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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 20 - Bougainville landfall

The  Brown family  Michael  Pamela  David & Bill
The Brown family in 1966 - Michael, Pamela, David and Bill

BILL BROWN MBE

At the author’s request, this chapter is presented out of sequence. The intermediate chapters (17-19) will be published soon

THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES – It was 1966, the family and I had just returned from six months’ leave in Australia and I had resumed duty at Maprik in the Sepik District.

It was then that incidents in Bougainville and a government report changed the course of my career.

The incidents related to opposition to the mining exploration activities of Conzinc Riotinto Australia. The report, on the same issue, related to the January 1966 visit to the site of a possible mine at Panguna by the Director of Lands, Surveys and Mines.

The Director, DS Grove (1), himself a former kiap, wrote that critical problems were not being addressed and that the Assistant District Commissioner at Kieta, Max (MJ) Denehy (2), was over-committed and had no experienced field staff to assist him.

He said that Denehy was due for leave at the end of the year, but after four terms at Kieta “it would not be in [Denehy’s] own interests or the interests of the Administration that he return for a fifth [term].” The Director of District Administration, JK McCarthy, should post an experienced officer to Kieta to understudy Denehy, tackle the land issues and take over from Denehy when he departed on leave.

Four months later on 25 May 1966, McCarthy wrote to the District Commissioner Sepik District, “You are no doubt aware of the possibility of large-scale mineral development in the Kieta area of Bougainville District and of the importance which the Commonwealth Government and the Administration attach to this project.

“There are various local factors and problems involved in this possible development which require that an additional experienced and capable officer of this Department be posted to the District, and I am under direction to arrange an early posting of such an officer. After close consideration, therefore, I have decided to transfer Mr WT Brown, District Officer, from your District to [the] Bougainville District for duty in the Kieta Sub-District."

I had been stationed in the Sepik for 11 years. I knew nothing of CRA or its activities and little of Bougainville, but early in the morning on 2 June 1966, District Commissioner Ted Hicks came on the radio to tell me that I had been transferred to Kieta. I was required urgently. When we were packed, a Caribou aircraft would fly us there.

It had all begun in 1963 when CRA geologist Ken Phillips drew the company’s attention to the government geologists’ reports (Fisher in 1936 and Thompson in 1962) about the copper and gold deposits in the mountains behind Kieta: at Kupei, Pumkuna and Moroni—the pre-war mining sites. The search was on. The company needed to find an ore body that was large enough to warrant commercial development.

Bougainville showing main towns
Bougainville District in the 1960s showing main towns

Phillips visited Bougainville in February 1964 and met with ADC Denehy. That discussion was Denehy’s introduction to CRA and their prospecting arm Conzinc Riotinto Exploration (CRAE).

Denehy would become more involved with them during the next three years and perhaps a little besotted by the economic opportunity they appeared to offer to the Bougainville people.

Even though he had reverted from acting Assistant District Officer to Patrol Officer, Denehy must have thought that he was escaping to paradise when he was posted to Kieta in 1958. He had spent the previous three terms in the Papuan Gulf: at Ihu Patrol Post, Kerema and Kikori.

Bougainville was a green and verdant island with pristine beaches, an aqua-blue sea, and fringing coral reefs. It had a fortnightly air service from Rabaul. A Catalina flying boat carrying freezer meat, mail and the occasional passenger landed in the roadstead between Pok Pok (Tautsina) Island and the peninsula.

Burns Philp’s MV Tulagi, calling at six-weekly intervals to load copra, provided the opportunity to indent vegetables and frozen meats from the Australian mainland at Australian prices.

Denehy, his wife and child were absent on the New Guinea mainland when Phillips returned to commence the search in April 1964. Andrew Melville, a junior Patrol Officer still in his first term, was in charge.

He met with Phillips, and for some inexplicable reason provided an escort—a police constable—to accompany the CRAE team into the mountains. That gesture would have indicated to the local people that the party had official status, even though it was not intended to do so.

Latvian-born geochemist Edgar Muceniakas and the two young field assistants were fresh from Australia; they had no New Guinea experience and did not understand Tok Pisin. Phillips had been “a few weeks in the bush just out of Moresby and about two months at Porgera in the Western Highlands in 1963 … whose population was primitive and non-Pidgin speaking.”

Neville (NC) Robinson, on loan from his government employment as Senior Field Assistant (Native Mining), accompanied the newcomers to help them communicate, obtain food and move from place to place.

After four weeks with Phillips and his team, Robinson resumed his government role and set out for Atamo village to help the local people engaged in alluvial mining for gold.

