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The Rabaul stickybeak incident

British square at Waterloo
British Square at the Battle Waterloo, 1815. A formation adopted in late 1969 by military strategists in Rabaul


WARWICK - At the end of the 1969 academic year at Queensland University I was ordered to return to TPNG* on posting to Bougainville. 

But when my flight landed at Rabaul en route to Kieta I was ordered off the plane and told I had been seconded to the Supreme Court as interpreter for the forthcoming trial of several Mataungan leaders.

The trial never eventuated while I was in Rabaul because of a rumour that the Tolais were going to besiege the courthouse.

In response, the Administration in its wisdom decided to protect the courthouse with a cordon of police.

Police from outstations all over the Territory were flown into Rabaul to reinforce this cordon.

With nothing else to do, because I could not be the interpreter if there was to be no court hearing, I went out to have a look.

The police were standing shoulder to shoulder in line around the police station and court house complex, forming the traditional 'thin blue line' just like a British Square.

There must have been some hundreds of police lined in square formation. A huge group of Tolais faced them.

From inside the square, I asked a Rhodesian police officer what was happening. He said, "Can't you see? We’re surrounded."  As indeed we were.

Observing that the surrounding crowd consisted mostly women and children, I walked through the police cordon into the crowd and asked why they had gathered there.

"Oh, masta," one Tongan lady said, "we have never seen so many policemen before. We have come to look at them."

Later that morning there was a crisis meeting in the District Office of kiaps and police, the subject being how to disperse the crowd surrounding the police cordon.

There were various suggestions, like tear gas, shooting over their heads and so on.

I piped up and said, "I know how to disperse the crowd. Get rid of the police. The crowd is only sticky-beaks because of so many police. Get rid of the police."

I was howled down and told to go back to university.

Next day I was sent on to Bougainville. Did the Administration overreact? I think so.

* In late colonial days, Papua New Guinea was known as the Territory of Papua New Guinea


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Corney Korokan Alone

Awesome case study - a laughter of folly.

No wonder, the Rhodesian policing culture held them hostage :). We know where that comes from.

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