The end of the benign Papua New Guinean 'Big Man'
But still my country’s beautiful

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 22 – Trapped amid landowners & bureaucrats


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – In late September 1966, CRA’s geologist Ken Phillips left for his New Zealand homeland, supposedly for a short holiday.

The gossip was that he was unwell and close to a stress-related breakdown. That may not have been true but if it was, I wasn’t very far behind.

Tom Aitchison, the assistant director of my department, had not replied to my letter in which I had told him in the strongest terms that I did not like the task I had been given and wanted out. I expected another officer to fly in unannounced to take over my job at any time.

Two senior kiaps, Phil Hardy and Bob Blaikie, who knew the people well, were based at either end of Bougainville just a 30-minute flight away.

There were frequent incidents involving the local people almost every day and I was experiencing the pressures that my predecessor Max Denehy had spoken about: CRA wanted to expand their operations at Panguna and beyond.

Three months earlier, Canberra-based Gerry Gutman, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Territories, had advised CRA that “District Officers would make close contact with the native people particularly in the Mainoki, Karato and Daratui areas to give them a clearer understanding of the value to them of the project to facilitate the early entry of CRA to the area."

If anybody had asked me what I thought of his idea, I would have said that he must be raving mad.

We had not gained even tacit acceptance from the people of CRA's drilling operation at Panguna, and I was resisting CRA’s planned intrusions into their other areas of interest.

I was certainly not going to become involved in negotiations at Mainoki, an eight-hour walk away, or Karato, which was even further south across the ranges.

The Mining Warden, Hec (HJ) McKenzie, walked into Barapina at dusk on 28 September to stay for a couple of nights. McKenzie was based at Wau but visited Bougainville when required.

On this occasion, he had come to adjudicate CRA’s request for permission to build a temporary access road (a four-wheel drive track from the coast) through Gregory Korpa’s pig enclosure on the hillside near Moroni.

We spent the evening talking and arguing about CRA’s problems as well as the mining law.  Next morning, we climbed up to Moroni village where he opened his Warden’s Court proceedings.

The village was perched on the brow of a very high bluff. It looked down into Barapina and it had a bird's-eye view over the Kawerong River valley and Panguna. The pig enclosure turned out to be huge—almost a paddock, palisaded and stocked with numerous pigs—and not owned by just Gregory Korpa.

It was a communal venture owned by families from Pakia and Moroni, and all wanted to be involved. Husbands, wives and offspring followed us back down to Barapina for the conclusion of the proceedings.

They seemed satisfied and happy when McKenzie decreed that the company build a 457 metre pig-wire fence where the proposed road would run alongside the enclosure.  They were even happier when he awarded them cash payments for the nuisance.

Perhaps it was not surprising that Gregory Korpa declined to accept the occupation fee. He said if he did, the company would prevent him from driving on the road when he obtained a car. Maybe he rationalised that if he accepted he would be acknowledging that CRA had the right to prospect on his land.

I don’t know whether it was because of my submissions to that Warden’s Court or because the Barapina house was close to the main track between the villages in the Kawerong and Pinei River valleys, but from that day on, I had a constant stream of people dropping in every day to talk. 

Gregory Korpa came down from Moroni almost every morning to discuss and argue about his problems. Anthony Ampei from Guava and Damien Damen from Irang made an occasional appearance, but only to rant and rave.

I told the company that I wanted a two-week interval before the second drilling rig on Biuro (No 39) was reactivated. Ampei’s hand-printed ‘tambu’ (keep out) signs surrounded that drilling rig just as they had drilling rig No 38 which had been brought back into operation on 21 September 1966.

I wanted the time to have leisurely discussions with the people about the company’s plans and what the law allowed. By the end of the second week, I was satisfied that the drillers and their Bougainvillean assistants would not need to be protected when they made the long walk through the forest to ready the rig on Monday, 3 November.

I would not be involved, nor would any of the police.  Nor would we be involved on the following day when drilling recommenced.

I was pleasantly surprised when, two days later, Pena (the Tultul of Musinau) and three other men from Musinau village recommenced their employment on drilling rig No 39. They had been willing workers on that rig until Anthony Ampei's threat had closed it down and public opinion had forced them to withdraw from CRA.  Now they were back, working one of the two shifts each day and returning home to the village to sleep.

Any good relations that I had managed to establish were destroyed on Tuesday 11 October, when dogs attacked and savaged the Moroni villagers’ pigs. The dogs belonged to members of a CRA geological team that was operating in another pig enclosure on the right bank of the Kawerong.

