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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 32 - A prime ministerial intervention

woman resists rorovana
Woman resists police during the confrontation at Rorovana, 1969 (Sydney Sun)


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - On 28 July 1969, Australia’s minister for external territories Charles CE (Ceb) Barnes approved the issue of CRA’s three new Bougainville leases.

The terminology that defined the locations of the areas required was particular.

They were “leases for mining purposes” and the area was “approximately 400 acres of Rorovana land for laydown areas, construction camp and general accommodation …. 194 acres south of Willys Knob for aggregate, and the first section—approximately eight miles—of the east coast road.”

Papua and New Guinea’s Administrator, David (DO) Hay, granted the leases on 30 July and mining warden Hec (HJ) McKenzie notified the grants in the Government Gazette.

This followed an established routine. Bougainville Copper Pty Limited (BCL)(1) applied for the leases under the Bougainville Copper Agreement, Barnes approved the application, the Administrator made the official grant, and the Mining Warden publicised.

From that day on, the Administration and Government talked about the land that the Company required as either "the recently acquired Rorovana land" or "the former Rorovana land" or "the leased land" or "the land under mining lease."

The Rorovana people agreed with none of this. They were biding their time.

04 kj 32 update map

Rorovana-Arawa-Kieta area of east coast Bougainville. The Panguna mine site lies to the south of Rorovana. Aropa Airport is to the south-east (Bill Brown)

On 7 August 1968, the Secretary of the Administrator's Department, Tom (TW) Ellis, visited from Konedobu headquarters to assess the situation.

He was accompanied by District Inspectors Royce (RA) Webb and Geoffrey (CG) Littler.

The position of Deputy District Commissioner (District Inspector) gave Webb and Littler status but scant authority.

Their duty statement was a powder puff of ideas: they were "to inspect district establishments and projects, assess efficiency, submit reports and take follow-up action, advise district staff on organisation, functions and policy, assist with district planning, and undertake other duties as directed."

Webb went to Buin in the south while Littler flew north to Buka. It seemed to me their main role was to be Ellis's eyes and ears.

Upon their return they reported that the Rorovana confrontation between landowners and police had little or no impact on the Buka or Buin communities.

But, given that Rorovana had come so close to serious violence, I had doubts that people elsewhere in Bougainville were so unperturbed.

kieta men
Bougainvilleans have always had a powerful sense of identity. This photo from 1956 shows Kieta men listening to a petition to be sent to the United Nations. [National Library of Australia]

The following day, after Ellis's had an early morning meeting with field staff at the District Office, Patrol Officer Max (MW) Heggen drove him and Deputy Police Commissioner Holloway to Aropa airport and they returned to Port Moresby on a Beechcraft Baron chartered from Aerial Tours.

Reporting to the Administrator the same afternoon, Ellis said Holloway had withdrawn the Port Moresby riot squad from Loloho in Bougainville to Rabaul, but the Barapina and Mount Hagen units remained at Loloho.

Ellis felt the Rorovana incident was probably over, although there might be further demonstrations.

Ellis predicted that any early move to take over Indigenous-owned land in Arawa, even by Notices to Treat, would probably result in violent opposition.

My judgement, however, was that the Rorovana incident was far from over.

Five days after CRA's bulldozers and the police riot squads had pushed them off their beach front land and coconut groves, the Rorovana people repossessed the land.

When 40 men armed with bows and arrows appeared on the beach at Rorovana in the early morning of 11 August, and another 200, mainly from the Eivo area, arrived as reinforcements later in the day, District Commissioner Des (DN) Ashton (2) requested CRA to suspend operations on Rorovana land.

The Eivo people, from the foothills on the eastern slopes of the main range to the west of Rorovana, had an established reputation for vigorously opposing CRA's operations outside Panguna.

Pic 5 View from DCs house
The Deputy District Commissioner's house on a point above Kieta had a magnificent view across Kieta Harbour to the blue Pacific (Bill Brown)

In June 1967, some of them had trekked the considerable distance to Wakunai to oppose the company's application for a Prospecting Authority.

And in November the same year, Kieta Local Government Councillor Silowi from the Eivo village of Kopani, walked across the Crown Prince Range to help Karato villagers frustrate a soil sampling expedition.

Later, in January 1968, Councillor Tonepa of Atamo village coordinated opposition to soil sampling near his village.

On 12 August 1968, District Commissioner Ashton renewed his request for CRA to pause their work on the land after some 800 armed men held meetings at Rorovana and moved around the contested area.

