BILL BROWN MBE
THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES, early 1966 - It took the Assistant District Commissioner at Kieta, Max (MJ) Denehy, more than an hour to drive from Aropa to Kieta town, and we were tossed and shaken about as we followed the water-filled wheel ruts winding through the plantation's coconut groves.
Ten kilometres further on, the flat coastal section of the road seemed to have been hewn from cliffs of volcanic rock that had flowed into the sea aeons ago. We picked up speed on the graded stretch that passed the Toboroi Plantation homestead where Mrs Francis Kroening and her married son Bruno resided.
The Marist Sisters House soon appeared on the right followed by the Marist Brothers High School at Rigu and then St Michael's Church at Tubiana.
Finally, we crossed a small bridge and drove into Kieta town’s commercial hub - half a dozen corrugated sheds, trade stores owned by Wong You, Yee Sui Kin, Joe Tak Long (whose real name was Joseph Fook Wing Yee) and Joseph Seeto (aka Black Joe).
Denehy talked a little as he drove but pointedly ignored my questions about CRA’s prospecting problems. I found it strange that the people on the roadside looked the other way as we passed. Where we had come from, even complete strangers always waved, smiled and called out greetings.
The family and I spent several nights in one of the nine bedrooms in Bruno Kroening's hotel. The single-storey structure was built on a concrete slab and had fibro walls and a corrugated-iron roof. It seemed to be more renowned for the liquor bar than for the quality of accommodation or the cuisine.
Early in the morning on the day after our arrival, I strolled along the foreshore to the Sub-District Office where I was welcomed by the beaming smile of the blue-black Mark Nabuai from Buin. As other staff drifted in, I realised the office set-up was rather strange.
At one end of the building, the petulant clerk, Fred Mortimer, controlled the post office and the bank. Patrol Officer Andrew Melville and the two Cadets, Roger (REH) Dargie and Bob (RW) Gregory, sat at tables in the central room.
Agricultural Officer Bob Tevlin and his assistant Clement Ona shared the area at the rear, and the quasi-police station – with its own separate entry - occupied the right-hand back corner. There was little or no privacy.
I wondered how many people were listening in to the conversation as Melville told me about CRA’s operation in the Crown Prince Range, and how opposition from local villagers had brought prospecting to a virtual standstill.
Later in the day, when Denehy said my first task would be to update the Common Roll, I rebelled and told him that he should advise headquarters that I refused to obey his instructions.
Maybe I was bloody-minded but I did not think I had been flown 1,500 kilometres by special charter to undertake a mundane task relating to the 1968 elections - an event two years away. (In the Maprik Sub-District, where the population was roughly three times that of Kieta, it was a job I had given to Cadets to finish in their slack time.)
I don’t know how the Administrator, Brigadier Sir Donald Cleland, became involved but his intervention ended the impasse between Denehy and me. Cleland telegraphed his instruction to the Bougainville District Commissioner on Wednesday, 27 June 1966. He telegraphed a copy of the instruction to Denehy and to me:
During Mr Denehy’s visit to Headquarters, an official application on the Panguna land dispute was lodged with the Chief Lands Commissioner. Mr Kimmorley is proceeding to Bougainville to conduct the Hearing.
Any other land disputes within the prospecting authority held by CRA should be brought to the surface as quickly as possible so that payments flowing from the amended mining legislation can be made. To assist in achieving this, Mr Brown should spend as much time as possible in the field. This will give him the opportunity of contacts with the people and help in disseminating information on Administration policy on mining matters.
Mr McKenzie, Mining Warden, is proceeding to South Bougainville and will be available for consultation with European staff and the Bougainville people generally.
The CRA problem is to be given priority over all other work in your District. Mr Denehy should maintain his good relations with the Kieta Council, and handle the CRA problem generally. Mr Brown was posted to your District to strengthen field contacts in the CRA area, and his energies are not to be dissipated on Census and routine matters.
