NORTHUMBRIA, UK - The University of California’s photocopied archive of old and ancient patrol reports is fascinating - a treasure trove for historians and archivists keen to blow away the metaphorical dust that will be shrouding a multitude of historical nuggets.
Those who click the link must however arm themselves with patience.
Some titbits will be buried under layers of difficult bureaucratese, lost forever as a result of photocopying made difficult by faded ink, or may even have been erased.
I discovered the archive three years ago and was immediately struck by the contrast between information that was immediately apparent and that which had been obscured either by Department of District Administration format or cramped language.
My first search was for the Johnny-Come-Lately stuff I had written between 1971 and 1975.
Much of it was there to read but offered in a form so stilted by my inhibitions, or adherence to the sub-district’s preferred style, that morsels which may have been of marginal interest to researchers would have been difficult to identify.
Then there was the discovery that not all reports had been archived.
Some written at Bereina may not have covered anything of interest because those mainly single-issue field visits (hard to call them patrols) were routine, uneventful, and a brief account may only have been submitted to smooth acceptance of a camping allowance claim.
It is easy to think they were misfiled or refiled by a sub-district office clerk who was uncertain where to slot them.
However there were I wrote while working in the Tapini Sub-District whose absence was more puzzling.
The archive revealed that the main section of one I had written on cargo cult thinking in the Upper Kunimeipa (I have a copy here at home) was missing and I had been bollocked (unbeknownst to me) for this omission by the District Commissioner.
And another report covering a newly discovered cargo cult in an unusually remote Goilala location is not enjoying San Diego light of day either.
Perhaps it was passed on through the confidential route?
Unless confidential files are visible elsewhere, it means that many historical gems - those covering matters like early administrative attitudes towards PNG’s embryonic politicians, social unrest judged at the time to be best hushed up, or even the misdemeanors of an over adventurous officer - have still to be revealed.
For example one of the Kunimeipa’s most intriguing former kiaps was Roy Edwards who patrolled across it during the late 1940s.
He is credited by priests, and some anthropologists, with breaking contemporary Goilala payback cycles and therefore saving hundreds of lives.
However the methods he used were judged by Moresby to have been too extreme and he was cashiered.
Some information on this emerged in Bill Brown’s recent reminiscences but the strongest stuff, some of it perhaps written by Ron Galloway the then Assistant District Commissioner at Tapini, will almost certainly have been filed under confidential label and could therefore still be hidden from public light.
If it is, contemporary researchers will most definitely be missing out.
Perhaps the most puzzling feature of my peep into these archives was that I had no recollection, none whatsoever, of a patrol conducted ahead of a mining company’s initial exploration to secure nearby villagers’ permission.
Proof of the visit was obvious. The report was written in my style and under my signature, but I could not remember a thing.
That must be why archived records are so important.