Keith Jackson writes: I arrived in Kieta as manager of Radio Bougainville in November 1970 with the simple instruction from my Department of Information headquarters in Port Moresby to “fix the station”, which I had been told was aligned too closely with the Department of District Administration (DDA) and the ‘copper company’ (CRA). This, I was advised, was destroying the station’s relationship with large swathes of its Bougainvillean audience. I spent more than two years in Bougainville repositioning the station and in 1975, in pursuit of an honours degree in political science, wrote about the whole issue of government broadcasting in a monograph entitled Maus Bilong Gavman. In the following article, Bill Brown reflects on that paper in the light of his own contemporaneous experience as DDA’s senior administrator on the island. If you're interested, you can read my original 1975 paper here.
I TRY to avoid responding to Phil Fitzpatrick’s cunningly baited lures but the hook buried in his November 2016 post, ‘Musty, dusty books & the goldmines that lie within’ is too important to ignore.
Phil must have known that he was delving into murky waters when he mused that “a more serious breach of the non-political stance of the service occurred when the District Commissioner of Bougainville, Des Ashton, used the local station, Radio Bougainville, to attack individuals in the community opposed to mining and land alienation.”
Neither the service nor the Administration radio stations had a non-political stance, or even a non-political policy, in the 1960s.
Keith Jackson, despatched to Radio Bougainville in 1970 to address problems the station was encountering with its listeners, knew that and touched upon it, in ‘Maus Bilong Gavman – Political Aspects of Administration Broadcasting 1961–1971’, a treatise he wrote many years ago.
Keith’s paper covered a much broader subject than Administration broadcasting, but his evaluation of its early history was pithy and precise.
In February 1962, the Broadcasting Advisory Committed appointed by Administrator Sir Donald Cleland presented a report saying”
“The underlying principle remained constant. The Administration would use its own broadcasting stations to propagate its own objectives and beliefs to the exclusion, if necessary, of all others.” (Jackson, p10)
Minister for Territories Paul Hasluck had set the tone in 1959 when he “suggested that broadcasting be used to help explain government policies and to contribute to an acceptance of them” (ibid p3) and George Warwick Smith, Secretary for External Territories, had reaffirmed the policy in August 1968, stating that:
“A main objective in establishing Administration broadcasting stations was to provide a direct link of communication between the Administration and the people which the Administration could use as persuasively as possible (without necessarily giving opposing views) so as to obtain understanding and acceptance of the Government’s view.” (Jackson pp25-26)
Keith’s description of his introduction to Radio Bougainville was succinct:
“I arrived in Kieta as the new manager of Radio Bougainville on 5 November 1970. Surprisingly for such a politically-sensitive station, there had been no manager for more than half a year, Sam Piniau having departed early in May after a brief tenure of only tenure three months.…
“The time of my appearance on the scene is a convenient cut-off point for, during 1971, the tide began to turn the station’s way. DIES was developing a new even-handed approach to broadcasting; Bougainville was politically more stable and, to be honest, my own more liberal views, however ill-conceived, all led to a new stance.…
“New policies led to all program material being assessed according to the same criteria, whether it emanated from the District Commissioner or the Napidakoe Navitu. Links with the District Commissioner were loosened and the station attempts to forge new ones with the people. (Jackson, pp42-43)
Perhaps with some bias of my own, I think that there are problems with the brevity and the simplicity of that synopsis, in that it allows incorrect inferences to be drawn about the environment at the time, and about “the links with the District Commissioner”.
There were, in fact, two District Commissioners in Bougainville in November 1970, each responsible for a different geographical area. The central section of Bougainville had been deliberately excised from Ashton’s control when I was appointed District Commissioner (Special Duties) on 6 November 1969 (Government Gazette 62).
In that newly-created role, I became responsible for all those areas of Bougainville that were affected by or going to be affected by CRA activities: the exploration, prospecting and mine construction areas, and the future port, towns, roads, power lines, tailings etc.