Public Solicitor Peter Lalor, who was in Kieta representing the Rorovana people, said a pause in operations would reduce the possibility of bloodshed and the CRA Area Manager Colin Bishop agreed.

Meanwhile, perhaps to maintain pressure on the landowners, the Administrator authorised the return of the riot squad from Rabaul to Loloho and confirmed a previous request to Canberra for authority to use Royal Australian Air Force aircraft for police movements.

On 13 August, the Commissioner deployed 74 more police to Loloho, increasing the complement to 140.

In a telex to Rio Tinto's chairman, Sir Val Duncan, in London, Bougainville Copper managing director Frank Espie said he regretted the unfortunate publicity but found it difficult to criticise the Administration except for the unnecessary and ineffective use of teargas.

I wondered about the wisdom of that statement. It was likely that Holloway's tight control and the use of teargas had prevented an escalation of violence.

Sir Frank Espie - 'the Rorovana people can have access to  coconuts'

But I could not be sure, as I had watched the operation from a distant helicopter. That said, Espie had been even further away – in Melbourne, Australia.

Espie’s had asserted that the attempt to take over the land was “no different to similar resumptions by governments for Melbourne's new airport, a city freeway, or a nickel smelter for Western Mining at Kwinana”.

To me, that comparison lacked credence. As did his further remark that “in this case, we have a colour problem and sympathy for an unsophisticated group”.

Even more astounding was Espie’s comment that “the Rorovana people would have access to the coconuts on the land which had not been destroyed”.

I could not imagine a Rorovana woman attempting to harvest coconuts in the groves surrounding the single male workers' accommodation. Or a Rorovana man, traversing the beach where married workers and their bikini-clad wives were sunbaking.

While Espie was rationalising, the top floor of CRA's Melbourne office at 95 Collins Street was in turmoil.

The Rorovana delays were costing $30,000 a day (about K1 million) and disrupting the important planning pathway towards the Panguna mine's targeted production date.

They were also imperilling Espie's negotiations in Japan to sell the Panguna copper and they were casting a shadow over discussions with the Bank of America over loan arrangements for the multimillion dollar mine and its surrounding infrastructure.

CRA’s subsidiary Bougainville Copper was not only developing a huge open cut mine but a port at Loloho, a major township at Arawa, a tailings disposal operation and other facilities in the immediate area.

The company had already spent $16 million on exploration and research and were now facing a $300 million bill to establish the mine and construct the ancillary services and industries – in today’s dollars, a total of $4.2 billion.

Espie’s concern was perfectly understandable.

Adding to the problems was Public Solicitor Lalor’s writ lodged in the Supreme Court and challenging the validity of PNG's mining legislation.

CRA thought the writ, part of an appeal by Teori Tau and other Pakia villagers against their 1968 convictions, might include a request for an injunction to stop all its operations pending the Supreme Court and High Court hearings.

On 11 August, Lalor and acting Crown Solicitor Peter (PJ) Clay (3) flew to Kieta. It was Lalor’s second or third visit in recent months.

Sir Paul Lapun KBE - a man of rare calibre and the first Papua New Guinean to receive a knighthood

On this occasion, he accompanied Paul Lapun MHA to Rorovana to inform the people that CRA was thinking about renegotiating the occupation fee and would not attempt to enter the land over the next two days.

Clay surprised us all when he announced that the company could negotiate directly with the people.

Unbeknown to me, Bougainville Copper’s operations director and general manager, Ray (RW) Ballmer (4), based in Melbourne, had instructed area manager Bishop to discuss the negotiations with Lalor and me - and to advise my recommendations as well as Lalor’s.

Three days later, when Clay and Lalor left a message at the District Office for transmission to Port Moresby, we packaged it into the daily situation report (‘sitrep’).

The message was brief. Raphael Bele (5) and Lapun, who were flying to Australia to seek an injunction to prevent the Administration from resuming the Rorovana land, should be met and told the Administration would defer any action to occupy the land until 26 August.

The date should be firm, give them reasonable time to endeavour to bring an injunction, but not time to procrastinate.

We were having trouble with the sitreps. Moresby demanded they be sent by radiogram each Thursday afternoon but this changed on 8 August 1969 when Australian prime minister Gorton became involved and called for daily updates.

