A Kiap’s Chronicle: 9 - Settling into Kainantu
09 June 2016
IN 1953, with my first Lamari patrol out of the way, it was time to get to know something about Kainantu.
With its vistas of rolling grassed hills, small casuarina-lined valleys, bamboo groves and, always in the distance, forested mountain ranges, it was different to anything I had ever experienced.
There were roads, a small expatriate community and a grass airstrip, just 1,190 metres long and 46 metres wide. The runway, on an east west axis, physically divided the community, a division that was engendered and emphasised by both law and policy.
The Native Women’s Protection Ordinance made it an offence, punishable by a fine or six months imprisonment, for an expatriate to permit a female native to be on premises between the hours of six o’clock in the evening and six o’clock in morning.
A bloke called Sam Marshall quipped that the restricted hours didn’t worry him because he only did matinees.
The edict, reissued by Director of the Department of Native Affairs J K McCarthy in August 1952, made it “quite clear that it [was] contrary to Administration policy for officers [kiaps] to have sexual relations with native women and that disciplinary action with a view to dismissal from the service will be taken against any officer so offending.”
So the local people—police, prisoners, workers, hospital staff and patients - occupied the southern side of the airstrip. The flat plateau to its north provided an elevated setting for Sub-District Office, government store, parade ground, four expatriate houses and tennis court.
The wartime marriage of Assistant District Officer Gerry (G W) Toogood to socialite Monica Suzanne Angas, a daughter of the family after which Angaston in South Australia was named, may have influenced the construction of the clay-surfaced tennis court.
Replete with heavy roller, line marking machine, elevated umpire’s chair, covered seating for spectators and children’s swings, the court was a social lubricant. Each Saturday afternoon it attracted expatriates from Kainantu, nearby Aiyura Agricultural Station, and surrounds.
The after-tennis party that followed, in the ADO’s residence could involve as many as 30 people dancing into the wee hours to music from a wind-up gramophone in a large lounge-dining room dimly lit by a kerosene lamp.
ADO Allen (A T) Timperley, Toogood’s predecessor, had probably organised the construction of the residence - a solid building of pit-sawn timber - which occupied the prime position on the station - the rise overlooking the parade ground.
An adjacent dwelling had an intriguing history. Now occupied by Patrol Officer Bill (W J) Kelly and family, in Timperley’s day it had been home to PO Dudley (D A M) Young-Whitford and his bride.
Much earlier, in 1936, PO Tom (T G) Aitchison had built the house for his bride-to-be. He claimed he had paid for the materials and construction out of his own pocket; forced to do so by his superiors who would not allow his fiancée to enter the country, or even sanction his marriage, until the house was constructed.
So in March 1937, Sylvia had become the first expatriate woman to be married at Kainantu and the house the first permanent-material residence in the Highlands of New Guinea.
My life would have been simple at Kainantu if District Commissioner Ian Downs had not intervened, telling my ADO, Harry West, that he wanted me involved in the all important road project: the four-wheel drive track being constructed from the Highlands to the Markham Valley.
I was a latecomer to the road project and was to be involved only on the periphery, to gain enough knowledge of the operation to be able to stand in if required.
ADO West had arrived at Kainantu in November 1952 tasked with revitalising the project, and had immediately recalled Cadet Patrol Officer Rupe (R R) Havilland from patrol to make the project his sole priority.
During the next 14 days, West and Havilland examined the proposed route down the almost sheer 1,500-metre escarpment on the Markham fall and condemned it as unsafe.
Havilland’s diary and report recorded the details:
“Upon arrival at the road on 22.11.52, it was found that … very little had been done and that work which had been done was largely misdirected. … the proposed route, owing to the nature of the terrain, wet weather and landslides was impractical. Food was scarce … no provision had been made for buying it and transporting it efficiently. …
“The only thing to be done was start all over again. Owing to the shortage of tools during November the work was done mainly with ex-Army trenching tool and pointed stakes. … A new route had to be found up the Markham side of the range. … The whole road gang was moved to the top of Mount Kassam, overlooking the Markham … a new camp constructed … work began on the section down the Range to the Markham.”