Ashton retained the town of Kieta, and the majority of Bougainville. I co-existed with him in the Kieta District Office for two months until, when Arawa became available, I was able move into temporary facilities there on 8 January 1970.
Ashton and I both took our orders and instructions from Port Moresby, but we knew that Canberra was deeply involved, and that many of the directives emanated from there.
That had become clear to me in January 1967, when I was directed by headquarters to telegraph a weekly summary of summary of events to Moresby each Thursday afternoon to allow the Administrator to comply with Canberra’s demand for a report on the Bougainville situation, by telex, at the end of each week (National Archives of Australia A452, 1967/1347).
It became clearer still in May 1967, when I was peremptorily summoned to Canberra to be grilled by a team of Department of Territories officials, and clearer again in June the same year when I was ‘invited’ to attend a Port Moresby meeting of the Administrator’s Public Relations Advisory Committee (A452 1967/3861).
The Department of Territories’ consultants, Brigadier Campbell and fellow psychologist Dr Sinclair, had been equally sure about Canberra’s dominant role when they visited Kieta in 1967 and 1968.
Campbell, former head of the Australian Army Psychology Corps, was said to run the powerful Social Change Advisory Committee which advised the Department and the Minister on significant issues, including Bougainville.
I apologise for the information overload in the brief chronology that follows, but it may contribute to the understanding of that complex time. References with the identifier (A452 19xx/xxxx) are held by the National Archives of Australia. For simplicity, I have used name ‘Department of Territories’ throughout, ignoring the February 1968 name change to ‘Department of External Territories’.
I had been in Bougainville for 18 months when Des (DN) Ashton was promoted to District Commissioner and transferred there in November 1967. Ashton’s predecessor, John (JW) Wakeford, promoted at the same time, had been transferred out of Bougainville - possibly at CRA’s behest.
The Administrator would have approved Ashton’s appointment and Ashton would have been briefed and given detailed riding instructions before he moved. When he arrived in Bougainville and took up residence in Sohano (Buka Passage) in January 1968, Radio Bougainville was on the horizon but some months away.
A year earlier, in January 1967, Administrator David Hay had told a press conference “that the Administration intended to put its views by radio to the Bougainville people on proposed copper-mining on their island … setting up a broadcast station at Kieta to beam in a special program” (Canberra Times, 20 January 1967).
In March 1968, Ashton and I concluded the negotiations for the purchase of a portion of land from the Marist Mission. St Michaels, as it was known, was only five-minutes’ drive from Kieta, between the sea and the swamp on the Aropa side of the Marist mission at Tubiana.
Renamed Toniva, the new suburb was where the new Administration houses would be built and it was where radio technician Peter Bates would erect the transmission antennas for Radio Bougainville, while technicians Ron Nelson and Wayne Wilson were installing the transmitter and a temporary studio in one of the newly erected IMQs. (IMQ being the euphemistic acronym for Indigenous Married Quarter, a tiny sub-standard house with only basic amenities and no flywire.)
The new station manager Geoffrey Heard and his Radio Bougainville crew made the first broadcast from that IMQ while the permanent studio was being completed in downtown Kieta. The town studio, also established in a modified residence (an AR20 diverted from somewhere else in the works program), was completed just in time for the official opening on 20 April 1968.
By 26 May, five weeks after the official opening, District Commissioner Ashton was on the air telling listeners about mining company CRA’s planned activities (A452 1967/3861). Assistant District Officer Chris Warrillow assisted with the translation of the complex explanation from the written English script to Tok Pisin (Warrillow’s Field Officer’s Journal).
Ashton commenced the controversial weekly program, Toktok Bilong Nambawan Kiap (‘The District Commissioner Talks’) on 30 June 1968 and by 11 July he had "made several ... programs in which he has spoken bluntly about several matters" and on 12 August he "recorded a very strong talk" (Jackson, p33).
