GOLD COAST - Henry Thoreau (1817–62) wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”I was once a kiap and from my experience, kiaps mostly were those types who, if they lasted longer than the first couple of years in the service of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, did march to a different drum.
And the people of PNG knew this. Phil Fitzpatrick recently referred to the highlander who told him kiaps were ‘narapela kain man’, that is, misfits.
My own experience of being recruited as a junior kiap by the then Australian Department of External Territories was that the process was slanted towards selecting suitable young men as assessed by senior public servants who hadn’t successfully undertaken the role.
My later experience with Defence Force Recruiting told me that the final say should have been given to experienced people who had been there and done the job.
What we ended up with after the External Territories kiap selection process was a collection of ‘possibles’ who our ASOPA training and two years field experience would either vindicate or weed out.
When we met in Moresby at our Magistrates Course after three years in the Territory, we found that half our number had disappeared. Would selection and retention have improved if there had been a final interview with some crusty old District Officer or District Commissioner? Husat isave?
I do remember at ASOPA, the former District Commissioner Fred Kaad introducing us to then Speaker of the PNG House of Assembly John Guise, who told us PNG didn’t want us.
Guise had his own experiences and I later learnt how he had been treated and why he probably felt the way he did.
But certainly at the time it was a slap in the face for those of us who thought we could offer something positive to help the people of PNG.
Sure, we made mistakes. However I believe it’s fair to say we also learnt from the mistakes of past colonial administrations elsewhere in the world and, given the short time we had and the lack of resources, we didn’t do a bad job.
It depends on what yardstick one uses to measure achievements but I suggest Australia wasn't a terrible colonial power. Compare our country’s role to the Indonesian takeover of West Papua or the excesses of the Belgians in the Congo and other less benevolent colonists in Africa and Asia.
Even the British, as arguably a more enlightened colonial force compared with Belgian, Portuguese, German and Dutch colonisers, had many credible detractors.
A couple of Papua New Guineans who, due to the initial establishment of a remote base camp and the primary school that followed, obtained education qualifications and are now professional people, told me:
“You planted the seed and now the tree has grown tall and strong.”
Another person from the same area said:
“You lit the fire and we’ve kept it burning.”
That’ll do me. Stepping to the music.