A 30-year-old geologist, Phil (PM) Macnamara from Naremburn in Sydney, probably received most of my wrath. Colin (CP) Bishop, who had replaced geologist Ken Phillips as Area Manager of the Bougainville operation, was also in the firing line. He and everybody within earshot of my tirade would have realised that I was very annoyed and not on CRA’s side.

During that tumultuous week, I received a reply from Assistant Director Aitchison dated 3 October 1966. The letter was addressed to “W T Brown, District Office, Kieta” followed by the salutation “Dear Bill” handwritten in ink.

That was the first time he had addressed me by my first name. On earlier occasions in the Sepik he had always referred to me as “Brown” or, even more disdainfully, as “Mr Brown”.

He wrote that Dagge (the Patrol Officer whom I had requested be transferred from the Sepik to join me) had not yet left but would soon be on the way. He “hoped that I could get down and see the family soon and that the drilling activities continued to go smoothly”.

Although the foolscap page of typing contained other platitudes and concluded “With kind regards to all at Kieta and of course your own good self and family, I remain … Yours sincerely ... T. G. Aitchison.” his signature failed to match the informal "Dear Bill" salutation.

The attachment, a copy of a letter addressed to the Assistant Administrator (Services), signed by Director JK McCarthy, was even more remarkable and liberally sprinkled with bunkum:

“Mr Brown was selected by this Department as the officer best able to meet the situation which has arisen … because of CRA’s prospecting activities. He is occupying the position of Assistant District Commissioner, Kieta at present … engaged in a most delicate task for which I have no other officer so well equipped. It is most likely that he will miss opportunities to act in the position of Deputy District Commissioner whilst engaged in those duties.”

The letter went on to recommend that I be paid a higher duties allowance to bring my salary to Deputy District Commissioner level.

I was not “occupying the position of Assistant District Commissioner, Kieta.” I was living in a shack at Barapina. I had a portable transceiver to report to DDC Denehy at Kieta, but I had nothing whatsoever to do with Sub-District affairs.  Nevertheless, from that time on I was given the ADC title and paid the ADC allowance.

According to the Staff Postings circular three months later in January 1967, I was still an Assistant District Commissioner but the Secretary for Territories in Canberra and the new Administrator, David Hay, were referring to me in correspondence as Deputy District Commissioner.

Patrol Officer John Dagge was delivered to Barapina by helicopter at the end of October 1966.  Around this time, the Snowy Mountains Authority's lead bulldozer made its appearance at Pakia Gap on the top of the Crown Prince Range. 

The SMA was building a ‘jeep track’ for CRA from the coast to Panguna using two heavy bulldozers. They had taken almost a year—from November 1965—to claw and clamber up the coastal side of the range, forming the rough track as they progressed.

Almost simultaneously the heavy rains began.  Over the next five months, from November to March inclusive, we copped 2,769 millimetres. Even by Territory standards that was a lot of rain. It seemed to pour down every afternoon and continue throughout the night.

Often in the late afternoon, Dagge and I watched the bulldozer struggling up and down the ridges. Far away in the distance, the dozer seemed to be alive as it pushed huge trees and boulders out of its path. We were sheltering undercover; the bulldozer operator and his surrounds were being drenched by teeming rain.

It took the whole of November and 19 days of December for the dozer to cut the track down from the Pakia Gap to Barapina. Dagge was on his own the day it arrived – I was in Kieta - but he described the event to me:

“The bulldozer clomped over the last ridgeline and came face to face with “micaceous schist”, which is unstable and turns to a soupy bog if disturbed. The operator buried the blade and then the complete machine much to the amusement of the hostile villagers who were watching his attempts to extricate himself from the soup.

“I watched the performance until the ‘dozer disappeared. A little later, I was confronted by the operator coated in the mud-like contents of the bog. He was furious and shouted that ‘he was snatching it and I could stick his job up where the sun did not shine. Anyone thinking they could build roads in this country was insane!’

“When I informed him that I was with the government and that he would need to tender his resignation to the company, a further stroll up the valley, he defamed my parents, cursed my indolence and departed spraying another torrent of abuse as he disappeared up the track towards Panguna.”

November had to be a quiet month, so I had been told. No incidents were to occur while the Member for Bougainville’s third attempt to amend the mining legislation was being debated in the House of Assembly. Paul Lapun had assured the House that the landowners at Panguna would be satisfied and that their opposition to prospecting would cease if they were given five percent of mineral royalties.

CRA had agreed to the Administration’s request to defer expanding their operations onto Kokorei land while the amendment was being debated, but when it was passed on 25 November 1966, they wanted to surge ahead without any more delays.

