22. Rescuing a judge in Samarai

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

Because of the poor food generally available, people used to pool their resources when something special was on. The arrival, in March 1954, of the first new judge of the Supreme Court was such an occasion, so the expatriates of Eastern Papua planned three receptions for him, the first at the District Commissioner’s residence, the second at the home of Don and Marion Grove, and the third at the Cottrell-Dormers. But everything went wrong the moment the judge arrived at Samarai. His was only an “Acting” appointment and, for reasons which will become obvious, I feel that I should not mention his name.
The facts are that I returned from leave on 10 March 1954 and, on Monday 22 March, I received a call to go to Government House where Sir Donald Cleland told me that one of his house-guests was in Big Trouble at Samarai and I was booked on the Sandringham flying-boat, next morning, to salvage the situation. Seeing my blank look he continued, “He is a new judge of the Supreme Court. He is taking refuge on the Government trawler Leander because half the local community have threatened to tar-and-feather him. You’d better sit down and read this,” and he handed me a long – a very long – telegram from the judge, in plain language, which not only stated that he had been threatened with tarring-and-feathering but that District Commissioner Healy had interfered with the course of justice by attempting to bribe him. I said something, and Sir Donald said, “Precisely! Imagine the headline! But if the DC did make even the slightest attempt to interfere with the administration of justice, there’ll be no mercy shown him. He’ll be out on his ear in no time! I can’t tell you to keep that telegram secret because it was sent in clear and half of Papua will have heard it on the sked. But remember: Australia’s Good Name can be destroyed by this.”

In the mail that afternoon I received a reel of 8mm cine film I had taken on leave and, for reasons which I can’t explain, I packed it to take with me. My guardian angel was working overtime because that reel of film solved all my problems. On arrival at Samarai I was met by the DC, Mick Healy, who said, “I don’t want to appear to be influencing you so I’ve booked you into the Qantas Guest House.” I said that the Administrator had given me instructions to protect the new judge and I presumed that I could only do that by living where he was living. He said, “I am fully aware of why you are here and, since this is the first available opportunity, I have the right to simply say that I have never spoken to the judge, except to introduce myself, and as soon as I said who I was he burst into a tirade of abuse! I have certainly never tried to bribe him, or anyone, in any way, shape or form and I’m bloody disgusted by all this.” I asked if he had written something which the judge could have misconstrued and he said, “No! I’ve never sent him any note. I simply went to Leander to ask him why he was not staying at the Residency, as the judges always do, and he blew up.” I asked about the ‘tarring and feathering’ and he said there was a wall of silence but it was clear that the judge had somehow got the Mixed Race community ‘up in arms’. He then went on to say that he (the DC) had brokered a deal with the Mixed Race men and, out of respect for Judge Gore, whom they all loved and admired, no harm would come to the new judge while he was performing judicial functions (including going to or coming from the court) but that if he stepped outside this protected circle there was no way he could be protected because of the numbers involved. I asked what those numbers were and he said that the term ‘Mixed Race’ meant everyone who had a Licence to Drink and there were hundreds. When I said that tarring-and-feathering was a strange term, he said that Kwato Mission had inculcated many English upper-class expressions. And when I asked how the Samarai community in general were reacting, he said that the Mixed Race community and the judge were keeping it to themselves and he hoped it would remain that way.

I then said that, since there was an agreement in place, it would be unwise to give any appearance of ‘tilting the balance’, so he took me to the Guest House and left me. After establishing myself there I went to the Government wharf and found the judge. I introduced myself as the Crown Prosecutor who would be taking over the rest of the circuit but instead of talking about the troubles I had come to solve, he talked about the weather and said that he regretted that there was no space for me on the trawler! He was very nice, but it all seemed very odd. I noted that several burly Mixed Race men were sitting on deck in the forward part of the vessel, in addition to the crew who were sitting separately. There were an awful lot of people on that boat! And they were all very busily doing nothing! I asked where the captain was and was told that he was ashore so I went in search of him. He was Bill Johnson who said that things had been very harmonious all the way from Port Moresby; that each evening the judge had asked him (Johnson) if he would care to join him in a few drinks and he had replied, “No thank you, Judge. I don’t drink when we’re at sea,” and that would be that. And the judge had told him, on a number of occasions, that if he had any laundry which he wanted done, his (the judge’s) servant, Andrew, could do it, an offer which he continued to politely refuse because he had his own servant, in addition to the crew, to do whatever was needed. Everything was going well, he said, until they arrived at Samarai when all hell broke loose. He did not know what had triggered that explosion, he said.

