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Chief Minister Somare’s dramatic visit to Bougainville in 1973

Michael Somare  Angoram  1973
Michael Somare in 1973

KEITH JACKSON | Extracts from his Radio Bougainville diary

TUE 2 JAN

Lyall Newby, Director of the Department of Information and Extension Services (DIES), rang and, amongst other matters, complained that other Territory departments were starting to take over traditional functions of DIES and that staff from our department were transferring to these better paid positions. I suppose he needed someone to grumble to but we haven’t experienced the problem at Radio Bougainville.

WED 3 JAN

There’s a rumour abroad that a Highlander was shot and killed with a bow and arrow by a Dapera villager. It is unfounded but 30 Highlanders went to Arawa Hospital and demanded to see the “body”. Arawa market was tense during the morning and police were present. There were also reports of conflict but nothing happened.

The police asked us to run a story scotching the rumour about the "death". After consulting with District Commissioner Bill Brown I decided a news report would exacerbate rather than assuage fears. So we canned the story. It will be used later if a deteriorating situation makes it necessary.

Barry Middlemiss, Australian-born secretary of secessionist group Napidakoe Navitu, told me MP Paul Lapun had been “foolish” in taking a stand against Navitu’s resolutions opposing Michael Somare’s pending visit. He expects demonstrators would meet Somare wherever he went in the Kieta-Arawa area. I also believe Navitu officials are trying to organise protests at Boku and Wakunai.

FRI 6 JAN

Middlemiss rang and said Napidakoe Navitu had reversed its decision on not wanting Somare to visit. Demonstrations, he said, would be “silent protests”.

SAT 7 JAN

Kieta Council president John Dakeni gave me a press release on meetings he’d had with Napidakoe Navitu about Somare’s visit. However, he would not detail what plans had been made for action against Somare. Middlemiss had told me such plans would be passed by word of mouth – not through the media.

MON 9 JAN

The Chief Minister is now in Bougainville. Joseph Kariup, our freelance correspondent in Buka, rang through with a first class voice report of Somare’s arrival and first day in Buka. I decided to pay him a bonus at the equivalent rate for three stories ($2.25).

TUE 9 JAN

To Aropa airport in the afternoon. Somare arrived at about a quarter to four. There were no demonstrators. Met our reporter Luke Umbo, who is travelling with him, and arranged to have a discussion with Somare at Davara Motel later in the day. When I did, Somare agreed to give a talk on Radio Bougainville on Saturday reviewing his visit.

I was told of an incident where a Bougainville Copper village relations officer, Bill Birkett, gate crashed a cocktail party for Somare at Buka and abused him for “not opening the mine”. Birkett, who is leaving the company next month, will be flown to Kieta to apologise to the Chief Minister.

WED 10 JAN

An estimated 2,000 people attended a fiery four-hour meeting with Somare outside Kieta sub-district office. I was there for the duration and phoned a story to Moresby. More stories were sent through during the afternoon. I wrote a 68-liner for our local bulletin and Aloysius Nase prepared a 40 minute special program put to air at 8 pm.

A Wabag man has been found murdered near Nairovi. Seems like a payback by Tolais for a man who was killed in Kieta at Christmas.

THU 11 JAN

Controller of Broadcasting Jim Leigh rang about the killing of the Wabag man. I told him we had run facts of the story but would not be revealing ethnicity of killer(s) if and when they were found. We’ve had so many rumours recently that it pays to run factual stories when they’re available. At the same time it seems like good policy to ignore rumours except where they pose a threat to public order.

It was a dramatic afternoon with Somare flown out of Panguna by helicopter after MP Paul Lapun and Father John Momis expressed fears for his safety. I got the story from Gus Smales of the Melbourne Herald and an AAP journo and phoned it to Central News Room in Port Moresby in time for the afternoon transmission to all stations.

It seems 80 villagers carrying weapons had appeared at the Panguna minesite and the meeting was cancelled. Somare departed leaving behind many resentful people. The men said they intended the Chief Minister no harm and the weapons were symbolic.

The more considered view now is that the cancellation of the Panguna meeting and Somare’s premature departure was a mistake.

FRI 12 JAN

Early call from headquarters about my story on Somare at Panguna. HQ concerned about inconsistencies with the ABC version. These were more apparent than real and the Post-Courier report seemingly confirms my report.

Leigh rang and said a contact of his in Moresby told him that Western Highlanders here are planning payback for death of a Laiagam man. Checked with the acting District Officer but he had heard nothing.

SAT 13 JAN

Arrived at Davara Motel about 11.15 am preparatory to arrival of Chief Minister Somare who was about two hours late. Eventually he turned up and I had lunch with him and recorded a 12 minute talk reviewing his visit to Bougainville. He also invited me to dinner and drinks tonight.

As Somare entered the Davara dining room he was angered when a European called out, “Look at that kanaka in a laplap”. It did not develop into more of an issue – although it easily could have. Some of the expats brought in by the copper company are deadbeats.

