History Feed

Mathias's legacy: A major history of the Simbu people emerges


Phil Fitzpatrick and I have long wrung our hands about losing the story of Papua New Guinea’s history - present and past; the loss of true stories not much recorded and not much cared about in this time of change. PNG’s government, caring about its own ego, being more concerned with building a flashy city than creating a grand nation. But now former public servant and latter day author, Mathias Kin –after many years of personal devotion, struggle and expense – is on the cusp of publishing a history of the Simbu people. His has been a monumental achievement and an act of loyalty and love of his own heritage and a recognition that to gift an understanding of this is a legacy to future generations which will inspire and empower them. I hope you will buy this book when it appears in the next few months. And I hope just as much, that many other Papua New Guineans will follow in the footsteps of Mathias and commit to the long and often thankless travail of writing the history of their own people – Keith Jackson

KUNDIAWA - My early childhood in South Chimbu was spent with my fathers, mothers and grandparents in the gardens, hunting for birds along the Wahgi River, fetching water from nearby streams and collecting dry twigs from the bush for the night fires.

In the evenings, lying on those hard wooden beds usually resting my head on my father’s arm in the warmth of the hausman fire, I listened to my fathers and grandfathers talk of their heroic deeds in their former lives.

One of the stories that touched me most was of the killing of many of our people - not many pig-killings back - by a kiap they referred to as Holteru and his policemen at Suanule (Sua Creek). I believe I know the identity of Holteru.

Continue reading "Mathias's legacy: A major history of the Simbu people emerges" »

How the ‘impossible’ Kassam Pass was opened in 1953

Kassam Pass
Panoramic view of the Markham Valley as seen from the Kassam Pass today (Malum Nalu)


An obituary of former District Commissioner Ian Downs in the PNG Post-Courier, mentioned him as “the principal facilitator of the construction of the Highlands Highway.” Stuart Inder in the Sydney Morning Herald had words of similar import. Both are indisputably true. But Kassam Pass, linking the lowland road from Lae to the rudimentary highland road at Kainantu, had to come first - BC

BRISBANE - To set the scene, in 1952 there were few roads in the Eastern Highlands. An old Army track between Goroka and Kainantu had been resurrected, but mostly there were only short tracks fanning out from Goroka used by just a handful of wartime jeeps.

In October that year, Brigadier Don Cleland, on his first visit to the Highlands as Administrator, was convinced by Ian Downs, new in his posting as Eastern Highlands District Commissioner, that a road could be built from the Markham headwaters to Kainantu.

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Getting the numbers: How Somare won the 1972 election

Robert Forster
Robert Forster - author of the just published 'The Northumbrian Kiap'


NORTHUMBRIA - In the 1972 Papua New Guinea elections there were 102 seats in the House of Assembly.

The conservative, anti-independence United Party won 42. Michael Somare’s Pangu Pati won 24.

The United Party was sure it would form the next government, but Pangu Pati expertly put together a coalition.

Iambakey Okuk, a MP from Simbu in the highlands region, played a key role in forming the government that took the country into self-government and independence.

He later became Deputy Prime Minister and, as a minister, worked to reserve sectors of the economy for citizens as a method of returning a complex economic role to Papua New Guineans. He died aged only 41, and is recalled as one of PNG's great independence leaders.

Here is Iambakey Okuk’s own version of how it was done, taken from an address to some university students in 1982.


Continue reading "Getting the numbers: How Somare won the 1972 election" »

Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are

Chimbu Valley
The Chimbu Valley


KUNDIAWA - From the north coast our ancestors climbed into the mountains arriving here in the Chimbu more than 24,000 years ago.

They operated in small groups and freely roamed the vast forests of the time, living by hunting and gathering.

Through natural calamities and feuds with other groups, these early people fragmented and reorganised into new groups and settled on the sides of mountains and in the valleys and farmed the land becoming some of the first people to undertake agriculture in the world.

Then closer to our time today, the advent of kaukau ensured our people settled into more stable communities with domesticated animals.

In the 1930s Australian gold prospectors stumbled upon our remote villages in Karimui and soon after our people saw their first aeroplane flying high in the sky from east to west and back again.

Continue reading "Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are" »

Justice for the Kanakas: Australia’s ‘invisible’ Melanesians

South Sea Islanders  Mackay  1907
South Sea islanders (kanakas) pose in front of a house in Mackay, Queensland, 1907. Kanaka was a Hawaiian word meaning 'human being'

FRANK JORDAN | Australian Humanist

BRISBANE - In 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia came into being with the federation of the Australian colonies. Among the first laws passed by the new Australian parliament was the Pacific Island Labourers Act, ordering the deportation of black Melanesian workers known as kanakas.

Other aspects of what became known as the White Australia Policy have since been rectified, but this shameful stain on our past has yet to be properly addressed.

The process was planned in stages over several years and there were some amendments. In 1901, about 10,000 Pacific islanders were living in Australia. By 1908, the process was officially completed with the closure of the Pacific Island Branch of the Queensland Immigration Department. Just 1,654 kanakas were officially allowed to remain, and around 1,000 stayed on unofficially.

