Australia abrogates responsibility in Pacific neighbourhood
Following years of neglect, a road brings hope to the Ambum Valley

After a long & adventurous life, Des Martin OL dies at 92

Des Martin
Des Martin awarded the PNG Order of Logohu by consul-general Magdalene Moi-He


SUNSHINE COAST - Dad passed away peacefully at the Buderim Private Hospital  at six o’clock this morning, 1 February, after battling a relapse of the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he developed in 2016. He was 92 years of age.

We were with dad while he was in hospital and are deeply grateful to Dr Shavaksha and the nursing staff who ensured his comfort to the end.

Dad had a great life. He enjoyed a wonderful and loving marriage to Pam (deceased), our mother and the love of his children and grandchildren, son and daughter in law.

His formative experiences were as a young soldier in Papua New Guinea during World War II, then with the fraternity of kiaps in that same country and subsequently with his colleagues in ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

He had a deep respect for the men and women who shared his journey and the friends he made during his life.

Mum and dad moved from Canberra to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland in the mid-1980s and enjoyed their retirement there.

Dad faced the end of his life with the strength of character he showed during his life, with calm and composure. One of his greatest gifts to us was to love and respect our mum, Pam with whom he is now reunited for eternity. Daresay he will be having a few words with the man upstairs who took him earlier than he wanted.

Private funerary arrangements have been arranged in accordance with dad’s wishes. Rest in Peace, Dad. Shan and I are deeply grateful to those who maintained contact with dad over the years and particularly while he was in hospital during his last days. It gave him strength.



Des was an occasional contributor to PNG Attitude over the years and a number of his observations remain as gems, especially the last reminiscence I have included in this series….

“Looking back to those faraway days when I was the ADO Kiap at Ambunti in 1960-63, I had a liklik dokta [medical assistant] whose small hospital provided excellent medical facilities to local people and medivac by air to base hospital in Wewak for those needing advanced treatment. Seems that things have gone downhill a bit since then” (2014)

“Phil Fitzpatrick was unfortunate to have been posted as a cadet under the irascible Tom Ellis. Tom was either greatly admired or greatly hated by those who served under him. Indeed some were afraid of him.” (2014)

I respect Mathias Kin for his efforts to seek out the history of his people. He should try and get hold of a book with the strange title of ‘Not a Poor Man's Field’ by Michael Waterhouse. The main theme is the history of the search for gold in New Guinea (not Papua) in the 1920s up to 1942. It covers in depth the murders of miners and their workers and some kiaps and police and importantly the aggressive attitude of the New Guinea Administration of those days. The policy was retaliation and attacks on patrols were countered with lethal force and there is strong evidence of punitive expeditions to get the message across that attacks on government patrols and miners would not be tolerated.

“The situation was different in Papua and immediately post- WW2 there was tension between the Kiaps posted there and those in New Guinea. The old pre war Papuan kiaps, the Resident and Assistant Resident Magistrates, disliked their NG counterparts and even as late as 1956 on my first posting to Papua after three terms in NG the pre-war Papuan who was DC at the time took me aside and to my astonishment warned me against using New Guinea style administration methods now I was in Papua.” (2014)

“Bill Brown’s reports in PNG Attitude are read with interest by all of us old kiaps and the latest chapter on Dreikikir brought back memories of my time there. I don’t know if, when Bill were at Dreik, he saw my Patrol Report 1/51 when I ventured well down south of Mai Mai following reports of tribal murders. I found that the occasional patrols pre- and post-war had only penetrated the main tracks and villages and discovered I was well into uncontrolled territory where no previous contact had been made.

“The main characters doing the killing were from a Yilui group paying back attacks made weeks earlier by another group from Eismala. I was a bit late, a day or so behind the Yilui, then bumped into them when the raiding group was resting. Arrows were fired before they fled. I assumed at the time the Yilui were returning from a raid but found later they were on their way to attack the Eismala group.

“When I arrived at Eismala the next day, I found a number of bodies on the track obviously killed while fleeing the scene and many more with arrow wounds with the shafts broken off. Others who had fled the attackers came back when I arrived but were suffering PTSD and were no danger to the patrol. A number were badly wounded and could not have survived but there was nothing I could do to prevent their suffering.

“I also found that the Yiluis had been accompanied by warriors from other local groups. When I moved on and arrived in the Yilui area after seven or eight hours walk, the patrol was attacked by a large group. As one of the police later told his mate, “Spia bilong benarra pundaun olsem rain” [the arrows fell like rain].

“I ordered the police not to open fire and Sergeant Nemo and I rushed forward and tackled the fight leader dodging arrows as we did so. I fired my pistol into the ground which startled the fight leader who was attempting to fire at Nemo and me. We handcuffed him and his mates ran off probably because they had not seen a kiap or police before. When we entered the area and set up camp, friendly relations were established particularly as the fight leader found we were not going to kill him.

“The area was actually in the Aitape Sub-District but, as I had received the report of tribal fighting, I followed it up. As I reported to headquarters via Rup Haviland, the Assistant District Officer at Maprik, I was unable to make arrests as too many scattered groups were involved and there was no way the area could be controlled until a patrol post was established. Headquarters agreed as it was policy not to try to prevent tribal fighting unless the locality was under government influence. No departmental staff were available at the time so the status quo remained until Nuku was opened a couple of years later.

“I might add that the police, carriers and I were totally exhausted after three weeks of wallowing around in swampy ground. Those were the days.” (2017)


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

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Thanks Des for your contributions to the growth of PNG during those formative years. May you rest in eternal peace.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think this was the last post by Des on the exkiap website on 10 December last year:-

"To all those Kiap brothers enjoy a happy Christmas and trouble free 2018. This 92 year old is still battling on; driving, cooking doing the laundry an acting as a volunteer JP one morning a week. The only thing going for me is that anywhere I go I am always the oldest. All my WW2 mates have passed away and I guess my Kiap brothers are catching up.

Not ready yet for the last patrol and flying to Sydney on the 22nd for a family Christmas.

God Bless you all and stay well

Des Martin

service 1949-1966
Lae, Finschhafen,Dreikikir, Kokopo, Baniara, Esa'Ala, Ambunti, Dept .of the Administrator. Joined Commonwealth Service October 1966"

Bill Brown

Des, You and I were lucky. We were privileged to meet incredible people and to enjoy the most wonderful of times.

Wherever you are travelling now, continue to enjoy and embrace it. Just watch that door, and keep it open; some of us are treading on your heels.

Salutations. Travel Well.

Paul Oates

When Sue and I visited Des in hospital he had his son and daughter with him. We both knew the end was near. We shook hands and looked each other in the eye and said farewell.

However it was not goodbye and as Bill Brown said to Des recently at the November 2017 Kiap Konvention at Kawana, whoever goes first can keep the door open for the others.

See you later mate. Lukim yu bihain.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)