History Feed

My first kiap encounter

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


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


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

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

| 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


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

| 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

| 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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Kerema: Dispela lapun i lukim tu

Shortcut through sago swamp in MV Aveta c1970
A shortcut through the sago swamps in MV Aveta, about 1970


ADELAIDE - Daniel Kumbon’s enjoyable article on his visit to Kerema brought memories flooding back to me.

In August 1969, a little over 50 years ago, as a brand new Assistant Patrol Officer, I was posted to the Gulf District (now Province).

In those days, being posted to the Gulf was regarded by many young kiaps as a fate worse than death.

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The story of Belo - Maus Bilong God

Kaiapit bell
The original Kaiapit bell, 1943. Read the story behind the image at end of article (Australian War Memorial)

| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - To tell a classic story that happened nearly 100 years ago is almost impossible to weave together today.

As close as I could get was to discover a source from 20 years after the event. My grand-mama, born around 1939 and who lived through World War II, related to us kids this account that was passed down from her father.

Continue reading "The story of Belo - Maus Bilong God" »

Galkope (except 9 lepers) celebrate 70 years in the Catholic faith

Neragaima Catholic Mission
Neragaima Catholic Mission


PORT MORESBY - Galkope men’s houses (hausman), in what is now the Simbu Province, schooled young boys of the Dom, Yuri, Bari and Erula Nauro tribes, which had colonised their territories by migrating from different lands.

The Dom evolved out of Dlekopl while the Yuri walked east through the Wahgi valley. Erula 1-4 evolved out of Monguma, while the Bari arrived at Dukul Mormapir from the Gena-Nogar.

These four tribes, now referred to as Galkope, converged and settled on either sides of the Kola-Kawa River alongside an existing tribe, the Teklau-Baimane.

The Teklau-Baimane settled at Olkaipel, Mekul, Kaluvalu and the vicinity - but fled west after killing Yuri Alaibia before the coming of the Makruai, and settled at Kerual Apane in Jiwaka Province. To this day the older people still speak the Nauro-Bari language.

Against this backdrop, the Roman Catholic Church arrived unexpectedly and settled at Mingende just after the Makruai. The church extended its influence to new lands and built a new mission station at Yopar. The Gakwane and the Erula Nauro people were excited about the opportunities the church brought to their midst.

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How PNG avoided Australia’s devastating ‘frontier wars’

Waterlook Creek massacre
New South Wales mounted police engage Indigenous Australians during the Waterloo Creek Massacre of 1838


ADELAIDE - In late 1982, I completed the last semester of my studies for a university degree, in which I had majored in history and politics.

When the official transcript of my academic record turned up, I was surprised to discover that I had, entirely by accident, also majored in a subject called Australian Studies.

So, in theory at least, I was a certified ‘expert’ in Australian history, not to mention having completed my bachelor's degree with an unusual triple major.

Reading Phil Fitzpatrick's article, Colonial wars much bloodier in Australia than Papua’, it occurred to me that at no time during my studies did the topic of Australia's frontier wars ever come up, except obliquely when race relations during the colonial era were discussed.

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Informal rural courts were an important part of the kiap’s role

Informal court (Graham Forster)
An informal village court (Graham Forster)


NORTHUMBRIA – Back in colonial times, informal bush courts were taken seriously by Papua New Guinea’s village people and also by patrolling kiaps.

In this photograph from 1974, the postures adopted by the village group were typical of people taking part in the informal community courts of the time.

Regular government patrols moved through rural locations holding these courts, conducting censuses, checking on sanitation and other issues, advising on road construction and undertaking many other tasks.

The gathering shown here took place immediately in front of the haus kiap and the kiap (back to camera), who was accepted as a neutral arbiter, is sitting on its step.

In front of him, one of the patrol’s policemen is summing up the circumstances surrounding the complaint.

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A sight seen no more – a kiap walks into a mountain village

Kiap walks into a mountain village (Graham Forster)ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA - It is late 1974, just months before independence, and a white kiap conducting a routine patrol is walking into one of Papua New Guinea’s many mountain villages.

At the same time some government advisors in the capital, Port Moresby, are saying kiaps offend people in these communities and as a result of this, and other perceived misdemeanors, should be encouraged to pack their bags and return to their foreign homes.

However in this photograph, there is little to suggest the kiap – who is about to shake hands with village leaders - is not welcome.

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Three years on: Let’s not forget the brave students of 2016

Shot student
Friends carry a wounded student to seek medical help. It was a miracle that nobody died after police recklessly fired shots into university students protesting peacefully on campus

SCOTT WAIDE | My Land, My Country | Edited

LAE - This week marks three years since students at the University of Papua New Guinea were shot at a public gathering.

In the days leading up to the shooting they were belittled, scorned and told their opinions on good governance and corruption did not matter.

The students were campaigning for greater transparency in government, a stop to overseas borrowing and the resignation of the prime minister.

