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The truth about the highlands frontier – I want to tell it my way

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 16 - Telefomin


Map 1
Our flight from Wewak to Telefomin


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Pamela and I had been married for a little over a month and were still in honeymoon mode when we returned to the Territory in July 1959.

The luxury of the newish, Qantas super constellation service (Sydney-Port Moresby–Lae) added to the bliss but reality soon re-asserted itself with our overnight stay at the Qantas transit lodge in Lae.

The next day we flew on to Wewak, again with Qantas but this time on the fortnightly Lae-Hollandia (now Jayapura) service, falsely glorified as an “international flight”.

Unlike the normal Dakota, the wartime version of the Douglas DC3 which had a bench of canvas bucket-seats running the full length of each side of the cabin with the fuselage providing the backrest, our aircraft had real seats with armrests and they faced forwards, with two seats on either side of a central aisle. We even had a female cabin attendant—albeit of mature years.

Our final destination, Telefomin, was one of the most remote government outposts in the Territory, located almost in the centre of continental New Guinea and just 66 kilometres from where the border between Papua and New Guinea met the border of Dutch New Guinea.

I was in two minds about the whole affair and about the district administration service. Like many other kiaps, I was disenchanted by the way Anderson and MacGregor at Tapini and Nolen at Telefomin had been hounded out of the Administration.

And it still rankled that I had been required to pay my fares to and from Australia when I took leave to get married, even though I had previously deferred leave on three occasions at the Administration’s behest. As a result, I'd been on leave only three times in those first eight years and had missed out completely on one return fare.

I knew we would be staying a few nights with District Commissioner Bob Cole and his wife, Kay, in Wewak before flying on to Telefomin, but I had not anticipated Kay would be at the airport to greet us.

District Commissioner's residence, Wewak, 1950s

Kay had experienced a near marital meltdown when travelling to the Territory as a bride in 1947 having spent six lonely weeks in Rabaul while waiting for a ship to transport her to join Bob in Bougainville—and she was determined that no one else would face such an introduction. She took each new bride and bride-to-be under her wing as they arrived and cared for them like a mother hen.

I had no role in that initiation process. I was called upon only when it was time to visit Wewak’s two general stores—Burns Philp and Tang Mow—after I was given the job of ordering six weeks’ supply of groceries and items we would using around our new home in Telefomin.

Pamela knew what food should look like on the plate and how the table should be laid but it was her mother who had done the food shopping and the cooking and run the family kitchen.

Fortunately, Tang Mow’s daughter-in-law—Mil’s wife, Dorothy—knew all there was to know about shopping and she was happy to assist me overspend: suggesting items I’d forgotten and goodies I’d not thought of. The Dorothy arranged for all our purchases to be delivered to the Gibbes’ hanger at Boram just before our flight.

We flew out of Wewak on Monday 27 July in a Junkers 52. It was an ugly-looking monster with corrugated metal sides, three radial engines each with a three-bladed propeller. One engine projected from the nose, the others mounted on each wing.

Gibbes Sepik Airways Junkers 52 at Telefomin

With their origins in the 1930’s, the same type of aircraft had been used as civil airliners and in a wartime role as bombers and as launching pads for paratroopers. Gibbes had bought three second-hand in Sweden in 1955 and had them flown to New Guinea, piloting one himself.

Twenty-five years earlier, Adolf Hitler had trundled around Germany in the same type of plane but it was unlikely his aircraft had passengers sitting behind a huge stack of sawn timber that occupied most of the cabin floor - and his aircraft probably was equipped with a toilet.

The long box-like cabin was not pressurised so we would not be flying very high. Pamela and I took the only two seats in the cabin, bolted to the floor against the rear bulkhead. In the cockpit Dave Wills piloted and Archie Murdock was in the right-hand seat.

After take-off, we flew across the coastal range heading for the Sepik River, passing over Pagwi, then Ambunti, climbing slowly all the while towards the Central Ranges blurred by the distant haze.

Surprisingly, it was an almost cloudless day. We had been flying for almost two hours, the north coast and Wewak now 275 kilometres behind us, when Mount Stolle (2,670 metres), the point where we had to report our position to air traffic control, came into view on the port side. Eighty kilometres to the west, inside Dutch New Guinea, the snow-covered peak of Mount Juliana thrust 4,750 metres into the sky.

It was time for pilot Wills to start the descent; first down to the gorge known as the Sepik Gap, and then in a descending curve to port, following up the tiny stream that transformed itself as it flowed downstream, morphing to become the mighty Sepik River.

A few minutes later, Telefomin airstrip came into view. A long grass swathe partially encircled by a heavily timbered mountain range. The half dozen corrugated iron roofs contrasting sharply with 30 or so native material buildings.

It had not always been that way. It had taken five years and a massacre—the slaughter of Patrol Officer Gerry (GL) Szarka, Cadet Patrol Officer Geoff (GB) Harris, Constable Buritori and Constable Purari in November 1953—before those permanent buildings were constructed and the Telefomin region given sub-district status and administered by an Assistant District Officer.

Over just four years, four Wewak-based District Commissioners had been responsible for the Sepik: Horrie (RL, later Sir Horace) Niall, ‘Reckless’ Reg (JR) Rigby, John (JJ) Murphy and Allan (AT) Timperley. Prior to May 1951, District Commissioners were known as District Officers.

In the same four-year period, acting Assistant District Officer Des (DC) Clifton-Bassett, Patrol Officer Geoffrey (GB) Gilbert, Patrol Officer Harry (HW) West, Patrol Officer Laurie (LJ) Doolan, Patrol Officer Laurie (LT) Nolen and Patrol Officer Gerry (GL) Szarka were successively posted to Telefomin as officers-in-charge.

Those officers-in-charge generally had assistants but for periods served alone. Patrol Officer Buck (JW) Rogers served with Clifton-Bassett; Cadet Patrol Officer Harry (H) Thomas served with Gilbert, and briefly with West; Cadet Patrol Officer Chris (CG) Day served with both West and Doolan; Cadet Patrol Officers John (JA) Gauci, Ken (KJ) Graham and Dick (RB) Lulofs served for brief periods with Nolen; and Harris served with both Nolen and Szarka.

It had all begun on 27 April 1948, when World War II fighter ace Bobby Gibbes and a civil aviation airport inspector named Glindeman made a reconnaissance flight over Telefomin to ascertain the condition of an emergency landing strip constructed in 1944. Water was flowing across the centre of the strip in a shallow stream so Gibbes did not attempt to land.

Auster J5, VH-KLS

Gibbes was flying one of his seven Auster aircraft, and the tiny machine with one propeller, a fabric covered fuselage, a cruising speed of 160 kph and a ceiling of 11,000 feet (3,400 metres) was struggling with the altitude. It was an aircraft barely adequate for the task and the deficiencies of its equipment made the flight even more hazardous.

The Austers were not equipped with radio or any radio aids; there were no inflight weather reports, no radio compass and no way to make a Mayday call if the engine stopped mid-flight.

Two months later, at the end of June 1948, Gibbes returned to Telefomin, again flying an Auster and with Glindeman and Assistant Director Ivan Champion as passengers. On that occasion, Champion was standing in for ADO George Greathead who had been tasked to escort Glindeman but had been diverted to the Gawanga when a fracas had erupted there. Glindeman’s task was to make a detailed ground investigation of the airstrip, prior to the establishment of the new patrol post.

