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Gong fever! Medals earned, unearned & that just turn up in the post


TUMBY BAY - Most mornings I check a range of websites including PNG Attitude, the ABC & BBC, the local Weather Zone, Amazon’s KDP, and the Ex Kiap website.

The last mentioned has lately been creating in me a distinct feeling of unease.

The major preoccupations of contributors seem to be centred around medals and gongs, the construction of memorials and reunions.

Underlying these preoccupations there appears to be great umbrage that Australia and the world at large have failed to recognise what wonderful people kiaps once were.

As I’ve realised recently, that sort of recognition will probably only come when we are safely dead and unable to add to the debate. It will probably occur shortly after the movie is released.

Australia has a long history of memorials and medals but in recent years this has accelerated to unprecedented levels.

These days there is an award for just about everything and commemorations like Anzac Day have been turned into major industries.

We live in the age of the celebrity. Celebrity is public recognition of a certain type of vacuity that seems to dominate the public consciousness.

I’m not sure what is driving this excess. I suspect it stems from feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Then again, maybe it is just a marketing ploy.

I’ve always been suspicious about public servants and politicians being given awards simply for doing their job. These people were paid for their services so why should they be glorified like conquering heroes?

In Papua New Guinea knighthoods have long been handed out to corrupt politicians, business people, the judiciary and public servants. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if Peter O’Neill appears in the next honours list.

I’m also mindful of the lack of balance about who gets an award.

This includes awarding medals to non-combatant officers rather than the soldiers who actually fought on the ground at the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam and ludicrous cases like Tony Abbott’s knighthood for Prince Philip.

It seems that it’s not what you do that determines whether you get an award but who you know. Although perhaps Phil the Greek does deserve an award for putting up with Tin Lizzy for so long.

That aside, the shonky nature of the selection process and the plethora of awards have undoubtedly cheapened the whole purpose of recognising individuals who have selflessly contributed to the betterment of humanity.

These days when you see someone with a row of medals on their chest or a string of acronyms after their name it’s hard not to wonder who they know or who they paid for the privilege.

A similar thought occurs when encountering any of the thousands of monuments scattered across the countryside.

Some of them celebrate obscure events in our history and others honour people who lost their lives for one reason or another. I’ve got no problem with marking particular places where something interesting occurred or some tragedy took place but I do wonder about others.

Just about every little town in Australia has got a World War I memorial with the names of locals who served or died in that ghastly affair. What they essentially represent is the monumental stupidity of that war and all wars thereafter.

If they were to serve a useful purpose it would be as a warning not to repeat such folly but history tells us that we seem compelled to repeat such mistakes ad infinitum.

I’m also not sure about what purpose interminable reunions serve. Sure it’s nice to occasionally get together to share a beer and a bit of nostalgia but you can do that at any old time.

The debate about the kiap memorial died off for a while but is now in the process of being resurrected.

During its first iteration there was a suggestion that a scholarship program for Papua New Guinean students would be a useful memorial but that seems to have been forgotten and something more physically solid seems to be on the cards.

I think that is a shame and I also think that it is a shame that more of the kiaps don’t get involved in direct activities of benefit to Papua New Guinea.

I know that many of them have given up in disgust at the current state of the country and harbour a deep sense of futility and a feeling that they wasted a great part of their lives there.

That is indeed unfortunate and it may very well be why the idea of a memorial is now uppermost in their minds.

Footnote: I have to admit that I’m the recipient of an unsolicited RPNGC Service Medal and an unsolicited Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal, the reason for the latter being unclear.

They turned up out of the blue one day and now reside in the bottom drawer of my desk. I suspect that Peter Turner is the culprit and they are an obscure joke of some sort.


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Harry Topham

Phil - Forget it, just the trinkets into the bedside table and larim i stap.

Will create a bit of excitement later on, post reality, when the grandkids discover the said trinkets and start asking questions like, “What did granddad get up to?"

Philip Fitzpatrick

Here's a response from ex-didiman Mike Goodson, lodged on the Ex-Kiap website:


When will everybody get real?

All sorts of people went to PNG in all sorts of government service.

Many (including kiaps) never left the main centres and served their time in comfort, conducting their patrol work in a Landrover or Landcruiser, or sitting in an office cooled by an overhead fan.

Good luck to them.

Others (not just kiaps) including doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, malaria control, surveyors, yes, didimen and others endured the rigours of remote postings, primitive living conditions, heat, cold, loneliness, sometimes danger, isolation and the rest.

We were not forced to stay and could have chosen to resign and return to Australia, or wherever, at any time if we found the conditions unbearable or not to our liking.

Let’s face it, those of us in government service were well paid, generally better than in Australia.

What about those missionaries and others who served for whatever reason with little or no pay?

We did it because we wanted to be there.

If you found it to be too onerous why did you stay?

I for one, consider the time I spent in PNG to have been the highlight of my life.

Be happy with your own memories and stop seeking recognition from others who will never understand the privilege we had to work and live in such an amazing place and time.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It seems like the memorial push is spreading. This note appeared in the current edition of the PNGAA's Una Voce magazine....

Recognition for TPNG Service

For some time I have been looking at the possibility of having some form of recognition awarded to didimen and didimissus for their service to TPNG, often in remote and dangerous places.

I am aware from my joint patrols with agricultural extension, animal industry, health and public works colleagues, etc. that there are many whom I think should have their efforts in helping to build the nation, recognised.

I would like to hear from anyone who feels some recognition for their efforts would be welcome, and I ask them to contact me by email:

Contact with kiaps who feel they could support a move for recognition would be welcome also.

Arthur Williams

Perhaps it’s because 'the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones'.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It occurs to me that if there is to be a kiap memorial at ASOPA space will have to be left for a didimen memorial, a tisa memorial, a missionary memorial, a co-ops memorial, a journo memorial and probably a dozen more.

What should also be kept in mind is that no matter how many memorials are erected the Australian public will still not care one iota.

Which then begs the question: why build it in the first place?

Bernard Corden

Professor Phil Scraton who led the Hillsborough Independent Panel research team turned down the offer of an OBE in the Queen's New Year honours list back in 2016.

He refused the honour in protest “at those who remained unresponsive” to efforts for truth and justice after the tragedy.

We need many more like him.

Indeed we don't need a third political party in Australia, just a second one.

Simon Jackson

Well said, Phil. Like you, perhaps, I've never been one for gong fever.

I find it ironic that a criticism of "youth today" is that 'everyone gets a medal' when in fact that affectation goes well beyond our kids.

In my view, and hope, most great work goes unrewarded - that the action was worthy of itself, not for reward.

I thought of this the other day when I saw a missing persons poster, obviously posted by desperate family. It offered a large reward. I'd like to think of myself that if I could help a family out of terrible distress, that I would do it for that purpose, not a financial benefit.

Money is a trading mechanism, not a measuring device.

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