I generally did the drafting and Ashton made changes before Patrol Officer Heggen coded them. But this one was explosive. I don’t recall who put it together, but it was relayed by the Administrator to Canberra as telex 6419, and the District Commissioner’s addition was blunt:

“Imperative we acquire and occupy Arawa plantation without further delay and proceed no further with the occupation of Rorovana land until this is done.

“We have strung out negotiations with [Arawa plantation owner] McKillop for months without appearing to do anything in native eyes but talk.

“No disruption to plantation operation has taken place but we did not hesitate to act immediately in the case of the Rorovana land.”

Prime Minister Gorton’s reaction was swift. He directed his departmental Secretary Warwick Smith and the Administrator to finalise the purchase of Arawa Plantation forthwith.

Acting Assistant Administrator Newman and a PNG team, together with a group from the Department of External Territories, met with Kip McKillop and his advisors in Sydney on 15 August.

After days of sometimes bitter wrangling, the parties settled the terms in a mammoth 34-hour session.

The Administration would pay $600,000 for the plantation in the first instance but adjust the purchase price up or down by the estimated value of the next five years cocoa and copra production. (6)

Kip McKillop - planter & philanthropist who was 'fired by an original vision for tropical plants'

McKillop would cease operating the plantation on 1 September but was allowed to occupy the 18-acre orchid area containing the homestead and the New Guinea Biological buildings until 1 December 1969.  

On 20 August 1969, Administrator David Hay flew into Kieta and, while helicoptering around the area, told CRA’s Colin Bishop he was not convinced the Rorovana land was necessary to the company’s program.

CRA reacted immediately. Within a few hours, Chairman Sir Maurice Mawby in faraway Melbourne flexed his political muscle in a recorded telephone call to external territories minister Ceb Barnes:

“We have been advised that Administrator Hay, during his visit to Bougainville, is looking into possibility of Company relinquishing its claim to Rorovana land.

“As you know, this land essential, repeat essential, for our operations and if above information is correct, these representations may well hinder the progress which we believe has been made by us, and agreed by you, regarding the planting of equivalent area on undeveloped portion their land.”

The day before, on 19 August, PNG parliamentarian Paul Lapun and community leader Raphael Bele, had met with Mawby in Melbourne.

He then accompanied them to Canberra to meet with prime minister Gorton and Barnes.

They were still in Canberra on 21 August when Barnes told the Australian parliament the Administration had purchased Arawa Plantation and the Australian government had relaxed the policy that only the PNG Administration could negotiate with landowners.

The Rorovana people could negotiate with CRA, and those transactions would be undertaken on the same basis as those for the expatriate owned Arawa plantation.

Furthermore, the Australian government would pay for a lawyer and an accountant to help them.

As the leaders of the Rorovana protests, Lapun and Bele had been in disfavour when they left Port Moresby for Australia, but they returned to Port Moresby as heroes and Gorton's protégés.

On 24 August, the Administration chartered a light aircraft to speed their journey back to Bougainville.

Two days later, Lalor and I picked up Lapun at Kuka village and took him to a meeting at Rorovana where he told the people he and Bele went to Australia to get an injunction to stop CRA, but they had found a better way.

The Australian government would assist them in their negotiations with the company, but the people could still seek an injunction if they did not like the idea.

About 200 people listened, sometimes applauding but frequently disagreeing.

Middlemiss Pic 2
Barry Middlemiss - plantation employee joined forces with the Rorovana people as they resisted the alienation of their land

The meeting lasted four hours but decided nothing.

Many of the people were confused. Only the previous week, Barry (BJA) Middlemiss (7) had assured them the government had lost; it could not resume the Rorovana or the Arawa lands. They had been told Bele and Lapun had secured an injunction.

Now Lapun was saying something they did not understand. Bele stood mute, declining to contribute.

Middlemiss was employed as a supervisor at Arawa Plantation when he was co-opted to McKillop's campaign to oppose the compulsory acquisition of land for the port and town.

He embedded himself with the Rorovana and Arawa villagers even before McKillop sold the plantation and played an overt political role as a founding member and secretary of the landowners’ Napidakoe Navitu association and an elected member of Kieta Local Government Council.

The confusion continued on Friday 28 August when secretary for external territories Warwick Smith and his Canberra team arrived in Bougainville together with Administration personnel from Port Moresby and the Australian government-provided advisors, solicitor Don (DG) MacKay (8) and accountant John (JW) Tidex. (9)

District Commissioner Ashton met the Secretary and his team and drove them to Kieta.

