History Feed

Our horrible history

WInston-ChurchillCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - The study of history is not likely to inspire belief in the inherent virtues of humanity.

There are so many conspicuous examples of our species’ propensity for violence, venality and depravity that it sometimes takes a certain resolve to stare the facts directly in the face and recognise them for what they tell us about the human condition at a given point in time.

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Turning point: Dorney’s history revisited

Dorney
Sean Dorney on the job. His early independence history reveals a significant turning point in PNG's story as a nation

CHRIS BANGA

Papua New Guinea: People, politics and history since 1975 by Sean Dorney, 335 pp. ABC Books, 2000. ISBN-10: 0733309453. Available from Amazon here for $US31.70

PORT MORESBY – In this book, first published in 1990, the noted journalist Sean Dorney gave us a glance of Papua New Guinea, its people, politics and history over its first 15 years after independence.

Dorney lived and worked in PNG for 17 years as the correspondent of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation having previously been assigned there in the early 1970s to work with the embryonic National Broadcasting Commission.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 28 – In defence of the people’s land

Pic 1 - District Officer Ross Henderson
District Officer Ross Henderson in 1968

BILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Tuesday 7 May 1968. District Officer Ross Henderson and I were dumbstruck at the tone of the on-site meeting at Panguna that morning.

Conzinc Rio Tinto Area Manager Colin Bishop was unusually forceful with his demands.

He wanted more assistance in the coming months when the CRA teams - geologists, engineers, planners and surveyors – would start tramping through the villages and gardens of central Bougainville.

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Telling a kiap apart from the crowd

Papuan kiap Geoff Smith
Papuan kiap, Geoff Smith

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - I served as a kiap in both New Guinea and Papua. In New Guinea the kiap rig generally consisted of a khaki shirt and shorts, shiny RM Williams boots and a slouch hat.

In Papua, especially on the remoter stations, kiaps tended to get around in whatever took their fancy or whatever they deemed suitable for the climate and circumstances.

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The soldiers that never were

Newspaper advertisement for kiaps  circa 1966
Newspaper advertisement for kiaps, 1966

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - How often have you heard the admonition to always read the fine print before signing anything?

And how often have you had some sneaky little paragraph in the fine print pointed out that you never read excusing a manufacturer or insurer from honouring what you thought should have been an obligation on their part?

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The tragic history of Goaribari Island

Kerewa longhouse, Goaribari Island, 1923  (Frank Hurley)
Kerewa longhouses,  Goaribari Island,  1923 (Frank Hurley)

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Daniel Kumbon’s recent article on the work of early missionaries in Papua New Guinea triggered some memories for me, especially in relation to Goaribari Island.

By a strange quirk of fate I met a man who witnessed the events of 8 April 1901 when the Reverends James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins, together with 12 colleagues, were murdered and then eaten by the people living on Goaribari Island.

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That their names may live on

Rev James Chalmers - Tamate
Rev James Chalmers (Tamate) - his name & the names of many other heroes of PNG will be remembered forever

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Today, 8 April, is the anniversary of the untimely death of Rev James Chalmers – ‘Tamate’ – who was killed and cannibalised along with Rev Oliver Tomkins and local missionaries on Goaribari Island in Western Province 119 years ago.

When I think about their horrible deaths, the names of four friends come to mind who were all posted to serve in the Western Province at some stage of their careers in the 20th century.

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The turbulent story of Enga

Cr Paul  Kiap Kurai with his father's last wife Kipaukwan and some of his children at Kaiap village_
Cr Paul Kiap Kurai with his father's last wife, Kipaukwan, and some of his children at Kaiap village

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - One of the greatest feats Kurai Tapus accomplished occurred in World War II when he accompanied Daniel Leahy and a group of men to rescue eight missionaries including five Catholic nuns hiding from the Japanese in the jungles of Wewak.

What is intriguing about this story is whether Kurai recognised Leahy as the other white man who had come to Tole on that dark day of the mass killing some nine years previously.

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The story of how ‘gavman’ came to Wabag

Jim Taylor and Michael Leahy
Early highlands explorers Jim Taylor and Michael Leahy

DANIEL KUMBON

PORT MORESBY - The colonial Administration utterly failed to understand why native people in the vicinity of Wabag patrol post vehemently opposed the government establishing contact with them.

