Racism diminished but not dead
The wisdom from my culture

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 28 – In defence of the people’s land

Pic 1 - District Officer Ross Henderson
District Officer Ross Henderson in 1968

BILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Tuesday 7 May 1968. District Officer Ross Henderson and I were dumbstruck at the tone of the on-site meeting at Panguna that morning.

Conzinc Rio Tinto Area Manager Colin Bishop was unusually forceful with his demands.

He wanted more assistance in the coming months when the CRA teams - geologists, engineers, planners and surveyors – would start tramping through the villages and gardens of central Bougainville.

Brown - Map
Central Bougainville (Bill Brown)

All the way along the Pinei Valley, through the North Nasioi and down the Jaba River Valley to Empress Augusta Bay on the west coast.

At a crisis meeting the previous day, he had sweet-talked us with missionary fervour (1) about the company's desire to examine a possible light aircraft landing strip near Rorovana, at the bottom of the Pinei Valley.

Would I please ask the people to allow his team access to their land?

It was not even a minor crisis, but Bishop saw it that way.

Maybe he needed to satisfy the Project Manager who was visiting from Melbourne: Don Vernon verged on the dictatorial and would not have accepted that a CRA team could be denied access to anywhere or anything.

I was surprised by the request. Only 12 months earlier I had blocked the company's attempt to locate an airstrip for Fokker Friendship aircraft at the other end of the same valley.

I did not think it reasonable to move an entire village – Pakia – and destroy all the gardens merely to lessen the commute for company officials from Melbourne and the newly recruited overseas workers.

An airstrip at Pakia would have saved their backsides only a 90 minute drive from Aropa to Kieta to Tunuru and up the valley to Pakia.

Pic 2 - Kiaps’ house at Barapina (John Dagge)
Kiaps’ house at Barapina (John Dagge)

I stayed overnight in the kiap-police compound at Barapina in the house that John Dagge and I had occupied in 1966.

It was a bush hut I had taken over when the drilling team moved out. We had called it Mushroom Castle.

Now Ross Henderson was head of household, Cadet Patrol Officer John Gyngell occupied the second bedroom, and I was the guest.

That overnight stay on the preceding day - 6 May 1968 - worked out well. It gave us time to discuss Bishop's request.

Had we not done so, I might have missed what Henderson was able to spot: that the area was outside the prospecting authority.

CRA had no right to enter the land without the people’s permission.

The day after the on-site meeting and Bishop’s more bullish demands, my Administration driver, William Poto, drove us to Rorovana. Assistant District Officer Chris Warrillow accompanied me to witness proceedings because I anticipated CRA would be critical of my discussions with the village leaders. (2) CRA thought I was biased.

After discussing the pro and cons, the Rorovana people agreed to allow CRA to proceed on two conditions: that I reported to Port Moresby the people’s total opposition to any CRA intrusion, and that I accompanied the proposed survey team.

The Administrator telexed the addendum to my message to Canberra: "CRA should be made aware of the overall reaction and the hostility to their demands for an unessential facility. The site is the only garden land available on the swampy coastal strip."

I expected the two-monthly meeting between the Administration and CRA at Port Moresby would be the usual drag.

Sometime after midday on Friday, I caught the 'milk run' DC3 from Aropa via Wakunai and Buka to Rabaul, and at first light next morning a Fokker turboprop took me to Port Moresby.

Six days later, I would retrace my steps with another overnight in Rabaul before flying back on the Friday DC3 'milk run' via Buka and Wakunai to Aropa.

I was not looking forward to the Moresby sojourn. In the beginning, our headquarters put me in a travelling officer's bungalow at the back of Konedobu, without transport and miles from anywhere.

Later, they put me in the Moresby Hotel that in the 1950s had been a boozer and the haunt of the heavy drinkers. By 1968 it was a flophouse where the brawlers and the noise moved from bar to footpath at closing time, which made sleep impossible until the early hours.

