Failure to honour agreement causing tremors on Bougainville

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 23 – Anti-mining tensions escalate at Barapina


023 map 4KJ new


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – My senior officer, Assistant Director Tom Aitchison, was back in Port Moresby from Bougainville and Patrol Officer John Dagge and I had negotiated with landowners for CRA to install two new drills at Kokorei.

I was catching up on Sub-District affairs, working from the office in Kieta, as well as spending at least two or three days each week at Barapina with Dagge and his small detachment of police.

I had secured the posting of Inspector of Police Clem Henney (Footnote 1) in Kieta by making my house available and moving up to Max Denehy’s house on the point.

A uniformed officer was required to manage the increasing numbers of police deployed to the Kieta Hotel on weekends. Many of the 500-strong CRA workforce flocked to the bar around midday each Saturday and there they stayed: black Bougainvilleans, redskins (other Papua New Guineans, mainly Highlanders) and whites and brindles from all corners of the globe.

All were single men and on their time off they had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do except get drunk and brawl, mostly across their racial groups.

Each weekend the skirmishes seemed the same. The Bougainvilleans – heavily outnumbered – were generally the first to withdraw but fighting continued between the redskins until the coastal elements pulled out. Late in the evening the Highlanders were still at it, the battles now between Chimbus and Hagens and all the other lines.  

The New Year of 1967 had brought other changes. John (JE) Wakeford was transferred from the Sepik to take over as District Commissioner, Bougainville, while in Port Moresby, former diplomat David Hay was replacing Brigadier Sir Donald Cleland as Administrator of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ((Footnote 2).

CRA had been revamped the previous year when the Bougainville prospect was made a stand-alone operation under Melbourne-based Frank (FF) Espie ((Footnote 3). He was supported in Melbourne by Project Manager Don (DC) Vernon and accountant and financial planner Paul Quodling. Meanwhile, Colin Bishop remained in Bougainville as Area Manager.

Brown - Frank Espie
Frank Espie

Tensions, and our wariness, were taken to a higher level by a series of Warden’s Court hearings in January. I avoided the two hearings on the west coast - at Boku and Torokina - that related to limestone and construction materials and were unlikely to create contention. But I needed to be present for the hearings at Kieta, Daratui, Pakia and Barapina that concerned the mining of copper.

At the Barapina hearing on 15 January 1967, the people from Moroni village told Mining Warden Hec McKenzie that they implacably opposed CRA’s plans to build an accommodation complex on their land to the north of Barapina Creek.

They were even more opposed to drilling anywhere on the right bank of the Kawerong River. Two old men, Dua Bouwaru and Dotanum Bakamori, said they would have to be killed before CRA could work on their land.

The people listened quietly as McKenzie provided his opening explanation. He would write down each person’s evidence in the words they used and send them to Port Moresby where the Administrator of Papua and New Guinea would determine the outcome.

To Dagge and I, it seemed part of a logical process. We knew the Mining Advisory Board would consider the evidence given before McKenzie in the Warden’s Court, and the Board would make recommendations to the Administrator.

We did not know, however, that David Hay, the new Administrator, would consult with Warwick Smith, Secretary for Territories in Canberra, before making his decision. He did so by telex on 1 February 1967:

“Mining Advisory Board has recommended extension of Prospecting Authority N07 covering 110 square miles [285 square kilometres] for term of two years. Minutes of meeting and text of Warden’s Court hearings forwarded by memorandum. … My intention is to determine the matter by accepting the recommendations of the Mining Advisory Board. Subject to your views, I would informally advise the Administrator’s Council to this effect on 4 February and would refrain from signing the determination until the Council had been so advised.…”

One particular paragraph of the Secretary’s response, telexed to the Administrator the following day, revealed Canberra’s attempt at spin:

“Suggest that if not already doing so and if legally possible you might consider adding to the conditions recommended by the Mining Board which would be helpful for presentational purposes such as obliging the Company to respect customs and traditional practices of the landowners and the people of the area to the fullest extent practicable consistent with carrying out programme of prospecting operations and requiring prior notice to, and agreement of, Administration to operations involving disturbance of people or land.”

Brown - Kieta Harbour
Kieta Harbour

Amidst the increasing tension, Assistant Director Aitchison made another brief visit to Kieta at the end of January but on this occasion he was not interested in visiting the Marists. He wanted to speak to Dagge and me, and also CRA.

I went with him to Barapina to meet up with Dagge and Aitchison told us of a new instruction from Canberra that we should observe immediately and meticulously. He said the documentation would arrive in due course:

“Each move to a new area is to be preceded by patient and persevering attempts by Administration officials over several weeks if necessary, to explain what is involved [and] the benefits.

