Psychopaths dooming us to catastrophe
Recent Notes 27: Kevin Byrne dies at 74

Recent Notes 26: On patrol in 1970s PNG

TAPINI PATROL No 9 1974-75

Village leaders line up to welcome a patrol. The headman salutes the kiap,
who is also a commissioned police officer


Robert Forster

On 4 December 1974 a routine administrative patrol left the Tapini Sub-District Office to update census records across the Pilitu area of Papua New Guinea’s mountainous Goilala region. Tapini Patrol No 9 1974-75 was to move through unusually difficult mountain country to contact 1,334 people who were extraordinarily isolated.

In pre-independence Papua New Guinea, bush patrols were fundamental to the Administration (colonial government). Thousands were conducted over the many decades before 1975 and many continued for several years after. Across PNG they were a constant expression of the presence of government.

They moved through swamps, crossed by launch between coral atolls and islands, followed giant rivers, tramped across vast grass landscapes or toiled over difficult mountain terrain. Patrols could be quite different in duration, conduct, aim and outcome but they had a great deal in common.

My pictorial essay, ‘Tapini Patrol No 9 of 1974-75’, a rare pictorial record, highlights these historical similarities in unusual detail. Every patrol would have interpreter, policemen, standard patrol equipment, carriers and most would camp at a series of pre-determined rest house locations. Every PNG kiap will recognise routines recorded during this 1974 patrol. Almost all Papua New Guineans born before 1970 will too.

The pictures and their accompanying text will also confirm, no doubt to the surprise of many people, that this type of colonial administration was still being conducted at the same time as the first humans walked on the moon and as the Rolling Stones dominated transistor radio airwaves. Indeed many younger kiaps of the late 1960s and early 1970s sported long hair and drooping moustaches modelled on San Francisco hippies.

That said, however, events like the population census and the village court, were common features of PNG’s bush administration system, and this makes the first-hand account of ‘Tapini Patrol No 9 of 1974-75’  a valuable historic record.


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