National Book Week is meaningless & vain
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The papers being sorted; the drawers emptied

Kiaps 1960
Newly recruited kiaps having completed their training in Port Moresby observe a march past by police in the early 1960s


TUMBY BAY - In an article a few days ago about Francis Nii and the effort to memorialise his contribution to Papua New Guinean literature, Keith Jackson reiterated an earlier comment that “this is likely to be PNG Attitude’s last big project. It was always going to happen that Phil Fitzpatrick and I would age and gradually run out of steam. Well, that point is arriving”.

I can wholly endorse that observation, no matter how hard I try to build up a head of steam about lots of things these days it seems to inevitably dissipate in ineffectual little puffs from all the leaks in the rusty old boiler.

I’m also noticing more often than before various comments from Australians who worked in Papua New Guinea prior to independence along the lines of “the ranks are quickly thinning”.

The Covid-19 pandemic with its thirst for elderly lives is not helping this feeling of pessimism and what seems to be a sense of resignation and tiredness among those thinning ranks.

We’re not quite there yet but the gradual fade-out of what was once a very strong connection between those Australian and Papua New Guinean generations who shared so much in common seems to be on the horizon.

There are many seemingly inconsequential but telling indications that this may be the case.

Comments and posts on the Ex-kiap website are now few and far between for instance. Whereas a few years ago you could count on something new on there most days nowadays it can be a week or more before anything new pops up.

The journal of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, PNG Kundu, in all its coloured splendour and excellent production standards seems to have lost its attraction, for me at least, for reasons I can’t quite fathom.

Originally intended as a newsletter for the Retired Officer’s Association of Papua New Guinea it now “comprises a global network of more than 1,000 members representing the diverse interests [of] people with affection for or an interest in Papua New Guinea”.

Education handover
This 1973 photograph from Ian Robertson shows the last great gathering of senior education staff prior to the first wave of  expatriate departures  as the old guard hand over to the new ranks of Papua New Guinean officers

For some reason, when I see the glossy cover I tend to become nostalgic for its old precursor, Una Voce, with its rough black and white printing.

Another indication which I’ve noticed is the increase in published memoirs by people from those pre-independence days.

Graham Hardy’s A Kiap’s Journey: Over the Hills and Far Away arrived in my letter box this morning and while I’m looking forward to reading it I also recall his wife Pat’s comment when she phoned me about obtaining a copy that it was written mainly for the family rather than for wider consumption.

I’ve heard the same comment from several people who have recently published their memoirs.

It is a kind of tidying of the decks before it is too late approach. Graham is a survivor of the early 1950s kiap days, the halcyon years, and it’s great that he’s written the memoir but in doing so I think he has also portended what looks like the coming end of an era.

Looked at in that way makes me wonder what such an end might mean. Will the interest in such a unique period in history fade away with the passing of those who participated in it or will the narrative somehow survive?

If it does fade away I think Australia, but more particularly Papua New Guinea, will be the poorer for it.

We on the Australian side will be leaving a body of literature that historians and researchers in the future might find interesting but in Papua New Guinea an examination of the period from its perspective has hardly just begun.

Those creaky old lapuns sitting around their warm village fires may not even get the chance to tell their stories before it’s too late. It may well be that it is only the Australian version that survives to be scoured and pored over by those future researchers.

I can remember the glaze that used to pass over the eyes of friends and family when I mentioned Papua New Guinea years ago but these days that glaze has been replaced by looks of incomprehension. It is as if I’m talking about another planet.

Perhaps that’s where it will all end up. Apart from a passing interest from some obscure researcher maybe that’s the future of all those jam-packed years we enjoyed and revelled in when we were so young.


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Arthur Williams

For anyone interested: The 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is open for online entries from 1 September 2020 – 1 November 2020. It is free to enter.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000–5,000 words).

Regional winners each receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000.

As well as English, stories are accepted in the Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Kiswahili, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Tamil and Turkish languages. Translated entries from any language into English are also eligible.

The competition is open to any citizen of a Commonwealth country who is aged 18 and over.

Regional Competitions

1 Africa,
2 Asia,
3 Canada & Europe,
4 Caribbean,
5 Pacific

Kenny Pawa

Phil, it saddens me as I go through the lines of this piece.

Indeed you kiaps and school teachers have contributed much in the development of Papua New Guinea. You built basic services like roads (including airstrips), schools and aid posts.

Many of the services that you have built have closed or deteriorated. Unlike you, who came only for service delivery and management, our leaders and their foreign friends are here only for one reason, self-gain.

They want to build mansions and possess material wealth. They want to manipulate the foreign policies, election systems and extend the expiry dates for their work contracts.

Our future is dim.

Chris Overland

Phil has raised the inevitable dying of the light for those of us who served as kiaps.

I find it incredible to think that it is now more than 50 years ago that I first stepped onto PNG soil as a rather gormless 18 year old APO.

I would guess that, at the age of only 69 years, I would be amongst the youngest ex kiaps, with my 5 years of service coming to an end in 1974.

Most of today's Papua New Guineans were not even born when I was watching PNG disappear into the distance from the window in an Ansett 727.

As Phil has observed, we all returned to a country that was resolutely indifferent to us and to PNG generally. So we mostly submerged ourselves in the task of finding new careers, raising families, paying mortgages and doing all the other things that you must in order to make a living and a life.

