The Pacific: strategic denial & integration
Pingeta’s daughter & bigman Kurai Tapus

An unwanted Christmas present

Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains  early 1970s
Phil on patrol in the Star Mountains, early 1970s


TUMBY BAY - In 1970 I received a Christmas present that I didn’t really want.

At the time I was the officer in charge of Olsobip Patrol Post on the southern slopes of the Star Mountains in the Western District.

Earlier in the month I had returned from a 31 day patrol into the rugged and remote Murray Valley.

It was a consolidation patrol following a previous one where threats had been made and a rifle discharged.

While our main aim had been to smooth over the waters and re-establish good relations with the people, that quickly became a secondary consideration when we discovered that an influenza epidemic was raging through the valley.

We succeeded in slowing down the epidemic and, as a result, also getting our relationship with the people back on an even keel.

But when we finally struggled out of the valley we were all pretty knocked up and a few of us were suffering from influenza.

A good break over Christmas was something we were all looking forward to.

It was a tradition of sorts that everyone in that northern part of the Western District converged on one of the stations to get together for Christmas.

That year it was Ningerum’s turn to host the celebrations. Through various means, people from Kiunga, Nomad River, Obeimi Base Camp and Olsobip made their way there.

The station clerk and his family, along with me and my dog, hitched a ride on the weekly supply air charter, which flew from Daru to Kiunga and then did a loop to all the other stations before returning, usually empty, to Daru.

Olsobip was a one-man station, so I was looking forward to catching up with everyone, including my old mate Charlie Brillante, who had recently transferred from the highlands.

My unexpected present arrived on Christmas Eve. It began with a very high temperature and was followed by a bout of shivers and a horrible headache that stretched from my head to my toes.

It was my first ever bout of malaria.

At first I couldn’t work it out. I had been religiously taking Camoquin tablets but they didn’t seem to have worked.

In any event I self-administered a handful of the things and lay back on my bed on the floor of Charlie’s lounge room.

They did the trick and, while I missed out on the Christmas feast and had probably given my liver a bad jolt, I was well enough to enjoy the New Year’s Day barbeque beside the station swimming hole in the Ok Tedi river.

In those days the Ok Tedi was called the Alice River and ran clear and clean on its way to the Fly River.

The timing of the malaria attack allowed me to figure out that I had probably been bitten by a mosquito while on patrol in the Murray Valley, worn down from a dose of influenza and rigorous exercise.

That may have explained why the Camoquin was less efficacious. But what I didn’t realise was that malaria is a gift that continues to give.

Twenty years later, back in Australia, I was preparing to celebrate Christmas with my family. I had just gotten over a bad cold and was feeling a bit seedy but on the mend when the malaria came back with a vengeance.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to convince a doctor in suburban Adelaide that you’ve got malaria and need a handful of anti-malarials but it isn’t easy. They basically don’t believe you and want to do all sorts of tests.

Once I got over that hurdle I had to find a chemist that stocked the tablets. In short they didn’t and had to get special authorisation to source them.

I gave up and went home.

Luckily the years had worn down the pesky little parasite hiding in my blood stream and I was able to sweat it out.

When I went back to PNG in the 1990s I decided not to take anti-malarials. Camoquin and Nivoquin had lost the battle against new strains of the disease and the new drugs had some horrendous side effects.

I carried tablets with me just in case but I never took them. And I didn’t get malaria again.

Maybe my body had done what the bodies of many Papua New Guineans do and developed some sort of immunity.

Nevertheless, that 1970 Christmas is one that I remember well.


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Chips Mackellar

Good idea, Ross, I think we should list all those who passed on since the 2017 reunion. That makes a total of 30.

As Phil said, it is a sobering list. Thank you, Ross, Phil and Arthur.

Arthur Williams

Regarding toxicity, it was - mix some chloroquine with its rice meal.

Sadly it was also used by wives after finding out their spouses extra-marital affairs. Certainly was more easy to put into action than Zixo bleach which at one time I nicknamed Suicide Cordial as too many females were ending their lives by drinking it. A horrendous way to go.

Ross Wilkinson

Like many I also suffered from malaria on a number of occasions including once when I was also diagnosed with dengue fever.

It became the norm to have a large medicine tin of chloroquine tablets on the bedside table. As Phil points out, these were readily available without a doctor’s prescription.

I was fortunate that on return to Australia I did not have any recurrence. Unfortunately though, my father was not so lucky being medically down-graded and evacuated back to Australia during World War II. He continued to suffer malaria attacks for at least 15 years after the war’s end.

Arthur mentioned the recommended dosage to recover from an attack but the unspoken issue was toxicity of the antimalarial medication. I was told similar information and followed it.

But some years later at my last outstation posting, the wife of one of the national staff had an argument with her husband and threw a handful of anti-malarials down her throat.

