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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 24 – An unwelcome call to Canberra

Brown map BougainvilleBILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – It was early 1967 and John Dagge and I knew something must be in the wind when District Commissioner Wakeford advised he was sending Ken Hanrahan, the Assistant District Commissioner of Buka Sub-District, on “a familiarisation visit to Panguna before the Karato exercise.”

Karato, Mainoki and Daratui were the three areas of mineralisation that Conzinc Rio Australia (CRA) said it needed to test before deciding whether Panguna was the best site to mine.

Mainoki was eight hours’ hard walking from Panguna and Karato was even further into the hills. The people of both villages refused to allow the CRA teams onto their land.

Ken (KJP) Hanrahan (Footnote 1), based at Hutjena on Buka Passage, was responsible for the northern end of Bougainville and had nothing to do with Karato, which was in the Buin Sub-District.

John (JE) Wakeford had been in Bougainville for only five months, after being transferred from the Sepik in November 1966 to take over from District Commissioner Mollison who was considered too old. (Wakeford was actually the older of the two but he had shaved eight years off his age before joining the Territory Administration in 1946.) (2)

Immediately after Hanrahan visited Panguna, he and Phil (GP) Hardy - Assistant District Commissioner, Buin Sub-District – set out on a joint patrol of the west coast to assess the people’s attitudes to CRA.

Their expedition would have been made at the Administrator’s behest and, on 30 March, Administrator David Hay advised Canberra that Hanrahan and Hardy had reported widespread opposition to prospecting in the whole area between Torokina and Boku.

Brown pic 1
Ken Hanrahan, 1967

In a private communication, Hanrahan said:

“.... the north Bougainville people did not oppose the Panguna mine; they welcomed the employment opportunities it offered. In the south of the island, the people's attitude to the Panguna mine was very negative. Our talks and explanations were invariably greeted with a sullen response.”

Some of that negative reaction may have been deliberately provoked. On 9 March 1967, Don Grove, the Administration’s Secretary of Lands, Survey and Mines, made a long statement to the House of Assembly that was designed to gain the support of the elected members - and of the outside world.

Brown pic 2
Patrol Officer John Dagge in 1966. John shared many of these exploits with me

Grove attacked the landowners opposing CRA’s prospecting activities at Panguna, suggesting that those who opposed the company would deprive Papua and New Guinea of massive financial and flow-on benefits:

"The people in local villages are challenging the right of this House to make laws to enable prospecting and mining of the mineral resources of this Territory to proceed if they do not wish …. [CRA] will need to enter the three other anomaly areas [the areas of copper mineralisation] of Mainoki, Karato and Abaru, where access to date has been made very difficult by the attitude of the local people."

We did not - we could not – realise the ignorance (or was it untruth?) in his statement until many years had passed. One paragraph, in particular, stands out even now:

“There would undoubtedly be some damage to the land if mining does take place because a mining operation would almost certainly involve an open cut operation and some areas will be rendered useless for a time by the dumping of overburden and tailings. The Administration is insisting that everything practicable is done to render the overburden and tailings dumping areas as suitable as possible for regeneration.

“Owners of any land affected by mining operations, which of course will remain their property, will not only be compensated by way of an occupation fee and compensation for damages. They will benefit from the considerable employment opportunities …. the increase in general land values and the community development which will surely flow from mining development.”

Maybe he did not foresee that the sloping hillsides covered by ancient forest, sacred trees and stones, and mountain streams and pools, would be destroyed. The people’s precious land and the heritage it held would be replaced by barren rock at the bottom of a 2,000-foot-deep hole. He certainly did not mention the miserliness of the $2 per acre ($4.94 per hectare) per annum prescribed occupation fee.

Brown map Barapina

Dagge and I were forced to push our concerns aside when CRA project manager Don Vernon (3) arrived at Panguna on 14 March from Melbourne. On this his second week-long visit in 1967, he renewed the Company’s campaign to prospect the hillsides where the Moroni people grew most of their food - on the right bank of the Kawerong River.

