The long, sad history of cunning plans - & the implications for PNG
US government slams PNG for failure to combat people trafficking. Children as young as 10 being forced into prostitution

Kiaps, national service, Vietnam & military adventurism


An Australian patrol officer with Biami people in the vicinity of Nomad patrol post, 1964

TUMBY BAY - In late 1964 Australia passed the National Service Act. The Act required selected 20-year old men to serve in the army for two years, followed by three years in the Army Reserve.

The Act was amended in 1965 to allow conscripts to serve overseas. The following year the prime minister announced that national servicemen would be sent to Vietnam, where a ferocious war was being fought, to serve with regular Australian army units.

Those eight years when conscription was in force were stressful and confusing for many young men of eligible age, including those in the Territory of Papua New Guinea who weren’t really sure whether they had to register or not.

Young Australian men who were living overseas didn’t have to register. Papua was an Australian territory so young men working there were technically not overseas while New Guinea was a United Nations trust territory and young men there were technically overseas.

When I turned 20 I was in the Western Highlands so I wrote to the Department of Labour and National Service to enquire whether I was required to register.

By the time I got a response I was in the Star Mountains in Papua. Did this change the situation?

The twice yearly ballots to select those who had to undergo national service involved a lottery style selection, complete with a barrel and marbles. If your birthdate came up you had to enlist, if it didn’t you missed out.

The results of the lotteries were kept secret for a long time. If I had enlisted I would have been in the seventh ballot and the secrecy didn’t end until after the eleventh ballot.

We had heard rumours that a couple of kiaps had been called up and that there were attempts to get a general exemption for the rest of us but I don’t recall ever receiving any firm advice about this.

At the time I didn’t have any opinion about whether the war in Vietnam was just or unjust but I did have an opinion about Australia’s involvement in military adventurism and expressed this in my letters to the department.

I later took part in an anti-Vietnam War march while on leave and this hardened my attitude to the war and conscription in general.

In late 1969 I eventually got a letter from the Department of Labour and National Service telling me I did not need to register. No reason given; maybe the rumour about the general exemption was true. Maybe Port Moresby had just forgotten to tell those of us living on remote patrol posts, who knows?

As it turned out, even if I had registered, my marble hadn’t come up in the ballot. It was close but not close enough.

I suspected that even if it had come up I would have been deemed medically unfit because I had flat feet. Which would have been a bit ironic because there I was hiking through the rugged Star Mountains with policemen and carriers who also had flat feet.

In 1973 the newly elected Labor government, which had fiercely opposed conscription, moved quickly to abolish the system.

There is an interesting addendum to this affair. My son left university and joined the army in the mid-1990s, serving in Timor before being selected for officer training at Duntroon and subsequently serving in Iraq.

At his interview for Duntroon he was presented with copies of my old correspondence with the Department of Labour and National Service and asked what he thought. I hadn’t told him about them or their content and he was surprised. He must have given the right answers however.

He left the army after 10 years and by that time our views on military adventurism and the reasons why it happens were pretty much the same.

Unfortunately Australia still seems to poke its nose into wars that have very little relevance for us.


Our editor informs me that his marble was drawn in the ballot for what would have been the first draft of boys born in January 1945. So, it seems, did the marbles of most boys born that month.

The government must have been pretty worried they’d discover a lot of young Australians with flat feet.

By the way, Keith also wrote to Canberra from his outpost in the PNG Highlands to ask if he was eligible to join the forces anyway. He was told that, living in New Guinea, he was not so entitled. Like me, he was soon demonstrating against a war he had come to believe was not one Australia should have been fighting.


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

Philip Fitzpatrick

This subject is still trending on the Ex-kiap website.

Jim Moore posted an interesting account of his experiences today and I thought it is well-worth reproducing here.

The current bastardy being perpetuated on unsuspecting Australian citizens by Mutton Dutton and his PNG Citizenship Unit seems to be an extension of a nasty and confused streak long ingrained in Canberra.

"I was required to register for national service in mid 1965. Memory does funny things, I came to believe over time I had never been told by L&NS that my marble came out. A later letter dated 22 Aug 1972 from Philip Lynch, then Minister for L&NS states I was so told. Further, that I would have been called up in early 1966, but that I had left Australia in November 1965, without their permission, to go to TP&NG. My contract was dated 8 November 1965, and our course arrived in Moresby early December 1965.

In earlier years, I probably would not have been opposed to the concept of national service per se, though I would have taken umbrage at Minister Lynch’s characterisation of it as “…based on the cardinal principles of universal liability and equity between registrants.”

