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20 March 2017


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Was thinking about the government's use of radio for its propaganda and the apparent days of enlightenment which would inevitably happen until we would almost come full circle with ‘false news’ or is it news we don’t want to believe could be true.

In 1970 our plane to Kavieng had been allegedly forced to overnight in Rabaul because of bad weather at the destination. Though it may have been because the old German capital was a much better place for the young hostesses to enjoy some social life rather than the rough old Kavieng Club and there was not even a posh almost white’s-only cinema there unlike the Park Cinema of Rabaul. Kavieng could only offer Bruce Tsang’s ‘fleapit’ as we called such tiny cinemas back in Cardiff.

The next morning we were greeted at the airport by Merv Brightwell. After normal greeting he told us, “Don’t worry it’s all right now!” Away from any radio for the past 24 hours I wondered what horrible event had happened in the District. I later realised he was talking about the ‘Vote for President Johnson’ events some 6 years before.

A night in hot fan only Kavieng Hotel and we were off aboard the MV Theresa May; apparently named after a future British PM.

We, or rather I, soon settled down to life in the islands. One of the early things I did was to consider the production of the ‘Akusi Lavongai’ news sheets that the recently deceased Peter Whitehead or may have been Ves Karnups was using for our government propaganda. It was through those pages that I was introduced to four local personalities.

1 Peter Boss Kiap
2 Walla President of the Lavongai Council an also of TIA
3 Peter Vice president of Lavongai Council
4 Sandi Pro-Govt and strong anti-TIA & a church leader from Narimlaua village.

Quite often either of last two men would seek interviews with Bos-Kiap and would tell him of the stories behind the easy going facade of Lavongai Island village life. Most seem mere tittle-tattle against TIA or Tutukuval Isukal Association which had grown out the Johnson years. Even then they were still the bete noire of the administration.

Thus in the ‘Akusi’ you would find Peter diplomatically attacking some of the gossip of naughty anti-government ideas which secret TIA meetings were allegedly talking about. I had been given files on the most well-known to government characters of the sub-district and the largest file was on President Walla. Others were of Oliva or Bosmailik local heroes of the Johnson era. I absorbed this propaganda before my first forays into my patrolling career.

When I hit the waves and tracks I often asked the question of a villager or Councillor, “Who owns that big coconut plantation?” Because these obviously new plantings near almost every village were not any of the commercial ones listed on our maps.

“Bilong TIA.” was the oft repeated answer.

It soon became clear that contrary to the official government view the TIA members were actually doing the very thing we had been told to look out for and to foster; namely self-sufficiency or small business initiatives. While at the same time our brother Didimen were trying to promote more income for families with expansion of their small coconut gardens.

I once calculated TIA had planted over quarter of a million coconut trees. Father Miller working with the grass roots association had inspired the people to plant and so improve their futures for the next 70 or more years that a well maintained plantation could bear good production.

Ironically I would soon hear how the gossiping VP, had one of the biggest stand of coconut and cocoa that he had inherited through Igua Rangai a ‘bigman’ ancestor whose control of having many wives and their relatives enabled them to cut large swathes of forest and replant with lucrative coconut for him.

I don’t know if it was jealousy, fear of losing his control and bigman status but whatever motivated him he was virulently anti-TIA and it was from his Ward westwards to Umbukul and Au that TIA had not gathered many members.

I soon began to see TIA in a far different light from official policy of it being a cult. Rather it could be the answer for Lavongai’s future development and prosperity built on a sound agricultural base; whereas the anti-TIA gossips and their families were actually harming their own wantoks’ futures; perhaps in the more insidious cult of individual capitalism that I felt was then deemed to failure in the egalitarian traditions of the island.

After a short term as a Kiap I would return to Lavongai as a volunteer to work with the TIA and together we had some happy years of commercial success, which bred jealousy.

Eventually gained notoriety when Sandi, by then my tambu, got publicity for my being ‘anti-government’ when just like China, myself, Father and two prominent TIA officers were accused of being part of a ‘Gang of 4’ spoiling Lavongai.

As Gene Raskin wrote:
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end

Bill, thanks for a good insight into political background of pre-Civil War in Bougainville.

Arriving in Taskul in 1970 I did my maiden patrol travelling in the council’s MV Lavongai around the island. The Vice President Peter Passingan of Baunung ward had not long returned from a government sponsored trip to see the Panguna mine.

At each of the 14 stops he would speak to the villagers, mostly in Tok Ples but sometimes in Tok Pisin, about the giant machines he had seen and the roads, buildings and I guess the wharf.

Sitting listening for almost two weeks to the same story was not the most entertaining for a new-boy like me but atleast I got to see all the island and meet the Councillors who I would soon be expected to ‘Advise’.

I wouldn’t live in Bougainville until ten years later when I managed Karoola plantation. Where local Buka and national politics - corruption would see my inglorious departure. So I never got to see ‘The Mine’

One sentence in your tale stands out for me… ‘The Company can’t afford to have continuing interruptions and would like to find a way of avoiding them even if this involves a greater risk of violence” (A452 1969/2448).’

Em nau, samting tru! It strips aside the gloss and jargon of the recent Mining Conference. It reveals what the giant corporations of this world really think is their God given destiny to exploit the riches of this world with a never satisfied greed for ripping the guts out of the lands throughout the Earth and to hell with the bloody cost to the people and environment they effect.

Only last week the P Courier showed a picture of the Lousie Bay at the Lihir goldmine. The most interesting fact from the picture was the massive piles of overburden and stockpiled ores that have been allowed to be dumped into the ocean. The old beach front has been left a long way from the sea.

Ironically that beach in 1998 was designated a Wildlife Reserve as its warm sands were annually home to female turtles laying their eggs. I suggest if you have time read online the many issues of ‘Lihir I Lamel’ that have some excellent short articles and photos of life on the island from 2005.

Sori tumas!

Unravelling the complexity of the Bougainville situation is indeed a difficult task Bill. Your article above is a valuable contribution.

From it I gain the view that Des Ashton was a reluctant user of Radio Bougainville for political purposes but also a loyal employee of the administration who did what he was told - an unenviable task at best. You, on the other hand, had a different outlook.

My assertion that the administration was supposed to take a 'non-political' stance is based on the generally understood dictum that we kiaps were not allowed to get involved in partisan politics, local or national.

I'm not sure that this was ever formally stated but it was certainly understood by most officers.

Impetus for that view came from things like Tony Voutas' involvement with PANGU. Also, those kiaps given the role of political education officers towards the lead up to self-government were told to be scrupulously non-partisan and to stick to the technical stuff.

It was a loosely understood concept. Many of us, myself included, took great delight in wandering around in PANGU Pati tee-shirts for instance, which in retrospect was not very smart at all.

It was indeed a difficult time for many kiaps, particularly senior ones like yourself. Not only was there the problem in Bougainville but other sticky situations existed on New Britain, the Trobriands and Moresby itself.

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