On 29 March, I advised headquarters by radiogram that the Pakia-Moroni people were saying the Administration was ignoring their welfare and looking after only the company’s interests.

They wanted the Administrator to send a government lawyer – paid by the Administration – to talk to them about their land and to tell the company not to cross the Kawerong River. All the people living in Pakia would return to Moroni – their ancestral home – and would be waiting on the bank of Kawerong River to prevent the company from entering their land.

The Administrator bounced that message to Canberra with the comment:

“Our present assessment is that the possibility of group violence in opposition to Company move to Moroni area cannot be excluded, any further delay in movement of CRA parties in group area will only aggravate the situation …. As a precaution, it has been decided to increase police strength in the Moroni area from 13 to 30. Police being moved from Rabaul to Kieta by trawler - ETA 31 March.”

Canberra’s telexed response on 1 April was concise:

"Minister's view at this stage is that Administration must ensure CRA investigations can proceed.”

In faraway Port Moresby, Administrator Hay seemed to think it was only a matter of timing. He said the Administrator’s Executive Council (AEC) would have to be briefed before the move across the river could be allowed, and Mining Warden McKenzie would need to be available to assess any damage.

The AEC’s next meeting was scheduled for Wednesday 5 April. McKenzie could complete the Warden’s Court hearing at Torokina on the same day and be available at Barapina 24 hours later. With those measures in place, Messrs Brown and Dagge would be directed to escort the CRA party across the Kawerong on Thursday 6 April.

The powers that be were ignoring evidence the Moronis had already given at the Mining Warden’s Court in January 1967. Here they had told the Warden that the community would not permit CRA to cross to the right bank of the Kawerong River.

Aitchison said we had four weeks to prepare the people for the new activity, and he reminded me that his Circular Instruction required us to keep the people informed and to seek the co-operation of local government councillors and missionaries. As if we could ever forget it.

Even though the Moronis were tired of being told what was planned, Dagge and I told them again and again, at every opportunity. Our other tasks we prioritised.

Dagge would continue talks with Gregory Korpa and the Moroni people, and he would visit Deomori Catholic Mission to talk with Father Woeste.

Meanwhile, I would concentrate my efforts on the only three Guava villages on the coastal side of the Crown Prince Range – who also happened to be members of the Kieta Local Government Council.

A few days later, a consignment of unsolicited supplies arrived at Barapina: a loud hailer, a tape recorder and a container of half a dozen brand-new pump-action shotguns.

We tested one of the shiny short-barrelled Remingtons before repacking all six into the container and returning it to the coast. When loaded with the ammunition supplied - No 4 birdshot - the 12-gauge weapon couldn’t hit a bird at the top of a tree but at close range could punch a massive hole through a human. I did not think they were suitable or in any way appropriate for our situation.

The additional police, Sub-Inspector Daniel Gire (4) and 16 other ranks, arrived in Kieta by government trawler from Rabaul on 31 March and moved overland next day to Barapina where the barracks already verged on overflow.

We moved Gire into the unallocated bedroom in Mushroom Castle. Dagge was in permanent occupation; Mining Warden McKenzie and I occupied the other two bedrooms - sometimes in person, sometimes with the gear we left behind.

We had to revise the daily schedule after Gire arrived. Dagge and I were accustomed to attending the 0700 police parade dressed in patrol gear then returning to the house for a leisurely breakfast.

Gire rose at dawn and at 0630 was showered and resplendent in blue shorts, shirt, long socks and highly polished boots, ready to eat. We barely had time for a hurried breakfast before he donned his Sam Browne belt for the morning parade, after which he changed into working gear for the daily routine.

For two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon, Gire directed a phalanx of helmeted police in close-order exercises as they beat their long-handled batons against riot shields in a noisy rhythm, stomped their feet in unison, and charged up and down the Moroni hill.

I felt sympathy for Senior Constable Yimbin and our 13 general-duties police who endeavoured to keep up but soon ran out of steam. And I also felt for the village people who watched on in apparent awe.

Neither Dagge nor I was present when the government lawyer requested by the Moroni villagers met with them at Barapina on Tuesday 4 April 1967.