Colonial kiaps described the native people as the “most difficult to be found anywhere” for continuing to oppose them after a base was established in Wabag during the Hagen-Sepik patrol of 1938.

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The old priest & the young councillor

Alois Alapyala Yolape (right) speaking with Paul Kurai at opening of new Leptenges churchDANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Alois Alapyala Yolape often thanks Fr George Schubbe publicly, even though the priest is dead, for playing an important role in getting him elected for the Monokam council ward in the Ambum Valley 57 years ago.

Recently, he again acknowledged Fr Schubbe at a new church opening at Leptenges near Sirunki, where his late mother was born.

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The mysterious Goilala ‘totem pole’

Totem

ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA - This photograph is the most puzzling in my Papua New Guinean collection.

I tramped through the bush for almost six years and it is the only example I bumped into that had any resemblance to the totem pole so often presented as typical of Native American culture in the nineteenth century or the mumbo-jumbo, voodoo style, pagan doll depictions so readily associated with early British exploration of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Did kiaps and anthropologists who broke PNG bush much earlier than the late 1960s come across anything that was similar?

It was housed in a traditional sentry box-like structure standing at the end of a line of village houses in the Pilitu section of the Goilala Sub-District that I came upon in January 1974.

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Whose history do you believe?

American-declaration-independenceCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE- When I was a small child I was a precocious reader. By the age of 12 I had ploughed through Edward Gibbon’s ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. This made me unusual amongst my peers.

Mind you, I also devoured, just as avidly, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘The Coral Island’, the entire series of Biggles books and pretty well anything written by Gerald Durrell.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 27 – The UN Visiting Mission

Bill Brown MBE and Kaad OBE
Bill Brown MBE with Fred Kaad OBE. A recent photo of two of colonial Papua New Guinea's distinguished district commissioners

BILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - It was not a massive upheaval, but the last quarter of 1967 and the first quarter of 1968 saw two of the kiaps enmeshed in Conzinc Rio Tinto’s (CRA) operation leave Bougainville and four newcomers arrive.

District Commissioner John Wakeford moved to another hotspot, the recently created West Sepik District. His headquarters were situated at Vanimo, just 45 kilometres from the border with West Irian. (1)

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Kiaps – PNG didn’t push us out

Mark Lynch (standing left rear) with the first PNG Cabinet  1975
Mark Lynch (standing left rear) with the first PNG Cabinet, 1975

BILL BROWN MBE

SYDNEY - I had a sandwich and a glass or two of red with Fred Kaad and two of his daughters on 14 January.

Actually, it was a rosé, not a red. And Fred, at 99, the oldest surviving former kiap, was a tad non-verbal.

The meet-up went for five hours and inspired me to revisit some of the more recent booboos in the stories about kiaps.

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When the white men came

Auditorium and mess at Mougulu High School (Sally Lloyd)
Auditorium and mess at Mougulu High School (Sally Lloyd)

PETER DWYER & MONICA MINNEGAL

With a rare and wonderful book. Download here: 'Taim Bipo - People of the Nomad District. When the White Men Came'

MELBOURNE - In late January 2020, Bedamuni (Biami) people hosted an inaugural Strickland, Sisa, Bosavi cultural festival.

There were guests and performers from all neighbouring language groups.

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Fr Jerry Bus & the Enga

Sir Albert Kipalan (with spade) on the spot where Fr Jerry Bus settled at Kopen
Sir Albert Kipalan (with spade) on the spot where Fr Jerry Bus settled at Kopen

DANIEL KUMBON

PORT MORESBY – In 1948, there was a sudden rush by Christian denominations to establish mission stations after the colonial Administration lifted restrictions of movement to unpacified areas of what is now Enga Province.

Prior to that there had already been rivalry between Lutheran and Catholic missionaries to win new converts around Mt Hagen.

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The story of Joseph, once Kurai

Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson
Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG – “Call me Joseph. I am not Kurai anymore,” Joseph Kurai Tapus said to his friends, associates - and anybody he met - soon after Fr Peter Granegger SVD baptised him at Sari Catholic Mission on 8 April, 1977.

Not many Christian converts are known to have done that, but Kurai made public announcements of his conversion and subsequent name change.

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Where did the kiaps go

John Gordon-Kirkby's old patrol box
John Gordon-Kirkby's old patrol box

DANIEL KUMBON

PORT MORESBY - Many kiaps [patrol officers] and other expatriates left Papua New Guinea in the years immediately before and after independence in September 1975.

