More dialogue needed on Porgera
Radio Days: Komunisi & korupsi

The soldiers that never were

Newspaper advertisement for kiaps  circa 1966
Newspaper advertisement for kiaps, 1966


TUMBY BAY - How often have you heard the admonition to always read the fine print before signing anything?

And how often have you had some sneaky little paragraph in the fine print pointed out that you never read excusing a manufacturer or insurer from honouring what you thought should have been an obligation on their part?

When we signed up to become kiaps we all swore an oath of allegiance but very few of us actually queried what that actually entailed.

Not only did we not read the fine print but we didn’t ask whether such a list of obligations existed.

As I recall I was more interested in making sure I swore my undying allegiance to queen and country in a statutory way rather than on a bible in which I didn’t believe.

It was only while patrolling along the border with Irian Jaya, as it was then known, with an Australian Army Warrant Officer based in Kiunga that I became aware that I might have agreed to some sort of military role as part of my kiap duties.

This was just after the Act of Free Choice conducted by the Indonesians in 1969 that led to fleeing refugees and intense guerrilla activity along the border.

During that time quite a lot of our correspondence with Port Moresby related to border issues was done using a secret coding system issued to most administrative centres, including patrol posts.

My vague memories from that time was that we were somehow connected to the Royal Australian Navy and that our duties could involve coast watching if Australia ever declared war on someone.

Out of curiosity I recently canvassed the issue on the Ex-kiap website to see if anyone remembered the exact details.

(I’ve modified the grammar in the following comments slightly, without changing their meaning, so that they make sense in the narrative.)

Terry Kelliher responded by saying:

“Your memory is correct Phil - I certainly signed a document which effectively placed us in what is now called the Inactive Reserve ready for call up in the event of war or other threat - it was mainly intended for Navy and Coast Watching but could also be used for other services such as the reporting and military liaison that some of us carried out. As you say it also gave us access to codes.

“I should also mention that signing many of our oaths and employment agreements/contracts automatically made us subject to the "Official Secrets Act" which was, in fact, various sections of the Commonwealth Crimes Act and also the Qld Criminal Code (TPNG Adopted).

“We were Midshipman whilst Cadets, advancing to Sub-Lieutenant when Patrol Officer and, if you remained in contact with RAN, you made Lieutenant when Assistant District Officer.”

This fitted in with my memories but I wondered whether I was still in the navy at the ripe old age of 72. Terry had the solution to that too: “The RAN politely retain all Reservists until age 65 (unlike the Army and RAAF who give them the boot at 50 years) so I think we might miss out on any future call-up.”

He then added: “These things were all handled by Naval Intelligence so I had better shut up before I breach some bloody Act or another.”

George Oakes added the information that in February 1959 when he was posted to Pomio in New Britain he was “signed in as a Coast Watcher and given a code. I believe something similar was done on all coastal government stations in the New Guinea Islands to the Officer in Charge. At this stage kiaps were appointed for life.”

Max Heggen recounted that:

“Whilst OIC at the Kalalo Patrol Post in 1966, towards the end of my first term, I received a telegram from Head Quarters in Lae instructing me to rendezvous with HMAS Banks at Wasu on the morning of 28th March.

“I dutifully made the bone-jarring journey from the station along the corduroyed road in the Land Rover to Wasu. There was quite a thick sea-mist if I remember correctly, and the HMAS Banks eventually loomed up through the mist and hove-to in the deeper water before sending a tender ashore to collect me.

“The Captain introduced himself and a couple of the senior crew members to me and we adjourned to a wardroom where I was advised that as part of my duties, I was also to be a Coast Watcher.

“I can't remember signing any documents, but I was duly presented with a Coast Watcher's badge (No.37), and informed that code books would be forwarded to me in due course.

“The only reason I can think of to explain this requirement for Coast Watchers at that time, was perhaps some nervousness about the intentions of the new `occupants` of West Irian.”

John Brady says:

“I recall one Sunday morning in late 1965 wending my way back up the hill at Namatanai after Mass … looking back out to sea only to see a naval ship rapidly approaching from the Tanga Islands direction.

“It hove to for a short while a couple of miles off the coast and then headed off at speed in a North Easterly direction towards the Tabar Islands. This being the time of the Cold War and being the only officer on the station at the time I thought a report would have to go in.

