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A teacher’s influence

Corporal Kasari & the Gogodala nurse’s red bicycle

Corporal Kasari inspecting police with kiap John McGregor at Olsobip
Corporal Kasari inspecting police with kiap John McGregor at Olsobip, 1968

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Lance Corporal Kasari RN1297 RPNGC was something of a legend in the Western District in the late 1960s.

If you had some rough patrolling to do in the rugged mountains or tumbling rivers in the northern part of the district Corporal Kasari was the man to have at your side.

If it was a routine patrol and you needed someone to run the patrol post while you were away Corporal Kasari was always your first choice.

Patrol Officer John McGregor summed up the good corporal in one of his patrol reports out of Olsobip in 1968:

“Very capable leader of the detachment, who set an excellent example for his subordinates by hard and energetic work. His knowledge of bush craft and initial contact work was very beneficial to the patrol. At this stage, recommendation for promotion to full corporal should be considered”.

I first encountered Kasari at Olsobip when I took over as Officer in Charge in 1969. Despite John’s recommendation he was still a Lance Corporal.

I worked with Kasari at Olsobip, Nomad River and at Balimo, down in the Gogodala swamps. Balimo was the last place I saw him and he was still a Lance Corporal.

At Balimo Corporal Kasari led the investigation into the famous red bicycle heist.

The bicycle belonged to a very feisty little Gogodala nurse at the mission hospital. It was her pride and joy and she was often seen pedalling it at breakneck speed along the muddy road between the mission and the airstrip.

And then one day the bicycle went missing.

The nurse turned up at the sub-district office demanding action. Corporal Kasari was immediately placed in charge and he set out in search of the precious wheely wheel.

This was a big deal in those days. It was something we counted as a major crime in the Western District, thus its carriage was entrusted to our best policeman.

True to his reputation Corporal Kasari returned to the office an hour or so later with the red bicycle.

It was covered in mud and its front wheel was horribly buckled. The eyes of the nurse flamed red to match her bicycle. She demanded legal satisfaction for this outrageous injustice.

The next day Corporal Kasari returned to the office with two very subdued local men in tow. They were immediately placed in protective custody and interviewed.

The nurse was then summoned for a hastily convened court case.

Corporal Kasari had interviewed each man separately and suggested that it was in their best interests to come clean.

I took off my patrol officer hat and donned my local court magistrate hat and heard the case.

It turned out that the two men had imbibed a few too many SP lagers and on the spur of the moment had decided to take the red bicycle for a joy ride.

They were having a great time. One was pedalling and the other was sitting on the handlebars when they crashed hard into a muddy embankment on the road.

With a badly buckled wheel they couldn’t go any further so they tossed the bicycle into the long grass and staggered off home to sleep off their drunken bender.

The court case went quite well. The two men were cowering in the dock as the nurse threw daggers at them with her eyes and Corporal Kasari explained how he had captured them and convinced them to own up to their heinous crime.

With two guilty pleas I considered a fit punishment. Judging by the expression on the nurse’s face, a public flogging perhaps? Maybe hard labour for life.

One thing bothered me though and just before I pronounced sentence I asked Corporal Kasari how he had identified the miscreants.

He looked me in the eye and said, “My grandmother told me.”

“Your grandmother? I didn’t know your grandmother lived in Balimo.”

“She doesn’t kiap, she’s long deceased and is buried in my home village. She came to me in a dream and told me who had stolen the bicycle, those two men, and I went and arrested them.”

Whoops I thought. Maybe Crown Law doesn’t require that little detail and I put my pen down.

I fined the two men ten dollars each and ordered them to buy the nurse a new front wheel. A suitable compromise I thought.

I don’t know what happened to Corporal Kasari in later years and I only thought about him when I set out to write a book about a fictional policeman many years later.

It was then that I realised how little I knew about him and how little I knew about all the other dedicated and loyal policemen I had worked with and relied upon over the years.

If I could go back in time I’d remedy that dilemma.

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Arthur Williams

Phil - A lovely insight into the legalities of rural PNG. It would be great to hear how Cpl Kasari’s career continued.

Having spent three ‘gogos’ (years) in the swamp, it is good to recall the long dry when a nurse could actually ride her bike. In the wet season the red mud would not be conducive to any travel other than in four–wheel drive.

One of my best remembered cops was a short Papuan stationed at Taskul in 1997 when my wife was kidnapped by a convicted but ‘born again’ released gang rapist.

With no colleagues or even willing locals, the lonely cop valiantly tried to arrest the culprit who was now standing on the wharf.

I was pleased to see that PC Goretti would soon have back up as two regulars and a reserve cop were walking towards him. I was standing about 70 metres away watching events unfold.

I saw the newcomers shake hands with the kidnapper and apparently chatting quite amicably. Then the OIC police at Taskul a corporal joined them. "Now we’ll see action," I thought. Not to be!

Soon he and the others were laughing and then I saw the criminal leave them, get on his dinghy and, with his driver, take off.

I was flabbergasted that five policemen were unable to do their duty. The Reserve cop walked back to where I was standing and bloody annoyed I asked him, “Why didn’t you help Goretti arrest that man”

His replied has stuck with me ever since, “Sorry tambu (the cop was a cousin of my wife), he’s my relative!”

I exploded “and so is my wife!” He changed his story at that. “We knew he had weapons on his boat and may have used them!”

My final exasperated remark to that was prophetic, “There were five of you, so you could have overpowered the driver and him before they could use them!”

I write prophetic because a few weeks later the peacefulness of a Saturday afternoon was disturbed by policemen in their dinghy chasing another boat while shooting at the same man who was replying with his shotgun at them.

They were motoring at full speed and so nobody got hit as the 40hp of the police tried to catch the other swerving boat which I think had either two 30hp outboard motors or perhaps it was a 75hp. Both vessels disappeared around Taskul Point and I later learnt that once again he evaded capture.

Justice did catch up though, when after several months of all sorts of crime, he received his second major sentence. This time for murdering his girlfriend with a spear tackle attack into a tarmac road in Kavieng.

The brave policeman was killed one day in Kavieng and I have never heard who killed him but do have my theory.

The policeman was a brave exiled Papuan who tried to live up to the ideal of an active and just policeman many hundreds of miles from his home. Sori tumas brata!

Philip Fitzpatrick

I suspect he might have Garry.

A little bit of intuition, a touch of hunch and putting two and two together is often hard to explain.

He probably slept on it, dreamed about his grandmother and checked it out the next day.

All the cases we heard in the local court were scrutinised by the legal eagles in Port Moresby. Sometimes they reversed our decisions and guilty people went free so you had to word your case records very carefully.

Garry Roche

Phil, a fascinating account, very descriptive, I can almost visualise it as a video.

Concerning the grandmother coming to the corporal in a dream, it reminds me of a case I heard from Milne Bay area.

At one time, on behalf of the Catholic Church, I used to deal with marriage cases. One involved a sailor from Milne Bay who wanted to nullify his marriage.

He told us that while far out at sea he had a powerful dream and saw his wife, who was back on land, getting involved with another man.

When he came back on shore he confronted his wife telling her about his dream, and she admitted her guilt. I was amazed.

However, when I recounted this remarkable tale to another Milne Bay man his response was that the information about the woman’s actions was probably relayed to the sailor by a very close neighbour and the story of the ‘dream’ was a way of deflecting suspicion from the real source of the information.

I wonder whether Corporal Kasari got his information from a more ‘flesh and blood' source?

Robin Lillicrapp

On the other hand, Phil, you do them great honour immortalizing them in print.

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