When Ashton departed on leave at the end of November 1968 and I took over as acting District Commissioner, I declined to be involved with the program and it lapsed. Five months of Toktok Bilong Nambawan Kiap was more than enough. The people did not like it, and neither did I.
I expected to be criticised, because only a month earlier, Brigadier Campbell had reported that:
“The most powerful instrument the Administration has is the BOUGAINVILLE radio. This it should use to mount a propaganda campaign.… While overtly this campaign MUST take the guise of WHITE propaganda, covertly it must be a no-holds-barred communication battle, which should begin NOW.… Radio Bougainville should make full and regular use of the program The DC Speaks” (A452 1968/5430, capitalisation in original).
I did not know, at the time, that the Secretary for Territories had written to the Administrator on 3 December 1968 saying, “The Minister is particularly interested in this [Campbell’s report] and has enquired what steps are being taken to give effect to the suggestions made” (ibid).
I received my first slap on the wrist at a meeting of the Public Relations Advisory Committee in Port Moresby on 8 December 1968 when Lyle Newby (Director of the Department of Information and Extension Servives which ran the radio stations) and his Controller of Broadcasting HH (Jim) Leigh “expressed the view that possibly the maximum use was not being made of Radio Bougainville” (A452 1968/5563 Pt 1).
I had been attended that meeting as Acting District Commissioner Bougainville, and was accompanied by Kieta DDC Rick (RF) Hearne, Buin ADC Mal (M) Lang and Buka ADC Ken (KJP) Hanrahan, who had also been summoned to attend.
We all thought that my response, that ”a ‘saturation’ campaign was not desirable, could be counter-productive and antagonise the people, that a continual ‘trickle’ of information was the best approach, and that letters pro and con secession were being broadcast, with a leaning to those opposing secession” might have ended the matter, but it did not.
In February 1969, Terry White, Executive Officer of the Public Relations Advisory Committee, in his report of a 24 day tour of Bougainville carried out at the direction of the Administrator, concluded that:
“Radio Bougainville should engage in [an] active, intensified and varied political education program.… A ‘trickle of propaganda’ would most likely be ineffective.… Any endeavour to cover up the secessionist views would soon earn the radio station a bad reputation.… Much of the material for the program…. would need to be prepared at the.… headquarters level although although close and continuous co-ordination needed to be maintained between the OIC Radio Bougainville and the District Commissioner” (A452 1968/5563 Pt 1 – emphasis added).
Some of White’s other conclusions were more contentious. Commenting on a suggestion that many Bougainvillean local officers should be transferred out of Bougainville to other districts and replaced by officers from elsewhere in the Territory, he said:
“There would be advantages in such a move if it were gradual and not too obvious. Bougainvilleans in certain positions, eg telegraph and radio operators and possibly in Radio Bougainville, should be replaced by non-Bougainvilleans local officers without delay.… If there is any question of local Bougainvilleans employed at Radio Bougainville engaging in secessionist activities or of sabotaging or endangering the propaganda program they should be transferred to other Districts” (A452 1968/5563 Pt 1).
The Administrator forwarded White’s report to Canberra on 7 March 1969 with the comment: “The report is comprehensive one, and I am in agreement with the conclusions in it” (A452 1968/5563 Pt 1).
The Social Change Advisory Committee had also taken up the matter in a three-day meeting in February 1969, the minutes recording:
“Radio Bougainville is a powerful instrument which MUST effectively be used. The present a/DC should be encouraged to make more personal use of the radio. We consider that a bold and vigorous policy of grasping the nettle when contentious issues arise is better than will be a laissez faire approach” (A452 1969/2443).
The Assistant Administrator, LW (Les Johnston), had chaired the first day’s meeting on 10 February; the Department of Territories’ Assistant Secretary, MA (Tim) Besley, chaired the next two days and Brigadier Campbell was there throughout.
