The Case of a Kuman Ambai
Test of a constitution & a civilisation: Take-outs from a palace coup

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 25 – The Administration versus the People

Map - The mine access road
The access road to the proposed Panguna minesite was the locus of most of the resistance action by landowners in 1969. At the copper company's insistence the colonial Administration began to harden its stance on forcing the people to comply


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - I thought Administrator David Hay’s decision to send a ‘welfare group’ - a team of outsiders – to visit Panguna for a week or two in May 1967 was extraordinary.

He told the Canberra bureaucrats that their task was to seek “further information about the people’s views and attitudes and the possibility of improving the Administration’s image.”

What made his statement bizarre was that only six weeks earlier he had directed Patrol Officer John Dagge and me to ignore the people’s protests and escort personnel from mining company CRA across the Kawerong River.

He must have realised that operation would have besmirched the Administration’s image beyond repair.

During the following weeks the villagers vented their displeasure. On a single night the wooden pegs that had been precisely positioned by surveyors around the Moroni hillside in a week-long operation were removed and dumped at Barapina on what we termed the parade ground.

Up the road at Panguna, a stack of cement posts was smashed to pieces in an overnight raid and dumped on CRA’s doorstep.

To the south of Panguna, at Deomori, Marist Father Woeste was accused of helping CRA and told that, as his mission station was on native land, he should follow the people’s wishes or get out.

The people around Panguna were still seething in the last week of May, when Terry Daw (1), Judy (JK) Peters (2) and Lukas Waka (3) arrived in Kieta to carry out the Administrator’s task of ‘improving the Administration’s image’.

(1) Judith Peters
Judy Peters in 1975

Daw and Peters were Welfare Officers even though Daw had the title of District Officer. Waka was from the Department of Information and Extension Services.

As Panguna was a maelstrom of prospecting-related activity, I redirected our visitors to the rest house at Pakia on the coastal side of the range, where I knew they would be accosted by individuals and factions opposed to CRA’s activities. They would get the full story.

Miss Peters’ report of the visit – a female perspective – did not make it to the archives, but Daw’s 12 closely typed foolscap pages provided an overall view. Furthermore, he recorded the group’s objectives somewhat differently from how the Administrator had framed them:

“To advise the people that change was inevitable, to invite their opinion as to how these changes might affect them, to discuss what steps might be taken to lessen the impact of change, and to assess means of improving the relationship between the people, the Administration and the Company.”

Daw said his group’s ignorance of the area had been an advantage in discussions, as had been their zero contact with the Administration and the mining company. The community had accepted the trio as outsiders who were not involved with CRA.

Henry Moses and Gregory Korpa had met them - the latter being very rude, according to Daw – and the team had regularly visited the nearby villages of Parakake, new Pakia, Borumai and Korpei. They had also contacted individuals and groups from Mainoki and Moroni.

Daw said the whole community wanted CRA to go away - to leave.

The villagers were aware how much the company had helped with schooling, scholarships, employment, communications and health, but nothing—none of those things—could compensate the people for the loss of their land.

Daw was hard-nosed in his assessment. He said the villagers were aware of the benefits of a large company moving into the area, but they could not be dissuaded from their agricultural pursuits. While they were in their present state of mind, it was impossible to explain to them that they must accept progress – mining - for the benefit of the country.

He felt CRA’s future plans should be explained to the people. At the same time, they should be told that legislation existed and, if necessary, force would be used to ensure the mining operation proceeded unhindered.

On Friday 9 June, just three days after Daw’s group left Pakia, a CRA survey team escorted by Dagge and six police was forced to cease mapping the centre line of the proposed new road between Tunuru and Pakia in the Pinei river valley.

(2) John Dagge
John Dagge in 1964

The incident occurred near Nairovi village about 13 kilometers from the coast. A group of 40 to 50 people crowded the surveyors, repeatedly disturbed the theodolite and prevented the survey pegs from being driven into the ground.

When women in the front line surged forward and thrust their babes in arms at him, Dagge felt that was enough. He took the “mass violence likely” option and, as instructed, closed the operation down and told the survey team to go home.

The following day, my Administration driver William Poto drove District Commissioner John Wakeford (4) and me up CRA’s four-wheel drive track to Pakia. When Wakeford queried why we were not taking a police constable or two as escorts, I told him that we were going to Pakia to talk, not to fight. He rolled his eyes and did not comment further.

(3) Wakeford & Welsh
John Wakeford and Bob Welsh in 1969

It was not entirely a wasted day. I argued with the group – mainly men - for an hour or so. The older women occasionally interjected in the Nasioi language. I was advised their remarks were directed at me and too crude and personal for translation.

