Was it all a mistake?
Measles in POM 'deeply concerning'

The story of George Oakes, kiap

George and  Edna 60th wedding anniversary 2019
George and Edna Oakes at home in Woodford on their 60th wedding anniversary last year


Return to Papua New Guinea, by George D Oakes, self-published in A4 format, 2019, 97 pages with lots of photographs. My copy from the author cost AU$40 with postage

TUMBY BAY - I’m getting on in years so it always surprises me to learn that old kiaps are still around who were in Papua New Guinea before I was born.

George Oakes doesn’t quite meet that criteria because I was six years old when he first started work as a kiap. Nevertheless we can still claim him as one of the ‘golden oldies’ from that magic 1950s period in PNG.

His account of his life as a kiap is told with modest understatement. George starts at the beginning and finishes at the end. Remarkable as it was, there is absolutely no sign of any attempt to hype or enhance his experience.

George comes from a family of Methodists. He was born at Vunairima, a Methodist settlement near Rabaul, in 1934 and lived there until he was seven years old when he was evacuated to Australia with his mother and younger brother just before the Japanese invasion.

His father remained in Rabaul to complete his 10 years as a Methodist missionary prior to resigning. He was one of the more than 1,000 Australians killed when the Montevideo Maru was sunk on its way to Japan.

George returned to PNG as a kiap in 1954 and served at Mendi, Lumi, Nuku, Pomio and Kokopo before health problems with his son forced him into a career change in 1964.

In that year he began a second career as a business advisory officer with the Department of Trade and Industry in Lae and then Port Moresby.

While he was at Nuku in 1957 he built an airstrip. Without a clinometer to check the levels he invented one of his own using a plywood triangle swinging off a large nail.

He had no radio at Nuku and communication consisted of a line of village garamuts (log drums).

When a patrol was on its way to Nuku from Lumi the drums told him three days in advance and even who was on the patrol.

In 2015 George returned to Nuku at the invitation of a local politician to celebrate the building of the airstrip and PNG’s fortieth Independence Day.

George married his wife Edna in 1958 while attending a patrol officer’s long course at ASOPA. He had met Edna at a Methodist bible camp. Like him she had a missionary background and was born in PNG.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is the confluence of kiap and missionary that George and his wife brought to their work.

Edna had some medical training and also taught in a few of the schools where they were posted. On several occasions she fostered new born children.

At Pomio infanticide was common, although slowly dying out. On one occasion Edna took on triplets abandoned by their mother but despite her efforts they all died.

Oakes coverGeorge and Edna left PNG in 1975. After six months of travelling abroad George started work as the bursar of Barker College in Hornsby, a North Shore suburb of Sydney. He was there until he retired in 1992.

The following year they moved to Woodford, in the Blue Mountains, where they now live.

I’ve got quite a collection of books like the one George has written. His differs a little bit because of the fascinating collection of photographs that go with it.

Most are in colour and come up well on the glossy pages. The larger format also allows for larger images.

These sorts of books are a valuable collective resource.

One day historians will come to appreciate them and perhaps also the role that kiaps played in Australia’s history.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Robin, please accept my abject apologies for any perceived aspersions I may have cast on the old guard at the PNGAA in the past.

Those people were and are a product of their time and are entitled to their views, although I must admit to some dismay at the vitriol my gentle chidings produced.

The PNGAA is now a robust and relevant organisation and we should be thankful for that fact.

We should also be thankful that people like George Oakes, Graham Hardy, Chips Mackellar and others are writing and publishing their reminiscences. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Robin Mead

I was lucky to meet George Oates yesterday at the PNGAA luncheon and bought a copy of his book which he signed for me.

And, Phil Fitzpatrick, I hope you verify all your pronouncements rather better than you apparently did a while back.

You once wrote online without even talking to them or verifying anything, the most outrageously negative comments about elderly PNGAA members who deserved more respect. Soft targets for a bikmaus.

Some of us will not forget your bullying comments.

Keith, as someone I supported well, I challenge anyone to say it differently....

Bamahuta, 'Taubada' Fitzpatrick.

Robin, while Phil is more than equipped to advocate for himself, I need to make some important observations. First, I find it strange that after nearly 12 years this matter should be raised again.

More importantly, your remarks do impinge on the reasons for my precipitate resignation as president of the PNGAA in January 2009. In doing so, I wrote on the reasons that had triggered this decision. Some extracts:

"Despite what was said to me before I agreed to put my name forward as President last year about there being a mood for change in the PNGAA, it is clear that a vocal minority of people within the Association, and particularly within the former ROAPNG membership, are implacably opposed to change.

"[T]here were serious divisions in the Committee before my election as President …. I have no desire to preside over a voluntary organisation in which such divisions persist and in which such ill will is manifested to the person holding the office of President.

"While such disharmony and discord would be in large part due to the inflexibility, intolerance and, in some cases, intellectual dishonesty of some members – which in most circumstances would not deter me – I nevertheless feel compassion for these people, most of whom are ageing, and I also feel a sense of duty to the origins and history of the Association"

You can read the complete letter here:

The disrespectful, disruptive and, yes, bullying behaviour of a group of these people, a number of whom have since died, was appalling.

As Andrea Williams, a true icon of the PNGAA and who I know we both respect greatly, said at the time: "It hasn’t been easy being on the PNGAA committee for a number of years due to the intolerable attitudes of some."

Robin, you are a decent man and a friend of mine, and you were there at the time, but there is a deeper narrative here. An old and unfair bitterness about a work of fiction, and a character attack on its author, is not a true representation of how these people behaved nor of the attitudes they held. I do believe these old arguments should be laid to rest - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've sent George a copy of your comment David.

Hopefully he'll contact you.

David Medwell

I would like to phone George Oakes, say hello and send him a book I think he may treasure.

It is his own copy of a Police Motu language book he must have used initially in the early fifties. He has written his name on the front cover and also inside. I am sure he would like to see it and I will gladly send it to him.

I was in PNG 1973-1979 and must have acquired it there.

Can someone help me find George please. My phones are 08 89276748 and 0400091844. I live in Darwin.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Just a couple of corrections.

Edna never actually had any formal medical training and the mother of the triplets actually died and didn't abandon them. No one in her family were prepared to take the newborns on so Edna volunteered.

George has also sold all his copies of the book.

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