My other gripe was with transport – or the lack of it – from the airport into town. I could never ascertain whether headquarters had neglected to book it and I did not enjoy hitching rides.

But on this occasion I got a big surprise. As I entered the terminal, Director Tom Ellis's driver met me and walked with me to the baggage claim.

Half an hour later, we arrived at Ellis's donga high on the hill above Ela Beach where Ellis was living as a single man. (3) His mankimasta (Bun, as I recall) assured me I was expected and would be occupying the second bedroom.

Bun asked whether I wanted him to unpack my suitcase, and said Ellis was at the office but that he was now sending the driver to collect him.

Ellis and I talked throughout that afternoon.

He asked for an update on Panguna and wanted us to work out a strategy for two meetings: Monday’s preliminary meeting that would be attended by Administration officials only, and the joint session on Tuesday when we might have to argue with the company’s managers.

Ellis said I should understand - "Get it into your noggin!" – that Canberra, the Administration, Papua New Guinea, the Kieta Local Government Council and indeed most of Bougainville wanted the mine at Panguna to go ahead.

A successful mine would finance Papua New Guinea's independence. (Mind you, not all the groups he listed would have agreed with the independence proposition.)

Ellis stressed that we also had to remember the Agreement (4) which allowed the company to apply for leases for town sites, roads, ports and other infrastructure - and the Administration had to provide the land.

Our job was to protect the people’s interests and help them get a fair deal.

Ellis continued. At Monday’s Administration meeting, I could fight for what I wanted, and I could confront the two Assistant Administrators, Frank Henderson and Les Johnson, with my arguments.

If I wanted Ellis’s assistance, I should tap the table and he would throw all his weight behind me.

At the joint session on Tuesday, the two Assistant Administrators would put the Administration's arguments to the company.

My job was to report on the current situation and, if need be, comment on the assertions made by company officials.

Once again, if I wanted his support, I should tap the table. He concluded with the comment, “You won’t get anywhere by being Mr Nice Guy. Don’t pull your punches. Tell it as it is.”

On Sunday morning, Police Commissioner Bob (RR) Cole MC (5) dropped in to say hello. A social call only: police matters were not to be discussed.

Cole had a personal interest in Bougainville. He wanted to hear about Buin where he had worked and lived, first as Patrol Officer and then in charge of the sub-district for four or five years after World War II.

I could not help him. I knew nothing about Buin or the Buin Sub-District apart from Karato, Torokina and the Jaba, but we did discuss a mutual friend, Frank Miltrup, who had been Cole’s neighbour at Turiboiru near Buin.

Now parish priest at Tubiana, and sixty years’ old, I visited him most Friday afternoons to pick up the gossip and share my Scotch.

Cole also wanted to know how Father Wally Fingleton was faring. As a newly ordained priest he had taken over Buin’s Tabago mission before Cole departed in 1948.

I knew Fingleton had visited District Commissioner Cole at Wewak in 1964 but at that stage I had not met up with him.

Pic 3 - Minutes of joint meeting
Minutes of the Port Moresby joint meeting

Tuesday’s joint session went more or less as planned.

CRA Frank Espie, who was to become the first Managing Director of Bougainville Copper, stressed the urgency of the impending surveys.

In response, I said CRA’s intrusions into new areas, particularly those far from Panguna, would end the period of acceptance. More and more people would oppose and distrust the company, and we should expect increasing hostility.

If we were to get anywhere at all, and that was very doubtful, we kiaps needed more time to try to explain what was going on.

At the end of the argy-bargy, Espie accepted an eight-week delay to allow the people to be informed, and I received commitments for more field staff - kiaps - to help meet that deadline.

Unasked, somebody provided a Land Titles Commissioner, and Don Grove even promised that Mining Warden McKenzie would be full-time on Bougainville.

The Administration also committed to a new police station at Nairovi. The people and the councillors said they wanted a uniformed officer and a detachment of other ranks to control excessive speeding by semi-trailers travelling to and from Panguna.