Champion sat next to the pilot with Glindeman crouched in the rear seat hemmed in by stores, tools and a tent. That tent, erected soon after Gibbes’s hurriedly departed back to Wewak to escape closing weather, was their accommodation for the next two days.

As a result of that brief stay, and having walked through the Telefomin valley 24 years earlier on the Fly – Sepik patrol with Assistant Resident Magistrate Charles Karius, Champion considered himself to be the only expert on the Telefomin area and took a proprietary view, writing to the Administrator in April 1950:

“As I am the only officer who has a detailed knowledge of the region, not much importance should be attached to the opinions of District Officers who play flying visits to Telefomin. Some District Officers in New Guinea do not seem to be in favour of extending Government influence before full consolidation is effected in areas nearer to Headquarters, and thus we have many areas still labelled uncontrolled. I am not agreement with this view.”

Four years later, Sydney Elliott-Smith, another pre-war Papuan Officer, would express a contrary view:

“Instructions to the Assistant District Officer, Telefomin, are clear and without dual meaning – Telefomin, Eliptamin and Feramin are to be completely consolidated before moving further afield.” (In this case, though, the circumstances were somewhat different as Elliott-Smith had replaced Timperley as District Commissioner a few months after the 1953 massacre.)

On Thursday 21 October 1948, Gibbes made another flight to Telefomin, this time with acting Assistant District Officer Des Clifton-Basset sitting next to him and Corporal Tokoruru of the New Guinea Police Force crouched on the back seat amongst personal effects, stores and another tent. Clifton-Bassett and Tokoruru had come to stay. They did not know for how long.

Five days and half-a-dozen flights later - when Patrol Officer Buck (JW) Rodgers, a dozen more police and the rest of the stores had been flown in - Clifton-Bassett commented, “the movement was smooth and efficient and a very good job done by the pilots concerned.”

The next few weeks were difficult for the newcomers cramped together in hot canvas tents. They needed to buy bush materials to build more substantial housing and they needed to buy food. The problem was that they could only communicate with the local people by using signs and gestures. Only one or two of the Telefomin men had picked up a few words of Tok Pisin from the Hagen–Sepik Patrol in 1936 and from Mick Leahy and his team in 1944.

The problem was solved when Suni arrived, flown in direct from Goroka on 10 December. He was assigned to be the interpreter for six months. He was to stay for 25 years.

Routine census, Ankavip, Telefomin, 1959

Originally from Olsobip to the south of Telefomin, Suni had been adopted by an Eliptamin valley family as a child and left Telefomin as a youthful camp follower, attaching himself to John Black and accompanying him to Wabag at the conclusion of the Hagen – Sepik patrol.

Suni had returned to Telefomin in 1944, dropped in by glider, to ‘turn the talk’ for Mick Leahy’s team and had left with them when they departed in 1945.

Suni’s arrival marked a new era. Communication was established. The people brought taro and other native foods to the camp to barter and they gathered building materials from the bush and brought them to trade as well. Construction of the station buildings began in earnest and 29 houses were built in the next eight months.

Officers-in-charge did not spend a long time at Telefomin. Clifton-Bassett was there for just more than a year when he contracted scrub typhus, being relieved by Rogers when he was hospitalised for 10 weeks.

Gilbert followed Clifton-Bassett, filling in for three months until Harry West arrived. West served a year, did some heavy patrolling and was relieved by Laurie Doolan. Doolan arrived with wife and child and remained for five months. Robin Doolan was the first expatriate woman to live at Telefomin but she was not new to outposts, having previously lived at Bogia and Dreikikir.

The pattern changed with the arrival of Nolen in December 1951. He had served at Telefomin for 22 months—almost twice as long as any of his predecessors—when he was transferred, relieved by Szarka in September 1953. Nolen was already more than a month overdue for leave when, in July, he was advised by the District Commissioner that, “according to Headquarters the staff position is rather grim, and applications for leave will not be approved until early next year.”

Unlike Clifton-Bassett and West - who had years of experience, both having served in ANGAU before becoming Patrol Officers - or Doolan - who had joined the Administration in 1946 and served as officer-in-charge at Bogia and Dreikikir, Nolen was a new boy and a novice.

He had joined the Administration in March 1949 and had only completed his cadetship in sophisticated Rabaul and Kokopo. When he returned from his first leave, he was posted to the Sepik District and to Telefomin.

Despite his lack of experience, Nolen led patrols far and wide from Telefomin. He followed the route of West’s earlier expeditions to the Mianmin and the Oksapmin but set his own direction when he ventured across the Hindenberg Range into Papua, visiting the previously uncontacted Wokeimin and Fegolmin groups.

Nolen took two more junior officers with him on the first patrol. Cadet Patrol Officer Lulofs accompanied him on the Feramin– rapmin segment and Cadet Patrol Officer Gauci went with him to the Eliptamin.

With Nolen’s lack of bush experience, it must have been a case of the blind leading the blind. Those two CPOs had only been in the Territory for eight months and he was showing them the ropes.

Timperley had just commenced his first assignment as District Commissioner when he chided Nolen for regurgitating a suggestion contained in one of West’s 1950 patrol reports. Nolen, like West, reported that “the natives in the area around Telefomin have reached a standard where the law can and should be enforced.”

Timperley’s sarcastic comment read by all and sundry said: “Nolen has been instructed to exercise patience in dealing with the people. Telefomin has been gazetted a prison district, but that is no reason for the gaol to be full.”

It was picked up and endorsed at headquarters by Assistant Director Ian (IFG) Downs. Downs’ comment was a put-down that would be read by all and sundry at headquarters, by the staff at Wewak and by the cadets serving under Nolen at Telefomin.

Known more for irascibility than gentleness in the field, Downs wrote in Director JK McCarthy’s name:

“Four years is definitely not enough, particularly when the quality and experience of the staff concerned does not compare with that used to open up others areas. It should take at least ten years to reach the standard that Nolen has in mind. …

“Mr Nolen was appointed a Cadet Patrol Officer in 1949 and has served in Rabaul and Kokopo only, then gone on leave, before being posted to Wewak. It would appear that he has as much to learn about his work as the natives of Telefomin have to learn about the Administration.”

Both Downs and Timperley had completely ignored the vital section of Nolen’s report that said “it was impossible to find out the reason for the planning of an attack on the station by the Eliptamin and the Telefomin natives. The Eliptamin natives claim that it was planned by the natives of Telefomin while the latter say they know nothing of such plan.”

Timperley went on to ignore two further subsequent reports of threats of attack. He pooh-poohed Colin Simpson’s verbal report of a threat and of a disturbed night with barricaded doors when he picked the author up from Wewak airport after an eight-day visit to Telefomin in August 1952. And he ignored Nolen’s reiteration of that event in the August monthly report:

“Heard rumours of that some of the villages near the station intended attacking the station. Headman and other were questioned but all dismissed the suggestion as absurd. Some suggested the stories originated from the bragging of the young men who are now denied the pleasure and glory of tribal fighting.”

Government buildings, Telefomin, 1953

Nolen typed his report on 4 September 1954. Fourteen months later, on 6 November 1953, Patrol Officer Gerry (GL) Szarka, Cadet Patrol Officer Geoffrey (GB) Harris, Constable Buritori and Constable Purari were viciously slaughtered. Those orchestrated events took place in three different locations in the Eliptamin valley, each less than a day’s walk from Telefomin government station.

