In the late 1960s, with the Australian government pressing CRA to get on with mining in Bougainville and CRA still assessing feasibility, the district field staff – the kiaps – were caught in a position of having to mediate between their impatient bosses in Canberra and Konedobu and increasingly disgruntled landowners.
An extract from ‘Telefomin and Panguna: A Kiap’s View’ from ‘Australians in Papua New Guinea, 1960-75’, edited by C Spark, S Spark & C Twomey, UQePress
CRA had been pushing Canberra and Moresby to arrange access to mineralised areas at Mainoki, Karato and Atamo from where they had been ejected.
Those areas had to be evaluated before the Company committed to Panguna, and ADO (a new title for those formerly known as senior Patrol Officers) Chris Warrilow and Patrol Officer John Gordon-Kirkby had the job of escorting the geologists to the sites.
Warrilow was responsible for Mainoki and Atamo; Gordon-Kirkby for Karato, and they had their unwritten instructions: there was to be no violence. Warrilow and his colleague Ross Henderson had been transferred from the Highlands to Bougainville in 1967; Gordon-Kirkby had been drafted from Boku – a Buin Patrol Post - for a one-off event.
District Officer Ross Henderson took over at Barapina in October 1967 and was given a multitude of tasks: to try and explain the Company’s continuing changing plans to the people, to protect the people’s interests, to organise the delineation of land ownership boundaries before landmarks were destroyed, to prevent violence, and to keep the peace in a burgeoning – almost Wild West – township.
Henderson spent over three years with that horror, supported variously by Mike Bell, Mike D’Abbs, Brian Dodds, Noel Mathieson, Chris Warrilow, Jim Wellington and Peter Wohlers. They each experienced the opposition to stream sampling, drilling, surveying and the mine.
The people from the villages around the mine were overwhelmed by the destruction. The trees in their forest were poisoned, and then felled by a giant hawser dragline. The undergrowth was sprayed with herbicide, and then every vestige of vegetation burnt in fan-forced fires, accelerated with diesoline.
The ash, soil, rocks and huge boulders were hosed into the streams by a battery of six monitors (water cannon), each ‘fed’ by three bulldozers. One hundred and twenty million cubic metres of soft overburden, followed by the waste rock, were flushed into the Kawerong, thence downstream to destroy the Jaba River environment.
The Guava people were left first with desolation, then with a void: a gaping oval-shaped hole more than 300 metres deep, 2,000 metres long and 5,000 metres wide. A huge part of their heritage had gone forever. Ross Henderson, recorded by Film Australia in July 1969, said:
It did not surprise anyone that the Moronis were angry over the land situation. It is not just a block of dirt to them – it is part of the body and the soul. Their whole social system is based on land. The land is owned by the ancestors now dead, the present occupiers and by the unborn generations to come.
The occupiers have the right to use the land, to lease, but not to destroy. From as early as 1966 we have been telling all the villages as much as we knew of the project … It was difficult even for us to envisage what was going to happen. You can imagine how bewildering it must have been for the Moronis.
John Wakeford, who had replaced Mollison as DC in March 1967, was also concerned about the CRA problems. He visited Kieta once a month, told Headquarters that mining was going to destroy communities, and was replaced by Des Ashton in January 1968.
Ashton thrust himself into the CRA activities, and moved district headquarters from Sohano to Kieta in August. Ian Downs said that Ashton ‘was not easily disturbed by violent situations … not an imaginative man … unimpressed by the awesome political and commercial power of Conzinc Riotinto … prepared to do his duty in any situation to which he was called’.
I had attended the monthly Port Moresby meetings between the Company and the Administration since May 1967; Ashton attended two or three, decided he was being disdained, and did not attend again.
Those meetings were where CRA discussed their progress and their projections, made their demands, and were the scene of solo battles for me until Tom Ellis was appointed Director and came to my support.
Chaired by an Assistant Administrator (Economic Affairs), they were attended by the Treasurer, the Secretary for Law, the Directors of District Administration, the Director of Lands & Mines, someone from the Department of Territories, and by CRA’s Frank Espie and his team from Melbourne.
In August 1968 the company tabled their ‘urgent survey proposals’ covering a band of country stretching from the east coast to the west coast: town site, access road, power transmission line, tailings flume, quarry sites, siltation study and water supply. Those operations would cover an enormous swathe of land, including villages and gardens.
We were allowed eight weeks to explain the proposals to the people, but there were no certainties to explain. The planners, surveyors and all manner of engineers would intrude on the land, cut survey lines, drill soil and rock, take samples, and conduct all sorts of tests – but all to what end?
The company had yet to decide if the project was viable, and, even when the decision was made to go ahead in early 1969, they still did not know where the roads, power lines and other facilities would be located.
New areas of concern were outside the prospecting area: in the Pinei Valley on the east coast, and the Jaba River valley on the west coast, where the tailings would soon become a hazard.
Some of the villages in the Pinei Valley had already put up with the construction of an access road through their land. The new activities would disrupt all the villages as survey lines were cut through their gardens and through their small plantations of coconuts, coffee and cacao, as they would be inspected, and surveyed, in the search for a town site, and as rock outcrops were drilled and blasted in the search for materials.
Five officers were involved in visits, attempting to explain those intrusions, and to dispel distrust. In March 1969 I moved
John Russell-Pell to Pakia so that he would be immediately available to the people. Mike Bell arrived on transfer from the Eastern Highlands in August 1968, and, after a three-day briefing period, moved to the Jaba River headwaters where he lived in a tent for almost 12 months. Bell’s neighbours, the Darenai, first endured him, then threatened to burn him out, and finally accepted that he was there to help them.
The so-called Agreement between CRA and the Administration had a similar trajectory to the amendments to the mining legislation; negotiated with Canberra, endorsed by Cabinet in April 1967, and pushed through the House of Assembly in August.
From the Bougainville perspective, the most significant implications were that it obliged the Administration to provide mining leases over any areas applied for by the Company, and to provide reasonable land requirements for the mining operation.
The Company tabled their requirements at a meeting on 11 February 1969; a staggering area totalling in excess of 57,000 acres (23,000 hectares) for the mine, pipelines, powerlines, port, roads, tailings and the town.
In the Pinei valley, the proposed townsite, an area of 1,000 acres (405 hectares), encompassed Pakia village and gardens. The new two-lane highway would cut a swathe through the coconut, coffee and cocoa groves, while nearby land was said to be required for a garbage dump and industrial waste.
At Rorovana, CRA required 2,000 acres (810 hectares) of native owned land for loading facilities, an overseas wharf, oil storage, a 135-megawatt powerhouse, and a beachfront recreation area.
(In August 1968 CRA had said that ‘Loloho plantation and a small additional area’ would be sufficient for the port, and I had relayed that to the village.)
I was certain that a town could not be located at Pakia without bloodshed. I had said so the previous year, and I said so again. I could not see why Guava village, not even in the Panguna valley, was to be encompassed by the mining lease, and I thought the land grabs at Rorovana, and for the garbage dump, were an outrage.