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Telling a kiap apart from the crowd

Papuan kiap Geoff Smith
Papuan kiap, Geoff Smith


TUMBY BAY - I served as a kiap in both New Guinea and Papua. In New Guinea the kiap rig generally consisted of a khaki shirt and shorts, shiny RM Williams boots and a slouch hat.

In Papua, especially on the remoter stations, kiaps tended to get around in whatever took their fancy or whatever they deemed suitable for the climate and circumstances.

Shirts cut off at the shoulders were teamed with footy shorts and submersible canvas jungle boots. Hats were an optional extra because they tended to get in the way in thick jungle, bandana headbands were much better at dealing with sweat.

For formal wear the cut-off shirt was substituted with a tee-shirt and thongs took the place of jungle boots.

Paul Oates crossing a bush bridge in tyical kiap gear of the time
Paul Oates crossing a bush bridge in typical New Guinea kiap attire of the time

You could always pick the kiap in the crowd in New Guinea because of their distinctive military-style attire.

In Papua it was hard to tell the kiaps from the rum-soaked crocodile shooters and the other reprobates that lived there .

The old adage tells us that ‘clothes maketh the man’ and I suspect this is true. Papuan kiaps tended to be a lot less uptight than their New Guinean counterparts.

Identifying kiaps in Papua was a difficult business. It could also be difficult in New Guinea because the odd aspirational district clerk or lesser mortal often fronted up to the office in khaki kit too.

This problem was eventually acknowledged by headquarters when they began issuing kiaps with Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary warrant cards.

My warrant card lasted for about a week into my first Papuan patrol. After wading through a couple of rivers it turned decidedly soggy and the photograph fell off and disappeared.

When I got back to base I dried it out and stuck a spare passport photograph in place of the missing official mugshot and tidied up all of the smudged lettering.

I asked the Assistant District Commissioner at Kiunga to arrange for a new card but he seemed to think my running repairs were okay.

I duly stuck it in a drawer and never took it out on patrol again. Or anywhere else for that matter.

In fact, from memory, the only time I actually used it was when I was pulled up in the Barossa Valley by a local copper for speeding while I was on leave.

He took a look at the warrant card, told me not to be a naughty boy and to keep going. I was only doing about 5kph over the speed limit anyway.

A little while ago I only became aware that the warrant cards with which we were issued were a relatively new thing in the 1960s when mine was issued.

Keith Jackson had used a copy of my ‘doctored’ warrant card to illustrate an article I had written and it caught the attention of ex-kiap Chips Mackellar. He provided some interesting background information.

Chips Mackellar's ID Card“That was a handsome photo of you on your RPNGC Warrant Card in your story ‘Fit and Healthy’ published in PNG Attitude of 6 May,” Chips wrote.

“I thought our readers might be interested in my warrant card which was made for me before any of us had them officially.

In those days before warrant cards (circa 1950) the only way to prove our police [and kiap] identity was to carry a copy of the Government Gazette in which our commission was proclaimed. A rather inconvenient truth.

“But I had dealings with the oil companies then and at the tender age of 19 I looked more like a school kid than a stalwart enforcer of the law, so I asked DDA HQ for a warrant card, and they made one up especially for me.

“Note that it carried the then required copy of the gazette. Also note that at that time the police forces had not been amalgamated, and we were gazetted as members of ‘The Royal Papuan Constabulary’.

Chip’s initiative reminded me of another interesting identity issue that I experienced.

In 1969, following the ridiculous ‘act of free choice’ in West Irian, tensions rose considerably along the border.

The OPM [Organisasi Papua Merdeka] was active, refugees were fleeing into Papua New Guinea, often pursued by Indonesian soldiers, and there was considerable danger afoot for those of us patrolling the border.

About that time Arthur Marks was fired upon by TNI soldiers while in a canoe on the Bensbach River near Weam. Other similarly high charged incidents happened on the New Guinea side of the border too.

I recall on one patrol along the border when a rifle bird suddenly burst into song just ahead of us. I’ve never seen so many policemen and carriers dive into the bush in such quick succession before.