“I headed up to the office and grabbing the Code book and the ship identification book did my best to report the situation as I saw it to the Navy at Lombrum. I woke up Rabaul Radio, sent off the coded message and sat back and waited.

“A couple of weeks later I received a congratulatory letter from Bill Seale and OIC Lombrum confirming the ship to be the HMAS Dampier, which was on its way from The Solomons to Manus and that my report matched the ship's log. There the matter ended.

“I don't recall ever signing any documentation linking us to the Navy but we all understood that "Coast Watching" was a seldom used part of our role.”

Col Young also had occasion to resort to the use of the Code Book. He says:

“At Lake Murray I only had two occasions for using the code to report relevant incidents.

“The first followed a complaint by a local that wantoks from across the now West Papua border had kidnapped his teenage daughter and taken her back across the border. Naturally he wanted her back.

“I wrote a note to my counterpart Indonesian military officer explaining the situation. As gris, I gave the father a packet of Rothman’s cigarettes to give with the note to the officer but warned him to be careful. This took place, I think, in 1967.

“The father returned a few weeks later, lashed to a cross made of bamboo poles and found floating in the Bosset swamp area on the border where a Catholic Mission was sited. He had been shot once in the right lung and once in the head.

“I code messaged the District Commissioner asking that something should be done regardless of international politics etc. He sent it on to Moresby. Nothing was done of course in those politically delicate border days of the mid-sixties. No cigarettes returned either.

“The second occasion was when an Indonesian Army helicopter crossed the border and landed in an APC oil exploration camp near the junction of the Fly and Strickland Rivers. Only a short visit with the excuse they had misread their map.”

I can endorse Col’s description of the brutalities that the Indonesians were using in Irian Jaya at the time. Some of the stories we heard from the refugees were horrific.

They were still up to the same tricks in East Timor when my son was there as part of the Australian intervention.

This part of the kiap’s role throws up some interesting questions but I doubt whether we’ll ever get any answers.

As Ross Wilkinson reports:

“I was in the June 1968 intake and have absolutely no recollection of any mention of a RAN Coast Watchers commitment and there is no indication of any such preparedness or undertaking on my personal file.

“However, I do recall having to apply for an Australian government security clearance but there is also no evidence of this or the level of clearance received on my file. Perhaps these documents were kept on our respective ‘secret’ files.”

It seems we were the soldiers and sailors that never were.


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Solange Metta

I loved this book but still need to read through it all. I need information on the building of Malalaua airfield and which natives were involved in the acquisition of land, and building the town as well.

Terry Kelliher

So it would seem that some of us were asked to sign a general statement of intent, some of us weren't asked to sign any documents, some of us were asked to play a role such as coastwatching and some of us were not asked to do anything at all.

It would also seem that many of us did some coding and decoding from time to time.

I think Phil's title for this thread is pretty spot on.

Ross Wilkinson

I've had a further look at all my documentation and online file and cannot find anything that remotely resembles a military requirement other than that good old "catch all" - other duties as required.

However, without knowing everything about them, a number of us on my intake had prior military experience either as permanent forces, National Service, CMF, school cadets or a combination of these. I was in the CMF at the time I went for interview and had four years of school cadets.

With my interest in military history I would have been impressed if requested to sign a military undertaking as suggested here.

Whilst I was acting ADC at Malalaua in 1974, I had a combined SAS/PIR patrol lob on my doorstep unannounced. They were put up for a couple of days with the SAS patrol leader and his 2ic in my house. Over a couple of beers on the first evening I questioned their appearance and I was told that they had walked from Wau over the old Bulldog Track to assess its suitability to be rejuvenated into a vehicular track again.

I challenged them on this because I was aware of several previous patrols that had undertaken the same task and which had all questioned the need versus cost and maintenance. Finally the leader relented and advised that the patrol aim was a national security issue associated with the impending declaration of Independence.

So I'm sure that if we had some sort of official military role I would/should have received some secret message to advise of the patrol's movements. I was actually pissed off that they arrived unannounced anyway.

Terry Kelliher

Morning Phil - Regarding the document (I can't remember with any certainty if it was stand alone or a clause attached to another undertaking), there were quite a few documents and oaths that morning.

