BACK in the 1960s the top end of what was then the Western District was a wild and woolly place.
New tribes were still being contacted in the Star and Victor Emmanuel Mountains, the Biami were still carrying out cannibal raids and Indonesian paratroopers were chasing OPM guerrillas across the border in the lead up to the farcical Act of Free Choice for West Papua.
That part of the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea was still very much the domain of the kiap, including a sprinkling of local officers. They were tough and highly competent, the likes of which PNG would not see again.
Among them was Leo Bera, one of the few local officers to score a mention in Kiap, Jim Sinclair’s history of the patrol officers.
When I first met Leo he was whip thin and very confident. What stands out in my mind was the pipe he had tucked into the top of his socks – an affectation adopted by Assistant District Officers and other senior ranks. Patrol Officer Leo Bera clearly had aspirations.
I ran into him again very much later on the Aure Scarp above the Purari River. He was working for InterOil and we jointly undertook a social mapping study among the scattered Kamea (Kukukuku) villages in the area.
By then Leo had developed a comfortable stoutness and a decidedly laid back attitude to life. We kept in contact until a few months ago.
This morning I received an email from Bill McGrath, who owns Pacific Bookhouse on the Gold Coast. Bill wrote:
“My very good friend Leo Bera of Kairuku, Central Province, PNG passed away on Tuesday 15 April 2014 at his house at Kairuku after a short illness.
“Leo became a very respected Deputy District Commissioner in the Australian Administration before and after PNG Independence. He subsequently worked for a number of oil, gas and mining companies in PNG, most notably with myself as co-Lands Supervisor with Chevron Niugini Limited at Moro, Lake Kutubu and more recently with InterOil.
“I found Leo to be a really wonderful person and a very dear friend. Over my years with Chevron, I found I could count on Leo absolutely. He will be sadly missed.”
Perhaps we should leave the last word to Chips Mackellar:
That Last Patrol will call us too, along that well-worn track.
But the difference for this final call, is that we won’t be coming back.
And our parting should not cause you pain. It’s not sad for us to die,
For we shall all soon meet again, in that Patrol Post in the Sky.