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Kiap days: The ballad of the Wantoat - Leron road

Chips Mackellar
Chips Mackellar


TUMBY BAY - There were very few kiaps who didn’t have a big sense of humour. This was understandable.

They had been given the monumental task of bringing Papua and New Guinea to self-government and eventual independence on a mean shoestring budget grudgingly doled out by the bloody-minded mandarins in Canberra.

Most kiaps managed to keep their private opinions under control and only discussed them among themselves. This internal dialogue within the ranks was often tinged with a heady mixture of humour, scepticism and cynicism.

And among the ranks of that august body of field officers there were those who excelled at quick and pointed repartee.

There were many targets but particularly the letters, memos and reports they had to prepare for their superiors.

I must admit I indulged in this pastime myself. But while despatching patrol reports written in rhyming couplets gave a certain satisfaction it tended to limit one’s opportunities for promotion.

I never got close to Malcolm ‘Chips’ Mackellar however. He could sneak up on headquarters with a seemingly innocuous missive that only bit them when they tripped over it.

On other occasions he could be more direct.

Here is an example in his own words…..


The occasion was a meeting in the District Office at Lae to discuss the proposed road from Wantoat Patrol Post in the mountains behind Lae, to Leron on the coastal plain.

I had pegged out a properly graded route up the mountains, but as there were no funds to build a major road, I told the local Council (of which I was the advisor) they should as time permitted and with voluntary labour, construct a walking track along the route, and that when funds became available this track could be expanded into a vehicular road.

This was the way we had built roads in the Highlands when there was no money: first a walking track, than a bicycle track, then a motorbike track, then a four- wheel drive road, then a full vehicular road.

Of course it took a long time from track to road. But that was the way we did it, when there were no funds.

The member of parliament for this part of the Morobe District was Tom Leahy from the famous Leahy dynasty. He wanted the road built quickly to service his constituents, and for good reason he was not happy with the slow pace of construction.  

So one thing led to another and a conference was called in Lae, chaired by District Commissioner Ron Galloway. Also in attendance was Deputy District Commissioner Graham Hardy, Senior Local Government Officer John Biltris, Julian Lee a Public Works Department engineer, a local planter named Spreag ( I have forgotten his first name), and also the Wantoat kiap. 

The conference was a waste of time because there were no funds to build the kind of road Tom Leahy wanted, and in any case the terrain was subject to landslides so extensive buttresses would have been required. 

So taking all things into consideration, I was told to report back to the Council advising them of the result of the conference, and of my advice on how to proceed with the road construction.  

I was asked to supply District HQ with a copy of my advice to the council.  So I did, and I attach a copy of that advice here.

However, I have to tell you that like Saint Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians, there was no reply.  


There were Messrs Galloway, and Hardy,
And Tom Leahy from the House,
And Simpson down from Wantoat,
And Spreag the former scouse.

Came Julian Lee from PWD,
And Biltris from the pub,
All politicians, technocrats,
Or kiaps from the scrub.

Our task was pure and simple,
To decide what sort of load,
Should eventually traverse
The Wantoat - Leron road.

But Spreag confused the issue,
By declaring kiaps lazy,
With insults, threats and loud abuse,
And arguments plain crazy.

The issue then became obscured,
And logic soon was lost,
And a decision made to build the road,
At enormous senseless cost

Within a year it will collapse,
To a narrow walking track,
And no amount of shovel work
Will bring the road then back.

This decision does not bind you,
And I suggest you do not heed it,
But build instead a walking track,
And expand this when you need it.

Pay no attention to demands,
As to what should be the mode,
But do whatever you think best,
On the Wantoat - Leron road.


The outcome, of course, was predictable.

In Chips’ own words, “And then I was transferred to Menyamya”.


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Lindsay F Bond

Stella fella, Mackellar.
Phil, in telling too.

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