Continue reading "Justice for the Kanakas: Australia’s ‘invisible’ Melanesians" »

Remembering Jack McCarthy: letters of historic importance


Robert Lenton Parer CMG MBE is by adoption and upbringing a man of the West Sepik, a member of a great Australian family which is famous in Papua New Guinean mining and aviation with Rob himself a prominent trader and friend and advocate of that remote corner in the northwest of PNG adjoining the  order of Indonesia West Papua. Franzalbert Joku, a man of West Papua who crossed into PNG as a refugee was, in time, to become a valued citizen of that country and achieved the eminent position of prime minister Sir Julius Chan’s chief of staff. These letters have been edited - KJ

Letter from Rob Parer

BRISBANE - Because of the Indonesian scare, there were a lot of police stationed at the border with an Australian police officer in charge. I was wondering, Franzalbert, if you were in the OPM [Free Papua Movement] camp inland from Wutung in the early 1960s?

The South Pacific Post [now Post-Courier] journalist, old Jack McCarthy, was a friend of mine and the Australian government was trying to stop him getting to the OPM camp. He stayed with me at Aitape on his way to Vanimo and told me he had organised with OPM people at Madang to visit the camp.

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Reviving some of the lost stories of German New Guinea

German native police  1909
German native police on parade in 1909


BRISBANE - I lived most of my life in what was formerly German New Guinea. In Wewak for the first four years of my life and then, after schooling in Australia, in Aitape for the rest of my working days.

In recent years, the history of German New Guinea has become available in books translated from German into English and am learning some astounding information not known by the Aitape people.

For example, I was amazed to find in a 1910-11 report a bridge 165 metres long was planned to be built across the Raihu River and villagers from Wokau, Pro and Lemieng worked tirelessly at felling heavy ironwood logs of and dragging them to the site.

And a permanent public ferry service had been established at rivers and creeks so people could travel dry-shod from Aitape to the great Sissano Lagoon 45 km away. Now, in 2018, long gone.

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Kiaps, national service, Vietnam & military adventurism


An Australian patrol officer with Biami people in the vicinity of Nomad patrol post, 1964

TUMBY BAY - In late 1964 Australia passed the National Service Act. The Act required selected 20-year old men to serve in the army for two years, followed by three years in the Army Reserve.

The Act was amended in 1965 to allow conscripts to serve overseas. The following year the prime minister announced that national servicemen would be sent to Vietnam, where a ferocious war was being fought, to serve with regular Australian army units.

Those eight years when conscription was in force were stressful and confusing for many young men of eligible age, including those in the Territory of Papua New Guinea who weren’t really sure whether they had to register or not.

Young Australian men who were living overseas didn’t have to register. Papua was an Australian territory so young men working there were technically not overseas while New Guinea was a United Nations trust territory and young men there were technically overseas.

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Kiaps: the ‘right types’ who never again quite belonged

Patrol officers course  Port Moresby  1971
Patrol officers course, Port Moresby, 1971


ROBERT FORSTER - The informal group photo of our ASOPA intake at Four Mile Camp in Port Moresby resurfaced about six months ago to illustrate a PNG Attitude article entitled ‘Kiaps: Ol narapela kain man who built a nation’.

We really were a scruffy lot. I have since wondered what the institutionally trained, corporate human resources specialists who police most of today's company recruitment would have made of those trainee kiaps.

There would hardly have been a straightforward CV amongst us. I estimate our age range at 19 to 41, I think 11 of the intake of 39 were married; seven born in the UK, one in Canada and two were Vietnam veterans. Perhaps half had secured a tertiary qualification.

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How New Guinea’s highlanders came to live all over PNG

Boroko Hotel ad from 1969PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Remember the old Boroko Hotel on the corner of Okari Street and Angau Drive and its popular beer garden?

Pictured here is a faded 1969 newspaper advertisement offering its glories – it was a place “where Sportsmen meet” apparently.

It was first opened in 1956 and was added to in a haphazard way in subsequent years. The entrance moved around a fair bit but finally found its niche behind a pretty tropical garden on Okari Street.

By the late 1960s it had become the favourite watering hole for Port Moresby’s highlanders, particularly those from Chimbu.

They called it ‘Two Hundred Yards’ after an illuminated sign up the street that announced you were nearly in reach of a cold SP beer.

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The Highlands Labour Scheme – a personal experience

Junker tri-motor at Wau MATHIAS KIN

KUNDIAWA - In the early 1950s, my father Kin - together with five other people from his Keri Hobelku tribe and more than a hundred other people from other tribes in the Gumine Valley - was contracted to work on a coffee plantation in Bulolo.

A white man came to their village at Deri and recruited them.

From South Chimbu they crossed the Wahgi River on the rope bridge below Yobai to Elimbari, then walked to Nambayiufa and over the Koko Mountains before crossing the Asaro River to Goroka. The walk took three days.

That evening Kin and his friends were given some bad medicine to drink, which he said he did not like at all. Many of them vomited. Kin said that, when they were working at the plantations, the bosses regularly gave them more of the same medicine and they got used to it.

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A particular view of the PNG-Australia relationship

StreetsignKEITH JACKSON | Talk to the Abt PNG lunch, Friday 4 May

PORT MORESBY - These days I publish and edit the PNG Attitude blog, as I have for the past 12 years, as a means of maintaining a conversation between Papua New Guineans and Australians and encouraging people to write about Papua New Guinea, its issues, challenges, heritage, society and stories.

Professor David Kavanamur's invitation to give this talk allowed me to crystallise in my mind many aspects of the PNG-Australia relationship over the half century I have been associated with PNG.

In seeking simplicity and context, I have divided my thoughts into periods that are meaningful to me because of where I was located at various times. In the compressed form required by this talk, I have tagged these periods to the constantly evolving relationship between PNG and Australia over half a century.