It is important that CRA is able to proceed with their exploratory work in a normal way, and every effort must be made to ensure this is made possible.
Not to be left out, District Commissioner Mollison added largely fatuous comments to the Administrator’s instruction and mailed the composite document to us.
Mollison knew that the people objected to CRA’s intrusions and he knew they feared the destruction of their most valued commodity - their land. But he seemed oblivious to the enormity of the problem and out of touch with reality:
This directive from His Honour which is clear and precise should be carried out precisely. Neither of you are involved in the Census collection and Mr Brown, with advice and any assistance necessary from yourself, owing to his recent arrival in the Sub-District, should commence his field work without delay, and make every effort to achieve results as desired above.
The Company is still in the exploratory stage and may be for a considerable time and the people should understand this, and also the fact that, even so, owing to the amended mining legislation, as soon as the land disputes are settled, monetary benefits can flow to the rightful landowners at once.
It is important, therefore, that harmony be restored and that CRA be able to carry out its exploratory work in all of the three or four areas it desires
One disadvantage their field teams might have is their Australian employees have come direct to the Guava and would have no understanding of the people or even be able to converse with them. If so, perhaps interpreters could travel with such teams to interpret between the party leader and anyone whom they should meet.
A lot can be gained by a friendly approach and good comradely relations in such outback parts. Care should be taken too, not to disturb any native property of value or significance to them….
So, in my view, it is best to keep the immediate task in perspective and to work for the success of the exploratory stage, achieving harmony in relations, and through the settlement of existing land disputes, enable the people to obtain the monetary benefits from the amended legislation.
Denehy became a different person after he received the Administrator’s directive. He knew he was in charge and shook off all his previous reticence. He discussed what he termed “the localised opposition” to CRA, and talked about the different attitudes in Bougainville, in Port Moresby and in Canberra.
He pulled the confidential files out of the safe and gave them to me to read and warned me that CRA had the Territories’ Minister’s support and the ear of the Australian Prime Minister.
Denehy and I agreed that, after I had unpacked and settled my family into the allocated house, I would move to Guava village near the prospecting activity. But then there was another delay.
Months earlier a regular police officer, Sub-Inspector Allan Craig (an Englishman with police experience in the United Kingdom, Kenya and Rhodesia before his arrival in PNG in 1962) had assumed control of the newly-created Kieta Police District.
That re-organisation relieved Denehy of the responsibility for law and order in a minuscule portion of the Sub-District - an area of foreshore perhaps two kilometres long stretching from Chinatown to the native hospital - but it gave Craig control of the Sub-District’s 15 native police.
He said that he was not interested in the Administrator’s instructions or priorities and he could spare no constables to accompany me to Guava. Within a few days, someone, possibly the Police Commissioner, had changed Craig's mind.
It would have taken 10 minutes to fly in one of CRA’s helicopters to Guava village, near the CRA activity, but I did not want the people to assume that I was a CRA employee.
With two police constables (not the four Denehy and I thought were necessary) and a dozen or so volunteers borrowed from the station labour line to carry the gear, I travelled in the Administration’s five-ton truck to Arawa Plantation, then 10 kilometres up the Bovo valley to the end of the road. That was where the foot slog began.
We climbed steadily up the bush track to Kupei village before the tortuous scramble began. The police constables took one look at the way ahead - muddy steps cut into an almost 900-metre vertical escarpment - and removed their boots and socks, knowing they could climb better with bare feet.
We trudged and scrambled upwards through a forest of moss-covered, dripping trees, crossed the 1,300-metre crest of the Crown Prince Range and slithered down the western slope to Guava village. We arrived just before nightfall. I hadn’t climbed real mountains for 15 years and it had been a long hard day.
Guava village nestled in a hollow, protected from the wind. The village rest house, which would be my abode for months to come, perched in isolation on a 900-metre high shelf. The wind whistled through every crack and crevice in the bush material building. The house inside was bare and very cold.
