BY MALUM NALU
I’VE HAD the
privilege of browsing through the unpublished autobiography and patrol diaries
of Graham Pople, former kiap and Member for Gumine in the first PNG House of
Simply titled The
Popleography, it gives a fascinating insight into life in the far-off
pre-independence days of PNG’s political infancy.
It’s an honest-to-god article by a maverick kiap,
reminiscing about the hard yards and seat-of-pants rides washed along by beer
in those amazing colonial days.
Pople was elected to the first House along with a motley
crew of other MPs including legendary Sepik River
crocodile hunter, John Pasquarelli, John Stuntz, Ian Downs, Barry Holloway, Ron
Neville, Graham Gilmore, Horrie Niall, John Guise, Paul Lapun, Lepani Watson
and Mathias Toliman.
Now 75 and a PNG citizen (he received his papers from Sir
John Guise on Independence Day 1975), Pople runs the Weigh In Hotel at Konedobu.
He says he put the document together at the behest of his children.
Drop in at the Weigh In any day of the week and chances
are you’ll meet Pople at the bar, as animated as in his kiap days. He’ll give
you a comprehensive history lesson about PNG.
Born in Armidale,
New South Wales on 14 March 1935,
in 1956 Pople came across an advertisement for cadet patrol officers to seek a life
of adventure in the “dark unknown” – PNG.
He applied, was accepted and, in March 1956, departed on a
Qantas DC4 for a land that would become his home.
Pople served in exotic places such as the thriving Daru, from
where he patrolled the Western District and ventured across the border into the
then Dutch New Guinea, the Western Highlands and the Eastern
Highlands (including Chimbu).
The Popleography makes one realise
how far PNG has gone backwards, especially with towns like Daru, Minj, Banj and
Kainantu now shocking skeletons of their glory days.
Pople writes of Kainantu in the 1960s:
Kainantu was a lovely little town
in the early ‘60s and was thriving based many coffee plantations being
established in the area and also of gold.
Kainantu had been the centre of
gold rushes in the early 1930s and Ted Ubank and Noel Stagg, two prospectors
from that era, were still mining in the area.
Ken Rehder also operated a small
gold mine at Binamarien as an adjunct to his two small coffee plantations.
The Summer Institute of
Linguistics had their PNG headquarters at Ukarumpa, just over the hill from
Kainantu – some five miles or so away – which was also where the Aiyura
agricultural station was established.
So there was a quite large, for a
sub-district office, non-indigenous population in the area.
Kainantu had its own airstrip,
and the town had grown up around this feature, with the district office on the
northern side and the hospital at the southern western end.
There was a nine-hole golf course
with a very well-frequented club house.
A hotel sat on a knoll above the
This was managed by a Dutch
couple who were very hospitable.
The Salvation Army were active in
the area also.
Out on the road to Okapa they had
a block of land on some 200 acres where they were growing potatoes commercially
and where they held Bible classes.
In Kainantu itself they had a
small station where there were two nursing sisters who assisted in running the
hospital, assisting the doctor and the medical assistant.
It was a growing town and there
were several commercial businesses in the town itself.
Jan Boij and his brother ton had
a service station, which included a trade store and they later built a
butcher’s shop there.
I think, from memory, they may
also have had a small bakery operating.
Jack Scurrah ran a store on
behalf of Buntings, while Dick Miellear also had a store and associated
businesses including trucking.
Burns Philp also ran the main
store for the township.
The government was well
represented with the Native Affairs staff, medical staff, an agricultural
officer, one or two education officers, a mechanic, a policeman, a labour
officer, a district officer/clerk and probably some others who I have
But based on coffee, gold and
government services, Kainantu was a bustling and growing township.
The residents proudly called it
‘The Mile-High Gateway to the Highlands’ as
its elevation was allegedly 5, 280 feet above sea level.
On the road towards Goroka, the
Lutheran Mission had quite a big station, named Raipinka, which they had
established in the early 1930s and had developed since.
In those days, the New
Guinea side of the country, being a Trust Territory
was constantly under the watchful eye of the United Nations, which decided the
country should be pushed towards self-government and independence.
To placate the UN, and to evidence that Australia was
aware of the need for political evolution, a national election was planned. At
the time, Pople was the senior Administration official at Gumine. He was asked
by the local people to represent them in parliament and was elected.
He recalls that none of the new Members seemed to know
what they were supposed to do or what their powers were.
“The clique of ex patrol officers stuck pretty well
together and had some experience. The rank-and-file members looked to this
group for guidance,” Pople says.
“But we were all tyros, with the exception of the few that
had some experience in the Legislative Assembly, and most of us thought it
would prove to be a rewarding experience.
“Unfortunately, the records that I kept of newspaper
clippings and other articles in which I featured during the period of my
occupancy of the House of Assembly, 1964-68, have been destroyed, and I have
nothing to which I can refer except for a very fallible memory.”
Pople believes self-government and independence came too
“My own personal view is that the declaration of
self-government was early but could have been handled okay if the interval
before independence could have been lengthened,” he says.
“More emphasis should have been in the 1960s and 1970s in
educating more senior public servants from the national sector.
“They should have been educated at universities and
similar institutions overseas to get the necessary exposure to other cultures
and people from other countries in similar positions from countries faced with
similar development problems.
“But this was not to be and the establishment of the
University of PNG in the late 1960s then made it obligatory, from a point of
pride, that all training would take place in-country and so our potential
leaders, lost that opportunity of exposure to other cultures which could have
made a big difference to our development.
“I know that there are many people, mainly academics, who
would oppose my point of view, claiming it was more essential to develop a
national identity, but these are my personal views for the information of my
“Despite the early declaration of independence and the
paucity of training for future leaders, PNG has now been independent since
1975, and we are all aware of how the country is faring and has fared.
“But would later independence with the training I
suggested have made any difference?
“No one knows and it is impossible to tell, and so it is a
Source: This article
is a slightly edited version of one that was originally published in ‘The National’
Top photo: 'Pacific Islands Monthly'. Lower photo: 'The National'