A dream of a missionary
Conspiracy theories are in bloom

The finding of Ok Tedi

"Young came to have more profound impact on the Wopkaimin than any previous colonial administrative or army patrol. He made ethnographic observations but more importantly recorded that the streams seemed to contain copper deposits"


EX KIAP WEBSITE - I have often meant to write of my 24 day patrol to the Star Mountains (Wopkaimin) in August and September of 1966 and the finding of copper sulphate presence in that remote north western corner of the then Western District.

There has been some confusion as to who first discovered evidence of copper leading to the Ok Tedi venture, hence this article.

At that time I was the sole kiap stationed at Olsobip Patrol Post, having relieved Gary Luhrs in April of that year.

Olsobip had only been established in 1964 by Bob Hoad and Warren Dutton and Assistant District Officer Des Fitzer had made the first complete patrol of the Stars in 1963.

Luhrs had unsuccessfully attempted a patrol to the area earlier in early 1966 but, to my later benefit, had asked for a track to be cleared to the area of the villages Kawarobip and Gigabip visited by Fitzer.

In my patrol diary for Tuesday 30 August I wrote:

“Departed KAWAROBIP for second Star village of GIGABIP arriving 1330...Track follows small creek north then swings west along the foothills of Benkwim bluff. This small creek has a brilliant yellow sediment the whole length of its course and when handled crumbles to reveal a green centre. Most likely a combination of sulphur and copper washed down from the northern ranges...."

I recall that the sediment reminded me of coronas used as road base in Pomio, West New Britain. My report went firstly to the Assistant District Commissioner Kiunga, Mark Sage, who commented on the copper in his report to Daru District Headquarters.

I have the Olsobip copy of the reporting letter sent by the District Commissioner FA Bensted to the Director of the Department of District Administration in Konedobu which includes in the second paragraph:

"The sulphur/copper deposits below Benkwin bluff (diary 30th, August) may merit further enquiry. If part of the CARSTENZ Toppen (West Irian) is allegedly pure low grade copper, could not the identical STAR's massif possess the same virtues."

District Commissioner Bensted made a flight soon afterwards to Olsobip to discuss the patrol with Mike Richards, a Kiunga Cadet Patrol Officer who accompanied me on the patrol (his first).

I was posted to Lake Murray post leave and, being a lowly Patrol Officer at the time, was unaware of the results of the patrol until told by visiting crocodile skin traders (Bluey Bedford and Herb Griffin) that a mining company's Jet Ranger helicopter had since been to the Stars.

At this juncture I will allow the words of David Charles Hyndman to say what happened. In 1979 Hyndman submitted a thesis in the Department of Anthropology in the University of Queensland for a doctorate in philosophy, entitled "Wopkaimin Subsistence: Cultural Ecology in the New Guinea Highland Fringe."

He was in the Stars area in 1973-4, 75 and later in 1979, 1982 and 1984. He later authored the book "Ancestral Rain Forests & the Mountain of Gold: Indigenous Peoples and Mining in New Guinea."

I met him in Brisbane in the 1990's when he was head of anthropology at the University of Queensland.

In that book, after referring in detail to any patrols touching on the Stars area, at pages 76 and 77 he repeated comments made in his thesis:

“In August 1966, Young (1966) succeeded in bringing the Wopkaimin residents...into the Olsobip Patrol Post census division...

“Cleared tracks and a rest house awaited Young's (1966) arrival...in Kavorabip and Gigabip. Young (1966) came to have more profound impact on the Wopkaimin than any previous colonial administrative or army patrol.

“As he was "enduring the bitterly cold weather at night, early morning and late afternoon" and was "struggling over sheer ridges, mountain peaks, waterfalls, landslip scars and pounding rivers" below the Benkwim Bluff, he made ethnographic observations but more importantly he recorded that the streams seemed to contain copper deposits!

“Based on Young's routine patrol report, the American transnational Kennecott took out prospecting authorities No 28 and 38P on Wopkaimin land with the Australian colonial Department of Lands in 1967."

As a last excerpt, I refer to comments made by Gerry Schuurkamp, PhD MSc BSc, in his book "The Min of the Papua New Guinea Star Mountains" having spent 13 years recording facets of the Min culture in his association with Ok Tedi Mining Limited.

The book of some 300 pages is a definitive work on Min culture. The publication was sponsored by Ok Tedi Mining with a foreword by the then prime minister, Julius Chan. At page 5 of the Preface Schuurkamp says:

"In January 1963 Des Fitzer mounted the first extended patrol along the southern slopes of the Star Mountains, a 124 day ordeal. It was Colin Young's census patrol of 1966, well into the Wopkai territories contacted by Fitzer that reported copper-like mineral deposits along the streams and rivers.

“This patrol would have a profound effect on the future of the area and its people, stimulating expensive exploration work in the upper Ok Tedi and Tifalmin area from 1968-72 by Kennecott, and American multinational, company."

Enough of the references. I do not know what happened in Konedobu to my report and the DC's comments on the copper sulphate find, but obviously it was either formally or informally made known to at least Kennecott.

Someone would know but of course it is over 50 years now and many memories and documents are lost.

It has been put forward that a member of the Fitzer patrol collected some rocks in the Stars and these were said to have been found to contain copper and therefore constituted the start of Ok Tedi mining.

If rocks were so collected, there was neither mention of this in a report as I recall, nor otherwise in the Olsobip office, now was the DC or any other district officer so aware.

Given that Kennecott moved promptly in 1967 in taking out the prospecting authorities soon after my September 1966 patrol report, and there was a time lapse of some 3 or 4 years since the stated rocks find in 1963, I leave this fact, the above patrol report extract and the statement of civilians closely involved in the mining area, for others to form their opinion.

Sadly, ADC Kiunga Mark Sage died in recent times and it was really he who saw the copper sulphate find as having development merit - to me it was just something that brought back memories of blue-green copper sulphate crystals in a high school chemistry class.

Mark and I would meet at Sunshine Coast kiap reunions and he, still having connections with PNG and the Western District in particular, would jokingly warn me not to make known my role publicly for fear of being sued by those Fly River dwellers who have suffered physical and property damage from toxic waste releases from the mine.

In conclusion, the patrol experience was an exhilarating one with the moss forests, constant cloud and fog as well as the experiences mentioned earlier.

Phil Fitzpatrick, a constant contributor to PNG Attitude, did a patrol to the Stars sometime after and would agree with me.


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

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

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

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.


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.)