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Kiaps, the late colonial rush & muddling through

Kiap badge circa 1988PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Statistics normally don’t interest me that much, especially when they are averaged out in an attempt to represent some sort of generic view or condition among a particular group of people, industry or country.

A few statistics can be very telling however, especially for what they don’t say.

Skipping through the March 1971 colonial Division of District Administration staff lists and isolating the number of local Papua New Guinean kiaps is a case in point.

By 1971 you would have expected the boss kiaps to be contemplating the eminent arrival of self-government (1972) and then independence (1975). You would have thought that by then they would have beefed up the numbers of local kiaps in anticipation of them continuing with the work of government out in the bush.

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The laurabada blows & I long for a true PNG-Australia partnership

Kokoda memorial tabletKEITH JACKSON

PORT MORESBY – The Papua New Guinean capital is green and misty as the end of the wet season nears with the laurabada gusting, signalling that the dry is not far away.

Mosbi groans under its new infrastructure – grand hotels, public buildings, sports stadiums and highways (that only required some pot holes filled) being ripped up and replaced. The city is full of irritated commuters and signs welcoming APEC.

In some ways the scale of activity is impressive in a nation that is nearly broke given that there seems to be no vision beyond the APEC forum - November’s gala event starring Trump, Xi, Modhi, Abe et al and including whoever at the time happens to lead the world’s largest island to the south.

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All round, those Papua New Guinean kiaps had a tough job

Postage stamp
Not the best rendered PNG postage stamp, but it did mark the onset of the first indigenous kiaps


ADELAIDE - I worked with Papua New Guinean kiaps Jack Karukuru and Cedric Tabua, both now deceased I think.

They were intelligent and capable men. Jack went on to become a departmental head but Cedric's ultimate fate is unknown to me.

I always thought that PNG kiaps had a really tough task.

They were being asked to join a colonial force that was designed to impose the rule of a foreign power upon their fellow citizens. There was, amongst some officers within the Department of District Administration, more than a hint of racism with which they had to contend.

Also, it was my impression that it was harder for them to win the confidence of the local people they were working with because they were not automatically covered by the mystical prestige accorded to white kiaps.

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Those tough Chimbu kiaps included the remarkable Joe Nombri

Basil Koe  one of the first trainee kiaps at Finschhafen in 1961
Basil Koe one of the first trainee kiaps at Finschhafen in 1961


KUNDIAWA - The training of Papua New Guineans to become patrol officers was begun by the Department of Native Affairs in 1961 at Finschhafen.

A number of Chimbu men who had completed schooling in the late 1950s and 1960s joined the colonial administration as kiaps.

They included Joseph (Joe) Nombri, John Mua Nilkare, Kimin Poka, John Wawe, Jim Nombri, John Gigmai, Joe Kaugla, Joe Towa, Mathew Towa, Jerry Gerry, Philip Gore, Steven Kume, Otto Olmi, Peter Abba, John Ninkama, Alfred Poka, Philip Opri, John Koma and Joseph Mogna.

It was administration policy not to post local patrol officers or policemen to their home districts to ensure that there were no conflicts of interest.

However, as Papua New Guineans, they had particularly good knowledge of culture, geography and language that made them equal to the task and sometimes better than their Australian counterparts in their primary duties of stopping tribal fights, conducting peace ceremonies, supervising compensations and running elections and censuses.

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50 years ago: A month-long army patrol through Oro & Milne Bay

Boarding the Caribou  Wanigela-NorthernDistrict
D Company 1 PIR boards an Army Caribou at Wanigela in the then Northern District


This letter home was written by then Sergeant Edwinsmith on 8 May 1968. It offers a colourful description of an army patrol in Papua New Guinea pre-independence. In the letter, Sgt Edwinsmith describes a civic action Patrol from Wanigela to Gurney in April 1968 by D Company, 1PIR based at Taurama Barracks

PORT MORESBY - I thought that I would write a long letter to everyone who regularly corresponds with me, at home in Brisbane and South Vietnam, and since I have just arrived ‘ in from the bush’, I have quite a bit, I wish to say, I decided to short cut it and have my ‘ works’ published via the spirit duplicators.

Anyway, the aim of the patrol was to collect information for, a) suitability of road building, b) condition of inhabitants, c) numbers in villages and the size of villages, d) let the people see the Army, since an army patrol had never passed through here before. (Correction! Japanese army and Australian diggers in WWII.)

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Luluai to Councillor – the evolution of local government in Simbu

Luluai  near Chuave  Chimbu  1964
Luluai from south of Chuave, Chimbu, early 1964


KUNDIAWA - After World War II, Papua New Guinea’s colonial Administration, in its attempt to fast track control and pacification of the highlands’ tribes, appointed tribal and clan leaders as official Luluais and Tultuls.

A main tribe made up of many smaller clans would have one Luluai and several assisting Tultuls.

Luluai, in the Kuanua language of the Tolai people of East New Britain, means ‘chief’ while Tultul means a lesser chief or second in command.

My grandfather Nul Bal was made Luluai of the Keri tribe of Simbu in the early 1950s.

The insignia of office was a badge, which was worn on the forehead, and sometimes a cap. The officials were also issued with laplaps.

These Luluais and Tultuls, as agents of the Administration, played leading roles in the fast progress of control and pacification of the tribes. Their main roles were to assist the Administration curb tribal fights and supervise construction of roads, airstrips, houses and other infrastructure in the area.