Warwick Smith dominated proceedings but had not met people from Rorovana before he departed with five of his party at dawn on Saturday morning.

With MP Paul Lapun in Kieta hospital ill with pneumonia, the Rorovana landowners refused to be involved, possibly because they knew nothing of McKay and Tidex (10). Nevertheless solicitor MacKay opened negotiations on Sunday morning without the landowners.

Ray Ballmer represented CRA, and was reinforced by CRA area manager Bishop and group legal officer Philip Opas QC (11). Representing the Administration was Agriculture Director Bill (WL) Conroy (12), and Peter Lalor represented the landowners.

Bill Granger (13) from the external territories department assisted Conroy. Lalor had pulled in lawyer Talbot Lovering from Pakia, where he was working on compensation claims with patrol officer John Russell-Pell.

Don MacKay, the Australian government-funded solicitor assisting the Rorovana people, insisted $12,000 was the minimum annual rental for the Rorovana land in the initial discussions. Conroy would not budge above $7,000 as it represented the land value which the prime minister and minister had accepted.

Anxious for a settlement, CRA's Ballmer proposed a one-time payment of between $20,000 and $30,000.

Assistant territories secretary Mentz, perhaps blindsided by the dollar amounts or overawed by his first visit to Bougainville, did not contribute.

A photo from 1970 shows Bill Brown signing lease documents with (from left) Kori of Arawa, PNG Director of Agriculture Bill Conroy, CRA's Colin Bishop and Narug of Arawa [DIES]

I learned this and more from MacKay when he knocked on my front door at 8 pm on Monday 1 September.

He explained that when he had encountered Lalor and Conroy after Sunday Mass at Tubiana, they told him Lalor usually visited me after 8 pm to feed information into the system, but he had changed his schedule.

MacKay would have the 8 pm slot, Conroy would take 8:30, and Lalor would follow later in the evening.

As a newcomer from Australia, MacKay did not understand that Conroy, a departmental head, was only using me as his letter drop. His visits were quite brief and purposeful; I timed them by the number of cigarettes he chain-smoked.

On the other hand, Lalor, a former kiap, used me as a sounding board, and we discussed our joint problems with a little lubrication.

MacKay turned up again at 8 pm on Tuesday; and was shaking. He explained that driving up the track to my house in the dark terrified him, and he would not be doing it again.

He said that he had spent the morning explaining Ballmer and Conroy's proposal to the landowners. All afternoon he had answered their questions. He said he had been surprised they did not accept the offer.

Ballmer and Conroy had finally agreed $7,000 was the appropriate annual rental for a 42-year lease of 140 acres with options for renewal.

In addition, the company would pay the landowners $30,000 (about K1 million today) damages when they signed the agreement and at each renewal.

The company would rebuild five copra dryers and replace four bush material houses with permanent material ones at locations selected by the owners.

It would also provide 7,000 ordinary shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd at the issue price when they became available.

I couldn't help thinking about how things had changed.

In March, the Administration besmirched the kiap name when it said Rorovana land was rural, worth $4 to $ 10 an acre, and we must convince the people to sell.

On 11 July, in a telex to the external territories department, the Administrator said the land value was $75 an acre plus $2 for each coconut and other economic tree.

On 25 July, assistant administrator Newman thought he was being generous with his $105 an acre infamous ultimatum to landowners.

Now six weeks later, the company acknowledged the land was worth ten times Newman's offer and had added inducements to seal the deal.

Moreover the company had also accepted that 142 acres, one-third the size of the lease approved by minister Barnes, satisfied their needs.

Post Courier
Papua New Guinea Post-Courier of Monday 4 August 1969

Fearful of the journey, MacKay no longer made nightly visits to my place but Conroy continued to swing by sometime before 10, and Lalor would drop by later.

With no settlement in sight, CRA's Ballmer and Opas and Territories' Mentz and Grainger departed Bougainville for Rabaul at 3 pm on Tuesday 2 September 1969. (14)

When Bill Conroy came by, I learned a little more. He knew and respected Bill Granger who had headed the Administration’s animal industry division from 1947 to 1953, and they had lectured together at the Mageri training centre (15) in 1950.

Grainger had vast PNG experience, which was unusual for anybody from Territories. More importantly, his diploma in agricultural economics gained from Oxford University in 1963 added invaluable financial expertise.

The breakthrough came during the weekend of 6-7 September - after the Administration formally agreed it would not attempt to acquire any other Rorovana land without the consent of the landowners and CRA repeated its willingness to hand over $37,000.