Imagine the memories they took with them and may still have in their minds today?

One of the last kiaps to leave the highlands Enga District [now a province] was John Gordon-Kirkby who liked to eat sweet potatoes roasted in an open fire.

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Warlords enter 2020 striving for peace

A faction arrives for the peace ceremony
A faction of warlords and fighter arrives for the peace ceremony

KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN

PORT MORESBY – People using the Okuk highway that ploughs through the New Guinea highlands know only too well the frequent tribal skirmishes that have caused fear to the travelling public this past 20 years.

The fighting has erupted violently and unpredictably at Ganigle in the Kerowagi district of the Simbu Province.

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The iconic patrol box

Patrol boxes (Graham Forster)
"Their endurance was awesome. Since the moment they could walk they had been trained to overcome every discomfort" (Graham Forster)

ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA, UK - Patrol boxes are embedded within the memory of every kiap and, indeed, anyone who went “on patrol” in pre-independence Papua New Guinea.

In difficult country they could be awkward, even brutish, burdens but nevertheless were toted, uphill and down dale for mile after endless mile by village carriers without whose help patrolling, a keystone kiap activity, could not have taken place.

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The 20 year old secrets PNG cannot know

Bougainville-Gawi-Blog
The irregulars of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army were so effective, Julius Chan's government tried to bring in overseas mercenary soldiers. Uproar ensued throughout PNG, including in the defence force

KEITH JACKSON

SYDNEY – Fairfax Media has reported that important information about Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea will remain a secret, even though it is 20 years old and due to be released.

The National Archives of Australia usually releases secret cabinet documents two decades after they were created in Australia.

The Archives director David Fricker says this is an "essential function we perform for transparency and integrity of Australian government in this democracy of ours".

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Pingeta’s daughter & bigman Kurai Tapus

Kumbon - Wigged villager  Wabag patrol post  when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library UQ)
Wigged villager at Wabag patrol post when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library, University of Queensland)

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Her voice was like the sound of angels singing joyous melodies in the starlit Bethlehem night in celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger on that first Christmas Day.

In January 1946, in a very different place, a similar earthly celebration took place in a lonely pulim anda (birth house) among the casuarina trees at Kaiap village, where a young mother sang a victory song when her son was born.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 26 – The plot against Bougainville

Brown Pic 1
The mining agreement between the copper company and the colonial Administration passed into law without the field officers in Bougainville being forewarned, let alone fully briefed

BILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - As far as my kiap colleague John Dagge and I were concerned, everything was going well around Barapina and Panguna.

We were not gaining acceptance, but the people were at least listening to our explanations about CRA’s prospecting activity.

Then, on 29 August 1967, the House of Assembly – Papua New Guinea’s parliament - passed into law a mining agreement bill between the company and the Administration.

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Bougainville: Powder keg awaiting a match?

Bville2
"A truth commission might provide an easing valve for past hurts, short of that Bougainville remains a powder keg, awaiting to be lit"

BINOY KAMPMARK
| Eurasia Review

ALBANY, USA - It would be an understatement to claim that Bougainville, that blighted piece of autonomous territory in Papua New Guinea, had been through a lot. 

Companies have preyed upon its environment with extractive hunger.  Wars and civil strife have beset its infrastructure and economy.

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Fascinating, sweet, incurable PNG

Phil very relaxed on patrol north of Nomad  1960s
Phil Fitzpatrick, relaxing in the haus kiap on a patrol north of Nomad in the 1960s - "I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of civilisation"

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Kiaps were required to work for 21 months in Papua New Guinea before they were granted three months leave.

When their leave was due they were provided with a return airline ticket to Australia.

After 21 months in the field most kiaps looked forward to their leave. It was a chance to catch up with their families in Australia, see what had been going on in the outside world and enjoy a few luxuries not available in PNG.

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The last kiap on the ridge

Wabag - Kompiam divide - the central ridge along which many patrols passed
Wabag-Kompiam divide - the central ridge along which many patrols passed

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - John Gordon-Kirkby was probably the last colonial kiap (patrol officer) to regularly visit the central ridge in Wabag made famous by the explorer Jim Taylor who described the landscape as a ‘garden land’ while on the Hagen Sepik patrol of 1938-39.