Ideas whose time has come three years later.

The students coined the hashtag #UPNG4PNG to show their patriotism and loyalty to their country and extended their campaign on social media.

They were uncertain about the outcome and many were unsure if what they were doing would be approved by their parents, families and country.

The girls dressed in black.

Continue reading "Three years on: Let’s not forget the brave students of 2016" »

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 25 – The Administration versus the People

Map - The mine access road
The access road to the proposed Panguna minesite was the locus of most of the resistance action by landowners in 1969. At the copper company's insistence the colonial Administration began to harden its stance on forcing the people to comply


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - I thought Administrator David Hay’s decision to send a ‘welfare group’ - a team of outsiders – to visit Panguna for a week or two in May 1967 was extraordinary.

He told the Canberra bureaucrats that their task was to seek “further information about the people’s views and attitudes and the possibility of improving the Administration’s image.”

What made his statement bizarre was that only six weeks earlier he had directed Patrol Officer John Dagge and me to ignore the people’s protests and escort personnel from mining company CRA across the Kawerong River.

He must have realised that operation would have besmirched the Administration’s image beyond repair.

During the following weeks the villagers vented their displeasure. On a single night the wooden pegs that had been precisely positioned by surveyors around the Moroni hillside in a week-long operation were removed and dumped at Barapina on what we termed the parade ground.

Up the road at Panguna, a stack of cement posts was smashed to pieces in an overnight raid and dumped on CRA’s doorstep.

To the south of Panguna, at Deomori, Marist Father Woeste was accused of helping CRA and told that, as his mission station was on native land, he should follow the people’s wishes or get out.

The people around Panguna were still seething in the last week of May, when Terry Daw (1), Judy (JK) Peters (2) and Lukas Waka (3) arrived in Kieta to carry out the Administrator’s task of ‘improving the Administration’s image’.

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The final reel from my Papua New Guinea film collection


NEWCASTLE – This is the last video in the series of short films I shot in  Papua New Guinea in the early 1960s when I occasionally visited the then territory as part of my work as a lecturer at the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

The footage traverses quite a bit of country as it moves from Rabuana Primary School near Rabaul and a tabloid sports event, then Wau and Bulolo in the Goldfields and what was a lonely drive down the mountain to Lae, where I visited the impressive war cemetery.

Next we move to the highlands and Goroka (mispelled Goroko in the film’s caption) and finally to Wewak and its fine marketplace.

Thank you for watching these short videos, digitally reproduced by the people at the National Archives of Australia. I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

I particularly mention the students of mine from ASOPA and the E-Course students from Malaguna Teachers College with whom I am still in touch.

These people dedicated a major part of their lives to teaching in Papua New Guinea and I was fortunate enough to share some of their adventures,

The feedback I have received so far has been encouraging and rewarding, and I want to mention fellow ASOPA lecturer Dick Pearse was thrilled to see the Tubusereia segment in an earlier article.

Just a word of thanks to Keith Jackson for putting the films on PNG Attitude. I’m enjoying such a lot of reading there which is so interesting and well put together.

The entire series of 12 short films is now complete and you can fine all of them on YouTube at this link - https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Papua%2FNew+Guinea+Les+Peterkin

Chief Minister Somare’s dramatic visit to Bougainville in 1973

Michael Somare  Angoram  1973
Michael Somare in 1973

KEITH JACKSON | Extracts from his Radio Bougainville diary


Lyall Newby, Director of the Department of Information and Extension Services (DIES), rang and, amongst other matters, complained that other Territory departments were starting to take over traditional functions of DIES and that staff from our department were transferring to these better paid positions. I suppose he needed someone to grumble to but we haven’t experienced the problem at Radio Bougainville.


There’s a rumour abroad that a Highlander was shot and killed with a bow and arrow by a Dapera villager. It is unfounded but 30 Highlanders went to Arawa Hospital and demanded to see the “body”. Arawa market was tense during the morning and police were present. There were also reports of conflict but nothing happened.

The police asked us to run a story scotching the rumour about the "death". After consulting with District Commissioner Bill Brown I decided a news report would exacerbate rather than assuage fears. So we canned the story. It will be used later if a deteriorating situation makes it necessary.

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Kiap Days: Astonishing yarns from a remarkable time

A Kiap's StoryKEITH JACKSON | Weekend Australian Review

A Kiap’s Story by Graham Taylor, Pukpuk Publications, 2014, ISBN 1502703459, 404 pages. Amazon Digital Services, hard copy $US14.19, Kindle version $US3.79. Link here to purchase

NOOSA - In late January 1985 no sooner had I rested my feet under my faux oak desk in my faux oak panelled office as the ABC’s controller of corporate relations than managing director Geoffrey Whitehead instructed me to take a plane to Canberra to meet deputy chairman, Dick Boyer who, I was told, was hell bent on writing a ‘philosophy’ for the national broadcaster.

