Reflections on the borderland dilemma
Nobetau termination unlawful: National Court

Ageing kiaps worry about their legacy

Bob Cleland
Many ex-kiaps maintain a close relationship with PNG. Here Bob Cleland looks out over the Asaro Valley from the Daulo Pass. Bob was instrumental in building this challenging stretch of the Highlands Highway in the early 1950s


TUMBY BAY - It began about 10 years ago when a group of ex-kiaps sought to have their services in pre-independent Papua New Guinea formally recognised.

The end result was a reluctant awarding of a Police Overseas Service Medal by the Australian government for those interested in applying for it. It was a fancy piece of tin to keep the old chaps quiet.

The award failed to recognise the kiaps’ primary function as change and development agents and concentrated solely on their police role, which in many cases was minimal.

The result: not a lot of kiaps bothered to apply for the medal.

As the years have gone by the need for formal recognition has morphed into a concern about their legacy - how history will remember them.

This concern flares up every now and again. There is currently a debate in progress on the Ex-kiap website.

One of the driving factors behind the kiaps’ concern about their legacy is what has happened in Papua New Guinea since independence.

This period is seen as a slow degradation of civil society and a collapse in national infrastructure because of corruption and exploitation from both inside and outside the country.

The establishment of civil society and construction of infrastructure were both elements in which kiaps played a major role prior to independence.

Of late, emerging historical research and publication by a number of Papua New Guinean writers, particularly as it concerns the first contact period, has been of concern because of its possible impact on the reputations of some kiaps and their legacy.

As the ranks of the kiaps rapidly diminish under the siege of time, their concern about their legacy grows.

They worry that not only will history be unkind to them but that they might be used as scapegoats for the decline of Papua New Guinea since independence.

They don’t want to be seen as the precursors of what transpired in Papua New Guinea after independence.

They want to be recognised for their efforts in building a new nation, not as responsible for why it didn’t turn out as they envisaged. They want a happy ending, not a sad one.

At an individual level their concern is deeply personal. Every time a disaster befalls Papua New Guinea, be it a corrupt politician stealing money or a major public service failing, it is felt as an affront to their integrity as past administrators.

Legacy is a curious beast. It can simply be about what you leave behind for your children or what a leader might leave behind for their nation.

At a crude level, legacy is about material things but, more than that, it is about truth, values, capability and morality.

These aspects are ones the kiaps find hard to rationalise.

Looking at the current corruption in Papua New Guinea, they wonder about how this could have happened. Was it something they did to cause such an unholy development?

Most of them are mystified about where the bloated and repugnant creatures, who seem intent upon bleeding their fellow citizens to death, came from. ‘Surely we kiaps had nothing to do with creating them,’ they think.

Will the legacy of these uncaring and repulsive creatures, who seem to have no regard for how history will see them, be conflated with the legacy of the kiaps?

That idea might seem far-fetched but one only needs to remember the years just after independence when academics and others in Australia lined up the kiaps in their sights as causative agents of much that was wrong with the colonial experience and what sprung from it.

Kiaps were by no means perfect but they tried hard against the odds of an unsupportive and fiscally mean Australian government to do the best possible job in bringing Papua New Guinea to independence and a successful future.

The last thing they need to be told is that they failed.

They didn’t fail. It was the people who came after them that failed, both in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Hopefully history will share that view.


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Sara Turner

Well said, Mr Fitzpatrick. To have your life's work viewed in a negative manner, or totally ignored, is heartbreaking.

The majority of the individuals worked with great intentions and purpose to achieve, from their perspective of the times, what was best for PNG.

The present situation can only gain perspective by the voice of those from PNG, both indigenous and non-indigenous in order to gain the closest thing to truth and balance.

Andrea and Paul have presented the intention of having a Australia Pacific Centre in order to educate people about those times and to keep current information accessible. this, in my opinion, would be a fabulous place to share kiaps and others stories for students, academics and interested people in the know.