He didn’t get very far. Just outside CRA's area of operations, at Boira—an Eivo village in the foothills on the left bank of the Pinei—the people assumed he was on CRA business and refused to allow him to proceed. It was the first of many instances of the Bougainville people striving to confine CRA activities to the Panguna area.

In the discussion that followed, CRA’s Clem Knight (from Melbourne) and Phillips “outlined the difficulties encountered with the native people and expressed their concern … they considered that complete native co-operation was a basic necessity for the mining development on the scale envisaged by CRA.”

Robinson said that “a patrol officer should be attached to CRA”. Deputy District Commissioner Des (DJ) Clancy (3) did not agree, stating: “word would be sent to the native leaders from all the villages concerned to assemble in Kieta and the whole situation explained and clarified.…

“Officers of the Department of Native Affairs would assume all responsibility for the [future] trouble-free movement of the CRA party thus relieving the Division of Mines of this responsibility.”

Maybe Clancy had his tongue in his cheek. Only two years earlier in February 1962 when Hahalis villagers had defied a party of three Patrol Officers and 10 police attempting to make arrests, he had led a party comprising an expatriate police officer and 70 other ranks in a second attempt. They too were chased out of the village.

Those same villagers then confronted a force of more than 500 police. If that was their reaction against a $2 head tax, how much more opposition could be expected to the invasion of their land by prospectors?

Denehy was keeping close tabs on the events, sending Cadet Patrol Officer Bob (RG) Godden (4) to the area to ascertain if there was any change in the attitude of the people towards CRA activities. After 19 days in the area in January 1965 and 23 days in February-March Godden reported that there was no evidence of friction or animosity.

CRAE’s Director of Operations, Haddon King, and maybe Denehy, was not so sanguine.  On 31 March, Haddon King wrote to Sir Donald Cleland, “one of the Administration's problems is to satisfy the leaders of the indigenous people that it is in their interest to grant these extensive prospecting rights, and perhaps later mining rights....

“In the course of this discussion, the suggestion has arisen that this company might sponsor a visit by up to six Bougainville people to selected mining areas in Australia … accompanied by someone who has the confidence of the Bougainville people … someone like Mr Denehy."

Sepik to Bougainville
The Brown family's journey from the Sepik to Bougainville

Four months later, in July 1965, the flare-ups began. Angry villagers from the Mainoki area, eight hours' walk to the south-west of Panguna, were determined to prevent any CRA intrusion on their land, and forced a stream-sampling team to beat a hasty retreat.

Within days, and nearer home, a particular incident was of more concern. A cement survey post that marked a corner common to all four CRA’s leases was removed from its location.

CRA’s four lease applications, crafted on a map in far-away Melbourne, had a common corner that turned out to be located in the middle of Musinau village. Corners had to be marked by labelled posts and trenches dug to indicate the direction of the boundaries.

The people watched the invaders enter their village carrying a heavy cement post and they watched as the surveyor established the post’s position with his sextant.

That night, the people mulled over all that had transpired and decided the company was attempting to steal their land. The next day they unearthed the post and returned it to Panguna.

Perhaps it was that last event that overcame Canberra’s reluctance to approve the proposed company-sponsored tour to Australia. Denehy left with five Bougainville men in September 1965. Only two, Miringtoro Taroa of Musinau and Severinus Ampaoi of Dapera, president of Kieta Council, were from the prospecting area. The other three tourists were councillors from afar: Kenananai from Nagovis, president of the Bana Council, Moiku from Buin Council and Ionai from Kieta Council.

During the course of the visit to Australia, the Bougainvilleans made three requests of Department of Territories’ officials in Canberra: a share of mineral and timber royalties to be paid to landowners; companies to contribute 25% of profits to a Bougainville development fund; and a greater proportion of Administration expenditure to be made in Bougainville. Nobody said no and they returned home satisfied.

The Minister for Territories, Cedric (‘Ceb’) Barnes arrived in Kieta on 11 February 1966 and in just two days at public meetings at Kieta and Panguna he dashed the hopes of all the people who were anticipating gaining personal, family and district wealth from Panguna.

Patrol Officer Andrew Melville remembered the meeting at Kieta when the Minister told the people that, while the mine would not benefit them directly, it was going to do wonders for all the people of Papua New Guinea.

He was asked, ‘The mine may not be of benefit to us old guys, but what about our children and our children's children? What is it going to do for them?'

Barnes replied: 'It is not going to do anything for you, for your children or for your grandchildren, but it is going to do wonders for the people of Papua and New Guinea as a whole.’