I think they were more concerned with the lecherous expats who were venturing near the villages on weekends desperately seeking female favours.

Espie’s demand for increased airport capacity, the ostensible purpose of the Rorovana investigation, caused a flare-up. As a compromise, the discussion was "deferred pending [an on the ground] inspection by Mr Espie and Mr Brown."

I flew back into Kieta on Friday 17 May hoping District Commissioner Des Ashton was enjoying the weekend in Sohano and not making one of his frequent visits to Kieta. I was looking forward to some quiet time with my family.

Ashton did not disturb me, but on Saturday morning Ross Henderson drove to my house in a flap.

He had given CRA's staff photographer (6) a lift over the range from Panguna and, as they had driven past Pakia, the photographer had revealed that CRA had decided to build the company town there.

We did not know it at the time, but the company must have been planning for some big front lawns: they wanted 1,300 acres for 110 houses.

If that went through, the Pakia people would lose 10,000 coconut palms and more than 30,000 cocoa trees as well as their entire village.

At the Kieta Council meeting on 27 June, when Teori-Tau from Pakia and his counterpart from Pomaua moved that the company could not build their town on Pakia land, council president Raphael Niniku said it was only one of many alternative sites.

He added there was no need to worry: the Deputy District Commissioner, me, was helping the people.

Had I been present, I would have told him the battle had only just begun - and not to put his faith in princes, or kiaps, or me. Even so, I was determined to prevent the company and its minions from violating Pakia.

One week later, on Friday 5 July 1968, Poto and I picked up Director Tom Ellis, Assistant Director Management Services (Screaming Johnnie) Williams (7) and District Commissioner Ashton from the airport at Aropa. Poto drove us into Kieta, then to Pakia, and finally to Panguna.

At Pakia, Councillor Teori-Tau did most of the talking but Councillor Naika (Borumai-Sieronji) added his support.

Ellis listened to what they had to say, and Williams recorded it all. The councillors said they would never allow anyone to build a town on their land and, if necessary, the people would fight.

The big surprise came at Panguna when Area Manager Colin Bishop told Ellis that the consultant surveyors who had recently arrived from Australia were under instructions to survey only one town site - Pakia.

Although he was seething, Ellis did not respond to Bishop’s comment. He was saving his wrath for bigger fry elsewhere.

CRA continued to fight for Pakia as their town site until the end of February 1969 and they ignored our efforts to steer them elsewhere. They liked Pakia's elevation, its cool evenings and its significant area of flat land. And it was close to Panguna - only half an hour’s drive.

The town site argument was only one of many simultaneous problems. On 21 May 1968, just four days after I returned from Port Moresby to Kieta, some of the people decided to get rid of two of the three trig stations (8) around Panguna - one on the hill above Guava, one on the ridge above Kokorei. They didn’t interfere with the one near Moroni.

Some individuals cut a stay wire on the Guava trig station while others dug a trench under the cement block on Kokorei ridge.

CRA had considered the two-ton edifice on Kokorei immovable. It was no problem for the Kokorei villagers. They undermined it and sent it rolling down the mountainside.

Henderson had spent weeks getting the people's approval for those structures and I had negotiated approval for the one near Pakia. Now they were all under threat.

When Henderson flew in alone by helicopter to assess the damage, and “seven Kokorei men (9) of truculent mien met him”, he sent the aircraft back to Barapina to collect two constables to maintain the peace.

Pic 4 - 1907 German marker (trig point)
David Brown (aged five) atop 1907 German marker trig point, Kieta 1968 (Bill Brown)

I joined in the discussions with the Kokorei villagers that afternoon, and Mining Warden McKenzie added his weight to the argument. District Commissioner Ashton flew down from Sohano to join us the next day.

It took a lot of talking and a visit to the German trig station (known as the German marker) on my front lawn in Kieta for the Kokorei men to understand that trig stations did not mark land or define land ownership.

