.
It was a two-day climb through the grasslands to hill-top Amaira and we had to be careful where we walked. The traditional burning of the grasslands had been banned for several years and the walking track was a basking spot for death adders. The superstition was that the second man in the file was always bitten.
With the arrow-firing miscreants apprehended and on their way to court proceeding in Kainantu, it was another two-day’s walk from Amaira to the point at which we would start the Lamari patrol. After a tough climb to the crest of the dividing range, there was the descent to Suwaira where cargo, police and the main line of carriers were waiting.
Suwaira seemed to be the blending pot where the Taiora culture melded with the Lamari. As we began to move towards the next village, Obura, the differences in adornment, costume, hair style, language, even agriculture were even more noticeable.
Unlike the Taiora, who were garbed in drab, tapa-like bark skirts otherwise unadorned, the upper Lamari men sported a flat, grass apron hanging to below the knee, a beaten-bark flap over the buttocks and wore shell adornments.
I knew that the further we travelled south, the more likely we were to be attacked so, as we departed Obura, I established a marching order that would be maintained for the duration of the patrol.
I would lead with one constable following immediately behind me; two constables would form the end of the line to watch and protect the rear and the remaining four constables would disperse themselves evenly through the line.
Each constable was issued with 10 rounds of ammunition, checked to ensure they loaded the rounds into the magazine and not into the chamber of their rifle and double-checked to determine that the safety catches were on.
I knew that the Obura people were warring with the next group downstream, the Atiera, so when a group of armed Obura warriors tried to tag along with our party, we convinced them to return to their village. But it was not long before we had other company.
As we followed a track around the left bank of a valley wall, a column of Atiera warriors, armed with bows, arrows and fighting shields, appeared on the crest of the ridge high above us. They kept up with us, following the ridge paralleling our course in clear view, and – as I soon calculated - close enough to lob arrows.
When we reached Atiera, we started our security routine. As soon as the camp site was selected, the carriers and the cargo were parked in the centre and a security zone set up around them.
Four posts were erected at the corners of the roughly rectangular area, additional posts placed in between and a light rope strung tightly between them to delineate the perimeter. A police constable stood guard at each corner.
Our security zone was flimsy protection against a surprise attack but it would do and it also prevented petty thieving and the friction that could produce.
The rope boundary was also a convenient location for trading. Across it we exchanged trade items, mainly salt for small quantities of taro, and we purchased pigs so we could use them as targets to demonstrate our rifles’ firepower.
The headquarters circular I had read stressed the value of demonstrating how a rifle could kill pigs, but I always doubted its value. The loud explosion may have created a shock and some fear, but the invisible bullet rarely left more than a small hole.
I wondered if the people could connect the hole made by the bullet with the firearm’s noisy discharge. Had they gained any idea of how lethal the weapon was, or its range? I also wondered about what they thought of those occasions when the marksman failed to hit the pig.
We were now trekking in difficult country: a vee-shaped valley of dry, steep, almost grassless slopes broken by innumerable ridges and spurs, the occasional small stream and the incredible bamboo-pipe irrigation systems.
Assistant District Officer Ian (R I) Skinner had seen and described pipelines on the right bank in October 1947: lengths of bamboo joined together, telescope fashion, after they have been pierced and the interior nodules removed by fire-hardened, spear-like sticks. With each joint supported by a stake, the water was piped from small creeks to a main line linking to a taro garden three kilometres away, planted where there was an outcrop of good soil.
ADO Gordon Linsley had seen more extensive pipelines on his travels down the left bank and had also described them, but none of the reports had prepared me for the reality: the sheer ingenuity, design skill and imagination of that irrigation system. And nothing had prepared me for the joy of making camp next to a reticulated water line.
Linsley's report had warned that the people of Oneibira were warlike and likely to be a problem. He was almost right. We did not have trouble with the Oneibira, but we did with their neighbours, the Konkonbira.
It had been very peaceful until we reached their village at midday on the seventeenth day. My diary note for Thursday 2 April reads: “A number of truculent natives, dissuaded from snatching cargo from the carriers, accompanied us to the spur above the village, where camp was made.”
Soon after we made camp, two or three men brought a small quantity of taro to us and left. In the light of subsequent events, they were probably checking the layout of our position.
At about midnight that night, I was asleep in the tent. The normal night routine was being followed. Our kerosene supplies had to be husbanded, so all the lamps had been doused and an armed sentry was on watch. I had gone to bed dressed for next morning except for my boots.
I think that Constable Pita must have been very close to my head when he fired a warning shot. A Lee-Enfield Army rifle makes a very loud noise when it is fired during the day but it is deafening when fired at close proximity in the stillness of the night.
I sprung out of bed. I heard the intruders careering through the camp as they fled. But we were all awake for the rest of the night.
At first light on 3 April, Good Friday, I could see that we were encircled by more than 80 armed warriors holding bows with arrows strung ready to fire. A ring of women, carrying reserve supplies of arrows, stood behind their menfolk, adding their cries to the general bedlam.
It was obvious who the fight leader was. He was doing all the shouting and prancing as he positioned his troops, moving them around the circle, encouraging them closer to us as if trying to tighten the noose. He appeared to want us to leave. But, even if we had wanted to, there was nowhere to go.