Norris (NH) Pratt was not the ideal person for the task. As a Deputy Crown Solicitor, his job was to protect and promote the government’s interests and not provide the public with legal advice.

Moreover, he could barely speak or understand Tok Pisin and knew little about life in the New Guinea community.

He implied his visit was a waste of time. The people wanted “to exhort the government to take action against CRA rather than ask legal questions” and “the question of mineral ownership has now become inextricably mixed up with self-government and a somewhat veiled threat of separation or at least a new state movement.”

Brown pic 4
Henry Moses

Pratt may not have realised that Damien Damen, who dominated the meeting, came from Irang - outside the mining area – and not from Moroni. Another speaker, Henry Moses, came from Sieronji in the Pinei Valley – again outside the mining area – and was an advocate for those who opposed CRA.

(Later in the year Moses took up a management role with the company, became an industrial relations officer, and subsequently President of the Bougainville Mining Workers Association.)

And it is conceivable that Severinus Ampaoi who “interpreted from English to the local dialect” had dual loyalties, even a covert role. He came from Dapera village in the prospecting area and logically should have been opposed to CRA. He was, however, a trusted employee.

Brown pic 5
Severinus Ampaoi

First employed by Ken Phillips in 1964, Ampaoi was now highly regarded as CRA’s quasi-manager of community relations. He was also vice-president of the Kieta Local Council, which had become lukewarm in its support of the Panguna development after Minister ‘Ceb’ Barnes’ 1966 visit.

We missed the Administrator’s target date of 6 April 1967 to escort the CRA team across the Kawerong. We kept the people informed and told them what was planned for our new date of 8 April.

Dagge and I would walk through the river behind the CRA team and would be accompanied by Senior Constable Yimbin and a couple of our police detachment. Sub-Inspector Gire and the riot squad from Rabaul would be on hand, but would take no active role unless required to do so.

We forded the river early in the morning. The Kawerong was often a raging torrent, but little or no rain had fallen overnight and the river remained somewhere between knee- and waist-deep.

The people were gathered on the slopes beside the stream. Most of the shouting was in Nasioi, some in Tok Pisin, the shrill voices of the women cutting through the outcry and abuse from the men.

I reported to Port Moresby with a brief radiogram: “CRA party crossed Kawerong River Saturday 8. Strong vocal opposition but no incidents. Work proceeding. Brown returning to Kieta Tuesday 11.” One minor incident did occur, but was not worth reporting. Someone, possibly me, stumbled midstream and dunked the tape recorder in the Kawerong.

Until the Moroni exercise, I had never heard of the Executive Committee Handling the Bougainville Situation (ECHBS). It was a pretentious title – was it just another BS (bullshit) group?

Frank (FP) Henderson, the chairman, was the Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs) and ranked just under the Administrator in clout and status.

Don (DS) Grove (Secretary for Lands, Surveys and Mines) and Wally (WW) Watkins (Secretary for Law) were departmental heads, while Tom Aitchison (Assistant Director of Native Affairs, and my boss), was low man on the totem pole.

According to the minutes of its meeting of 14 April 1967, the members were “called together to discuss DDC Brown’s preliminary report on Moroni, and the report of the Deputy Crown Solicitor, Mr Pratt.”

They thought that, although Pratt’s report revealed nothing new, it “was valuable as an independent outside assessment of the thinking of the Moroni people.”

But, like Pratt, the committee members were not aware that the Moroni people contributed very little to the meeting – the principal speakers at the meeting did not come from Moroni.

Their recommendation that “the Rabaul police be withdrawn and replaced by another group of police from Rabaul for the move to the Korroni (sic) Creek and Mautango area”, suggested another nasty operation waited in the wings for Dagge and me.

But it was one item out of the blue that caused uproar. The other members of the committee almost went into meltdown when Grove told them that CRA Melbourne proposed entering into a commercial arrangement with an employee who had brought in some mineral samples.

The employee, Thomas Mortai (5), came from a village in the hills behind Numa-Numa Plantation near Wakunai, 65 kilometres north of Kieta, and the company proposed he take out a prospecting authority.