The sun had been up for few hours and the morning chill had eased by the time the people from the village walked up the hill. They gathered in front of the rest house, on a narrow shelf of hard clay ending at a cliff edge.
In the valley far below, the forested Nagovisi plain extended west into the far distance - ending at the blue waters of Empress Augusta Bay.
I told the people about the changes to the mining law and how it now provided for landowners to be paid occupation fees and compensated for damage. I also explained that the CRA geologists had the right to prospect and that the landowners did not have the right to deny them access.
Their response was vitriolic. The people were not interested in financial compensation. They were dismissive of the changes to the law. They repudiated the right of the House of Assembly to make laws about mining or ownership of minerals on their land. And they totally rejected the notion that CRA prospectors, or anybody else, had the right to enter their land.
The discussion became more heated the following day when people from three nearby villages - Musinau, Irang and Kokorei - joined the group.
The Musinau villagers were bitter about punishment handed out to the five men who had chased CRA intruders off Musinau land. Denehy had sentenced the Musinau men to a month in gaol.
Martin Mirintoro said that when he had been shown the huge open-cut mine at Mount Morgan during a CRA-sponsored visit to Australia, he had asked how it would compare with Bougainville and had been told that the Panguna hole would be much larger.
When asked about Minister Barnes’ February visit to Kieta and Panguna, they said that they had no interest in what he had to say to Kieta Council, or to anybody else. They owned their land and they wanted the company to leave it immediately.
I quickly learnt that when a man’s eyeballs suffused with blood, his anger was rising to boiling point. Some of the men emphasised their arguments with machetes—gesticulating, waving, thrusting them in my face.
(I was chided by a constable for turning my back and walking away from one such incident. He said that if he had not interposed himself between the ranter and my retreating back, my blood would have flowed—and that would have been the end of us all.)
Those morning discussions were worthwhile, and I was prepared to repeat them as many times as the people wanted. The afternoons were less fruitful. That was when most of the people went to their gardens, but Luluai Oni, Mathew Kove or another relative always appeared to talk with me.
Oni and Kove wanted prospecting to go ahead and were happy to spend time with me discussing land ownership and clan structures. They also improved my somewhat limited knowledge of the matrilineal system.
After more than a week of making the same arguments and listening to the same disagreements, it was time to visit the prospecting area. The track led down the spur towards Guava, branched off before the village, and followed another track, a five-minute climb, to the ridge overlooking the forested Kawerong valley.
There was another 20-minute trek down the other side of the ridge to Pan Flat where geologist Ken Phillips was ensconced in a clearing between Pumkuna Creek and the Pankiranku outcrop—his residence a large dwelling with roof and walls of local materials and a sawn timber floor.
(Geologist JE Thompson stated that he used the name ‘Pumkuna’ throughout his 1962 report “because of the precedence established by Dr Fisher in1936. He said that 'Pung’gana’ was the way the locals pronounced it and this was not far from CRA’s ‘Panguna’.” This was how Panguna got its name.)
Anthony Ampei, Damien and others were on my heels wherever I moved, and I had my first encounter with Gregory Korpa, spokesman for the large Moroni-Pakia group.
Gregory was adamant that CRA must leave Panguna. He said he had opposed the geologists’ intrusion from the outset and had told them that they were trespassers. He may have forgotten that Phillips and party had lived in a house in Moroni village for weeks as welcome guests. He may also have forgotten his August 1965 conversation with Arthur Marks – but more about that later.
I walked around the prospect for days, climbing back to the rest house at Guava each evening, invariably in pouring rain. CRA’s rain measuring instrument had a maximum scale of 4 inches (100 millimetres) an hour, but it often went right off the scale for brief periods.
CRA’s Ken Phillips, mining engineer Frank Paholski and drilling foremen Bob Reade and Peter Gaydon told me something about the company’s thinking – if you could call it that.