“The actual commencement of operations in a new area will be preceded if necessary, by a formal attempt to explain the forgoing in writing, by loud speaker, and by word of mouth. If after these steps have been taken there is reason to think that new mining operations are likely to result in violence, … a final effort [should be made] by a top-level group (e.g. the Director of Lands, the Secretary for Law, and one or both the Assistant Administrators) to go through the procedures of explanation, advice and consultation again. The possibility is not ruled out of the Administrator himself visiting the area with such a group.…”

We wondered what we had been doing for the past eight months and whether time would stand still while we called for, and awaited the arrival of, the “top level group”?

Much later, we found out that the instruction had been formulated in our Department’s headquarters in Port Moresby (probably at Aitchison’s behest) then forwarded to Canberra. Warwick Smith, the Secretary for Territories, had made minor modifications, given it a tick and presto, the instruction had become Ministerial command.

On 15 February 1967, Canberra’s rehash of Aitchison’s handiwork was rebirthed as Circular Instruction (Footnote 4) No 2 of J.1-58 with the title, ‘Instructions and Advice to Officers involved in duties relating to prospecting, mining, and associated matters in Central Bougainville’, and circulated to all District Commissioners over Director J K McCarthy’s signature.

Dagge and I were gobsmacked. We had a Circular Instruction that seemed to apply only to us, a novel circumstance. We were not as surprised, though, by some of the gobbledegook that served as more spin and window dressing:

“The intention of the Administration is that the lawful operations under the Mining Ordinances should proceed without obstruction. … In the rare cases where this purpose is not secured our objective is to ensure that the Territory Law is upheld and that lawful operations proceed….

“In order to avoid unnecessary delays in the lawful operations of the Company, Administration officers shall use their initiative in seeking agreement on the spot. Much depends on their assessment as to the likelihood of group violence. Where it is the officer’s assessment that such resistance is not likely and where consequently he authorises a move by company personnel to a new area he should, in the event of unexpected opposition, give such police support as is necessary to ensure that the operation proceeds.”

I was soon being chastised for failing to obey the requirement that I radio “a weekly situation report to reach DDA headquarters by Thursday evening each week”. I soon learnt that “nothing to report” or “no change since last report” was unacceptable.  My bosses in Port Moresby had to have news to pass on to Canberra.

A couple of sentences in Aitchison’s report to Canberra about his brief, end-of-January visit to Kieta were also of concern:

“From discussions with DDC Brown and PO Dagge it appears that the situation is being held and there is no more than usual activity in the mining area.

“CRA’S Vernon and Bishop were advised of the [new] instructions given to Administration officers involved in mining prospecting development and associated activities. … Information given to press by government officers will be of a factual nature [and] only in relation to the work they are actually performing and personal opinions not to be expressed.

“Prior to these discussion CRA had been providing facilities to a pressman but Brown informed me that these facilities had been withdrawn by Bishop on Vernon’s instruction.”

I knew that an article by the journalist in question was about to be published in the Territory’s daily newspaper, South Pacific Post, and I suspected it might contain some of those forbidden personal comments. A three-page spread appeared on 15 February 1967 did indeed include a rendition of my words, preceded by the introductory, “This how Mr Brown sums up today’s situation on Bougainville”:

“The people of Bougainville are proud and independent. They don’t see eventual self-government as the creation of Papua New Guinea, but a creation of an independent Bougainville. Some of them would like to have an alliance with the British Solomon Islands where there are already some ethnic ties. The Bougainville Islanders differ in skin colour to all other Papuans and New Guineans – who they call redskins.

“Their isolation complex and their deep but understandable preoccupation with their land has created a situation where they refuse to believe anything, we tell them, or in fact anything which another Papuan or New Guinean tells them.

“All we can do as government officers is to talk with them, listen to them, and keep them informed.”

Brown - Central Bougainville hinterland
Crown Prince Range and Kawerong Valley

Those brief remarks would not win me any accolades. The bureaucrats in Canberra and the new Administrator in Port Moresby would be upset by the mention of an independent Bougainville. But this was to be the least of my worries.

More than one month had elapsed since the Warden had kicked off the first of the renewal hearings in Kieta on 14 January 1967. Each adjournment, the first to Barapina on 15 January then to a series of different villages, although well-intentioned had only increased the people’s ire. They did not like be told, again and again, how CRA intended to prospect (or, in their eyes, invade) their land.

The animosity to CRA’s expansion and increasing demands was at boiling point on 17 February 1967, the final hearing day for the renewal of Prospecting Authorities 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 – another 332 square kilometres.