In accordance with Szarka’s instruction, Harris had set out on a routine census patrol of the eastern end of the Eliptamin on Friday 26 October. He completed the task and was about to return to Telefomin from Terapdavip village on 6 November when he was killed.

Even though Szarka was warned on Sunday 28 October that patrols would be attacked, he apparently did not communicate that information to Harris and he set out himself for the north-western end of the Eliptamin valley on 3 November. He too was engaged on a routine census patrol and accompanied by three police constables. Szarka and Constable Buritori were killed at Uguntemtigin village (Misinmin No 1) and Constable Purari was killed at the adjacent village of Komdavip.

Purely by chance, a section of the long-held plan to eradicate all outsiders activated the previous day at a meeting at Ankavip village was derailed by two unrelated events. Baptist missionary Norm Draper, waking bright and early on the day of the murder, had walked from the Mission and crossed the airstrip to the government station to use the teleradio. An aircraft, a Norseman, had landed on the airstrip a little while later.

In accordance with the plan endorsed at Ankavip, the people living in the villages near Telefomin had visited the station earlier that morning, carrying bilums of root vegetables (taro) to allay any fears but after the two events they feared the plan had been uncovered so did not follow through on their other allocated tasks.

They did not kill the government station personnel. They did not kill Draper. And they did not place logs across the airstrip to prevent aircraft from landing in the future.

Missionary Draper was the only expatriate left at Telefomin and was the only person remaining, who knew how to operate the station’s radio transmitter. The two messages he transmitted on the civil aviation network alerted the District Commissioner in Wewak. Those messages probably saved Telefomin station from annihilation but they caused deep disquiet when they eventually reached Australia.

The first message, transmitted at around about 11 am on 6 November reported rumours that CPO Harris’s patrol had been attacked and that he had been severely injured with tomahawk wounds to face and back. The second message said Harris had been killed.

Events moved quickly. ADO George (GRG) Wearne, Medical Assistant Rhys (LR) Healy, and nine police flew to Telefomin at DC Timperley’s instruction. Village people carried CPO Harris’ body into Telefomin that afternoon.

Timperely flew to Telefomin the next day and set out for Misinmin in the Eliptamin accompanied by 32 police, 80 carriers, ADO Wearne, Medical Assistant Healy, and PO Brian (BR) Corrigan who had been called in from Minj in the Western Highlands at Timperley’s request.

The news of Harris’ death had been reported in the Australian press and on radio by late on 7 November. Szarka’s fate was unknown and his anguished parents in Sydney were demanding answers. In Canberra, senators and members of the opposition were hounding the minister, and the press were in full cry.

In the Territory, officials provided their version of the facts to Canberra, but made no mention of Nolen’s earlier reports of rumoured attacks. These reports appear to have blurred, even deliberately distorted, some of the background facts.

The Administrator’s Press Release of November 12, 1953 concluded with a regurgitation of an earlier explanation:

“The greatest care is taken in selecting and building up patrols which are to penetrate an uncontrolled area and establish a new post. Only experienced officers are used in this work. New and inexperienced officers are not posted to a new area until my responsible officers are satisfied that it is under control, and only then in company with experienced officers.”

I happened to be one of the junior kiaps who knew from personal experience in the field that the statement was untrue. It was probably untrue when it was first mouthed by the minister in the Australian parliament in 1950 and it was certainly untrue when made in 1953.

The subsequent briefing material provided by the Administration to Canberra contained some other dubious information:

“Szarka had three years’ experience with the Administration previously at Manus and Madang and since March at Green River and Telefomin, Harris had one year’s experience in Sepik … at Telefomin since March. … Harris’ experience was sufficient to warrant his posting under Szarka.

“Geoffrey Harris was in a course of training which would ultimately enable him to conduct solo patrols. At the time of his death, he had not reached this stage of his training. … Telefomin is in the ‘Restricted Area’.”

In fact, Szarka had arrived at Telefomin on 8 September, 1953. He was killed two months later while conducting his first Telefomin patrol. His first term, as a cadet at Manus and Madang was neither an adequate grounding for either his role as OIC of a bush station like Telefomin nor for his supposed role of training Harris.

Harris, although inexperienced, knew a great deal more about the bush and bush patrolling, than Szarka. He had been stationed at Telefomin since 12 March 1953, had accompanied Nolen on a 39-day patrol to the uncontrolled and feared Mianmin in April-May 1953 and had led a brief solo patrol to the Feramin in July “to [gain] experience in arranging and conducting a patrol.”

Harris was not the first Cadet Patrol Officer to lead a solo patrol at Telefomin. CPO John (JA) Gauci had been less than a year in in the Territory when he led a 6-day patrol to the Feramin in May 1952 and CPO Ken (KJ) Graham, who had come to the Territory with Gauci, led a patrol to Timakmin and Sepkialikin in February 1953. (Sepkialikin was near Misinmin, where Szarka was killed.)

Timperley located Patrol Officer Szarka’s mutilated remains and Constable Buritori’s body at Misinmin on 13 November. His radiogram advice, transmitted to Canberra on 14 November 1953, was stark, bleak, and horrifying:

“Located Szarka’s remains in two latrine pits at site of Misinmin Rest House at eight o’clock Friday morning thirteenth. Body shockingly mutilated and apparently chopped into pieces with tomahawks. From first latrine pit recovered lower trunk right leg amputated at knee left leg at thigh also right leg and few bones.

“From second latrine recovered left foot and three pieces of flesh. Thorough search of scrub over wide area revealed no trace of body arms or head. Constable Buritori’s body recovered at base of ridge near rest house identified by tattoo marks on left arm which had been amputated at wrist.

“Body on finding was being ravaged by dog and pig. Only portion of body remaining was chest which contained deep wound possibly by tomahawk. All other flesh removed from body possibly by dogs and pigs. Have carried both remains to Telefomin.”

Australian prime minister RG Menzies made a rare broadcast to the nation on 18 November. Constable Purari’s body was carried into Telefomin from Komdavip on 20 November.

The hunt was now on for the killers and it would continue for months. District Officer Ian (RI) Skinner came from Lae to stand in at Wewak while Timperley was absent at Telefomin. By mid-January 14 other officers had undertaken duty in and around the area where the killings had occurred.

ADO Wearne, PO Nolen and CPO Barry(BA) Ryan were from other Sepik stations. Others came from further afield: ADO Corrigan from Minj and ADO Wally (WB) Giles from Madang. Patrol Officer Neil (RN) Desailly was on his way to ASOPA and Allan (AJ) Zweck, Bill (WW) Crellin and Frank (FD) Jones had just returned from the two-year Diploma Course at ASOPA.

On 29 January, Crellin, Zweck, Nolen and 32 police crossed the Mittag Range and established a base camp at Terapdavip where Harris had been killed. Jones, with 17 police, remained in charge at Telefomin.

A press release dated 9 April reported that ADOs Crellin, Jones, Wearne and Zweck and Patrol Officer Nolen had been commended for their role in the location and apprehension of 135 suspects. The statement would not have been of much comfort to Nolen. He knew he was under a cloud.

