1. Sell-out in Manus, 1946-48

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots


Paul Quinlivan was prompted to send us the following after reading Brian Jink’s ‘Help Wanted’ notice regarding” an episode in Manus in 1948 when police under Commissioner Grimshaw were sent to arrest some Chinese labourers for assaulting a villager”. In his covering letter Paul said that, with this and other articles, he wanted to let people know the marvellous work the Kiaps of old did.

The case Brian Jinks referred to in Una Voce No 2, 1998 (p23) was R. v. Chow Hung Ching and Si Pao Kung about which I published three reports when I was asked, in 1954, to produce ‘local materials’ for TPNG students studying Law with the University of Queensland. Brian asks only about Colonel Grimshaw, whose role was very minor, but the case has its proper place with two other events which are recalled by the recent pilgrimage to Kokoda.

The first was Blamey’s sell-out (and public ‘shaming’) of those Australian troops who had broken the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track because he thought MacArthur was displeased with them, whereas a phone call would have shown that MacArthur merely wanted to urge them on: see A Strange Encounter at Ower‘s Corner by Robert Darby and Elena Taylor in the April 1998 issue of the official magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Wartime (p.42).

Sell-out No. 2 is mentioned at pages 34-40 of that same journal. It was the policy, detailed by Gavin Long at page 40 of The Final Campaigns (1963), of playing down the part which Australians played in the defeat of the Japanese, in all areas, so that America could be given credit.

Chow Hung Ching refers to Sell-out No. 3 because it reminds us of the de facto surrender of sovereignty over Manus, in 1946-48, to Nationalist China, and the way that sell-out was broken. In the normal course of events I would not have reported Chow Hung Ching because, for Law students, I was only interested in (a) notable defences or short-cuts, (b) exceptional difficulties or (c) “local prunings of the law”. I had, at Uni., read the High Court case at 77 (1949) CLR 449 but it contained nothing of interest. Instead, it was a purely academic exercise where, to quote p. 451: “The appellants were members of a military force of a friendly foreign Power, which force was in the Territory with the consent of the Commonwealth Government and, by reason thereof, the appellants were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.” It was only when the trial judge (Chief Justice Sir Beaumont Phillips – “Monte” to everyone) gave me his private notebooks that I saw that this misrepresented the facts and that, in truth, there were wonderful examples here of both (a) and (b).

I had always been intrigued by the fact that, in planning hi circuits, Monte always ended at Wabag where he and Dick White would sit around a blazing fire, silently comfortable in each other’s company. Not that Monte was not comfortable in everyone’s company, but the fact was that he (and all the judges) were, in those days, treated like Royalty wherever they went so we never really saw him “without his mask”. With Dick White it was different and I think that part of the reason was that Chow Hung Ching epitomised the thing most dear to his heart, his hope (expressed in his speech of 12 February 1952, for instance) that he would someday see Papua New Guineans trained to be Kiaps.

The point of the case was: Who would defend the indigenous inhabitants of Manus now that sovereignty had been given to a regime which played Cowboys and Indians with them, as if they had no rights? It was a variant on a theme which Monte harped on – for instance in his Reichstag Fire speech where, by rigging the evidence, the Nazis destroyed the German Courts, thus making their victory a foregone conclusion because ordinary people no longer had access to someone to whom they could take their grievances. Chow Hung Ching showed that, although Canberra seemed to believe that hiding its head in the sand was the best way to deal with the problem of hundreds of Chinese exercising sovereignty in Manus, the training of ordinary Kiaps preserved, for the ordinary person who felt aggrieved, a fruitful avenue for complaint. The “defence” in this case was the defence of the Rule of Law against Monumental Sell-out No. 3 which resulted when nobody had the fortitude to tell the Americans that Manus was a Mandated Territory for which Australia was responsible.

It is obvious when you look at the case. By written agreement which starts: ‘WHEREAS the cessation of active military operations in the war with Japan has rendered surplus to the needs of the United States quantities of its property now situated in the Western Pacific Area …”, the United States Government sold that surplus property to the Republic of China. The places listed are all, with the exception of Manus, Los Negros and Finschhafen (all of which were in TP&NG), territories in which America could lawfully do what she liked because, in the case of Wake Island, it had been hers since 1899, and because, in the case of all the others, they were “captured enemy territory” as they had all been Japanese territory before Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Moreover, Manus was not in the Western Pacific Area, a technical term, but in the South West Pacific Area, a totally different zone, with HQ in Brisbane! The date of the agreement, 30 August 1946, is also significant because, around about that time, I was made Secretary of the Student Body of “University Hostel, within the University of Western Australia” which consisted of just over 100 fully-furnished rooms with comfortable dining rooms, lounges, kitchens etc, which had been built by the United States of America for their personnel and I have special knowledge of the fact that, months earlier, the Americans wanted to dismantle it and Vice Chancellor Currie called on the American Consul-General and said, “You can’t do that because the University owns the land and all that is on it”. And, when the American said that his government would take the ‘movables’ Currie said, “We will buy them at valuation” and that was the end of the matter. I know all this personally because Currie brought me into it by getting the Senate to give me a ‘special bursary” so that we could pay for the movables!

