35. The Telefomin trials: Two points raised by newspaper reports

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

The September issue contained the first of what I intended to be three sets of Snapshots about the Telefomin trials but, because of something unforseen (which I will discuss in the third set), I find it necessary to extend the series into four sets. I hope you won’t mind. This means that I will defer the main thing I wanted to deal with in this set. Instead, we will look at three matters which, at first blush, seem unrelated.
The first, The Kiap’s Wife says ‘It Happens Everywhere!’, is necessary because, after the Telefomin trials were all over and I had returned to Port Moresby, the South Pacific Post published a headline report which disturbed me greatly. That report, dated 25 August 1954 (ie. nine and a half months after the killings) read:

‘I went to see Mr. Timperley about his statement that my son disobeyed orders’ Mr Harris said.

I was absolutely appalled that the bereaved Szarka and Harris parents had, all these months, been allowed to endure the totally unnecessary worries that their sons’ deaths were due to them ‘disobeying orders’ – a charge which, to a generation whose minds were coloured by a lengthy war, could only mean that their deaths were ‘self inflicted’! I, myself, had been completely out of touch with the ‘outside world’ for the whole of that period and two questions immediately arose: Who spread this hurtful self-serving lie? And whose ‘orders’ were supposed to have been disobeyed? At that stage I did not know that an earlier report had said that it was ‘Canberra’ that had made the original allegation but I was sure that Alan Timperley would never have spread it. Since I knew that the parents’ anguish was totally unnecessary, I felt that I had a duty to set their minds at rest but, since neither Mr nor Mrs Harris had raised this worry with me when they attended a luncheon I put on to thank the people of Wewak for their cooperation, it seemed that a personal letter was not the way to go. So I wrote the Oceania article which Professor Jackson refers to in his book mentioned in No. 32.

Now, as we approach the 50th anniversary, potential authors may feel tempted to rely on this mischievous allegation so I would point out that, before the Section Ten Investigation of the late ’50s changed things for so many kiaps, they went out, in all weathers, when necessity called. Stopping tribal fights was the usual cause but I well remember the first time I met a particularly placid kiap’s wife as she told me, amid tears, that her husband was absent because he had gone out to prevent two groups of BTOs (Big Time Operators – in this case War Surplus Collectors) shooting at each other! They were careful not to hit anyone, for that could lead to trouble with the Courts, but one group had caught members of ‘the opposition’ bathing in a crocodile infested creek and they wanted to keep them there so that the crocs would do their work for them! Her worry was that, since vast sums of money were involved, they might easily turn their guns on her husband so that their ‘business methods’ remained secret! I include The Kiap’s Wife article (which I wrote in an entirely different context) because, to me, it defines the ‘normalcy’ of what Szarka and Harris did.

The second is an explanation of The Queen against Francis Terence Murphy which has already been mentioned in Snapshots 1(a) and 13. Although this may seem wildly unrelated it is actually necessary for several different reasons – one being the ‘something unforseen’ which has caused my change of plan – but mainly because of the announcement, in the South Pacific Post of 7 April 1954 that, whereas the latest report showed that ‘only’ 83 Telefomins had been arrested and brought to Wewak Gaol, a further 43 had since been brought in. The explanation was quite simple. There were a number of search groups acting independently, and they continued to send in the men they had arrested. For reasons which I will explain later, I do not have the final tally but it was in excess of 200. This meant that the main question which faced me was how to preserve the Telefomin people from racial extinction! No matter how one looks at it, charging (as distinct from arresting) 200 of the most virile of any racial group’s menfolk because four of our men had been killed was disproportionate and unless the vast majority of them could be returned, the Telefomin people, as a race, would be destroyed. But each had been legitimately arrested, and a case could be made out against each and every one of them! Who was I to decide who should be tried and who should be returned home so that the race could be preserved?

The third gives us a glimpse of what kind of person Gerry Szarka was, as well as being a rather good example of the detailed range of defences which kiaps used to raise as Defending Officers, even in the one case.


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