I never received a copy and never saw it on my personal file so I suspect it went into our confidential staff files.

I didn't really place much significance on it as I had already signed two other similar declarations in connection with other non-kiap activities in which I was involved.

Sadly. the senior kiaps involved with our inductions and who I knew, are all gone on the final patrol so I can't ask them.

I don't know if any other TPNG employees were asked to sign such a declaration.

We should remember that most of our senior officers in the 1950s and 1960s had served in WWII, the majority in TPNG.

All who I knew were at least members of the RSL if not office bearers of that Association which was very influential on government decisions concerning TPNG's potential defence and military capability during those two decades after WWII.

Many commercial and private business leaders also had this experience and service and most of them were in the RSL.

There was that bond of WWII service and experience right across TPNG and I can say that private conversations to which I was privy showed a determination to avoid the unpreparedness of TPNG which existed pre-WWII.

It was certainly expected by them that kiaps and all capable persons would carry out coastwatching and military support (think ANGAU) of both our CMF unit (PNGVR) and the fast developing PIR.

This attitude changed very rapidly from about 1970 when WWII experienced personnel began retiring from TPNG in both private and public sectors and the Australian government began winding down defence activities and funding prior to preparations for self-government.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I understand the 'official secrets act' stuff and the confidentiality requirements of public employees, Terry, but I'm still mystified by the document we apparently signed giving us potential reservist status in the case of war.

I don't recall anyone bringing this added extra to our attention at the time we took our oath of allegiance. Surely it wasn't just part of our normal undertaking as a public servant.

There also seems to have been some modifications between when kiaps were employed permanently and then under contract.

Terry Kelliher

I should make it clear:

(a) Australia has never had an 'Official Secrets Act' which was a term loosely used following British traditions to cover the confidentiality requirements of public employees / servants of all levels by the Crimes Act (Commonwealth), various State Acts and / or Criminal Codes and, in the case of pre-independence TPNG, the Queensland Criminal Code (As Adopted);

(b) the document my course signed giving us potential reservist status in the case of threat or war made no mention of specific arm of service but it was stated at the time of signing, which we did in bulk along with a heap of other oaths and agreements, that the intent was mainly aimed at those of us posted to coastal stations who might be called upon to carry out coast watching duties (which others have described);

(c) security clearances were indeed processed through the Director of the Department/Division of whatever name that at that time was responsible for Kiaps and after consideration by appropriate authorities, including but not solely ASIO, handed out the assessed clearance to all appropriate authorities of which there were quite a few;

(d) how do I and others know this - through employment and service still covered by sub-paragraph (a) above,

Simple eh?

Em tasol inogat moa.

Chris Overland

I do not recall ever signing anything in relation to an Official Secrets Act or similar legislation, nor do my records in the National Archives contain any such document.

That said, I do recall being asked to fill in a rather comprehensive questionnaire which was apparently forwarded to ASIO.

This was done to allow them to determine if I was a fit and proper person to have access to certain types of confidential information.

I therefore assume that somewhere in the bowels of a musty, dusty basement in Canberra, there will be a confidential file about me that has been kept secret from everyone for 50 years.

At Baimuru, we were expected to forward an intelligence report on a monthly basis, describing anything unusual or suspicious going on in our patrol area.

A nil report was unacceptable, so each month we were obliged to report upon the doings of people like the local Jehovah's Witnesses, the slightly less suspect Baha'i World Faith and the simply mildly unusual 7th Day Adventists.

Local politics was utterly boring and there was not even a hint of any popular tendency towards demanding early independence from the oppressive colonials.

There was a terrible shortage of communists and the closest things to anarchists were the ADO and myself.

Heaven knows what Moresby made of our reports, let alone Canberra.

As for being in the Navy, I like the idea of Her Majesty's Australian Canoe 'Eiwo'. It has a nice ring to it.

Robert L Parer CMG MBE

In the late 1950s and 1960s naval patrol vessels HMAS Aitape and others would call at Aitape and I was asked to be a coast watcher and I agreed.

On the next visit I was presented with cap and Badge No 17 and The Playfair Code.

A few times a year I would receive a coded message from naval headquarters on Manus Island and would spend half a day decoding the message and it would be either 'Happy Easter' or 'Happy Christmas'.