If he did so, CRA would take a six months’ option over the prospect and pay him $2,000, and $1,000 a year during the testing period.  If mining went ahead, they proposed to pay him a $500 finder’s reward plus $20,000 for ten years, or $200,000 worth of shares in the venture.

The committee panicked that CRA’s newest proposal would conflict with the financial dictates imposed on the landowners at Panguna. They had tried to obtain a share of the mining and been fobbed off, initially with the $2 an acre occupation fee, augmented in 1966 by a further small amount—five percent of the ten percent royalty payable to the government.

And I was concerned that, although the proposed operation was a long way from Panguna, Wakunai and its surrounds were still part of the Kieta Sub-District and I would have to be involved.

CRA Melbourne was told the Wakunai scheme should be put on hold. Nevertheless, the joint application by CRA and Thomas Mortai for a prospecting authority initially set down for hearing at Kieta on 24 May 1967 was transferred to Wakunai for hearing on 26 May.

Patrol Officer Ron Staples (6) got the job of explaining what was happening to the people.  Twenty-three-year-old blond-haired Staples had been married for less than three months when he was transferred to Wakunai from Boku on 15 February 1967.

Brown pic 6
Patrol Officer Ron Staples at Wakunai in 1967

District Commissioner Wakeford thought he was too young and too compassionate to be in charge of Boku Patrol Post, but Wakeford had not anticipated the weightier situation that would arise at Wakunai with the unexpected appearance of CRA. And he had misjudged Staples, who handled it all with exuberance and aplomb.

On 3 May, Staples visited Okowopaia village to tell the people about the mining legislation and Thomas Mortai’s application for a prospecting authority.

It took Staples one and a half hours to pedal his bike from Wakunai along the bush track to Okowopaia, and the same amount of time to pedal home.

The people could not understand why Mortai had to apply for a permit to take something that was already his - the copper in his land.

Forewarned by Staples that Wakunai Local Government councillors were going to discuss the application on the morning of 9 May, I flew there the day before and spent the night with Sandy and Joan Sandford at Numa Numa plantation.

Staples picked me up next morning in the Administration LandRover and then drove to the airstrip to collect CRA Area Manager Colin (CP) Bishop and Geologist Dick (RN) Spratt. We proceeded together to the meeting.

Brown pic
Coastal scene near Wakunai

Bishop told the councillors about CRA’s prospecting operations around Panguna and attempted to explain the application for the prospecting authority in the Wakunai area.

The councillors objected to Mortai’s financial arrangement with CRA and were more interested in their Council taking a pecuniary role in CRA’s Wakunai venture.

When Staples pedalled to Okowopaia village on 25 May to notify the people of the Warden’s Court hearing the following day, the whole village decided to attend.

The hearing turned out to be a rude initiation to Bougainville for Port Moresby-based Warden Arthur (Bluey) Stephens. (Mining Warden McKenzie had taken 12 months leave and the Administrator had appointed Stephens to the New Guinea jurisdiction to officiate.) At Wakunai, the Council and a noisy crowd opposed CRA’s application.

CRA’s application was granted in the usual way. The Warden sent all the paperwork to the Mining Advisory Board. The Board members may have pondered a little before they pushed everything on to the Administrator for his rubber stamp.

CRA’s Wakunai operation was underway but, perhaps fortuitously, bumbling and slow. Patrol Officer Ron Staples had the task of keeping the people informed.

During the brouhaha, I was spending a couple of days at Barapina when a runner arrived early one morning with a message from CRA Panguna: I was required to travel to Canberra.

One of their helicopters would transport me to Kieta, wait while I packed a suitcase, then fly me to Aropa where the regular DC3 flight to Rabaul would be delayed until I arrived.

I had never heard of anyone of my rank being dragged out of the bush and summoned to Canberra for stiffening up.

I had plenty of time to ponder the implications. It took an hour to fly from Kieta to Rabaul, an overnight stay, an early morning flight from Rabaul via Lae to Port Moresby by Fokker Friendship, then a flight by TAA jet from Port Moresby to Sydney. Finally, the last short leg to Canberra.