The official November 1965 publication from the Administration’s information office unconscionably ignored Havilland’s report and maintained the fiction that Toogood’s original route proposal was followed, thus denigrating Havilland’s vital input.
On 11 December 1952, Havilland moved the road camp from Arona to Kassam and the hard work of clearing and cutting the road down the escarpment began. The task was, to construct a four-wheel drive track down the eastern wall of the Highlands.
There were no bulldozers, no trucks and no mechanical equipment, not even wheelbarrows. A workforce of enthusiastic Highlanders mainly from the Simbu (Chimbu) area worked with hand tools: felling huge trees; cutting the bench; removing obstructions; creating the road surface.
They built bonfires around the huge boulders obstructing the route, fuelled the fires throughout the day and doused them at ‘bello’ (knock-off). Slowly the overnight cold and shrinkage fractured and splintered the boulders.
Then we got lucky. New Guinea Goldfields was showing an interest in Kainantu and, to sweeten the relationship, the company helped with some explosives: crates of weeping gelignite that was classed as unstable and unsafe for mining. Those crates came by air to Kainantu, travelled in our Land Rover to Kassam and individual sticks were frypan-dried for use.
Harry West visited Kassam at least weekly. I accompanied him from time to time and Downs appeared at monthly intervals to spur us on.
CPO Bob (R D) Cleland arrived in June to assist Havilland in the final stages then moved on to his own challenge: supervising the construction of the road over Daulo Pass on the route between Kundiawa and Goroka. At 2,478 metres, Daulo became the highest crossing along what would become the Highlands Highway.
In June, Dr John Gunther (then Director of Health, later Assistant Administrator and, later still, knighted) drove the first vehicle from Lae to Kainantu over Kassam Pass and then on to Goroka.
Downs and West drove down to the Markham Valley to assist Gunther and his passenger, Morobe District Commissioner Horrie (H L) Niall (also later knighted), through the wet crossing at Umi River and listened to him declaiming that the vehicle, a fully equipped ambulance, was only to be used for its designed purpose and “not as a shag wagon.”
The last hurrah was the formal opening of the road and Kassam Pass on 2 July 1953 by Administrator Sir Donald Cleland driving in a fleet of Land Rovers from Gusap to Kainantu.
It was time for me to forget road works. Downs had seen how the Asaro people around Goroka were emulating the coffee plantation efforts of Jim Leahy, Jim Taylor and George Greathead, and he argued that, if some expatriate growers could be established around Kainantu, the local people would follow the lead and plant their own coffee.
My task was to make it happen by identifying available blocks of land that had a potential for road access, were surplus to native requirements and were suitable for growing coffee. Then I was to purchase them so they could be made available for tender.
I knew that I could judge whether a block of land had road access, I hoped I could assess whether it was surplus but I could only guess whether it would be suitable for coffee.
The advice of the guru, Aubrey Schindler, officer-in-charge of Aiyura Agricultural Station, did not help me. “There are no places where the land is lying just ready for seed to be sown in order to become productive,” he said. “The swamp demands attention to drainage on an extensive organised scale, the slopes require regeneration by re-afforestation and green manuring, and the grassy flats require considerable drainage and green manuring. Naturally well drained and productive soils are occupied by native people’s food gardens.”
There were no enthusiastic sellers amongst the people. The idea of selling land was not in anybody’s head and I wasted many weeks trying to locate land that was available, suitable and that had clear ownership. Eventually, I identified two blocks; one running from the roadside to the rim of Ramu Gorge and the other across the river opposite the airstrip at Aiyura Agricultural Station. Both were on hillsides, both were grassland, both were a trifle swampy and I had my doubts as to whether they had coffee growing potential.
A new strategy was required. I borrowed a large ex-army table with folding legs from the office, packed a compass, chain, large office typewriter, drawing instruments and land transaction forms into patrol boxes, and set off. I left Kainantu on 3 August and when I returned on 1 October, I had revised the census of the 33 Taiora villages and acquired seven blocks of land totalling 586 hectares. I had also completed the compass and chain surveys, prepared the investigation and transfer documents and purchased the land.