TPNG Police Warrant Card
Phil Fitzpatrick's 'doctored' police warrant card

A few of us got together and enquired about the possibility of headquarters providing something like a dog tag just in case something bad happened.

They, of course, simply sputtered for a while and forgot about it.

Nevertheless, we organised for an engraver in Port Moresby to knock some up and we wore them on our patrols along the border.

After I got Chip’s email I rummaged through my collection of bottom-drawer miscellany and found the tag. It had my name and address and blood group on it.

It’s nice to think I didn’t have need of it, just like the warrant card.


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Richard Nehmy

In 1970 I returned from patrol on a trawler that had come through post cyclonic sea and rain and walked up to Sub District Office in Samarai salt encrusted and dripping wet in a tired old brown T shirt and khaki shorts, unwashed and unshaven for several days.

The District Commissioner was there to greet me and completed my written review with the comment, "Officer needs to take more pride in dress and appearance."

Chips Mackellar

Further to Phil's description of relaxed outstation dress codes, there was a similar relaxed code for patrols. But the police were not granted this same liberty because they were uniformed.

In this context Paul Oates wrote here, " The police on patrol often changed into khakis to keep their blue uniforms for station work."

All very true. But sometimes on patrol even the police standard of uniform tended to slip with the duration of the patrol and the difficulty of its circumstances.

During one of my difficult patrols the police dress became so lax that they were no longer recognisable as police.

As both their beret and their bayonet belt displayed the police insignia, I issued the instruction that irrespective of what they were wearing or not wearing, the basic items of uniform to be worn will be beret, belt and bayonet.

At one stage we had to cross a fast flowing stream. The water was less than knee deep but so fast that carriers could have been endangered unless assisted, so to safeguard their crossing we strung a rope across the stream tied to a tree on each bank so the carriers could hold on to this.

I also stationed a policeman in mid-stream holding the rope to assist any carriers in difficulty.

When it became my turn to cross I found the constable had obeyed the new instruction verbatim.

Standing naked in the turbulent water he wore the basic uniform of beret, belt and bayonet. A classic portrait of a basically uniformed nude.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Arthur Williams posted this tribute to Laurie on the Exkiap website.

"I too bought and enjoyed Laurie’s book. Sorry to hear he left us without anyone on exkiap knowing. He has two poems 'The Swaggys Dilemma' and 'Swaggy Comes Good' at Well worth a read.

A snippet I liked from The Swaggys Dilemma:

"This ‘lection see," he said to me, "it would make a dead man grizzle.
"You bloody choose, and still you lose – it's like gambling on a fizzle." *
His eyes bulged like a Murray cod – he was fairly hopping
He was narked and fired up and would take a lot of stopping.
"Mate, I gave old John the nod in nineteen–ninety-six
"While working down at Yarrawalla layin’ crooked bricks
"I thought he was a dinkum bloke, or so he seemed to me
"But now he's brought to life again that flamin' G–S–T"

Regards to all his family.

A review of Laurie's book 'Pretzel Legs' here: - KJ

And here's a link to an article written for PNG Attitude by Laurie published on 25 January 2011 - KJ

Ed Brumby

A relatively senior kiap admonished me one day in downtown Port Moresby for wearing a beige shirt with two button-down pockets (tailor-made in Hong Kong), reminding me that such attire was reserved for his ilk.

I did not have the temerity (or courage) at the time to tell him that no self-respecting chalkie would want to be mistaken for a kiap.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've just learned that we lost another one last July Chips.

Laurie Meintjes replaced me at Nomad. He was well liked by everyone.

He took up teaching literature when he returned to Australia and occasionally commented on PNG Attitude. He also edited a few PNG writer's work.

The notice by Dennis Donovan on the Exkiap website reads:

"I have just heard that Laurie Meintjes died on 15th July 2019 from a severe lung infection. He died at home in Cooranbong with his wife Margaret & his three daughters by his side.

"I met Laurie during my first posting in New Ireland at Kieta and we shared a donga together. We patrolled together through Mussau & Emira Islands. In 1968 Laurie was best man at my wedding in Port Moresby.

"After that Laurie went off to the Western District to Nomad & I returned to New Ireland.