I quickly learned to dread this enforced collaboration with the loquacious and pedantic Boyer and began to search for a willing substitute.

Graham Taylor, the ABC’s boss in South Australia, came highly recommended. “He can get on with anyone,” I was told.

The avuncular Taylor proved true to this appraisal and willingly took on the project. After much iteration the ‘philosophy’ eventually surfaced as a slender document entitled ‘The Role of a National Broadcaster in Contemporary Australia’ which immediately sank without an oil slick.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 24 – An unwelcome call to Canberra

Brown map BougainvilleBILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – It was early 1967 and John Dagge and I knew something must be in the wind when District Commissioner Wakeford advised he was sending Ken Hanrahan, the Assistant District Commissioner of Buka Sub-District, on “a familiarisation visit to Panguna before the Karato exercise.”

Karato, Mainoki and Daratui were the three areas of mineralisation that Conzinc Rio Australia (CRA) said it needed to test before deciding whether Panguna was the best site to mine.

Mainoki was eight hours’ hard walking from Panguna and Karato was even further into the hills. The people of both villages refused to allow the CRA teams onto their land.

Ken (KJP) Hanrahan (Footnote 1), based at Hutjena on Buka Passage, was responsible for the northern end of Bougainville and had nothing to do with Karato, which was in the Buin Sub-District.

John (JE) Wakeford had been in Bougainville for only five months, after being transferred from the Sepik in November 1966 to take over from District Commissioner Mollison who was considered too old. (Wakeford was actually the older of the two but he had shaved eight years off his age before joining the Territory Administration in 1946.) (2)

Continue reading "A Kiap’s Chronicle: 24 – An unwelcome call to Canberra" »

Archival film from the early 1960s: Images of Kavieng & Rabaul


NEWCASTLE – This short video is derived from a great deal of film I shot in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and which has now been digitised by the Australian Archives and I have edited into segments of five minutes or so.

In 1963, I took a 50 minute flight from Rabaul to spend a weekend at Kavieng which is the capital and largest town of the Papua New Guinean province of New Ireland.

It is a beautiful, peaceful and picturesque island surrounded by clear tropical waters.

There are many coconut plantations on the island and while there I visited a huge plantation and was given a dance demonstration by students of Kavieng Secondary School.

It was an unusual dance which clearly derived many of its movements from military drills, possible a remnant of the German colonisation of this part of the world until 1914.

The video ends with images of Rabaul Harbour and its volcanoes.

From the archives: A weekend in Tubuseriea in the early 1960s


NEWCASTLE - On one occasion in the early 1960s, when visiting Port Moresby with student teachers from the Australian School of Pacific Administration, we heard of a feast and celebration taking place in the coastal village of Tubusereia.

The village is about 20 km by road south-east of Moresby and, on this particular weekend, my lecturer colleague Richard Pearse, some students and I we piled into a LandRover to pay a visit.

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In the case of land, the colonial administrators mostly got it right

Bill Brown on patrol in PNG
Respecters of the people's land - a young Bill Brown on patrol in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s


ADELAIDE – The Australian colonial administration in Papua New Guinea understood right from the outset of its rule that the concept of individual ownership of land didn't apply.

In part, this was based upon the British colonial experience elsewhere in the Pacific, like Fiji, where land was also a communally held and managed asset.

The Administration, as it was known, therefore pursued a policy of tightly controlling how land issues were managed and, in particular, demonstrated a strong general bias against acquiring land.

Given that a feature of the late European colonial era was the rapacious and violent seizure by colonists of traditional lands, it puzzled me that the Pacific colonies tended to be treated differently.

Continue reading "In the case of land, the colonial administrators mostly got it right" »

A policeman’s memories of the post-independence kiap system

PNG police 1970s (Paul Oates)
Disciplined forces personnel circa 1970s: Constable Temba from Pindiu area; Pacific Islands Regiment soldier from Hube area; Corrective Services officer from Hube area; Constable Paulus from Madang area (Paul Oates)


DAGUA – In recent times there have been a number of articles and commentaries about kiaps and the Papua New Guinea kiap system in PNG Attitude.

So I decided to ask my liklik papa Mathew about his opinion and observations of kiaps as he worked as a policeman in the early years after PNG gained independence from Australia.

In 1976, Mathew Wasel Sigimet of Urip village, East Sepik, joined the Royal PNG Constabulary (No 6717) and served as a constable until early 1984 when he left the service.

He was deployed to Konedobu, Port Moresby, as a new recruit from Bomana Police College in early January 1976 not long after PNG’s independence.

He then spent six years part of the Sector Patrol Unit, a policing concept trialled in Port Moresby as an independence gift from Australia.

In 1982, Mathew was transferred to the Southern Highlands and served as a constable in Tari until early 1984 when he left the constabulary.