Whether this was just an emotional gesture or a genuine suicide attempt we were never able to determine as she very quickly lapsed into a coma.

By the time I was notified and arrived at the house she had died so my work was to contain the scene which included angry relatives and friends and to commence an investigation.

The subsequent coronial enquiry included a statement from the Provincial Medical Officer that eight tablets was a minimum lethal dose.

He also stated that the patient had to be induced into vomiting immediately after the overdose and then conveyed to hospital to have the kidneys flushed.

As the nearest machine was in Port Moresby (but was actually in Brisbane being serviced) the poor girl had no chance.

When I questioned him on the medicine’s toxicity against its ready availability he replied that the ledger said that it saved many more lives than the small number who died from its effects. End of enquiry!

Ross Wilkinson

On another post recently about Patrol Reports I commented on senior officers' fixation on correct spelling in the reports.

Recently I came across the following that I was compelled to record it as a classic example. I've deliberately deleted the name of the junior officer being complimented and the District and District Commissioner.

"I would however record my pleasure in finding in Mr Xxxxxxxx a Cadet who has some idea of grammar, spelling, lay-out, fluency. Despite the Matriculation standard required of our cadets, the majority seem to be lamentably weak in this field."

Of course one's attention is immediately drawn to the grammatical errors in the DC's comments that show how ridiculous this fixation was.

Sometimes, however, errors in spelling and grammar become so bad that they distract the reader's attention and detract from the value of the written material.

Ross Wilkinson

I can only make one correction to this list and that is to note that the Dick Pearce Reid is, or was, Richard Ernest “Dick” Pearse who started as a CPO on 6 May 1951.

However, for the point of Chip’s purpose, as Kiap Reunions occur every two years in early November, the following ex-kiap deaths should also be noted since the 2017 get-together:

00/00/2017 Garry Keenan
00/00/2017 George Ball
16/11/2017 Frank Sabben
27/11/2017 Rod Saker
3/1/2018 Alan McLay
00/1/2018 John Russell-Pell
00/1/2018 Geoff Burfoot
1/2/2018 Des Martin
5/4/2018 Keith Sandell
28/6/2018 John Adams
17/9/2018 Bill Brand
7/12/2018 Geoff Littler

Whilst some dates of death are not recorded or are uncertain, they were all reported to the Ex-Kiap website in 2018.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Updating Arthur's list of the kiaps who died in 2019:

23/01/19 Bottrill, Angus ‘Gus’ Matheson
11/01/19 Bartlett, Jon
03/02/19 Carroll, Mick
03/02/19 Pople MBE, Graham
30/03/19 Fanning, Des
08/05/19 Robbins, Douglas George
20/05/19 Reid, Don
27/05/19 Reid, Dick Pearce
31/05/19 Dodds , Brian
30/06/19 Hill, Richard Christopher
30/07/19 McGrath, Bill
21/08/19 Henton, Dave
23/09/19 Taylor, Graham
16/10/19 Duggan, Daniel Joseph
29/10/19 Land, John, Maurice
29/11/19 Armstrong, Stewart
14/12/19 Scott-Bloxham, William

Philip Fitzpatrick

English teachers can be very destructive beings, Arthur. They can destroy a child's creative spirit by their insistence on proper grammar and spelling.

I'm very wary of pedantic editors. I let them have a go at my books but usually flip most of it back to the way it was writ.

The difference between truly creative and enjoyable writing and word perfect efforts really came home to me when I was editing Papua New Guinean writers for the Crocodile Prize anthologies and later on some of their books published by Pukpuk.

I hope you encouraged Tim and gave him a good mark.

Graham Taylor was at Kokoda, New Britain, New Ireland, Madang and Sepik from 1948 1958 before he joined the ABC in Port Moresby.

His time as a kiap is recorded in his book 'A Kiap's Story', published by Pukpuk Publications.

William Dunlop

Arthur, I think you will find that John Maurice was in fact John Maurice Land who passed on 29 October 2019 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

I just got my Ancestry DNA which only shows me as 48% Irish, 50% English and Welsh, which knowledge I was unable to pass on to my old mate John Land. Slainte.

Arthur Williams

I was in a bit of a quandary over recently being called a 'Word Botcher'. Was it derogatory, laudative or merely a repeat of a clever spoonerism.

Bernard attributes the words spoken by Humphrey Lyytleton to a reporter asking him about his bird watching hobby. However the BBC tells us that in fact it was merely with hindsight that Humph thought of the constructed noun was what he could have said.

Humph and I had several things in common. I was born with both maternal and paternal roots which were nurtured in the dust of South Wales coal mining that caused my DNA to be socialist.

