MY superior officer Malcolm Wright was promoted in 1951 and transferred from Kairuku Sub-District to Bougainville as District Commissioner.
Clarry (C. T.) Healy, Mick (M. J.) Healy’s elder brother, was coming to replace him.
Clarry was 45 and had the same small frame as Mick. They both had become Patrol Officers in the 1920s, but there the similarities ended. Mick dressed in stiff long whites; Clarry wore khaki. Mick was the epitome of respectability; Clarry was bit of a larrikin.
A few months earlier, as Gulf Division District Officer, Clarry had transgressed. He had given alcohol to a native,an illegal act, and had been demoted a rank to Assistant District Officer.
As if that was not sufficient indignity, he was transferred from Kikori to the Central Division where he would report to his younger brother.
He was no longer the supremo in charge of a Papuan Division; he was no longer responsible for the co-ordination of Administration activity and he was no longer the Administrator’s representative.
Even though he was still a power in the land, he was now only going to be responsible for the Kairuku Sub-district.
A Cadet Patrol Officer had ‘blown the whistle’ and caused his fall from grace. I expected him to bear a grudge and give me a hard time, but it did not turn out that way.
Clarry was cynical and was taking it easy, but he was friendly. He expected me to do the cash office and everything else, but I could go where I wanted as long as I was there to close the books at the end of the month.
Clarry liked fishing and shooting and needed company. There was no one else available so I had no option. If I was on the station when he wanted to go somewhere, I went with him, and when he wanted to drink, he came to me.
After the powerhouse had shut down, and the lights had gone out, I would hear his jeep arrive. It was no use hiding, or pretending to be asleep; he would have already drunk enough to be persistent.
He would lurch up the track, calling as he came, “Bill! Bill! Bill! Are you there, Bill? Got a drink, Bill?”
Then it was time to light the kerosene chimney lamp and get him a drink while he settled himself into my favourite deck chair, the one with swing-out arms that he could put his legs on.
Claiming he was frightened of losing his prosthetic eye, he would remove it from it socket and drop it into his drink.
His wife would usually arrive within the hour. She had to scramble down that hill in the dark, watchful for snakes and avoiding potholes and large stones, on a road that was hazardous even in daylight.
Then she had to find the unmarked track leading off the road to my house and negotiate her way through the coconut grove, dodging trunks and fallen fronds as she walked in the dark.
Elaine never came inside but stood at the front gate and called, first to him and then to me, “Bill, I know that bastard is in there, tell him to come out!”
Clarry would urge me to deny his presence and send her away, but the tell-tale jeep was outside and there was nowhere to hide. Eventually they would leave together in the jeep.
On a couple of occasions, Clarry cajoled me into accompanying him on a late-night drive to the Catholic Mission. Perhaps he dreamed of emulating a previous ADO's escapade. Jock (J. S) McLeod was said to have driven to the Mission at night in his jeep circling the residence of the Carmelite nuns, his out-stretched walking stick rattling along the corrugations of the iron perimeter wall.
McLeod may have got away with it; but there was no way that Clarry could do so. He and his wife were devout Catholics. If the Bishop did not hang him out to dry, his wife would have done so.
District Commissioner Mick Healey never visited Kairuku to carry out the mandatory inspections while Malcolm Wright and Clarry were there. Maybe he was avoiding a confrontation but, as soon as he departed on leave, Jim (L. J.) O’Malley arrived to do so. I was not involved but during his visit O'Malley took me aside and gave me a fatherly lecture.
He told me if I got good reports from Clarry it would be bad for my career and if I got bad reports I would equally be damned. He suggested I transfer to another station—to the Goilala—but I would have to defer my home leave for 12 months.
I assumed I would be told to travel to Port Moresby on the fortnightly Catalina flying boat and then on to Tapini by light aircraft, but it was not to be. The orders were clear. There would be an exchange of CPOs between the Goilala and Kairuku. Jack (D. R.) Sarjeant would come to the coast with a mule train and I would return with them to the Goilala.
I had been to Aropokina on the mainland many times but this time I would not be returning to Kairuku. I was travelling with almost all of my possessions; and there weren’t many.
But while my cabin trunk contained few items, it was too cumbersome to be carried on a mule. It was to go by sea to Government Stores in Port Moresby and then by air to Tapini. It never arrived.