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My new book asks if PNG’s founders screwed up its future

Inspector Hari Metau 2
Inspector Hari Metau - Phil Fitzpatrick's splendid creation triggers a reflection on whether PNG's founders could have done more to protect the new nation from its present excesses


TUMBY BAY - What if Papua New Guinea’s forefathers had seen what was coming; could they have avoided what has happened to their nation?

I’m currently working on two novels. One is about a massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia in the 1860s; the other a kind of prequel to the Inspector Metau trilogy.

I’m using Inspector Hari Metau’s good mate and mentor, Sergeant Kasari, as the narrator of the prequel. In the book, he describes the story of how he became a policeman and met up with Hari.

The prequel begins in the mid-1960s and moves through to the present. It is addressed to a couple of young journalists who have come to Sergeant Kasari’s house in Kwikila to interview him for a newspaper article.

I’m having a lot of fun writing the novel and creating a whole new history for a bunch of characters who never actually existed; although to me they are just as real as anyone else.

The other interesting aspect of my writing is being able to reflect on those earlier times in Papua New Guinea when everyone was full of optimism for the future.

The experience of optimism is something the politicians and elites of Papua New Guinea have stolen from their fellow citizens. In its place they have created foreboding and a pervasive mood of depression.

I’m trying to maintain the humour of my earlier Metau novels but now and again I get serious because I think the material deserves it.

Continue reading "My new book asks if PNG’s founders screwed up its future" »

Further adventures of a young patrol officer

Robbins - Musa Gorge downstream
Downstream from the Musa Gorge


SPRINGBROOK - This first story is fairly statistical but I have to do justice to the magnitude of the proposed Musa Dam hydro-electricity project.

This involved some of the biggest challenges that I ever had to face in Papua New Guinea.

To get an idea of its size, the estimated budget was $130 million, and that was prior to 1971. It would have been $1.4 billion in today’s money.

My first task on this project was to locate a road from Pongani on the north coast using a strip map I had earlier prepared on a long patrol and which subsequently was extensively referred to by Comworks engineers.

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Sir Joseph Nombri & the emergence of the Chimbu elite

Sir Joseph Nombri
Sir Joseph Nombri


KUNDIAWA - After the Europeans came to Chimbu their laws were introduced among the people and any old ways that were unacceptable to the general principles of humanity were forbidden.

The common Chimbu traits of peace, love, friendship, giving and family were encouraged so travel and communication among the tribes became easier.

In the beginning tribal leaders were the first to embrace the new ideas. The leaders were made Luluai and Tultul and others became policemen, postal boys, translators and held other responsible positions serving the colonial administration all over the highlands and the coast.

Dinga leader Aina was known as an engineer supervising the building of airstrips and roads throughout Chimbu and the highlands.

Kumga chief Tumun, Golen chief Ninkama Bomai, Karimui leader Inuabe Egaiano and Kamare chief Launa were tribal leaders who became some of the first elected leaders to embrace the white men’s ways.

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'Feelings of fear': Kiaps, police & the PNG people


TUMBY BAY - Joe Herman, in PNG Attitude, has joined a growing list of Papua New Guineans who have alluded to the feeling of fear induced by many Australian kiaps in the days before independence.

At the same time, some of those kiaps have expressed surprise that they or their cohorts created that perception or were ever regarded in this way.

Like me, I think that a lot of kiaps went out of their way not to convey any overt authoritarian or oppressive power imbalance in their day-to-day dealings with the people they administered.

As a group of administrators that were very thin on the ground and deeply embedded in often remote societies under their care, such arrogance was never an effective tool. Cooperation, more than anything else, was the key to their success.

They did, however, hold responsibility for administering, among other things, the rule of law, which had certain sanctions attached to it that had to be applied without fear or favour.

Continue reading "'Feelings of fear': Kiaps, police & the PNG people" »

The necessary undoing of the colonial kiap mythology

Kiaps and appointed village officials (luluais and tultuls)
Kiaps and appointed village officials (luluais and tultuls), 1950s


ADELAIDE - The kiaps I worked with were a very eclectic bunch indeed. They came from diverse backgrounds and, to the best of my recollection, none of them engaged in shouting or bullying behaviour.

That said, it seems vanishingly improbable that there were not instances of red-faced shouting and bullying. From time to time we all fail to have our finest hour.

I have previously written about the mythology of the kiap, which gave them a certain glamour, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the broader population.

This mythology conferred a power and prestige upon kiaps that allowed a few hundred widely dispersed men with perilously few resources to exert effective control over millions of people.

As independence approached, Papua New Guinea’s educated elite wanted and needed an alternative narrative to that which had grown up around kiaps.

Continue reading "The necessary undoing of the colonial kiap mythology" »

The kiaps did not just ‘disappear’ at PNG independence

Bill Brown and policemen
Fuyuge interpreter Koga,  kiap Bill Brown and Corporal Gogoga of the RPNGC on patrol near Woitape, January 1952


MELBOURNE - I had stayed on in Papua New Guinea after independence but at the end of 1981 decided to leave despite an offer to sign on for a further three years.

