Dancing with tears of joy
Saving the Sepik from Frieda mine

The making of a kiap

Cadet patrol officers  Sogeri 1950
Cadet patrol officers watch police on parade, Sogeri, 1950


TUMBY BAY - The comment has occasionally been made that kiaps were just public servants, no more and no less. That’s technically true but there was a whole lot more to it.

In essence they were multi-skilled administrators doing a whole range of things quite divorced from the usual public service image of pen pushers and desk jockeys.

This role diversity was reflected in the type of training they received.

The typical training regime when I became a kiap in 1967 began with a three month course at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) at Mosman in Sydney. This was largely academic and classroom-based.

We were taught law, anthropology, government and history as well as a few practical subjects like first aid.

Our instructors were people highly qualified in their fields. I was surprised that they were happy to teach a bunch of pimply youths on their way to Papua and New Guinea.

The first aid course was a little different than the usual because it incorporated tropical medicine and practical skills like assisting at births and treating plane crash survivors.

These courses were particularly vivid and memorable because of the gore involved.

I never once had to treat any plane crash victims because in all the crashes I attended the passengers and crew were already dead.

However, I did learn about body bags and how to collect rotting bits of human beings scattered in the forest.

The birthing training came in handy on a number of occasions. One particular occasion I remember involved a little bloke with his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat intent upon coming into the world backwards. I was really chuffed when his mother named him Pilip.

At one point at ASOPA we were given practical instructions on how to build latrines. This was delivered by an army warrant officer. For some reason we were joined for the practical demonstration by the trainee teachers at the school.

At this demonstration we learned that the military concept of a latrine differs greatly from a civilian one. The warrant officer proudly presented us with a long shallow trench with a low wooden rail on one side.

Apparently one hung onto the rail while pointing one’s bum over the trench. It was a magnificent edifice and the warrant officer assured us that it could cater for up to 20 people at any one sitting.

The next stage in our training regime occurred at Kwikila after we had flown to PNG. This was entirely practical and run by experienced but slightly eccentric kiaps.

The first things we learnt was how to live under a leaky kunai roof and sleep on a soggy mattress, squat over a hole in concrete floor to go to the toilet and outrun the large white maggots and mosquitos lying in wait for us.

We also learnt to eat copious amounts of rice covered in lumps of bully beef or watery pieces of mackerel pike with the occasional side dish of cooked banana.

The highlight of our training at Kwikila was the rafting course. I’m not sure whether this was thrown in as an extra because the local people used rafts to bring their garden produce down the Kemp Welch River or because it was a mandatory skill we needed.

In any event, it culminated in a raft race from a point upriver down to the bridge just outside the town. This was the old rickety cable bridge, not the flash steel and concrete one that replaced it.

My memory of this event includes two things. The first was my angry brother-in-law-to-be pissed off at my assuming the role of a loud-mouthed captain with a win at all costs obsession.

The second was our arrival at the bridge and our bombardment with rotten fruit and flour bombs by the people on the bridge.

This segment had been organised by our instructors and involved a whole lot of delighted students from the local school.

Another event I recall was a firearms demonstration conducted by a very pukka European police officer who had driven out from Port Moresby.

We were allowed to blaze away at wooden targets with some ancient Webley and/or Smith and Wesson revolvers and some World War II Lee Enfield rifles.

I was hopeless with a revolver but for some strange reason I managed to plonk nine out of 10 rifle shots smack in the middle of the distant target.

This was better than the copper could do and much better than any of my fellow students.

I was never able to repeat that performance. My police always managed to embarrass me when we practised. Neither, thank goodness, was I ever called upon to use a firearm on the job.

The last part of our formal training occurred at the end of our first term of duty. This involved a course in law and government at the Administrative College in Waigani.

In their infinite wisdom, our bosses in Port Moresby thought it was a good idea to drag a bunch of young blokes who had been living out in the bush for nearly two years into the big city for a month or so and let them loose.

Not only that but they made sure to time it just before we were all due to go on our first leave.

The outcome was a foregone conclusion. The whole course was a boozy party interspersed by occasional fuzzy lectures about torts (a kind of sausage I think) and balancing local government budgets.

Later on I went back to school to do a degree but it was never as much fun as my kiap training.


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Ross Wilkinson

I joined the service nine months after Phil and my experience was similar. After four months at ASOPA and the night life of Sydney, our group of 40 travelled to Port Moresby and then Kwikila for five weeks of orientation in practical kiaping.

Our classroom training in Sydney and the complementary practical training at Kwikila was to prepare us for the kiap role; but did it?

Perhaps the only difference between Phil’s group and ours was that ours was the first that contained mature-aged married recruits. In fact, a couple of the wives attended some of the lectures in Sydney.

Looking back at the group I belonged to and the various skills and qualifications that each had that made them desirable enlistees to the service, I now realise that we were selected because we showed an adaptability that was required of the job.

And what made us different was that we had to be prepared to deal with anything at any time as first responders.

Some of the 40 on my intake only stayed several months before resigning and returning to Australia and others stayed for varying longer periods. What made the job so attractive that someone would apply and be accepted, only to resign several months later?

As a consequence of the unpredictability of the job and hours required, unlike others in the administration, our contracts required us to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our pay level was supposedly adjusted comparative to other public servants but there was no “comfort” adjustment.

The official working hours were 7.45am until 4.06pm with 45 minutes for lunch. This provided the required 38 hour working week for the normal public servant and which guided activities on an outstation but kiaps had to be ready to drop everything at any time to attend to “out of the ordinary” matters.

For example, I can recall one Christmas Day being in the bush searching for a missing aircraft. Late in the afternoon the Assistant District Commissioner dropped in by Army helicopter to deliver a tinned ham and a bottle of white wine. Suddenly one wasn’t alone and forgotten!

I look back at this situation and recall with amusement that every outstation office had a lovely brass wind-up wall clock with which to record the current time.

Unfortunately, in many of the offices that I worked in or attended, either the wind-up key had been lost or the clock had been over-wound and stopped working. So it became the custom to set the clock at 4.06pm so that whenever you looked at it, it was “knock off” time.

I’m now sorry that I never took one of these clocks as a souvenir of my time there.

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