Many of us have, in our dotage, put pen to paper about our experiences in PNG, mostly for the benefit of our children and grand children. My personal hope is that my grandchildren will find my reminiscences at least of passing interest.

A few of us have had work published for a wider audience and so put on record a personal view of a formative period of the history of PNG.

Unhappily, apart from the efforts of a determined few historians like Mathias Kin, the stories of older Papua New Guineans have not been recorded. This is sad because a "bottom up" view of the colonial era is sorely lacking.

As I have written before, I count myself astonishingly lucky to have lived and worked as a kiap in pre-independence PNG. I doubt that such an experience will ever be possible again: modernity has swept away virtually all traditional societies across the globe.

In a very real sense, my time in PNG made me who I am and I am supremely grateful for that.

So, when it comes time for me to embark upon the last patrol my only regret, apart from the necessity to leave my family behind, will be that I did not spend longer in PNG and rather less time in an office.

Arthur Williams

Bloody hell mates you’ve made me wish I didn’t get up this morning and I have a 21 weeks locked-up delayed review of my remaining kidney tomorrow. It’s enough to make a Welsh Baptist turn to drink.

But what the hell it’s been Arthur’s very own unique experience of a tale with many sudden twists and turns. Lots of good friends have been encountered with thankfully just a few of the other type.

Adapted to twenty one different jobs living in Buka to Kiunga and Moresby to Kaniet Island. Three wives giving me seven daughters and so far sixteen grandchildren. A Baptist still married to a Seventh Day lady but worked for Catholic Mission while I was lay-preacher for United Church.

St Peter would be puzzled by that part of my CV but hopefully will let me enter to occupy long hap a little isolated hut 'Klostu nau masta' from the Throne Room.

There are aeons to stop smiling so cheer up now and live each day with those you love as if it’s your last. Forgiving even when you cannot forget.

Thanks to all who have made my journey worthwhile.

Philip Fitzpatrick

If I look in the mirror without my reading glasses on Richard I'm still a blond (you can construe whatever you like from that fact) but if I put the glasses on I'm salt and pepper. My old man kept his full head of hair right to the end so I'm hopeful.

As for feeling old - well, that's an entirely different matter. Everything seems to ache and creak some days.

I did have this horrible thought when I read Chip's excellent poem however - I wonder who will actually be the last kiap standing.

Bernard Corden

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four

Daniel Kumbon

I have had the privilege of personally meeting and corresponded with some of these Kiaps who built every town in PNG and teachers who taught us in every school. And I have dinned with the Director of education himself - Ken McKinnon shown in the top picture.

Moira and Lloyd Warr, Jim Fenton, Bob Cleland, Keith, John Gordon-Kirkby, Phil, Ed Brumby and many others. Mi bin poret long yupela taim mi yangela skul sumatin. Tasol, taim mi toktok wantaim yupela, mi lukim olsem yupela man. Mi bin rong long poretim yupela. Thanks a lot for building the country.

Richard Jones

Oh no, Chips.

Not too much grey, let alone white, hair please.

Let's clasp our two hands together and pray to the Great Full-Forward (or alternatively the Supreme District Commissioner) in the sky.

"Oh Great One please, please let me keep my hair. All of it, Oh Great One. If it turns grey, so be it.

"But please, please Big Spearhead no white. And absolutely no bald scone."

I think my earnest pleas have been heard, Chips. Only flecks of grey up above, although goatee is reasonably grey, and not a trace of the dreaded white --- let alone baldness !!

Paul Oates

Your slightly maudlin reflections Phil, caused me to think back of a recent funeral I attended. A family uncle suggested to the grieving family that they think about at least one really good thing their father and grandfather did and when they do that action or think that thought, their ancestor will live through them.

So maybe the memory of how we used to get things done might engender in the younger generations, that life's challengers aren't impossible to overcome. You don't need a personal counselor if you fail the first time or even after many times. Never give up. There's always another way of making it work.

Just ask an old Kiap.

Chips Mackellar

Quite so, Phil, you could even say it like this:

They're all old now their hair turned white, as the years went rolling by,
And with every year that passes now, we see more kiaps die.
Their children scattered far and wide, grandchildren further still,
And who will care when the last one dies, whose memory will he fill?
We'll remember all those lilting songs, those Mission children sang,
But who'll remember Maurie Brown, Jack Worcester or Mal Lang,
Ron Galloway or Preston White, Des Ashton or Bob Bell,
Jim Kent Bob Fayle or Brian Dodds, and Jack Emanuel?

We'll forget about Dan Duggan, Harry Redmond and Rick Hill,
But we'll remember Ela Beach, and the view from Paga Hill.
We'll forget about Tom Ellis, Des Martin and John Land,
And we won't remember Bill McGrath, Denys Faithful or Bill Brand.
We'll remember snow capped Giluwe, and the islands of Milne Bay,
But not Keith Dyer nor Freddie Kaad, nor Christopher Gordon Day,
Vin Smith and Graham Pople, and old Jack Battersby,
Peter Salmon and Des Fanning, and Bill Brown M.B.E..

And hundreds more we can recall, but too many here to name.
They all deserve our praise and thanks, they've earned eternal fame.
Heroes all of the jungle tracks, road builders of renown,
Across the country north to south, they helped build every town.
We'll remember all events now past, which developed PNG,
But the names of those who built this land, will fade from memory.
From the stone age depths of PNG, they helped this nation rise,
But who will mourn his passing, when the last old kiap dies?

Chips Mackellar

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