Jack Sarjeant was waiting on the wharf at Aropokina, unhappy to have been transferred to the coast. He tersely volunteered the information that mules, muleteers, the police boy and a horse were waiting at the rest house near Kubuna, and went on his way.
The next morning I set out for the Goilala with all the mules laden. Some carried pack-saddles with a patrol box strapped to each side; others carried my gear crammed into saddlebags; the loose item -: buckets, table, chairs and kerosene drums - were stacked on top of the saddles strapped between the side loads.
I had already walked to Oba-Oba on two occasions but this was my first time on horseback. The chain of potholes along the track was still there, filled with soft mud and water, and they got worse as we climbed into the ranges.
The mules ploughed straight through the slosh, but my problem was the big brown stallion that I was supposed to be riding. He pussyfooted around the puddles, always taking the outside edge of the narrow track.
If he were in the lead, he would break into a gallop, or flick his heels and prance, regardless of my attempts to restrain him. A competent horseman would have been able to control the situation, but I could not.
Less than an hour after leaving Oba-Oba, I surrendered. I accepted that the stallion had won. I was saddle sore and tired of perching precariously on the horse, hanging out over the edge of the track with the river now many hundreds of feet below. I decided to walk the rest of the way.
The ridges became higher and higher and the valleys deeper and deeper as we climbed into the range. We sweated up the side of each mountain spur until we reached the spine and then descended into the next valley. There were six major spurs between Oba-Oba and the rest house in the headwaters of the Auga River.
We were now in the Goilala and, soon after we made our overnight stop, villagers arrived with produce from their gardens. I had seen locally grown sweet potato, taro and corn many times before, but never the locally-grown cabbages and English potatoes that they brought.
The women carried their produce in net bags—kiapas in Motu, bilums in Pidgin—woven from a string that they had also made. The bilums hung down their backs, suspended from their heads, by plaited string handles; some carried only one bilum; others had bilums hanging back and front; and others had their baby, carried carefully, suspended in its own dedicated bilum.
The men and women's attire was different from anything that I had ever seen: a narrow waistband with a G-string passing between the legs.
K J Williamson, in 1912, called it a perineum band, and wrote that “it often becomes so crumpled up and creased with wear that the portion passing between the legs dwindles down to about an inch or less in width… The girls and young women, and even sometimes married women who are nursing their babies, can really only be described as being practically naked.” (The Mafulu; Mountain People of British New Guinea, MacMillan, London)
This fashion had changed little in forty years. The G-strings that had been made from stiff local vegetal material were now made from a cotton, trade-store fabric. It was softer and washable but really crumpled and creased—even disappeared from view—a tendency that caused an elderly police corporal to remark, “Ol i kaikai i go!” [‘They are chewing it as they walk’]
We crossed the Auga River by bridge, one of the many that had been built to the standard Goilala design—the concept of Père Dubuy of Ononge, who we shall meet in the next chapter.
It was a simple concept: a single span with two long parallel logs as bearers, straddled by a sawn-timber deck nailed down with deck spokes. A pandanus-thatch roof protected the softwood deck from the rain, and that was a problem.
The people, returning wet and cold from their gardens sheltered under the roof, lit fires on the deck and roasted sweet potatoes in the coals. This could burn holes in the bridge and sometimes destroy it completely.
Other people, while waiting for the rain to ease, might while away time extracting the deck spikes and forging them into knives and spearheads in a fire.
According to the map, the mountain peaks were just above us as we climbed out of the valley but I could see only the muddy trail ahead and make out some trees on the mist-shrouded ridges. Finally we breasted the crest of the divide at the pass, 2,300 metres above sea level.
Our next overnight stop, the rest house at Aromaite village in the Ivane River headwaters, lay almost 1,700 metres below, in the centre of a tight triangle of high mountains: Mt Follodeau (2,670 m.), Mt Champion (3,218 m.), and Mt De Boisemu (3,145 m.).
With only two more days of our journey left, there was light-heartedness in the air as we began the day with a three hour stiff climb to the crest of the divide between the Ivane valley and the Aibala.
At the pass, Speedie’s Gap, the vista changed dramatically. The view ahead was a panorama of the Aibala valley, a deep grassy gorge backed by another massive mountain barrier. Mount Champion was somewhere in the clouds to my right. Now the grades were becoming easier and the climbing was almost over, a gently sloping track following the contours below the ridge line.