The landowners said they would allow access to the land with the proviso that CRA did not disturb any boundary markings until a titles commissioner determined ownership.

The Rorovana No 1 landowners signed the agreement, but five older men from Rorovana No 2 declined to do so because they did not accept Napidakoe Navitu or Middlemiss’s involvement in negotiations.

Land Titles Commissioner Kim (CW) Kimmorley (16) arrived from Port Moresby a few days later to sort out the claims and counterclaims about who were the true landowners.

He was well known in Bougainville, having been the assistant district officer in charge of the Kieta Subdistrict from October 1954 to June 1957, and the Buka Sub-District from then to January 1959.

Kimmorley commenced the formal hearing at Tunuru on 28 October 1969 and concluded it on 10 November.

In addition to his other duties, patrol officer Heggen spent the nine work days in that period ferrying people between Rorovana and Tunuru: five trips to deliver the people to the hearing in the morning and five to return them home in the afternoon.

When he visited Kieta, Bill (WF) Carter (17) was acting assistant administrator for three months while Newman was on leave.

Ashton and I were told by Carter that the Administration was removing the area of CRA operations from the Bougainville District and I would be appointed District Commissioner to manage them.

He said the House of Assembly would be advised of the change during its November sitting, and on the same day the Public Service Board would notify my promotion in the Government Gazette.

Ashton did not like the idea but knew any protest would be futile.

Even though district commissioner promotions originated in Port Moresby, they had to be approved by the external territories minister in Canberra, but the change in the Bougainville arrangements were unique and extraordinary.

Pic 4 DC house aerial
The Deputy District Commissioner's residence in Kieta was strategically located above the town

So much so that in their formulation they had almost certainly involved a considerable number of stakeholders: CRA, members of the House of Assembly Joseph Lue, Paul Lapun and Donatus Mola, Raphael Bele, Administrator Hay, Assistant Administrators Carter and Newman, Tom Ellis and Bill Conroy.

On 16 June 1969, Newman tabled a white paper, ‘Bougainville Copper Project’, in the House of Assembly.

Carter’s update, ‘Bougainville Progress Report – Period September November 1968’, was later tabled in the House of Assembly on 6 November. It included the following paragraphs:

“19. The Public Service Board has recently approved the creation of a special position to service the general locality affected by the Bougainville mining operation and this position is currently filled by Mr W Brown whose local designation will be Chief Liaison Officer.

“The Liaison Office will be located in Arawa and will be the contact point for the Company and contractors in the field to ensure the area is adequately administered and that the Administration’s activities are coordinated and the appropriate facilities are provided.

“As well, one of the most important tasks of the Chief Liaison Officer will be to have a direct and continuous contact with the village people and the Local Government Councils to ensure they are informed and consulted on all developments.

“20. This officer … will carry the normal functions and responsibilities of a District Commissioner in this small area of Bougainville.

“The importance of the role is such that he will have a direct channel of communication to the Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs).”

In their book, ‘Compensating for development: the Bougainville case’, published in 1977, Bedford and Mamak took a different view:

“In an attempt to communicate more effectively with the villagers, a special position (Chief Liaison Officer) was created in the District Office.

“Little was achieved by the man initially appointed to this job. However, he had been in the area since 1966 and was regarded by Bougainvilleans as being too sympathetic to the demands of the mining company.”

Bedford and Mamak got it spectacularly wrong. The special position was not designated ‘Chief Liaison Officer’, it was not ‘created in the District Office’, nor was it linked to the survey of the special mining lease.

Their statement - "the man initially appointed to this job" - suggested others were appointed to the position. Nobody was.

The Public Service Board notified my promotion as District Commissioner (Special Duties) Arawa (18) in the Government Gazette of 6 November 1969. Like other promotions, it was subject to appeal.

On my reckoning, I was outgunned. I was junior in seniority to at least 20 other deputy district commissioners, many of whom had wartime experience. Some had served with ANGAU; some even had recent experience in Bougainville.

I don’t know what happened. If there were appeals against my selection, they did not see the light of day.

After Bill Carter departed, Des Ashton and I decided his idea of hard-line borders between the Bougainville District and my jurisdiction of the area related to the mine and its ancillary infrastructure would not be workable.

I did not want to be involved with Kieta town, the overseas shipping wharf or the airport, even though CRA had problems in the first two locations.

But I would continue operate from the District Office until a building became vacant at Arawa.