Next day I sat in on the criminal trial which was almost completed. An Australian named MacKay was charged with stealing money as Honorary Treasurer of the Samarai RSL Club. He was convicted and sentenced to six months hard labour and ordered to make full restitution. It was a tawdry case and it seemed strange that a DC would jeopardise his good name and career by attempting to bribe a new judge to protect such a man. But, apart from the statement in the telegram, I still had no information about that except for Mick Healy’s denial.

That evening I went to a large gathering at the District Commissioner’s residence to honour the new judge. It had been organised months before and people had gone to a great deal of trouble but the judge did not attend. Despite this, it was a very pleasant occasion and a letter from Dame Rachel Cleland was read because she described her recent meeting with the Queen. Nowadays it is difficult to appreciate how important the reading of such a letter was, but in those days we liked being part of the British Empire and the conversation turned to the war and Mick Healy told us about Colonel Situ, a Japanese officer who became mentally afflicted and lived for quite some time as a sort of pet in a Trobriand Island village. Then, in an unguarded moment, I said that I had a film of the Queen’s visit to Brisbane in my luggage. That broke up the party! I was escorted back to the Guest House to collect the film and someone else raced off to get an 8 mm cine projector. The party continued with my film.

After that Rev. Cecil Abel, from Kwato Mission, buttonholed me and said that he had been talking to Brother Vogt MSC, from the Catholic Mission at Sideia, who was building a church on Samarai and they felt that, between the “Mixed Race” men Brother Vogt had trained as carpenters and builders, and those who had been to school at Kwato, they might possibly have enough ‘friendlies’ to convince the others to free the judge. I said, “That would be wonderful!” and he said, smiling, “It will cost you, of course! We could use that film of yours at Kwato. Would you lend it to us?!” And just over a decade later, when I was trying to get Magistrate Training off the ground, against enormous odds, it was Cecil Abel (and Christine Kaputin) who came to my aid. And from those efforts, at the old Ray Gorris Home at 6 Mile, the Administrative College grew and, with it, the whole of “advanced training” for Papua New Guineans which had been so dear to the hearts of Monte Phillips and Judge Gore.

But to return to my Samarai visit. Next morning – and with two other welcoming parties still to be held – the judge informed me that we were leaving immediately to go back to Fyfe Bay and Abau, where Leander had taken the judge the previous week, before returning again to Samarai to hear the other Samarai cases. I found out later that the judge wished to meet, at Maiva Plantation near Abau, the cousin of his friend Bill Elworthy. It all sounded like a millionaire’s luxury cruise, but I had no choice in the matter and, in any event, it would remove the judge from Samarai until Cecil Abel’s/Brother Vogt’s plan had a chance to work. In fact, when I found out that Fyfe Bay was the LMS Theological College where one of my Papuan friends (mentioned in Snapshot 6 in Una Voce No 2 of 1999) was studying, I started looking forward to the trip.

On a millionaire’s cruise, one would expect excellent meals but this was a trip like no other. Relations between the judge and the captain were studiously correct but frigid, for reasons which neither would explain. And when the midday meal was very late, the judge announced that ‘we’ will be feeding ourselves and Andrew (his servant) was experiencing some difficulty in the galley. When lunch did arrive it was pork and the smell was such that even the judge thought it might be dangerous so I got out a packet of biscuits and some dried fruits which I always carried “in case we had a forced landing”, and tried to get him to talk. But the only topics I could get out of him were ‘fair rent’ cases which he conducted under the wartime National Security Regulations. One good result of my supplying the biscuits was that, although he never mentioned the ‘tar and feathers’ topic, I was able to tell him of Cecil Abel’s offer. Whether it pleased him or not I could not say because he merely gazed fixedly at me and said nothing.

