BILL BROWN MBE
THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Despite continuous protests from the community, mining giant Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia (CRA) remained intent on securing Pakia village and the surrounding land for its town.
The Pakia area had most of the things CRA wanted: gently sloping land, a pleasant aspect, cool nights and, most importantly, a short drive to what would be the mine.
The people had been challenging the company for some months when, on 19 July 1968, top kiap Tom (TW) Ellis, Director of District Administration, briefed a meeting of the Papua New Guinea Administration’s committee handling the Bougainville situation.
He told fellow members Assistant Administrators Frank Henderson and Les Johnson, Director of Lands Don Grove and Secretary for Law Wally Watkins that the villagers intended to fight for their land.
There would be bloodshed if CRA was allowed to go ahead with its plans for Pakia.
Administrator David Hay elevated Ellis’s report on the following day when he wrote to Australia’s Secretary for Territories, Warwick Smith, in Canberra:
“CRA are interested in utilising an area containing the village of Pakia as the site for the township... The area, while suitable for CRA purposes, is a productive one. It is heavily planted up.
“The villagers have said in no uncertain terms that they will resist. There is no immediate possibility of field staff persuading them either to accept compensation or alternative land elsewhere - even if such land were available.”
I had admired Frank Espie, CRA’s top man on the Bougainville operation, since first meeting him in July 1966, when he was roaming around the ridge above the future mine site at Panguna.
Espie was Melbourne-based but frequently in Bougainville and our paths crossed almost every other month, sometimes more often, at meetings and social occasions. He was always interested in what was going on, examining problems and seeking answers.
I wondered why he had ignored our advice about Pakia for so long; it wasn't until the August 1968 meeting in Port Moresby that Company officials accepted the concept of siting a town in Pakia must be regarded as a last resort rather than a first choice.
I think I got the answer fifty years later in Sydney when Dr Kristian Lasslett at Ulster University sent me a copy of Professor Douglas Oliver's confidential report. In the forty-three typescript pages, Oliver denigrated kiaps and proposed that he and his stable of graduate students could resolve the problems with the landowners and the people. More below.
But whatever illusions we had were shattered at a bi-monthly meeting in Port Moresby on 12 February 1969 when CRA officials submitted the plans for the leases they would be seeking under the company’s agreement with the Administration.
The Administration was compelled to obtain some form of title to these leases and grant them to the company unless it was unreasonable to do so.
At that meeting in February 1969, Espie did most of the early talking. He said the decision to go ahead was imminent. Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation (RTZ), CRA’s parent company in London, had accepted the mining feasibility study subject to the negotiation of marketing contracts and bank loans.
A Japanese smelting group would take delivery of 80,000 tons of contained copper a year and negotiations were in progress for sales of another 90,000 tons a year to Europe. The Bank of America was coordinating $200 million in loans.
Then he dropped the bombshell. The company needed the Administration to grant the mining and associated leases without delay as RTZ had to satisfy both the bank and the companies who would supply services and equipment.
And because of the proposed short-term nature of the loans, the Panguna mine would need to achieve full production in the shortest possible time.
The area they were seeking for the coastal town and port covered a continuous stretch of land from the left bank of the Bovo River (1) to the north of Loloho plantation, and extended from the seashore to foothills at about the 150-metre contour line.
Except for the five-acre Catholic Mission lease at Tunuru and a CRA-owned 200-acre agricultural lease at Loloho, that vast slice of coastline - more than 51,000 acres - was village land.
It engulfed Arawa, Bairema and Lonsiro villages and large slabs of the Pomaua and Rorovana people's food gardens and coconut groves. Espie said the extent was "deliberately generous as an insurance for future expansion and included space for a proposed buffer zone against future squatter settlement."
I didn't say anything at the time, but I thought his proposal that the new town would consume three villages and village land but leave the adjoining Arawa Plantation unscathed was a cunning ploy.
At Rorovana, CRA wanted a large area of native-owned land for the port, a 135-megawatt powerhouse, an oil storage farm, and a beachfront area for workers' accommodation and recreation.