Aporota Patrol Post, the last overnight stop, occupied a small pocket-handkerchief of flat land perched 2,130 metres above sea level on the rim of the deep Aibala River gorge. The concave slope hid the valley wall but the river was visible 750 metres below, almost under my feet as I peered over the edge.
The sole expat at Aporota, Bill (W. M.) Purdy was six months my junior and still a Cadet Patrol Officer. He provided me with a hot meal, a warm shower and a bed but I still felt cold even though a fire roared in the open fireplace.
Bill (C. J.) Adamson describing Maini, as it was then called, said the “cold is damnable. What a bastard of a place. I have not been properly warm since I have been here.” (James Sinclair, quoting Adamson’s diaries in Last Frontiers.)
During the evening, Purdy explained that Aporota was an unofficial post. There were another two, Guari in the Kunimaipa and Urun in the Fuyuge. Everybody knew they were there but they did not exist officially.
Without any formal status, they had no authorised establishment of police, no funds and no supply of stores. Their resources were provided from the Tapini allocation and there were never enough police, rations, building materials or funds. Their small detachment of police and the “gaols” were the symbols of law and order.
Like the officers at Guari and Urun, Purdy was not a magistrate but, by arrangement, he heard quasi-court cases and confined people to “gaol”. The court documents were then forwarded to Tapini where the Assistant District Officer, a magistrate, signed them. The warrants theoretically confined the prisoner to Tapini gaol, even though he was confined at the other locations.
The next morning, after a few hours of easy walking, downhill all the way, I could see Tapini in the distance on the other side of the valley. But it would take several more hours fast walking to get there.
The muleteers and the police sang with joy as they started down the zigzag track towards the river. Tapini quickly disappeared from view as we descended. The gorge became narrower and the muleteers’ choruses reverberated from the walls. A stream, cascading down the escarpment on the left, added to the din.
Finally we reached the river. I wanted to ford it and press on up the other side but the muleteers had other ideas. They were going home to their wives and they wanted to be spruced for the occasion. They bathed in the river, sat on rocks to dry themselves in the sun and teased and fluffed their hair with long bamboo combs.
This preening extended for over an hour, then we were off again to climb the 320 metres out of the gorge. There was a further short climb to the small mountain directly in the flight path of Tapini airstrip.
I set off up the airstrip. Even though it was only 1,000 metres long, the top was 200 metres higher than the bottom. Pilots increased power after landing to taxi up and parked transverse to the strip to stop the aircraft running backwards down the hill.
In the 1950’s, the aircraft that served the outposts were low powered, low performance machines with fixed undercarriages and fabric covered airframes and wings: Austers, de Havilland Fox Moths, de Havilland Dragons and Noorydum Norseman.
There was only one way for pilots to approach and land at Tapini. They had to fly up the valley from the south, make a right-angle turn to the left, maintain enough height to clear the hill at the end of the strip and then almost drop to touch down as near as possible to the end of the airstrip.
Further up the valley was a dead end and there was no room to go around. An Auster pilot, Allan Mossman, had tried to find a route up the valley in October 1950 but had crash landed in the stony river bed.
Tapini was the Sub-District headquarters, but in reality it was an isolated inland outpost linked to the outside world by a battery-powered, shortwave radio-transceiver.
It did not have a regular air service; there was no electricity and no reticulated water. There were no motor bikes, no cars, no tractors and no trucks. Because there was no mechanical equipment, the hill that obstructed landings and take-offs could not be removed or reduced.
Assistant District Officer Ron (R. T.) Galloway’s swimming hole, a pool in the station creek, was being enlarged by chunks. Every intending bather was expected to arrive carrying a towel, a detonator and a stick of gelignite and to explode the latter.
One building at the hospital had a corrugated iron roof but only the ADO’s house was built of permanent materials. All of the components - roof, walls, doors, windows, flooring, plumbing and hardware - were flown in by expensive aircraft charters.
Most of Tapini’s buildings were made from local materials, grass or pandanus thatched roofs, plaited cane walls, black palm or plaited cane floors; frame and floor tied together with bush rope or cane. Nails were always in short supply.
The Sub-District Office, roofed with pandanus thatch leaf and with walls and the floor were of woven cane, was being replaced, but work on the new edifice was spasmodic, delayed by the slow arrival of timber for the frame, floor and cladding.
The pitsaw team toiled in the forest behind the station. They had to select a tree, fell it, cut it into workable lengths, dig the pit and erect the platform, position the log and finally saw the planks.
