In 1966, kiap BILL BROWN found himself posted to Bougainville as preparations to develop the Panguna copper and gold mine moved into top gear. He was far from impressed by what he found and by what he was called upon to do…
AFTER two weeks I needed a break. I wanted to see my family and I needed to report to Denehy, even though I had no good news.
The people were not interested in any promises of financial rewards, and their opposition to prospecting was intense.
I predicted there would be violence, and I thought there might even be suicides. Perhaps I surprised Denehy when I said that I intended to visit all the villages in the Guava Division on a formal patrol and that I would update the census in each village.
At the rollcall, when all the people were present, I would be able to explain the law about mining, and I would be certain that the people knew about the changes to the mining legislation that provided for financial rewards to landowners:
….an occupation fee of $1 per acre ($2.47 per hectare) per annum in respect of land actually occupied within Prospecting Authorities, and $2 per acre ($4.94 per hectare) per annum in respect of a Mining Lease.
At the time, I thought the changes to the legislation had been driven by altruism. In fact, CRA had been wooing the Department of Territories since October 1964 with the objective of changing the mining laws (which were designed for relatively small-scale operations) to permit the prospecting and mining of huge areas, and to guarantee a successful prospector the right to a mining title.
The Company’s efforts were successful. On 7 December 1964, Secretary for Territories, [George] Warwick Smith, wrote to the Administrator:
It is considered that experienced and sound financial companies such as CRA should be given every encouragement to carry out large scale prospecting. Once minerals have been found in sufficient quantities … The matter is considered to be of the utmost importance and every effort should be made to ensure that the Ordinances are amended at the next session of the House of Assembly.
In November 1966, after five months in and around Guava village, I needed some helping hands, I needed company and I needed to move into the area where the exploratory drilling was taking place.
Patrol Officer John Dagge at Ambunti and a Senior-Constable from Maprik were plucked out of the Sepik District to join me, and we moved to our new base, a disused, ramshackle house at Barapina in the Kawerong Valley.
Dagge and I were the forerunners of a long line of kiaps, thrown into a situation that we detested; trying to convince the people that, even though they owned the land, they did not own the mineral rights.
That we could live in Guava and move around the Guava Division, sometimes with a few police – sometimes with none, was a testament to the fortitude, forbearance and dignity of the Nasioi people. They maintained that discipline throughout, and they were respected by every kiap that worked with them.
Denehy departed on leave in December 1966, and I inherited the Kieta Sub-District and the CRA operation. Assistant Director [of District Administration] T G Aitchison arrived from Port Moresby on 27 December, disturbing our Christmas–New Year break.
At Canberra’s behest, he had come to find out the facts: what were the real attitudes of the local people in the mining area, and were some Marist priests playing a part in the dispute?
He talked to people in Kieta; I took him to Barapina to speak with Anthony Ampei (Guava), Damien Damen (Irang), Gregory Korpa (Moroni) and their supporters; and he travelled by helicopter around Bougainville, visiting some of the Catholic missions.
Aitchison told me that he thought the operation should be slowed down to allow the people to adjust.
His report to Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs) - that he had told me to advise CRA that the [proposed] Kokorei operation should not proceed if physical resistance [was] offered - was not endorsed; the Assistant Administrator advising Canberra that:
(a) CRA to be encouraged to proceed to the next stage of prospecting, including the location of drills and roads to Kokorei land, and any other land to which native land owners wish to deny the Company access.
(b) The Administration to be prepared to protect Company personnel carrying out these operations, if necessary, with an adequate Police detachment.
An extract from ‘Australians in Papua New Guinea, 1960-1975’, University of Queensland Press, 2014, 352 pp, $38.50. More information here