He had already been charged and reprimanded in February for “disobeying an official instruction in that he had intimate relationships with a native female native, Binatang, during the time he was stationed at Telefomin” and he was also being blamed for two incidents that allegedly contributed to the attacks, even though they were not within his control.

The instruction that he had breached had been restated by Director McCarthy in February 1952:

“It is contrary to administration policy for officers 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. ... I regret that the actions of a few have made the issue of this general warning necessary. … An officer who is guilty of either of these actions is unfit to remain in the Service.”

The Administrator was less than phlegmatic about the reprimand, writing to the Minister:

“I am deeply concerned to think that the offence should have been treated as a minor one … It should have been dealt with … as a serious offence no matter what extenuating circumstances may have existed … I cannot accept “lack of amenity and company” on an isolated station as a factor of mitigation. … I [have] issued instructions … that in all cases of this nature and under any circumstances the offence will be treated as a serious offence.”

Nolen’s career was almost over, blighted by his association with a Telefomin lady friend. After all the allegations against him had been explored, he was finally permitted to resign at the end of August and he and Binatang moved to the Western Highlands to set up home in Minj. It would not be much of a life but at least they would be together and away from the self-serving viciousness of the top brass.

Sergeant Tokoruru’s career was also trashed. He was dismissed from the force for striking a native with a stick a short time before the massacre. The incident occurred while Szarka was officer in charge but no action was taken at the time. DC Elliott-Smith recommended Tokoruru’s dismissal after he had been charged and imprisoned for the offence when it was disclosed by the investigation into the attacks.

Gaol (left) & single police barracks, Telefomin

Tokoruru had served at Telefomin since he had flown in with Clifton Bassett on the very first day. He had been the senior non-commissioned officer responsible for the Telefomin police detachment for five years and had married locally. He had served the Administration for more than 20 years in war and peace. So much for loyalty and devoted service.

In June 1954, after Telefomin had been given sub-district status with Jones as ADO, DC Elliott-Smith reported that construction of the permanent material buildings had begun: “residences, office, store and prison with roofing now going forward.”

The roofing material, corrugated galvanised iron, was used on the three new residences, the office and the store, but it was not used on the prison. That building, the kalabus, may have been re-fenced and enlarged but it had a thatched roof and plaited walls throughout my time in Telefomin.

Dave (ED) Wren replaced Jones as ADO in April 1955, then came the Nevilles, (Ron (RTD) and Colleen), transferred from Maprik to Telefomin in September 1956. Patrol Officer Len Aisbett, accompanied by wife Margaret, transferred from Vanimo, was some months at Telefomin before taking over from Neville in December 1957. Aisbett served 18 months as ADO at Telefomin, and then came the Browns.

Map 2
Telefomin patrols, 1959-60

I was in a hurry to get out of that Junkers, to climb down the half dozen steps to the ground. My bladder was bursting. I urgently needed a toilet. But, horror of horrors, a welcoming committee was standing in front of the sub-district office waiting to meet and greet.

There were the two Baptist missionary couples together with their young children and the government expatriate staff—all young and single: Cadet Patrol Officers Jim (PJ) Fenton, Bob (RL) O’Connell and Medical Assistant Ian Lightfoot. Only chalkie Don Gaffney was missing, unable to escape from his teaching chores at the government boarding school.

Living at Telefomin was going to be a dramatic change for my 22-year-old bride, fresh from a small close-knit family and a workplace full of young female companions. Now Pamela would be the only expatriate female on the small government station, with two of the three expatiate bachelors to talk to when I was absent on patrol—the other one would be accompanying me.

Junkers taxiing, Telefomin, foreground is memorial to the 1953 massacre

The Baptist missionary wives, Elaine Doull and Rosemary Vaughan, lived a two-kilometre walk away on the other side of the airstrip and were fully engaged rearing young children and discharging their church obligations.

The formalities completed, we were escorted from the office past two bungalows to our new home, 500 meters along a level road. With drainage ditches on each side, the road was just wide enough for the station’s only four-wheeled vehicle, the Administration’s Ferguson tractor.

Ours was the last and biggest house in Main Street, Telefomin. It was nothing flash, a standard Administration M-type design, but bigger than the others.

The bungalow had been tricked out for our arrival. There were flowers in the lounge. The double bed in the main bedroom had been made with fresh sheets, courtesy of Fenton. The wick on the kerosene refrigerator had been trimmed and was burning brightly; the refrigerator itself was cold and ready to receive our recently purchased frozen meat.

Main Street, Telefomin, 1959

My single man’s gear, flown to Telefomin before our arrival in Wewak, was sitting on the floor in the middle of the main room: a large crate holding the carved kwila table from Korogo; three wooden trunks built by Pitau at Aitape; a scattering of patrol boxes; and items wrapped in hessian packs - four cane chairs and a matching table, a set of bookshelves and two large sea-grass mats.

It was what we’d be relying on for a month or two until Pamela’ possessions, our wedding presents and household effects we had purchased in Australia made their way from Sydney to Wewak by ship and then by aircraft to Telefomin.

My own gear was an unimpressive collection and did not take long to unpack. My once white, bed linen had been washed too often in the murky Sepik river and was now stained a pale brown and my towels were tattered and worn. My pots and pans were blackened and bent and the crockery dinner set had seen better days. The 53-piece canteen of Margaret Rose cutlery was perhaps the only saving grace.

For Pamela, there would be other challenges apart from loneliness. The only electricity supply, a single supply line from Fenton’s personal 110-volt generator, powered a globe in our kitchen for several hours a night. The rest of the house was illuminated by the kerosene pressure lamps, two of them, which we carried from room to room until bedtime when battery-powered torches came into play.

The fuel stove in the kitchen was like none other I had seen—and I’d seen plenty. The Rayburn Slow Combustion had a cream baked enamel finish that extended from the hot plates to the floor. Its clean lines were only broken by the two oven doors while two more doors related to the fire box. There was a clock-faced thermometer and a bewildering set of knobs and baffles. Manufactured in England, it was designed to be fuelled by coke or coal and to provide reticulated hot water as well as cooking food, but it did not perform well when burning New Guinea wood.

The small water tank mounted above the roof was another complication. If it ran dry so did taps in kitchen and bathroom, the shower, the toilet and the boiler in that infernal stove. The overhead tank had to replenished from rainwater tanks located on the ground, pumped by hand from outside the house, an unpleasant chore after dark when it generally ran dry.

Ferapnok, a local Telefomin man who had helped in the Aisbett’s kitchen, came looking for work and was immediately employed. He knew how to operate that monster of a stove and how to light pressure lamps and how to use a benzene iron.

His first job after fuelling and lighting the stove would be to collect fresh flowers from the bush at the back of the house: bunches of orange and gold magnolia, orchid blooms and long vermillion racemes from the umbrella trees—the Telefol called them uguk.

The Telefomin men wandering around the station were virtually naked—a few strips of cane encircled their waists, penises sheathed in gourds of various lengths and curvature, testicles hanging in the breeze, completely bare backsides.

Young women & girls, Telefomin area 1950s

The young women and girls were more modest in appearance, if they were standing upright and not on a rise. Their fronts were covered by tiny aprons sewn from flattened reeds, layered untidily—one of top of another—and suspended from the waist. The only other covering, two fringes also sewn from smaller reeds, were attached to a waist band above the buttocks, with a tassel hanging down.