When the Galloways departed, the small expatriate community was reduced to five single men: acting ADO Gus (A.M.) Bottrill, CPOs Brian (B. G.) Wilson and Kitch (C. J.) Banting, medico Dr Vin (V. V.) Zigas, and Medical Assistant Charlie Corbett.
Galloway was packing to go to Australia on leave and in the throes of a formal handover to Bottrill, so I did not see a lot of him. But when I did, I only heard his diatribes about Roy (E. R.) Edwards, a former Patrol Officer and his immediate predecessor in charge of the Sub-District.
Edwards was serving a gaol sentence in Port Moresby and was soon to be released. Galloway seemed obsessed by those past events and by the fear that Edwards would return to the Goilala after his discharge from gaol.
On 29 June 1950, Edwards was convicted in the Supreme Court on a charge of common assault and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Five others charges were dismissed. Eight police constables were imprisoned for terms ranging from two to six months, and sixty convictions were recorded against people associated with a patrol Edwards had led.
The Brisbane Telegraph, reporting Court proceedings, said Edwards had made a native climb a pole and then had a fire lit under it so the man could not get down.
Kou Geru told the Court he was not burnt by the fire but that Edwards had also slapped his face and made him lie in a dead girl’s grave, covering him with leaves. The grave had been opened earlier and the girl’s head removed. (Edwards said that Kou Geru had confessed to killing the girl, Kausisi.)
James Sinclair has written in Kiap that Edwards had set out on 25 October 1949 and was still on patrol when Galloway arrived in Tapini in January 1950. Galloway received allegations and reports of assault, rape and arson and advised Port Moresby. Bishop Andre Sorin MSC also wrote to the Administrator about the affair.
Syd (S. S.) Smith has added details to the story in an unpublished memoir. Smith was posted to the Goilala in 1947 when it was still under the jurisdiction of the District Officer at Kairuku, taking over as a/ADO Goilala in February 1948.
Edwards became O.I.C. after Smith departed on leave in November. Sometime after that, things started to go bad.
Edwards sent a signal to Port Moresby saying he was out of supplies, closing the station, sending the prisoners back to their villages and leaving on patrol with another officer, taking the police with them.
All attempts to contact Tapini by radio failed, and the airstrip was closed by the Department of Civil Aviation.
When Smith returned from leave, he flew to Tapini in a Qantas Fox Moth piloted by Bill Hoskins. The formal explanation was that this was a specially arranged charter carrying “urgently needed medical supplies.”
He was greeted at Tapini by P.O. Gus Bottrill who had just walked in from the coast to find the station deserted. Bottrill said that Edwards had gone in an easterly direction - he had no idea where - and said he had nothing to do with the sign over the office door.
This was written on a board in large letters: “NIL DESPERANDUM NON CABORANDUM”. Pig Latin for, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”.
There was another angle to the Edwards story which was told to me by a priest the following year. The priest said Edwards had set out to solve some of the many outstanding murders and had used forceful methods to obtain confessions.
Edwards had also tried to prevent further murders being committed, the story went, but did not have enough regular police so acquired a small army of local irregulars - Tau’ade men led by Mou of Watagoipa - and with them a retinue of female camp followers.
It was said that this force was respected and was achieving results and many people at the Mission were pleased with this and not particularly concerned about some violence. They were, however, disturbed by Edwards’ entourage of female hangers-on.
I wondered whether Edwards’ superiors at headquarters were at all culpable. Adamson’s confidential warning “expressing misgivings about Edwards’ suitability as a P.O. for the Kunimaipa, or indeed for the Goilala generally” apparently had been ignored.
Perhaps with assistance and adequate funds, Edwards could have mounted a successful defence or a subsequent appeal against his conviction. Perhaps there were factors that may have mitigated the sentence.
Unlike the officers who had served with ANGAU, Edwards had no experience as a kiap, or indeed any administrative training, until he joined the Administration after his discharge from the Army in March 1946.
He had fought an infantry soldier’s war in the 2/27 Battalion in the Middle East (Lybia and Syria), New Guinea (Kokoda, Buna, Gona, Ramu and Shaggy Ridge), and in Borneo, where he was awarded the Military Medal for acts of bravery. (1)
Personally, I wondered about some of the seemingly inconsistent standards: Healy demoted but not prosecuted for a criminal offence; Edwards prosecuted and gaoled for illegal behaviour; Galloway arranging for junior officers to exceed their authority and signing quasi court documents and fraudulent warrants of confinement.