Haddon King, quoting from a memo he wrote on 15 March 1966, claimed, “The effects [of the Minister’s statements] on CRA’s activities were dramatic: Three days later trees were felled across a helicopter pad; two days after this, surveyors met opposition in cutting lines west of the area being drilled…

“The geologist in charge was told by the landowners that they wished to see mining activity confined to the area of present activities (about one-mile square) until they had the opportunity to see the effects of mining on the land, and also what they would get out of it. A few days later our present area of activities was surrounded by tambu (keep out) signs."

Cadet Patrol Officer Peter Steele
Peter Steele

King’s view that the Minister’s statement triggered the disruption may have been simplistic. Two days prior to Barnes’ arrival, Cadet Patrol Officer Peter Steele (5) at Dapena-Larenai in the Guava area was told that people wanted no interference by the company; they owned the land and therefore the copper and they did not want the company to take it away and leave their children with nothing. They refused to accept that the minerals did not belong to the people.

The Musinau villagers made headlines again at the end of May 1966 when a hunting party from the village stumbled across a CRA fly camp in their forest and pulled it down. The CRA employees, confronted by five angry villagers said to be armed with bows and arrows, radioed for a helicopter help and were evacuated.

When Denehy put the villagers in gaol for a month Paul Lapun, the Member for Southern Bougainville, speaking in parliament, said that the five had not been armed and he asked did they not have the right to protect their land?

Reporting the incident to Canberra by telephone on Sunday 30 May 1966, Administrator Cleland said, “A good Native Affairs man, Mr Max [sic] Brown, has been sent over to Bougainville to assist Mr Denihy [sic], the Native Affairs man in the area.”   Some confused soul had given me Denehy's first name and misspelt his surname.

We were supposed to fly out of Maprik airstrip in a Caribou—a STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft—to fly direct to Bougainville. The Caribou never came.

We had been living out of suitcases for eight days when on 14 June, two Norseman aircraft—single-engined and sluggish—began shuttling our 33 crates, and burlap-wrapped bundles to the main Wewak airport at Boram where they were manhandled into the waiting Douglas Dakota—the cargo version of the DC3.

Our mankimasta Suni, his wife Clara and their two children, my wife Pamela, our sons (Michael, almost six, and David, three) and I followed with last-minute items: half a dozen fowls and Ulupu the cat (a present from Divine Word missionary, Father Knorr) semi-secured in plaited coconut frond baskets; our soiled clothes; and the previous night's bed linen.

After an unscheduled landing at Madang to have a leaking propeller oil seal repaired, the pilots diverted to Rabaul claiming they were “out of hours”. They were determined to avoid an overnight stay in Kieta.

So what had been touted as a direct six-hour flight took two days before we landed on the grass airstrip at Aropa, 22 kilometres from Kieta town. We stood under an aircraft’s wing sheltering from the burning sun until Greg Wall arrived and took us to Aropa plantation.

More than an hour later, Denehy drove up in a LandRover along with the Bougainville District Commissioner, Pat Mollison (6). Mollison exchanged pleasantries before boarding the aircraft we had arrived in to fly back to his headquarters at Sohano. He did not visit Kieta again but maintained a peripheral involvement with CRA affairs until his departure on leave.

Kieta from the air
Kieta from the air and nearby landmarks and  features

Maps, Images & Notes

Maps

Map 1 – Bougainville District in the 1960s showing main towns (Bill Brown)

Map 2 – Bill and family’s journey from the Sepik to Bougainville (Bill Brown)

Images

Photo 1 - The Brown family in 1966 – Michael, Pamela, David and Bill

Photo 2 - Peter Steele, Cadet Patrol Officer, Kieta 1966

Photo 3 - Beautiful Kieta from the air. (1) Arovo Island. (2) Bakawari Island. (3) Outer reef. (4) Tautsina or Pok Pok Island. (5) Kieta Harbour. (6) Bobuan, CRA's initial coastal base. (7) Pidia village (Tiny Wendt, CRA)

Notes

1 - Donald Stuart Grove, son of an eminent Methodist clergyman, probably mirrored some of his father’s traits. He was friendly but reserved, did not drink or smoke, was almost prim and proper (something of a paradox as a kiap) but was liked and respected. During World War II he had served with the AIF in the Middle East and as a lieutenant in ANGAU. He became Patrol Officer in October 1946 and was posted to Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands. He completed the first two-year Diploma Course at ASOPA and served in Northern District as ADO Tufi and in Milne Bay as ADO Esa’ala before being posted to headquarters.