He is alleged to have adopted the creed after a short time of fast track training in a South Wales steelworks. Both of us served in the Guards where one soon becomes immune to the slings and arrows of the wee men who adopt god-like but temporary powers over you.

I'm sorry if word-botcher was intended as derogatory and can only reply with a short tale from my brief teaching career.

Young Harriet was from what we would call a 'yuppy' family living in a very modern four bedroom home. Oh she was a bright polite attentive pupil that caused not a moments distraction during lessons.

Her academic record showed her as top of Science, Maths and English. Her prospects for secondary education were surely predestined after which she must get a State scholarship entrance to Oxford or Cambridge university.

At the opposite end of the achievements grading was young Tim. He lived in an ancient cottage surrounded by the marshy flood plain of the Ely River.

Daddy was an agricultural labourer whose lowly wages he enhanced after hours and on weekends as a hostler caring for the equine demands of the area's middle-class families whose kids demanded horse riding lessons as their expensive after school hobby.

To try to judge their ability in written English, I asked them to write a short essay or report of their recent summer holiday.

As expected Harriet turned out a beautifully grammatically crafted page few paragraphs with ninety-nine percent spelling accuracy and swamped with many the first person pronoun.

Being a new teacher in the school I almost dreaded having to evaluate Tim's effort. At once I thought 'Dear me. Hadn't he learnt to spell basic words correctly?'

His sentences were devoid of most punctuation and were littered with a mix of pronouns. It almost seemed a child's version of Finnegan's Wake. Then I got into the rhythm of his two page story full of wonderful events in an obviously loving family environment.

Now there's the English teacher's continual dilemma. 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' or in rough old English as 'Who takes care of the caretaker's daughter when the caretaker is taking care?'

What do you do with Harriet's 11-plus examination masterpiece of correctness and Tim's masterpiece of storytelling?

Do I merely give the young academic girl the inevitable 10/10 or 'A*'? Then red lining and red-crossing Tim's many spelling, punctuation and grammar errors with a devastating 2/10 for his effort.

In fact tempus fugit has since come to the aid of the Tims of this world with the spell checker tool readily available on your digital devices. That's beaut for them but what happens to the drones like Harriet? As the bard once exclaimed: 'Ah there's the rub!'

Don't despair you've reached - The epilogue of a word-botcher.

I have just completed an engaging romp through the Tudor historical novel 'Bring up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel that tells the tale of the last days of Anne Boleyn as experienced by Thomas Cromwell.

The authoress was rewarded a Man Booker Prize for it in 2012 and my paperback edition had seven pages of effulgent praise from the critics of this world. Now that is often enough to warn me that it may not be my preferred yarn.

If you enjoy historical novels then it is well worth reading; despite its seemingly confusing, to me at least, changes in pronouns and even styles that interrupted the flow of the narrative.

Made me wonder was my young Tim merely using a female pseudonym or perhaps using his innate general intelligence cleverly to jump onto the gender-bender cart as a shortcut to success in post modern Britain?

Sona si Latine loqueris

Garry Roche

A bad bout of malaria can be a frightening experience. When I got such in the remote Jimi Valley it was an expat Public Works man, Bryson Pryor, who came to my rescue with some anti-malaria medicine.

I notice the name Graham Taylor in the list deceased kiaps. Was he the Taylor who was one of the last kiaps in the Southern Highlands area? Or was he in what is now Enga?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Gus Bottrill died on 23 January, 2019.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's a bloody sobering list Arthur.

Arthur Williams

Bernard - As a lady once told my mum, "If yuse speaks good english, yore kids speaks good english too!"

Arthur Williams

Kiaps who made their last patrol in 2019. Apologies for any ex-kiaps I may have missed, misspelt etc or dates not 100%.

190100 Bottrill, Angus ‘Gus’ Matheson *
190111 Bartlett, Jon
190203 Carroll, Mick
190203 Pople MBE, Graham
190330 Fanning, Des
190508 Robbins, Douglas George
190520 Reid, Don
190527 Reid, Dick Pearce
190531 Dodds , Brian
190630 Hill, Richard Christopher
190730 McGrath, Bill
190821 Henton, Dave
190923 Taylor, Graham
191016 Duggan, Daniel Joseph
191029 Maurice, John
191129 Armstrong, Stewart
191214 Scott-Bloxham, William

*full date not known

Bernard Corden

Dear Arthur, Your response reminds me of a reporter and an infamous interview with Humphrey Lyttleton.

The reporter enquired about Lyttleton's pastime as an avid orthinologist (sic).

Lyttleton responded...…."And you would be a word-botcher".

Chips Mackellar

Arthur, would you please send me the list of ex-kiaps who have died this year so that I can quote them in the report of the Kiaps reunion which was held on the Queensland Sunshine Coast in November this year. Your list might explain why some were absent.

Thank you.