Alexis Sarei

Later in 1973 Dr Alexis Sarei became Bougainville's first indigenous district commissioner. Read his obituary here

I sat next to Alexis Sarei at dinner. We had an animated discussion about many different things including Kivung Bilong Wailis (our radio forum devoted entirely to listeners' letters on current political and social issues) which he said was sometimes unnecessarily harsh. I said this was true, but that was also how people wrote.

I told him I was reluctant to censor listeners, especially given the station’s previous reputation, but that there is a standing instruction that letters be toned down if necessary. This is done from time to time but I suppose it could be exercised with more precision.

Alexis was a wonderful dinner companion; we had a great discussion about politics, with self-government now just around the corner.

Part way through our conversation, I headed for the toilet. Midstream, a guy I didn’t know sidled alongside me and said hoarsely, “Be careful what you say, you’re a government officer” and quickly disappeared. I presumed he was a spook, but he wasn't either of the two Kieta-based officers, who I know well.

Footnote: More than 46 years later I still don't know the identity of my pissoir visitor. There were three intelligence agencies in Papua New Guinea at the time - Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Police Special Branch and an outfit operating within the kiaps' department. I must remember to ask Bill Brown - KJ

Comments

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Corney Korokan Alone

Interesting to read. Makes it even more interesting given the fact that I have been reading quite a bit about foreign spies and cyber warfare in the age of digitisation.

Same old tricks adopting new delivery methods.

Malcolm Nance's 'The Plot to destroy democracy' (available on Amazon) is a frightening read on how Russia did her bit in the 2016 US general election and other elections around the world.

William Dunlop

Alan - I think you will find that Jim Leigh was more than well qualified to speak on that matter to Lyall Newby.

Allan Kidston

Seeing those names again (Lyall Newby and Jim Leigh) reminded me of a small period of my time as a techo at DIES which involved duplicating tapes from ASIO agents for dispatch to External Territories in Canberra.

I would on occasions record people from ASIO detailing current issues (they would never give me their name, though everybody knew it!) and duplicate those recordings for Canberra.

I was cleared to do these recordings by ASIO but each time I did so Lyall Newby would quiz me about it!

In the end Controller of Broadcasting Jim Leigh heard about this (I was concerned not to refuse a Department head!) and he spoke to Newby who never harassed me again.

I cannot remember the content of those recordings, just another recording for me at that time (I did not keep a diary)

[Sings "strange days indeed, Mama"]

Geoff Hancock

I don't recall where I got your e-mail address from Richard. Allyn Hicks may know.

Richard Jones

You've confirmed, Phil, what I had long believed to be true.

That spookdom in Moresby and elsewhere would have been plagued with bumbling and inept report writing.

And you mentioned that an individual's political leanings were central to employment and advancement. The more right-wing the better --- almost to a man (and woman) they would have been fervent supporters of Ming Menzies.

KJ would be well aware that there's a few ex-spooks (do they ever hand in their badges??) who pen the odd article here but more frequently add their thoughts to the comments section.

One such lad contacted me a year or four ago and remarked after an electronic exchange "that someone had to do it."That was, to keep spookdom rolling.

How he'd got one of my e-mail addressed I can only guess. Used his electronic monitoring skills, maybe?

But many careers in the PNG Public Service must have been placed on hold, promotions thwarted by - as Phil so eloquently puts it - garbage and misinformation about people's private political leanings forwarded by the resident Konedobu spooks.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Like a lot of kiaps stationed near the border with Irian Jaya (Indonesian Papua) I was seconded to Port Moresby to work in what was variously called the Security and Intelligence Branch in the late 1960s and 70s.

The job was ostensibly that of a cipher clerk coding messages from within PNG and between Port Moresby and Canberra.

I suspect that there was an element of indoctrination involved and that we were also under personal scrutiny regarding our political leanings.

From our point of view it was an excellent opportunity to have a good time and play up a bit in Port Moresby. Why it wasn't realised this would be the case defeats me.

I was quickly deemed unsuitable and bundled off back to the bush.

My short experience did give me an insight into the incredibly amateurish and bumbling world of spookdom in Port Moresby and Canberra however.

Some of the garbage and misinformation I coded and sent to Canberra was amazing.

No doubt there are still Australian spooks in PNG and no doubt they are still providing Canberra with highly inaccurate and misleading information.

How else can you explain Australia's current blundering in the Pacific region?

Bill Brown

Re the spooks. When Dave Moorhouse, District Officer, seconded to the Administrator’s Department, volunteered for to serve in Bougainville in June 1969 we knew he was a ‘plant’, but decided that he could craft our sitreps [situation reports].

Kieta already had a police Special Branch Inspector, Stuart Hulbert. Moorhouse became superspook, and later an exkiap’s wife, a patrol officer and two others joined the flock; each of them covertly reporting their individual interpretations of gossip and events.

These references will help readers wanting further information:

https://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2008/09/amplification-of-events-on-bougainville-1973.html

https://asopa.typepad.com/files/some-flaws-in-the-shards---bill-brown-1.pdf
_________

People interested in the modern history of Bougainville will find both of Bill's papers fascinating and worthwhile reading. They also augment, clarify and correct some misapprehensions that I diarised at the time - KJ

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