The pressing problem was to locate and survey a route for the highway from Loloho port to the Panguna mine site and to gain access to the land.

From my perspective, of equal importance was to ensure the Administration made ex gratia payments to the people from whom it had purchased land for the Aropa airport extensions and that I did the same for another group that had leased land near Rorovana for miserly values.

Arawa headman Narug and his family were a concern. They had sold a 22-acre block adjacent to Loloho to a kiap (name not recorded) for $1,600 on 15 July 1969 and would be involved in the future Arawa land negotiations.

radio bougv
Radio Bougainville (Voice of the Sunrise) was used tactically by the wiser kiaps to communicate vital information to the village people

While Assistant Administrator Newman was threatening the Arawa and Rorovana landowners with resumption, Assistant District Officer Chris Warrillow had purchased land described as "essential for upgrading Aropa airstrip (Kieta aerodrome) to Fokker standards" and patrol officer Max Heggen had secured a 42-year lease over 49 acres of land in the mine’s designated industrial area. (19)

At this time, the Administration was taking 12-18 months to purchase land. Warrillow’s purchase took less than two months and, unlike Newman, he did not make threats.

He used Radio Bougainville to contact anybody with an interest, addressed two council meetings and arranged for MHAs Paul Lapun and Donatus Mola to consult the owners.

Warrillow completed the investigation report on 21 June and, working with Don (DT) Smith, a private surveyor instructed by the lands department, finalised the boundaries.

Regional valuer RM Lee, from Rabaul, determined the arable land was worth $15 an acre and the swamp land five dollars. (21) The owners provided the 54 acres required by selling 47.4 acres and exchanging 6.6 acres for an area of Administration-owned land known as Reboine Airstrip.

Heggen's transaction was less noteworthy. When I returned from the Port Moresby of 11 July, I lumbered him with the task of finding a landowner willing to lease a seven-acre area in the industrial area.

Heggen swiftly found a willing landowner, marked boundaries and had the land valued and surveyed.

On 31 July, the Administration paid Katui and his family from Korokoro $5,617 for the 42-year lease of 49 acres of land known as Itakara – eight kilometers along the road from Rorovana towards Panguna.

On 30 November 1969 at Rorovana, after much toing and froing, landowners put their signatures or marks on the 14-page lease agreement. MacKay, John Tidex from Price Waterhouse and CRA’s Don Vernon flew from Australia for the occasion.

The Agreement stipulated that stated that moneys due to the landowners would be paid to three trustees, two appointed by the landowners and one by the Administration.

Paul Lapun, Don MacKay and Barry Middlemiss witnessed the 76 signatures and marks of people from Rorovana No 2 and Lalor witnessed those of six from Rorovana No 1.

Bill Conroy signed the agreement on behalf of the Administration and Tidex witnessed his signature. Colin Bishop signed on behalf of Bougainville Copper, with Crown Law's Peter McKinnon as witness.

On 3 December 1969, after the monthly meeting with CRA and External Territories in Port Moresby, Conroy and I met with Don MacKay to discuss new issues.

Even though a survey had reduced the area of the Rorovana land from 140 to 113 acres, the company agreed to honour the original financial terms. CRA had written a cheque for $37,00O, and I got the job of getting the Rorovana people to appointee their two trustees.

That took about half a dozen visits to Rorovana with much explanation and cajoling required before the people decided to be involved.

They appointed Albert Pesa Binawata and Raphael Atiala Bele as their trustees at a meeting I attended in Rorovana on 21 December.

It was the end of 1969 and the end of a long journey. However it was the beginning of another no less fraught.


  1. Pic 6 Bill's friend
    Bill's little helper - has been known to write whole paragraphs when the author's not paying attention
    Bougainville Copper Pty Limited (BCL) was incorporated in 1967 with CRA Ltd holding 53.6% of its shares, the PNG government 19.1% and public shareholders 27.3%. Its registered office was at Panguna.

  2. Des (Desmond Norman) Ashton was born in New Zealand in 1916 and became a Patrol Officer in June 1946 after war service as a Chief Petty officer in the Royal Australian Navy. Ashton took over as District Commissioner, Bougainville, at Sohano in January 1968, moved the district headquarters to Kieta in August and thereafter thrust himself into CRA activities. Administrator David Hay must have been confused when he described Ashton as “a rather nervous, tense chap and very inclined to be tough”. Ashton gave orders, accepted them and was tough, but he had nerves of steel. Ian Downs described Ashton as “not easily disturbed by violent situations ... not an imaginative man ... unimpressed by the awesome political and commercial power of Conzinc Riotinto ... [and] prepared to do his duty in any situation to which he was called.” Ken (KA) Brown, Deputy District Commissioner at Sohano, said a fishing expedition on Ashton’s launch was akin to a voyage with the notoriously dogmatic Vice Admiral William Bligh. On one occasion Departmental Director Tom Ellis told Ashton that he had “the couth of a matelot from the lower deck."

