NOW that the contribution of the kiaps to the development of Papua New Guinea has been reluctantly recognised with the award of the Police Overseas Service Medal, it is perhaps timely to take the debate a little further and engage in some objective analysis.
Not much of the latter has occurred to date and, where it has, it has tended to be superficial or adjunct to other themes.
It is one thing to assemble a catalogue of historical events and another to deduct its import, place it in context and try to learn from it.
The timing is right because there are still old kiaps around and, very importantly, Papua New Guineans who were subject to their rule.
All the raw data, including facts and figures, are sitting waiting, courtesy of writers and chroniclers like James Sinclair. All that is missing is the analysis of what it all meant.
Here, rightly or wrongly, are a few observations to illustrate what I think is a legitimate need.
The kiap system was largely inherited from the British and, to a lesser extent, the Germans. These colonial powers had a common objective for their far-flung empires – to extract as much profit as they could, both materially and geo-politically, with an absolutely minimal input.
If you think they established colonies out of the goodness of their hearts to benefit the local inhabitants you are naïve.
It is a well-tried system and one that the neo-colonialists and globalisers still use.
For the colonial bosses, sending supposedly multi-talented officers with minimal resources to the colonies to facilitate exploitation was a cheap and effective method.
Whether Australia saw its task in this way is something that needs to be examined. My suspicion, based on its miserly approach, suggests it was so.
Were we ‘colonial officers’ therefore all dupes, albeit willing ones?
If this was the case, one must ask what the Australian government hoped to get out of Papua New Guinea. Was it geo-political advantage with PNG seen in terms of a buffer zone or were there other motives.
We fought the Japanese in PNG and any military strategist, especially American, will tell you it is always desirable to fight one’s wars on foreign soil.
And why was the Australian government so deeply annoyed by apparently humane administrators like Sir Hubert Murray?
If the Australian government had purely altruistic motives surely it should have been sending in teams of experts rather than lone kiaps. A patrol post should have had an Australian police officer, a health worker, teachers, engineers and all the encumbrances that go with them, including adequate budgets, rather than, in many cases, a single lone young kiap with minimal resources.
It is to their everlasting credit that these young men coped so well but was it really fair on them? I think not.
Perhaps if the resources had been freely available, Papua New Guinea might have been in a much better position when Australia, under pressure from the comically idealistic United Nations, decided it was all too hard and bailed out. This is a question that still begs an answer.
I’ve still got a copy of an advertisement (above) very similar to the one I responded to in 1966. The spin doctors who put it together knew exactly what they were doing. It appealed directly to the sense of adventure bubbling in many young men of my age stuck in boring jobs in banks and the public service.
Nowhere did the advertisement mention carrying the can for a mean and exploitive government. That we fell for the spin is now history.
Of course, the Australian government had some advantage over the British. In British colonies their cadres of district officers were made up of what they would have called second rate material.
They didn’t have to take the second rate, although this didn’t stop some critics levelling this charge anyway.
This is all grist for the mill of historical and political analysis. Whether anyone, including government, would be prepared to indulge in such analysis after all these years is another question.
Ideally it should be Papua New Guinea based, but I think we all know where that idea would lead.