I described the situation rather bluntly in my very last report to Denehy on 3 December:

“There is a hardening of opposition as the destruction of the forest and the magnitude of damage to the countryside becomes more obvious; a closer alignment between the opposing groups of Kokorei, Guava and Moroni as each becomes more and more affected by the company activity, and there is an increased resentment of the Company and the Administration.

“The Company currently desires to locate the drill on Kokorei, to clear the road between Barapina and Panguna, to commence preparing a new camp area and gravel pit operations, to move drills from site to site within the area and to go about their business in the area at the current accelerated pace.

“Each of these activities will probably provoke an incident and could require police intervention.  … I strongly recommend that the Member be given the opportunity to explain his amendment to the people before further company activity, and Administration support of this activity can be used as an excuse.”

Denehy did not express an opinion but passed my report to Headquarters with a brief one-line comment: "Forwarded, please. I bow to Mr Brown’s reasoning.” He had other things to do: he was packing up his household to go on leave. I was taking over his role, but I would have to split my time between Kieta and Barapina where 25-year-old Dagge, a kiap with only five years’ experience, would be saddled with an unreasonable responsibility.

On Monday 19 December, CRA started to move a drill onto Kokorei land and the villagers stopped them from doing so. The villagers then called a meeting of the neighbouring villages. CRA’s management and I were summoned to attend.

Bob Read, CRA’s mining foreman, and drilling foreman, Peter Gayden, appeared in place of Area Manager Bishop who had left 10 days earlier to spend Christmas in Australia. Patrol Officer John Dagge accompanied me. There were no arguments or discussion: the villagers had already decided the outcome. The 60 people from the six villages at the meeting announced “There would be no more drilling! CRA must leave.”

In an endeavour to defuse the standoff, the CRA team arranged for Paul Lapun to be collected from his village by helicopter and deposited at Guava to reason with CRA opponents.  He talked about the amended legislation; he explained that the activities were exploratory; he spoke about the benefits they would receive if mining went ahead. He reasoned, cajoled and pleaded for five hours without success.

I told Headquarters the situation could develop into a major incident. In a separate communication, CRA Melbourne told Canberra that “after talking to the Guava people Paul Lapun had visited Panguna … There was no change in the landowners’ attitudes … Mr Brown had agreed to CRA proceeding with their drilling [at Panguna] and work on the East Coast road which had previously been held up through opposition from Kokorei people."

Some weeks later, Melbourne-based Don (DC) Vernon seemed to get sardonic pleasure in informing me how that message had been passed to Canberra. Vernon, the local Area Manager Bishop’s immediate superior, said an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Territories named Ahrens telephoned him frequently to check whether my reports were accurate. He implied that the Department was anxious to help CRA.

CRA closed down for Christmas on 23 December and Dagge and I went down to Kieta. He to meet Robyn Griffin, his wife-to-be, visiting from Wewak; I to catch up with my family and any outstanding matters left by Denehy.

I knew that Robyn was the Sepik District Commissioner’s secretary and I had envisaged a formidable dragon or a buxom Irish lady with green eyes, red hair and freckles. Robyn was neither. This lithe, dark-haired beauty with sparkling hazel eyes was about to turn 23 and very much smitten. I felt sorry for the Sepik District Commissioner. I thought he might need to find another secretary.

Dagge and Robyn had flitted off to the hills and I was enjoying the Christmas holiday break when an unexpected radiogram arrived from Headquarters. Assistant Director Aitchison was on his way from Port Moresby, flying in a chartered aircraft to Aropa airstrip.

He needed to visit Marist Bishop Leo LeMay and Marist Fathers Mahoney, Moore and Wiley; he also wanted to visit Panguna to talk with the village people. He was in a hurry. He wanted to travel by helicopter. Please meet and arrange!

Aitchison arrived in Kieta but told us very little. He said he had come to assess the Kokorei situation and he wanted to ascertain other facts. What was the attitude of the people? Could there be violence? Had the Marist priests played any role? He had to report before 3 January but he did not say to whom.

Although he was more amenable than he had been 10 years earlier when he was my boss as District Officer in the Sepik, he still concluded every discussion with his “see how clever I am” smirk. I sometimes wished he would emulate the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and gradually disappear, leaving just the smile.

Aitchison talked to a few people in Kieta then departed in the helicopter—a tiny Bell 47—to visit Father Wiley at Tunuru (on the east coast north of Kieta), Father Moore at Moratona (on the west coast) and Father Mahoney (at Deomori in the mountains west of Panguna).