During the 1950s, Luluais and Tultuls helped recruit males for the Highlands Labour Scheme, which sent workers to many different parts of Papua and New Guinea.

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Bomkop – The time strange objects fell upon Simbu

An unexploded World War II bomb
An unexploded World War II bomb


KUNDIAWA - Apart from a few incidents, World War II had little impact on the highlands of Papua New Guinea. However, there was one tragedy that occurred in Simbu.

This event is remembered well by the people of Elimbari, near Chuave in western Simbu.

Sometime during the war, probably in 1944, an American military aircraft encountering problems while flying over the Central Highland area jettisoned its load of bombs.

The bombs landed near Mount Elimbari in the vicinity of Wangoi village some kilometres east of Monono Lutheran mission station.

One of the bombs exploded on impact but caused no casualties. The other two bombs did not explode and remained in the area.

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On the trail of Dudley McCarthy: he who had the minister’s ear

Sepik River scene
The middle Sepik near Korogo


SYDNEY - I had met Dudley McCarthy at least three times in New Guinea, but it was the two occasions when he was accompanying then Minister for Territories Paul Hasluck—at Wewak in 1962 and at Maprik in 1963—that most interested me.

McCarthy was one of the Assistant Secretaries of the Department of Territories at the time, and he seemed to have the Minister’s ear more than was his due. I wondered why.

I knew he had been a kiap in New Guinea before World War II but did not know when or where or for how long—or, indeed, any of the details of his subsequent career.

Many years later, after much digging, I found a short article entitled ‘Enter a historian’ in The Bulletin magazine of 6 February 1946. It helped a little but not a lot. It read:

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I see; You see - The several sides of history

Dwyer  Leahy 1930.  Ewunga 4th from left in middle rowPHIL FITZPATRICK

“There is a crisis in the writing and teaching of Papua New Guinea history. It is created by the real gap between what is being made available through publication and the needs and demands for a truly autonomous and indigenous history.

“Put in the simplest terms, writers of history continue largely to publish histories dealing with foreigners, or at best, with relations between foreigners and Papua New Guineans or with actions and achievements of Papua New Guineans within a framework of foreign endeavours.

“But the educated and literate minority demands a history which makes known to them their own historical roots in the precolonial past, a history which is about their own people” - Rod Lacey 1981

Image: Dwyer & Leahy 1930. Ewunga is fourth from left in middle row

TUMBY BAY - In 1930 gold prospectors Mick Leahy and Michael Dwyer followed the Markam River and crossed the gap to the Ramu River valley. They then worked their way along several highland rivers, panning for gold, before descending the Purari River to the Papuan Gulf.

Ewunga Goiba, a Waria Valley man from the Morobe Province, accompanied them with a small band of warriors. The bosboi and his clansmen provided protection for the prospectors, organised carriers for them and acted as intermediaries with the new groups they met.

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Before mortgaging our inheritance, we should listen to elders

Sinaka Goava
Sinaka Goava


TUMBY BAY - In October 1973, Sinaka Goava and his eight commissioners submitted the final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters to the Administrator of Papua New Guinea, Les Johnson.

It’s interesting to go back and review the many recommendations made in the report because it formed the basis of current land legislation in PNG, including the Land Group’s Incorporation Act, which APEC Minister Justin Tkatchenko now seems intent on subverting.

Sinaka Goava, the commission’s chairman, was a respected magistrate with his own intriguing back story. Cletus Harepa was deputy and the commissioners were Edric Eupu, Pokwari Kale, Ignatius Kilage, Posa Kilori, Boana Rossi, Donigi Samuel and Philip To Bongolua. John Kup was also briefly a commissioner.

These were all community leaders with a vast knowledge of customary law and how it worked in relation to land.

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When Rev Wilhelm Bergmann met Chief Bongere of Kamaneku

The heart of Kundiawa today
Bergmann's "pretty flat space" - the heart of Kundiawa town today showing the infamous 'aircraft carrier' airstrip


An edited extract from Chapter 3 of ‘A History of Simbu’, a work in progress

KUNDIAWA - “Then we were on a pretty flat space. From that moment we came across the mountains and surveyed the area, I always had this place in mind and also told the others that this could be the station ground.”

That is what the Lutheran missionary Rev Wilhelm wrote after he and his team had climbed the hill from Wara [river] Chimbu to today’s Kundiawa in May 1934 on a pioneering expedition to identify suitable locations for mission stations.

The large team of  men, including five other white missionaries, made camp near a big garden where today’s Kundiawa’s nationl works compound stands. This was the garden of chief Bongere of Kamaneku and his family. At the time, the corn was ready to be harvested and the patrol wanted some but could not find the owner.

The people of the area had run away in fear of these strange people or were hiding in the bushes. Bergmann and his team took some corn from the garden and at that exact location left an axe and some shells, covering these valuable items with corn leaves. The next day the expedition moved on west.

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Seeking the facts of Simbu’s ‘frontier wars’: The Symons Affair


TUMBY BAY - In early July 1947 the Assistant District Officer for Simbu, Jack Costelloe, received word from Geru, a Karap clan leader from the Kouno area, that Dika men had attacked and killed two Karap women in their gardens.

There had been a long standing feud between the Karap and Dika clans. In a previous altercation five men from each side had been killed. Attempts to settle the matter had come to nothing and now Geru sought the protection of the kiap.

Costelloe set out from Kundiawa for the area accompanied by Patrol Officer Craig Symons and 11 police, intending to arrange a peace settlement between the warring clans.