The view that the kiap system ceased at independence is not correct. It continued during those six years, but with subtle changes.

Around the time of independence there were two points of view about our service: that of the radical minority at the University of PNG, who saw little or no good in it; and that of the rural majority who were not listened to.

But, as I said, the change was gradual and the rural people soon gained the idea that it was business as usual.

Before my time in PNG, the department that included the kiaps had changed its name from ‘Native Affairs’ to ‘District Administration’.

I was originally employed with the time-honoured title of Cadet Patrol Officer but shortly after this was changed to Assistant Patrol Officer, which aligned with the designation of national officers who were being trained as junior kiaps.

Continue reading "The kiaps did not just ‘disappear’ at PNG independence" »

Red-faced bullies who always shout? Not our cuddly kiaps

Forster - Census patrol  1970s
Census patrol, Pilitu section, Goilala district, 1974


NORTHUMBRIA, UK - During the period immediately before national independence in 1975, there was a popular view of kiaps among Papua New Guinea's extraordinarily vocal academic community.

To them, the kiaps (mainly expatriate bush administrators appointed by the Australian government) were red faced bullies who routinely shouted so hard they looked like they were about to mess their pants.

I think you’ll agree that this photograph, taken on a routine census patrol in the Pilitu section of the Goilala district in late 1974, contradicts such a jaundiced opinion.

Continue reading "Red-faced bullies who always shout? Not our cuddly kiaps" »

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 23 – Anti-mining tensions escalate at Barapina


023 map 4KJ new


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – My senior officer, Assistant Director Tom Aitchison, was back in Port Moresby from Bougainville and Patrol Officer John Dagge and I had negotiated with landowners for CRA to install two new drills at Kokorei.

I was catching up on Sub-District affairs, working from the office in Kieta, as well as spending at least two or three days each week at Barapina with Dagge and his small detachment of police.

Continue reading "A Kiap’s Chronicle: 23 – Anti-mining tensions escalate at Barapina" »

Papua New Guinea development: did we stuff it up?

Sharing a joke with children  Markham Valley  1974 (Vanessa-and-Denis)
Vanessa and Denis share a joke with children in the Markham Valley, 1974 - Australia left PNG the next year with a large stock of good will, much of which remains


CANBERRA - Port Moresby, sometime in 1977, a ‘going finish’ party at the home of a retiring senior Australian bureaucrat.

The mood was bright, a mixed crowd of men and women, expatriates of various points of origin and Papua New Guineans, mostly young.

A British aid worker I was talking with declared, “This is the last major colonial possession to go independent, and this time we are not going to stuff it up.”

The ‘we’ he referred to presumably included official aid donor countries, multilateral agencies from the UN, and the development banks — the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank — plus a host of NGOs providing technical assistance and volunteers.

Some 40 years later, with reports of incompetence and gross corruption in government, and violence on the streets of Port Moresby and other major PNG cities, it seems reasonable to ask, “did we stuff it up?”

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Tales from old Oro – new roads, uncharted seas & wild rivers

Robbins - Popondetta to Kokoda Road
Popondetta to Kokoda Road, Christmas 1969


SPRINGBROOK - My one-third of the 100km road-clearing work was the hilliest - from sea level up to a camp at a superb vantage point 1430 metres above sea level.

On Google Earth around 9º32’30” S / 148°39’46” E parts of "my road" (as District Commissioner David Marsh referred to it) can still be seen.

We spent our first five months in the Northern District (now Oro Province) at Popondetta. Drew Pingo who was on the same course as me had a young family and had already been posted to Kokoda, a reasonably civilised station with a road connection to Popondetta.

I was informed by other officers that the cream of the District’s outstations was Tufi but if I even hinted that I’d like to be posted there I would end up somewhere else like Ioma, supposedly a less desirable place.

Continue reading "Tales from old Oro – new roads, uncharted seas & wild rivers" »

A Kiap’s Chronicle: 22 – Trapped amid landowners & bureaucrats

Brown 22 mapBILL BROWN MBE

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – In late September 1966, CRA’s geologist Ken Phillips left for his New Zealand homeland, supposedly for a short holiday.

The gossip was that he was unwell and close to a stress-related breakdown. That may not have been true but if it was, I wasn’t very far behind.

Tom Aitchison, the assistant director of my department, had not replied to my letter in which I had told him in the strongest terms that I did not like the task I had been given and wanted out. I expected another officer to fly in unannounced to take over my job at any time.

Two senior kiaps, Phil Hardy and Bob Blaikie, who knew the people well, were based at either end of Bougainville just a 30-minute flight away.

