BILL BROWN MBE
THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - On 24 July 1968, Craestar (1), Conzinc Rio Tinto's (CRA) research vessel, motored into Kieta harbour.
None of the onlookers were excited, even though Craestar had a helicopter sitting on a landing pad over the stern.
The townsfolk had seen it all before. CRA had been using the vessel's helicopter to move drilling gear around Panguna in 1965.
Patrol Officer Max (MH) Heggen and I had spent much of that Wednesday setting up the District Office and moving my gear to the new location.
I was about to start my new role as Deputy District Commissioner of the Bougainville district.
The next morning when Craestar sailed for Tonolei and Buin, I sent Heggen along to keep an eye on things.
The geologists were about to commence investigating the area covered by Prospecting Authority 50 - some 430 square miles of the south-eastern corner of Bougainville.
I knew when the vessel would return to Kieta as CRA Area Manager Colin Bishop had presented me with the schedule – some would say my orders.
He told me when Craestar would arrive and when the geologists would fly by helicopter to test the inland streams for minerals.
The area of unusual mineralisation was in the foothills—behind Aropa airstrip—near the villages of Abaru, Aurui, Nasioi and Unabato in the South Nasioi Census Division, and Karuru and Sipuru in the Kongara.
Three months earlier, in May 1968, when CRA's Frank Espie told the Port Moresby meeting that the Craestar team would investigate Prospecting Authority 50, I warned attendees that the landowners might resort to violence to protect their land.
But nobody seemed to care. The Administration gave CRA the go-ahead.
Assistant District Officer Chris (C) Warrillow and Cadet Patrol Officer Ian (IB) Sloan (2) spent most of July in the area, and many hours telling the people about the impending CRA exercise.
Warrillow's reports strengthened my concerns. When he told the people that CRA would be testing their land for minerals, they were adamant that the company was not welcome and that villagers would combat any intrusion onto their land.
All their coastal land - over 6,000 acres- had already been alienated and those precious foothills were all they had left.
The Aurui villagers were the most vehement, but the people from Nasioi and Unabato villages also levelled savage threats.
Craestar arrived in Kieta from Tonolei Harbour at 1 pm on Saturday 3 August 1968. Heggen disembarked and returned to his accommodation at the Kieta Hotel.
The geologists stayed on board and next day took the Aurui villagers by surprise - flying in by helicopter on a Sunday morning.
They grabbed their mineral sample from a stream some distance from the village, thus avoiding a confrontation with the people, but later in the day Peter Itomui forced them to retreat from Siromba, another South Nasioi village.
The farce continued on Monday morning when Warrillow and I met with Atkinson (3) at the District Office. Still with work to do, but terrified by the villagers the previous day, he wanted support for his team so they could return to the area.
District Commissioner Des Ashton was busy elsewhere, but we had our instructions.
Warrillow would fly into Unabato with Atkinson on Tuesday morning. The people knew Warrillow, so he would not need any police.
As Craestar's helicopter, a Bell 47G, was only authorised to carry two passengers at a time, the other two geologists could follow on a second flight.
The operation went more or less as we anticipated.
At 9.30 am on Tuesday, 6 August 1968, Atkinson and Warrillow flew from Craestar at Kieta to a landing spot near Sipuru village.
Two other geologists followed on the second flight at 10 am, after which the helicopter shuttled the whole team to Karuru village.
That was when villagers began to obstruct the geologists and to abuse and hassle the pilot.
When the people at Unabato became more numerous and more aggressive, Warrillow closed the operation down and the party flew back to Kieta.
Warrillow arrived on the second flight at 2.55 pm, reported to Ashton, and wrote up the day's events in his Field Officers Journal.
The District Commissioner's radiogram sent to headquarters in Port Moresby at 10.01 am on 7 August summarised what had transpired:
“ADO Warrillow accompanied party in [a] small helicopter Tuesday and [was] forced to withdraw from Unabato.
"Essential from Administration viewpoint party return to the area as soon as possible.
"Intend escorting party into area overland with strong police escort tomorrow Thursday. Anticipate minor opposition.”
Early on Thursday 8 August, Sub-Inspector Chris Coady with the police riot squad from Barapina drove to Kieta over the range through Pakia Gap to meet with Warrillow and the CRA team of three geologists and two Bougainvillean field assistants.
In a convoy of five vehicles, they then drove down the Aropa airstrip road and took the four-wheel drive track into the foothills.
The Administrator described the operation to Canberra by telex:
“On 6th August a helicopter party accompanied by ADO [Warrillow] withdrew from Unabato after some scuffling. ADO, police officer and twenty police escorted CRA party overland to Unabato 8th August.
