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02 January 2017


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I ran across my first educated policeman at Nomad about 1971. Up until then most of the cops I had worked with had minimal education. Some of them had been pulled out of the kalabus at the end of their gaol terms and put in uniform.

The new guys out of Bomana were a breath of fresh air. Very professional and efficient.

I wholly agree that the RPNGC gets a bad press. When you consider the shit they have got to put up with it's a wonder they don't react more.

I know a couple of ex-coppers who were forced out of the RPNGC after running foul of politicians. One ex-detective has been a great source of information for the Inspector Metau books

I note Peter Turner's comments with great interest. Broadly speaking, I think that he is right in his critique of my piece.

However, I am going to plead poetic licence here, so as to absolve myself of the necessity to acknowledge that dedication, inspiration and a great deal of perspiration were also in the mix for most kiaps.

Similarly, my point about a collective decision is not that every one initially contacted by kiaps immediately decided to get with the program.

They did so after various experiences ranging from being shot through to seeing that the kiaps could and would enforce laws designed to create a safer and more peaceful life for them.

The critical thing is that, instead of embarking upon an action replay of the Zulu Wars, the people made a pragmatic decision to acquiesce to the demands of the kiaps.

Sure, this decision was often initially motivated by fear of the kiap and the accompanying police fire power, but this usually dissipated once the true nature of the administration's intentions became clear.

That was why Peter and I, both unarmed, could attend the weekly market at Koroba in 1971, all the while surrounded by warriors who in past times would have promptly killed us.

As to the RPNGC, I have good reason to be thankful for the support and protection afforded to me by the many experienced officers who accompanied me on patrol. On at least one occasion, they saved my life.

However, the RPNGC was essentially the creation of the kiaps and so I feel justified in saying that a few hundred of us effectively governed most of PNG. Peter has, quite rightly, pointed out that this statement really should be qualified but I reckon my point is sufficiently valid for the purposes of my article.

Anyway, I am pleased to see your various comments. It seems to me that many of them support my central argument about how PNG might just be a useful role model for dealing with the shock of the new.

The Okie migration to California in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Woody Guthrie's Do Re Mi and Deportee are also classic examples.

Very nice points, Chris & Paul. PNG never had the chance or given the chance to finds it own path. Instead, western concept of "democracy" was imposed on PNG. There is merit in revisiting man aspects of the "Melanesian Way" principles which are based on relationship/community based concepts. As you know, once the tooth paste is out of the tube...not easy putting the stuff back in.

Hi Chris,

Another excellent piece.

'You touch on many interesting points and, as usual provide acute and informed prognostication. Not bad for the 'naive, semi-educated idiot' that this 'naive, semi-educated idiot' met briefly at Koroba in 1971.

May I introduce comment on one small section?

"Now, I am amazed by the intelligence, resilience, fortitude and adaptability with which the Papua New Guinean people embraced the changes imposed upon them. Their collective decision to go with the changes rather than blindly oppose them are what made it possible for a mere handful of kiaps to exert control over the country."

I couldn't agree more with paragraph one, but I dunno about your view that there was a 'collective decision' to 'go with the changes' as it does not quite gel with the correct observation that the changes were imposed upon them.

In the past 45 years that I have been an active participant in the Law and Justice Sector in PNG it seems to me that the people, in different areas, as 'Government Influence" expanded, made a collective decision, sometimes years and geographical locations apart "to go with the changes", because 'we' and our Policemen insisted on it, 'imposed' it. 'It' being the 'Rule of Law'.

Papua and the Islands saw much change introduced between the Wars, sometimes after pitched battles and in some cases prolongued 'resistance', though the Momase Hinterland and Highlands post-War, experienced much less intransigence to the new ways.

Of course it took some mobs longer than others to wake up to the realities of those situations that were "imposed" upon them. For instance the Moge Clans of Mt. Hagen abandoned tribal fighting 20 years before their neighbours the Jiga and Yamuga Clans did, and it took another 10-15 years before Nebilyer, Baiyer, Wapenamanda and some Simbu Districts, settled down. (The Moges collectively, are now the wealthiest Clan group in PNG, though the other Hagen Groups are not far behind).

