Law & the unfairness we face
The unChristianity of becoming a Christian state

The bringing of law in an unfamiliar clime

Kerry Dillon
Kerry Dillon - at 22 plunged into the intricacies of bringing western criminal justice to Papua New Guinea


The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer by Kerry Dillon, Hybrid Publishers, August 2020, 384pp. ISBN: 9781925736410, $35. Available from Booktopia & all good bookstores, and as an ebook from Amazon, Kobo, Google Books and Apple iBookstore

NOOSA – In 1970 I was the 25-year old assistant manager of Radio Rabaul, my main responsibility being running its news service.

For most of my time at the station my staff consisted just of me.

The Mataungan Association, a proto-independence movement, was in full cry and its legitimate call for social equity and fairer land apportionment for the Tolai people was mixed with the illegitimacy of rebellion and violence.

The court system in the town was red hot with litigation, some of it of great importance socially and politically as well as legally, and when the major cases were running, I spent a few hours each day covering proceedings in the large airy court house or in magistrate Quinlivan's small office where he painstakingly typed the evidence as it was presented to him.

I was learning court reporting by doing and by recourse to Abrahams' The Law for Writers & Journalists.

But it was a struggle to comprehend some of the complex twists and turns of a court in full flight - and I still clearly recall one of my early and embarrassing lessons in the art.

I was departing the court one lunch time, striding up the street to file a report for Radio Rabaul on the morning’s proceedings in a criminal trial, when I heard a voice calling out some distance behind me.

Running at pace along the side of the road towards me was a bewigged, black cloaked figure wildly waving its arms.

As it approached I realised it was the clerk of the court, who asked me was I going to report on the morning’s proceedings.

“Well, yes,” I responded, to be breathlessly told that the court had been closed by the judge (an act I had missed) and the story I was about to tell the world was subjudice and I was about to place myself in contempt.

This was a situation where I really required the services Kerry Dillon, the author of The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer.

I don’t know whether Kerry was present in Rabaul for that particular trial but I now know that he travelled the exotic Papua New Guinea supreme court criminal circuit from 1969 to 1971 – and Rabaul trials were a significant part of his life.

“The volcanic political atmosphere in the bubbling cauldron of the caldera that was the Gazelle Peninsula came to a head in December 1969,” he writes. It was the year he was appointed, at age 22, to the office of the Public Solicitor, WA (Peter) Lalor.

I arrived in beautiful, steamy Rabaul in January 1970 and that caldera of volatile politics continued bubbling for all that year and beyond.

Dillon coverKerry’s memoir, written half a century later and from the mature and knowledgeable perspective of a man who achieved high legal office, tells of how the young lawyer appeared as counsel defending indigenous people accused of serious criminal offences including rape and murder.

Like all of us who spent the early years of our careers in the then territory, Kerry learned and experienced very much in a very short time.

The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer tells the story of his day-to-day life and of criminal cases in both big towns and remote out-stations accessible only by air.

It depicts the clash of cultures as Australian criminal law was introduced and required to operate alongside traditional law, sometimes conflicting with it.

Fortunately the legal system under pax Australiana was mostly benevolent, the lawyers understanding and sensitive to Papua New Guineans' difficulties in comprehending the new ideas of western law they were being introduced to.

As Michael Adams QC has written in an appraisal of this book, “The differing ways of life between Papua New Guinean communities, and the wide variation in the character of their interactions with Europeans and the [Australian] Administration, was a significant part of the complex environment in which Kerry’s experiences in the country took place and which his account illustrates”.

Kerry grew up on a farm on Bruny Island, Tasmania, before studying law. After Papua New Guinea, he became a magistrate in Hong Kong and then director of the Australian Legal Aid Office in Tasmania, assistant director of the Legal Aid Commission in Queensland and Director of Australian Legal Aid Office in New South Wales. He now lives in Queensland.

There have been few books written by professional lawyers on the coming of western law to Papua New Guinea and this chronicle of a young lawyer who experienced the territory at a critical time on its journey to independence is a valuable addition to that small legacy.

The years before PNG independence in 1975 were a time when many of us were coming of age in our careers just as a country was coming of age in its sovereignty.

