To challenge China's influence, Australia turns to rugby league
PNG legislators must – must – act against corruption

Kiap’s notebook - births, deaths, marriages & anniversaries

Robbins - At Ako
Doug Robbins at Ako with confiscated shotgun. The fighting sticks and club are from a fight over a coconut tree at Foru


SPRINGBROOK - Annette and I had been married for just two years when we went to Papua New Guinea in 1969.

During my induction course at Kwikila with 38 other patrol officers before we were assigned to unknown postings, Annette waited at home in Brisbane.

She arrived in PNG at the completion of our five weeks training and, after spending a night in Port Moresby, we flew to Popondetta five days after our second wedding anniversary.

Probably because I was the newest recruit at Popondetta, in the first few months I was given two burials to administer.

The first was still on the hospital operating table and I wondered if the relatives would blame the death on the white doctor and his knife.

Thankfully the deceased’s wantoks were nowhere to be seen and, with help from a native orderly, I lifted the body into the plywood coffin which Public Works had made and organised the kalabus [prisoners] to dig a grave.

This was a little unnerving because the cemetery plan held at the district office didn’t match what I was seeing on the ground.

Robbins - Ako Resthouse
Approaching Ako resthouse by canoe

Five weeks later, when I had to attend to the next burial, there were relatives present.

My field officer’s journal notes: “Organised digging of grave at cemetery. Went to Double Crossing (Ambogo) to pick up the body but the people had already left carrying him. Met them almost at the cemetery.”

What isn’t recorded is the frightful wailing of the approaching crowd. As a lone outsider and with no knowledge of the circumstance of the man’s death, I feared they might vent their grief on me, particularly if something was uncovered in the still unfinished hole.

Later that year, at the end of a long 31 day patrol, I was with Annette at Ako village in Dyke Acland Bay at the entrance of the fjord-like Tufi coastline.

We had planned to relax in this Robinson Crusoe setting as we waited for the workboat, Ubuna, to pick us up.

While on patrol, part way into a census, I had been told one family was absent because the mother had just given birth to twins at nearby Tumina village.

I asked for their names to add to the roll but they hadn’t been given yet. Of more concern, the mother’s abdomen was still swollen even though both placentas had come away and I was expected to make a diagnosis.

I tried to get Randolph Gangai our interpreter to go over (he had been a first aid orderly during the war) but he said there had been no pregnant women on the Kokoda Trail and, besides, a patrol officer was more qualified in these matters.

Sure, I had seen a film on childbirth during a first aid course at ASOPA in Sydney, but that was it.

I continued with the census, hoping the problem would go away, but it didn’t. I went across to Tumina by canoe in the late afternoon. There were two lovely pink babies but the mother was quite ill.

In a stern voice, I ordered the mangy dogs to be removed from the hut and the surrounding ‘mess’ to be cleaned up to get rid of the flies.

I then told people to prepare to go to Tufi at first light, it was a full day’s journey by canoe. Fortunately, the woman’s condition had alleviated by morning. So the ‘emergency’ was over.

Meanwhile, the Ubuna had broken down, so Annette and I set off by canoe next day and arrived at the station with cravings for toast – only to find the generator had been struck by lightning.

On our next anniversary, I was on patrol at Pongani and again, one year later, on patrol at a remote camp in the Didana Range with two new patrol officers.

The one after that I was yet again on patrol (could this be why we had been having trouble conceiving?) conducting an election for Tamata Council in the Ioma area with a trainee local officer.

On that occasion I decided to go home for the weekend. Leaving Kikinonda, I walked 1½ hours to Korisata Mission knowing they had a radio transceiver and sent a message for a government vehicle to come to Hurata, another 2½ hours walk.

Robbins - Tufi's Colonial kalabus in 2009
Tufi's colonial era kalabus (gaol)

The track was flooded and sometimes I found it hard to know which way to go. Then the Kumusi River ferryman wasn’t there so I took myself across. Arriving at Hurata with no vehicle in sight, I started walking along the under-construction Siai Road – exposed and hot.

At Togahau I unsuccessfully tried to acquire a villager’s lollywater and was soon was drinking rainwater from the gutter.

Reaching the Popondetta Road after walking 52 km), I hailed a PMV to Saiho Hospital where the Sisters plied me with cups of tea and offered me dinner, but I wasn’t hungry even though I hadn’t eaten all day.

Short of petrol and with a little hesitation, they had their driver take me to Kokoda, arriving at 8.15pm.

Next night was our anniversary. We went to a party at John and Helen Kienzle’s – I was totally exhausted!


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Lindsay F Bond

Administration? The thinnest spread of any availing relief would have qualities of mirage during that 52 km, and any oases of Australia's investments on governance only the appearance of billabong blips.

Admiration? If the folk of the now Oro Province fail to recognise the strides made by Doug, Annette and their colleagues, a reason would be found in the degree of daily drudge in endeavours of the indigenous inhabitants. No wonder the contrasting exuberance occasioning Oro adornment and dance, in celebration of continuity of life.

As to tenacity? Good to see your reminiscences, Doug. More, please.

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