Continue reading "A Kiap’s Chronicle: 22 – Trapped amid landowners & bureaucrats" »

Bob Hoad’s Olsobip – the building of a nation

Hoad - Cessna dropping supplies; Gum Gorge in background
A Cessna drops supplies as the land for an airstrip and on which Olsobip will stand is cleared


TUMBY BAY - In 1964 Patrol Officers Bob Hoad and Warren Dutton and their seven-man police contingent were hard at work building an airfield and a patrol post at Olsobip.

This remote dot on the map is at the headwaters of the Fly River in the rugged foothills of the Star Mountains in what is now Papua New Guinea’s Western Province.

Working alongside Hoad and Dutton was an enthusiastic labour force of about 90 villagers drawn on a rotational basis from the small Faiwolmin population of about 1,500 thousand people in the surrounding mountains.

The Faiwolmin were delighted to have a patrol post in their area and just about every man woman and child was lending a hand.

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Reminiscences from a kiap’s scrapbook


1969 POs Kwikila
ASOPA patrol officers course No 2 of 1969 at Kwikila. Doug Robbins is seated at extreme right. Paul Oates is front row fourth from right (holding hat) 

SPRINGBROOK - What was being a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea all about?

I was one for a short time from 1969 to 1973, probably having been influenced in 1957 by our scholarship (Year 8) prescribed book ‘Danger Patrol’ by Leslie Rees.

A good account is also found in James Sinclair’s ‘Kiap’ (1981) and the Ex-Kiap website on the internet is also enlightening.

But my own PNG adventure generally matched Eric Feldt’s description in ‘The Coast Watchers’, written in 1946:

“The district officer (likewise, the patrol officer) was responsible for all forms of governmental activity in his district. He was thus, with all local authority in his hands, a power in his district.

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How Australian ignorance created a disastrous ‘bigman’ system


Phil Fitzpatrick at mic
Phil Fitzpatrick

TUMBY BAY - In 1958 a clash between the colonial Administration and Tolai dissidents in New Britain led to a review of the functions of the role of kiaps in Papua New Guinea.

The man tasked with the review, Professor David Derham, was an early version of the long line of consultants that Canberra has engaged to advise it on what to do in PNG.

Derham spent 37 days in the territory and did not seek the advice of kiaps in the field.

Nevertheless he seemed particularly offended by the kiap practice of informal mediation in local disputes and much preferred a formal system similar to the one used in Australia.

JK McCarthy, the director of the Department of Native Affairs, said in 1963, "The Derham Report, written by a man who had no practical experience of the country, and who undoubtedly was inspired by an equally ignorant person [the Minister for Territories], was accepted without question.

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Those old-style police were community leaders



Policeman against warfare (Forster)
A local policeman joins the front rank to show his enthusiasm to put a stop to inter-clan fighting, Minj, 1972 (Robert Forster)

NORTHUMBRIA, UK - This photograph was taken at Minj in the Western Highlands early in 1972 and supports Phil Fitzpatrick’s view that good ‘bush policemen’ made their own special contribution to the development of rural Papua New Guinea.

It also contradicts a post-independence view, put forward by a number of opinion formers, that before 1975 many PNG policemen were self-serving individuals more interested in feathering their own nest than promoting social stability at village level.

The photograph shows armed clan warriors, who have decided to give up more than three months constant confrontation with a neighbouring village, on their way to a peace-making ceremony.

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Remote colonial life: Waiting for the K boat & other inconveniences

Baimuru Patrol Post  1962 (John Fowke)
Baimuru Patrol Post, 1962 (John Fowke)


ADELAIDE - My first experience of Papua New Guinea was arriving at Jacksons Airport on a sweltering day in mid 1969.

Having survived the rather desultory attention of Customs, I joined a slightly bewildered group of young men who had gathered around a man carrying a sign indicating that he was there to collect us.

There followed a scramble to board a decrepit blue and white Bedford bus which proceeded to convey us along the dusty road between Moresby and our training camp at Kwikila.

This was where we would undergo the six weeks of training that constituted the introduction to our roles as newly-minted junior kiaps.

A later sojourn at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney was promised but never eventuated.

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Papua New Guinea’s two police forces; old & new, good & bad

The badge and uniform were changed in 1964
The badge and uniform that were changed in 1964


TUMBY BAY - In 1958 a number of dissident Tolai groups in New Britain banded together to refuse to pay their personal tax or line up for census checks.

The District Commissioner decided to force the issue and sent a large force of officers and armed police into the area.

The subsequent confrontation resulted in a melee during which two Tolai men were killed. Assistant District Officer Jack Emanuel fired the first two shots into the air but it was thought that the men had been hit by police .303 rifle bullets.

The upshot of this event was that the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, ordered a review of the structure and functions of the Department of Native Affairs. This was the department run by the kiaps and which largely governed Papua New Guinea.

The separation and limitation of executive, police and magisterial powers held by officers of the department then became a ministerial objective.