It was time to get ready for the next Lamari patrols and I needed to know more about the past. Why had so many people been killed and wounded in the period 1920 to 1934?
I studied the old files and talked to people who had made some of that early history: Tom (T G) Aitchison, Anarai (the Paramount Luluai of Punano), the Reverend Johannes Flierl and his wife Hannah, Nomi (a young volunteer interpreter in the 1930s), Jim (J L) Taylor and Ted (E J) Ubank.
Taylor had been District Officer of the huge Central Highlands District when he resigned from the Administration in June 1948 to grow coffee. He had been an Assistant District Officer in October 1932 when he was tasked with finding a new site for the Upper Ramu Patrol Post and building a new airstrip.
He had selected Kainantu, five kilometres to the east of the airstrip at Lapumpa, which Eric Feldt, District Officer of the Morobe District, had organized while on patrol, in July-August 1932.
Taylor was a taciturn soul but we had common items in our backgrounds that led to deeper conversation. He and I had been reared in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, had swum at the same beaches and had attended the same secondary school, albeit 30 years apart.
His brother and my father had both been Sergeants in the 55th Battalion of the Australian Infantry Forces in World War I and had fought together in the Battalion’s first action in July 1916, the Battle of Fromelles, which Taylor’s brother, Jason, did not survive. Jim himself had been wounded and gassed in 1918.
Tom Aitchison was transitting between his relieving role as District Commissioner Morobe and his new appointment as District Commissioner Kavieng when he stopped by in July 1963 to further his retirement dream—an agricultural lease near Aiamontina in the Agarabi Census Division.
Neither Aitchison nor the Aiamontina people seemed concerned that he had been involved in events following the death of ADO Ian Mack in 1933. Eleven men from Aiamontina and four from Unantu had been killed at that time but the people were happy to release their land to allow him to settle near them.
Aitchison was more forthcoming about the aftermath to the 1934 murder of McGrath at Finintegu. He spoke of the two-day battle in which District Officer Ted (E) Taylor and others were wounded and three local people killed, and he claimed that he had organised the initial response, led the police and miners, to arrest the culprits.
He also waxed lyrical about the peace ceremony that he and Lutheran missionary Johannes Flierl had organised to bring the warring tribes together, opt for peace and burn their weapons.
Ted Ubank was still mining on the Ornapinka near Barola when I was at Kainantu from 1953 to early 1955. With the exception of the Pacific War years, he had been there since 1930. A veteran of World War I, twice wounded at Gallipoli, Ted claimed he had entered the Highlands, mining in the Arona Valley, in 1928, a year before I was born.
Our conversations were not easy; he openly acknowledged that he did not like kiaps and he did not like the “Government.” They had failed to protect the miners and as a result McGrath had died, although he reluctantly conceded that the ‘sprog’ Aitchison had handle the aftermath of that event with ability.
Paramount Lululai Anarai, from the Punano group of villages was proud of his role in the Mack affair. The Government had been strong and he had helped them punish the culprits—his enemies. His good had prevailed over their evil.
Nomi had been a youthful, unofficial interpreter with Mack in 1933 as well as Administration interpreter throughout the 1950s and he had his own definite views. He said those things had happened in the past and was almost castigating in his response to my question.
Nomi said the Lutheran missionaries had defended themselves against attack and would have been killed if they had not done so, and that, without the interventions of kiaps and police, the frequent tribal fighting, warfare and heavy loss of life would have continued unabated.
He said that times had changed and drew my attention to the present, pointing out that each morning of the working week, before the seven o’clock roll call, more than 100 people presented themselves in front of the Sub-District Office with produce to sell to the Administration: mostly root vegetables food and pit sawn planks. More than half of those people were women, and the majority of them were from his Agarabi group. Throughout the working day, more Agarabi people would visit the Office: to sell gold from alluvial mining and to sort out marital problems and other matters.