The two headmen from Kialikman, Fensep and Nifinim, began to drop by when I was in the front garden, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes after work. No matter what the time of day, they always extended their stock greeting of “Gutnaits” (Goodnight).

Perhaps they assumed that by greeting me so effusively, the guards would think they had gained my tacit approval to visit enfeebled prisoners from Ankavip who had been sent back from confinement at Boram on the coast to serve out their time nearer to home. (The Ankavip prisoners had not physically participated in the massacre, but according to the trial judge, they had.)

The garden became our free time activity and relaxation, but it rained most afternoons and sometimes all day. The records showed that the rainfall was heavy, somewhere between 295 and 760 millimetres between the driest and the wettest month. It never rained on less than 25 days in any month and in some months it rained every day.

My predecessors and their wives must have spent a lot of effort on that garden and fernery but we also needed to do something about the area between the front of the house and the garden. Theoretically it was the front lawn, but in reality it was an unsightly mess of white clayey pug sprouting a few sad threads of grass.

My helpers caught on quickly to the idea of covering the surface with moss. We started with small pieces that they scrounged from the forest near the house. Then they brought large slabs which we trimmed and laid like carpet squares. The result: a large, green velveteen lawn that could absorb lots of rain.

We had been at Telefomin for a month, had walked around the station many times and had even ventured a little way up the Mittag Range behind the hospital to a bat cave, and, in the other direction, down to the edge of the Sepik escarpment. Pamela had settled in and I had taught her how to point a revolver and pull the trigger.

It was time for me to learn something about the sub-district; to be out among the people, get more acquainted with members of the police detachment and have them get to know me. It was time to leave on patrol.

That was not so simple at Telefomin. In July 1955, ADO Wren had got into strife for allowing CPO Grant to patrol alone to the Tifalmin, and in 1959 Aisbett had been similarly chastised for sending CPOs Fenton and O’Connell to the Eliptamin in March and to the Kamfegolmin in April. (Headquarters was in error. Fenton had completed his cadetship in and was entitled to lead patrols, although they could quibble about his experience.)

The policy on patrolling at Telefomin was rigid and clear. Cadet Patrol Officers could only accompany an experienced Patrol Officer or more senior officer on patrol, and no officer was permitted to patrol alone.

I set out for the Wokeimin with CPO Bob (RL) O’Connell on Thursday 27 August. Our destination was the Tifalmin and Urapmin groups, a day’s walk away, and then the Wokeimin on the southern side of the Hindenberg Range across the border in Papua.

I had no reason for selecting that particular destination other than I wanted a good work out with some stiff climbing and I did not want to be away too long. I was very conscious of the admonition from the Coles: “Be careful of your marriage. Protect it, and make sure that it works!” An absence of 11 days seemed long enough for the first foray.

From Tifalmin, the last Telefomin group, it took two hard days climbing through the moss forest - scrambling around moss-coated, limestone crags, skirting seemingly bottomless sinkholes - to reach first Wokeimin hamlet, where we were welcomed by three men, two women and several dogs.

We had crossed the range at 2,650 meters south of Mount Aiyung and had crossed the border into Papua somewhere along the track.

Two days later we headed home—back across the border—by a different route. It took two days to cross the range, with a 550-meter cliff face to be scaled two hours into the first day. Our overnight campsite was in marshland at 2,300 metres beneath Mount Fugilil. Next morning, after two hours on the track, we reached the crest at Alukfal at 2,590 meters where the winds were bitterly cold. We hurriedly descended down the northern side to re-join our outward path.

We had spent a total of six days visiting the Wokeimin to record the names of 69 people, including absentees. It would have taken 30 days to visit all the groups living in the foothills of the Hindenburg Range, an estimated 1,500. Headquarters did not agree with my contention that our time would be better spent in the Telefomin Sub-District, decreeing that until a patrol post was established north of Kiunga, we should continue to patrol that piece of Papua.

After a week on the track, as you start to get fit, you have time to think and dream and I arrived back at Telefomin full of enthusiasm and with lots of plans for gingering up the building program. I had ideas for building a new barracks for the single police using permanent materials and also constructing at least half a dozen married quarters.

I wanted to extend the length of the airstrip by thirty meters to meet the demands of the Department of Civil Aviation. Not an easy task when the surface had to be raised by a meter and the fill—gravel, stones, and rocks—had to be placed by hand.

There were no funds available for airstrips, a small amount for buildings and almost unlimited money for roads and bridges, so the problem was easily resolved. I had learnt creative accounting from DC Downs in the Highlands. The airstrip was my highway to the outside world, building timber could be order for bridges and the building funds used for hardware—hinges, nails and corrugated iron roofing.

After two weeks back on the station, I headed off again, this time with Medical Assistant Ian Lightfoot for 11 days in the Feramin group returning on 6 October.

On Tuesday 20 October, Lightfoot and I headed off again this time to the Eliptamin for a 10-day census patrol. I had left patrolling Eliptamin to later in my program to get a feel for Telefomin and to give the Eliptamins a chance to hear about me.

By the end of the patrol, I had formed the impression that the older men’s attitude indicated no respect for law and order and that they would resist lawful intervention if not backed by adequate force. The Eliptamins had proved our vulnerability in November 1953, I was not convinced they had changed their attitude.

In November it was Fenton’s turn. Some months earlier, a group of Mianmins raided the small settlement called Suwana in the Abaru group near May River Patrol Post. It had taken the Mianmins the best part of five days - trekking, drifting downriver on rafts and then trekking again - to reach their objective, where they killed three men and one woman.

They set off for home with seven female captives and the butchered remains of those they had killed. One of the abducted women had difficulty keeping up so she was killed as well, and “parts of her body taken to be eaten ...” Another of the abducted women subsequently escaped, reported the whole incident to May River Patrol Post, and we became involved.

We sent a small team consisting of Fenton, Interpreter Suni and Constable Kusinok from Telefomin to join Patrol Officer Jack Mater and his team from May River Patrol Post in the investigation and pursuit.

It took them 14 days to reach the Mianmin settlement, surround it at dawn and apprehend the 15 men involved in the massacre, including the men who actually did the killings. It was an operation that went without incident. Hopefully it also gave the Mianmins a lesson about the government’s intent and reach.

1959 may have been the honeymoon year but 1960 was full on and it wasn’t long before one of my ideas came completely unstuck.

At the beginning of February, I decided to take a patrol to the Oksapmin despite a lot of advice that it was the wrong time of the year and that all the rivers would be in flood. My plan was to avoid the normal route—via the Donner and Om River headwaters—and cross the Victor Emanuel Range above Feramin, using a technique I had picked up from Gus (AM) Bottrill in the Goilala. My group would be lightly laden, we would carry the bare minimum of food and we would cross the range into the Oksapmin in just a few days.

We set out on Wednesday 3 February; my reluctant companion Medical Assistant Ian Lightfoot, 12 police and me. The venture was doomed to fail. In the Goilala the distances to travel had been shorter and we took just one or two police and did not carry tents.

After four fruitless days casting around in the high country behind Feramin, I was forced to admit defeat. We had even spent one night bundled together wrapped in the un-erected tents. The next morning, still fully dressed in the previous day’s wet and mud-covered clothes, I had dried out a little but smelt like a sewer drain.

