NORTHUMBRIA, UK – Roy Edwards was an uncompromising kiap (patrol officer), not fond of paperwork and with his own way of bringing pacification to the warring tribes of Papua New Guinea.
He patrolled the Kunimaipa section of the Goilala region for months on end and was ultimately successful in erasing a traditional payback murder spiral that led to dozens of deaths each year.
The perpetuation of payback was an insurmountable obstacle to securing the wellbeing and progress of the villages.
Pax Australiana demanded that the practice be terminated.
Ron Galloway succeeded Edwards as officer-in-charge of the Goilala Sub-District in 1950 and was instrumental in parading his predecessor before the Supreme Court on a charge of common assault.
As a result, Edwards was jailed for six months and left a colonial Administration keen not to offend anti-colonial sensibilities and move to a more development-focussed governance.
The contrast between the two men could hardly be greater. Edwards was tough, practical and expedient.
Through physical threat and coercion, he was resolute in discouraging routine murder.
He was so successful that two decades later in 1975, long-serving priests stationed at Kamulai in the Kunimeipa area continued to credit him with saving hundreds of lives.
Galloway was a modern, bureaucratic man who understood the complexities of bringing pacification and progress to the people of Papua New Guinea.
It is difficult to imagine Edwards taking part, as Galloway did with obvious enthusiasm, in a public relations picture underlining another advance in Pax Australiana’s ambitions.
This was surely a photograph that found its way to senior desks in Canberra and into the press.
And now I must introduce Tumai Mumu, whose father was the big man at Tatupit in the Tauade section of the Goilala region, and who had been one of Edwards’ interpreters.
Tumai’s role is complicated because he was a self-confessed mass killer who could only evade arrest through extraordinary cunning.
I was stationed in the Goilala in 1974-75 and he told me that as a young man he had ambushed and killed 24 men.
When I asked how many of his victims were women he stuck out his bottom lip and shrugged.
Nevertheless Tumai said he did appreciate the new found stability generated by the dramatic reduction in murder initiated by Edwards.
While I was at Tapini he helped me investigate the especially puzzling murder of a woman who had been carefully axed four times.
This is a record of his observations:
“Four men were involved. In the Goilala many men will kill one man.
“You must understand that with a pig it would be different. A man can use several blows to kill a pig and it would make no difference. But humans are unique.
“One man is marked to strike the victim first. This blow should be the killer. Then while the murdered man is shaking and turning other men will come and strike him once.
“They strike once then run away. And then the man behind them strikes. It is the first man who really kills the dead man. The others just cut him with their axes.”
Later, when I was investigating a double murder, I needed to find the original killer before he too was bumped off.
The search was entering its second day and an encounter with Tumai once again proved fruitful.
As we came to the ridge top near Tumai’s village, the old man hurried stiffly towards us waving his arms.
Bakaia, the senior policeman with me, was already grinning in anticipation.
Tumai fired off a rapid burst of tokples, smiled, patted my hand and walked back to his hut.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Amuna [the principal suspect] is hiding in Pomutu village,” Bakaia replied.
“Tru?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“Tru,” affirmed Bakaia, grinning again.
This information had saved us hours of fruitless searching.
My own Goilala experience confirmed that routine murder had still to fade completely.
However during those two years, only five murders were reported compared with dozens each year in the pre-Edwards era - and there was a much larger population then than in 1950.
Unfortunately in more recent times everyday Goilala murder has resurfaced. No one can be certain how many people are killed each year because poor record-keeping means few violent deaths are reported.
What is known for certain is that the Kunimaipa, the region where Edwards was most active, became a genuine government no-go area about 20 years ago when the patrol post at Guari was abandoned.
More recently the Catholic Mission at Kamulai - the only place where health, education and economic development needs within the Kunimaipa region were maintained - has also been forsaken after its resident priest was murdered with a shotgun.
So, even though Edwards’ methods were declared unpalatable 70 years ago, his uncompromising approach secured about 30 years of relatively murder-free security for the Kunimaipa people.
Robert Forster is author of The Northumbrian Kiap