An additional 1,500 acres reasonably close to the town and port would be "developed in the future as an industrial area" and, nearby, "an extensive area for garbage and industrial waste."
Espie said the company had yet to make decisions regarding the alignment of the road from the coast to the mine but warned it might involve "displacement of villages or destruction of planted crops."
The 11,800 acre Special Mining Lease seemed to me to be over-reach, but CRA decreased it when I objected to the inclusion of the village side of Guava ridge and the distant Daratui-Unabato, Karato, and Mainoki mineralised areas being included like satellites of the Special Mining Lease.
The company also required 1,000 acres for a dam and pumping station near the Kawerong and Toyo river junction. And it rather condescendingly stated that this "would not seriously disturb the local people except it might be necessary to restrict their activities within the catchment area."
Further downstream on the Jaba River, it required 38,000 acres for a tailings dam: 24,000 acres immediately; 6,000 as a precaution; 8,000 to control the estuary flow.
Adding to the enormity of the proposal, CRA planned to immediately denude the surface of what would be the initial open cut mine by aerially poison-spraying trees and other vegetation and then burning it.
After that, the overburden covering the orebody – all 30,000,000 tons - would be flushed down the Kawerong River into the Jaba and out to sea. The sluicing operation would destroy the gardens of the Moroni people, but the village houses would not have to immediately move.
And, as we reeled with shock, Espie revealed that the company proposed to undertake all that destruction before obtaining a mining lease and even before their principals in London had decided to proceed.
Espie reacted sourly when I observed that some of the proposals reversed his earlier assurances, like "the company would be able to locate the port-loading facilities and the oil tank farm within Loloho plantation”.
And he did not like it when I objected to the company's proposal to search for limestone in the Bovo River valley between Arawa Plantation and the foothills. That idea covered the village land that was the crucible of the Nasioi cacao plantings. We couldn't let the area become a limestone quarry.
The Administration's seven-page analysis and criticism, completed seven days later, examined the Company's applications for the port and coastal town, the mining lease, the tailings area, a water lease, the Borumai lease for limestone, the leases for roads and associated works, and the offshore lease. It was formatted as a letter addressed to the Secretary of Territories in Canberra. Administrator Hay added two paragraphs as an ending, signed it and sent it by the overnight diplomatic bag on 17 February 1969.
His final paragraphs nailed a critical issue:
“The handling of the Company's request for the coastal site may be the key to the whole operations… To date, all demands have fallen on native land and property owners. The opportunity now arises where some of the burden can be shared by expatriate landholders. Failure to insist on this is politically unacceptable.”
Six days later, Assistant Administrator Frank Henderson flew to Canberra to argue the Administration's case. Espie, by now Managing Director of Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd, flew from CRA's Melbourne headquarters.
Gerry Gutman, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Territories, chaired the two-day meeting aided by Assistant Secretaries Mentz and Reseigh and lesser mortals Mansfield, Cooper and Dowling. Except for Gutman, who had accompanied Territories Minister Charles (Ceb) Barnes to Kieta and Panguna on his disastrous two-day visit in February 1966, none of those public servants had ever visited Bougainville or the CRA project. (2)
According to the grapevine, after debating the Administrator's submission, Gutman, Mentz, Espie, and Henderson recommended immediate action to acquire Arawa Plantation. A further portion, 670 acres of native-owned land adjoining the plantation and 1,250 acres in the Pinei Valley-Rorovana area, would be acquired with timing at the Administrator's discretion.
Minister Barnes approved that the Administration negotiate to purchase Arawa Plantation’s 998 acres at an estimated upper limit price of $750,000 (about $9.2 million today).
Espie complained about the Administration causing delays to the Bougainville project. He said he had only agreed to the words in the minutes of the February joint meeting[i] “on the understanding Administration officers in Bougainville would do everything possible to ensure there was no obstruction to construction , like natives obstructing road works etc.”
I was not at that Canberra meeting, but I was not worried by Espie's comments. He knew that we kiaps had facilitated the Company's operations -albeit reluctantly- ever since geologist Ken Phillips first visited Bougainville in February 1964.
