18. Comparison between Australia and TPNG

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

Librarian Ruth Carter (who referred to herself as ‘The Original Lady Who Lived in a Lavatory’ because the library had been an Officers’ Club during the war and she had converted their ‘ten holer’ into a flat) was the driving force of the Discussion Group mentioned in No. 6 and when she saw that I was not just another dropper-in with nothing to do, she nominated, as my first discussion paper, the article by Murray Groves on the way Natives were dealt with in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea.

I begged off, saying that I had only been in the Territory six months, but she said that the article (which is at pages 582-588 of the 25 January 1952 issue of the Australian Law Journal) was written as a result of an earlier article by Professor Elkin of Sydney, about the way Australian courts had treated Aborigines and that, since I had done my schooling at New Norcia, the oldest and largest Aboriginal Mission in WA, it was right up my alley.

This was a time when MauMau was in the Australian newspapers almost daily and we all had strong views about it and its effects. Nobody, however, had said anything bad about Australia’s treatment of the Aborigines and the first reaction to Elkin’s article was outrage because he claimed that Aborigines were dragged, terrified, before the courts without anyone bothering to explain what the Law’s ‘standards’ were or what the consequences of being brought before a court could be. My task was to tell the Ela Beach Discussion Group whether this ‘Australian characteristic fault’ applied in Australian TPNG.

Since Murray Groves had only been in Port Moresby and along the southern coast of Papua, it was unfair to expect him to speak about the former Mandated Territory but I had just spent six months there with the Supreme Court so I must be able to fill the gap, Ruth said. To cut a long story short (‘long’ because I had not seen Professor Elkin’s paper and I had only been in the Supreme Court in TPNG, not in Magistrates’ Courts) I said that the summary of Elkin’s paper which they had provided resonated well with my own experience in Magistrates’ Courts in Perth, Bunbury, Geraldton, Sydney and Melbourne, but the victims were not restricted to Aborigines.

Too many people running those courts seemed to have become immersed in their own work (or their own importance) with the result that they forgot that it was all quite terrifying for newcomers. And I said that I had been thrilled to see, in every town I went to in TPNG, the care with which Kiaps listened to Monte’s speeches about making sure that every Native hailed before them was properly treated. And I have repeated that many times eg in my paper: “TPNG and the Common Law”, my lecture “The Papua New Guinea Precedent for Taking a Plea”, and in my lectures to Magistrates.


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