The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer is an important book and will join on many bookshelves those other valuable memoirs of  participants who, in an unusual time and an unfamiliar environment, assisted Papua New Guinea as it hurtled - not without pitfalls - towards self-rule.


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Sean Flood

Hi Keith - I have been wondering if I did my comment on Kerry Dillon's book correctly for you to receive it.

Yes, it arrived safe and sound, Sean, and was published (along with a number of other informative comments) underneath the article on Kerry's book - KJ

Chris Overland

Taking note of Kerry Dillon's comments, I have to say that as a young kiap I failed to appreciate how tricky the role of the lawyers in Supreme Court trials could be.

They did indeed have to work in very strange circumstances. It must have been disconcerting in the extreme to be surrounded by a court full of highly partisan members of the public, knowing full well that some of them were quite capable of killing you if they didn't like how things went.

As I recall, Supreme Court judges were treated with great deference, including guards of honour provided by the Royal PNG Constabulary.

This tended to drive home the point that His Honour was a person to be treated with respect and that, by inference, the trial process was something to be respected too.

I thought that the theatre of the Supreme Court was overdone at the time but, with the benefit of hindsight, it made sense.

That said, it did not always work.

I seem to recall that during a visit to a highlands centre (Mount Hagen?) His Honour's solemn inspection of the RPNGC honour guard was interrupted when the accused in a murder case who was standing nearby was suddenly attacked and killed by a small group of men lurking in the crowd.

They apparently had decided that custom and practice demanded a punishment rather more severe and abrupt than His Honour seemed likely to think appropriate.

The possibility of an outbreak of sudden violence was a hazard we kiaps perhaps treated more casually than was wise.

We learnt that any outward evidence of doubt or fear was not a good idea when dealing with mercurial people, especially when they were worked up about something.

The best tactic was to maintain a façade of calm and steady resolve and to move carefully and deliberately. It helped if your senior policeman was thoughtfully fondling his Lee Enfield .303.

I only copped a real belting once, and that was my fault for inciting the offenders through being unduly high handed. Arrogant little shit they thought and acted accordingly.

A few bruises, a sore jaw and small hole in the back were an instructive lesson for me.

Kerry Dillon

I would like to congratulate Jim Moore on his very thoughtful and well written story.

It's a very thoughtful, entertaining, and descriptive picture of how things were at many places in the Territory at that time.

At the time of my experience there(1969-1971) patrol officers were telling me that it was not long before that time that they were dealing with local murder cases by charging people with assault.

We young defence counsel and prosecutors were tasked with the job of endeavouring to remedy the deficiencies in the system by providing professional legal input.

Rather like the kiaps, we were given cases beyond our years and conducted them in remote places without many resources. We flew around in small planes landing on difficult strips and setting up court in buildings of native materials.

As Jim experienced we could have a large number of very restive warriors sitting behind us(because we were facing the judge) as we tried murders arising from big clan fights.

Frame-ups were commonly encountered and it was a heavy burden to know that you had to demonstrate that several claimed "eyewitnesses" were lying.

Not mistaken, not a poor identification, not a poor opportunity to see what had occurred but straight out frame-ups for payback reasons.

The outstanding judges of the time were a key part of the making the emerging system work.

The investigating kiaps who provided the brief for the prosecution were always ready to provide the defence with information helpful to the accused. I found them to be very fair minded and, as Jim says, men of integrity.

In The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer, I tell the story of those days and times from the detailed records I made at the time.

Chris Overland

I think that Jim Moore's comments on the operation of the justice system in pre-independence PNG are spot on.

I often heard it said that, in relation to kiaps administering the law, there was not much law but a hell of a lot of justice. Like Jim, I never saw an example of kiap justice that was unfair or disproportionate.

Indeed, many times the strict letter of the law was ignored when it was plain that it would result in more problems than it would solve. Sometimes, it was better to let the matter be resolved through the customary process.

As to why the local people accepted this, I think that it was probably because the kiaps had either created or inherited a certain "glamour" as being all seeing, all knowing and all powerful.

The exploits of CAW Monckton, Jack Hides, Jim Taylor and many others created this glamour under which the rest of us lesser mortals could shelter.

Basically, the whole administrative regime was based upon bluff. We pretended to be all powerful and in charge and the local people pretended this was true. It suited everyone to do this, albeit for the different reasons.