When we reached Fyfe Bay I started to disembark but the judge said he would go alone. He soon returned, with Rev. Perry (of the London Missionary Society, a foundation of the Congregational – now United – Church) so I went ashore to meet them. Rev. Perry was clearly upset and, without introducing me, the judge went on board leaving me free to ask Rev. Perry about my Papuan friend who was at his Theological College and he gradually calmed down. He then took me to the College, went inside and returned with two baskets saying that they contained fruit and two live crabs, “one to bribe the captain’s cook with; one for you”, so I gathered that bad news had travelled fast! I gave both baskets to the judge and we had their contents as our meal that night.

We departed at First Light for Abau. Mert Brightwell (who joined the Field Staff on 9 June 1947 and who did excellent work looking after the interests of those charged with the Telefomin killings some months later) was the Assistant District Officer and he invited me to stay with him, so my meal problem was solved. He also sent supplies on board for the judge and was able to provide me with fresh milk! He defended Meka-Ori who was charged with rape, obtaining a well-deserved acquittal, and we then set off back to Samarai, arriving at 11.20 am on Monday 29 March. On the way I borrowed a fishing line from one of the crew, purely to get away by myself and, by a stroke of luck, I caught a large fish which provided another meal and an opportunity for me to attempt to find out more about the judge. But I got the same empty result as before.

When we arrived back at Samarai the Mixed Race guards were soon back so I asked them what their intentions were. They said that the judge would not be harmed provided he acted like a judge. I gathered that Cecil Abel’s negotiations had not succeeded so I said, “The District Commissioner arranged an official welcome for the judge and he did not attend. There are two more parties and he should attend them because he is the judge.” They said that “anything he should do as a judge, he could do and this has been made clear to him” so I went to the judge, told him what they had told me and asked if he wanted me to remain on board. He stared at me and then said that I was being impertinent and he could look after himself! I had no choice but to leave so I did, returning to the Guest House.

At 3 pm the Samarai Sittings began again, and at 5.20 pm we adjourned. That evening we had the rescheduled welcome at Don and Marion Grove’s home where, in addition to local residents, I met Bishop Philip Strong (later to become Archbishop and Anglican Primate of Australia) and vulcanologist Taylor who received the George Medal for his work at Higaturu. But, once again, the guest of honour did not appear. One of the results of that party was that, when Monte asked me to reconstitute his Land Judgments from the tattered remnants he had been able to collect after the destruction of the war, Don (who joined the Field Staff on 20 September 1946) undertook the distribution of the result which, in some cases, involved reports of over 140 pages. Had he not helped, the project would have collapsed and the world (including Australia’s march towards Mabo), would have been much the poorer.

Next day, Tuesday, the cases continued and, that evening we had the third of the welcome parties, this time at the home of Bill and Kath Cottrell-Dormer, the former Director of Agriculture and now in charge of a Native Economic Development Project. It was at that party that I met Brother Vogt. He told me that, in 1935, he and his team of Papuans had built the District Office at Samarai for £600 and that practically every carpenter or builder in Eastern Papua had been a member of his team at some time. Since Papuans who were trained carpenters could usually get a Drinking Permit, I realised that Cecil Abel’s belief that he and Bro. Vogt could influence the Mixed Race community was well placed.

At 2.50 pm the following day the cases were completed and, since I believed that Leander would (as would have been normal) be returning to Port Moresby as soon as possible to take up her next round of duties, I went to the wharf to find out when we were leaving. The lookout which the Mixed Race community had maintained on board had now disappeared. I asked Captain Bill Johnson our time of departure and he told me that the judge had given him written orders to remain a further 24 hours at least. When I asked why, he said no reason was given. I said that I noticed that the Mixed Race group had left and he said that “everything was now settled” although he was saddened that, to quote his words, “the judge did not have the guts to apologise”. I asked him “apologise for what?” but he refused to explain saying he had “always been trusted by all the judges and that was enough” for him.