The locals said it would take them five days to get to the first Oksapmin habitation from where we were. It would take us longer than that and we did not have enough food to make that sort of trek. But I was not prepared to admit defeat. Instead of returning to base, we changed direction and revisited the Eliptamin villagers, the scenes of the 1953 murders, and slowly made our way home.

Sub District Office, Telefomin, 1960

John Tierney and Arthur Marks were posted to Telefomin towards the end of March, filling the gaps left by the departure of Fenton and O’Connell. I knew both of them from their time with me at Ambunti, but Tierney was especially welcome. He had married a few weeks earlier and arrived with Margaret, his very young bride.

Pamela had endured the lack of female company for eight months but with Margaret Tierney’s arrival the drought had broken. She was never, ever, going to miss the chance to chat again in the future, wherever and whenever it occurred.

A few days later, the arrangements were in place. Every weekday morning, Margaret took the shortcut between our houses and came to our place for morning tea. And every weekday afternoon, Pamela took the same shortcut to join Margaret for tea.

A week or so later, just before the weekly aircraft arrived, Tierney and I were amazed to see a procession of sorts form outside our houses and start making its way up the road towards the office. Side by side, in the vanguard, two mankimastas carrying laden trays were followed by the two ladies in their finery, teetering on high heels as they progressed up the roughly surfaced road.

We did not know it at the time, but that welcome for the pilot, and whoever else that was on board, was to become a regular weekly feature. Each week, the trays were laden with the best crockery: cups and saucers, plates of hot scones and strawberry jam, and teapots filled with steaming tea.

Medical Assistant Hoffman with Tifalmin people, 1960

I managed to make two patrols, both of short duration, in April. The first, to introduce recently arrived Medical Assistant Andrew Hoffman to the Telefomin patrol regime in a visit to the Tifalmin– rapmin group.

The second and much more important patrol was with Tierney to the Eliptamin for eight days. It was his first experience of patrolling in high mountain country and it was his introduction to the peculiarities of Telefomin patrolling.

In a little under a month, he would be leading the patrol showing CPO Arthur Marks the ropes and be responsible for the safety of all personnel. It was not beyond the realms of possibility that things might again suddenly turn nasty.

I knew that he had read the confidential file about the murders. Now he was going to visit the scenes of the crime and he would meet relatives and associates of the perpetrators. I wanted to be certain he looked behind the façade of smiling faces and was fully aware of the gruesome details, particularly related to the killing of Szarka.

The official report, described by Elliott-Smith as “a factual report of the Telefomin affair … compiled by Mrs M White ... depositions clerk and associate during the Preliminary Hearings and the subsequent Supreme Court Trials. … Only facts … anything else being carefully avoided”  contained horrific details, like:

“At a prearranged signal, Kaiobengal of Uguntemtigin, who was standing behind the officer, seized him, pinioning his arm to his sides. At the same time Novonengim seized Buritori.

“Kaiobengal and Szarka, in their struggles, rolled over one side of the ridge, while Novonengim went over the opposite side.  The natives Olsikim of Inantigan, Irinsomnok of Inantigan, Tigimnok and Warimsep both of Iwartigan, ran down to where Kaiobengal was struggling with Szarka a short distance down the ridge. Szarka was held down and an axe was called for. This was brought by the native Timengin of Uguntemtigin, and Tigimnok ran up the slope and took it from him.

“Unlike Harris, Szarka therefore had time to realise what his probable fate was to be, even if he did not understand what the natives were saying. His feelings during those moments of delay are hideous to contemplate.

“While the others held him down on his back Tigimnok raised the axe and struck Szarka in the throat, completely decapitating the head in a very few blows. Then Tigimnok cut Szarka’s body through at the waist into two parts. Olsikim took the axe from Tigimnok and cut off both of Szarka’s legs.

“While Szarka was being slaughtered, women and children ... were pillaging the belongings and patrol gear from the Rest House and the Police Barracks ... the murderers returned up the slope, dancing the killing dance ... Tigimnok was holding the bloodstained axe in two hands above his head.”

Bernie Mulcahy, Tony Trollope & Lt J Farry PIR, Telefomin, 1960

Towards the end of May, we were involved in the planning and logistics for a patrol from May River to Telefomin. The patrol would be led by the acting Assistant District Officer at Ambunti Tony (CA) Trollope and his task would be to trek from May River Patrol Post through the mountainous Mianmin country with a detachment of the Pacific Islands Regiment.

The aim was to give the Army experience in operating in the uncontrolled area and to give the Mianmin people a little more exposure to the outside world.

Trollope set out from May River on 1 June with a cavalcade of over 100 men. He was accompanied by Patrol Officer Bernie (BH) Mulcahy, OIC of May River, Lieutenant J Farry and five troops from the PIR, a Medical Orderly, two interpreters, 12 police and 85 carriers.

We contributed an NCO of police and two quasi-interpreters. Lance Corporal Kusinok, a local Telefomin with almost 10 years’ service in the police, had trekked from Telefomin to May River Post and back with Aisbett and Fenton at the end of 1958.

Atikbiren, from the Eliptamin and Beliap from the Mianmin had also accompanied Aisbett and Fenton and were very familiar with their sections of the route. They would turn the talk from their own language to Tok Pisin.

I had reservations about the ability of Trollope’s lowland carriers to handle the Telefomin hills, so sent Constable Wasinok—an Eliptamin by birth—to organise relief carriers for the more difficult sections as well as firewood and food supplies along the route.

Trollope’s patrol walked into Telefomin on 20 June after 13 hard days on the track and the station was teeming with people. Then the next day District Officer Des Clancy flew in from Wewak and another bed had to be found. Both the spare bedrooms were occupied.

It was a long well-oiled evening with Clancy leading the discussion. His main gripe was about the memorandum of patrol, a one-page form introduced in 1958 which replaced the Patrol Report. According to Clancy, reports submitted in the new format told him nothing and created a ‘secret service’. We didn’t really care, the form could not be used in restricted areas, so could not be used in Telefomin.

Des Clancy, Bill Brown, JK McCarthy, Brian McBride

There was a totally unexpected event next day. Two single-engined Cessna aircraft circled the station and landed about 11 am, disgorging a high level team: kiap boss Director JK McCarthy; Tom Ellis, who had recently been appointed District Commissioner of the Western Highlands; Brian McBride, ADO of the Laiagam Sub-District; and Neville (NC) Robinson, referred to as a Field Assistant, Native Mining.

The visitors only stayed for half an hour or so and then flew back to the Western Highlands. Clancy returned to Wewak on 23 June and Trollope and his party set off back to May River on 24 June with a replenished supply of rations, and 35 Eliptamin carriers to help with the load.

From the Brown household perspective, the timing could not have been much worse: 23 June was Pamela’s birthday but we were not in birthday mode, what with a crowded house and Pamela preparing to fly in to Wewak for the birth of our first child: Michael was born on 22 July.

Tierney and I started planning our visit to Oksapmin a month or so before the date of our intended departure, sending messages for the headman and carriers to come to Telefomin to assist the patrol. They arrived full of enthusiasm but were too old, too young or too inept to be of any real assistance.

We set out on Saturday 20 August, three expatriates (me, John Tierney and a Baptist missionary Don Doull), 12 police (Senior Constable Ampula, Constable 1st Class Kusinok and 10 constables), Interpreter Suni and a line of more than 60 carriers—volunteers from the Feramin, around Telefomin, the headman of Duamin, and four Oksapmin carriers who doubled up as messengers.