When they understood the German government had erected the Kieta station in 1907, and that neither the Australians nor the Japanese had interfered with it, they accepted that the Kokorei station was not an attempt by CRA to grab their land.

They offered to help rebuild Kokorei and did so on 26 May. But three days later the Guava station was sabotaged again.

Warrillow and I had returned to Rorovana on 25 May. I needed to report: to tell the people what had happened in Port Moresby.

I explained that the Administration had opposed the airstrip, but had agreed to an inspection by Espie and me. And that, since then, a helicopter pilot had reported the area was not suitable.

I further explained that Espie had said the company would be able to locate the port-loading facilities and the oil tank farm within Loloho plantation. There would be no intrusion into Rorovana. (10)

The people relaxed a little. But a short time later District Commissioner Ashton hit the airwaves, telling Radio Bougainville listeners about mining company CRA's planned activities. (11)

His message offered no compromise, and it emphasised the impending Pakia survey. That talk, repeated over several days, may have been the trigger for our accords to unravel once again.

Pic 5 - CRA Geologist Dick Spratt  Assistant Administrator Les Johnson  his wife Dulcie and Bill Brown
CRA Geologist Dick Spratt, Assistant Administrator Les Johnson, Dulcie Johnson and Bill Brown at Panguna  April 1968 (Department of Information and Extension Services)

The Guavas cut more stay wires. The Kokorei and Dapera landowners, who had already indicated most of the land boundaries south of Panguna, refused further co-operation.

Amid the continuing turmoil, our personnel began to grow. The additional kiaps drafted by Tom Ellis arrived on a three-month assignment to help with the eight-week deadline set by Espie.

The Administrator advised Canberra, “three additional DDA staff, an ADO, a senior Patrol Officer, and a junior Patrol Officer, all experienced bushmen, (12) have been posted to the area and 30 extra police have been moved quietly in to the Kieta area, bringing the total police strength to 60”.

Pic 6 - Patrol Officer Max Heggen  Menyamya
Patrol Officer Max Heggen on patrol, Menyamya 1965 (Max Heggen)

Patrol Officer Max Heggen (13) from Morobe District arrived on 28 May. Assistant District Officer Richard Glover (14) and Patrol Officer Noel Mathison (15) took a few days longer to make their way from the Western Highlands.

Quiet and unassuming, Land Titles Commissioner Bob (RI) MacIlwain flew into Kieta in early June. A pre-war officer, MacIlwain had been an Assistant District Officer in charge of various Sub-Districts since 1946.

MacIlwain was no newcomer to Bougainville. He had been stationed at Kieta for a term from 1952 to 1953, except for a brief stint filling in as District Commissioner at Sohano between DCs MH Wright’s departure and CH MacLean’s arrival, when Wright resigned in 1952.

District Officer Bob (RA) Hoad roamed in overland from Boku to Panguna on 24 June. He had previously been involved with CRA at Karato in January, when he had walked in to overnight and to check on Patrol Officer Gordon-Kirkby during that investigation.

Now he would be keeping his eye on CRA's forays down the Jaba River valley and beyond, and he needed to familiarise himself with CRA’s new program.

It might have been the grand finale - or was it a new beginning when, between 22 July and 30 July, District Commissioner Ashton transferred the District Headquarters from Sohano to Kieta?

The staff and their families flew in by air, all except Ashton's Deputy District Commissioner Ken (KA) Brown and his family who were possibly to be transferred back to Papua.

The Administration trawler transported office and household furniture, stationery, files, equipment, and the contents of the government store from Buka to Kieta. The Nivani took several trips to move it all - then she, too, took up station in Kieta.

Heggen and I assisted in moving the furniture, and the office setup. Ashton told me to pack whatever gear I needed from the Sub-District Office and move it forthwith to the new District Office. (17)

Henceforth I would be Deputy District Commissioner for the entire Bougainville District. Life was about to change again.