They said that if CRA was satisfied and went ahead, they might construct a large open cut mine or they might use the glory hole technique, where the ore was mined from underneath and dragged out through a tunnel.
They talked about a port, maybe on the west coast or maybe on the east coast. And if the mine was ever built, the access might be through an underground tunnel from Kupei or a road from Torokina on the west coast or a road from the east coast following the Pinei River. Everything was unresolved. No wonder the people were confused.
According to Phillips, in June 1966 when Anthony Ampei claimed “he was the owner of the land which comprised the central third of the ore body and on which three of [the] drills were operating and [CRA] were to stay off it forthwith,” Phillips “withdrew [the] drillers, suspended all work, advised Max Denehy and Melbourne office and suggested they come and sort it out.”
Phillip’s account differed from a report Administrator Sir Donald Cleland wrote to the Secretary for Territories in Canberra on 26 August 1966:
I understand that the situation as far as the CRA work at Bougainville is concerned they have eight drills working without let or hindrance and that they cannot extend their drilling until they can fly more drills in, and this will not be until December because they have lost their big helicopter and it will not be replaced until then.
The Administrator may have been misinformed. Three of the eight drills were idle when I visited Pan Flat at the end of July 1966; CRA had not operated them after Ampei demanded that they leave his land.
After two weeks operating from the rest house above Guava village, I needed a break. I wanted to see my family and needed to report to Denehy. I was now in better physical condition so the climb to the crest of the Crown Prince Range was less gruelling, but the long descent down the escarpment to the Bovo headwaters was a knee-jerker, and painful.
I typed my report on the Sub-District Office’s one and only typewriter and addressed it to Denehy. The people were not interested in any promises of financial rewards and their opposition to prospecting was intense. If it could be considered as good news, the people were still talking to me and they expected me to return after the weekend.
The Administrator quoted three sentences of my assessment in a report he forwarded to Canberra:
I regard the threats of suicide to be quite serious. I would like it appreciated at a Headquarters level that I feel suicides are probable. I also feel that we may have to use physical persuasion to remove people from drill rigs.
Responding to my report from headquarters in Port Moresby, Assistant Director TG Aitchison (1) asked did I need someone to assist me? I could have anyone at all. I only had to ask. And what else did I need?
I thought about his offer for a couple of days and decided I needed three things. Maybe I should have asked for more.
I needed company, someone to talk to and argue with—a sounding board—someone who could help. I also needed a radio transceiver (a combined transmitter and receiver) so that I could communicate with Kieta. And I needed a publicist.
In normal circumstances, I would have organised a police constable, or someone from the village, to deliver my messages to Kieta, but I did want to ask favours from the villagers and I could not spare either of the two constables.
Some A510 transceivers like those we carried in the bush at Telefomin would be ideal. I asked for three - one for my use, one for Kieta and one as a spare - and I asked for them to be set up with a frequency that would allow me to converse without the rest of Bougainville listening in.
I asked for Senior Constable Yimbin (2) to be plucked out of Maprik, ostensibly to take charge of my two police but to be my publicist. I did not want to wait months for the people to trust me or for the police to understand what I expected of them—or what they could expect of me.
In the 1960s, many village people could not read or write; news travelled by word of mouth and people gossiped.
Yimbin, a Sepik from the middle-river village of Korogo, was not garrulous, but at the evening meal around the campfire—at his storytelling best—he would talk about the Sepik, about himself and about me. He would not have to be told to do so, it would be spontaneous. We had known each other for ten years in the Sepik, and he knew the other stories: of the Goilala and of patrolling at Telefomin and in the wild country south of Kainantu.
I knew that a young Patrol Officer at Maprik, John (VJ) Dagge, would meet my need for company. I could discuss ideas, explore and argue options with him. I knew he was single, and I thought that he was unattached, but I was wrong.
