32. A short description of the Telefomin attacks

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

There were many other Father Rays and Don Barretts doing wonderful jobs and, as I have said, I will illustrate what I mean by a couple of quotes from my Letter Recommending Awards for what happened at Telefomin. First, however, I should mention that the Telefomin Station was at a place called Ifitamin. It was here that the Ward Williams mining expedition landed in an amphibian aircraft in 1936. It was here that they made their base for a five-month-long survey. It was also here that Allied Soldiers had a rest camp during the war and during the ‘clean-up period’. Because of this long period of occupancy, everybody assumed that we knew all about the Telefomin. Unfortunately, there was an incredibly powerful cohesive force emanating from the nondescript Haus Tambaran at Telefolip which was in a different valley system. We did not know that the tribalism which, as I have said in No. 31, worried most of the Papua New Guinean elite, was different, in this area, from what we were used to elsewhere in PNG, and that Ifitamin – the place we judged everything by – was really an irrelevant nothingness. The extent of the influence of that Haus Tambaran is described, in great detail, by Professor Jackson starting at page 35 of his Ok Tedi: The Pot of Gold (University of PNG, no date, probably 1982).
The point is that, from the very beginning, the Masters of the Haus Tambaran decided on two things: (a) these white intruders had to be destroyed and (b) that, since the intruders had powerful things which could prevent plan (a) succeeding, the Min had to get to know all about these new things so that they could work out ways to neutralise them. Aircraft were easy to deal with. You just put logs out to prevent them landing. Radio was also easy: just chop down the aerial masts. Getting at people inside buildings was also easy so they manufactured enormous numbers of five-pronged arrows which I will describe later. Other things, such as rifles, were more difficult but not impossible, and teams were trained to become so friendly with the invaders that nobody would object if they saw them wandering around. Then the individuals who were recognised as having right of entry were trained to make off with all the rifles without being noticed! The plan was complete and incredibly detailed, but although there were a number of occasions in the 40s when it was put into operation, the operation was always cancelled at the last moment. Then, as I said in the Letter of Recommendations:

On Sunday 3 November 1953 the Masters of the Tambaran House discovered that the whites would be in three widely scattered areas and their foreign Native helpers would be in five such scattered areas. This was the perfect opportunity. Instructions went out and the plan – in which the entire population, irrespective of inter-village hatreds and warfare, was involved – was implemented. The plan was absolutely comprehensive and superbly conceived. Attacks on all fronts were to take place without warning at an hour after daybreak on Friday. By a miracle an unscheduled aircraft landed at Telefomin station at that time and the attacks on that station and on the Mission did not take place at the planned time and, because those at those places became suspicious, they never occurred. Had the attacks succeeded – and only the inconceivable stopped them – the entire body of non-Telefomins in the area would have been annihilated and it would, conservatively estimated, have taken months and many lives of paratroops – the plan called for the demolition of the airstrip and the arming of a home-guard – before we could have got back into the area.


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