"The kiaps’ role in the bringing to independence of PNG was undoubtedly unique and important and that should bring with it a certain sense of pride, but that is as far as it goes"
TUMBY BAY - Early this month, the Australian Institute of International Affairs published an article, ‘The Forgotten Australian Patrol Officers’, by Luke Gosling OAM, the Labor member for Solomon in the Northern Territory.
“What the kiaps did for Papua New Guinea is today called nation-building in official jargon,” Gosling wrote.
And he continued:
“One way to show the kiaps the nation’s gratitude would be to build a memorial in Canberra commemorating those who died during their service.
“The majority of kiaps support this initiative. They also support a memorial in Sydney at the school where kiaps studied before deploying.
“The Canberra memorial could be located on Lake Burley Griffin, in a shady grove overlooking the National Carillon and the National Police Memorial.
“Surviving Kiaps ask for nothing extravagant or expensive, only a nook of the national imagination.”
I believe Gosling is wrong in his claim that the majority of kiaps support this initiative.
Amongst those I have spoken to, the memorial is supported only by a small minority.
I’ve long been bemused, and at the same time quite saddened, by the preoccupation of some kiaps with medals and memorials.
The psychology escapes me but I assume it’s got something to do with their individual sense of worth and need for recognition.
And perhaps some sort of attempt at immortality.
Several years ago a group of kiaps lobbied hard for recognition of their service in PNG.
They succeeded in persuading the federal government to make kiaps eligible for the award of the Australian Police Overseas Service Medal.
Given that policing was only a small part of our role, the medal seemed an incongruous award but it seemed to make the supplicants happy.
Why anyone should be given a medal just for working overseas is a puzzle.
The premise of the argument that Gosling is now repeating is based on the misconception that the kiaps’ role and service in PNG has been ignored in Australia.
This claim is belied by the large amount of literature dedicated to their history that exists in our public libraries and on our domestic bookshelves.
That literature will outlive any sort of medal, honorific or memorial dedicated to these men.
It seems to me to be problematic to now have a memorial that commemorates those kiaps who died while on duty.
Their cause is not assisted by Gosling’s spurious assertion that “kiaps’ mortality rate was as high as 4.25% compared with 1.04% for Australians serving in the Vietnam War.”
There is no comparison between the role of kiaps and that of soldiers involved in a war.
Very few kiaps died as the result of violence. They mostly died as a result of misadventure, accident and illness.
Conflating an administrative role in PNG with military adventurism in Vietnam is a very dubious proposition.
It’s an assertion that entirely misrepresents the responsibilities and functions of kiaps as field officers in PNG.
The rationale underpinning and defining what kiaps did was one of peaceful and cooperative administration.
There was nothing militaristic about it, despite what some people might think.
Those exceptional kiaps who gave outstanding service have been recognised and awarded appropriate honours by the governments of both Papua New Guinea (in the Order of Logohu) and Australia (in British awards and later in the Order of Australia).
The kiaps’ role in the bringing to independence of PNG was undoubtedly unique and important and that should bring with it a certain sense of pride, but that is as far as it goes.
Being accorded some kind of hero status for simply doing your job, even if it involved a certain level of discomfort, is silly.
Valorising that role with medals and memorials is a bridge too far because it creates a false concept of what the kiaps’ role was all about.
If the kiaps are to be remembered it should be for the work they did, not some idolised and dubious misrepresentation of their role.