On the way, Costelloe received an urgent telegram and walked to Kerowagi to catch a plane to Port Moresby. He left Symons in charge and told him to proceed to Karap village but to go no further until he returned. Symons was warned about the extreme danger of disobeying this order.

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Those PNG colonial conflicts: a short examination of killing

Rabaul press clipCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Mathias Kin has written about the killing of Simbu warriors by kiaps in the period from around 1935 to the mid-1950s. He has put forward the claims of various informants about the numbers who died in these clashes - and I have expressed reservations about the scale of the killing in a comment attached to the same article.

Perhaps the minds of some readers, this has left the impression that I am bent on preserving the reputations of the kiaps involved in the pacification of the Papua New Guinea highlands. This is not true, but I have to accept that it is what some people will think.

As it happens, I think the work that Mathias is doing in compiling his ‘History of Simbu’, is important. It will give a voice to those who were hitherto voiceless and, most importantly, it is history as understood by the powerless, not the powerful. So what he is doing is commendable.

That said, it is fair and reasonable to subject the claims he makes to close scrutiny. The powerless are no more or less capable of distorting history to meet their needs than the powerful, although the latter have most of the opportunities to do so.

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Directive unheeded: How young kiaps brought ‘gavman’ to PNG

1960s newspaper advertisement for cadet patrol officers & other junior PNG government officials


“The greatest care is taken in selecting and building up patrols which are to penetrate an uncontrolled area and establish a new post. Only experienced officers are used in this work. New and inexperienced officers are not posted to a new area until my responsible officers are satisfied that it is under control, and only then in company with experienced officers” – PNG Administrator’s Press Release, 12 November 1953 (from A Kiap’s Chronicle by Bill Brown)

ADELAIDE - The nominal restrictions on what young, inexperienced Cadet Patrol Officers and Assistant Patrol Officers were allowed to do in terms of their field operations in colonial days are of interest to me.

My first two patrols as a brand new APO in 1969-70 were in the Kukukuku country north of Kerema. This area had been officially declared "controlled' a couple of years earlier, but that control was still tenuous at best.

On neither of those patrols was I accompanied by a senior officer, other than by Assistant District Officer John Mundell for the first week of a 32-day patrol surveying a road between Kaintiba Patrol Post and Murua Agricultural Station.

John was recalled for some reason and I was left to my own devices under the wise guidance of the redoubtable Father Alex Michelod, who was helping survey the road.

The second time, I was dropped off by helicopter at a remote mountain village in the same area to coordinate efforts to deal with the Hong Kong influenza epidemic of 1969-70. On that occasion I was accompanied by two capable medical assistants and two experienced RPNGC constables.

The patrol came under threat at one point, accused of working black magic and causing the epidemic. In a roundabout way, this was partially true. After all, if PNG had been left undisturbed, maybe the flu would never have got there.

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An experience on Bam Island - & some historical footnotes

Dejected Bam evacuees in 1954 (MA Reynolds)
Dejected evacuees leave Bam in November 1954


SYDNEY - Keith Jackson’s report on volcanic activity in the Schouten islands brought back quite a few memories of an earlier episode when Bam islanders were evacuated in the 1950s.

These were the vivid memories of me as a 21-year old kiap – memories of the return of villagers to Bam Island and my part in it and also of Tom Ellis, a mentor in my early days and a person I deeply respected and remember with affection.

I was posted to Bogia in February 1955 to take charge of the Bam Island Rehabilitation Project following the earlier (November 1954) evacuation to the mainland of the population of 500 people as a result of volcanic activity.

The rehabilitation project involved the preparation and maintenance of gardens, construction of housing and co-ordination of educational and health services.

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The truth about the highlands frontier – I want to tell it my way

Chimbu familyMATHIAS KIN

KUNDIAWA - I must commend Peter Krantz for his recent articleThe bloody early years of outside engagement with the Simbu’.

I believe the stories Peter related are an important part of Chimbu and New Guinea history that must be told to our younger generations in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Commenting on this article, Fr Garry Roche mentioned the Chimbu Valley shooting of Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD and Br Eugene Frank SVD but did not tell the Chimbu side of the story.

In early 1935, the press in Australia mentioned only the killing of the two white men. The fate of the Chimbu people who died was not considered to be of interest. I guess nothing much has changed.

So here’s the other side of the story from the Chimbu Valley, where an estimated 100 or so men were killed in the days following the shooting of the two missionaries.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 16 - Telefomin


Map 1
Our flight from Wewak to Telefomin


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Pamela and I had been married for a little over a month and were still in honeymoon mode when we returned to the Territory in July 1959.

The luxury of the newish, Qantas super constellation service (Sydney-Port Moresby–Lae) added to the bliss but reality soon re-asserted itself with our overnight stay at the Qantas transit lodge in Lae.

The next day we flew on to Wewak, again with Qantas but this time on the fortnightly Lae-Hollandia (now Jayapura) service, falsely glorified as an “international flight”.

Unlike the normal Dakota, the wartime version of the Douglas DC3 which had a bench of canvas bucket-seats running the full length of each side of the cabin with the fuselage providing the backrest, our aircraft had real seats with armrests and they faced forwards, with two seats on either side of a central aisle. We even had a female cabin attendant—albeit of mature years.

Continue reading "A Kiap’s Chronicle: 16 - Telefomin" »

Those ‘bloody early years’ were really not so bloody

Highland war (Lorenzo Mattotti  New Yorker)
Depiction of a New Guinea highlands tribal war by Lorenzo Mattotti (The New Yorker)


ADELAIDE - What constituted the "bloody early years" in Papua New Guinea was, in an historic context, not very bloody at all.