"Our lives went in different directions and it took until late 2018 for me to catch up with Laurie again. Laurie's wife Margaret has asked me to post this notice here."

Chips Mackellar

Thanks, Phil. The print in the Gazette notice of my warrant card in this photo is too small to read the names of those other kiaps who were appointed with me as commissioned officers of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, and in any case it doesn't matter now because most of them have long since transferred to the Big Patrol Post in the Sky.

But a few of them still remain, most of whom continue to attend our reunions. Among these are:
John Harris (Canberra)
John Cochrane (Queensland)
Geoff Grey (Canberra)
David Hook (Queensland)
Bob Cleland (Queensland) and
Jack Battersby (Queensland)

May they long remember with pride, their appointments as Officers of the Royal Papuan Constabulary.

Paul Oates

I guess it all depended on your perspective at the time. I was always taught that you couldn't expect the men you were responsible for leading to be smartly dressed and proud of their uniform and calling if you didn't exhibit the same standards yourself.

On the station it was polished shoes and long socks whereas on patrol, it was still khakis but mud gators and hiking boots. The police on patrol often changed into khakis to keep their blue uniform for station work.

I tried rubber soled boots and gave up in the mud and slippery trees roots. Hobnails and horseshoes were far preferable and I could keep my feet (and one might suggest, dignity), along with the rest of the patrol. Crossing rivers was however a real pain and you had to drain your boots and wring your socks out after you crossed.

Coastal postings may well have been different however for as an example, it was a traditional way of greeting visitors in the Yabin areas (South of Finschhafen), to splash them with water or to upset their canoe. Why this custom developed or if this was just a polite way of suggesting the visitors needed a wash was never explained.

Ross Wilkinson

I can recall that we signed our Police Oath at Kwikila within several days of arriving in the country (Territory as it was back then) and having our photographs taken. It was the day after my 21st Birthday where all the others on the course bought me a beer. I was a wreck and the subsequent photo in the Warrant Card when it arrived a couple weeks later remained a constant reminder of that event.

Subsequently the issue of rural and town police districts and kiap police powers became an issue. In 1971 I was stationed at Mumeng where we had a Tolai Sub-Inspector so the kiaps had no powers. The DC ordered that all Warrant Cards be surrendered and we were told that new ones would be issued that would reflect the changed status. But, of course, that never happened and in the years after I had both rural and town postings and never had any evidence of my police status.

I'm aware that some of my colleagues never surrendered the Warrant Card but merely proffered the excuse that they were "lost" but still have them as souvenirs of that time in their lives.

I have been reading all the old patrol reports from all the Provinces and noticed a subtle change that occurred about this time. Where Police Constables accompanied the patrols, the kiap leading the patrol would have to complete a report on the conduct of the police whilst on patrol. The patrol report would be signed by the officer with his kiap designation but the police report would be signed with the title "Officer of the RPNGC."

However, by the late 60s these police reports were being signed using the kiap designation.

Chris Overland

In relation to the sartorial elegance of Papuan kiaps, I have a picture of myself on patrol in which I am wearing a yellow T shirt, tastefully embossed with an SP Lager logo, combined with a pair of blue swimming trunks.

I would characterise this outfit as semi-formal for the time.

As to boots, I rapidly discovered that the canvas boots available at the local Chinese emporium stood up to patrol work much better, and were more comfortable, than the army boots I had purchased prior to coming to PNG.

The latter had the heels sucked off them by the mud within a week or so of my starting my first mountain patrol.

Luckily for me, the marvellous Father Alex Michelod, who was accompanying the patrol, had a spare pair of his brilliant Swiss made hiking boots which fitted me well.

These I wore until returning from the patrol but I found that they were unobtainable anywhere in PNG, or Australia for that matter.

Nowadays, the equivalent to Father Alex's boots may be purchased readily, albeit at an eye watering price.

As for my warrant card, it has long since disappeared. I do not recall carrying it and I certainly never used it.

The one and only arrest I made was under circumstances that obviated the necessity for flashing my credentials.

My police officer companion's meaningful fondling of his Lee Enfield .303 more than made up for the lack of a warrant card.

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