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Waiting for the tide - the practicalities of living kiap style

Doug Robbins


“I asked a group of fishermen sitting in the shade of the inevitable coconut palms, at what time it would be high tide, so I could plan to get my boats over the reef flat. ‘We’re not sure,’ came the answer. ‘Then how do you know when you should take your boats out fishing?’ I asked. ‘Oh that’s easy,’ they replied with the penetrating logic one only imparts to a complete imbecile, ‘we just wait until the tide has come up high enough’.” (Soames Summerhays, Geo vol.8 no.2)

SPRINGBROOK, QUEENSLAND - While we were in Papua New Guinea there was the story of an anthropologist searching for evidence of clay pots at Wanigela who insisted on scratching around for fragments in old cooking fires.

Although the villagers could produce any number of good quality intact pots which were in daily use and for which they are renowned, these weren’t asked for, so they smashed some and buried the broken pieces in the ashes.

In late 1972, I was at Sairope, the last village of the Orokaiva people in the upper reaches of the Kumusi River on the western slopes of the mile-high plus Mount Lamington, an active volcano which last erupted in 1951, killing around 3,000 people.

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Patrolling into uncertain territory - Kudjeru and beyond

Terrain around Kudjeru
Terrain around Kudjeru - "There, on the other side of a small creek, was the village which appeared to be deserted"


GOLD COAST – This is the story of one of the few patrols I did into the area south of Wau over the ridges from the Waria River area to near the Papuan border.

Some years previously, a patrol had marked out a site for an airstrip near the Papuan border and the people there were keen to ensure construction was progressing.

The site had not been visited for some years and I checked old patrol reports to get some background on the area and its people.

In the early 1970s there were no villages between Wau and the village of Kudjeru where we could obtain carriers, so a permanent carrier line was required. Usually we paid carriers from one village to carry the patrol’s cargo to the next village.

This was a good system as the local people knew the area and tracks and didn’t have to leave their village for long periods. Carriers were paid by the hour and the traditional one shilling an hour had recently been increased due to pressure from the Papua New Guinea House of Assembly.

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Remembering the search for the missing RAAF Caribou

Iroquois on makeshift helipad
Iroquois helicopter on makeshift helipad near site of the downed Caribou (Ian Loftus)


GOLD COAST – It was August 1972 and I was returning from a patrol through the Yamap-Hotte-Musim census division between Wau/Bulolo and Salamaua.

We had left the forest behind and walked through the kunai for number of hours before arriving at Salamaua. Crikey it was hot!

I arrived at a Lutheran Mission guest house overlooking Salamaua and was given some cool lemon sherbet by the mission people who were holidaying there. I was dehydrated and couldn’t get enough of it.

Camping overnight in the Namasu store that night, we waited for a boat to take us to Lae. I tried to sleep among the bags of copra and hoped the rats that leapt between the bags all night wouldn’t bite me. There was also a pungent odour emitting from rancid coconuts that made it very pleasant to get going in the morning.

The coastal boat arrived on schedule and we boarded and set out for Lae. Arriving at Lae wharf, I telephoned the sub district office and the assistant district commissioner allocated a Toyota and driver to get us back to Wau the next day.

Driving through the Mumeng sub district, we noticed aircraft lights towards Bulolo and by the time we drove past the Bulolo road it looked like every aircraft in PNG was flying around Wau. The afternoon sky was lit up with flashing aircraft navigation lights.

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The new priest’s year in Karap and the Jimi Valley

Roche - Karap from the air
A 1980s view of Karap from the air gives an indication of the steep mountainsides. Lower left is the road to Tabibuga, upper right the road to Banz, middle left the road to Kol


DUBLIN, IRELAND- I had arrived in Papua New Guinea in October 1970, when it was known as the Territory of Papua New Guinea (it changed its name to just Papua New Guinea in 1972.)

Nine months later, in July 1971, I was sent to take charge of Karap, a parish in the Jimi Valley.

This area is now in Jiwaka Province but back then it was part of the Western Highlands District.

Things were on the move. A new road had been constructed from near Banz through Kwiona, Kauil and Karap to the government station at Tabibuga.

The drive from Banz to Karap normally took at least two hours, and from Karap to Tabiguba about an hour. Four-wheel drive vehicles were necessary.

At Karap there is now a road branching off to Kol in the Upper Jimi, but that road did not exist in the early 1970s.

The 'mansion' in which I lived was a cabin made from pit-sawn timber with a thatched kunai grass roof and a nearby shed was stacked with timber used for building the church and school classrooms.

My house was on a hilltop overlooking the road and there was a great view looking down the valley of the Tsau river.

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The curse of territoriality: Human instincts & their consequences


ADELAIDE - As an enthusiastic amateur historian, I spend far too much time puzzling over why human history has worked out the way it has. Usually, the facts are not in dispute: it is their interpretation and meaning that creates problems.