Dagge had become seriously involved with the young lady - soon to be his wife - who was the East Sepik District Commissioner’s secretary. Perhaps that was why it took him over two months, until November, to get to Bougainville.
I think I surprised Denehy when I announced that on my return to the Guava, I was going to visit each village in the area and update the census. He was probably more amazed when I offered to take one of the Cadets along with me.
What we called a census was more a roll call. After all the people at each village assembled in family groups to have their names checked against the village book and I had talked to them, I would be confident that everybody knew something about the insufferable mining legislation.
Cadet Patrol Officer Bob Gregory (3) brought four more police constables with him when he walked in to join me on the census patrol. That increased my detachment’s strength to seven.
We set off on 28 July 1966, the local men carrying our gear as we moved from one village to the next. At each village, the women brought food (root vegetables) for us to buy. Nobody was unfriendly. They just did not believe anything I had to say about CRA or the mining legislation.
After two months of discussion, I was satisfied the people had heard and digested my explanations about their rights and the company’s rights, and, even though they did not accept the mining laws, they knew the fundamental aspects of the legislation.
At the beginning of September 1966, the men from Guava helped us shift our base from the village down to the prospecting area. It was time to move forward. CRA was applying pressure. They wanted the freedom to operate according with the law and their government-granted prospecting licences. I told the people that the drilling operations that had been closed on 2 June 1966 in response to Anthony Ampei’s demand were going to be reactivated.
The drill thought to be in the centre of the ore body would be the first as the test results from it might determine the future of the operation. It was located on Biuro, a piece of land recognised as being owned by the Kurava and controlled by Anthony Ampei.
To avoid creating the impression that the police had to occupy the site before CRA could operate, the drill team (two expatriates and three or four Bougainvilleans) took the kilometre-long level walk through the forest without an escort.
I followed them after a five-minute interval and six constables followed me, in groups of two, at similar intervals. The police carried unloaded .303 Lee Enfield rifles and had no ammunition.
Even though the operation on the 21 September 1966 was carried out without incident and provoked no opposition, I decided that I had had enough. Five days later, I wrote a tirade to Assistant Director Aitchison.
I told him I wanted out. I did not like the task that I had been given, and I did not like being separated from my family. (They had been living on their own in Kieta for three months and I had only seen them for a weekend at the end of each fortnight. Making things worse, during that time my four-year-old son had been evacuated to Rabaul as a medical emergency.)
In a further complaint, I pointed out that, when I was transferred, I had reverted from my Assistant District Commissioner position to District Officer, a move that had reduced my salary and probably prejudiced my chance of future promotion.
Finally, I queried why I had been transported 1,500 kilometres from the Sepik to Bougainville when two senior kiaps, Phil Hardy (4) and Bob (RW) Blaikie (5), who knew the people well, were based at either end of Bougainville - and only 30 minutes’ flight from the problem.
With nothing to lose, I told Aitchison I was determined to leave and that either Blaikie or Hardy could replace me.
But, in reality, it was a hollow threat. I had just returned from leave. If I resigned, I would have to pay the family’s fares back to Australia. I had nothing in the bank and could not just walk away from Dagge and Yimbin after I had dragged them into the mess. Yimbin was already with me and Dagge was on his way.
Two very important subjects, the Pankiranku land dispute and the Catholic Mission’s involvement, have been omitted from this chapter. I will write about these important matters as stand-alone chapters later.
Knowledgeable readers may also notice that details in my account differ significantly from those in Ken Phillip’s ‘Notes on early contact with Bougainvilleans in the early exploration phase, 1966 – 1964’ published as an appendix in Bedford and Mamak’s ‘Compensating for development: the Bougainville case’ (Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch New Zealand, 1977).
Bedford and Mamak undertook their fieldwork in Bougainville in 1973 and 1974. They published their book in 1977. Phillips’ notes were written as “comment on an earlier draft” in 1976, 10 years after the events they purported to describe. Errors suggest that Phillips may not have had access to records.