Without our involvement and support, CRA's activities would have come to a grinding halt. I also knew Espie was worried by a rumour that PNG's Public Solicitor, Peter Lalor, was seeking an injunction to stop the Bougainville operation until the High Court of Australia determined his challenge to the Territory's mining legislation.
It was likely that even waiting for such a hearing could take months, with all activities brought to a standstill by the injunction and the interest on the massive bank loans accruing by the day.
After the Canberra meeting, Director Tom Ellis, who had not been there, told me privately that the bureaucrats were unhappy. "Someone may be out to get you,” he warned. “You had better watch your back."
Perhaps he was referring to an event 10 days earlier, when the powerful Public Relations Advisory Committee, chaired by Territories Department Assistant Secretary Tim (MA) Besley had rebuked me.
“Radio Bougainville is a powerful instrument that must be used effectively,” Besley had written. “The present acting District Commissioner [me] should be encouraged to make more personal use of Radio Bougainville. We consider that a bold and vigorous policy of grasping the nettle when contentious issues arise is better than a laissez-faire approach.”
Meanwhile, on Bougainville, we were busy dealing with the upsurge in CRA activity. District Officer Ross Henderson and Patrol Officer Jim Wellington were focussing on the villages around the Panguna mine site where there were problems at Dapera, Guava and Moroni.
Downstream from Panguna on the western fall, Mike (MF) Bell (4) had been living under canvas in the tailings area looking after the company's surveyors and contract engineers. Bell had taken over the role from District Officer Bob Hoad in October 1968. His camp (Red Dot 4 on the map) was near the junction of the Kawerong and Toyo Rivers.
The nearby Darenai and Onovi villages had more or less accepted our explanations that the surveys and seismic testing were for the tailings disposal. That was until the company's exploration arm (CRAE) applied for a prospecting authority to search for alluvial gold in a 24 square mile area around the Jaba River.
Their representatives were an hour late for Warden's Court hearing at Barapina on 22 January 1969. The Darenai people were confused and refused to take the oath, and both village groups told Mining Warden H J (Hec) McKenzie they could not give any evidence.
Only their womenfolk had the authority to decide land matters in matrilineal Bougainville, they explained. Outside the hearing, they asserted they owned the gold in the riverbed and they did not want CRA to steal it. They wanted to pan and sluice it for themselves.
On the east coast, acting Assistant District Commissioner Chris Warrillow and Patrol Officer John Russell-Pell (5) visited Borumai several times in January before they were confident that the CRA could search for limestone unescorted.
But all their talking came to nought when CRA entered the area ahead of schedule and made camp in a food garden.
Russell-Pell returned to the scene accompanied by Sub-Inspector Daniel Gire and three constables -all unarmed – and restored a tenuous peace.
Later, Councillor Teoria Tau and a delegation visited Kieta and asked me to relocate Russell-Pell to Pakia to live in the rest house until the people could build him a village-style house.
The villagers wanted him on hand for day-to-day discussions and to handle their CRA-related problems. I agreed to the request. Talbot Lovering (6) - a lawyer from the Public Solicitor’s Office - shared Russell-Pell’s accommodation from August 1969 and became part of the team.(7)
Patrol Officer Max Heggen, newly married, returned from leave on 7 March 1969. Three days later, I saddled him with the difficult and emotionally-charged task of showing the Rorovana people the boundaries of the land coveted by CRA.
A delegation of Rorovana leaders spent time with me on Thursday 13 March, the day before I left for a joint CRA-Administration meeting in Port Moresby.
They wanted me to ensure the Administrator told the Australian government about their concerns – that they would be almost landless and have no future if CRA went ahead with its plans.
When I met with Administrator David Hay on the Sunday afternoon, he said he had already advised the Australian government. Still, I pushed their plea again at the planning meeting on Monday morning, but the focus was on the critical path required to get Panguna into production.
