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What’s in a name? Recalling the nicknames of the kiap brotherhood

Bill Brown as a young kiap
Bill Brown as a young kiap in the 1950s

BILL BROWN | Ex Kiap Website

SYDNEY - A fellow cadet patrol officer, Vince Smith, introduced me to kiap nicknames during my first week at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in June 1949.

He found Michael Joseph Cockburn's name was too formal and renamed him Sizzledick. Not content with that travesty, a few days later he truncated it to Sizzle, a diminutive that we used with affection for more than 25 years.

ASOPA was no Ivy League college. We had no hallowed halls of learning but took our lectures in two refurbished mechanical workshops. We learned in one.

Next door, the old timers—the kiaps down from New Guinea to attend the first Long Course— toiled in the other and called their youngest member Thrasher. John Gibson epitomised youthful exuberance.

I thought those nicknames were pretty smart until I met some people in the commercial world. The manager of Mandated Airlines at Lae in the early 1950s, Harold Hindwood, knew and enjoyed his nickname of Timber Arse.

The boss of Burns Philp in Kieta in 1971, an Englishman, was not so sure about his moniker. Mr Breathing’s parents had given him the incongruous first name of Hartley. In Kieta, and throughout Bougainville, they called him Hardly Breathing, and they called his wife Scarcely.

Papua New Guinean members of the police detachment often gave nicknames to kiaps based on a physical characteristic.

A kiap who hobbled, or who had a poor gait, was often referred to as Scru i-lus; Kokomo had a prominent nose; Muruk had long, muscular legs; Kela was bald; those with a moustache or beard were inevitably called Mausgras.

Some of the nicknames were relevant only to one government station, but at least four transcended the bounds of every district.

Keith (JK) McCarthy was Makarti and Jimmy Hodgekiss was Masta Wiski. Ralph (RG) Ormsby was Big Bel for all his later years. The last of the four, Joe Nombri, relished his Mausgras sobriquet in 1964 but was still using it in 1978 in Tokyo when he was Papua New Guinea’s ambassador to Japan.

There were other enduring nicknames. District Officer George (GWL) Townsend acquired one when he worked behind the cashier’s counter in Rabaul in 1925, and he answered to the German title, Kassa, for the rest of his life.

Medical Assistant, Patrol Officer, District Officer, World War II coastwatcher, hotelier and finally sub-district office clerk, Eric D Robinson MC, pronounced his surname Wobbinson. He had a speech impediment and would have been known as Wobbie or Robbie when he enlisted and went to France with the 38th Battalion, AIF in 1915.

He was known as Sepik Robbie when he was District Officer at Ambunti in 1932; Robbie when he was the clerk at Angoram; and Sepik Robbie again when he died in 1961.

The origin of District Officer, later District Commissioner, Rigby’s nickname, Reckless Reg, was obscure even though it endured. Rigby was said to be ultra-conservative. Certainly in 1953 he kept the Sepik District’s only case of nails under the marital bed and dispensed them one at a time to outstation supplicants.

Kiaps tended to identify their confrères by their surnames, sometimes adding a diminutive. Corbett William Kimmorley was always known as Kim, but the logic ended there. Some diminutives were confusing: Bernard Raphael Corrigan was Brian; Virgil Baden Counsel was Bert or Bertie; William Andrew Lalor was Peter; and Fulton Clyde Driver and Herbert Percy Seale were both known as Bill.

There were at least three kiaps of very short stature. Two of them: Arthur (AT) Carey and John (JJ) Jordan answered to Shortie, but Dick Name-Withheld was not a Richard. His nickname was said to be related to the adage “Big man, big dick. Little man, all dick!”

In the expatriate community, JK McCarthy was often identified by his initials pronounced phonetically, Jay Kay. District Officer John (JJ) Murphy was Jay Jay; and Tom (TWE) Ellis was a severe Twee.

Ellis had other nicknames. In the Sepik, but never to his face, he was “Laughing Boy” because he seldom cracked a smile. And on the ex kiap website, Frank Martin noted: “Rather than his well-known nickname of 'God' I prefer to remember him as 'Uncle Tom' which we called him on the 1956 Long Course.”

