TUMBY BAY - Kiaps were required to work for 21 months in Papua New Guinea before they were granted three months leave.
When their leave was due they were provided with a return airline ticket to Australia.
After 21 months in the field most kiaps looked forward to their leave. It was a chance to catch up with their families in Australia, see what had been going on in the outside world and enjoy a few luxuries not available in PNG.
There were, however, a few kiaps, particularly those living on remote patrol posts, who were reluctant to go on leave.
In some cases it required a stiff direction from the District Commissioner to get them on an aeroplane.
The general conclusion was that they had been too long in the bush and had gone a bit ‘troppo’. That was true in some cases but in others it was more complex.
In modern day parlance, these reluctant individuals had been embedded in the places where they worked and had become so engaged with the local people they didn’t want to leave.
The colonial Administration recognised this as an occupational hazard and tended to move officers around every 12 months or so; the theory being that too much familiarity with the local people left officers open to a kind of cultural nepotism.
This was frustrating for many kiaps because, after working hard to learn about the local people and gain their trust, they suddenly found themselves moved on with a whole new scenario to master.
That aside, most kiaps absorbed a level of cultural knowledge and appreciation that literally changed their lives and their worldview.
This was became clear when they found difficulty adjusting to life back in Australia after they had ‘gone finish’.
The Rousseau myth of the ‘noble savage’ aside, it is remarkable how many Westerners have found solace in going to live in communities in the so-called third world.
Back in the 1960s hippy era, it was a rite of passage for many young people to spend time in places like India experiencing a different way of life. This sort of thing was pretty transient however and most went home to become accountants and shopkeepers.
The more profound experiences are a lot more interesting.
In 1836, 10-year old Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in a raid by native American Comanches in central Texas. Although beaten and abused at first, she soon integrated into the tribe. She became a Comanche in every sense, marrying a warrior and having three children with him.
She resisted several attempts to be integrated back into white society and, when she was finally forced to do so, spent the rest of her life pining for her Comanche friends and family.
In 1848 a 14-year old French cabin boy, Narcisse Pelletier, was abandoned on a beach in north Queensland. He was found by the indigenous Uutaalnganu people and lived with them for 17 years.
In 1875 he was forced to leave them and return to ‘civilisation’ where he had great trouble readjusting his life.
While those reluctant kiaps were not in the league of Cynthia Parker or Narcisse Pelletier, I’m sure that they could empathise with them.
I was reminded of this cultural conundrum when I read Daniel Kumbon’s article about the last of the ridge top kiaps.
In particular I noted kiap John Gordon-Kirkby’s love of kaukau roasted on a fire and eaten coated in ash and dirt. The very thought made my mouth water.
Over the years, as Western society becomes more and more frenetic and meaningless, those days in the distant past as a kiap take on a significance that very few people would understand.
I don’t think it’s got anything to do with rose-coloured glasses. It’s deeper and more profound than that and therefore harder to explain.
In my own case I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of ‘civilisation’. Stepping off the plane in hot and muddy old Daru after leave was a pleasant and relaxing feeling.
I suspect I’ve been running away from ‘civilisation’ ever since, both physically and certainly mentally.