Galloway need not have worried about Edwards returning to the Goilala. After he was discharged from Bomana Gaol, he started a new career as a crocodile shooter on the Papuan west coast, where he was joined by his former Tau’ade (Goilala) associates.
Subsequently, he took over Adamson’s Ou-Ou Creek Plantation, near Kairuku, where more Tau’ades joined him.
There was another strange Galloway episode that occurred during my first week at Tapini.
Someone had arranged for a group of young people - six young men and seven young women - to fly in from Port Moresby for a camping weekend. (The extra female was a lass that Kunimaipa-based CPO Peter O’Sullivan had met in Port Moresby.)
Bottrill led the foray to organise a camp spot at the Loloipa River bridge in the next valley, a two-hour walk and climb away. O’Sullivan and I assisted to set up the camp site and used three overlapping lightweight tarpaulins, aligned as a longhouse.
On the last day when the group was due to return to Tapini, one of the girls was unwell and unable to walk. Bottrill asked me to go to Tapini and come back with a mule and saddle.
At Tapini, Galloway was not concerned with the girl’s welfare but said, somewhat crudely, that the native people would think the girl could not walk because of too much sexual activity, and he refused me permission to take a mule.
I headed back to the Loloipa camp but arranged for a muleteer to follow with a mule and saddle. I crossed the Aibala-Loloipa divide three times that day—two hours each way.
That evening at the final fling at the Medical Assistant’s house, Peter O’Sullivan had joined the sick list so I danced the night away with his lady friend.
Thirty years later, at a conference in French Polynesia, I was fronted by a couple from the Australian delegation, a parliamentarian and his wife. She asked if I remembered her and he seemed miffed when I said I did.
He was even more upset when I addressed her by her maiden name. A few weeks later, she sent me a collection of photos. One of them was this photo taken at the bridge over the Loloipa River.
(1) Recommendation for the award of a Military Medal to Corporal Edgar Edwards SX9684 (courtesy Australian War Memorial). "Cpl Edwards landed at Balikpapan on 1 July 1945 as leader of one of the assault Coys [Companies] and encountered a strong enemy post 500 yards from the beach. Moving his section to within 100 yards of the enemy although suffering from mortar bomb blast he directed the sections fire inflicting at least three casualties and by skillful handling of his section he forced the enemy to vacate their position with further casualties. On 10 July he destroyed a small enemy party with hand grenades in the Manggar area. Cpl. Edwards has shown bravery and devotion to duty in all the campaigns in which his Bt has participated."
Photographs & illustrations
Tapini and airstrip taken from the ridge behind the station on the way up the track to the Aibala/Loloipa divide (Bill Brown)
Map of the Goilala indicating places mentioned in Chapter 6 (Bill Brown)
Looking down from the saddle to a river far below. One of the less frightening experience as the track was wider and the stallion not perched right on the edge (Bill Brown)
Buying food. Note the narrow waistbands, bilums and bare thighs (Bill Brown)
Two women bringing food climb the track, both laden with bilums. The woman in the foreground is prepared for rain and wears a bark cloak. The woman behind carries sugar cane in the topmost bilum (Bill Brown)
Looking across from the Aibala River gorge from the track leading down the Oro spur. The flat shelf of land mid-photo is Tapini airstrip. The ridge beyond is part of the Aibala/Loloipa divide (Bill Brown)
Looking down Tapini airstrip, with the Sub-District Office complex on the left and the hospital on the far left. The airstrip slopes down to the hill at the end with Oro spur in the distant background. Aircraft must take off downhill, become airborne before the hill and quickly turn hard right after take-off. The valley to the left is a dead-end (Bill Brown)
(1) The Sub-District Office and Government Store complex built of pandanus thatch and plaited cane. (2) Hospital and doctor's residence. (3) Patrol Officer's house built on stilts of all local material except for the sawn-timber floor (Bill Brown)
A man with burn-scarred back who was said to have been branded with a glowing stick used by a member of Edwards' party to extract a confession, August 1951 (Bill Brown)
Visitors from Port Moresby with Bill Brown, all intent on brushing their teeth in the Loloipa River two hours walk from Tapini. The bridge is a typical Dubuy design Goilala structure (DHM)