I realise that this will come as no comfort whatsoever to those whose relatives were shot and killed or injured by the early kiaps, but it is really important to keep things in perspective.

Imperialism in whatever form it arises is invariably a story of conquest and suppression. This has been true since time immemorial. It is what we humans do to one another in the pursuit of power, wealth and glory.

So, in Africa and South America, large scale killing and enslavement was common. Entire colonial armies ranged across the African landscape whenever the imperial power concerned deemed this necessary.

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How the RPNGC's rivalry impinged on astute kiap policing

John Stuntz with Otibanda detachment  1950
Kiap John Stuntz with Otibanda police detachment 1950


EX-KIAP WEBSITE - Some might see it as ironic that the form of award adopted for recognition of kiaps’ Papua New Guinea service should take the form of a Police Service Medal.

In my experience the relationship between the regular RPNGC officialdom and our field staff took the form of a rather wary collaboration at best. In many instances, personal relationships were warm and both organisations benefited.

I also acknowledge that during the late 1970s when tribal fighting became widespread in the Highlands, the cooperative bond between kiaps and police was strong, forged under the stresses of dealing with a major crisis.

And of course, the role that the outstation police contingents played in supporting all field staff was beyond praise. There are more than a few of us who owe their careers and perhaps their lives to the unstinting assistance and support of the outstation constabulary with whom they worked.

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The bloody early years of outside engagement with the Simbu

Gende-Jim Taylor arrives in the highlands
‘No 1 Kiap blong Australia Mr Jim Taylor i brukim bush long Highlands Papua Niugini’ (The first Australian kiap, Mr Jim Taylor, on an exploratory mission in the PNG highlands), Simon Gende, 1999


MORISSET - There remains a long-standing dispute about the number of local people slain in the first explorations into the highlands by white expeditions, but no account denies that some dozens were killed.

There are many accounts from the point of view of those early expatriate pioneers; but I have gathered from existing records some first-hand accounts by Simbu people.

“When the kiaps and policeman came they did shoot people and animals and I saw them,” said Mondo Ola of Ombondo in the Simbu Valley. “They shot one of our leaders by the name of Kapaki Degba Mondia and from my clan they shot a man named Waugla Sungwa” (interview by Paul San).

The first kiaps were so rough that the natives were very scared of them and they never came close to hear what they were saying,” recalled Mrs Nukama of Womai village. “The first kiaps did their best to tame them by showing them axes and salt.

“Some of the villagers tried to steal the things which the white men showed them so that's how the shooting starts. There were about five people killed at that time” (interview of women from eastern Simbu by Moro, 1985).

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Those PNG kiaps – small in number, big in nation-building

Newly recruited cadet patrol officers (liklik kiaps) at Kwikila in 1967


MELBOURNE - I’ve been called a number of things in my time - including ‘kiap’ with varying degrees of sneer and unprintable adjectives - but never ‘misfit’ as Phil Fitzpatrick has recorded.

Regarding the recruitment process for kiaps mentioned by Paul Oates, when sufficient vacancies occurred each year an advertisement appeared in various Australian newspapers.

The applications were culled and a shortlist of interviewees created. Depending on its size and geographic spread, two or three senior officers were sent from Papua New Guinea to Australia to conduct interviews and were usually those holding the role of District Inspector at Deputy District Commissioner rank located at headquarters in Konedobu.

In the case of my own recruitment, it was Royce Webb and the interview was in Melbourne.  At its conclusion he looked at me and said, “That’s all fine. All you have to do now is pass the medical.”  Phew!

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Last month: A Bit na Ta reminds us of forgotten links to PNG

Kinawai dance ceremony
Tolai men with sacred tubuan objects perform a ritual Kinawai dance ceremony in the early hours of the morning on a Bit Na Ta, Blanche Bay (G Kakabin)

HELEN GARDNER | The Conversation

MELBOURNE - It is rare to find histories of colonialism told by Pacific people utilising Pacific song, dance and culture as well as more standard archival materials.

Historians of the region are largely products of the universities of former imperial powers and the sons and daughters of settler colonialism.

The A Bit na Ta installation in the Bunjilaka gallery in the Melbourne Museum is therefore an important counter to the Australian colonial stories of Papua New Guinea.

The exhibition centres around a film made by Melbourne musician David Bridie, in collaboration with the Tolai people of East New Britain, particularly photographer/historian Gideon Kakabin and singer George Telek.

It is accompanied by commissioned artworks and artefacts from the museum’s collections. The result is a surefooted retelling of the history of the island and its famous town Rabaul from the perspective of the Tolai people.

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The day John Guise told kiaps PNG didn’t want them

Oates Paul 69
Paul Oates as a young kiap in 1969


GOLD COAST - Henry Thoreau (1817–62) wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I was once a kiap and from my experience, kiaps mostly were those types who, if they lasted longer than the first couple of years in the service of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, did march to a different drum.

And the people of PNG knew this. Phil Fitzpatrick recently referred to the highlander who told him kiaps were ‘narapela kain man’, that is, misfits.

My own experience of being recruited as a junior kiap by the then Australian Department of External Territories was that the process was slanted towards selecting suitable young men as assessed by senior public servants who hadn’t successfully undertaken the role.