I note some examples of the more glaring errors here with my comments below:
“Mollison, the DC (District Commissioner) was virtually waiting for retirement and hoping we would go away and probably stopped a lot of Denehy’s reports ever reaching Moresby (Not for publication!)”
In 1965, Denehy reported to the District Officer Bougainville, Des Clancy. Clancy commented on those reports and sent them to the Director in Port Moresby. In 1966, Denehy was addressing CRA-related correspondence to the Assistant Administrator and the Director of Administration in Port Moresby and to the District Commissioner, Sohano.
“A new Bougainvillean arrived on the scene … Anthony Ampei. A young man who claimed to have been at Sohano with Bishop for the past two or three years … [he] turned out to be something of a religious/cargo cult fanatic who had been in the asylum in Port Moresby for the previous three years … and subsequently returned there where he still is.”
I do not whether Anthony Ampei came back to Guava from the Bishop’s establishment at Tsiroge (not Sohano), or if he had ever been away. The records establish that Ampei was in and around Panguna from 1966 to 1973 at least.
“W Brown was posted to Panguna by (Tom) Ellis as a hard-line kiap with explicit directions to get us back on the job with force if necessary but without bloodshed (my interpretation).”
The letter quoted earlier in this chapter establishes that I was transferred from the Sepik to Kieta (not to Panguna) by Director JK McCarthy (not by Tom Ellis). In 1966, Tom (TW) Ellis, District Commissioner, Western Highlands, based in Mount Hagen was not involved in Bougainville and had nothing to do with staff postings.
“Denehy was slapped over the knuckles…. Denehy was removed from having anything to do with Panguna and confined to Kieta and then transferred to oblivion in Samarai at the end of 1966.”
Denehy was promoted from District Officer to Deputy District Commissioner in June 1966. Most people would consider that a reward not a slap over the knuckles. He was not removed from having anything to do with Panguna, I reported to him. His posting as Deputy District Commissioner, Milne Bay, would have been envied, not viewed as a banishment to oblivion. Samarai was a highly regarded station.
(1) Assistant Director TG Aitchison, a pre-war patrol officer and District Officer in ANGAU, had been District Commissioner before taking up his role in Headquarters. He played an active role in CRA’s Bougainville affairs from 1966 until he retired in 1968.
(2) Sergeant-Major Henry Yimbin-Tamai was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 1977 Queen’s Silver Jubilee and Birthday Honours.
(3) RW Gregory, a Western Australian, was less than 20 years of age when he became a Cadet Patrol Officer in December 1965. He had only been at Kieta six months when he joined me at Guava for his first and only exposure to the CRA problem. Gregory completed his second term at Hutjena and Kunua in Bougainville and may have then resigned.
(4) GP Hardy was born in Port Moresby in 1923. He was a Captain in ANGAU during World War II and became a Patrol Officer in January 1946. Except for a period when he acting as District Officer Sohano, responsible for the Bougainville District, Hardy had been Assistant District Commissioner at Buin for six years in July 1966.
(5) RW Blaikie born in 1927 became a kiap in November1948 and served in Bougainville from November 1964 to October 1968 with four stints as acting DDC between 1966 and 1968.
Notes on images
Map of Central Bougainville in 1966 (Bill Brown)
 Joe Tak Long’s store, Kieta, 1960s. Joe’s wife, Mrs Pauline Yee is chatting with a Marist Sister (Kevin Wong)
 Wong You’s store, Kieta, 1966. (Peter Steele)
 Kieta Sub-District Office, 1966. (Peter Steele)
 Patrol Officer Andrew Melville, Kieta, 1966 (Bill Brown)
 Aerial view of the eastern fall and Mount Negro Head, Crown Prince Range near Guava. (Tiny Wendt, CRA)
 CRA Geologist Ken Phillips, Bougainville, 1965 (Patrol Officer Arthur Marks)