The route along the ridge starts on the banks of the Lai River at Wakumare near the present day Sir Tei Abal Secondary School.

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The making of a kiap

Cadet patrol officers  Sogeri 1950
Cadet patrol officers watch police on parade, Sogeri, 1950

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - The comment has occasionally been made that kiaps were just public servants, no more and no less. That’s technically true but there was a whole lot more to it.

In essence they were multi-skilled administrators doing a whole range of things quite divorced from the usual public service image of pen pushers and desk jockeys.

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The fears of Luluai Tsike

Tsike – the Tsengelap clan leader burdened by the problems of looming Independence
Tsike – the Tsengelap clan leader burdened by the problems of looming Independence

ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA, UK – I look at the two images accompanying this essay and ponder upon how rare it is that photographs in a random collection show the same man in such contrasting postures.

Luluai Tsike of the Tsengelap clan, which has its seat at Talu near Banz on the north side of the Wahgi Valley, is deeply troubled in the image at right and smiling and joyful in the one below.

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The kiaps: After dedication, melancholy

Oates
Paul Oates at Pindiu in 1970 with Papua New Guinea Administration colleaguesa

CHIPS MACKELLAR

Small Steps along the Way, by Paul Oates. Download it free here

WARWICK QLD - With Small Steps along the Way Paul Oates enters the pantheon of kiaps who have recorded their experiences in Papua New Guinea during the years of its prelude to independence in 1975.

Collectively they fill the void eschewed by mainstream historians, and for good reason.

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The eighth wife of a ‘bosboi’

John Pundari (right) with Michael Malabag
John Pundari (right) with Michael Malabag in Pundari's house at Meraimanda

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Imagine how brave it was for local women to marry complete strangers – whether other Papua New Guineans or expatriates: men who dressed differently, spoke strange languages, ate weird foods and bore different skin colours.

This was the time when the PNG highlands were opening to the outside world of explorers, gold prospectors and kiaps (patrol officers), strange men who seemed to have appeared in their midst at the blink of an eye.

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When the white man came to Wabag

Thadius Kaka today
Thadius Kaka Menge today - almost 100, saw the onset of colonialism and mind as sharp as a tack

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Thadius Kaka Menge is one of the few surviving local leaders in Wabag who assisted the colonial administration pacify warring tribesmen and bring change and development to their communities.

The kiaps, or patrol officers, effectively used local leaders to partner with the police to establish Wabag town and built roads and bridges.

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On memorials & monuments for kiaps

Coastwatchers memorial madang
The Coastwatchers Memorial in Madang - should there be something similar for the kiaps?

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - There have been rumblings among the ever diminishing ex-kiap community for several years now about the desirability of erecting a monument to the work they did in colonial Papua New Guinea, and especially to commemorate those who lost their lives in the service.

The proposals range from a physical structure at a selected location to something like a scholarship for Papua New Guinean students named to mark the kiaps’ contribution to the development of their nation.

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Don Dunstan’s role in PNG independence

Whitlam Dunstan
Gough Whitlam and Don Dunstan in Canberra in 1973 during Whitlam’s prime ministership (National Archives of Australia)

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - The argument goes that it was Australian opposition leader and later prime minister, Gough Whitlam, who led the charge for early self-government and independence in Papua New Guinea.

This is a naïve and simplistic view cherished by many observers in both Australia and Papua New Guinea. But the real story was decidedly more complex.

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PIM and me: a love story

Bob Lawrence
Author Bob Lawrence was first introduced to Pacific Islands Monthly by fellow ABC journalist Sean Dorney in 1974

BOB LAWRENCE

A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine, by Bob Lawrence, Chatswood Press, November 2019. 72pp,illus. ISNI:0000000067657158. $A25 plus $A5.50 post and handling charge. Available from Bob Lawrence here

SYDNEY - The Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM), my short history of which is being launched today in Sydney, was conceived during the trauma of World War I.

Some years later it had an unlikely birth in 1930, during the world’s worst depression, and then survived having half its subscribers driven from their home addresses in early 1941 as the Japanese advanced southwards in World War II.

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Seven huts for seven nights

KiapGOF | The Bucket Blog

FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND - The patrol officers, or kiaps (derived from the German ‘kapitan‘), who were responsible for the grassroots administration of Australia’s colonial presence in Papua New Guinea during the 20th century were outstanding young men.