The inclusion of Don Doull was unusual. The Baptist archives record that “unexpectedly ADO Bill Brown invited Don Doull to go on that patrol” but I do not remember why. Maybe it was to ensure an airdrop by the Missionary Aviation Fellowship.

I certainly had no Baptist leanings. In fact, quite the reverse. My mother said they bred like rabbits and the fire and brimstone ravings of Pastor Leghorn in the Burton Street Tabernacle, which I had visited with some young ladies in my youth, had cured me for life.

I was at the head of the long, single-file column as we set off from the office to walk up the airstrip to where the 840-metre climb to the crest of the Mittag Range began. I had crossed the range at that spot on previous occasions but it was the first time I had ever been flashed.

We had been clambering and scrambling up the greasy, almost vertical track for over an hour when the young woman zoomed up behind us and slithered past. Clad in the traditional fore-and-aft grass skirt, she paused briefly, poised with her feet astride just above my head – flashed - and took off for her home. She had been a prisoner, discharged more than an hour after our departure, and was giving me the metaphorical finger for putting her in gaol.

From our first overnight stop at the Eliptamin village of Terapdavip, where we were lashed by strong winds, rain, and large, shredding hail, it took eight days of hard walking and climbing—five of those days through uninhabited country—to reach the first Oksapmin habitation.

We were expected. Some 16 kilometres before the Tekmin group’s settlement, we broke into the path they had cleared in anticipation of our arrival. It had been carved through heavy forest and numerous almost impenetrable thickets of cane grass, and at the end we found that a camp site had been prepared and lean-to shelters erected in readiness.

Bill Brown and Tekmin people, Oksapmin, 1960

We had been on the track for five hours, our boots and socks were sodden and coated with heavy mud and we were tired and hungry. While the tents were being erected, the cook was set to boiling water for coffee and frying up a mess of bully beef, onions and sweet potatoes. One patrol box served as a table, others served as stools, but there was no privacy. We surrounded by hordes of curious onlookers as we ate the hastily prepared meal.

Our onward route followed a small river known as the Tekin, somewhat wider than its namesake at Telefomin. The path, well defined from frequent use, was frequently bordered by fenced gardens containing sweet potato, green-leafed plants and vines and occasionally embellished by a triangular funeral platform. The corpse was uncovered except for a small branch of a special tree twisted into a ring which was said to prevent any odours of decay.

There were no true villages. The houses, scrappy by even Telefomin standards, were scattered over the land occupied by the group. Central points where we made camp, more or less at the people’s direction, were about one to two hour’s walk apart, and were where we spent two nights gathering information, cementing relations, compiling the initial census and village registers.

The people were cooperative and friendly, doing all they could to assist. New shelters, that invariably leaked, were built prior to our arrival and when this was not done building materials were assembled ready for our use and they assisted in establishing the camp.

Local men roof the camp kitchen at Oksapmin, 1960

Men and women cheerfully cleared a drop site when an airdrop of supplies was arranged, and men of all ages volunteered as carriers and were available whenever required, even having to be discouraged on occasions.  When one of the police fell sick, they organised a stretcher service on their own initiative, and maintained a continuous change of carriers until he recovered. Unlike other mountain peoples, there appeared to be no enmity between the groups. We saw very few weapons, and people seemed to move about freely without fear.

The wife of our guide, Sinonok of Duanmin, accompanied only by her infant son, one other woman and some young lads, walked from her home to our camp at Teranmin, a distance of some 25 kilometres each way through 10 other groups to investigate rumours that he was unwell.

The people said that we were way off beam when we referred to them all, as the Oksapmin. They said that the Oksapmin were only the people who lived in the upper section of the Tekin—before the river disappeared underground for the first time. The group who lived in the valley from where the Tekin re-emerged, to where it disappeared underground again, were the Teranmin, and the Kuskusmin occupied the final stretch of the Tekin, from where it re-emerged the second time, to where it disappeared underground for the third and final time.

We visited the all the Tekin groups, and we visited the Kutikmin, in the Kutik River system; the Bakmin in the Bak River valley, and the Gaugutianmin in the Gaweng River valley. All appeared similar but were markedly different in temperament to the Eliptamin and the people around Telefomin. The Oksapmin groups seemed more even tempered, placid, less volatile, and perhaps less acute. The only real point of commonalty appeared to be the male garb; the Oksapmin women, both unmarried and married, wearing fuller skirts than their Telefomin counterparts.

Family waits to have names recorded in Village Book, Oksapmin, 1960

We had worked our way back to our first camp in the Tekin by Day 24. The way ahead, over the crest of the Victor Emanuel Ranges, would take less time than our inward route and after the initial climbing would be more downhill.

On Day 25, we made camp at 2,560 meters after walking for five and a half hours. The steep climb began next day. We reached the first crest (2,960 meters) after an hour and the second crest (3,200 meters) after another hour and a half. From there it was almost all downhill to the Sepik headwaters, and a camp at 2,100 meters.

Telefomin was now two days walk away but Tierney and I decided to do it in one day while the rest, moving slowly because of the load, would take two days and overnight at Feramin.

The three of us set out at dawn, Tierney, me and Constable Kusinok. We were each carrying some roasted sweet potato in a ruck sack and Tierney and I had a small tin of peaches. Kusinok had his rifle and Tierney and I had handguns.  

We walked into Telefomin after 11 hours on the track, having actually walked for nine and a half hours. I sat on a mound at the end of the airstrip, penned a note and gave it to a worker to deliver to the office. “We are at the end of the airstrip. …. I am not going to walk another inch. Please send the tractor to pick us up!” I may not have written ‘Please’.

In October, the news came through that I was being transferred and should start to pack. I would be taking over as Assistant District Officer in charge of the Wewak Sub-District from Royce (RR) Webb. Webb would be relieving District Officer Clancy who was proceeding on recreation leave.

I would have been worried about the transfer, except the advice was accompanied by a laudatory confidential personal report assessing my performance at Telefomin.

The wheels turned slowly. Patrol Officer Robin Calcutt arrived to take over at Telefomin as acting ADO on 7 December  The Browns loaded all their gear into a Douglas Dakota, chartered from MAL (Mandated Airlines) and flew to Wewak on Monday 12 December 1955.