I still have most of the correspondence relating to my argument with L&NS, there is much to and from Minister Lynch, then-ALP Opposition members of Parliament, L&NS and various other groups. Some of the earlier material I obviously did not keep.

I learnt in Minister Lynch’s letter of 22 Aug 1972, that because I was in a training role as a CPO in 1965, I was deferred from call-up while that training lasted. I was to tell L&NS whenever I returned to Australia. I did so when I returned on leave in 1967. When I was due for leave in late 1969, I went to Europe and did not return to Australia. I got my passport from the High Commission in Port Moresby, not from an Australian-based Office.

This was not, I recall, an attempt to avoid national service, but in the preceding years, the Vietnam war had not gone according to the US plan. The My Lai incident, and the extensive reporting of what was occurring on the ground had certainly changed completely my views of Australia’s involvement. So, I went to Europe, with the honest belief that my marble had not come up in July 1965.

In early 1970, while in a restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland, I overheard a conversation at the next table, where a uniformed American army officer was telling his female Vietnamese companions that he felt no sympathy for the people of My Lai, because “…they deserved what they got.” I have never in my life come so close to carrying out an unprovoked assault on a perfect stranger.

(Incidentally, the Aus passport I travelled on then gave my status as “Australian Citizen and British Subject”. After imbibing too much one night, I decided I was not a pommie, so I crossed out “and British Subject”. Defacing a passport was, and is, a hanging offence, but there must have been a closet republican running the Passport Office in Moresby, because I was given a new one with the same status in December 1971 with no questions asked.)

I returned to TP&NG from Europe around April 1970, and was at Baiyer River in the Western Highlands. Out of the blue, I received a letter dated 13 Nov 1970 from L&NS in Adelaide, telling me to advise them when I was returning to Australia, so I could be called up. There was no way I was going to join the Army, so I made inquiries of our HQ as to whether the Administration had any view on staff being called up. On 11 Dec 1970, HQ wrote to the Crown Solicitor in POM asking what the Administration’s position was. On 7 Jan 1971, I got a reply from HQ that enclosed a letter from the Public Service Board stating;

“It is regretted that this Office is unable to offer any advice in this matter.

Mr Moore registered for National Service in 1965 (as he was legally obliged to) and is legally obliged to attend for National Service Training if and when he is called up”.

There was nothing to indicate whether that was based on Crown Law opinion, but I have to presume it represented the Administration’s official stand.

I was again told by L&NS on 18 March 1971 to tell them when I was returning to Australia. My resolve to stay out of the Army grew as time went on and I could not see any way out of my dilemma. So some time mid-late 1971, I wrote out my resignation, ( I didn’t keep a copy) intending to go back to Europe and do who knows what. I sent it to the DC, expecting it would be sent on to HQ.

After a few months, I had heard nothing, so I asked what had happened to it. Mick Foley was acting DC at the time, and bless his heart, he told me he had just put my resignation in the safe, and not actioned it or sent it on. He gave it back to me to tear up. Because I had kept District Office informed of events, he knew all about my problem,. Mick never told me why he had done that, but I always owed him a huge debt of gratitude. Because I was still employed, I was able to sign a second six-year contract.

So on 6 Feb 1972, I went on leave, flying QANTAS from Port Moresby-Hong Kong-London. I stayed in UK and Europe until I got the point where I thought, I have been away from Australia for four and a half years, I am sick of it, I am going home come what may. So I left England on 17 July 1972 to come home. Dates are all from stamps in my old passport, that I still have.

I got engaged in Adelaide in September 1972, to be married in April 1973. Our wedding plans were certainly on shaky grounds – would I be in jail or on the run on the proposed date? The notion that I might actually fail the medical apparently never occurred to me.

I left Adelaide to go back to TP&NG on 28 September 1972, having been transferred to West New Britain. I subsequently got a copy of a letter from Assistant Minister for L&NS A.A. Street, dated 16 Oct 1972 stating that on 30 September they had tried to contact me in Adelaide to tell me to come in for a medical, but that I had already left.

Because I had left without their permission, they wanted to prosecute me, but settled for telling me on 30 Oct 1972 to attend a medical in Lae on 12 December 1972. On 2 December Whitlam won the election, National Service finished with the stroke of his pen, and on 5 December 1972, I got a telegram, not exactly saying sorry, but granting me “…indefinite deferment.”

So, my experience of National Service as it affected kiaps in TP&NG was that if one had to register before leaving Australia to become a CPO, then L&NS would try to pursue you. This was obviously different from staff who arrived in TP&NG before the date they would have had to register.

The other point that appears obvious from my experience was that the Administration didn’t have any view that kiaps were performing a service to Australia that at very least matched any service to Australia they could have performed in the Army.