In my first report I recorded that informants in private enterprise on Manus had told me that they sent objections to Canberra as soon as the Chinese arrived, but they got no reply. Cyril McCubbery, the prosecutor in the case, also told me that the Administration had done the same. It was the great Heads in the Sand case! Then the Chinese Army began using dynamite to destroy non-movable things such as refrigerated rooms which they could not move. Complaints to Canberra increased but to no avail so, when Pondranei came to him on 26 January 1948, all battered and bruised, and told him why, ADO Dick White (who joined the Field Staff on 12 May 1939) decided to break the impasse. Pondranei could not say how he had been taken to the Chinese compound because he had fainted after the first two blows: his maltreatment had, according to the High Court (p.468) “continued over a considerable period”, but he was able to say that a group of four Chinese had, the previous day, come to Lugos (three miles outside the Chinese compound) hit him with a length of timber and kidnapped him, taking him to a Quonset hut in their own compound where they strung him up with electric wire, so that he was hanging with only his toes touching the floor, and flogged him. White took him to Dr Ken Smythe who gave evidence that he had two black eyes, a bruise on the chest from which blood had flowed, another bruise on the left buttock from which blood had escaped, and abrasions on both wrists. It was later explained that one of the Chinese was missing two cartons of cigarettes so he and his compatriots went searching for a Melanesian culprit. Pondranei, unfortunately, had gone to Lugos, where there was a public market, and sold two pineapples for a carton each, so he was the one they seized upon.

Because all ordinary overtures had failed in the past, Dick White decided on a show or force so, taking John Grimshaw, Charlie Carr and two other Australian Police, and as many PNG police as they could muster, and Pondranei, he presented himself before General Wu, the OiC Chinese Forces, and said that they were there to investigate a criminal complaint. General Wu said he would cooperate but, when the Chinese were paraded in three lines some days later, the 300 labourers and an unknown number of soldiers kept “breaking ranks” and taking up new positions and Pondranei and his witnesses were not able to identify anyone. White persisted and, a month later, General Wu relented and investigations began anew. As a result the appellants were arrested and, on 5 April 1948 they were committed for trial by Bill Bloxham who applied to the Supreme Court for the case to be “certified for defence by Counsel”. The Chief Justice so ordered and the trial took place before him at Imrin on 26, 28 and 29 June 1948 and at Rabaul on 28 and 29 July 1948. On 5 August the Chief Justice delivered a lengthy judgment in which he FOUND each of the Accused guilty as charged and imposed, on each, sentences of three months imprisonment with hard labour on the assault charge and six months on the deprivation of liberty charge.

This is the end of Paul’s description of Kiap Dick White’s efforts on behalf of the Manus man; however, for those interested in the legal outcome, Paul has provided an account of subsequent events:

My second report dealt with the difficulties experienced by Counsel who was Adrian Jones of the Melbourne Bar who was working as a clerk in the Crown Law Office, Port Moresby. He wrote to Canberra for information to assist his clients but, since it was a private brief, I do not know to whom he wrote or how often. From the court records it is clear that he received no reply because the trial started as an ordinary “trial of facts”. On 28 June 1948, however, Jones informed the Court that “During the weekend facts came to my knowledge that … lead me to (believe that) Accused …. are members of an armed force of a friendly foreign power admitted to the Territory with the consent of the territorial Government …. unfortunately, owing to my late instructions … an adjournment is asked for …” and Cyril McCubbery informed me that he consented to this application because Jones informed him that he had received a document, from Canberra, permitting Chinese agencies to take materials from Finschhafen, from which Jones inferred that a similar document must exist in regard to Manus. On 28 July 1948 (page 35 of the transcript) Jones informed the Court, “it was hoped by the Defence to get evidence from Guam in support of the plea to the jurisdiction. Despite repeated efforts, this has not been obtained; nor has any evidence of an agreement between China and Australia about the presence and status of Chinese personnel at Manus been obtained: permission from the Australian Government for the presence of Chinese to remove war materials from Finschhafen was obtained, but it does not appear that similar permission was obtained for the entry of similar personnel into Manus”.

This raises serious questions about the information Counsel gave the High Court. It also explains why, having nothing on which to ground his “plea to the jurisdiction”. Jones had to resort to the rather wild statement, at page 42 of the transcript that, “it may be that America was still in possession of that part of Manus where the Accused and die body to which they belonged were, and that the Accused were in America rather than our Territory.” This possibility is echoed by Justice Starke at page 474 of the appeal case (77 CLR 449), where, speaking of the 300 plus Chinese, not just the two appellants, he says, “It is possible that the Executive Government of the Commonwealth had no knowledge of their presence on the island at any time material to this case, for it was an allied base of operations against Japan, established in the main by the United States and at the time being dismantled by it …” Unfortunately, for this hypothesis, however, the trial judge specifically HELD, at page 79 of the transcript, that the Chinese compound was “at Lorengau which is but a few miles from, and almost within view of, our Administration’s District Office at Imrim, (so) it is inconceivable that our Government was unaware of the presence of that personnel in this Territory.”

My third report, which was after the Smith Appeal (Una Voce, September and December, 1997) and long after the Law Students Project had ended, dealt with the strange disparity – discord, actually – between what the High Court was told and what the transcript of the actual trial disclosed, but it need not concern us here.


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