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An ancient machine with 6 former lives

As it really was: Straightening the record

Chris Warrillow on the radio transceiver at Mainoki in Bougainville, 1967


WANTIRNA, VIC - I am grateful to Bill Brown (A Kiap’s Chronicle, Chapter 29) for attempting to set straight the record in relation to field officers’ involvement in the lead-up to the establishment of CRA’s copper mine on Bougainville in the 1960s.

However, it still disappoints me that the records of academics will probably be the ones most relied on by researchers in the future and whose accounts will remain permanently impressed in the minds of most of their readers.

At least now my wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to read about me in perhaps a kinder light.

As a result of Bill’s article in PNG Attitude, some of my actions at Unabato, and subsequently at Kieta, are more fully and correctly explained and, thanks to Bill, they are now in the public domain.

My only criticism is that I feel Bill was too lenient on Professor Donald Denoon, author of the book, ‘Getting under the Skin: The Bougainville Copper Agreement and the Creation of the Panguna Mine’.

When the book was reviewed by Dr Glenn Banks of the University of NSW soon after publication, Banks described it as being the result of “meticulous research and carefully crafted text”. 

There is a quite different academic view of the book which I will come to at the end of this piece.

Whether intentional or not, Denoon chose to paint kiaps in a bad light – me included. Indeed, as I discuss later, he seemed to have been determined to do so.

When I rang Denoon, soon after reading his book, I asked why he had not contacted me to get my side of the story.

I was stunned at his answer, which was (and I paraphrase) ‘there was no need to, your side of the story was already available, in your own writing, in the archives of Canberra’. More than 20 years later, that response strikes me as not being nearly good enough.

In the book, Denoon refers to an incident at Unabatu where I was addressing an angry group of people beside a stream where CRA geologists were about to begin stream-sediment sampling.

The people were upset because we were on their land. My job was to facilitate the work of the geologists by explaining to the people that what the geologists were doing was legal and authorised.

The average reader musing over this section of the book may well have characterised me as an insensitive bureaucrat.

I am alleged to have spoken to the people in blunt, unintelligible gobbledegook. Denoon described the interaction thus: "He [Warrillow] recited his authority - paragraph 5 of Instruction 2 of J 1-58”.

That was not how I had spoken to the people. It was how, in my subsequent report to Deputy District Commissioner Bill Brown, I recorded that I had carried out my duties as required by the Instruction whilst not repeating the Instruction, well known to kiaps involved in such operations, word for word:

“5. If the Administrator authorises the operation to proceed, the officer in charge will:

a. make a formal statement of Administration’s intention to uphold the law and warn the people against interfering with persons going about their lawful business.

b.    Allow the operation to proceed.”

My report and field officer’s journal indicate that a full 15 minutes elapsed between my arrival at the creek, where the agitated group of people had gathered, and when I gave the go-ahead for the geologists to proceed.

Most of those 15 minutes were taken explaining to the people in Tok Pisin, even as they threatened us, of what my authority was in accordance with the Instruction I’d been given.

I reminded them of the law and what it authorised us to do and what the consequences might be if they continued interfering with the proposed geological activity.

Also, as I had done in earlier operations at Unabatu and elsewhere, I explained that I fully understood, sympathised with and respected the people’s attachment to their land. I also said that I understood the conflict between traditional law and Australian-imposed statute law.

In concluding, as I did at my many interactions at Mainoki, Karato, Atamo and now Unabato, I said, “Sori tru, tasol”  ('I am very sorry, but….')  I wanted the people to know how I felt.

But I never suggested I was "just obeying orders” as has been intimated. I was out of sight of my senior officer, the Deputy District Commissioner, I was a long way from Konedobu, and Canberra was hardly in my thoughts.

If anything, knowing what these people were going through and where my sympathies lay, I tended to bend my orders.

Again Denoon appeared to take a swipe at me in the same paragraph (pages 74-75) where he writes “… the people (now described as a ‘mob’)”.