I wonder how many senior officers would have done something like what Mick Foley did for me. Not actioning my resignation greatly changed the course of my life – I have no idea where I would have ended up if he had forwarded it."

Jim Moore
Kiap 1965-74

Philip Fitzpatrick

Here's another thing.

Before becoming kiaps we had to swear an Oath of Allegiance on the Bible or an Affirmation of Allegiance.

Mixed up in this were various Oaths of Office, including one for the RPNGC.

I can't remember what else we signed up for but someone has suggested that there was something to do with the Naval Reserve thrown in there. The logic was that in the event of another war we'd be needed as coastwatchers.

Is this just my friend's imagination at work or is it true. Or was it something that was more related to ANGAU?

Because if we had some sort of ex-officio rank in the navy we were already in the military and shouldn't have been called up for National Service.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You would have thought that somebody in the Department of Labour and National Service would have thought about what to do with the blokes in TPNG.

Judging by the responses so far it appears that this is not the case.

Or maybe they thought that pursuing all the recalcitrants in TPNG wasn't worth the bother.

I haven't got copies of my letters to them but they were along the lines of "if you want me, come and get me". Coupled with my Olsobip c/- Star Mountains, Western District address.

I know that the Security and Intelligence Branch in Port Moresby were involved in something related but when I did time with them before returning to Olsobip they didn't mention anything.

All a bit of a mystery.

Ed Brumby

My number came up in the mid-1965 ballot during my second year of teacher training at ASOPA. Fortunately, because the (highly commendable) policy of the day stipulated that three years of successful teaching was required before training was considered to have been completed and certification was endowed, my induction was deferred for three years.

Three years hence, having barely thought about the prospect of being conscripted and while on leave in Sydney, I visited my former landlady who presented me with an envelope which had arrived only the previous day and which contained a demand to attend a pre-service medical examination.

Being vehemently opposed to the American war in Vietnam and our role in it, and having no desire whatsoever to serve in the armed forces, my immediate response was to consider the various ways I could avoid or evade such service.

Being the coward that I am, my first thought was to fly back to PNG - where I was due to assume Keith Jackson’s role at the Education Department’s Publications and Broadcasts Branch – in the (vain, certainly) hope that Army authorities would leave me be and/or I could argue that I was already serving the Commonwealth overseas and could, therefore, be released from the call-up obligation.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and I undertook the medical examination, just four days before I was due to fly back to POM.

By this time I’d resolved that, if conscripted, I’d apply to join the Education Corps in the hope that I could secure a posting to join other nashos teaching within the PIR, preferably at the Moem Barracks in Wewak.

That resolution proved to be unnecessary when I telephoned the Army medicos the next day and was told that my service would not be required and that I was free to return to PNG.

No explanation was forthcoming, despite my requests, and I was left wondering whether I’d failed the medical and, if so, why.

A visit to our family GP on the way back to POM confirmed that, apart from slightly elevated blood pressure – in itself no good reason for failing an Army medical, I was in robust health.

I never did receive any official notification about my release from national service. Perhaps, as Phil and Keith said, there was some kind of unspoken exemption for those of who were serving in PNG.

Rick Nehmy

I contacted Labour and National Service and was told that I would have to register and not leave the country until the ballot was over.

I then spoke with a contact in Crown Law and was subsequently told that, provided I left Australia before registration opened, I would not have to register.

That date was the 21st, our batch left on the 18th. I advised L&NS accordingly (without mentioning Crown Law), and they reverted with advice that they had spoken with Crown Law and I was OK to leave before the 21st.

My Crown Law contact then called to tell me that it was he who had spoken with L&NS!

There were 38 in my batch (plus another joined us in Port Moresby). I have a vague recollection of a 40th at Sydney airport being arrested for trying to evade call-up.

It seemed that a later edict excluded all eligible young men legitimately working in PNG from the ballot. Subsequently there appeared to be a remarkable influx of young Australians to the territory, but that was probably coincidence - KJ

Bill Brown

Everybody wasn't so lucky. Tony (AF) Huelin Cadet Patrol Officer at Maprik and Dreikikir 1964 -1966 died on 3 January 1969 as an acting Sub-Lieutenant flying a helicopter on operations in Viietnam.

Chris Overland

My marble rolled out of the barrel not long after I arrived in PNG.

Despite having already served in the CMF for some 15 months prior to going to PNG, the Department of the Army wrote to me telling me that, upon my return to Australia, I must register for national service within 14 days.

I didn't and my failure to do so either was not noticed or regarded with indifference.

Lucky me - no Vietnam.

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.)