  3. Peter Jeaffreson Clay, born in Papua in 1929, joined the Administration as a lawyer in September 1957 and served as Crown Prosecutor and Principal Legal Officer before becoming Assistant Crown Solicitor in February 1969.

  4. Ray (Ray Wayne) Ballmer, a United States mining engineer, joined CRA as Director of Operations and General Manager of Bougainville Copper in mid-1969. He was 43 at the time and an expert in open cut mining employed by the Kennecott Copper Corporation in Arizona and Utah. I found him to be unassuming, pleasant, thoughtful and pragmatic.

  5. Raphael Bele OBE was a Rorovana landowner, treasurer of the activist Napidakoe Navitu movement and later MP for Central Bougainville. In 1969 he told fellow Bougainvillean, Moses Havini, “Land is like the skin on the back of your hand. You inherit it, and it is your duty to pass it on to your children in as good condition …. You would not expect us to sell our skin, would you?”

  6. The pundits who predicted the final purchase price of McKillop’s Arawa Plantation would top one million dollars were apparently correct.

  7. In 1970 Barry John Middlemiss was 30 years old. He grew up in Wilcannia in western New South Wales where he was an active in the Young Australian Country Party.  Middlemiss threw in his lot with local landowners before Arawa was resumed, becoming secretary of Napidakoe Navitu, established on 6 July 1969 to coordinate Indigenous landowner interests. He later survived a motion in the House of Assembly to deport him moved by Bougainville MPs Joseph Lue and Donatus Mola.

  8. Donald Gordon MacKay was born on 11 March 1931 and educated at Knox Grammar School and Sydney University, graduating in law in 1955.

  9. John William MacLean Tidex DFC, a 45-year-old accountant from Price Waterhouse in Sydney, had spent six years in Fiji before coming to Bougainville. During World War II, aged 22, he joined the Royal Air Force as a navigator in 51 Squadron (Halifax bombers), flying more than 40 operations over enemy territory and being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

  10. Lovering was able to put Lapun and Bele in touch with James Coulter, a member of Moral Rearmament (MRA) and journalist. Coulter had flown Sunderland flying boats for the RAAF in World War II and knew prime minister Gorton. Since 1946, he had worked with MRA. Coulter accompanied the two Bougainvilleans to a meeting with Gorton in Canberra as a result of which Gorton, sensitive to their plight, asked that they be enabled to obtain the services of “the best advisors”, which is where MacKay and Tidex entered the negotiations. [See The Bougainville Land Crisis of 1969: The Role of Moral Re-Armament by Nigel Cooper, Occasional Paper Number 1, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies]

  11. Dr Philip Opas AM OBE QC (1917-2008) was the tenacious defence counsel to murderer Ronald Ryan, the last person to be hanged in Victoria in 1967. Disillusioned and dispirited, Opas left the law in 1968 to work with CRA before returning to the Bar in 1972

  12. Director of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries, Bill (Wilfred Lawrence) Conroy began his PNG career as a Lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force in 1942. An agriculture graduate of Sydney University, he commanded several malaria control units. Discharged from the Army in June 1946, he joined the Administration as an Agricultural Officer and was a visiting lecturer in tropical agriculture at the Australian School of Pacific Administration where Bill Brown met him in 1949. Conroy headed PNG's newly-established Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence from 1972 until June 1976. He was awarded a CBE when Papua New Guinea gained Independence in 1975

  13. English born William Grainger was 53 and officer in charge of the Department of Territories Primary Industries Section when he became involved in Rorovana. He had served in the Australian Army's Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs from 1944-47 and was employed as Chief of the Division of Animal Industry in PNG's Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries from 1947-53.

  14. CRA's Ballmer and Opas together with the External Territories Department’s Mentz and Grainger flew from Rabaul to Australia in the company's executive Grumman Gulfstream aircraft VH-CRA which had been standing by in Rabaul.