In the conference with CRA on the following day, Tuesday 18 March, Project Manager Don Vernon was adamant the company required all the Rorovana-owned land it had requested.
The area to the north of Loloho was particularly important. It was flat, near the port and ideal as a future smelter site. In the interim, it would serve as a construction site and used for recreation. (8)
We had another fight on our hands when the Company officials tabled their design of the future Arawa town. Espie said the Company was operating in a very competitive labour market; they needed large blocks and good houses to attract staff. The town would have to expand outside the plantation, up the Bovo valley to the settled area known as “the Society.” (R P Society on the map)
That March 1969 meeting was the first of a monthly series and the first to be attended by a Territories Department bureaucrat. Espie spoke for CRA, Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs) Henderson spoke for the Administration, and others, like Ellis, Grove and I, contributed when we were asked to do so.
Territories Department Assistant Secretary Don Mentz had exemplified Canberra’s perspective, and his feeling of superiority, in an inter-office memo of 12 March:
“The lack of clear arrangements between CRA and the Administration is unsatisfactory, particularly when CRA seem to think they will get firm decisions on all the outstanding land questions. I have a strong feeling the discussion will be ‘chaotic’ and inconclusive, but I don’t think we can afford to be not represented.”
Mentz was not a typical Department of Territories mandarin but he had similar limitations and prejudices. He tended to see Bougainville’s problems through a Northern Territory lens, and he didn’t comprehend the people’s attachment to their land.
He knew little about Papua New Guinea and still had not seen Panguna or visited Bougainville. Even so, he pontificated about our operations in the field and was critical of our activities. (9)
At the preliminary meeting in April 1969, I was relaxing, barely listening, when Acting Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs), Tony (AJP) Newman, read from a letter in which Espie asserted that CRA’s agreement with the Administration relieved the company of any obligation to pay annual occupation fees. He said the company wanted it arbitrated before a Supreme Court judge.
I was sure the House of Assembly had been told the Company would pay annual occupation fees. I knew that kiaps and CRA officials had given that assurance to the villages around Panguna. The Company had even written about paying occupation fees in the April 1968 issues of the English/Tok Pisin monthly Bougainville Copper Bulletin it circulated through Bougainville.
Ellis backed me up when I said, while the dispute was unresolved, kiaps could not advise the people how company activities would affect their lives. Consequently, Newman told the Company they could not carry out the aerial spraying until six weeks after the arbitration.
A few weeks later, in Bougainville, when Area Manager Bishop said he wanted to bulldoze the Moroni gardens, I told him that it was in the same category as aerial spraying, a no-no until six weeks after the arbitration.
It was only when CRA tabled its applications for two special mining leases that I learnt of an agreed subterfuge. The main lease would exclude the village side of Guava ridge. But a second lease covering Karato, Mainoki, Abaru and the excised Guava - "by mutual agreement” - would not be processed or publicised until some future date.
We discussed and agreed on the procedure. After the Administrator gained the Minister’s approval, he would grant the application as required under the agreement. At the same time, kiaps would inform the people that the boundaries of that lease covering 4,047 hectares had to be surveyed and marked according to the law and they would facilitate the survey.
When the debate over the Company’s demands for Rorovana land reopened, the CRA Project Manager Don (DC) Vernon, standing in for Espie, agreed to exclude the coconut groves to the north of the proposed construction area.
He also agreed “to look into the possibility of trading some of the Company’s planted Tokaian plantation land for the planted land to be taken from the Rorovanas.”
I had my doubts about the Company’s offer. Tokaian Plantation straddled the coast road between Arawa and Kieta and would be jealously guarded. And some months earlier, the Company had offered to plant Tautsina Island, which it didn’t own, with coconuts for the Rorovanas. Fortunately, the Rorovanas were not interested; they said the island was too distant from their home, too far for them to travel (see map).
In May, the venue of the monthly meeting with CRA was changed from Port Moresby to Canberra and I had to fly from Bougainville to accompany Tom Ellis to a meeting with the Administrator.
