NORTHUMBRIA, UK - Patrol boxes are embedded within the memory of every kiap and, indeed, anyone who went “on patrol” in pre-independence Papua New Guinea.
In difficult country they could be awkward, even brutish, burdens but nevertheless were toted, uphill and down dale for mile after endless mile by village carriers without whose help patrolling, a keystone kiap activity, could not have taken place.
They were a contradictory item of equipment. Their regular shape made them easy to stack or store. They instantly became convenient seats or tables.
And, because they were sealed against leaks, their contents, which could include official papers, were protected against accidents fording rivers or exposure to a succession of tropical downpours.
But the poles on which they were slung must have skinned tens of thousands of shoulders and there were occasions when tough kiaps themselves winced as they watched an exhausted line of carriers stagger into camp.
That said, however, carriers were not difficult to recruit and most of them enjoyed the chance to earn welcome cash and also visit places they might otherwise have never been able to see.
Their endurance was awesome. Since the moment they could walk they had been trained to overcome every discomfort as they contributed to the lifting and carrying that was an essential element of everyday village life.
The group of carriers in the photograph above was moving through the Pilitu section of the Goilala area in November 1974. In this case the line was burdened neither by excessive distance nor unusual weight.
But you can see that some had begun to protect their shoulders with cloth pads and, as the patrol progressed through a chain of village venues, other carriers would have begun to take care not to lose their skin too.
Patrolling and its many benefits is discussed throughout The Northumbrian Kiap, my account of bush administration in self-governing Papua New Guinea.