He drafted his preliminary report when he returned that afternoon, and he wanted it sent immediately as two encrypted radiograms to the Assistant Administrator in Port Moresby. Despite Aitchison’s haste, the first message did not clear Kieta until 10.40 am on 28 December. The shorter, second message left 20 minutes later.

Two days of Aitchison were enough. We were glad to see him fly off to Buka Passage to visit Bishop Lemay at Tsiroge and the District Commissioner at Sohano.

I had taken Aitchison to Barapina for one-on-one meetings that Dagge had set up with Anthony Ampei (Guava), Damien Damen (Irang) and Gregory Korpa (Moroni). Aitchison had also spoken individually to the 13 members of the police detachment and to the CRA Area Manager. He told us nothing about those conversations.

We knew the Area Manager kept information from us, although he was supposed to tell us what was planned so we could inform the people. We expected better, however, from our Assistant Director. Dagge and I decided it was time to change the name of our Barapina house to Mushroom Castle. We were being kept in the dark and fed on bullshit.

The company resumed work 3 January 1966 and began moving the first drill onto the Kokorei site and preparing the site for the second drill. Dagge and I wandered around, providing a presence, until both drills were installed and operating: the first on 10 January, the second on 13 January.

There was no opposition to the moves. Drills and drilling were not new to the Kokorei people. Drilling had taken place on their land in early 1966, and 30 CRA employees still lived in the village. Nevertheless, I tasked some police constables to roam around in pairs at regular intervals as a precaution. As was the custom, they each carried a rifle, but they had no ammunition.

On 7 January, three days after the first drill was positioned, a radiogram arrived from Port Moresby:

“Aitchison’s directions 28th December to Brown and Wakeford now modified. Agreed CRA proceed drilling programme in Panguna grid area and Kokorei locality and road location and construction in consultation with Brown. Any police protection to be available to Company parties to allow them to proceed [with their] lawful occasions. Mining operations should not be commenced in new areas where opposition is likely pending further review.”

We wondered what had happened, what could have changed? The revised instruction permitted drilling on Kokorei land, but Aitchison knew that drilling had already commenced.

The company was now entitled to “any police protection … to allow them [to] proceed” Maybe the revision was intended to make us more responsive to CRA.

They could proceed with their program “in consultation with Brown.” Maybe CRA could now claim they were not at fault, provided I had been consulted?

Many years later we learnt the reason for the confusing message. The Minister’s bureaucrats did not understand the statement contained in a summary of Aitchison’s final report - 11 long pages of telex - sent from Port Moresby on 3 January 1967: “Drill grid or plan indicates two year’s [of] work on present rate [of] progress to complete and could continue within the grid area without interference.”

They wanted to know “the meaning of drill grid or plan, whether it referred to the Kokorei area only, and if the two years’ work related to Kokorei only.” They also wanted to know how many police could be moved into the area if difficulties arose suddenly, and “if additional police could be moved readily to area from other parts of the Territory if a show of force becomes necessary.”

The telexed reply on 4 January 1967 said that the drill grid was the drilling pattern overlaid on CRA’s map of the Panguna area, that the “grid area did not include the Kokorei land [but] only embraced the area immediately surrounding CRA’s Panguna operations; [that the] two-year estimate [was] ADO (sic) Brown’s based on the present rate [of] progress.”

He was referring to my contention that CRA should not provoke opposition by entering the Kokorei land while two years’ further drilling work was still outstanding around Panguna. He did not mention my even stronger objection to the mooted move on to Moroni land.

He also said that there were 13 police at Barapina under Patrol Officer Dagge, 12 at Kieta and 92 throughout Bougainville but argued that it would be “easier to re-enforce [Barapina] from Rabaul where well-trained riot squads are available. Forty fully equipped police can be carried in each aircraft and landed in Kieta in two hours.”

The telex concluded with a virtual recommendation:

“The general situation has not changed in the last six months. Ample time has now elapsed for implications on mining amendments to be understood by people but people unreceptive. CRA has co-operated fully in the last six months to avoid incidents, but we believe necessary now to ensure the company can exercise legal rights in Prospecting Authorities.

“Always a risk of incident but the risk of clash now no greater than when previously drills were moved into areas against the wish of some landowners. Believe delay in implementing drilling in Kokorei area will compound difficulties.”

That recommendation differed from all that had been said and recommended in Kieta on 28 December, as did the follow-up telex sent in the Administrator’s name on 5 January 1967:

“Aitchison issued explicit instructions to Brown and Wakeford incoming District Commissioner on 28th December that use of force cannot be allowed in regard to mining operations without explicit authorisation of Minister. Told that CRA should be so advised. Brown instructed to withdraw if physical opposition offered.”