I then searched out the judge and said that I understood we were not leaving today. But instead of answering he simply stared at me. I told him that I had noticed that the forward parts of the vessel were now clear of Mixed Race watchers and still he did not answer. I then said, “Look, Judge, this is no good. What is it all about?” and, with eyes which suddenly came alive but with an impassive face he said, “I discovered two Boongs conspiring with Andrew to take my gear off the ship and I demanded to know why. They said that the District Commissioner told them to bring my gear to his house. I told them that this is my ship and it is interference with the independence of the judiciary for anyone to touch my gear. I made them put it back. That is all that happened! I don’t know what this is all about, as you so inelegantly express it.”

I said, “But did the DC himself say anything to you, or write you a note?” He said, “That is a stupid question! You really must cure yourself of this habit of asking stupid questions, Quinlivan!” That floored me but I said, “I ask because, as you well know, Judge, I have been sent here because you sent a lengthy telegram alleging that the District Commissioner had tried to bribe you.” He said, “Bribe me? How? I have never heard anything so stupid!” I said, “But you wrote that he had attempted to interfere with the administration of justice in your first case here. McKay’s case.” He gritted his teeth and said, “I told you that his SERVANTS were interfering with the administration of justice. That is all that happened” – and I believe that, if there had been a table close by, he would have thumped it on ‘servants’ and on each of his final words, because of his emphasis. He then turned and walked away.

It was one thing for him to say “That is all that happened” but the telegram had specifically said that much more had happened so I went to the Wireless Office and started saying who I was but the official there said, “I know who you are and why you are here. But telegrams are confidential.” I said, “I know that. I’m not trying to get you to tell me what was in the telegram. All I want to know is if it was ever sent.” He misinterpreted my question and thought I was charging him with not doing his duty for he replied, without thought, “Of course it was sent. I told him I could not accept it unless he paid cash for it but he went off his rocker and said I was involved in a conspiracy of some sort.” I said “Who?” and he said “This new judge. I told him it was too long but he said that he was the new judge and I had to accept it. I decided to give in to him, and tallied the words and told him how much it would cost and he said, ‘Get Healy to pay it.’ I said I could not do that and then he really did his lolly. So I sent it.”

I found this last piece of the jigsaw the most disturbing and, since I now had nothing to do but wait, I began to write my report. It was, of necessity, a very long report and I found evening falling, and a note for me to come to Don and Marion for dinner, which was typical of their kindness and greatly appreciated. I spent next day (Thursday 1 April) completing the draft and was told three things (i) that the passenger ship Soochow had arrived, (ii) the judge would be sailing in her at 5 pm and (iii) that Leander would sail at midnight. I felt that the judge was guilty of grave discourtesy leaving like that and I must record the fact that, some weeks after he left, he wrote me a charming letter of thanks for all I had done and, in it, he said that he envied me greatly because of the wonderful future which was clearly ahead of me! Unfortunately, some days before he wrote that note, the Administrator ordered the Crown Law Officer, Wally Watkins, to ‘sort out’ the Telefomin massacres and Wally took me with him to Wewak and left me there, so I did not receive the note for many months.

I had a final dinner with Don and Marion and then boarded Leander for the return to Moresby. And I again borrowed a fishing line, for pleasure this time, and caught another fish which I gave to the ship’s cook. It was the fish which broke down Bill Johnson’s resolve to say nothing because he suggested I talk to Andrew, the judge’s servant who, unknown to me, was travelling back to Moresby with us. Andrew said that when he arrived on board he asked the crew what his job would be, and they told him that since there was only a small galley, his job would reduce itself to packing the judge’s gear and taking it ashore when they reached Samarai. When they reached Samarai, he said, the judge started shouting at the captain’s wife’s relatives in a very frightening way so, when the DC’s servants came, he hurriedly bundled the judge’s gear together and handed it to them so that he could escape ‘this madman’.

