TUMBY BAY - As patrol officers we were also policemen, local court magistrates and often gaolers.
As such we saw the full gamut of the legal system as it operated in Papua New Guinea prior to independence.
And a funny gamut it often turned out to be.
I was in the Highlands in 1968 and the trade store movement was in full swing. Everyone and it seemed their dog was setting up trade stores by the side of the road.
A typical store was a one room affair, just a couple of metres square, with an opening at the front for customers. The store was clad in galvanised iron sheets with big padlocks on the door and the serving hatch.
The stock usually consisted of maybe a dozen different items: tinned fish, tinned meat, Navy biscuits, coarse soap, some bags of rice. A few of these places would also serve cooked food prepared on a fire out the back.
The stock was sometimes purchased wholesale but more often bought from large retail stores like Steamies, Carpenters or BPs in town, with the goods substantially marked up for a good profit.
At some point someone, probably in the Health Department, pointed out that spitting was unhealthy, particularly near trade stores. This was before buai [betel nut] invaded the Highlands so we’re talking about plain old gobby spit.
The local government councils then outlawed spitting within a certain distance of a store, the fines going into council revenue.
What ensued was a zealous program of catching spitters. Day in and day out people were being dragged to court by self-righteous councillors.
The revenue was rolling in and the kiaps were tearing their hair out.
Thankfully it eased off after a couple of months. I presume people stopped spitting. Or at least they stopped spitting within cooee of a trade stores.
What followed next was the breast touching crisis.
In those days most women went bare-breasted. Bare breasts were a common sight even in Port Moresby in those days.
I’ve no idea what prompted the crisis. Like most expatriates of the time I’d become pretty blasé about breasts, they were such a common sight.
But everyone understood that touching a woman’s body was an extremely serious offence and unacceptable under any circumstances.
So why were we suddenly inundated by breast touching cases, the culprits ranging in age from 12-year old boys to ancient men? It was inexplicable.
In court, we had to be careful. Under the law the offence was technically sexual assault and carried a heavy penalty.
Now, instead of a steady stream of spitters, we were besieged by a long line of breast pokers and women eager to point out exactly what part of their anatomy had been poked.
Fortunately, women had found a new way of dealing with this - mess with me buddy and I’ll see you in court.
One day I was sitting on the steps of a rest house idly talking to a group of people when I noticed several young women manoeuvring within the group.
The interpreter casually leaned over and suggested I cross my legs. Puzzled I asked him why.
“Those girls are trying to get a better view up your shorts kiap,” he replied.
I snapped my legs together and wondered under what law I could prosecute them.
But then again, I was wearing baggy shorts, so it was probably my fault.