DAVID Roger Milbourne Marsh OBE, Kiap and District Commissioner, who died on 19 May aged 93, lived a long and distinguished life which was full of achievement.
Papua New Guinea was Marsh’s life and passion. He was truly a nation-builder.
As the ranks of the wartime and early post-war kiaps thin, two verses George Ivanow sent me are especially poignant:
The great mountain ranges with rivers that run raging
The country beneath us folds and falls as we fly in the dusk
A once young Kiap who for years now has been aging
Leaving behind memories that will turn into dust.
May this country remember these men who once ventured
Into the hidden places where most would not go
And there on a ridge line calling aloud to the mountains
Is a Kiap and his policemen who are still on Patrol.
Lieutenant David Marsh (pictured), was a member of ANGAU, the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit, which was formed to provide governance to PNG during World War II.
The Australian War memorial records how he led a party of searchers for six Japanese crewmen who landed three Japanese dive bombers on a beach in Papua in September 1942. The six airmen were subsequently discovered and shot dead while trying to escape.
Chris Overland wrote to PNG Attitude about the David ‘Swampy’ Marsh he knew:
Marsh was my District Commissioner in the Northern Province during the lead up to independence. Being only a humble Patrol Officer, my official dealings with him were few and fleeting, although I did accompany one of his daughters (Susan) to several social occasions and so made his slight acquaintance outside of work.
My enduring image of him was formed when, as sometimes happened, some of the local Orokaiva people became upset about a land issue and arrived en masse at the District Office for a noisy and potentially violent protest.
Swampy walked out of his office on the first floor of the District Office and stood facing the angry crowd at the top of the steps. Several other PO's joined me in taking up strategic but highly defensive positions near the bottom of the stairs, all of us seeking to appear as calm and confident as the DC.
The DC then launched into a long, rather declamatory speech in fluent Motu, the substance of which was that he would investigate the crowd's complaints provided they ceased and desisted from being a riotous assembly.
If they did not cease behaving badly, he advised them that he and his officers would be obliged to arrest them all and throw them in the kalabus. Just how we were going to carry out this mass arrest was not discussed.
Happily, his speech calmed the crowd and they then dispersed back to their villages. It was a bravura performance by a veteran kiap at the top of his game. True to his word, the DC did investigate and resolve their complaints and, if my memory is correct, actually went to the villages concerned to discuss the outcome with them.
It was little wonder that David Marsh enjoyed such high prestige amongst the Orokaiva: a combination of a lively intelligence, experience, exceptional language skills and a certain presence enabled him to exert authority in a way that was quite beyond the rest of us.
David Marsh made an enormous personal contribution to the development of PNG in the pre-independence period and was amongst the most outstanding kiaps of his or any era.
Marsh himself wrote of one of his most important assignments, Michael Somare’s instruction to organise the events surrounding PNG’s independence on 16 September 1975. March had less than three months to pull it all together:
Getting people to join me to get the job done was difficult. It had to be a PNG show, yet there was no expertise amongst the indigenous people, or the government for that matter, and government departments were reluctant to release their senior staff.
There were some early concerns over micro-nationalistic movements and cults that had sprung up, also emotional talk from University students.
But when I had a general picture in my mind of the ceremonies that were required, the people to invite, the security, transport, accommodation, and so on, I gathered a few staunch souls together and started on the detail.
We raised funds from business, organised fireworks for each district and provided cash to ensure activities in all districts. We also paid for the West Indies cricket team to play in Port Moresby and Lae, had an Independence Medal made and issued all sorts of literature and badges.
During the six days of celebrations from 14 - 19 September there were exhibits, church services, sporting events, bands, pageants, formal addresses, dinners and ceremonies.
The two outstanding ceremonies in Port Moresby were the flag lowering ceremony at sunset on 15 September 1975 and the flag raising ceremony the next day.
I selected Sir Hubert Murray Stadium for the flag lowering, as it was the closest possible place to Hanuabada where the British flag was first raised in 1884. That marvellous sunset, together with Sir John Guise’s words “We are lowering this flag, not tearing it down” made for a memorable occasion.
The flag raising ceremony was conducted on Independence Hill, a hill where there had been an anti-aircraft gun during the war defending Wards Strip. It is within sight of the administrative headquarters, Parliament House, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s residence.
At one minute past midnight on 16 September, the Proclamation of Independence was announced by the Governor-General in a radio broadcast, followed by the National Anthem and a 101-gun salute provided by the Royal Australian Navy.
At 9.30 am the flag raising ceremony commenced. Prince Charles inspected the Royal Guard before taking his place on the VIP dais. Cultural groups then handed the PNG flag to the Governor-General who handed it to the Commander of the PNG Defence Force, asking him to raise it on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.
Two chaplains blessed the flag and it was raised at 10 am followed by a fly-past of Royal Australian Air Force and PNG Defence Force aircraft.
Prince Charles unveiled a plaque and joined Sir John Guise and Sir John Kerr in planting trees to commemorate the occasion. The officers in charge of each official occasion did very well and government departments – especially Public Works, the Government Printer and the Department of Information – all rose to the great occasion.
Many people say Independence came too soon, but a country growing up is, to me, just like any family of teenagers wanting to express themselves and resenting parental controls.
When their attitudes and demands reach a point of no return, the parent is wise to modify control and just provide advice when it is requested.
Marsh became Papua New Guinea's last District Commissioner, retiring in 1975 and being honoured with the award of the OBE.
David Marsh was the husband of Alison (deceased), father of Jillian, Susan and Diane and a grandfather and great-grandfather.
With thanks to George Ivanow