McKenzie wanted the proceedings to be held on the flat land in front of ‘Mushroom Castle’, the house at Barapina, so the people could gather and hear what was going on.

Dagge and I had other ideas. We located his table and chair about 60 metres from the house where we would be close enough to keep an eye on the proceedings but far enough away not to be swamped by the crowd if there was any trouble. After all, we were responsible for the Warden’s safety and well-being.

For the first and only time in Bougainville, I issued live ammunition. But I gave one clip of five rounds to one person only, Senior Constable Yimbin, together with precise instructions: to load all the bullets into the magazine of his rifle.

If trouble flared up, and if I gave the command, he was to fire one shot well over the heads of the crowd and into the escarpment on the opposite bank of the Kawerong. If one shot did not stop the fracas, I would run forward with Dagge accompanied by the remaining 12 constables who carried unloaded rifles. He, Yimbin, was to fire over our heads as we ran. It was a precarious plan without any fallback.

The CRA team (Area Manager Colin Bishop and mining engineer Frank Paholski) stood in front of the table and gave their evidence. Port Moresby solicitor Cyril (CP) McCubbery assisted them as did Don Barrett, a Member of the House of Assembly, who CRA had employed to act as their interpreter.

Bishop and Paholski droned on for about 90 minutes reciting the company’s good intentions and achievements. At the same time, the people crowded round shouting their opposition to CRA’s intrusion.

They yelled their repudiation of the mining law, and they disparaged and rejected the authority of the House of Assembly and of the Australian Government. On several occasions Warden McKenzie suspended proceedings and threatened to abandon them.

Speaking later about the event, Chris Rangatin, an ABC radio reporter based in Port Moresby but originally from Lemankot Village, New Ireland, said:

“Things became a bit heated. Some of the young men began moving towards Barrett … asking him who he was … what right he had [to be] at the court. Had he come to help the Government tell more lies and take their land? One man walked close to Barrett and shook his fist in his face. I edged back out of the crowd. I was worried. Some of the men had bush knives.”

Journalist David White’s description of the event in the Sydney Morning Herald was more explicit:

“As McKenzie walked up to the Barapina patrol post he saw about 200 Nasioi people [from Guava, Irang, Kokorei, Moroni, Musinau and Pakia villages] gathered for the hearings. He also noticed an ominous sign: There were no children and very few women present. He knew that this generally meant that the villagers were expecting trouble or thinking of making some. It would not be an easy hearing. …

“The Nasioi crowded in under a canvas lean-to … and clustered around the table at which McKenzie sat. … The formalities necessary at the opening of the hearing were barely over when the Nasioi displayed their first flash of anger. Two young men stepped forward and denounced the hearing. “We are the owners of this land” one of them, Anthony Ampe from Guava village said in pidgin. “You do not belong here. CRA must go.” ….

“McKenzie quickly called for order, “There will be no interruptions of this Court. I will hear the applicant first then [I will] hear you,” he said firmly. This was one of several tense moments at the hearing. … Three CRA officials gave evidence for the first 90 minutes. … But the crowd appeared unmoved by their recital of past and future accomplishments. …

“Then a young man, Damian Damen of Irang stepped forward and he clearly was to be main spokesman for the opposition. … His impatience to state his case was shown when he was asked to swear on the Bible that he would tell the truth. Not understanding initially, he put his hand on the Bible and made an oath that CRA must leave the area immediately.

“Then reading from an obviously carefully prepared list, Damien gave seven reasons why the Company should leave. … For an hour after Damien finished evidence, seven other Nasioi people spoke and all except one were resolutely opposed to the presence of CRA. Gregory Korpa particularly spoke with great heat and even called on the mining warden to hold a vote at the hearing to decide whether CRA. should go or stay. He was told it was for the Administration (sic), not the mining warden, and certainly not those at the hearing, to decide the fate of the CRA application.”

The Mining Advisory Board considered the evidence presented to the Warden and made recommendations to the Administrator. The Administrator renewed CRA’s Prospecting Authorities 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 for a further two years. Once again the people had been asked to give their views; once again they had been ignored.

Barrett commented on the hearing when he called on Administrator David Hay in Port Moresby on 24 February 1967:

“The people in the area objected to seeing strange faces, for example Mr McCubbery’s presence was not welcome. There were some signs that the people of Panguna are prepared to see the minerals mined. The fact that they agreed to give evidence was important. The Company had not known of the use of local women by Company officers. The complaint had been made to the DDC. The Company should have been notified immediately.”