Kieta
Kieta from the air. As beautiful as any South Seas harbour town (Tiny Wendt, CRA)

 

FOOTNOTES

1 - Like Sir Val Duncan (chairman and chief executive officer of CRA's parent company, the England-based Rio-Tinto Zinc Corporation), 37-year-old Bishop and his wife were adherents of the smallish religion Church of Christ, Scientist.

Bishop and his wife, from Queensland's Sunshine Coast, loved the sun and the sea. She involved herself in Panguna matters but failed in her primary challenge to prevent expatriate males from visiting the occupants of the single women’s quarters.

Perhaps she did not realise it was serious courting and it was where CRA staff, a couple of police officers and two notable kiaps would find their brides.

2 - Councillor Wau was elected to represent Rorovana Village No 1 when it became a founding member of Kieta Local Government Council in 1964. The people of Rorovana No 2 declined to join the council and Tultul Bubua continued to be their spokesman.

3 - Ellis and his wife Freda married in 1935 but lived apart from the mid-1950s until Ellis retired.

4 - The Mining (Bougainville Copper Agreement) Ordinance became law in August 1967.

5 - Bob Cole and Tom Ellis had been my friends, as well as superiors, in the Sepik District from September 1957. District Officer Ellis was promoted to District Commissioner and transferred to Mount Hagen in May 1960. District Commissioner Cole became Chief of Police in December 1964. I was stationed in the Sepik District from August 1955 to June 1966.

6 - Tiny (BA) Wendt, a 31-year-old professional photographer from Victoria, had worked at Panguna for more than a year.

7 - John Cyril Williams was 25 years of age when he became a Patrol Officer in 1946 - two years after his discharge from the Royal Australia Air Force. Williams served as Patrol Officer in New Britain and the Sepik, completed the ASOPA two-year diploma course and served as ADO/ADC at Aitape and Kokoda before being appointed Assistant Director Management Services in 1966.

8 - In the days before satellites and the global positioning systems, trig stations - or trigonometrical stations - were important and fundamental to large scale engineering surveys and design. Generally concrete pillars on hilltops and visible from afar, they marked points with precise geographic coordinates obtained by fixes from the sun and stars and triangulation. The network of trig stations set up around Panguna enabled the proposed structures and facilities to be conceptualised and planned.

9 - Luluai Basiona-Amenu, Noanu-Una, Karavue-Ilo, Omanu-Basiona, Ovio-Pana, Kampa-Nike, and Kakinu-Oliko.

10 - Sadly, that statement turned out to be flawed. In 1969, when CRA required the government to compulsorily acquire a large area of Rorovana land all hell broke loose.

11 - Radio Bougainville commenced trial transmissions in March 1968 and was officially opened by Assistant Administrator Les Johnson on 20 April 1968. Encouraged by the Administration, Ashton went on air to tell all Bougainville about CRA’s activities and plans – and he used less than dulcet tones.

12 - I thought “experienced bushmen” was an overkill. We kiaps largely depended on our patrol police and the local people for our bushcraft.

13 - Max Wilfred Heggen, an orchardist from Kerang, Victoria, was 24 years of age when he was transferred to Bougainville. He was OIC Aseki Patrol Post in his second term and had already served at Kabwum and Menyamya. Heggen remained in Bougainville until 1975.

14 - Assistant District Officer Richard Glover from Kogarah, Sydney, had been a kiap for a little over five years when he arrived in Bougainville. After a term in New Britain and a year in Sydney at ASOPA, he was posted to the Western Highlands. He was keen to leave Bougainville as soon as possible.

15 - Twenty-three-year-old Noel Francis Mathison, a former police constable from Moe, Victoria, was three months into his second term. He had been a kiap for almost two and a half years. He came with Glover from the Western Highlands and, influenced by him, was also keen to leave Bougainville as soon as possible.