There was only one occasion when I had to report a foreign ship doing illegal fishing and got a message in reply to say that as HMAS Aitape was near Wewak she would check out the boat.

On the next day the ship was arrested and escorted to our wharf. I went on board HMAS Aitape to collect my dues of a few cans of beer.

Chips Mackellar

Phil, in addition to whatever "reserve" function we must have had with the RAN, we must have had a similar Army reserve function also.

At Bogia we often had members of the PIR coming and going on leave. On arrival on leave they would always report to the Sub-District office and present their Army movement orders which specified that on arrival and before departure they report to the ADO Bogia.

They always arrived and departed in uniform, and they always saluted us as if we were their own officers. The requirement to report to us may have been for practical reasons because we controlled the transport so we always provided them with a vehicle to get them to their home village or to the road head if they lived further inland.

We also arranged their return from leave air transport back to Port Moresby. I also remember one year when Manam Island erupted, and we had an immediate evacuation emergency to manage, and we needed more help with it than what we immediately had on hand.

At the time there were about eight PIR personnel on leave at Bogia, So we contacted PIR HQ and asked if the PIR personnel at Bogia could be recalled to duty and assigned to us for volcano emergency management duty.

We received two signals in reply. One addressed to the senior PIR NCO on leave ordering him and all the others to return to duty under the command of ADO Bogia. The other signal was addressed to us advising us that the PIR personnel had been assigned to emergency duty with us.

But the signal to us included the instruction that kiaps were not to give any PIR soldier a direct order. Instead we were to request the senior PIR NCO to do whatever, and he would issue the order to his troops.

This system worked well, and we were grateful for their help. But whatever the kiaps' official military status was, we never knew.

Paul Oates

While we have had some enigmatic discussions about the Honour Roll of former Kiaps, we sometimes have trouble in precisely defining what was the Role of the Kiap.

We did not have uniforms and yet we were police officers. Many were magistrates. We were public servants but had wide ranging powers that encompassed all government responsibilities.

No matter how the actual role of a Kiap is viewed, it’s hard to pinpoint any comparable position in any modern government. Yet the actual role is very similar to other administrative roles in human history. You just need to go back a few centuries.

Speaking of centuries, the Roman Army that had no problem with any division of responsibility between a civilian and military role.

So what is the difference in the the role of civilian administrator to that of a military governor?
I read years ago about the arrival of General Templar when he replaced the civilian administration, after the Malayan emergency got underway in the 1950’s. Sitting down in the freshly vacated Governor’s office, he pulled the bottom drawer of the desk open and stuck his feet into it. He then picked up the telephone and called the head of the Public Works Department.

The reported brief conversation went something this:

“Hello, can you hear me?” When the public servant said he could, the General then asked “Are you sure you can hear me perfectly?” The response was again in the affirmative.

“Well then,” barked the General, “Where’s that bloody barbed wire I ordered to be erected around my HQ three hours ago?”

The practical aspects of a Kiap’s work could be many and varied but the essential issue was that we learnt about getting things done with a minimum of fuss and red tape. Sure, some mistakes were made but no one is perfect. The real problem was that when we returned to Australia and found we knew how to get things done without the involvement of all those ‘hangers on’ that find succour in the public purse, whether it be public servants or politicians.

Perhaps unknowingly, many of us could well empathise with some remote Roman governor who had both military and civilian powers.

That situation led I believe, to a state confusion that we mostly unwittingly bequeathed to PNG about the operation of administrative power and how to get things done. After Independence, there seemed to be confusion on one hand, with those in Canberra not understanding what actually went on at the coal face and those in the PNG government who seemed to believe all it took is to be in a position of power in order to just make it all happen.

Leadership is not just making public statements. Leadership is about getting things that need to be done, actually done. It’s about achievement.

Unfortunately, this creed of achievement that many of us ‘lapun’ former Kiaps were taught, mostly by example, doesn’t translate into modern political or public service terms.

‘Emi no komput!’

Chips Mackellar

As I recall, Phil, the code we used for coastwatching signals was known as "The Playfair Code." It was about twice as complicated as the standard DDA code we used on outstations.

When I was ADC Trobriand Islands I frequently received and replied to signals in the Playfair Code, but they were for exercise purposes to satisfy the RAN that we still knew how to send coastwatching information by this code.

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