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Those old patrol reports


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Then there was the discovery that not all reports had been archived.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.


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Ross Wilkinson

Robert also discusses the kiap “style” which was a form of bureaucratic language that 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 the various Patrol Reports in the UCSD files, I’m amazed at the number of them that contain no other comment other than to criticise the Grammar, spelling and poor typing of the reports from junior officers. And, of course, use of slang or Tok Pisin in official reports was frowned upon unless used as a direct quote in inverted commas. Sometimes it seemed that it was done 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 he hadn’t read the old reports.
Perhaps the only really 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 if they had copied well.

Ross Wilkinson

I will take Robert’s points a bit further to provide more clarification to the understanding of these Patrol Reports for those wishing to seek general information on the life and times of rural PNG in the reporting periods. There is much valuable historical data in the reports, particularly for those PNG nationals who are seeking tribal or family history.

I’ve been reading these reports for several years since they became available through UCSD to seek names of kiaps or to clarify spelling of those names so have read nearly every report held at the Archives. I was a kiap for 14 years before and after Independence so have a reasonable understanding of the rules of construction and conditions under which Patrol Reports were written.

Robert has raised a number of points that would provide difficulties for an independent researcher to gain an appreciation of the area and culture from the available reports. I will detail the problems from my viewing of the reports; but first, what is in the archives?

The Archives are the National Archives of PNG and contain the original copies of Patrol Reports sent to the Department Headquarters in Port Moresby from all Provinces (Districts). The Director of the Department of District Administration, or whatever it was called at any particular time, issued Standing Instructions about patrolling by departmental officers including the style, content and timeliness that reports would be completed and forwarded to him for all patrols.

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 comments to the District Commissioner (DC) on his observations along with the original and one copy of the report together with a copy of the 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 to the Director in Port Moresby 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 report would often generate further correspondence with other departments and all this would be added to a department 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.

We are led to believe that all available material was photocopied and microfiched in a project in conjunction with UCSD in recent years. PNG Archives undertook the work and created an index but this was obviously undertaken without any guidance from someone with knowledge of the Patrol Report process. So obviously there are a lot of issues from the available data or lack thereof without any explanation as to why. My conversations with UCSD indicate that they cannot alter the data due to the ownership of the data 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 copies available at UCSD as a quantity are either totally unreadable or very hard to read. There are several reasons for this. Equipment and stationary was often in short supply and in poor condition at the Sub-District Office or Patrol Post. Old manual typewriters needed servicing, typewriter ribbons and carbon paper were well-overused and white typing paper was in short supply. This meant that reports were occasionally typed on coloured paper and the typing was blurred on the original and copies because of the poor ribbon and carbon paper. Whilst readable back then, photocopies of photocopies of these reports now are unreadable.

Also, there are instances of poor copying practices by PNG Archives staff because the images are blurred because of the wrong speed used or movement of the paper whilst copying. Another reason appears to be the attempted reduction of foolscap pages to an A4 flatbed copier.

Other problems include pages of a report out of sequence or papers from a different report mixed in 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, missing reports may have occurred because of several reasons. I’ve observed frequent misnumbering that has attempted to be corrected by District Office, part of which comes from miscalculation of which financial year the report should be allocated to. In some cases, particularly in border posts, reports are refiled in secure files because of sensitive information contained in the report that needed to be removed from everyday eyes. And, of course, there were the reports that were just plain lost or misfiled, never to see the light of day again.

I am aware that the old Records Office in Port Moresby suffered a fire that destroyed many files.

So, for those of you seeking information on your traditional customs, area, tribe or family, there is much information available if you persist. The reports contain information of an anthropological nature for the relevant areas, information about individual village officials or influential elders and events of significance affecting areas.

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