Success through endless struggle
Marape urges patience over Porgera

Those old patrol reports II

PatrolROSS WILKINSON

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.

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Arthur Williams

I have only one of my patrol reports. It was my final report and was what many called a census patrol. Think there was a more bureaucratic title for it such as 'Area Study' or suchlike.

As the patrol was ending I diverted to Narimlaua, which is on the trail from Taskul westwards to Magam village that was then its road head because it faced a mile or so of a very wet sago forest.

I went to Narimlaua to help prepare for the official opening of a low-level ford across the Narim river which I had been monitoring for the administration.

It was properly constructed with Masta Bill (I think) an OZ engineer living on site in the house of Sandi Tito on a hill directly overlooking the project.

Sandi was the unofficial village leader of the village as Councillor Tauanimol was one of many very strong Councillors who had been in the Johnson struggle and mentally still anti-government and had done little during the construction phase. Later he would take his supporters up river to start a new hamlet.

Ironically this rump of TIA members made up the majority in the Council yet to me they didn't seem to realise the power that control had given them in the lowest level of the governing system.

The opening day was very bleak and as we waited for DC Holmes with Taskul Kiaps to bring Perry Kwan MP, PNGs short-term Speaker, news came of the Govt. 4x4 getting stuck and then the rescue tractor also bogged down. In the end the bridge opening team had to revert to dinghies to reach the village.

As Perry and the DC walked out onto the ford to cut the ribbon the water was already lapping over their shoes and the heavens burst into a tremendous tropical storm.

I and my recently arrived APO successor as 'Advaisa', were ordered to stay behind and free a massive tree trunk that had lodged in one of the culvert pipes to flow with the ever rising flood over the top of ford rather than destroy our construction during its first official day.

We managed to do so with several young men and then were able to walk up the very slippery muddy 'road' to the feast. All that was left in the deserted rain and windswept setting was one over ripe banana with the usual village scrawny mongrels scrabbling in among the remains of banana leaves for any scraps of food that may have fallen into the grass.

The new kiap’s mum-in-law had stayed with us as we cleared the blockage in the river and when she saw the sodden post-mumu detritus I could see in her disgusted looks that 'Her daughter' would not be staying very long in Taskul.

I was able to insert the events in my census patrol report with a tongue in cheek reference to the road bridge ceremonial party being unable to drive along the road to reach it.

As a Pommie urbanite I was able to reinforce my view that roads built without any camber on the red lateritic soils of the area would obviously become impassable and that vehicles would make wheel marks in the mud which would then become ruts; to become gullies and eventually impassable.

That earned an attached comment in the paper-trail in my Report to HQ that criticised me as an APO and one of the lowest of the low. Paraphrasing (still haven't unpacked all my effects in recent flat moving) it said, 'This new boy should know that we (kiaps) have built roads in far worse conditions that Lavongai!'

Yeh man! I saw some in driving from WA to Sydney as well as all over PNG. I’ve even negotiated Poroma Mountain as modern Oz army engineers struggled for years to tame it; much to the annoyance of the local highwaymen who regularly stole cargo from trucks as they staggered up the tough grades when the road re-opened late every Friday afternoon until 0600 Mondays.

In my prolonged 2007/8 stay in Taskul I walked several times along the Taskul 'road' now a mere single file track. In the kunai area of nearby Kulingei the government and only vehicle had eventually strayed many metres either side of the track trying to avoid gullies often over half a metre deep or more and so making new ruts.

The vehicle had destroyed the kunai so that there was a very large area devoid of any vegetation leaving it looking like a rural dirt airstrip.

The Narim low level bridge was extant but its gabion baskets and many of its culvert pipes seemed to be in their last days. The pipes are still a good spot to climb into for a refreshing wash or when the needs of nature call you as the fast flowing river carries your wastes to the ocean.

Further west I only saw the rotting remains of a tiny wooden bridge I had built near Magam, where the road had never really been used as villagers and I mostly used the nearby East West hilltop trail avoiding the wet coastal strip.


The road was never used and Sir Julius Chan, the current governor for many years, has decried 18th century German idea that a ring road is the best for the island. Instead he has supported building a cross island road that opens up the interior rainforest to more clear felling in the illegal SABLs of the island.

I cried when I saw the Min valley plains where once stood beautiful standard of exotic timber species and where I had made quite a few patrols. There are some terrible pictures on www.globalwitness.org

That was a little of my back story to a report to support the official or bureaucratic version.

Thanks to the growing number of autobiographies by kiaps and other field workers which also provide flesh for any future researcher interested in the 75 years Australian administration of its nearest neighbour.

John Gordon-Kirkby

Haha! My patrol reports 1964-78 must number amongst the worst for spelling and grammar!

Most of my superiors made no effort to understand the reasons. Some tore strips off me in in writing, others abused me verbally and ungraciously within bush material offices. They are now all forgiven.

In in spite of my very English name, I actually grew up in Spain and Morocco. My early education was in Italian.

Now as a “lapun ex kiap” I can see the funny side. I’m still an atrocious speller, but IT technology comes to my rescue.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You might have something there Arthur.

I did a couple of special patrols along the border with West Papua in 1969 with Bill Lapthorne, an Army Warrant Officer based in Kiunga, but couldn't find the reports in the archives in Port Moresby when I checked in the late 1990s.

Admittedly the archives was in a mess with no lights, air conditioning or water because of unpaid bills at the time.

Those reports had Situation Reports that I expect were extracted by the spooks but the rest of the report was pretty innocuous and should have survived.

Arthur Williams

Thanks Ross for enlightment on the whereabouts of all that paper kiaps produced over their short term – like me or those like yourself who did 10 years with some others serving even longer.

Of my two years on Lavongai I found out that;
In 70/71 there were 29 patrols generating 507 pages while
In 71/72 there were 21 patrols generating 332 pages.

I have noted that the years 1956-65 are missing for Taskul patrol post kiaps.

Those years of course were at tail end of the USA’s ‘Reds Under the Bed’ hysteria, that led to more worrying events including the ‘1961 Bay of Pigs’ fiasco; also in 1961 we saw the Berlin Wall being built and reaching the height of fear was the two weeks of the our world apparently being on the brink of extinction during the ‘1962 Cuban Missile Crisis’.

Then came the start of the USA’s Vietnam War almost coinciding with Indonesia, PNG and Australia’s nearest neighbour; also seeming to be capitulating to the reds.

Seeing all these events as an apparent international Soviet plot it is alleged that the OZ government in 1964 may have over reacted to what they perceived as yet another communism threat nearer to home on remote Lavongai Island.

In February many of its people refused to vote in the first general election for a single parliament of the twin nations preferring to vote for President Johnson Cult.

A long time ago I had hoped to get more facts from official reports about some of the often lurid stories told me by victims or their families some of whom still are alive on the island.

It was then I was told that there are no records in the Taskul Patrol Post, none in Kavieng nor in Moresby. Were they deemed security stories and so hidden from third party investigation?

Or were all Taskul’s missing reports of this frantic period lost in a ‘fire’ like the adage: ’Every good businessman deserves a fire!’?

Ross pre-independence I thought that originals of all our Patrol reports got sent to Canberra. If so did they have a ‘fire’ too?

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