I wondered how he defined the offer of physical opposition and I wondered, if there was opposition, whether our opponents would allow us to withdraw.

The remainder of January would have been relaxed, were it not for the series of Warden’s Court hearings to renew the prospecting authorities. Villagers, landowners, and anybody else who was interested were invited to attend and express their views. The hearings, intended to keep the people informed about what was going to happen, only made them more irate and annoyed.

I reported that it would take very little to cause an outbreak of violence in the Guava area. Warden McKenzie reported verbally to his headquarters that rumours were circulating that he and I were going to be attacked when we attended a meeting at Guava. The summons to attend the meeting, handwritten in Bougainville-style Tok Pisin and dated 23 January 67, was delivered to John Dagge at Barapina on 16 January:


Dear Mr Bill Brown and McKenzie

You mas kam long pode tokim mipela sam ting yu bin selim tok long mipela. Dispela graun no Australia Kantri belong yu, nau ino graun bilong CRA tu. Yu biket man tru na man bling tok nabaut. Yu gat rang pinis. Gavaman bilong yu em I stil gavaman tru, mipela ologeta saave pinis long yupela. CRA I mas go nau. Olreit em dasol dispel toke mi belong all pipal.

(sgd) Anthony Ampe

You must come on Thursday and tell us what kind of messages you have been sending to us. This land is not your country, Australia, neither is it CRA’s land. You guys are bigheads and talk nonsense. You are guilty of wrong, your Government is a very thieving government, and each and every one of us knows you guys. C.RA must leave immediately. Okay, that’s all - this is the unanimous message of all the people.  [Translation by Chris Warrillow]

Ampe’s note probably referred to the following Thursday, but on that day McKenzie would be presiding at the Warden’s Court hearing at Daratui. I was also required to attend. Although I suggested he nominate another day, I never received a reply.


(1) Hector James McKenzie, born in 1923 in Wycheproof, a tiny town in the dry and dusty Mallee in Victoria’s north west. Following service in the Royal Australian Navy, he joined the TPNG Administration as clerk in August 1946 and was employed in the Mining Warden’s office until Warden Percy (OP) Blanden’s untimely demise in 1954. Blanden must have taught McKenzie well. As Warden, he handled the complex Bougainville mining issues until 1975.

(2) Vincent John Dagge, born in Melbourne in December 1941, was also a boy from the Victoria’s dry and dusty Mallee. He had moved with his parents from Melbourne to Ultima, his father’s birthplace, as an eight-year old. According to Dagge, Ultima (80 kilometres north of Wycheproof) had a “population of about 120 all up, people plus dogs.” Like McKenzie, Dagge had joined the Territory administration as a clerk. He worked in the Department of Agriculture for 12 months before becoming a Cadet Patrol Officer in 1962, He was seven months into his third term and had been stationed at five Sepik outstations - Amanab, Imonda, Maprik, Yangoru and Ambunti - when transferred to Bougainville.

(3) Paul Lapun was born in Mabis village, Banoni, Bougainville in 1923. In 1966, he was a community leader and a politician, having easily won the seat of Bougainville in the first House of Assembly elections. He became the first parliamentary leader of the Pangu Party in 1967, patron of the pro-independence Napidakoe Navitu in Bougainville in 1969. He was Minister for Mines in the first Somare government from 1972 and was knighted in 1974.

(4) Bishop Leo LeMay was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA, in 1909 and ordained into the Society of Mary in August 1933. On 14 June 1960, he was appointed bishop of the Northern Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea. On 15 November 1966, he was appointed first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bougainville. He resigned on 1 July 1974 and died in 1983 aged 73

Notes on images


[Map] Barapina and Panguna, Central Bougainville, 1966

[1] Gregory Korpa at Moroni (J Martin-Jones, AFTVS)

[2] Colin Bishop, CRA’s Area Manager (J Martin-Jones, AFTVS)

[3] Paul Lapun, Member for Bougainville in the Papua New Guinea House of Assembly, 1966 (J Martin-Jones, AFTVS)

[4] John Dagge, Patrol Officer, outside Mushroom Castle at Barapina - the romantic era (provided)

[5] T G Aitchison, Assistant Director, Department of District Administration 1965 (Harry West)

[6] A Bell 47G helicopter, described as a balus bun nating [lit. skeletal bird] in Tok Pisin, on the ground at Torokina, Bougainville, 1960s (Darryl Robbins)


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