16 - Robert Ivor MacIlwain was a 26-year-old clerk in the Territory’s New Guinea Administration and stationed in Rabaul when he enlisted in the AIF (NGX146) on 16 July 1940. MacIlwain did not have an easy war, first serving with the 2/25th Battalion AIF and then, as Sergeant, involved in guerrilla-like operations in Morobe (Salamaua) and Madang with the 1st Papuan Infantry Battalion. He was commissioned, served with ANGAU and ended the war with the British Borneo Civil Administration Unit.

17 - Ashton took over Delta Construction’s vacant waterfront complex at Kieta as his offices. It had been empty since earlier in the year when Delta finished building the overseas wharf. It was not a substantial building but the two storeys, replete with kitchen and toilets, accommodated all the staff. Ashton occupied the double room across one end of the building, and I grabbed the corner room at the other end of the building adjacent to the stairway. It had a water view and I could escape when I wanted.

IMAGES

Map of Central Bougainville (Bill Brown)

[1] District Officer Ross Henderson circa 1968-1969

[2] Kiaps’ house at Barapina (John Dagge’s Covid-19 shoebox)

[3] Attendance at Port Moresby joint meeting (minutes of meeting)

[4] David Christopher Brown (aged five) atop 1907 German marker trig point, Kieta 1968 (Bill Brown)

[5] CRA Geologist Dick Spratt, Assistant Administrator (S) Les Johnson, his wife Dulcie Johnson and Bill Brown at Panguna for the official opening of Radio Bougainville, April 1968 (Department of Information and Extension Services)

[6] Patrol Officer Max Heggen on patrol, Menyamya 1965 (Max Heggen)

[Pic 7] Kieta from the air (Tiny Wendt, CRA)

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David H Pennefather

Very interesting essay on Bougainville Copper.

Arthur Williams

Bill - I always enjoy your eyewitness reports which are a valuable asset for today's administrators as they deal with mining companies.

Ian Holmes became new DC for New Ireland in 1971 or early 1972. I don’t know his service history but the locals laughed at his Pidgin. Was he always a Papuan hand and so a Motu speaker?

He came in July 1972 to open one of the very few infrastructure projects during my 30 years on Lavongai. It was the low level ford at Narimlaua village a few miles west of Taskul on a track that I managed to extend to Magam just past the United Church HQ on the island at Ranmalek. Now long reverted to bush.

Until today governor Sir Julius Chan refuses to countenance a ring road for the island preferring his Unity Highway that cuts across the middle of the island and which is very useful for the clear felling loggers of the illegal SABLs.

The German administration constructed a ring road, and some into the centre, over 100 years ago.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks Bill. Yes, Ian Holmes was still there when I arrived in 1970 and Ken came later. Not to disparage Benstead or Holmes, who were good old-fashioned DCs, but Ken was a bit of fresh air and a nice change.

He kept in touch with the small Western District fraternity when we were all back in Australia right up until he died.

I couldn't imagine him being other than highly regarded, which was why I wondered why he had been dropped amongst the scruffy and disreputable ruffians of the Western District.

Bill Brown

Thank you for the comment, Phil, but I think you have the wrong year.

Allen Benstead was District Commissioner of the Western District for the first half of 1968. When he went on leave in July, Ian Holmes took over as acting DC.

When Benstead returned from leave in March 1969, Holmes lapsed back to Deputy District Commissioner. While Holmes was acting DC, District Officers Gus (AM) Bottrill and Robin (RA) Calcutt filled in as DDCs at various times.

Ken Brown loved Papua and would not have been concerned if he had been posted to Daru. I think he went to the Central District where Galloway was the DC as Ken was there in 1970.

Whatever the reason for the transfer, it would not have been because of something he had done. Ken Brown had an unblemished reputation and was held in high regard.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Ken Brown was indeed moved to Papua, the Western District to be specific.

When he arrived he instituted a program to visit all of the remaining pockets of uncontacted people. He was a 'people' person and got on well with his staff, including his understudy District Commissioner, Benson Gegeyo.

I wonder, what did Ken do to warrant such a transfer to the arse-end of PNG?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)