"Forty males initially confronted patrol increasing to eighty, including women. They attempted to prevent prospecting and twice broke through police cordon. Three individuals were lightly struck with police batons and one arrested.”
Even the Australian Communist Party’s Tribune newspaper cobbled a reasonably accurate story together with "details drawn from the Territory press" and ran it on 25 September:
“After Atkinson was intercepted by the villagers and told not to work there, he returned with the Assistant District Officer, a Mr Warrillow. The villagers stopped his operations by dumping his equipment in the river. Two days later the CRA party accompanied by Mr Warrillow, and a number of police returned to the area.
"The police formed a cordon around the prospecting group, but the villagers twice broke through the cordon and pushed Mr Atkinson into the river. One of the villagers, a man named Batung, was arrested and appeared in court on the following Tuesday. A magistrate was flown in from Rabaul to hear the case, and Batung was given two months hard labour.”
I had words with Warrillow when he returned from Unabato on 8 August 1968. He did not like being told to take the man he had arrested to the hospital for a check-up and he was still aggrieved the following morning when he typed his three-page report.
He concluded with: "My verbal report was made to yourself upon my arrival in Kieta at 1905 hours. The arrested man was medically examined this morning and was found to require NO MEDICAL TREATMENT WHATSOEVER."
Many years later, Warrillow was almost contrite when he emailed me:
“I reported to you at about 7 pm as soon as I got back from Unabato, totally exhausted mentally and physically, soaking wet, hungry, and thirsty. I told you I had used a baton on a man and arrested him and brought him in for trial. You told me to take him to the hospital for a medical examination, and I was pissed-off because I knew there was nothing wrong with him. I knew how hard my token baton tap had been!
“So, when the doctor (next morning) told me there was nothing wrong with the guy I had to include in my report, "See, up yours Brown, I told you there was nothing wrong with him!" Thus, I used the upper-case emphasis, and now I apologise to the one who was the wiser at that time.”
Donald Denoon, Professor of History at the Australian National University in Camberra, probably jeopardised his reputation for meticulous research when, in the year 2000, he made a wild guess at the meaning behind that final sentence.
Without so much as checking with Warrillow, he wrote: "To the kiap's palpable relief (and perhaps surprise) he required 'NO MEDICAL TREATMENT WHATSOEVER." (4)
Denoon was not the only one to get it wrong. In 2013, former CRA geologist Roger (RWM) Majoribanks (5), now highly qualified with a PhD from the Australian National University, and seemingly with an ego, concocted a mix of fact and fantasy on his website here.
He added to our knowledge of the geologists’ unaccompanied Sunday morning sortie, but his contention that “the overwhelming majority of islanders [Bougainvilleans] welcomed the exploration team from the Craestar – they wanted a mine to bring infrastructure and jobs” was nonsense.
His statement—twice-repeated—that a kiap had been ambushed and hacked to death with machetes a few months earlier was a fabrication or a delusion.
According to Majoribanks, he and Warren Atkinson and Jeff Scott (6) landed in some overgrown gardens a few hundred meters from a village on 5 July.
Sometime later when he was taking samples in a stream, three young men threatened him with machetes and chased him. Atkinson and Scott were chased from another location.
When a large crowd of villagers – men, women, and children - surrounded the helicopter, the geologists "quickly flew off, glad to be still alive."
Majoribanks was more confused when he described the incident that occurred on 8 August 1968. He said it happened on 6 July and that 50 members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, armed with long wooden pick-axe handles, assembled on the government wharf at Sohano, where Craestar was moored. Marjoribanks wrote:
"An inspector from Melbourne and a sergeant from Mt Hagen, with a shotgun and sidearms, led the uniformed force. A young Australian civilian Patrol Officer, known in PNG as a 'Kiap' was in overall charge.
“After he and the other two geologists joined the group, they boarded vehicles and bounced along the coast road before being driven for two more hours on ever-smaller tracks, followed by a two-hour trek along jungle paths to their destination.”
Once again, the reality was very different. Twenty, not 50 members of the police, escorted the group, and they carried truncheons, not pick-axe handles.
The Craestar was at Kieta, not at Sohano - a small island in Buka Passage at the northern tip of Bougainville. Departing Kieta by vehicle at 8:50 am, the group arrived at Siromba 55 minutes later and walked to their destination, Unabato.
I spent most of August filling in for DC Ashton. He appeared at the office first thing in the morning, read the newly opened mail, passed it to me to draft replies for his signature and left for other spheres.
I was on a learning curve. I knew next to nothing about how a District Office worked or its day-to-day routine. Even so, for the first time in Bougainville, I was relaxing – no longer worrying night and day of something going wrong with the CRA turmoil.