2 - Maxwell Joseph Denehy had served with 2/7th AIF Battalion in the Aitape campaign during the Pacific War and was wounded, shot in the right shoulder. He became a Cadet Patrol Officer in November 1946 and served in the Sepik and Madang Districts before attending the two-year Diploma Course at the ASOPA in 1952-53. He then spent three terms in the Papuan Gulf at Ihu Patrol Post, Kerema and Kikori before being posted to Kieta in 1958. Although taciturn and sardonic, Denehy was highly respected by his confreres and staff.

3 - Desmond James (Des) Clancy served in the Royal Australian Air Force from September 1943 until discharged as a Sergeant pilot in May 1945. He became a Patrol Officer in May 1946 and, after a period in the Western District, was involved in the re-opening of the pre-war station at Lake Kutubu. Clancy played a major role in the early post-war exploration of the Southern Highlands and led what kiap and author James Sinclair described as “one of the greatest patrols ever made in PNG”. He served as District Officer in the Sepik District prior to being posted to Bougainville as District Commissioner early in 1961. He was a big, suave man with a ready smile, a twinkling eye and more than a touch of Irish blarney. Phillips described him as a conciliator; others described him as a two-fisted man.

4 - Robert George Godden was in his twentieth year and had been a Cadet Patrol Officer for almost 18 months when he was tasked with ascertaining the reaction of the people in the prospecting area. Godden completed one term as a kiap then returned to Australia. As a Detective Inspector in the New South Wales Police, he was involved in a number of notable cases including the backpacker murders.

5 - Peter Donald Steele was 19-years old and had been a Cadet Patrol Officer for just over a year when he undertook his first solo patrol to the Guava area in February 1966. After one term as a kiap, he returned to Australia to pursue a teaching career.

6 - Patrick John Mollison became a Patrol Officer in 1936 and served as a Coastwatcher and a liaison officer with the US patrol boats in World War II. In the post-war years, he served in New Britain, New Ireland and Manus and was appointed a District Commissioner in 1957. At Bougainville, his last outstation posting, he created no waves and was said to avoid the trouble spots. He was affable and avuncular and enjoyed his daily visit to the small Sohano club, but was said to have short arms and deep pockets.

Comments

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Peter Salmon

It's interesting to ponder that our Aussie enslavement to British law and the concept of crown mineral rights led to this tragic situation in Bougainville.

What would have happened under an American administration of the trust territory and their law in relation to mineral rights? I'm not holding a flag up for the Yanks, they come with their baggage as well.

Chris Overland struggles with (1) the question of the likelihood of Bougainville autonomy/independence; and (2) adequate profit sharing by a mine operator.

As I commented in an Attitude article months ago, I struggle to see the "Gnomes of Zurich" funding the re-establishment of the mine without "Sovereign Guarantee" which I doubt would ever be given by Australia or the like leaving, in my mind, the only means being through state enterprise development by a country like China.

Even a "China" would think twice taking into consideration PNG's inability to guarantee a secure Bougainville to a mine operator and Bougainville's past demonstrated ability to take up arms and take control of their situation even if it means returning community "ground zero" situation.

Paul Oates

Wait till the full potential largess in a latent agreement with say, Chinese miners, is digested by both the PNG and the nascent Bougainville governments.

Take the previous example of the Madang mining situation and impose that on the local Bougainvillians.

What will it take to settle the potential disputes? Another RAMSI? Don't think so. Promise of millions for someone. Yep! But for who?

Chris Overland

In reading Bill's account of happenings on and around Bougainville circa 1966, it seems that senior figures in the administration chose to ignore obvious warning signs that the Panguna mine was likely to generate serious discontent amongst the landowners and other key stakeholders.

The wishes, desires and interests of the local people seem to have been largely ignored or down played, with the distant authorities collectively mesmerised by the prospect of the uncommonly large profits to be made, both for BCL and the nascent PNG government.

We all know what happened next.

Now, many years later, it seems to me that the risk of a similar disaster occurring remains undiminished.

I struggle to persuade myself that any PNG government will willingly let go of an opportunity to benefit from the reopening of the mine in favour of an autonomous or even independent Bougainville.

Also, I struggle to see how any prospective operator of the mine will be willing and able to offer the landowners a sufficiently large share of any profits made that can simultaneously satisfy their aspirations and those of the other shareholders.

It is going to take some exceptional negotiating skills on all sides, combined with a generous dose insight, mutual understanding and compromise, for a viable deal to be struck.

Whether this is possible is a matter of conjecture at the moment, but history does not offer much cause of optimism that such an outcome will be achieved.

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