TUMBY BAY - The last batch of Australian kiaps in Papua New Guinea was appointed in the early 1970s. They were the tail-enders of a fraternity that shared a working experience that was decidedly uncommon in modern times.
As a loose cohort they continue to share camaraderie through continued interaction at reunions and other social events and through social media, where they interact on their own website and through other social media sites like PNG Attitude.
A significant majority of them maintain an abiding interest in Papua New Guinea.
There’s nothing unusual about that, people with common experiences tend to be drawn to this kind of sentimentality and nostalgia and often gather together to remember and celebrate their past and discuss what has happened since then.
What is unusual about the old kiap’s endeavours however is the nature of that shared experience and the continued relevance it has to the place where it occurred.
There are, of course, other groups that worked in Papua New Guinea, teachers, agricultural officers and the like, but they very rarely had the all-encompassing experience of governance that the jack-of-all-trades kiaps had.
Many of the old kiaps would argue that there is a real and untapped value in their comprehensive experience that could be put to good use if those in power were prepared to listen.
That the powers that be and potential recipients of this potentially rich bounty resolutely fail to even acknowledge that such a resource exists is a continuing matter of chagrin for many of the old kiaps.
The operative word here is ‘old’. Even those tail-enders from the early 1970s are now reaching their final decades. Their use by date is visible on the horizon.
The reports of deaths of ex-kiaps is now a regular occurrence; not many months go by without another making their final journey to the patrol post in the sky.
Whereas such passings were once greeted with surprise, the responses now have a hint of the inevitable about them.
A casual enquiry from one kiap to another about the state of their health these days usually gets a response something like ‘still vertical and breathing, how about you?’
History is replete with the incidence and unpleasant consequences to societies of ignoring the wisdom of their elders.
It begs the question, why does society insist on burying its wisdom over and over again?
And make no mistake, wisdom does come with age.
As people age they tend to reassess their lives and experiences over and over again in a process similar to the trendy de-cluttering of houses so popular among the neo-materialists.
This constant refining and shedding of the superfluous, irrelevant and inconsequential, both intellectual and physical, results in some pretty clear thinking about what is important in life and how best to achieve it.
But if you’re an apparatchik in Canberra why would you listen to a bunch of old beer-sodden colonial farts?
Or if you’re a politician in Port Moresby why would you listen to a bunch of old white male colonials?