I like to think that the peoples of PNG realised fairly early on that we interlopers meant well and were mostly harmless.

This insight stood them in good stead most of the time, notably ensuring that the bringing of the rule of law to PNG proceeded with a remarkable lack of bloodshed overall.

Australian colonialism in PNG was far from perfect but, compared to the experiences in Africa and South East Asia, it looks like a model of humanity and forbearance.

Jim Moore

Keith’s review of Kerry Dillon’s book started me remembering how justice was administered back in pre-independence days.

I started as a kiap in 1965 and finished late 1974, most of my time was in the Western Highlands, Minj, Tabibuga (Jimi River), Mt Hagen, Baiyer River, then 18 months in Ewasse, West New Britain, then back to Mt Hagen.

As a kiap, a role that beggars description these days, I was a gazetted Local Court Magistrate.

After two years as a Cadet Patrol Officer, we did a two month course in Port Moresby at the then Administrative College at Waigani, covering Anthropology, Law, Government, Local Government, Land Use and Practice. A very brief education to say the least, but by far the most of our training was on the job.

Amazingly, when we were on outstations by ourselves with no immediate superior on hand, possibly hours away at best, we taught ourselves.

Some of us learnt the hard way what being a kiap involved. Those who could not or did not want to learn, I guess, called stumps early in their journey.

Among boxes of stuff in my shed, I dug up a document that I thought might add some perspective to what Kerry has written about. It is a carbon copy (see Phil’s comments about carbon paper of a court case I heard at Baiyer River in 1971.

It was typed on foolscap paper that is now yellowing and fading but still legible.

It was the only court case I heard where I kept a copy, as I realised at the time it would be something I would like to remember.

It concerned the aftermath of a tribal fight over land. As fights went, it was nothing out of the ordinary. No deaths, but a number of people ended up in hospital, with varying degrees of wounds.

Guns had not yet penetrated the society, but axes and bush knives had displaced the spears and bows and arrows of tradition.

There were about 20,000 people in the Baiyer River administrative area at that time. There was myself and three RPNGC to run law and order.

The police could at best write their own names, and very crude basic text in pidgin. They had no formal education in law at all, what they knew they had learnt on the job.

The three police and I attended the fight, and after hearing what both sides had to say, I came to the conclusion the Local Government Councillor from one of the opposing clans had not only failed to take action to stop the fight (as he should have, as a Councillor and leader), but had in fact egged his side on and taken a large part in it. So the police took him into custody. Sec 30 of the Police Offences Ordinance was a well-used piece of legislation many kiaps would recall.

Next day at the Baiyer River Patrol Post, we held the court case. As was usual, both clans rocked up en masse to bolster their arguments. Because of the crowd, I moved the “bench” from inside the office to the verandah of the building, and the two clans, each upwards of 100 men all armed to the teeth, massed either side of the “bench”.

I can tell you now that I was privately in a state of some agitation myself, over fears the groups would turn on each either, and make a complete and quite literally very bloody mess of proceedings.

However, one had to present a facade to the world, and so the trial continued. Because the police had not much idea of prosecutorial niceties, I had to basically ask the necessary questions, and then change hats and ask questions that the defence would normally follow.

I knew as well as the clansmen knew, that both sides took what we would think of as a fairly jaundiced view of the truth. I knew damn well from experience, that people would say what they believed would bolster their case, regardless of what had actually happened.

Human nature is I suspect, fairly much the same the world over. Time, place and individuals don’t appear to make a lot of difference.

I, as the Local Court Magistrate, found the Councillor guilty, and sentenced him to six months. As required by the law, I asked him did he want to appeal, he said, yes of course I do, so I then lodged an Appeal to the Supreme Court on his behalf against my own decision.

Because it was a fairly high profile matter, I sent him to Baisu Jail in Hagen, rather than putting him in the Baiyer River Lockup that I ran as part of my duties.

His appeal was not heard for some six months, by which time he had been released. The Supreme Court found in its wisdom, that the burden of proof had not been met, so his conviction was overturned.

Looked at from the viewpoint of western law, how could one person act as crime scene Investigator, arresting police, then prosecutor, defence, magistrate and jailer, all with minimal day-to-day supervision. Even then, it was what most would have called a travesty of justice.