Arthur Williams

Malaria is possibly still the world’s biggest killer.

As a new kiap and family we had been told of the need to begin taking our Camoquin from day one. However we made the mistake of taking them before every Sunday breakfast. Only after we had been vomiting a few times did old hand Di Whitehead tell us to swallow them after the meal. That seemed to work or perhaps it was our body had got over the first few weeks of the nasty tasting medicine.

Geoff Swainson the oldest on our ASOPA course used to calmly chew then before a drink of water flushed them down. Mind he had served time in Liberia before becoming a kiap.

He was an ornithologist and would sit for hours in the jungle carefully noting the movements of any birds in the trees. Even published in his hobby’s magazine. ‘Bird Watching’ which I think Asian corner-shop owners would place on the top shelf away from young customers. Never heard of him after 1971. He was originally posted to Maprik.

Over the next 30 years I would say I averaged two or three bouts a year. When I started working in the Western province APCM’s Dr Kath Donovan advised me, during one bout, "Arthur either take them very regularly as prophylactic or just stop and only take them to get over an attack." I think she advised a dosage of 4,3,2,1 but I have heard different peoples’ alternative doses.

While in Kawito, missionary Rhudi Behrens told me of bad attacks of malaria suffered by his ex-nurse wife Margaret. She was desperately ill for some time and only after tests etc did the doctors discover she was an early victim to Camoquin-resistant malaria that had arrived across the border from West Papua.

She was so weakened by the disease that the mission had forbid her to work as a fulltime nurse again. However in swampy Gogodala she was happy to still be the first stop for anyone sick in the local villages.

Perhaps ironically I always remember on my single trip to Vunapope the sight of ancient priests, brothers and nuns walking with white sticks allegedly blinded by too many years of Camoquin.

Pasuwe Ltd then started sending out Maloprim tablets that were claimed to be the answer to the new strain of the nasty illness. They sent out large tubs of the tablets to provide enough for all my staff.

After about 18 months I was transferred into HQ in Varahe St Gordons when one day I sent Akoa Pialea from Erave, who was my trusted right hand man, to City Pharmacy to get a new tub of a hundred tablets for me to dispatch to my successor in the boondocks.

I was surprised when the telephone rang and a pharmacist told me he was unable to supply the tablets. I asked why and he said, “They can now only be obtained by doctor’s prescription.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked and he told of their being dangerous to anyone taking them for more than six months. Wow! I’d been on them for 18 months. He then advised me get my blood tested and change at once to some other type; the name of which I have forgotten. I understand that the resistant malaria is now endemic in PNG.

When I began my protracted holiday at Taskul in 2007-08 it had been my intention to stay there forever. Then I missed out on a full time job with ex-kiap Craig McConaghy’s Coffee Connections at Okapa and after two short temporary jobs for Emirau Fisheries I found myself retired and sitting on a chair outside Jim White’s old Taskul store re-reading what books the termites had left of my once formidable library.

It suddenly dawned on me that when I left in 1999 I had been fully employed. I had never been unemployed for more than the few months over the past 52 years yet here I was ageing and existing on half of my UK pension.

Then Murphy-like along came malaria in 2008. I think I made up my mind to quit PNG when I had two bad bouts in a month. I was really unwell and knew my future would be downhill if I stayed any longer. So it was that I sold up Taskul and made it back to an existence in grey, wet cold Wales.

Not long after my return I started get too frequent bouts of often very painful gout in various joints of my body. I often wondered if those days of overdosing Maloprim had been cause of this new annoyance as it was said to have side effects on internal organs. Could I sue the mission?

Then came 2019 and the surgeons decided that I had a 14cm cancer growth in my left kidney. It was fairly quickly removed in July. Strangely, while in hospital the doctors would not allow me to take my prescribed anti-gout tablets as they were offensive to my heart condition.

Miraculously though the gout problem stopped at the time the kidney was removed, that is apart from continuous minor twinges in my left and right 2nd fingers. Science is a curious thing.

Reminiscing as one does at ever year’s end I believe it was right to sadly return after that final patrol in 2008 from what had been ‘my island’. By now I guess I would have been dead out there while perhaps waiting for Borneo Pharma to deliver much needed medicines to the health out stations around the beautiful places I loved.

I have kept an obituary file since 2000 and note that this year there have been 17 recorded deaths of ex-kiaps, which is twice as many as last year. So in my 82nd year I am thankful to be here even if firing on one cylinder.

Did anti-malarials endanger us? Was it the anti-gout tablets that did for me or just that the pre-war Celtic models are destined soon for the scrapyard, unless well maintained?

I’ll close with a quote I came across yesterday: ‘I don’t want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there!’ - Oscar Wilde.

Happy Xmas to us ex-kiaps, friends and families. We'll see clearer in 2020.

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