I did not think I had much to contribute. Neither Dagge nor I was enjoying our role in Bougainville. Like all kiaps, we had been taught that native land was sacrosanct and that landowners could transfer land only by native custom.

Accordingly, we had always told the people that nobody could take their land from them. Now we were being told that those rules applied only to the surface of the land and not what lay beneath.

The land laws that we had administered and upheld did not apply to mining. We did not – we could not – like the mining legislation.

At that time, the Department of Territories was located in Derwent House in Hobart Place, close to the commercial heart of Canberra, and only a short walk from the Town House Motel on Northbourne Avenue where I spent the night.

The meeting had already started when I was shown into the conference room. There were no introductions. I took a seat at the end of a long rectangular table – left vacant just inside the door. Within a few minutes, I was quickly made to realise that public servants from the Territory were regarded as inferior by Commonwealth public servants.

George Warwick Smith (1916-1999)
George Warwick Smith (1916-1999)

The participants were discussing CRA’s Bougainville operation, and eventually I identified the Department’s top echelon by their interchanges.

The Secretary for Territories, George Warwick Smith, sat at the head of the table; Gerry (GO) Gutman (Assistant Secretary, Political and Legal Affairs Branch) and John (JO) Ballard (Assistant Secretary, Government Branch and Political Affairs Branch) sat on his left and his right.

The lesser mortals - Ahrens, Evatt, Grigor and nameless others – who sat nearer to me spoke only when asked about some minor detail. The Deputy Secretary, Robert S Swift, did not appear.

Only Gutman had ever visited Bougainville, and only for a couple of nights when he was accompanying Minister Cedric Barnes on his brief but disastrous visit in February 1966.

The group was not interested in my opinion or anything I had to say about Bougainville. They did not seem to understand or care that 21 different languages were spoken on Bougainville, and that the people from the north of Bougainville differed in thought and custom from those of the centre and the south.

Nor did the group seem to understand or care that those different languages and different beliefs affected Bougainvillean attitudes to the Administration, to Australia and to CRA. Astoundingly, they did not even seem interested in murmurs of secession.

They reminded me of my responsibilities: that as a public servant I had to do what the government said, and that as an officer of the Royal Papuan and New Guinea Constabulary I had a responsibility to see the laws were observed.

One of the top brass, presumably drawing on his Malaysian Insurgency experience, suggested that when I returned to Bougainville, I should, in the appropriate circumstances, establish crowd control - roll a plastic streamer out along the ground and tell people it would be curtains if they stepped over it.

When I rejected that advice, Secretary Warwick Smith got up and left the room. I thought I might have just lost my job.


(1) Kenneth Joseph Patrick Hanrahan had been stationed in Bougainville since the middle of 1963 and by 1967 he had more field experience of Bougainville than any kiap in the District. He had served as officer-in-charge of Kunua Patrol Post (five months), acting Assistant District Commissioner of Buin Sub-District (three months), and Assistant District Commissioner of Buka Passage (three terms of 21 months). Hanrahan was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1979, following full time university study in Brisbane.

(2) John Eric Wakeford was born in Wimbledon, England, on 25 March 1908 and migrated to Australia with his parents while a child. He was 34 years of age when he enlisted in the Australian Military Forces on 7 August 1942, being mentioned in dispatches for exceptional service in the Milne Bay campaign. He was a Lieutenant in ANGAU and not quite 38 years of age when discharged from the Army on 9 March 1946. He was purportedly eight years younger, with an assumed birthdate of 25 March 1916, when he joined the Administration as a Patrol Officer on 8 October 1946. He maintained that fiction for the rest of his career.

(3) Donald Clayton Vernon (who I will mention frequently in the remainder of this chronicle) was born in Sydney in 1924. A chemical engineer by training, he was first employed by CRA as a production manager at the Rum Jungle uranium mine in 1953. He was appointed as the Melbourne-based Project Manager of CRA’s Bougainville project and he was Area Manager Bishop’s immediate superior and reported to CRA’s boss, Frank Espie. Vernon moved to Bougainville around 1974 and became General Manager of Bougainville Copper Ltd in 1975.