This continued for more than three hours. If it had come to a show down, a volley over their heads may have ended the matter. We had six rifles, five constables’ and mine, to use if required.
An emissary arrived, an old man quivering with fear. We could not understand what he said and he could not understand us, but our gestures may have done the trick.
He returned with younger men. A further, more serious, demonstration of firepower established our strength. Then a procession of women arrived carrying cooking bananas, corn and sugar cane as well as the ubiquitous taro. A truce had been declared.
Late the next morning we were off again and toiled around the spurs for four hours to Pinata. The Pinata people obviously knew all about the confrontation at Konkonbira, they were placid and not about to present the same problem.
The people of Oneibira, Konkonbira and Pinata appeared to be from a different cultural group to the northern Lamari. The men wore giri-giri shells (small cowrie) as forehead pieces, kuma-kuma shells (large cowrie) suspended around their necks as pendants and cane waist bands. They sported pig-tusk nose ornaments and spoke a different language.
Perhaps these people extended down the spur-like massif between the Lamari and Aziana Rivers? But we did not have a sufficient reserve of rations to investigate. On 6 April we left Pinata, crossed the divide between the Lamari and Aziana Rivers and entered Kukukuku territory.
If the Pinata people looked different, the Kukukuku people looked as though they came from another planet. They flaunted a wealth of shell adornments: bandoliers of giri-giri, necklaces of kuma-kuma, tiara-like headpieces of giri-giri and plumes. Maybe their salt trade was the source of the wealth.
ADO Linsley had in 1952 disproved a myth about the Lamari rock salt deposit. There was none. The salt traded up the Lamari was produced by the Aziana Kukukukus, the Imani and Barua groups.
Linsley commented that "the pit-pit gardens of the Imani somewhat resembled fields of young sugar cane" and made diary references to "pit pit fields, dotted here and there, with huts containing ash". But he had been there in the wet season. Perhaps seasonality was the reason nobody had really done justice to the complexity of that enterprise.
Fencing fields, clearing and planting a pit-pit like grass, hand harvesting (slashing) the crop in the dry season, allowing to stubble to dry, collecting and burning it in bonfires, collecting and washing the ash, mounding the ash in sheds and trading the product. I could write a separate chapter about this time-honoured process.
There was another facet to the Kukukukus. They were game. They were a people reputed to appear from the shadows of the forest carrying a variety of weapons to kill and main: long handles tomahawks, stone clubs, bows and arrows, and a dagger made, perhaps, from the thigh-bone of a cassowary.
They came close to attacking us at Iabunati on 8 April, when they streamed down a hill armed with bows and arrows and carrying war shields.
They changed their minds when we formed a circle on the high ground, prepared and ready for a fight. It was another two days before another grouped gained sufficient confidence to be irritating.
On 10 April, we had just made camp at Oribinata in the Barua group when we were again surrounded. This time our adversaries fired a volley of arrows into the air, not aimed directly at us but obviously seeking a response.
We were almost at the end of the patrol and it was not the time for pleasantries. Maybe the news of that fracas preceded us down the valley and there were no further incidents. Thirteen days later we returned to Kainantu.
I laboriously typed my report, still to the same prescription: four copies for Headquarters, one for the District Commissioner, one for the Kainantu file, and one for myself. But I had grown wiser. I kept the clearest copy, the second, for myself. I still have it.
District Commissioner Ian Downs seemed happy. In his covering letter to Headquarters he said: “Some of the brief but illuminating diary records are worthy of a press release as an indication of efficient, level-headed, and proper conduct in the face of an aggressive, primitive group…. Mr. Brown, whom I saw prior to his departure and again after his return from patrol, has carried out his instructions to my entire satisfaction.”
He was also playing some sort of game, stating, "The patrol was essential because Mr Linsley’s patrol was far too rapid to have made a firm impression.”
He knew that Linsley had led the exploratory patrols down the Lamari, three of them, and he knew that my patrol had not made a firm impression. He anticipated further trouble and decided that I should be appointed a Coroner even though I was only a junior Patrol Officer. I was duly appointed a Coroner on 7 July 1953.
Map of the area of the Lamari patrol, by Bill Brown.
[Photo 1] Kainantu Airstrip 1953. An unusually busy day with a Qantas de Havilland Drover, Laurie Crowley’s Avro Anson and a Mandated Airlines de Havilland Dove. At the end of the airstrip is the Ramu gap and on the right, in the background, the hills near Aiyura.
[Photo 2] Amaira, 1953.
[Photo 3] Census at Obura. The husband in borrowed clothing, the wife and an unmarried female relative in traditional garb but all with traditional hairstyles. Constable Pita on the right. Carriers in the background.
[Photo 4] A group of Kukukukus assembled outside the rope strung to delineate the perimeter of the security zone.
[Photo 5] Two parallel bamboo irrigation pipelines on the left bank of the Lamari River. In the left of the frame, the pipelines straddle a gully.
[Photo 6] A long pipeline.
[Photo 7] Inside the tent. My untidy bed sail after the disturbed night.
[Photo 8] A Konkonbira group.
[Photo 9] A Kukukuku warrior.
[Photo 10] A part-harvested pit pit field, the harvest left on the ground to dry before being heaped into bonfires.
[Photo 11] The taste test. Standing in a storage hut, a warrior tries the ash product.