I had no idea of what was developing until, at Jacksons Airport, I was handed a letter addressed to Secretary of Territories, George Warwick Smith from the Administrator. I was told to familiarise myself with its contents before arriving in Canberra, then hand it to Warwick Smith.
Soon after take-off, I read the letter. Apart from summarising the Bougainville situation, the Administrator wrote that he saw indications of the general toughening in the CRA attitude towards the Administration and hoped the Australian government would adopt a firm position with CRA.
Hay said he did not want the relationship between the Administration and the people to be compromised by CRA pressure. He believed the company should be more flexible in its attitude towards land.
And, from the opening paragraph, he dropped me in it, writing: “Mr W T Brown, the DDC Bougainville with responsibility for CRA operations in Kieta, will be among the group leaving for Canberra today. You and the Minister will be able to get a first-hand impression of the situation in the Kieta area from him, and he added that I “could elaborate” on CRA’s attitude.
Assistant Administrator Newman opened the Canberra discussions, stating the Bovo people needed reassurance that there was no intention to expand the town up the valley. Espie replied they had no immediate interest in the area except in the search for aggregate. If searches elsewhere were unsuccessful, they would search in the Bovo as the agreement allowed.
Espie announced the company would pay the occupation fee but criticised nearly every Administration proposal from that point on. He said CRA could not accept the quality of the telecommunications or the roads.
He railed against the delays at Moroni, the East Road Camp and Rorovana where he claimed work was being held up by the Administration for political reasons. He was adamant the Company could not afford these delays and wanted to avoid the continuing interruptions “even this means a greater risk of violence.” When he criticised the current instructions to kiaps, Newman agreed to have them reviewed for the next meeting.
Perhaps Espie did not know that only two days earlier, two of the three CRA survey teams cutting, surveying, and marking the mining lease boundary had called on the kiaps for protection and assistance.
On 5 May, Patrol Officer Jim Wellington went to Guava village unaccompanied by police in response to a call by surveyors who were facing mayhem. About 200 men and women were destroying the camp: pulling down tents and removing cement markers.
Wellington was forced to retire, but later in the day, District Commissioner Ashton helicoptered in with the local member, Paul Lapun MHA. Lapun did most of the talking, castigated some people, and reactivated the boundary marking operation.
On the same day, another kiap went to Onovi village and arrested two villagers who were following another survey team and removing survey pegs immediately after the team established them.
The people were continuing to resist CRA’s intrusions. The kiaps were not avoiding delays, perhaps, but they were certainly preventing bloodshed.
Also, their numbers were increasing. ADO Bernie (BJ) Maume, DO Colin (CG) Sanderson, PO Gus (GH) Schweinfurth, PO Peter (PJ) Walshe, PO Peter (PJ) Wohlers and CPO Andrew (AL) Phillips were newcomers. DO Andrew (AS) Melville was recalled from Rabaul.
Back to Professor Douglas Oliver.
In 1968 Oliver, who 30 years earlier had spent 18 months studying the Siwai people, was commissioned by Frank Espie to conduct “a fact-finding mission … to inform yourself on the extent to which you or your colleagues or students are able to assist us in the formation of our policies on Bougainville and in PNG.”
In his subsequent confidential report to CRA management, Oliver wrote:
“In view of the very great importance of land to the natives of Bougainville – as the source of their subsistence (and now increasingly of cash), the basis of their feelings of social and economic security, and the focus of their extra-Christian religious attention - it behoves CRA to base any further encroachments on native-owned land upon deep and comprehensive understanding of the specific locale’s land tenure principles."
And then he added in parentheses a demeaning remark:
"(An understanding that cannot be obtained by a Kiap asking, “Who owns this land?”; nor by an Administration-sponsored land demarcation enquiry as my recent visit to the Siwai area convinced me.)”
Was he suggesting that if the Company gained a “deep and comprehensive understanding of the specific locale’s land tenure principles”, they could then destroy the land or that before they destroyed the land by mining, the Company should gain that knowledge?