Looking back now, of course, I would completely agree. It could not be anything but a travesty in this day and age, knowing what we know (then and now) of the rule of law, and the principles of natural justice.

But this case was 50 years ago, in circumstances that very few people alive now could envisage.

The then TPNG Administration, the people we were charged with administering, the inter-tribal tensions dating back millennia, the external political pressures, the expectations that were on kiaps as individuals to do a job nobody in Australia knew about or understood, all combined in a stew that produced results that now almost defy analysis, in my view

Was I wrong in my decision? The Supreme Court thought yes. The opposing clan in the tribal fight thought no.

Did the land fight go on? Probably still simmers away to this day, for all I know, except now they would be using AK47’s instead of axes and bush knives.

Did sending the Councillor to jail solve anything at all? At the time, and given all the circumstances, people like me honestly and sincerely believed we were doing what justice required. For the most part, the local people were prepared to accept our role, and the results of it.

That has concerned me ever since – why did the people accept “rule by kiap”. I hope I could answer that as well as anybody else with the benefit of hindsight and a much-delayed self-education later in life, but I’ll leave it to others to debate.

Anthropologists and psychologists could attempt to explain how and why local people and kiaps reacted the way they did. Future historians will argue over who was right.

The conflict between western law and practice, and local custom and tradition was one we were slated never to solve. What did we mean by justice anyway, when we heard court cases?

Local people walking away, saying we got what we wanted?, or, that was what we would have done in custom days? Learned white men in robes saying you got it wrong according to these great books we keep? Or did we think of justice as just a fair go for all, that was somehow a universal concept?

For what it’s worth, I do not recall ever hearing of any kiap who grossly exceeded their role or powers in hearing court cases. Some of us may have done things at times that were a bit under the radar in other realms, but dishonesty was never an issue.

Not once did I hear of a kiap who wrongly profited from any action he took. (see Phil’s comments about funny money in Graham Hardy’s book.

Arthur Williams

Thanks for link Sean.

I noted you mentioned the historic Mabo Decision I wonder what you think of events that have impacted on the lives of Woodlark islanders in Milne Bay province also since the late 19th century.

With events by miners and people of Woodlark Island be in media I spotted some historical legal events in the area reading ‘Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate Part 1.’ By C A W Monckton. 1920. Mine was 1936 Penguin Books.

On pages 226-230 he writes of having to conduct Warden Courts for miners on the island. He spent many hours ‘night and day’ on the work.

More pertinent though he says at pages 229-230 : ‘At the Woodlark gold-field at that time a very peculiar position existed.

The Mining Act under which I worked, was an Act adopted from Queensland, where all lands not alienated were vested in the Crown; certificates of title, rights or leases in Queensland being granted upon that assumption.

In New Guinea, however, under our constitution, all lands not purchased by Government. Not gazetted as waste and vacant, were held to belong to the natives; no land in Woodlark had been purchased by the Crown nor had any been taken over as waste or vacant. (Monckton was there in 1898 onwards).

The position therefore was, that on behalf of the Crown I was granting titles to land which the Crown itself had no title.

As a matter of fact, I believe that if the natives had sufficient knowledge, they could have capsized the title held by every miner and mining company in Woodlark, and could have entered into possession of all the claims or mines; moreover they could still do so still, unless those lands have subsequently been acquired by the Crown.


News article from 14/02/2020 - MP suggests land law review to protect Conflict & Woodlark Islands - The National

Civil Aviation Minister, Davis Steven says there is a need to revise and review land legislations adopted from precolonial days.

Steven, the Esa’ala MP, said the current land legislations, especially on freehold leases, were adopted by the House of Assembly before and immediately after independence.

"These laws are a travesty of justice, an error of law, a paradox that ought to be corrected,” he said.

He said such laws adopted from colonial rulers had brought about problems of ownership such as on Woodlark and Conflicts islands in Milne Bay.

And from other sources

Woodlark - Land Declaration Ceremony

The Board of Geopacific Resources Limited (Geopacific) is pleased to a share the news of the recent ceremony held at Woodlark Island to commemorate the return of customary land to the people of Woodlark Island.