Many historic events seem to defy an agreed explanation amongst historians because so many personal, cultural, social, economic, geographic and other factors have interacted to shape and drive those events in particular directions.

Even worse, just when broad agreement is reached, it is often the case that new facts emerge that tend to confound or at least call into doubt the agreed interpretation of events. Just ask any paleontologist or archaeologist if you think this is not a problem.

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The killing of district commissioner Jack Emanuel

Jack Emanuel GC


Errol John (Jack) Emanuel was a district commissioner in East New Britain when he was murdered on 19 August 1971. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry displayed between 1969 and 1971. At the time of Emanuel’s death, Andrew Phillips was news director at Radio Rabaul.

NEW YORK - I was posted to Rabaul following Keith Jackson’s transfer to Bougainville. The unrest Keith has described continued, and it culminated in the stabbing murder of Jack Emanuel who’d been sent on special assignment to negotiate with the Mataungun Association.

It was mid-morning and I was in my office at the radio station when local reporter Dick Pearson, who represented the South Pacific Post newspaper, rushed into my office to announce the occupation of a plantation and invited me drive out to see what was going on.

Kabira Bay Plantation was about 80 km from Rabaul and we drove along the coastal road lined with coconut trees with the limpid, azure Bismarck Sea lapping on the black sand beaches, a picture postcard that belied the danger that lay ahead.

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Best of our new years: Gorton was packin’ heat in Rabaul

2010 - John Gorton at Rabaul airport  1970 - he was packin' heat
John Gorton at Rabaul airport in 1970 - he was armed


SYDNEY - 1970 was a year of high drama in the Gazelle. There was anger and violence. The Mataungan Association had stepped up its struggle over land rights and was causing the Australian Administration much grief.

Then in July, prime minister John Gorton landed at Rabaul Airport for an official visit.

I was there as a journalist for Radio Rabaul, and stood amongst the chanting crowd as Gorton stepped on an airport trolley to try to give a speech. But the PA system failed.

Gough Whitlam later wrote: “[Gorton] was greeted by an audience of 10,000 who were as hostile as our 11,000 [on Whitlam's earlier visit] had been enthusiastic." Classic Whitlam.

Before Gorton disembarked, Tom Ellis, then head of the Department of the Administrator, gave him a handgun. Gorton secreted the pistol in his jacket pocket, a foolish if typically gung-ho act. It's likely lives would have been endangered had the Mataungans suspected the Australian prime minister was armed.

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Descendants protest museum's removal of Pacific treasures

Richard Parkinson
Richard Parkinson – descendants of the world-renowned anthropologist warn his ''gift of history'' will be marginalised

LINDA MORRIS | Sydney Morning Herald | Extracts

SYDNEY - The Australian Museum's decision to move a world-class collection offsite to make way for a touring exhibition has sparked protests from descendants of a distinguished Danish anthropologist.

After the Garden Palace fire of 1882 destroyed all but a handful of museum artefacts, the Australian Museum turned to Richard Parkinson, his wife Phebe and her sister, Emma Coe Forsayth, known as Queen Emma, to rebuild its collection.

Between them, the pioneers - who established plantations in the New Guinea islands in 1879 - provided more than 4,000 items from 1882 to 1884 alone, and continued donations until 1911, forming a core part of the 60,000 objects that are currently housed at the museum.

The objects would become records of times past that would astonish and inform future generations, the museum's then head of anthropology, Jim Specht, predicted.

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English proficiency is a necessity not a luxury in PNG


ADELAIDE - I recently read Bill Bryson’s ‘The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way’, which provides a very readable and amusing account of the development of the English language.

It is fair to say that the emergence of English as the foremost international language of business, science and culture is one of history’s more improbable occurrences.

After all, English as we now understand it did not really exist until around 1500 and was, at that time, spoken only by a quite small number of people living on an utterly unimportant island off the coast of Europe.

Through a series of unlikely events that small island emerged as the greatest imperial power in history. At the zenith of its power (around 1913), the British Empire encompassed about 23% of the world’s population and about quarter of the world’s land mass.

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Commemorating the death of Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD

Karl MorschheuserPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - It was a hot day here in Kundiawa town and I was walking to the provincial government building when my eyes caught a poster about Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD.

The poster, hanging on a rope at the stationery shop on the other side of the road, read ‘Fr Karl Morschheuser. Memorial Mass at Mirane Catholic Church. Starts at 9 am, 16 December 2018. All welcome’.

It was the day we had been waiting for.

In the middle of a busy street crowded with people, the poster pushed me into a deep reminiscence of the life and tragic death of Fr Morschheuser on this day - Sunday 16 December -  in 1934.

This tall and handsome young German was the first martyr of the Papua New Guinea highlands - slain at Bedume in Upper Simbu over a dispute about a pig killed by another priest, Fr van Baar SVD.

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