They were trained at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney in preparation for careers which required physical stamina and total commitment in a country which would initially provide them with unparalleled culture shock.

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The practical wisdom of the kiap

Cessna 206
Cessna 206 taking off from Siwea in the Morobe hinterland, early 1970s (The Bucket Blog)

DAVID KITCHNOGE

PORT MORESBY - I know at least one kiap who actually traversed the rugged terrain from his remote outpost.

My mother's offer letter to come to Lae and attend Busu girls’ high school from our hinterland Mindik village in Finschhafen was delivered by one Paul Oates to my grandfather.

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My first kiap encounter

Patrol
"There was a sense of relief when the patrol left my village as they caused tension and anxiety with their demanding behaviour"

JOE HERMAN

SEATTLE, USA – Many years ago when I was a small boy in the highlands of Enga, a kiap and his patrol erected tents and camped at my village for several days.

A policeman bought kaukau and greens from our women with payment made in salt and tobacco.

Fear was driven into us that the kiap and his team might hurt or take us away, so I never got close to the camp site and for hours watched all their movements from a safe distance.

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“No need for a patrol report, old chum"

Report cover 2
Constant patrolling made pre-independence administration very effective. The district commissioners kept up pressure to make sure boots were always on the ground

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Before independence in Papua New Guinea what are now the provinces were called districts. Each district was headed by a district commissioner, who pretty much had free reign to run it as he saw fit.

Each district was divided into sub-districts within which were several patrol posts. The sub-districts corresponded to what are now called provincial districts and electorates.

The sub-districts were under the charge of assistant district commissioners who also had a lot of freedom to decide how they ran things as long as they kept the district commissioner informed and on side.

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50,000 years of culture & heritage

Lapita
It is believed that the Lapita people, who inhabited PNG for perhaps 2,000 years before moving on, were great navigators.

PETER JOKISIE
| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - Papua New Guinea is blessed with a diverse culture and heritage. But where do these amazing cultural values and behaviours come from? How did they originate and evolve? Not much is known about the prehistory of PNG.

Written records go back to the 1500s when Portuguese sailors named the island Ilhas dos Papuas, the land of the fuzzy-haired men.

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Contact patrol, Western District, 1970

Harry West 2
Kiap Harry West on patrol, 1950s

PHIL FITZPATRICK

In the early afternoon
We crested the ridge
The sergeant and I
Behind us the mountains
Citadels of the Min
Before us the great plateau
Rolling green and unknown
Hiding the elusive Kanai
Our ragged patrol
Weary and footsore
Followed the river
And there in the longhouse
Under a blue black sky
Shivering and frightened
The past met the future.

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3,000 years of pottery show who we are

Ancient Lapita pot
Ancient Lapita pot

PETER JOKISIE
| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - Clay pots in many parts of Papua New Guinea are household items and people say they enjoy food cooked in clay pots.

In the Markham valley, the signature clay pot, or ‘gurr’ as we call it, is on the fire every day of the week.

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Robin Murphy OAM, the bridge builder

Robin Murphy
Robin Murphy - the  Queensland construction entrepreneur began designing bridges in PNG in 1963

KEITH JACKSON with thanks to Rob Parer

Link here to a video of Robin’s early days in PNG from 1963-69. https://vimeo.com/177157110

This second video, titled ‘Overcoming the odds’, tells the story of the building of four Oro bridges in 2014-16. https://vimeo.com/226839061?ref=em-share

BRISBANE – The founder of Brisbane-based Canstruct Pty Ltd, Robin Murphy OAM, started his career in Papua New Guinea in late 1963 a week before me.

He had recently graduated as an engineer and soon found himself designing and, not long after, building bridges.

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The unearthing of 10,000 years of agriculture

Jack Golson (second left) and Philip Hughes (second right) with workmen from Kuk village  1974
Jack Golson (second left) and Philip Hughes (second right) with workmen from Kuk village, 1974

PETER JOKISIE
| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - The history of agriculture in Papua New Guinea goes back about 10,000 years, with the country recognised as one of the global birthplaces of plant domestication.

The Kuk swamp in the Waghi valley of the Western Highlands has provided archaeological evidence of the agricultural practises of the people of that time, who probably first occupied the region 50,000 years ago.

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