The 'brave few hundred' (as well as their Agricultural, Works and Medical colleagues) definitely included a few 'adventurers, misfits and restless souls', God knows, but I did not meet many who did not quickly get over their adventurousness and the 'unsuitables' were usually weeded out (but not always, I'm still here).

The Kiaps Honour Roll contains a long list of those who put themselves 'in harms way 'in the line of duty, and the overall results were not those usually achieved by 'adventurers, misfits and restless souls'. Dedication, Inspiration, and Committment were much more in evidence, not to mention 'Perspiration'.

These qualities were also evident in the few thousand Policemen who did the actual 'ímposing', and, just as in yesteryear, I do not meet many 'adventurers, misfits and restless souls' in the Constabulary.

Only allegations against Police are publicized, not how many die in the service, are Tertiary qualified or have Masters Degrees, the pretty reasonable arrest and case solving rate, or how many Policewomen are now serving. (Not enough, but soon 20% of the Constabulary will be female,and then the continuing changes, improvement and upgrading taking place within the Force, will become much more evident).

"What made it possible for for a mere handful of kiaps to exert control over the country" was their Police, and if sometimes the 'blue machine'(that we created and moulded) goes off the rails, most times it seems to get the job done.

One of Churchill's most oft repeated maxims was "The thing is..... you have to get the job done!"

That is the essence and meaning of Duty. Not everyone understands the meaning of Duty, especially that duty which sometimes places one in mortal peril. This is the situation for Law Enforcement in PNG on a far more frequent basis than in the developed world.

The most common offence committed in PNG is not assault, or spouse bashing (there are just as many men bashed by women, as the other way round) it is 'resisting arrest' and our Coppers better be up to the job or they get 'done'. This makes for 'complaints' by outraged drunken, violent offenders, when they regain consciousness, and sober up. Cest la Vie!

There is a finite capability of anyone to understand our fast changing world we live in and how to cope with each new successive tsunami of social engineering and political interference (read blundering around in search of something new and tangible to indicate something is actually being done by those who imagine they are in charge of us).

There is indeed a growing view that our political leaders haven’t got any idea of what to do or how to do it. Is this an indication that our civilisation is inevitably collapsing or that the ‘global village’ is actually not being managed by any central figure and is suffering from the internal conflicts of those who seek mega wealth at the expense of their fellow humans? It’s much like any PNG village in reality.

Having just returned from some extensive travel in Europe it would seem that the latest European Empire, the EU, is in danger of falling apart primarily due to the internal national tensions and aspirations of its composite components. In this aspect, today’s PNG is simply following what could be seen as normal human group behaviour.

In any collection of disparate elements, there will be those who seek influence and potential control. In Europe over the last 20 years the German economy took off after reunification as many thought it would. Certainly Russia was of that opinion which is why Stalin justified his country taking over Eastern Europe for nearly 50 years.

The decision of Germany’s Merkel to then to offer a welcome to over a million people from mainly Muslim countries was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. EU states and nations who were not as well off as Germany and had been chafing under German domination now saw themselves swamped by more foreigners than they knew what to do with and given the EU’s open boarders, had no control over who was entering their country and demanding asylum and services.

PNG provides a microcosm of similar examples dating back from where the urban drift started after the second world war. If greater Port Morseby has a population around one million as claimed by some, many of those residents are not ethically allied with the local Papuan population and have set up compounds where their own ‘wantoks’ can associate. Lae has had similar problems and has suffered recently from ethnic conflicts.

Is it any wonder that people are turning to those who sprout populist slogans and profess to know the answer to their society’s problems. If PNG were to follow the EU situation, there is potential for the loosely formed amalgam of disparate ethnicities to further fragment and follow where Bougainville appears to be heading.

If the further fragmentation of PNG happens, the potential for Australia to have a similar situation to that of today’s Europe could well happen and very soon at that. All it will take is the inability of island people to feed themselves and to seek a better life in a neighbouring country, seen as flowing with the proverbial ‘milk and honey’. Human history has many examples of where this has happened and quite recently at that.

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