At the end of it all, I told the principal spokesman, Councillor Teori Tau, that he and I had to find a resolution that was in the community’s best interest. I could help them only if they worked with me. They could think and talk about it overnight and I would return the next day, Sunday11 June, to hear what they had decided.

When Poto drove us back to Pakia on Sunday we found they had not changed their minds. They were adamant that they would not permit the road survey to recommence.

I ended the discussion by reiterating my earlier proposition that Teori and I had to steer a passage through the impasse so the community did not suffer.

Neither they nor I could stop the company’s progress, but they still had sufficient time to come round to my point of view, as I had been summoned to Port Moresby to attend a meeting and would be absent for a week.

(4) Brown & Poto
Bill Brown and his driver, Poto, in 1969

In the vehicle, on the way back to Kieta, I did not reply when Wakeford said, “I am worried for you Brownie. What are you going to do if someone calls your bluff?”

Meanwhile in Canberra, on 13 June, Robert (RS) Swift, Deputy Secretary of Territories, noted the content of a phone conversation:

“The Administrator, Papua and New Guinea referred to the latest Bougainville reports which did not look good. He said that it may be necessary for the Administration to take firm action in the next few days such as sending a few police in. Aitchison is going across tomorrow to have a look.”

A few days after the Pakia discussions, I flew to Port Moresby to attend what would be the first of many meetings over the next three years in which CRA demanded and the Administration acceded.

On 23 June 1967, the Administrator reported a new development to the Secretary for Territories:

“Discussions between CRA’s Espie and Bishop and Administration officers including Brown from Kieta and law officers held Port Moresby on 19 and 20 June resulted in an improved understanding and arrangement CRA programs. Additional fifty police being sent Kieta in groups of about ten over next seven to eight weeks view providing effective support extension CRA lawful activities. My assessment is that situation in Pakia is unresolved but propose ensure CRA can operate safely.”

That meeting, held in the Administrator’s conference room at Konedobu, was chaired by Frank Henderson, Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs), who also led the Administration team of Don (DS) Grove (Secretary for Lands, Surveys and Mines), Wally (WW) Watkins (Secretary for Law) and Tom (TG ) Aitchison (First Assistant Director, Department of District Administration).

Frank Espie
Franks (later Sir Frank) Espie

Frank (FF) Espie (Director, Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd) and Colin (CP) Bishop (Area Manager) represented CRA.

“W Brown DDC Kieta” was tacked on to the minutes as the last of the attendees.

I do not know if the meeting improved anyone’s understanding of CRA’s activities. Perhaps Henderson and Watkins, who had not been involved on the ground in Bougainville, may have learnt something about the situation. The main topic of discussion was the incident at Nairovi – the Dagge event - and CRA’s priorities.

According to Espie, the mapping of the road between Tunuru, Pakia and beyond, and the triangulation around Panguna was essential. It could be delayed, but he implied not for long.

The area requiring survey in the future was home to some 2,000 people who would no doubt be annoyed by the activity. Some intrusions could be avoided by the use of a tellurometer,(5) but marker beacons would have to be established and Espie wondered if they could be protected.

I agreed with the CRA team that the first priority was to re-establish their surveying activity along the road at Pakia and Nairovi, and I agreed to do so once I had 15 police I could call on without weakening the holding force at Panguna.

Watkins could not, or would not, give a response to my query as to what action I was legally entitled to take to re-establish CRA’s right to move on the road – or to intrude on other fiercely held land. When he quoted the relevant law to the Assistant Administrator in written advice next day, it must have caused surprise, even consternation and dismay:

“Landowners in possession of their land are entitled to use reasonable force to defend their possession even against a person entitled to enter. Any person, who in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace … enters on land which is in the actual and peaceable possession of another is guilty of a misdemeanour. … It is immaterial whether he is entitled to enter on the land or not.”

The Administrator took swift action and advised the Secretary of Territories:

“I have directed the Department of District Administration to include in its instruction to field officers a clause to the effect that whenever possible in relation to a piece of ground on which resistance is expected the police should endeavour to secure occupation in the first place. This could be done by helicopter or encircling movement.”

The meeting concluded with the decision that similar meetings would be held in Port Moresby at two-monthly intervals, and I was also directed to attend the weekly Panguna meetings between field staff and company, which I had been avoiding by sending someone in my place.

Sub-Inspector Orm (JRO) Power (6) and the first of an additional 50 police arrived by air at Kieta around 24 June and almost immediately commenced drilling the riot squads up and down Kieta’s main – and only – street.

The frightening display sent shock waves through the town and, it seemed, beyond. The Administration’s weekly telex to Territories in Canberra – the mandatory situation report - dated 30 June included this information:

“Immediate effects of police training programme Kieta appear to be lapse of opposition to surveying existing road Pakia. Brown meeting Pakia group Saturday [1 July 1967] prior to survey re-commencing Monday [3 July]. He will advise me whether this will be peaceful or not.”