I heard about those minutes again in May 1969, when I was in Canberra with a Territory team for a series of meetings with officials from Territories and CRA. In one of them, a letter that had been drafted to the Administrator for the Secretary’s signature was discussed. The draft requested the Administrator to address what the Department perceived as the failings of DIES and Radio Bougainville in the “Unity Campaign.” Assistant Secretary Mentz’s inter-office memo dated 6 May 1969, written after the discussion, records:
“I have today been in the meetings on the situation in Bougainville situation… the acting DC Brown [DDC] was quite firm that Radio Kieta [Radio Bougainville] was now proving an excellent medium for broadcasting propaganda in support of the Government’s case.
“I was quite impressed with Brown and I do not think we should take this matter further. I do not, therefore, propose to send the memorandum” (A452 1968/5709).
It was in that same series of meetings that CRA applied significant pressure on the Territory Administration, stating:
“Work at three areas - Moroni, the East Coast Road Camp, and the Rorovana Construction Camp – is at present held up by the Administration for political reasons. 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).
Three months later that forceful CRA attitude and its haste to commence construction on Rorovana land would prove to be a major stumbling block for Ashton. He had been directed by the Administrator to control the police operations and given detailed written instructions prepared in draft by the Administrator and revised by Territories’ officials in Canberra with input from Brigadier Campbell.
Ashton scrupulously followed those instructions but, even so, was removed from further responsibilities in the CRA operating areas.
Barry Middlemiss (aka Namel Lus), secretary of the Central Bougainville-based Napiakoe Navitu Association, had been verbally attacking Ashton since the government had announced that the new town would be built on Arawa Plantation, where Middlemiss was employed.
Ashton had not been privy to that decision and had naught to do with it. He had been on leave in Australia for four months when the decision was taken in Canberra in February 1969.
The decision to reject CRA’s proposal to build the town on swathes of village land, and utilise Arawa Plantation instead, may have been influenced by the Public Relations Advisory Committee’s 1967 identification of the plantation as a resettlement place for people displaced by the mine - an event unknown to Ashton and us other lesser mortals (A452 1967/1623).
That was a serious strike against Ashton, as Bele had some clout (he was elected to the PNG House of Assembly at the subsequent 1972 election). He and national parliamentarian Paul Lapun had met with Territories Minister Charles (Ceb) Barnes in Canberra on 19 August 1969 and the pair had a private meeting with prime minister John Gorton and Barnes the following day. (The prime minister had been receiving daily reports on the situation in Bougainville since a request of 9 August 1969 (A552 1969/4123.)
Ashton was due to go on leave in January 1971 and was well aware that he would not be returning to Bougainville. He was allowed to defer his leave his leave until after the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit. I suspect he was not unhappy when he left Bougainville and its troubles for the last time on 20 March 1971.
But the Gods, or department secretary Tom Ellis, were kind. Ashton would spend his last term in another island paradise, Manus.
On reflection, I think that the late Kim E Beasley, Kim C Beasley’s father, probably got it right in his tribute to Gorton delivered in the Australian parliament in 1969:
“The Prime Minister has discovered a formula for settling crises in New Guinea. He finds out what the Department of External Territories has been doing and does the opposite” (The Memoirs of Kim E Beasley, Father of the House, p 136).
1 - Bill Brown in Canberra for talks with the Department of Territories, 1967
2 – District Commissioner Des Ashton congratulating the captain of the Police team, winner of the Bougainville Soccer Association Shield (Bougainville News 5, November 1970)
3 - Bill Brown with his driver and fishing mate William Poto of Lontes village, Buka, on the day they drove the Duke of Edinburgh to Panguna, 18 March 1971
4 - Signing the Arawa land lease documents: (left to right) Tava of Arawa; Bill (WG) Conroy, Director of Agriculture; Bill Brown; Narug of Arawa seated at table (Tiny Wendt, CRA)