MELBOURNE - I had stayed on in Papua New Guinea after independence but at the end of 1981 decided to leave despite an offer to sign on for a further three years.
The view that the kiap system ceased at independence is not correct. It continued during those six years, but with subtle changes.
Around the time of independence there were two points of view about our service: that of the radical minority at the University of PNG, who saw little or no good in it; and that of the rural majority who were not listened to.
But, as I said, the change was gradual and the rural people soon gained the idea that it was business as usual.
Before my time in PNG, the department that included the kiaps had changed its name from ‘Native Affairs’ to ‘District Administration’.
I was originally employed with the time-honoured title of Cadet Patrol Officer but shortly after this was changed to Assistant Patrol Officer, which aligned with the designation of national officers who were being trained as junior kiaps.
Then the Department of District Administration disappeared and was absorbed into the Department of the Administrator. But little changed for us in the bush.
In the final run to independence, the powers-that-be separated the kiaps into two groups: one more or less us corresponding to our historic field duties and, with the creation of the Office of Local Government, the other being designated as Council Advisors, who were separated and removed from direct control by senior field staff.
Also at about the same time, a decision was made to remove kiaps’ police powers in places where a regular Royal PNG Constabulary officer was based. Now these powers could be exercised only outside regular police districts.
With the decision to move towards independence, all government departments recognised that more national officers needed to be promoted into senior positions and Localisation Sections were established to accelerate this process.
Oh, and there was another name change for the department, which became responsible to the Chief Minister.
But the kiap system continued. Independence came and went, many colleagues departed for ‘south’ but it was business as usual except for some minor operating procedures – and name changes.
Districts became Provinces, Sub-districts became Districts, District Commissioners became Provincial Commissioners, and Assistant District Commissioners became District Officers-in-Charge.
The provinces then became “self-governing” under a Provincial Assembly that initially comprised the members of the former Provincial Regional Councils’ Assembly. A constitution was adopted and elections held. A Provincial Secretary became responsible for the employment of all public servants in the province.
But the kiaps continued in the same role that they always had.
My last field posting in 1979 was as District Officer-in-Charge of the Saidor District in the Madang Province. My last position was as District Officer at the provincial headquarters in Madang working as the Executive Officer to the Administrative Secretary.
On 31 December 1981 when my contract expired and I left PNG, the kiap system was still alive and well. My guess is that it slowly dwindled and disappeared.
My relationships with the people of PNG were always straightforward and overwhelmingly benign, although I can recall being annoyed on one occasion when a village did not appear for its rostered turn to work on the construction of Derim airstrip.
I sought out the Councillor and told him in no uncertain terms that I expected his people to attend, which they duly did.
I don’t believe that I went red in the face and I certainly didn’t shit my pants.