In the 1950s, Bobby Gibbes labelled a sedate, gentlemanly kiap at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, with the not too subtle nickname Morphia.

Gibbes, a wartime RAAF Spitfire pilot with DSO DFC and bar, had a wicked turn of phrase. When one of his heart valves was replaced by a substitute from a pig, he maintained that his friends asked, “Do you grunt when you root?” And in his later years, when they asked, “How are you getting on?” he replied, “Infrequently!”

A handful of kiaps gained friendly, jocular nicknames. Algernon Brontislavus Besisparis was “the Beast from Paris”. Des (D) Clifton-Basset was “Junket Bum”. Jack (EJ) John Emanuel was “Sloppy Chops”. Allan (AF) Gow was “Ghostie”. Ted (EG) Hicks was “Pretty Boy”. Doug (DJ) Parrish was “The Black Prince”. Bill (WT) Tomasetti was “Commo Tommo”. And John Williams was “Screaming Johnnie.”

Derisive nicknames like “Argus the Boy Wonder,” “Bonehead,” “the Little Fuhrer,” and “Unfriendly Neighbour” were self-explanatory but some others were obscure. “Harpic” (from the name of a product used to clean toilet bowls) was around the bend; “Orbit” was in space or another world; “Pissed-on” was a corruption of one of John Preston White’s given names.

Common nicknames were also in play. Several Boots, Jocks, the prosaic Buck (Rogers), Chips, Doggy, Darkie, Dusty, and Swampy. Basher (O’Connell) and Fensep (Fenton) needed some explaining.

Are there stories behind those more recent nicknames: “Cockroach”, “Pretzel Legs” and “Tutu”?

What other kiap nicknames are out there? Who can add to the list?

Comments

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Althea Masi

My grandfather Paulus Munagun, a Sepik man, helped those fighting during the WW2 in Kokoda, Rabaul and in Kilenge, Salamaua in Morobe.

He was a teenager then, and along the way he made a pact with a certain kiap, Baker. From what I gather, my grandfather saved Mr Baker at Kokoda.

I would love to connect with Mr Baker so I could write a biography of my grandfather in honour of his loyalty, courage and bravery.

Please email me if you guys have any information amasi@alumni.dwu.ac.pg or communications@kokodatrackauthority.org

Geoff Hancock

Woodcock was always Timberdick. I got landed with Fingerdick.

Garry Roche

In Hagen area the name 'Dos' was an interpretation of 'George' - namely the kiap "George Greathead". 'Dembit' was how the name 'Chambers' was heard. (after the kiap Dalkeith Chambers). "Mick' often became "Mek" as in Mek Foley, and Mek Leahy.

Bob Cleland

Doing a census out of Watabung in 1954, I came across twins who a previous kiap had named Wiski and Soda

Philip Fitzpatrick

A Gebusi interpreter at Nomad River in the 1960-70s was called APC (A-pee-see) - Australian Petroleum Company.

How many men in the Wahgi Valley were called Akis?

Daniel Kumbon

While the kiaps were giving nick names to their comrades, Engans were naming their new born sons with names like - Balus, Bulu (aeroplane), Tela (Taylor), Kiap (patrol officer), Dokosa (Doctor) Misin(Missions), Kakapoe (carrier, servant), Kusa (salt), Skulin (School), Bal (ball), Bali (red skin) etc...

The infant girls were given names like Misis (Expatriate woman), Sol (Salt), Bulim (aeroplane) etc...

Philip Fitzpatrick

A certain individual in the Western District was known as Peter Pan - the boy who never grew up. No names, no pack drill.

Richard Jones

This isn't related to PNG except in an obtuse fashion.

At the Bendigo Advertiser in the seventies - a paper run by former Post-Courier managing editor Doug Lockwood - we had a sports journo named Warren Barker.

Not surprisingly he was known to one and all, footballers and netballers alike, as Rabbit Dog!

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