I said, “What do you mean, this madman?” He said, “He is often like that. Most of the time he is OK but then, for no reason, he goes mad. And he seems to enjoy hurting people. When the DC came he started shouting at him. Sometimes he shouts softly at me and that is worse. He shouted loudly at Captain Johnson and his wife’s relatives but, after that, he just stared at them and said nothing. But it was an evil eye he gave them each day.” I said, “What do you mean, the captain’s wife’s relatives?” and he said, “The Half Castes”.

All Saturday the weather was unpleasant but at dinner time we entered Wolverine Passage and the rain cleared and we enjoyed a glorious sunset. At dinner Bill Johnson opened up saying, “You asked me why he blew up at me. I don’t know why he did. But you must understand that this vessel is my home and, when we are in Samarai, it is my wife’s home. And since she is from there, it is her relatives’ home also. All the judges and everyone else respect this and, when we reach Samarai, they go ashore and my Mixed Race relatives come aboard. But when this new judge saw them he hurled abuse at them for perverting me. Can you imagine it? ‘Perverting’ me! You don’t say things like that! He thinks they don’t understand English! Then he said he would call the Police and have us all kicked off his boat! His boat! It is my home and it is MY command no matter who is on board. And he went on and on, insulting all my relatives and friends calling them Half Caste Bastards and Half Breeds.”

We arrived at Moresby at 2.30 pm and I reported to Government House after cleaning up. Sir Donald thanked me and I then said, “I’m afraid the report is rather long and I don’t know when the typist will complete it.” He said, “Don’t worry about that. If you think the DC has done wrong, even if you can’t prove it, he will have to be charged. We’ve never had interference with the administration of justice before, and it’s not going to start while I’m Administrator.”

I said, “The DC did nothing wrong. In fact, by negotiating a truce in the early stages, he saved a very dangerous situation created by a series of misunderstandings. The new judge thought that Leander was his to do with as he willed. He seems to have thought she was “The Judicial Yacht”- like the Royal Yacht – and did not know that she worked for many different departments. Or that she was Bill Johnson’s home; that, when Leander was in Samarai, members of Bill’s wife’s community were accustomed to visit. And when they visited he drank with them, not because they ‘perverted’ him, but because he was no longer responsible for a ship at sea. It was a clash of cultures, both in the ordinary sense and in what the new judge expected. The DC’s only involvement was through his servants who, when they arrived, as usual, to help the judge up to the Residency, had the new judge’s belongings thrust at them by his terrified servant. Now, as to the rights and wrongs of it …” and he stopped me, repeating that he only wanted to hear about the DC at that stage, and he would read my report in due course. He thanked me again and I left.

Postscript. I have updated the report to make it understandable today but there is something which should be explained. I wrote in longhand and included everything which could be useful both to the Administrator in his task of deciding whether an official investigation should be ordered, and to the person making the investigation if one was ordered. I therefore included the paragraph which appears below but, on further consideration, I felt that I was being emotive and the paragraph was ‘political’ so I struck it out. Then I was sent to Wewak for many months and never saw the typed product. Since I had been commissioned to get a house-guest out of trouble, I felt that it was a private matter but the Crown Law Officer did not have the same opinion for, when a similar situation occurred some years later, he re-issued my report to tie in with a submission he was making on the basis of some other reports I will mention in a moment and, in that re-issue, the paragraph I had deleted was included. The circumstances were that an official from Canberra had been appointed Assistant Administrator and he made serious accusations against a number of senior men who had served the Territory well for many years. I do not know how many he hurt but I personally had to investigate four, one in the Sepik, one in Morobe District and two in Port Moresby, and in each case there was clear evidence that the person accused had been gravely maligned.

The paragraph read: “A stable person does not normally lash out at the clerk behind the telegrams counter, and I wondered just what investigations the authorities in Australia had made as to the appointee’s mental health before imposing him on an unsuspecting Trusteeship Territory as the equal of judges who had devoted their lives to creating a viable legal system for its peoples.”


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