Oliver travelled around Bougainville interviewing villagers, missionaries, planters, workers, traders and kiaps. He spoke with District Commissioner [Des] Ashton at Sohano, Assistant District Commissioner Mal Lang at Buin, Patrol Officer Harry Balfour-Ogilvy at Konga and Patrol Officer Roger Dargie and District Officer Bob Hoad at Boku.
His contacts at Wakunai, an unidentified Assistant District Officer and Patrol Officer, were probably Bob Deverell and Cadet Patrol Officer Eric Goward. He called on me twice at my home after work and he was welcomed. He was polished and urbane – a social charmer – and I probably talked too much.
Henderson, Warrillow and I had spent years in the Highlands where we had seen people die in defence of their land, and where we had intervened in tribal fighting over land. I had served for six years as ADC of the Maprik Sub-district in the Sepik, Dagge had been there for a term. Here, battles over land were routine events.
Together, we had learnt much about the Melanesian people’s attachment to their land and its value in the society from practical experience at very close quarters.
And here we were, late in 1969, continuing our struggle to balance the scale between the people of Central Bougainville and a company becoming more assertive as its targets to begin mining became more pressing.
1 - The right bank of Bovo River was Arawa Plantation’s western boundary.
2 - Nobody from the Department of Territories had visited Kieta or Panguna since the Minister's visit two-day visit in February 1966. In contrast, Colin (CE) McDonald of the Department of External Affairs made the first of several visits to Kieta and Panguna on 8 July 1968 and had discussions with CRA officials, kiaps and Bougainvilleans Severinus Ampoi, Henry Moses and others.
3 - "…. that when the final operational decision to go ahead is made, all major operations should proceed without delay."
4 - Mike Bell, born in Kendal, Westmoreland (now Cumbria), England, had spent his teenage years in Armagh the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. In 1953, aged 20, he set out with a friend on a 350cc Matchless motorbike to travel around the world but when they got to Tabriz in Iran, the friend decided to turn back. Bell continued and arrived in Colombo with just enough money to buy a ticket to Melbourne on the P&O liner Iberia. He became a Cadet Patrol Officer in August 1963 and served several terms in the Highlands. Bell was the OIC at Gumine in Simbu when he was transferred to Bougainville.
5 - John Russell-Pell was born in Mboya Tanzania on 12 August 1935 and educated in Myboya and at Hilton College in South Africa. He was a tea planter when he migrated to Australia in 1964 and had just completed a term as a Cadet Patrol Officer in the Western District when he was posted to Kieta, but despite only have served in Papua was an instant success in Bougainville. Initially, he moved around on a 90 cc Honda motorbike before graduating to a well-worn Toyota LandCruiser 4WD.
6 - Welsh-born, Talbot George Lovering, 42, resided in Kenya before migrating to Australia in April 1965. He provided us with the skills of chartered surveyor, valuer and lawyer and he was easy to work with. When the going got rough at Rorovana, he introduced Jim Coulter from Moral Re-armament into the confrontation.
7 - The Public Solicitor would have been irate if he had read the entry in Russell-Pell Field Officers Journal: “Lovering and I were sent for by DDC Bill Brown to discuss the counting [of cocoa trees] and priorities.” I wasn't supposed to be directing his staff.
8 - That discussion scored me my one and only mention in CRAE Director Haddon King's 217-page book titled "Discovery and Development of the Bougainville Copper Deposit" published in 1978. King described it as "the story of the making of a mine." Espie said it was "the Bougainville story, up to the time of the decision to proceed." ADC/DDC Max Denehy, involved with CRA from 1964 to 1966, is mentioned ten times. My mention, a footnote: "An Administration officer, Bill Brown, who was prominent in Panguna affairs in the 1960s, was horrified at the effect smelting would have on cocoa and coffee crops." None of the other 24 plus kiaps who facilitated the Bougainville operation seemingly existed according to CRA.
9 - Born in 1933, Donald Mentz worked in the Victorian Public Service as an agronomist until 1960, when he shifted to the Commonwealth Department of Territories. He was based in Darwin in the Northern Territory as an extension agronomist until transferred to Canberra in 1965. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Department in 1969.