The surveying operation went smoothly. No one intervened and the route between Tunuru and Pakia was completed on 14 July.

TellurometerPublic service jaws may have dropped at the Department of Territories in Canberra, when they read the Administrator’s situation report dated 28 July. It recorded that I did I not take any police with me when I accompanied the CRA team tasked to install the tellurometer equipment and the VHF wireless mast at Pakia.

The report also noted that Patrol Officer Cedric Tabua (7) had found the people at Dapera (the village just south of Panguna) had softened their attitude to CRA and the Administration.

The archives tell us that the members of the Bougainville Public Relations Committee (8) aired differing views at their 22 August meeting.

Wright, a psychologist from the Public Service Commission, suggested that, as the people were willing to talk, the Administration should make concessions and withdraw some police. He also urged care in the selection of expatriate police. He had heard rumours that “ex-colonial African police, with attitudes contrary to those of the Administration, had been engaged in the area”.

Aitchison said one officer with African experience (he was referring to Orm Power) had been in Kieta to teach riot drill but had since been withdrawn. “The Commissioner of Police had been careful in his selection of European officers and police in the area were under control and supervision of a DDA Officer, W Brown.” (I wondered whether the Commissioner or his ‘uniforms’ would have agreed with the latter part of that statement.)

David Fenbury (9), the bush-wise head of the Department of Administrator, opposed any suggestion that police numbers be reduced, saying, “so far the police had only contributed a presence, but this show of strength had enabled the situation to be kept under control”.

While the strategists were poncing about in Port Moresby, back on Bougainville the opposition to CRA was spreading and gaining pace.

Earlier in the year, in January, I had predicted there would not be opposition to CRA’s application to prospect around Torokina (on the west coast), as it was for limestone, phosphate and bauxite, and not copper. However, I got that one quite wrong.

When McKenzie held his Warden’s Court at Torokina in April 1967 he recorded protests – lots of them – but, as in previous hearings, they were ignored. The Mining Advisory Board made their recommendations. The Administrator approved a Prospecting Authority that covered 26 square miles.

According to Patrol Officer John Gordon-Kirkby, who took a patrol to the area in July, “the people as a whole were resentful of the decision – summed up in the words of an objector, Councillor Piriri of Piva: ‘Mipela no laik, olsem strong bilong gaviman, i winem mipela.’” [We do not like it, but the strength of the government has beaten us.]

Gordon-Kirkby said he rejected the people’s demands that CRA should confine its activity to Panguna “with long explanations of the overall needs of the Company to exploit the resources of the area to the full and in the most economical way”.

He said he did not understand the part of limestone, phosphate and bauxite in the refining process, but presumed it was a vital necessity. He said he explained this to the people by a simple analogy: “they could not cook kaukau [sweet potato] without water and CRA could not make good copper without limestone”.

District Commissioner Wakeford was at his fussy best when he commented on Gordon-Kirkby’s endeavour:

“He has devoted a lot of time to this patrol and I fear has got himself in rather deeply. I have written to him saying that we must not associate ourselves too closely with the Company. Our job is to explain to the people that the Company was given the legal right to prospect through laws passed by the House of Assembly and that is as far as we should go.”

Three extra officers were coming on stream to assist us, and an outsider might have viewed our situation as improving.

District Officer John (JA) Wiltshire was transferred from Milne Bay to Bougainville to become Assistant District Commissioner, Kieta, and would be directly involved in CRA affairs. Assistant District Officer Chris (C) Warrillow, on his way to Kieta from Mendi (Southern Highlands), would look after the proposed CRA activity at Mainoki, and would be involved in other operations. Patrol Officer John Gordon-Kirkby, from Boku - back from visiting the Torokina area – would come under our direction and be involved with Karato.

And the stalwart, John Dagge, would still be saddled with the problems of continuing opposition to CRA around Panguna.

When I took into account the extra staff and an apparent lull in the people’s opposition, I thought we could make progress, maybe even gain acceptance.

But all that fell apart when CRA applied for Prospecting Authorities covering the areas of Bougainville to the north and south of their present Prospecting Authorities – in effect the whole of the island.

And then to top it off, the House of Assembly passed the Bougainville Mining Agreement. The future looked horrendous.


(1) Terence Edward Daw was born in Simla, India, in April 1926, joined the Indian Army in in 1943, being commissioned into the Gurkha Rifles in 1944. He served on the North-West Frontier, in Burma, Malaya, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore - and was Mentioned in Dispatches. Subsequently, he joined the Malaya Police Force and spent years as commander of a Jungle Company and of a Police District before migrating to Australia. He became a Welfare Officer two months after joining the Territory Administration in September 1958. He and a fellow Welfare Officer, David Henry Case, were promoted to District Officer in September 1968, but with no kiap duties or authority.