(4) Sub-Inspector Daniel Gire, a 24-year-old Tolai from New Britain, was a renowned Territory rugby league footballer and a fitness fanatic. He was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1970 following Prime Minister John Gorton’s visit to Rabaul.

(5) The CRA worker was referred to as Thomas Batoi by Staples in entries in his Field Officer’s Journal but as Thomas Mortai in official correspondence. I have used the latter surname throughout.

(6) Ronald John Staples was born in Brisbane in November 1943 – his mother coming from Switzerland and his father from New Zealand. He had been a kiap for five years since August 1962 serving only in Bougainville - at Kieta, Boku, Kunua, Kauna (Base Camp), Boku and Wakunai – with two sojourns at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, ASOPA. He completed a Bachelor of Economics degree by external studies with the University of Queensland in 1974 and a Master of Arts Development Economics at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) in 1978.

Brown pic 9
Coastal scene near Wakunai

Notes on images

[Map 1] Bougainville as it was in 1967 (Bill Brown)

[1] - A youthful Ken Hanrahan – circa 1967 (supplied)

[2] John Dagge 1966 (Bill Brown)

[Map 2] The area around Barapina (Bll Brown)

[3] – Don Vernon – Bougainville 1968 (John Martin-Jones, Australian Film & TV School)

[4] – Henry Moses – Bougainville 1968 (John Martin-Jones, AFTVS)

[5] - Severinus Ampaoi – Bougainville 1968 (John Martin-Jones, AFTVS)

[6] Ron Staples at Wakunai - 1967 (supplied)

[7] Coastal scene near Wakunai (Darryl Robbins)

[8] George Warwick Smith, Secretary, Australian Department of Territories (National Archives)

[9] Coastal scene near Wakunai (Darryl Robbins)


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Bill Brown

Rob - Maybe you have the wrong year. For the first six months of 1966, Ted (EG) Hicks was acting District Commissioner of the Sepik District. John Wakeford was Deputy District Commissioner of what was styled the North Sepik Division and Kerry (BK) Leen was Deputy District Commissioner of the South Sepik Division.

Harry Roach was transferred to Bougainville from Aitape – arriving 17 April 1971. Des (DN) Ashton was District Commissioner, Bougainville at that time. (Wakeford was District Commissioner, West Sepik.)

I worked for Wakeford in various roles between 1961 and 1967 - 1966 excluded. In my view, he had many facets and idiosyncrasies, but he was never obstructionist or fossilised, as will be seen in subsequent chapters of this chronicle.

Rob Parer

In the West Sepik in 1966 District Commissioner John Wakeford was stated as being a fossilised obstructionist by a progressive medium aged Kiap Harry Roach who was ADC Aitape and soon to be upgraded to a bigger position in Bougainville and wonder how he worked beside Mr Wakeford.

Chips Mackellar

Superb story, Bill. Can't wait for the next chapter.

Paul Oates

There appears to be a clear and consistent message in Bill's report that seems to echo down through the ages: no matter what is happening at the coal face or, in this case, the kunai roots, those in senior departmental positions in Canberra are hopelessly out of touch.

Secondly, no credence is given to those who might have some knowledge and understanding of what the real issues are unless it suits those in top positions in the 'Canberra Bubble'.

There does not therefore appear to have been any change in this ongoing impasse in the last 50 - 60 years.

Those Canberra mandarins who steadfastly refuse to accept any relevant knowledge and experience as a source of intelligence upon which to base decisions are those who unfortunately, are also in charge of advising their political masters of the day.

There also does not appear to have been too many political leaders in history who have exhibited the perspicacity and intelligence to overlook the Canberra logjam and actually seek out for themselves what the true situation is.

It's obviously just easier to accept the advice given on the day since ministerial positions these days are of a very temporary nature.

Unfortunately, most political careers are also a poor preparation for understanding or wanting to understand reality, or so it seems.

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