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The place that made so many of us

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Chris Overland - "My time in PNG made me who I am and I am supremely grateful for that"


ADELAIDE - Phil Fitzpatrick 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 Papua New Guinean soil as a rather gormless 18 year old Assistant Patrol Officer.

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

Most of today's Papua New Guineans were not even born as I watched PNG disappear into the distance from the window of an Ansett 727 jet.

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 grandchildren.

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.


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