MELBOURNE - I will take Robert Forster’s narrative a bit further to provide more clarification of the colonial Administration’s patrol reports for those wishing more information on those times.
There is much valuable historical data in the reports, particularly for Papua New Guineans who are seeking tribal or family history.
I’ve been reading these reports for several years since they became available through University California, San Diego, to seek the names of kiaps or merely to clarify the spelling of names.
The result is that I have read nearly every report held at the USCD archives.
I was a kiap for 14 years before and after independence and have a reasonable understanding of the rules of construction and conditions under which patrol reports were written.
Robert Forster has raised a number of points that would provide difficulties for an independent researcher to gain an appreciation of the area and culture from those old patrol reports, so I’ll detail the problems from my viewing of the reports.
But first, let me examine what is in the archives.
The archives are the National Archives of PNG and contain the original copies of patrol reports sent to the departmental headquarters in Port Moresby from all provinces (then called districts).
The Director of the Department of District Administration, or whatever it was called at any particular time, issued standing instructions about reporting on patrolling by departmental officers, including the style, content and timeliness of reports.
There was strictness about reports for every patrol being completed in a timely way and forwarded to him.
It was expected that within two weeks of the completion of a patrol, a typewritten report would be provided in triplicate to the assistant district commissioner (ADC) at the relevant sub-district office.
The ADC would then provide written comments on the report back to the patrolling officer and further observations to the district commissioner (DC) along with the original copy of the report together with a copy of his response to the patrolling officer.
The ADC would retain one copy of the report for his records.
The DC would then make comments on the report back to the ADC and forward these to the director in Port Moresby along with the original of the patrol report, his observations and a copy of his comments to the ADC.
The director would then make comments back to the DC on the content and quality of the report with a copy to the reporting officer. This high level report would often generate further correspondence with other departments and all this would be added to a central file.
These files were created for each district, sub-district and patrol post for each financial year and patrol reports were accordingly numbered as to location and sequence for that particular office and year.
For example, Finschhafen 1 of 1969/70. The numbering commenced with the first patrol to be completed in each financial year.
The files would be held at the departmental records office until the records schedule deemed that files could be archived or space limitations required them to be archived but with retrieval capability.
It was a buttoned down, meticulous and thorough system.
Over recent years, we are led to believe that all available material was photocopied and microfiched in a project in conjunction with University California, San Diego.
PNG Archives did the work and created an index, but this was obviously undertaken without any guidance from someone with knowledge of the Patrol report process.
So there are a lot of problematic issues flowing from the available data or lack thereof without any explanation.
My conversations with UCSD indicate that it cannot alter the data due to its ownership and the terms of its agreement with PNG Archives.
I have noticed, however, that since I started reading the reports, UCSD has altered its storage of the data and changed the chronological sorting and alphabetical listing of the reports.
So let’s start with the quality of the material available at UCSD as many of these reports are either unreadable or very hard to read.
There are several reasons for this. Equipment was often in poor condition and stationary in short supply at the sub-district office or patrol post.
Decrepit manual typewriters needed servicing, typewriter ribbons and carbon paper were overused and typing paper was in short supply.
This meant that reports were occasionally typed on coloured paper and the print was blurred both on the original and copies because of overused typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.
Whilst the material was readable back then, photocopies of photocopies of these reports are now indecipherable.
There are also instances of poor photocopying practice by PNG Archives staff because images are blurred. In some cases there have been unsuccessful attempts to reduce the old, and longer, foolscap pages to A4 size.
Other problems include pages of a report out of sequence or papers from a different report mixed with the report being viewed. This may have occurred from poor filing in the first instance or Archives’ staff inadvertently mixing papers during this exercise.
Finally, to missing reports. I’ve observed frequent misnumbering of reports, sometimes attempted to be corrected, which comes from miscalculation of to which financial year the report should have been allocated.
In some cases, particularly in border posts, reports were placed in secure files because of sensitive information. And, of course, there were the reports that were just plain lost or misfiled, never to see the light of day again.
I am also aware that the old Records Office in Port Moresby suffered a fire that destroyed many files.
But, for those readers seeking information on traditional customs, events, tribe or family, there is much information available if you persist.
The reports contain information of an anthropological nature for specific areas, information about individual village officials and influential elders and events of significance affecting those areas.
The archive is incomplete but still yields much of value.
Robert's memoir also discussed the kiap linguistic 'style' which was a form of bureaucratic language we were expected to use.
No one instructed us in that style but we were expected to adopt it from reading old patrol reports and correspondence. God forbid that we should use our own style!
I recall Rick Hill, my first ADC at Finschhafen, sitting me down with a folder of patrol reports and telling me to read them. This was a valuable lesson as it introduced me to what was happening in the area and it showed me the style and format of patrol reports.
Reading the comments from senior officers on various patrol reports in the UCSD files, I’m amazed at the number that contain no other comment other than to criticise the grammar, spelling and poor typing of junior officers.
And using slang or Tok Pisin in official reports was frowned upon unless used as a direct quote in inverted commas.
Sometimes it seemed that this was done only for the sake of finding fault with an otherwise quite innocuous report. And this went all the way to the director’s office who similarly commented.
I will admit that my first major report was a direct copy of a patrol to the same area two years previously with a few words changed to avoid detection of my plagiarism.
Fortunately the ADC was as new to the area as I was and hadn’t read the previous reports.
Another unfortunate aspect of the files at UCSD is that a number of kiaps were avid photographers and took extensive photos of aspects of their patrols, the villages and the people.
These photos have not copied very well and are largely unrecognisable. What a boon these would be to our PNG friends looking for information on the family and villages.