(2) Twenty-three-year old Judith (JK) Peters, from Whyalla in South Australia, had already been a teacher in Papua New Guinea for nearly five years – at Wau, Lae, Dregerhafen and Mendi – when in October 1966 she changed her role to become a Welfare Officer.   She was based at Hutjena, Bougainville, in 1967 when assigned by DDA headquarters to join Daw and Waka in the Panguna exercise.  She was later transferred from Sohano to Rabaul, then in 1972 back to Kieta, where by then the district headquarters had been relocated, and was appointed to the position of District Community Development Officer.  As Mrs Judy Duggan she returned to Australia from Bougainville in December 1975.

(3) Sir Lucas (LJ) Waka, born in Bola village in West New Britain, had a distinguished career of public service. First employed as an Interpreter, he became an Assistant Patrol Officer in training in March 1964. Promoted to Assistant Extension Officer in the Department of Information and Extension Services in September 1966, he became an Assistant Industrial Relations Officer January 1968. He was elected to the House of Assembly in 1977, was Governor of West New Britain Province from 1995 to 1997. He was awarded a Knight Bachelor for services to politics in January 2005.

(4) Unlike the previous District Commissioner Mollison, who had kept away from the CRA problem during the last six months of his term, Wakeford visited Kieta for four or five days each month, occupied our third bedroom and accompanied me to CRA. He was primarily concerned about CRA’s negative impact on the community.

(5) The tellurometer was the first successful microwave electronic distance measurement device.

(6) John Richard Ormonde Power, born Limerick, Ireland in 1937, served in the North Rhodesian police prior to migrating to Australia in January 1964. He was an officer in the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary from October 1964 to 1971 and was deployed to Bougainville on several occasions – the last in 1969.

(7) Cedric Tabua, a member of a well-known family from Daru in the Western Province, joined the Administration as a clerk in February 1964 and later became a Patrol Officer.

(8) I was invited to attend the Administration's Public Relations Advisory Committee – Bougainville (PRAC) in Port Moresby on 21 June 1967.  The members wanted to discuss the Daw report, the Dagge event and the current CRA situation in Bougainville. Les (LW) Johnson, Assistant Administrator (Services), was chairman.

(9) Dave (DM) Fenbury (Fienberg) was one of the legendary bush kiaps. A Patrol Officer in 1936, he joined the AIF in 1941, and from 1942–1945 served with ANGAU. He was with the American forces in 1944 when they landed to retake Aitape, led Australian and Papua New Guinea troops on guerrilla operations in Japanese-held territory around Dreikikir and the middle Sepik and was awarded the Military Cross and mentioned in dispatches. In the post-war years he was seconded to the British Colonial Service, lectured at the Australian School of Pacific Administration and was involved in Area Authorities but took time off to lead a patrol to the remote and feared Mokolkols in New Britain. He was appointed head of the Department of the Administrator in 1962.


[Map 1]

[1] Judith Peters at Toniva, Bougainville, 1975 (supplied)

[2] A youthful John Dagge at Imonda, West Sepik, circa 1964 (supplied)

[3] District Commissioner John Wakeford and Patrol Officer Bob Welsh at Wutung, West Sepik, 1969 (Bob West

[4] Bill Brown and Poto (William), Kieta, 1969

[5] Frank Espie

[6] A tellurometer in operation


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Arthur Williams

Thank you Bill for your informative report on life at the ‘coalface’ in the terrible Panguna mine saga.

Sadly it only reinforces my negative gut feeling towards mining companies and their continuing efforts to suborn governments of putative democracies in often mildly or badly corrupt developing nations.

Perhaps it is in my DNA as a son of South Wales where nearly every family was nastily impacted by mining.

I had a grandfather who died of ‘The Dust’ while the other was involved with providing sustenance to rescuers at the Senghenydd disaster that killed 493 miners. Two others died from events connected to mining.

How green were the valleys.

Chris Overland

It is hard not to be amazed by the single-minded determination of the company, Administration and Australian government to have their way despite the trenchant and clearly expressed opposition of the traditional land owners.

Still, in 2019 we have the example of the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland where both State and Federal governments are determined to press ahead with development despite widespread public opposition and dire warnings about potential environmental and financial consequences.

What could possibly go wrong?

No doubt Bill's next chapter will illustrate all too clearly just what can, in fact, go wrong when the expressed will of the people is ignored.

Chips Mackellar

A superb account of your experiences on Bougainville, Bill, just like the previous chapters. Can't wait for the next chapter. As you mentioned, I expect it will be horrendous.

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