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Kiaps: ‘Ol narapela kain man’ who built a nation

Patrol officers course  Port Moresby  1971 (John Hocknull)
Patrol officers course, Port Moresby, 1971


TUMBY BAY - Given the huge nation-building task at hand, there weren’t many kiaps at any one time in Papua New Guinea prior to independence - maybe 650 at peak strength.

They were an odd mix of characters and very difficult to describe even after all these years. On some matters they had conservative views but on others they showed enlightenment and liberal ideals.

One of their important defining characteristics was a willingness to experiment, improvise and innovate. They were not only a strange breed but a rare one.

And that is what was required, given Australia’s stinginess in administering its colonial obligations. The emerging nation required men capable of thinking outside the box.

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Why do archive files on Britain’s colonial past keep going missing?

British colonial police and Kenyan suspects
British colonial police and Kenyan suspects - an all-too common scene of imperial rule

SIOBHAN FENTON | The Guardian | Extracts

Read the full story here

LONDON - The (United Kingdom) National Archives are home to more than 11m documents, many of them covering the most disturbing periods of Britain’s colonial past.

The uncomfortable truths revealed in previously classified government files have proved invaluable to those seeking to understand this country’s history or to expose past injustices.

It is deeply concerning, therefore, to discover that about 1,000 files have gone missing after being removed by civil servants. Officially, the archives describe them as “misplaced while on loan to a government department”.

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10 years in the morgue: JK (‘Kanaka Jack’) Murray, nation builder

Colonel JK ('Kanaka Jack') Murray as Administrator of PNG


This article was first published in PNG Attitude on 13 September 2007

SYDNEY - Sir Jack Keith (JK) Murray OBE [1889-1979] was an agriculturalist, a soldier and an administrator – and he excelled in every field.

His parents separated when he was two and his mother supported him by working as a domestic servant.

Murray later wrote he found it “impossible to pay an adequate tribute to her”. His mother saved the money that enabled him to enter St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill in Sydney in 1904.

He graduated from Sydney University just after the start of World War I with bachelors’ degrees in agricultural science and arts and, after service with the Sydney University Scouts, a diploma of military science.

In 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, serving in France before undertaking post-war agricultural studies and being demobilised in 1920.

In 1923 he became principal of the Queensland Agricultural High School at Gatton and later took up a concurrent appointment as foundation professor of agriculture at the University of Queensland.

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Submarine AE1 found off Duke of Yorks after century-long search

HMAS AE1 & convoy
Last known image of the HMAS AE1 with HMAS Yarra and HMAS Australia, 9 September 1914 (Sea Power Centre)

STAFF REPORTER | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

CANBERRA - The first Allied and Royal Australian Navy submarine lost in World War I has finally been found after a 103-year search off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

"Australia's oldest naval mystery has been solved," Defence Minister Marise Payne said.

"It was … a significant tragedy felt by our nation and our allies,"

HMAS AE1 was carrying 35 crew members when it went missing off the coast of the Duke of York Islands on September 1914.

Twelve previous private and government-funded expeditions over the years failed to find the vessel, which was a grave to so many.

The latest, 13th and final search began on board the vessel Furgro Equato last week.

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10 years in the morgue: I encounter the trading vessel ‘Desikoko’

Model of the MV 'Desikoko'


This article was first published in PNG Attitude on 30 September 2007

SYDNEY - I was visiting the NSW south coast for a school reunion last weekend and decided to stay on the shores of Jervis Bay at a guesthouse in the pleasant village of Huskisson.

From the mid-19th century until the 1950s, Huskisson, located on a safe anchorage in a region of straight and tall timber, was a thriving boat building community.

What I didn’t know until my recent visit was that, in the years before World War II, local boat builder AW Settree constructed inter-island trading vessels for WR Carpenter & Co, a household name in PNG and the Pacific.

The photograph is of a lovingly constructed model of the  vessel, ‘Desikoko’, built in Currambene Creek at Huskisson and launched in May 1934. She was 232 tons, made of local wood and 120 feet long.

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I am shown the terrible PNGDF ‘death bunker’ of Sovele

Thomas Kolouko and the concrete structure
Thomas Kolouko outside the concrete 'death bunker'


ARAWA – “In Nagovis we were the first people to uphold the Bougainville Revolutionary Army’s fight in 1990,” recalled Thomas Kolouko of Biroi village in the Bana District.

“But when the [PNG] army came to Sovele in late 1992,” Thomas continued, “we decided not to flee but remain in our villages with hope for better change for Bougainville.

“[But] under Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) control we suffered the most.”

He directed my eyes to a concrete cell behind the padre’s house.

“This was our death bunker whenever we did wrong - like drinking - or whenever we were suspected of dealing with the BRA. We were urinated at and defecated over and we died in here.”

My visit to Sovele Catholic Mission in south Bougainville’s Bana District had led me to this house, behind which, half-buried in the soil, was the concrete cell measuring about five metres by five metres and four metres in height.

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The old world order is dying, but what will replace it?

New-World-Order (David Icke)CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - I was born in the middle of the 20th century and thus grew up in a world that was still recovering from the impact of two incredibly savage and debilitating industrial scale wars, as well as grappling with the new geo-political realities that had emerged from those twin conflagrations.

The post war world had essentially been divided into two opposing camps, one being dominated by the USA and the other by the USSR.

In practice, the latter was a new Russian Empire dressed up in the clothing of communism. Each of these camps was profoundly hostile to the other on political, ideological and philosophical grounds.

