3 - PAUL OATES
It was only in the mid-1950s that the first supermarket opened. Refrigerators were either not obtainable or too expensive.
Most of my primary school days were spent at the local school my mother also attended which, during World War II, doubled as a casualty dressing station.
My mother made her way as a Voluntary Aid Detachment person when the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour. She met my father during the war. He was a country boy, an officer in the Army.
The high school where I obtained my Leaving Certificate was the semi-modern equivalent of a 19th century English public school. We wore a 19th century military uniform and cadet service was of course obligatory.
There I learned to use a .303 rifle which was handy later working with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
I had no real idea what I wanted to do when I left school and, as many my age did, joined a bank as a lowly paid junior. Each year the work seemed to get more boring and mind numbing.
During my first year, 1966, decimal currency was introduced and that proved very confusing to some senior people who found it almost impossible to adapt from the old pounds, shillings and pence.
I joined the local Citizen Military Unit, a voluntary force affiliated with the Black Watch Scottish infantry regiment. I also spent many a weekend hiking and hunting.
One day the bank showed a free film about the first Mt Hagen Show. I was totally hooked on the idea that I might be of some use working in a challenging job which had a purpose.
It took over a year before the Department of External Territories conducted a recruitment campaign for Assistant Patrol Officers and I was lucky enough to be selected.
To those who maintain that the department only recruited society’s misfits, I’d suggest it’s quite possible as most of those recruited as Assistant Patrol Officers seemed to ‘march to a different drum’.
My training at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) at Mosman in Sydney started with a presentation by ex-District Commissioner Fred Kaad. He had been injured in a plane crash in PNG. Glaring at us ‘newbies’ from his wheelchair with bright blue eyes, a brick red face and flaring sideburns, he told us in no uncertain terms what to expect. There would be no frills he inferred, just hard work.
During our training, we learnt Melanesian, Law, Geography and Government. We also explored the old military fort at Middle Head during lunch times. After our ASOPA training, we were flown to Port Moresby and bussed to Kwikila for our bush training.
We learned police drill and training, local government and office administration plus the more interesting aspects of public works including making culverts and learning about explosives.
It was then off to our districts and field postings. I had been selected to go to the West Sepik but wanted to be where the cattle industry was located. I swapped with another bloke who was dead keen on surfing and knew there was some good surf on the Sepik coast.
He was sent inland to Telefolmin and I ended up in the middle of the Huon Peninsular where very few cows ever trod the limestone karst terrain.
Most of my first two years as an Assistant Patrol Officer was spent on patrol or stationed at a base camp that I had to build out of bush materials.
During that time, I had to become totally familiar with Melanesian, understand law and order issues, supervise the building of an airstrip and connecting roads and cope with whatever I could at my junior level of the everyday myriad duties most Kiaps dealt with.
In this I was assisted by one policeman rostered on a rotational basis from the Patrol Post five hours walk away or a 10 minute flight if I got lucky.
A Kiap’s duties were so different from what most people in Australia would experience, it’s no wonder the vast majority of Australians failed in any way to comprehend just how PNG was being prepared for nationhood.
Returning from my first leave after two years and being promoted to Patrol Officer, I conducted a courtship over the radio telephone with a young lady I met during my time in Australia. We married when I next went on leave and returned to PNG for my third two-year stint.
My time in PNG was enormously rewarding. I enjoyed the challenges it brought and the discussions with the local people about what development was possible. After agreement was reached, you could then just stand up and start without the cloying and annoying necessities of metropolitan bureaucracy.
I attended my Magistrates Training in Moresby in 1972 and was gazetted a magistrate of the Local Court in 1973.
My postings in the Morobe District, as it then was, were Pindiu, Mindik, Kabwum, Aseki, Wau, Sialum and Finschhafen.
After six years on field outstations, I applied for a Training Officer’s job in Moresby, given we now had a small baby and might need the resources a big city could offer.
Whether this was a good move in hindsight is debatable as soon after we moved into our accommodation it was broken into and almost everything we had was stolen. I decided we would have to move back to Australia and left PNG with mixed feelings.
After attempts at working in television and the commercial industry I found, for some reason, the skills acquired in PNG were of little use.
Furthermore, I had no idea at the time that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a friend was involved with an air crash and I had to go to the crash site.
Eventually, I rejoined the Commonwealth public service and moved around a number of departments. I finally ended up in Brisbane after a two year stint on Cocos (Keeling) Islands where I found my PNG experience very useful.
After leaving the Commonwealth and joining the Queensland Department of Emergency Services, I am now semi-retired and look after a small cattle stud.
Every two years, many of the former PNG Kiaps gather to say hello to each other. While some have done very well it is noticeable that our service in PNG is a common bond that will never be broken.
We were changed by the experience and many found it very hard to return and settle down in the society we came from. We will never forget our time in PNG or the PNG people.