However, it is the ignoring of PNG over the years by most Australian governments to date that still needs to be considered for security, history, knowledge and connectedness.

Most importantly for the spirit & well-being of those who dedicated their lives to PNG and to both PNG and Australia's futures as neighbours.

Sara Turner - picannini bilong lik lik docta.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I agree with everything you say Paul. Thank you for your comments.

I personally found the early quest for recognition by a number of kiaps embarassing but I wholly support the argument that their legacy and the legacy of others who worked in PNG prior to independence to be worthwhile.

That deficit needs to be addressed not only in endeavours like the development at Middle Head but also in the historical narrative of Australia.

As you say, our current federal government seems to be leaving the corrupt politicians of PNG in their wake.

Paul Munro

I am struck often by the degree to which commentary on social media about pre independence PNG on one hand and post independence PNG on the other has an elegiac character, and relatively constant themes approaching condescension not much different from neo-colonial aspirations and attitudes that were still common in the late 1960's.
I agree with observations about a deplorable failure to adequately narrate and celebrate so many aspects of pre-independence history, but I cannot agree with the facile allocations of blame to one or other of the usual suspects. Australia and its citizens did many good things to aid PNG's emergence into a form of independent nationhood, especially after 1945 when it committed to bringing the two Territories to self-governing independence, dismissing the prevailing pre-war ambivalence about functional colonial status.
We as a nation, and administering authority also made plenty of mistakes, some well intentioned, some less than noble minded. Exploration of the history, good and bad, would serve a useful purpose, not least for those PNGeans who could join in; but in my view at the greatest priority must be to do what can be done to mobilise attention around current issues and predicaments. Reference to past events, policies and people can be a path to developing that discussion and capacity but the emphasis should be on the future and what lessons can be learnt if our nations and relationships are to effectively work together to address the challenges that confront us over this and the next decade.
On social media, I often see the dismay and ridicule expressed about the corruption, and misallocation of funding under PNG governance, mystification about its idiosyncratic practice of democratic forms and yes, denigration of Australia's role and sometimes of its functionaries. I wonder how many think to contrast the fate of the West Papuan Melanesians; how many wonder whether pork barrel Sportsrorting expenditures of public funds for partisan electoral gain may not be just a more sophisticated version of the PNG parliamentarians electoral grant of "slush fund"; or how much holier than thou we can assert ourselves to be as accountability checks and balances are in exponentially increasing decline.
The PNGAA has for many years, including when Keith Jackson presided over it, pressed for the Sydney Middle Head old ASOPA site to be the nucleus for a hub promoting a spectrum of activities concerned with the communities and relationships of Australia, PNG and the Pacific Region. That project and campaign remains a live issue. If it were to be given oxygen by this or the next Commonwealth Government, or through some other consortium of interests, it could confidently be expected to sharpen focus on the history of Australia's involvement in PNG. That focus would not only be on kiaps, other field staff, and administrators but on the role of the private sector, of missions and very importantly on what can still be fund about the gaze of indigenous leaders and others, past present and emerging. So much of that history is there still, but buried, awaiting curation.

Paul Oates

In our free and democratic world, everyone is entitled to have an opinion. But opinions are naturally based on the knowledge and experience of that particular person. It would be grossly unfair to refer to those Kiaps who have since passed on as seeking self aggrandisement or personal recognition. They did not do what they did for either reason.

This matter was originally raised on the exkiap site to discuss the subject of our shared history between both PNG and Australia. It was in no way intended or expected to be diverted and become an extension of previous discussions about recognition of service.

It is understood that both Australia and Papua New Guinea have very little if any of the shared history of our two nations being taught in schools. It seemed that if the subject of our shared history was in any way to be considered, and it should be, then it might be useful to do so before all the old people on both sides of the Torres Strait pass on. That repository of practical information and knowledge is now about to disappear forever.