Most land in Papua New Guinea is owned by the local people as customary land, this was not the case on Woodlark Island where large portions of the land were acquired during colonial times, later reverting to state ownership.

Portions 138, 139 and 140 of Woodlark in Samarai-Murua electorate of Milne Bay were acquired by the British crown in 1887 and were transferred to the national government in 1975. The total area of these portions is 60,400 hectares and constitute 80 per cent of the island.

Court ruling reverting title back to Vitroplant

Limited from Malaysia unsettles islanders by Mulai Robby (National Weekender)

Whether the islanders understood or not the impact of their action to trade their land for the needed or wanted foreign goods to the colonial administration in the early 1900s was a decision they made in their wisdom alone. As ignorant as they were the people sold their entire island in a space of 49 years to the Crown of England.

It all started in May 1903 when the Crown Administration on the island bought the first parcel of land from five men, who represented their clans, with 40 sticks of twisted tobacco, 10 yards of cloth, five tomahawks, five long bush knives, five chisels, five hammers, 10 hand saws, five looking glasses (mirrors) and, 100 fishing hooks.

The size of this piece of land is 19.16 hectares. This piece of land was classified as Portion 138 and it covered the western half of the island.

The Crown Administration then went on to buy the remaining land on the island and classified it into two portions and identified them as Portions 138 to the west, Portion 138 to the north east and Portion 140 to the south east of the island.

Between 1903 and 1952, a total of 18 deeds of land transfers were entered between the people and the Crown Administration.

The people received similar goods as for the first parcel of land, but varying is quantity according to the size of the land and the number of people to share the goods. These goods were translated as payments for the land.

Moved to native reserves

The people, being dispossessed of their land were moved to camps then known as native reserves in four locations at the fringes of the island.

However, most people interviewed say they do not remember their parents telling them about people being moved from the villages to live in the native reserves permanently.

Some men did go to live in the native reserves and they were considered as work boys for planters, miners and loggers. People remained in their traditional villages to garden and hunt on their customary land. They also continued to trade with other nearby islands and participated in the Kula Trade.

Over time some economic development projects prospered on the island in the areas of copra, small scale alluvial gold mining and logging, especially for ebony wood, prior to independence.

The people saw these activities but knew nothing about their comings. Only small time loggers would approach locals to cut ebony wood were known to people.

In 1975, the Crown of England turned many ‘freehold interest of lands’ in the territory, including the Woodlark Island to the new state of Papua New Guinea as Independence gifts.

By this time a few educated islanders knew about the status of the land on the island while most remained ignorant of the fact. Nevertheless, with the help of their elected leaders, the islanders started the campaign to have their land back.

A kiap, Kade Gansen recalled that “it was about this time I found out that my people did not own the land. We were practically squatting on somebody’s land on our island.”

Samarai-Murua MP Isi Henry Leonard has halted the relocation of 1,500 villagers displaced by mining on Woodlark Island in Milne Bay.


MD of GeoPacific Resources Ltd quits over complaint of poor relocation homes for Woodlark Island mine )The National By Clifford Faiparik

The managing director of a company developing the Woodlark mine in Milne Bay has resigned amidst reports that it has provided inadequate housing for 1,500 displaced villagers……

GPRL chairman Ian Clyne also confirmed Heeks’ resignation saying that the board was not aware of the type of houses built for the displaced villagers until local media showed pictures and reports of the dwellings last week.
Clyne said he had been in charge for only few days when the news of the housing situation had broken. “I have only been in charge since Thursday, and I’m very focused on addressing the single housing issue which I totally agree was completely inadequate,” he said.

“The board was only presented with the larger house versions and was shocked by the pictures

"The people of Woodlark have never been able to follow their own path to development after so much external impacts motivated by greed."

Sean Flood

Hi Keith I was one of the young Pubsol lawyers with Kerry Dillon in Rabaul where we defended Oscar Tammur and other Mataungan Association members in Magistrate Quinlivan's court. We may have met.

Kerry's book is riveting particularly his revelations of the Australian Government's attempt to interfere with due process during the trial of the Mataungan defendants.

Arthur Williams and others may be interested in my book: 'Mabo A Symbol of Struggle: The unfinished quest for Voice Treaty Truth'. Written for students and the general reader. Free download available at; trove. Or print on demand at Booktopia.