Finally, Nomi wondered whether I had noticed the small groups of Simbu women who passed by the office, wandering down the road on foot, on their way to visit their menfolk employed at the Kassam camp. No more than three or four at a time, some wearing their feathered finery they were unescorted and unmolested, protected by the government’s law and order.
Of course I had noticed. I was overawed. I do not know how long it took them, perhaps two weeks or more, walking all the way. There were no trucks or private cars. Vehicles were rare - scarcer than hen’s teeth. Simbu wantoks on the government stations at Goroka and Henganofi provided stopovers, but those small groups of women were largely on their own, protected only by the sanctity of the government road inspired only by their love and respect for their menfolk.
My research had not provided me with answers but on 6 November 1953 Patrol Officer Gerald Szarka, Cadet Patrol Officer Geoffrey Harris, and Constables Buritori and Purari were killed in separate, but coordinated attacks in the Eliptamin valley of the Sepik District.
I obviously needed to do more thinking before the impending patrol down the Lamari into the restricted (uncontrolled) area, especially as we had come under attack on our first exploration.
Photo 01 - Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Day celebration, 2 June 1953, Kainantu. Looking across the parade ground, left to right: government store; small garage housing the Administration’ s vehicles, a four-wheel drive Land Rover and a BSA motorbike; Sub-District Office with plaited cane walls and red corrugated iron roof.
Photo 02 - Parade ground, Assistant District Officer’s residence at Kainantu, gardens, and pine trees imported from the countryside and planted to a geometric pattern.
Photo 03 - The first permanent-material house in the Highlands, constructed for T G Aitchison in 1932. ADO Alan Timperley assisted the Young-Whitfords to celebrate Audrey’s 21st birthday at a small function in the house in October 1948. (Photo Audrey Young-Whitford, 1948)
Photo 04 - Simbu workers removing the forest by hand between Kassam and the Markham, on the eastern escarpment.
Photo 05 - Director of District Services and Native Affairs J K McCarthy presents Administration Interpreter Nomi with the Loyal Service Medal, 1954. Left to right: Paramount Lululai Anarai LSM, District Commissioner Ian Downs (back to camera), Sergeant Major Bus LSM, J K McCarthy, Interpreter Nomi LSM
A very good inside story about how Kainantu was settled. Really appreciate reading the information. And thanks for the pictures.
Posted by: Nana Kume | 14 April 2022 at 10:04 AM
Piece of jigsaw puzzle relating to Kainantu discovery and history. Thank you for such contributions from Bill Brown. Your input is well appreciated for Kainantu. I appreciate gratefully.
Posted by: Bernard Z Kelontii | 04 April 2022 at 04:09 PM
Thanks for the brief historical accounts of Kainantu. One thing still outstanding and led to much confusion is whether Kainantu town land was not properly acquired. It seems the government have no proper land files to ascertain the acquisition.
Posted by: Michael Motan | 27 November 2019 at 12:48 PM
I am gratefully thankful for this historical detail - very much needed for today.
It is very handy to know the truth.
Posted by: Bernard Kelontii | 23 September 2019 at 12:37 PM
Thank you for this account. Nice reading.
Posted by: Frank Benabo | 23 April 2019 at 02:48 AM
Thank you Mr Brown for the historical and unique photos. Yes, indeed Kainantu was amongst the first historical colonial towns in Papua New Guinea in the 1930's.
Kainantu was the stepping stone to prosperity and advancement of Papua New Guinea. It needs to be compensated in a special manner by the government for the gesture, paving the way for PNG's advancement.
Posted by: Steven Banarbas | 16 February 2017 at 12:43 AM
First hand historical recounts from the days of the Kiaps, with outstanding colour photos and informative captions too. Again, a continuation of important historical colonial records of PNG. Thank you, Mr Brown.
Posted by: Raymond Sigimet | 10 June 2016 at 05:26 PM
Another brilliant piece from Mr Brown. Some wonderful pictures too. That early in the early 1950s Chimbus were already employed so far from their homes! I very much look forward to next chapter.
Posted by: Mathias Kin | 10 June 2016 at 03:58 PM