28. R. v. Ikuar (Madang, 18 and 24 March 1952)

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots


This case was about a government patrol being attacked. Ikuar was only charged with ‘unlawful wounding’ but he could easily have killed the policeman he speared and J.K. McCarthy (who himself had been grievously wounded in a similar spearing) told me he liked my report because it highlighted the fact that ‘signs of peaceful intention’ may be misunderstood. His Patrol into Yesterday is hard to get but John Cooke’s Working in Papua-New Guinea 1931-1946 (1983, Lara Publications) describes, at page 59, how McCarthy, Eric Feldt, and a large party of carriers and police were attacked. The point is that they were being extra careful because they were there to investigate reports that Bill Naylor, an experienced prospector, had been clubbed to death along with his partner Emile Clarius and a large party of carriers! Because of Geoff Melrose’s fascinating ‘This and That from My Father’s Mouth’ at page 26 of the last Una Voce, Ikuar’s case is once again relevant because, after Melrose Senior had listened to the experts of Canberra for several days he said, ‘I have never heard so much concentrated bull dust in my life…’ After all – and in addition to skirmishes which, like Ikuar’s, were not reported by the newspapers – Ikuar’s case was followed by headlines such as, ‘Goilalas Attack Patrol – 1 Dead, 2 Wounded’ (South Pacific Post of 24 December 1952), ‘Savage Attack in New Guinea – Patrols Slaughtered by Hostile Natives’ (SPP of 11 November 1953). And yet we also had, ‘Hasluck Wants All Areas Opened Up By 1955′ (SPP of 5 December 1952)!

The case was important in its own right, firstly because it was another instance of ‘defending an innocent man’ (see No. 27, Mar. 2001, which was from the same patrol). It was also a cautionary tale, for things are not always what they seem. Here, the Prosecutor at the committal hearing was a Police Inspector so, since the police only dealt with ‘town cases’, the Magistrate assumed that the case came from behind Madang where all the people had, since German times, been ‘under control’. (The Magistrate was merely passing through Madang and had been roped in to assist because Monte, the Chief Justice, wanted to clear up the backlog and leave a clear slate.) And since the evidence was not only plentiful and clear, but the Accused admitted his guilt, he was committed for sentence. Actually, the case was from a unique patrol into the Adelbert Ranges and the Police Inspector was only helping out because the Patrol Officer who had conducted the patrol had been called away.

In all of these Snapshots I have been reporting as a person who merely happened to be present. In this one, however, I must intrude a bit of ‘me’. But it is not really boastfulness. When it is one’s duty, day in day out, to ‘think on one’s feet’ one develops a sixth sense that something is not quite right. We have already seen, in No. 11, an example of what I mean because, although there were two highly qualified lawyers against me, I won, not because I was clever but simply because they had fallen into the trap of following their hunch without investigating first. In this case the feeling became overwhelming after (in accordance with the invariable custom in those days) I had read out all the evidence taken in the Committal Hearings and it had all been translated to Ikuar through two interpreters and he had agreed that that was what had been said. The depositions showed that the Accused kept talking about the injured policeman’s rifle, and yet there was no rifle with the papers; a lapse which was most unusual because all courthouses were cluttered with all sorts of things brought in simply because the Accused had mentioned them and the trial judge might ask to see what he was talking about. My feeling was also due to the fact that I could have sworn that I heard the word ‘boanarra’ from the Accused’s mouth but it was not being translated – presumably because the middle interpreter knew that policemen did not use bows and arrows. So after I closed my side of the case, I applied for a ‘smoko adjournment’ and got it. I then asked one of the kiaps in the back of the Court if he could get me as many rifles as possible and, when he produced eight or ten, we laid them out on the bar-table.

In an earlier Snapshots I mentioned the speech which Monte – and all the other judges – traditionally gave to new prosecutors. I should have reproduced it long ago because it was the Ground Rules under which we operated in those days. Nowadays it would be unheard of for a prosecutor to do what I did, but The Speech said that the duty of the Crown Prosecutor was not only to see that justice is done from the Prosecution side, but also to assist the Defending Officer as much as possible. Because of this I had no qualms about saying to the Defending Officer, who had been watching what I was doing, ‘I’d like to conduct an experiment. Could you ask your client which of these rifles looks like the one the wounded man had that day?’

This he did and the Accused, with a beaming smile, jumped out of the witness box but, instead of going to the bar-table to look at the rifles, he made for the door. In those days the Accused usually had the run of the place so nobody was disturbed and, when he stopped at the doorway, we all gathered around him, Monte included. Not too close because, although he was a most engaging personality, he was covered from head to foot with grille. I said ‘Well?’ and the Accused said, gesturing towards the bar-table with its array of rifles, ‘None of them is anything like what he threatened me with. But that man has one!’ and he pointed to the Flag Lowering Party which had just arrived at the flagpole some twenty yards away.

We all stood to attention as the Australian flag was lowered and then my friend the kiap went and brought the whole of the Flag Lowering Party over. Except for one, they all had rifles like those on the bar-table. The exception was that one of the rifles had a sling on it.

The Accused, still with his intelligent smile, said, ‘He wasn’t holding it like that’ (the policeman held it resting on his shoulder). ‘He threatened me like this.’ And he gently took the rifle from the policeman and held it butt down and muzzle into the air. But as soon as he took it in his hand, his whole arm dropped a little and a puzzled look came over his face and he said, ‘How does it work?’

His self-assurance had left him. It was, in a tragic sort of way, quite comical because he twanged at the strap as if it was a bow-string, but it was an empty gesture and he repeated, ‘How can this thing kill?’

Monte said, ‘I think this makes it clear that we will have to hear all the evidence!’ and we took our official places in the Courtroom and he adjourned the case until the Court returned from Manus. That was on 18 March 1952. We returned from Manus on 24 March and the case went to trial with Royce Webb (who joined the Field Staff on 3 February 1947) as Defending Officer. To cut a long story short, Webb showed that the patrol had entered an enclave which had had no contact with white men before, or with any man of any colour dressed in trousers, shorts or a laplap. But they had heard about the fearsome weapon these foreigners had which went BOONG and you were dead.

It also became clear that the patrol had gone out of its way to show that its intentions were peaceful. The police had carried their rifles in front of them, held vertical, so that everyone would know that they could not fire them without changing their grip, lowering the muzzle and aiming. But it was a case where the intentions of the one side to show that they were peacefully disposed had the reverse effect on those on the other side. It augured ill for people trying to show they were peacefully inclined when entering Uncontrolled Areas.

Monte officially ‘found’ that Ikuar thought that the sling was the propelling mechanism and that he felt that he was being threatened. And that, because of this, he got in first with his spear. It was not until he held the rifle and saw how useless the sling was for firing purposes that he realised that these BOONGS worked some other way!

Monte convicted him but he then cited his ‘brother Gore’s statement of many years ago’ (see No. 29 below) about how reactions such as Ikuar’s were only to be expected in situations which the patrol had created. He said that we could not afford to have people throwing spears at policemen but, on the other hand, we could not punish a person for doing what we should have expected might happen. So he asked the doctor how long it would be before the grille was cleared up and ordered that Ikuar be imprisoned for two months or until such earlier time as his grille was cleared and a patrol could be mounted to take him back home.


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