  15. The Department of Agriculture Stock and Fisheries’ 1950 training program for Cadet Agricultural Officers was held at Mageri Agricultural Centre near Sogeri in the foothills behind Port Moresby.

  16. Kim (Corbett William) Kimmorley served in the 14th Australian Field Regiment from July 1942 and, when discharged in March 1946, had attained the rank of Lieutenant. He joined the Administration as a Patrol Officer in October 1946 and became a Lands Title Commissioner in 1966.

  17. Bill (William Frederick) Carter was six years older than Bill Brown but attended the same secondary school. He was responsible for the Australian Postmaster-General’s Engineering Division in Parkes, NSW, when chosen to create PNG’s Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1953. He was awarded an OBE in June 1972 “in recognition of service to the public and scouting.”

  18. The Public Service Board did not cancel the 1968 promotion, but on 8 October 1970, Bill Brown was again promoted to be District Commissioner Arawa. The duties were unchanged, but the ‘Special Duties’ suffix was omitted.

  19. Treasurer Newman’s threats may have facilitated the Loloho and Industrial Area transactions but were less likely to have affected the landowners concerned with the Aropa airport extension who were from the South Nasioi village of Siromba, more than 40 kilometres from Rorovana.

  20. One Australian dollar in 1969 was valued at $13.70 (K35) in 2022.


  1. A woman resists police during the confrontation at Rorovana, 1969 (Sydney Sun)

  2. Map - Rorovana-Arawa-Kieta area of east coast Bougainville. The Panguna mine site lies to the west and Aropa Airport to the south (Bill Brown)

  3. Bougainvilleans have always had a powerful sense of identity. This photo from 1956 shows Kieta men listening intently to a petition to be sent to the United Nations (National Library of Australia)

  4. The Deputy District Commissioner's house on a point above Kieta had a magnificent view across Kieta Harbour to the blue Pacific (Bill Brown)

  5. Sir Frank Espie - 'the Rorovana people can have access to coconuts' was not one of his more thoughtful statements about people who were angered that their land was being alienated

  6. Sir Paul Lapun KBE - a man of rare calibre and the first Papua New Guinean to receive a knighthood. He believed in independence for both Papua New Guinea and Bougainville

  7. FR ‘Kip’ McKillop - planter and philanthropist 'fired by an original vision for tropical plants' and whose Arawa plantation became the main administrative centre of Bougainville

  8. Barry Middlemiss – the Arawa plantation employee who joined forces with the Rorovana people when they resisted the alienation of their land

  9. A rare photo from 1970 shows Bill brown signing lease documents with (from left) Tavora (of Arawa), PNG Director of Agriculture Bill Conroy, CRA's Colin Bishop and Narug (of Arawa) (PNG Department of Information and Extension Services)

  10. The dramatic front page of the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier of Monday 4 August 1969

  11. The Deputy District Commissioner's residence in Kieta was strategically located above the town and hosted visiting prime ministers and royalty and, as well as lesser mortals (it was where the editor had his only conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh)

  12. Radio Bougainville (Voice of the Sunrise) was used tactically by wiser kiaps to communicate vital information to the village people

  13. Bill's little helper - has been known to write whole paragraphs when the author is not paying attention


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Arthur Williams

Oh Bill, your efforts and professionalism are so enjoyable. As an involved eyewitness backstory it surely will be used for many years to come by anyone interested in finding the truth of the history of the mine.

In 1971 (or 72) when I was at Taskul I went on a so-called 'Council Tax' patrol around the Lavongai Island when the Vice President Peter Passingan of Baunung, one of the few non-TIA Councillors, would give a talk on his government sponsored trip to Panguna.

Always in Tunag (tokples) at every village we visited. I even learnt some of the language due to those backside aching long talks.

Often wondered if it was not paid for by the administration but rather by the company as there had been and continues to be much exploration of Lavongai...'Ailan Lukluk' as Walla Gukguk then the concurrent President of the Council and Tutukuvul Isukul Assoc. once called his homeland.

I'm looking forward to #33 already.

Frank Darcey

Thank you. A great article and good to know.

I grew up in Toniva and I knew the children of a lot of the people mentioned but had no real understanding of what their parents did and what they had to deal with.

I do remember the sense of anger of the Indigenous landowners, their frustration and resolve.

Bernard Corden

The photo of Bill Conroy was quite interesting. He had a fascinating career and ended up living at Avalon on Sydney's northern beaches and often gave lectures at the community centre on handling tick infestation.


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