Unlike Denoon writing his book, probably at a leisurely pace in the comfort of an air-conditioned study, I wrote my report in a hurry as it was urgently required and I had many matters to attend to.

I chose the word ‘mob’ rather than enduring more sweat dripping from my forehead onto my manual typewriter, papers and carbon-papers instead of writing some politically correct alternative like, “… a tumultuous assemblage of persons”.

In fairness, Denoon did note in his book, and on its back cover, that: “If blame must be allocated, it should attach less to Australian individuals than to Australian principles, the transcendent value of the nation-state and the valuation of land as a commodity”.

But Denoon does not suggest an alternative modus operandi that might have been available to kiaps, although he includes a few lines suggesting there were not enough kiaps to cater for a terrible situation that was continuing in that part of Bougainville despite our efforts.

He writes, “Rather belatedly, more kiaps were drafted to the mining lease to explain and conciliate” (p 102, my emphasis).

On page 74, Denoon cites District Officer Dow’s (sic) report dated 15 June 1967. Daw (correct spelling) was a Welfare Officer with the title District Officer. He was not a field kiap.

In fact Daw seemed to have been at pains to distance himself from the kiaps. This resulted in one of his antagonists, Peter Moini, later stating of him that “had he known I was not a kiap he would not have been so rude”.

Daw’s visit and his report received a couple of pages attention in Chapter 25 of Bill Brown’s Chronicle. As with my report, Denoon seems to have again chosen to put his own interpretation to work in this case.

For example, he implies that Daw described the people being “outraged by the high-handed actions of the kiaps”.

What Daw did record was being told by informants ,“When we speak to the kiaps they don’t listen or merely chastise us and tell us we are wrong”.

In the following paragraphs, Denoon described my Unabato visit as, “Typical of these incidents”.

Daw’s visit might have been a result of the ignorance of Headquarters’ bureaucrats who wished to send in disinterested ‘neutral’ observers to assess the situation. But it achieved nothing.

He was not able to report or recommend anything that had not already been learnt by field officers and reported in the past.

In fact Daw’s lack of appreciation of the real situation of the ground is evidenced in his concluding remarks and recommendations where he writes, I feel that definite future plans for the area should be explained … if necessary force will be used…”

Explanation is exactly what the field officers on the ground had been attempting to do all along, and what had been officially formalised by way of Instruction No 2 of J1-58 issued four months before Daw wrote his report.

This officer, on a short visit from Rabaul, obviously had no idea of the difficulties imposed on the kiaps informing the people of “definite future plans for the area” when none of us was aware of the forever changing plans of CRA, nor of the plotting and planning that was occurring in Canberra, and to a lesser extent in Konedobu.

However, there is a pleasing footnote to this story. In 2001, Denoon’s book was reviewed by Professor Jouni Paavola of the University of Leeds for the international journal, Society & Natural Resources (vol 14, issue 6).

Bill Brown  DC  Kieta
Bill Brown when Deputy District Commissioner at Kieta at the time of the events described

Prof Paavola, now director of the university’s Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, had this to say about the book:

“Unfortunately, Getting Under Skin proves disappointing at a closer look. Weak narrative, poor organisation of the material, unbalanced content, and a considerable amount of detail offered without adequate contextualisation and interpretation, making reading it difficult, and at worst an ordeal.”

Perhaps articles like this one and Bill Brown's, and detached reviews from experts like Paavola, will rebalance the ledger of veracity for future academics and researchers. I hope so.


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Warren Dutton

As usual, well said Chris. Your own and other kiaps’ contribution to the most necessary, for the welfare of the people of PNG, development of both the Bougainville and Ok Tedi copper mines, was invaluable.

Without both of them, in their times, PNG could not have advanced as far as it did, before it subsequently succumbed to the resource curse of PNG LNG.

Brian Warrillow

Thank you dad... 👍🏾👍🏾🇵🇬

William Dunlop

Well said Chris, We never met as I am aware, However, I knew of you through, my late very good friend John Maurice Land, who always spoke highly of you.

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