Photos & notes

Map 01 - Wewak to Telefomin air route (Bill Brown)

Photo 01 - District Commissioner’s residence, Wewak, 1950s (Bill Brown)

Photo 02 - Gibbes Sepik Airway’s Junker 52 at Telefomin (Jim Fenton)

Photo 03 - Auster J5, VH-KLS, stablemate of the Gibbes fleet (Australian Aircraft History Archives)

Photo 04 - Routine census, Ankavip, Telefomin, 1959. (L – R) Interpreter Suni, Constable Yaref (Wabag) and Bill Brown, wearing a DCA groundsman’s hat (Andrew Hoffman)

Photo 05 - Buildings constructed from bush materials, Telefomin Government Station, 1952-1953 (CPO Geoff Harris, killed at Telefomin, November 1953)

Photo 06 - On the left, the kalabus (gaol) within the barbed-wire enclosure, on the right, the barracks for the single police – all with thatched roofs (Jim Fenton)

Map 02 - Patrol routes, 1959–60 (Bill Brown)

Photo 07 - Junkers 52 taxiing towards the office at Telefomin. The memorial plaque for the victims of the 1953 massacre in the foreground. In the background, on the other side of the airstrip, the Medical Assistant’s house (Bill Brown)

Photo 08 - The three houses on Main Street, Telefomin, 1959. The ADO’s house with a red roof is furthest from camera (John Tierney/Bill Brown)

Photo 09 - Unmarried young women and girls wearing their normal attire of brief, apron-like skirts (Geoff Harris)

Photo 10 - Mianmin visitor in normal attire, Bill Brown, John Tierney, Sub-District Office, Telefomin, 1960 (Jacques Villeminot)

Photo 11 - Medical Assistant Andrew Hoffman, Constable Pigi (a local Telefomin) and Tifalmin village people, April 1960 (Bill Brown)

Photo 12 - Bernie Mulcahy, Tony Trollope and Lieutenant J Farry, PIR, Telefomin, 1960 (Arthur Marks)

Photo 13 - Standing (L -R) Des Clancy, Bill Brown, J K McCarthy and Brian McBride.  Crouched (with backs to camera) Neville Robinson and Tom Ellis (wearing hat)  (Arthur Marks)

Photo 14 - Don Doull (partially obscured) and Bill Brown, Tekmin group, Oksapmin, 1960 (John Tierney)

Photo 15 - Two local men roofing the camp kitchen as other people bring in thatch, Oksapmin, 1960 (John Tierney/Bill Brown)

Photo 16 - Family group having names recorded in Village Book, Oksapmin, 1960  (Bill Brown)


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Peta Colebatch

Thanks for all of this writing. And am looking forward to the next instalment of the story. Most of us still miss PNG, so it's great to be taken back there again by you.

Ross Wilkinson

Martin - Niall's reports would be most likely found in the ANGAU War Diary which is digitised and available through the Australian War Memorial website.

Martin Kaalund

Dear Bill - I have some photos of the men’s house at Telefol village, Taken in 1979. I will post these on Tony Friend's obituary and a photo of Siune the interpreter who was still at Telefomin. Your photos are very clear.

Maria Friend advises the memorial trust she set up has operated well and Rod Owens is putting this information with the photos.

Do you have a reference you could guide me to as to Niall's situation reports for Aitape, 1942/45, as commander of the Northern intelligence zone.

Stay strong, live long.

Maria Friend

In respond to Ian Hollingsworth's question: yes, Tony Friend was the last expatriate district officer in Telefomin as well as in Oksapmin.

He finished his work in Telefomin as DOIC on 31.01.1981. He returned to Telefomin as a public servant at the beginning of 1983 and worked there until 31.01.1992.

However, this time he was not DOIC but coordinator of Telefomin District Development Agreement, supervising implementation of 100+ very diverse projects in the Telefomin District.

Tony passed away in Cairns on 15.08.2017. To commemorate his work in the Telefomin District, his family and friends decided to sponsor ten high school students at Telefomin and Oksapmin.

Bill Brown

I have been asked why I made such a mess of my explanation of some events in Chapter 16. Was it a factor of old age? Maybe, and maybe the paragraph below will clarify some of the confusion.

The long-held plan to eradicate all outsiders was activated the previous day during a meeting at Ankavip village. Purely by chance, part of that plan was derailed by two unrelated events: Baptist missionary Norm Draper had woken bright and early on the day of the murders and walked from the mission to the government station to use the teleradio to order some stores from Wewak. A little while later a Norseman aircraft landed on the airstrip.

To avert any suspicions or forebodings, the Telefomin villagers had visited the station with food for sale earlier that morning. But after those two events they did not follow through on their other allocated tasks. They did not kill the government station personnel. They did not place logs across the airstrip to prevent aircraft from landing. And they did not kill Draper.

Now to the query of how Draper became aware that the patrol led by Harris had been attacked.

Tegori, Harris’s mankimasta carried the news from Terapdavip to Telefomin. He had discarded his shirt and shorts to avoid detection and was wearing the traditional phalocrypt when he reported to Lance Corporal Sauweni, who was already on the alert. Constable Yendabari’s wife had told Sauweni she had been warned of an impending attack and that groups of armed men had been seen near the station.

Sauweni organized Draper to transmit the news to Wewak and despatched Constables Yendabari and Lego with four rifles and spare ammunition to relieve the Harris party. He then bluffed 50 or so armed Telefomin men into surrendering. Those men were later flown to Wewak, convicted of minor charges and gaoled.

In the investigations over the following months, it became clear that practically everyone could have been arrested, because everyone was involved. The kiaps involved - Crellin, Jones, Nolen, Wearne and Zweck - only apprehended the 135 most culpable and, of them, only 37 were committed to stand trial.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I was never accompanied on any patrol by a senior officer, neither my first or last. Some of those were contact patrols. I had a vague idea of how patrols should be run and made up the rest myself.

I think this was a lot more common than people think.

Chris Overland

Just great Bill.

The nominal restrictions on what CPO's or APO's were allowed to do were of interest to me.

My first two patrols as a brand new APO in 1969/70 were in the Kukukuku country north of Kerema. This area had been officially declared "controlled' only a couple of years earlier, but that control was still fairly tenuous at best.

On neither of those patrols was I accompanied by a senior officer, other than by ADO John Mundell for the first week of a 32 day patrol surveying a road between Kaintiba Patrol Post and Murua Agricultural Station.

John was recalled for some reason and I was left to my own devices under the wise guidance of the redoubtable Father Alex Michelod, who was helping survey the road.

The second time I was dropped off by helicopter at a remote mountain village in the same area to coordinate efforts to deal with the Hong Kong influenza epidemic of 1969/70. On that occasion I was accompanied by two very capable Medical Assistants and two experienced RPNGC constables.

The patrol was threatened at one point, being accused of working black magic and causing the epidemic which, in a way, was partially true. After all, if PNG had been left undisturbed, maybe the flu would never have got there.

Anyway, that was the only time I felt obliged to carry a loaded revolver (a very inaccurate .38 Smith and Wesson) and a much more dangerous .303 Lee Enfield Carbine. Happily, the threats amounted to nothing but it was, I think, an act of faith by DC Bob Bell to hope and believe that a very inexperienced officer would not get into strife.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that he was scraping the bottom of the proverbial staffing barrel to get the job done and an 18 year old novice was the only resource available to do it. There seem to me to be echoes of the situation at Telefomin in the mid 1950's in what happened to me, although perhaps I am drawing too long a bow in saying this.

In any event, it must have been contrary to policy to send me off alone, so Bob was taking a risk on me both surviving and not managing to do any harm as well.

So, I guess not as much had changed since the opening up of Telefomin even 15 years later.

Barbara Short

Thanks Bill. It made me tired just reading it all. What an extraordinary time for TPNG.

I have posted your account on various Sepik Facebook Forums... including the Telefomin Forum, so will wait to see what sort of comments we get.

I collected various great photos from the region, usually taken by geologists or other mining people but my computer crashed and I may have lost them. Will have to go and see if they are still there.

Ian Hollingsworth

Great to know the history at Telefomin. I knew Oksapmin,Tekin, Bimin as an agricultural officer. Was Tony Friend the last expatriate district officer in Telefomin?

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