I thought his comments fatuous. I was not the custodian of public morals and I did not report to the company. And I was surprised that he did not seem to realise how close we had come to violence.

Only McKenzie, Dagge and I seemed to realise how knife-edged that hearing had been. Senior Constable Yimbin was more phlegmatic, asking how could we expect otherwise. We were essentially battling two adversaries: not only the landowners but also CRA.


(1) I assume that 34-year old Inspector Clem (CI) Henney was specially selected to fill the spot left vacant by Sub-Inspector Alan Craig's removal five months earlier. Henney was noted not only for his acumen and ability, but he was also understanding but firm. Clem's wife, Myee Elliott-Smith in her single days, had worked in the District Office in Wewak in 1955 when her father was District Commissioner

(2) The Territory of Papua and New Guinea was renamed as the Territory of Papua New Guinea on 1 July 1971 with an emblem and a new flag to match the new name

(3) I first met Frank (FF) Espie in July 1966. He was roaming on his own on Guava ridge above Panguna. I met him many times, but even on that first occasion he was ideas were different: he was interested in “what was right” not “who was right.” 

In September 1966, Espie told Canberra that Administration’s proposal to muzzle debate in the House of Assembly on Lapun's amendments to mining legislation was the wrong way to go. It would be better to discuss them fully and openly. “We seeking to set up a democratic government and it’s wrong to emphasise Australian views too strong on questions like this when the people have other ideas of their own.”

Espie was born in 1917 in Burma, when it was still part of the Indian Empire, and enlisted while a student at Adelaide University. He served as a Captain in the Middle East and New Guinea in World War II. Espie was appointed Director of BCL in 1969 and Chairman of BCL in 1979. He was awarded an OBE in 1971 and appointed Knight Bachelor in 1979

(4) Circular Instructions were the Departments policy directives and formed a section of its corporate memory. Circular Instruction No 1 dated 7 January 1946 laid out the Department’s filing system, Circular Instruction No 2 dated 16 February 1946 decreed that Resident Magistrates in Papua were renamed District Officers and Divisions would be known as Districts. The first bound volume of Instructions ended with No 192, published 9 December 1953

Notes on images

[Map] CRA’s Prospecting Authorities, Central Bougainville, 1967

[1] Frank (FF) Espie

[2] Looking south-west from the Assistant District Commissioner’s house across Kieta Harbour and the passage between Tautsina (Pok Pok) on the left and the mainland (St Michael’s Marists Mission, Tubiana) on the right (Bill Brown)

[3] The Crown Prince Range and Kawerong Valley (Bill Brown)




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John Dagge

The timing of these particular chronicles is exquisite. Set for October with "your man" Bertie at the “head of the force”. Hopefully the present day locals will get to read this.

As always the detail and the captured mood is flawless. Memories and the anti-bureaucratic angst are surging - I’ll have a red and settle down.

Phlegmatic indeed - after a rain soaked visit to Gregory Korpa's hamlet and rebuttal of anything we had to offer, we trudged back down followed by a few women haranguing - Sepik Senior Constable Yimbin in his broken English remarking, “Black bastards”.

Mark Davis

What a magnificent and important rendition.

Chips Mackellar

Superb story, Bill. With reference to your description of the 500 strong CRA workforce who flocked to the bar each Saturday with nothing else to do except get drunk and brawl, I remember when I was the District Court Magistrate at Kieta. One Sunday morning I was strolling around Kieta. A police land rover stopped beside me and the Australian uniformed police officer asked if I could hear a bail application. As it was a Sunday, I was dressed like most Aussies off duty there on such a day, T shirt, stubbies and thongs. I told the officer, "I am not properly dressed for a court appearance." The officer said, "You are not propely dressed, Sir? You should see the defendants. They were all covered in vomit and piss and shit till we hosed them down." And he explained that the cell was so overcrowded with CRA drunks that they had all rolled around on the cell floor covered in each others vomit and urine and faces, so that to prepare them for their court appearance, the police had to use fire hoses to hose the now sobered drunks clean. "Then we lined them up in the sun to dry them off, Sir," the officer continued, "so if you are ready we will bring them up to the court house now." So with as much decorum as I could muster when clad only in T shirt, stubbies and thongs, I presided over a solemn bail application by the most mottley collection of disreputable defendants you migh ever see at one sitting. But at least they were then clean.

Chris Overland

Thank you once again Bill for a marvellously detailed explanation of what was really happening at this critical time in Bougainville's history.

Once again, you are pointing to some obvious lessons from history for those now advocating to restart mining at Panguna. Whether they can or will be heeded is likely to have profound implications for any nascent independent state and PNG more generally.

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