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More on those wonderfully engineered PNG cane bridges

Read Fr Garry Roche’s original article here

Constructing bridge across the Raihu (Australian War Memorial)The kunda bridge across the Raihu at Aitape


BRISBANE - Very few people know that in the 1950s there was a kunda bridge across the Raihu River at Aitape where there is now a steel and concrete bridge.

During World War II, in 1944-45, the Australians (No 7 Mobile Works Squadron RAAF) built a Bailey Bridge near the mouth of the Raihu River as they needed a connection between Tadji airstrip and Aitape beach where small boats unloaded. This photo shows it under construction.

This bridge only lasted a few months; it was washed away by the huge torrent of the Raihu River in flood. It’s still there somewhere, buried under the gravel.

Then, in the 1950s, a new dynamic young kiap arrived and was disgusted with the rather inconvenient journey he had to make to the airstrip.

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'Yes, we brought them shell - the best shell they ever had!'

Jim Sinclair (George Oakes)JIM SINCLAIR

The late Jim Sinclair wrote this article for the Papua New Guinea independence issue of Pacific Islands Monthly in October 1975. It was reproduced for the public tribute to Jim at Maroochy Surf Club in Queensland last Tuesday.

IN PAPUA New Guinea today, many Australians who have spent the best years of their lives in that fascinating land are leaving, and facing up to the necessity of coming to grips with life in Australia, which to me, at any rate, does not look much like the Lucky Country. 

With independence it is right, just and inevitable that Australians should step aside to make room for the eager young nationals who now fill virtually all of the senior positions in the PNG Public Service and who are rapidly assuming positions of importance in the private sector.

It is usual today for Australia to be blamed for all sorts of errors of commission and omission by some PNG nationalists, and this is natural enough: when things don't always go the way one would like them to go, a scapegoat is always needed, and in colonial situations of this sort, the metropolitan country is invariably elected to the position.

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Genealogy in PNG: Let’s find out about our ancestors while we can

Maria Kerua
Maria Kerua, early 1950s, daughter of Mt Hagen bigman Ninji


DUBLIN - Some years ago a happily married Mt Hagen woman, Maria, told me a story about her first boyfriend. 

They were from different tribes in the Western Highlands, they had just become friends and were interested in getting to know more about each other.

Then it happened that a great-grandmother of Maria, who lived some distance away, died and Maria went to the funeral, where she spotted her boyfriend.  She knew he was not from that place and asked him, “What are you doing here?”

He replied, “My old great-grandmother died and I am here.”

The two then realised with a shock that they were closely related and, in accord with tribal custom, they could not marry. They split up straight away and Maria later married a man from another tribe.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 15 – Around the Sepik


The Sepik District  1958 (Bill Brown)

THE first three days of October 1957 were momentous for me but much more so for Patrol Officer John (JW) MacGregor, two years my junior and who had been deeply involved in the Anderson Affair.

While I was flying out of Wewak to go on leave, MacGregor was in Port Moresby trying to salvage what he could of his career.

In August, magistrate Fred (FJ) Winkle RM had dismissed two charges of assault brought in the lower court against MacGregor, concluding that they were trivial, but MacGregor had also pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to two other charges, one of ‘deprivation of liberty’ and one of ‘setting fire to a native house’.

On the first charge, deprivation of liberty, MacGregor was convicted - and then discharged.

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The history gap: Who will remember PNG’s saints and sinners?

Sil Bolkin at Croc PrizePHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Five years ago I worked closely with Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin when he was finalising the chapters of his landmark book about one of the tribal diaspora in Simbu, The Flight of Galkope.

Sil (pictured) had trekked throughout his ancestral lands speaking to all sorts of people, especially those in the men’s houses, about their history and writing it down.

He then contrasted and correlated those recorded oral histories with the short and incomplete written histories of the modern era to produce a marvellous book.

It contained what Dr Bill Standish called stories that “link Galkope clans to those from Gembogl to Gumine and Kup to Koge and show Chimbu men’s thinking from ancestral times to troubled life in the 21st century”.

What Sil was doing during his arduous treks was recording what is known in the trade as ‘oral history’.

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Nicholay Miklouho-Maclay IV to visit PNG next month

Nikolai-Miklouho-Maclay-by-Russian-artist-Konstantin-MakovskySIR PETER BARTER

THE great-grandson of the famed Russian anthropologist Nickolay Miklouho-Maclay (pictured) will visit Papua New Guiena next month.

Nickolay Miklouho-Maclay IV is a direct descendant of the naturalist, explorer, anthropologist and artist who first arrived in PNG in September 1871, landing at Garagassi Point and settling at Gorendu village on the Rai Coast of Madang.

Here he established an excellent relationship with the people and is anthropological work and diaries became widely acknowledged in Russia and around the world.

In September 1971, a delegation of Russians visited Madang on board a Russian frigate to mark the centenary of Maclay’s arrival, at which time a monument was established on the site of his house.

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The days of the district commissioner: another thing not to forget


FOR some reason the discussions about Papua New Guinea’s elections and references to the decline in democracy and the possibility of a dictatorship remind me of some district commissioners I once worked under.

Prior to independence, the provinces were called districts and they were run by district commissioners. When I first arrived in PNG, they were all Australians but by the early 1970s there were a few Papua New Guinean DCs.

My first posting was to Mount Hagen, where district commissioner Tom Ellis (pictured) ruled the roost, some said with an iron fist.

In those days the Western Highlands was the star district. It was developing rapidly and had huge potential. Some people put this down to Ellis’s influence.

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