We did meet, Sean, and I remember well those absolutely fascinating court cases involving Tammur and other Mataungan defendants. I would have been more sociable except I was studying an economics degree from Queensland Uni at the time. Looking back I think I would have preferred sharing a beer or two with the lawyers - KJ

Kerry Dillon

Hi Keith,

The book has a lot of first hand information as to key events in Rabaul and the Gazelle in the latter half of 1969 and their relationship to earlier independence.
It details egregious breaches of the rule of law and egregious conduct by high officials.
I look forward to seeing some input from people who have read the book and examined the evidence in it.

Kerry Dillon

Arthur Williams

Should be an interesting read written from a very different aspect to many PNG books by old hands.

I believe it was John Kaputin, later knighted, who is alleged to have said that he knew the Tolai were not from the Gazelle Peninsula, East New Britain, but from New Ireland.

However we are here by right of conquest, he added, and ‘taim bilong pait’ has finished.

It interests me because currently we have Black Lives Matter dominating the media in the West.

The gist of their ‘kros’ is that for over 400 years Africans were taken by Europeans from their homelands to be slaves in foreign lands. (Ignoring the earlier historic as well as current slavery that has more enslaved than in the whole of history!)

Assorted groups, institutions, governments, celebrities and Uncle Tom Cobley have all rushed; to bend the knee, some literally. Their rallying cry is for the latest martyr the apparently attempted murder of Jacob Blake. For whom the BBC said on Aug 26: ‘There was an Open Arrest Warrant against him for sexual assault & a domestic abuse charge.'

No protest by the #MeToo legions about his behaviour as I guess they are happy he was attacked.

‘Christianity Today’ founded in 1956 by the late Billy Graham is no exception to jumping on the band-wagon and is churning out long essays mostly about USA churches’ sinful involvement in the slave trade.

One was the abandonment of a Southern Christian organisation chairman deciding not to use an aged gavel that was used in slave auctions.

Yesterday one article I read was trying to cleverly explain away biblical texts that suggests slavery is OK. Colossian 3 v 11 for example is an annoying verse for some modern Christians.

Another was by David Evans: ‘Without restitution for harm done, there will never be liberty and justice for all.’ The idea of restitution being made to African Americans who can trace their origins to the slave trade is not a new idea. It has become a more popular cry of late.

One reason given is that while 35000 British Slave owners received monetary compensation of about £10 million or more for the loss of what they considered their ‘property’ the million slaves received nothing.

If PNG landowner identification programs are anything to go by imagine the very involved certification of today’s millions of descendants all claiming entitlement to some cash.

With very good British records of who got paid to free their slaves and how much they received in 1835 we could trace today’s descendants of those folk who got the government handouts and it is they who would have to pay the compensation.

In light of the hue and cry wouldn’t it also be fair for the Baining to either get their land back from the Tolai or at least be paid compensation for their lost lands?

If the former option then the Tolais could all return home to Namatanai District and clans could dispute with their distant relatives. Being an all black event there would be no room for #BLM.

Martin Kaalund

You don’t give much away in your review as to the cases. I will get the book. In the meantime did Kerry defend the Emanuel murder case?

Peter Cahill (UQ Press, 'Needed not Wanted, Chinese in Rabaul') said from the Mataungan land claims only four only plantations were bought back, Chinese owned near Kokopo. Did that program progress and did further plantations pass back to other than individual purchase?

Keith tell me about your contacts with Tammur, Towolom, Kwamin and others, the young ones probably you mixed socially with them. Such fertile soil!

Hi Martin - Tammur, Kereku, Kaputin and others whose names I forget were never going to mix socially with me (although I dealt professionally with a number of them as a journalist). Radio Rabaul was reviled by the Mataungan Association and its collaborators. We had a police guard on our studios, some of our staff were assaulted and I came darn close to being done over myself once, but got back to my car before the mob got to me - KJ

Kerry Dillon

That's a great story, Keith. You are the first to review the book. I very much like the way you have put it together. Hopefully it will bring some attention to the story.

I look forward very much to hearing what you think of the Rabaul chapters in due course given that you too were an observer and participant. Three people have written to tell me that those chapters are "riveting".

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