If Warrillow had not organised the Craestar helicopter to fly me to Aropa airstrip on Tuesday 13 August, I would have been in trouble for missing the Wednesday Administration–CRA meeting in Port Moresby.
Ashton had a leisurely drive to the airport to catch the outbound flight; I made it with minutes to spare.
Craestar was still alongside the small ship's wharf in Kieta when I left, so I was surprised to hear Espie announce that it had completed the survey in the South Bougainville and was moving to the British Solomons.
(I was more relieved when at the next meeting three months later on 12 November, Espie said the survey results were not encouraging, and the company was surrendering Prospecting Authorities 50 and 51.)
Back in Bougainville from Port Moresby, Ashton took me with him when he drove up the Pinei valley to explain CRA’s plans to the people.
He knew I had some rapport with leaders Councillor Teori of Pakia and Councillor Naika of Sieronji. I introduced him to the meeting. He did all the talking and nobody listened.
They had heard CRA’s plans explained many times before – by me, by Henderson, by Warrillow, by Glover and by Heggen.
They didn’t believe us when we told them that the company was “only looking”—evaluating and planning—and we were a tad uncertain ourselves.
Many of them had stopped listening to the new Radio Bougainville when Ashton commenced his weekly program, Toktok Bilong Nambawan Kiap (The District Commissioner Speaks) warning them not to hinder CRA or get in the company’s way.
The people from both sides of the Pinei Valley – the Nasioi and the Eivo - were horrified that the company was planning a road with a 60 feet-wide easement, gun-barrel straight up the valley through their economic crops.
The Pakia people were prepared to prevent the company taking their village and the surrounding land for a town in the foothills and mountain valleys where they grazed their pigs and hunted. They were also opposed to the road easement which was 200 feet wide.
On 22 August Councillor Teori lost his cool. He told a survey team to get off his land and felled an employee, Daniel, who was cutting a survey line.
Ross Henderson, told of strife between Pakia villagers and a North Gap survey team, visited Nairovi and Pakia accompanied by five constables. After more than two hours of discussion, he decided to arrest Councillor Teori and take him to Kieta.
The Pakia people - men and women -intervened and stopped Henderson and the police from taking him. Henderson reported to Ashton in Kieta, leaving Councillor Naika and Constable Narokai at Pakia to talk to the people and help them understand.
I would have preferred that Henderson had been less aggressive. Now we were locked in; Teori had resisted arrest and had to be arraigned.
Henderson returned to Pakia accompanied by Sub-Inspector Alex (AW) Fyfe (7) and 10 extra police. The Sub-Inspector served a warrant of arrest on Teori and, after a struggle, Teori and some others were handcuffed, placed in vehicles and taken to Kieta.
A magistrate from Rabaul sentenced Teori to three months in gaol on 3 September. It was time to contact the Public Solicitor Peter (WA) Lalor.
Lalor had already made public statements regarding the ownership of minerals on native land (8) and he sprang into action when I called. Within a few days Teori-Tau and his co-accused were released on bail.
I had no idea that Teori's appeal would result in a challenge to the validity of the Territory's mining laws in the Supreme Court in October 1969.
In December 1969, Teori’s case went to the High Court of Australia. Teori and I maintained a close dialogue over the next four years and he supported the kiaps working in his area.
As a precautionary measure, at the end of August ADOs Warrillow and Glover and eight constables spent five cold and bleak days under canvas at the top of the range between Pakia and Panguna. Their task was to escort the team surveying the North Gap alternative route.
Ashton was back on the Panguna scene early in September 1968. He took DO Ross Henderson, Sub-Inspector Chris Coady, and Constable Narokai with him when he walked around Guava ridge on 12 September.
They helicoptered from Panguna to Deomori Marist Mission, talked with Father Weemaes (9) then walked to Kokorei and Guava. The following day Ashton accompanied Henderson to Moroni village to check a drill access road and to ensure CRA relocated a drill site to avoid disturbing a graveyard.
Around mid-September, the people from the villagers on the western fall - in the lower Kawerong and Jaba – protested when CRA destroyed a vital food source.
The company, using a 1,000 horsepower hydraulic pump and two bulldozers, flushed 75,500 cubic metres of volcanic ash overburden down the Kawerong into the Jaba killing all the fish and other creatures that lived in the waterway.
District Officer Bob (RA) Hoad and three police had been tasked to escort the team trying to work out how to dispose of the overburden and tailings - six surveyors and engineers and 60 Nagovisi assistants.
The Darenai, Pisinau and Kokomate villagers were not overawed by the 70 intruders.
On 3 October when they ordered Hoad and the team to begone or they be forcibly removed, District Commissioner Ashton sent Sub Inspector Coady and 10 constables as reinforcements.
