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An unnecessary shot in the leg

Erico found himself looking down the barrel of a .38 pistol
Erico found himself looking down the barrel of a .38 pistol

ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA - Back in 1972, Erico Aufe, a former government interpreter on Bereina station in the Kairuku Sub-District, refused to pay his local government tax.

This triggered a chain of events, some farcical, which highlighted the difference between the consensual approach to village administration favoured by the majority of kiaps and the less flexible tactics employed by most Australian police officers of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.

Erico was convicted of tax evasion by his local court but the following morning strolled casually out of Bereina’s flimsy calaboose.

He was then able to so successfully evade recapture he became a village hero.

After a number of fruitless visits to Erico’s village, all conducted with the subtlety of a ram raid, Bereina’s police inspector took a riot squad to encircle his house – but Erico again escaped, swimming in dramatic style across the Angabunga River.

It all came to an end when Erico emerged from his home early one morning and found himself looking down the barrel of a .38 pistol.

Was he cowed? Not a bit. He raised the bush knife he was holding, swatted the pistol with the flat of its blade, whereupon the startled inspector shot himself in the thigh.

There was a melee and Erico was arrested. But for many weeks laughter engulfed the Mekeo villages because he had made a monkey of the police.

Nor was it a surprise that his story was carried by the Australian press which paraded it as evidence of further pre-self-government turbulence in an already troubled PNG.

In the following year, 1973, a similar break-out from Bereina’s corrective institution underlined these sentiments when one of the escapees, Nicholas Ain’au Okua, decided to model himself on Erico.

Nicholas was determinedly toting his machete when a kiap and two policemen arrived to arrest him.

But he turned out to be a poor reflection of his hero because, although Nicholas raised the machete into the attack position, he backed blindly into the wall of a house, turned around to see what he had hit and was immediately handcuffed.

It was a job well done, conducted in silence and took less than two minutes from the arrival of the government LandCruiser and its return to Bereina.

Six months later the kiap who had arrested Nicholas needed to cross the Angabunga River on the ferry and was dismayed to see that the only available seat was alongside Erico, who had just completed his jail term.

Fearing mockery, even castigation, the kiap cautiously took his place and was immediately greeted by an elbow in the ribs.

Fearing the worst he turned to find Erico grinning widely and was told in the loudest of stage whispers that he, Erico, was going to make sure his next round of council tax would be paid on time.

This statement ended with a huge laugh from Erico himself and grins all round from the other passengers.

The kiap later asked a senior colleague why he thought Erico had decided to make a joke against himself.

The senior kiap said “because the most effective from of policing is by consent.

Kiaps regularly engage village people on a multitude of issues who tend to prefer kiaps to the more distant blue uniforms of the police.

Kiaps are usually ready to deal with them on a person to person basis and Papua New Guineans have always been astute observers of an individual’s personality.”

He added that Erico was not a “bad lad” and the damaging confrontation he had with Bereina’s police inspector had been “unnecessary”.

Robert Forster is author of ‘The Northumbrian Kiap’. Further information at https://rforster.com/shop/northumbrian-kiap/

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

A lot of expatriates in pre-independent PNG bought their own revolvers and pistols. Even the ladies had cute little .22 calibre guns that fitted into their handbags and bedside table drawers. I often wondered why all this was necessary.

Even today expatriates in PNG have guns. I've not heard of anyone actually using one. Maybe it gives them a sense of security. No idea where they get them but I've seen some pretty deadly heavy calibre Dirty Harry style guns in people's houses.

A lot of politicians are armed too. Even people like Gary Juffa.

This presupposes that all these people are prepared to use them. That is a disturbing thought.

Smith and Wesson revolvers made great paperweights. When I had to take one on patrol I put it in a small rucksack with my camera and paid a manki to carry it. I liked to pose with a Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine now and again though.

Chips Mackellar

I also had a Smith and Wesson government issue revolver, Chris, and like yours mine was also "bloody awful and wildly inaccurate" and the ammunition for it was so old it often misfired.

Once on leave in the United States, while in Texas, I noticed guns on sale everywhere. You know, because of the Second Amendment to their Constitution "the peoples right to keep and bear arms".

While in a supermarket I saw revolvers for sale in the hardware section. Among them a beautiful Colt single-action Frontier Scout revolver, the kind you see in Western movies, complete with holster and gun belt. So I bought it.

But going through the checkout my shopping bag was so full that the revolver and gun-belt would not fit. So the check-out chic said "Why don't y'all wear it?" and I did. I buckled it on like I was taking part in a B grade movie scene of Dodge City and walked out into the street, only to be confronted by two Texas Rangers deep in conversation.

But they took no notice of my gun. As I walked past them I said, "Good Morning Rangers," and they both said "Hi, y'all," and I kept going.

And to cut a long story short, my Frontier Scout was a magnificent firearm and I kept it with me for all the years I was in PNG, surrendering it to Customs when I retired to Australia.

So that is how I solved my problem of being issued with useless revolvers which like yours were bloody awful.

Chris Overland

When first appointed as APO's we were all sworn in as commissioned officers in the RPNGC.

If my memory serves me correctly we held the not very exalted rank of Sub-Inspector, although it was all rather vague when it came to our exact status as Field Officers in the RPNGC.

Anyway, this rank made us senior to any police on our stations, who were never more than Sergeants, and less senior than the real police officer in charge of the district to which we were posted, who was at least an Inspector.

In the Gulf, the senior copper was Inspector Andy Sterns who, amongst other things, was a body builder of considerable size. This alone guaranteed him a certain amount of respect and, so far as I know, he was a perfectly competent officer.

So we were all coppers and probably should not be too precious about those who took up this much put upon profession.

As I recall a late Governor General, Bill Hayden, was a copper and he was a pretty decent soul by all accounts, as well as the major political proponent of what we now call Medicare.

As for guns, for my second patrol amongst the Kukukuku I recall being issued with a Lee Enfield .303 Carbine and a Smith and Wesson .38 Revolver.

The carbine was a brilliant weapon which I knew how to handle, having been trained in the CMF to use the 7.62mm FN SLR. However, I was only an average shot so I gave it to my senior policeman, who was a very good shot.

He was delighted and flourished it at every opportunity to the suitably awestruck local people we came upon.

The revolver was truly bloody awful. It was wildly inaccurate at even close range. I soon decided that it constituted a greater threat to me and anyone nearby than anything I actually aimed at, so I ceased to keep it loaded and wore it purely for show.

For this reason it seems entirely plausible to me that a casual swat with a bush knife would have been more than enough discharge such a weapon and, more particularly, cause injury to the person holding it.

Bernard Corden

Our evangelical sales and marketing manager's father was also a policeman.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've never seen a situation so dismal that an ex-policeman couldn't make it worse, heh! Mr Dutton.

Bernard Corden

"I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse." - Brendan Behan

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