Anecdotes and funny stories dredged up from the past are matters to be debated over a few drinks at the bar. What I thought would be useful was to think about how our two nations co-operated and formed a new nation when Australia was virtually only emerging in its infancy as a nation anyway.

School curriculum's are a touchy subjects and the inclusion of any factual information is very important. More controversial still is the issue that if history is not taught in any way at school, those being taught have no way of learning from it and fully understanding what actually happened.

That particular issue was discussed in a book about the East India Company called 'The Anarchy' and is now part of the national history of the nations of the Indian subcontinent. Of course, the information in the book is based on written historical records but as we know, history is usually only written by the winners.

Once those who actually took part in the nation building of PNG are gone, who then will anyone be able to ask an eyewitness, 'How did this actually happen'?

Andrea Williams

And, sadly, most Papua New Guineans born since independence don’t even know about Australians' involvement in PNG before 1975.

It’s not that Australia hasn’t recognised this, but it hasn’t recognised it anywhere near appropriately.

In 2017 the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) ramped up a need for an Australian Pacific Centre, an interactive cultural, educational and resource centre, recognizing, amongst other highlights, taking PNG to a peaceful Independence.

Recently, further talks were again held with the executive director of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust at Middle Head (the site of the former ASOPA).

PNGAA needs all the support possible for this, an ideal way to recognise those who developed PNG into a thriving community at independence.

Well said Phil.

Garrett Roche

The kiaps that I got to know best, Jack Edwards, Ken Logan and Rod Cantlay all made a very positive impression on me. I have good memories of them. That was mainly during my time in the Jimi Valley. In a previous comment on a somewhat related blog some years back I wrote about the legacy of the kiaps. "On a positive note, the less tangible achievements, which perhaps included the kiaps reputation for honesty, integrity, hard work, courage in taking initiative, etc., etc.. may have a more long-lasting effect than the physical or organizational infrastructures developed by the kiaps. Who knows? Maybe the intangible achievements are a more enduring legacy?"

Philip Fitzpatrick

If you read Bill Brown's 'Kiap's Chronicle' (available above as a free download) and his role in the development of Panguna it's plain that many kiaps have reservations about leading PNG into a resource dependent economy.

That said, the Australian government saw projects like Panguna vital to PNG's future. Whether that was designed to reduce Australia's future aid contributions or was an ideological stance is unclear - presumably it was a bit of both.

You do identify the conundrum felt by many old kiaps now. They were part of an imperial project that didn't work out well and they have now been tainted with that legacy.

Richard Jones

Well said, Phil. But like a lot of ageing journos remembering old kiaps, I'm keen to remember not so much the due diligence tales of the deeply committed and earnest lads, but more the feats of the colourful characters.

One of these was undoubtedly John 'Shorty' Jordan. He'd been posted to Abau in eastern Papua when I knew him, but clearly had seen service in many other provinces.

The story about Shorty which resonated most with those of clustered around the bar in Moresby's Top Pub was the way he would announce his arrival in a village.

A few short rounds from either a rifle or his service revolver would let villagers know Shorty had arrived. Then would commence the business of the day, be it a census count or preliminary work into a court matter.

I hasten to add that Shorty fired his weapon(s) into the air and not at shoulder level so that the shots pierced the hot, humid air and not the villagers themselves.

Steve Zorn

Whatever their individual virtues, the kiaps were part of an imperial project that had its own logic. And that logic pushed PNG toward a resource-dependent export economy. And that structure produces corruption everywhere.

Canute Yamang

Men did build infrastructure using the most Spartan of ways….

Chips Mackellar

Well said, Phil. You could even say it this way:

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, grand-children further still,
And who will care when the last kiap dies, whose memory will he fill?
We'll remember all those lilting songs the 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 Matin 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 MBE.

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 stone age depths of PNG they helped this nation rise,
But who will morn his passing, when the last old kiap dies?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Robin Lillicrapp provided this interesting link about the colonial experience in Zimbabwe (formerly the British colony of Rhodesia) that has a few echoes of PNG.

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