Three days later, he helicoptered to the camp to mediate, but it was not until the Member of the House of Assembly, Paul Lapun, flew from his home at Mabes village in the Banoni that a temporary solution was found and work resumed.
We should have been prepared. At a meeting in May 1968, the company reported that if the project went ahead 80 million cubic yards (about 61 million cubic metres) of overburden material would be flushed downstream in the two-year period before production.
After the mine commenced, the tailings, more than 98 percent of the 72,500 tonnes milled each day would flow into the Kawerong River.
At the November meeting, the company reported:
“Serious pollution of the river system was inevitable: contaminated by suspended clay and solids, and possible increased copper content. There was a probability of non-toxic levels of cyanide in the effluent from the concentrator. A lethal effect on fish had already attracted vehement opposition.”
1969 was going to be a brutal year. CRA added Phil (PHN) Opas QC to their team, the Public Solicitor, Peter Lalor, sent a member of his staff, Talbot Lovering, to our aid, and Tom Ellis transferred Patrol Officers Mike (MF) Bell and John Russell-Pell to strengthen our team.
At the end of November 1968 I took over as District Commissioner Bougainville when Des Ashton departed for four months leave to Australia.
(1) In an earlier life as Asahi Maru No 8, a Japanese fishing vessel, Craestar was abandoned by her owners when she went aground on a reef near Sigatoka, Fiji, in February 1962. Re-floated in 1962, she was converted to a cargo vessel and traded between Fiji and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) but her 120 tons of cargo capacity was too small. CRA purchased the ship in May 1965.
(2) Ian Bruce Sloan, Cadet Patrol Officer - born July 1948; returned to Australia December 1968.
(3) Warren John Atkinson, geologist, was team leader. Born in Australia in June 1935, he returned there in March 1967 after spending almost four years overseas. He commenced three months stints on Craestar circa April 1967.
(4) ‘Getting under the skin: the Bougainville copper agreement and the creation of the Panguna mine’ by Donald Denoon, Melbourne University Press, 2000.
(5) Roger William Moncrief Marjoribanks, geologist, was born in Scotland in December 1943 and flew to Australia from London in August 1966 to work for CRA Exploration. According to his web page, he graduated from Glasgow University in 1966 as a BSc with 1st Class Honours and was the class medallist.
(6) Allan Geoffrey Scott, 26, graduated in 1966 and went to Bougainville in February 1967 as a CRA geologist on the first of many assignments.
(7) Sub Inspector Alexander Wallace Fyfe, born in Scotland in 1933, had a distinguished career in the Victoria Police, the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary, the Commonwealth Police and the Australian Federal Police. He was awarded the chief commissioner's certificate for bravery and eight commendations for efficiency in police duties in Victoria and was awarded the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary Valour Medal.
(8) Discharged from the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) in Rabaul in 1946, William Andrew (Peter) Lalor joined the Administration as a Patrol Officer. While posted to Milne Bay, he was in Samarai when a powerline came down and, while rescuing another person, he stepped on the live wire and was severely burnt. Recovering in Melbourne he completed a law degree and transferred to the Department of Law in PNG. In 1960 he was appointed to be PNG’s first Public Solicitor.
(9) Father Willy (WCA) Weemaes arrived in Australia from Holland in November 1966. He took over as parish priest at Deomori in 1967 upon the transfer of Father Wilhelm Woeste.
1 - Map of the Kieta region (Bill Brown)
2 - Areas covered by CRA prospecting authorities 50 and 51, later relinquished by the company (Bill Brown)
1 - MV Craestar alongside the small ships’ wharf at Kieta, circa 1965 (Peter Steele)
2 - A Bell 47G helicopter on the ground near Torokina (Darryl Robbins)
3 - Old CRA road at Pakia Gap circa 1968 (John Dagge’s Covid shoe box)
4 - From Roger Majoribanks webpage - “Villagers near Panguna copper deposit in Bougainville Island try to stop CRA geologists from collecting a stream-sediment sample. The geologists (wearing orange hi-vis jackets) are Jeff Scott at left and Warren Atkinson at right. The guy wearing the Akubra hat is the Kiap. The third geologist with the party (me) is hanging back, trying to keep out of harm’s way (and taking photographs).” The kiap, Chris Warrillow, was wearing an army slouch hat not an Akubra purchased from a disposal store in 1958.
5 - Bill Brown relaxing in Kieta August 1968
6 - District Commissioner Des (DN) Ashton, Kieta 1968 (Bougainville News)
7 - CRA flushed 100,000 cubic yards (75,500 cubic metres) of volcanic ash overburden down the Kawerong River as a test in 1968, almost a year before they took the decision to proceed to construct the mine (Bill Brown)