42. The rule and my reaction at Wewak on 8 April 1954

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

In Snapshot 22 I explained how, just after I arrived back in TPNG in March 1954, I was sent to Samarai. And how, the very day I returned to Moresby from that trip, I was told I was to go with the Crown Law Officer (Wally Watkins) on an emergency trip next morning, at first light. I was not told what our destination was and, when I was put into Ma Scannell’s at Wewak – something I had been guaranteed, the previous year, would never happen again – I was sure that we were only overnighting there on our way to Manus! Because of those movements – and because of preoccupation with unusual problems while on leave – I was totally unaware of what had been happening in regard to the Telefomin Massacres. The last I had heard was (quoting the South Pacific Post of 20 January 1954): ‘Telefomin killers … were holed up in mountainous forest country … and it would be many months yet before they could be captured.’ 
My first notice of what was to become my greatest worry came when, the day after reaching Wewak, I was sent to Telefomin. My pilot was Bishop Arkfeld of the Catholic Mission, Wewak and he told me that his back load would be local food because the authorities in Wewak were worried about the health of the Telefomin prisoners they were holding. I was surprised to hear that there were Telefomin prisoners in Wewak because it was obvious their area was ‘of high altitude’ but I assumed that they were few in number and the occasional aircraft-load of local food would solve the problem. Two or three days after I returned to Wewak the wonderful Senior Nurse, in whose honour the blind war hero Yauwiga and other Sepik leaders built and named a new hospital, also told me that her greatest worry was the health of the Telfomin prisoners. Even this did not get through to me because, by then, I had been working with ‘the Telefomins’ (not knowing that they were only part of the total there) and they appeared to be not only healthy but they were clearly enjoying the battle of wits which was going on because they knew we did not even know their names, let alone what they had individually done. And I was very much engaged in a dispute with the Crown Law Officer (CLO) about whether he should be commencing, at that stage, the Preliminary Hearings – which, I should explain, are the formal examination and cross-examination of witnesses in Open Court (i.e. so that the general public can listen and the press can report) so that the magistrate can decide whether the evidence which has been collected is sufficient to require him to ‘commit’ each prisoner for trial before the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, I did tell the CLO about the worries expressed to me because there could be adverse publicity if Highland prisoners died of coastal diseases. Then, after he had supervised the Preliminary Hearings for three days, the CLO returned to Moresby, leaving me in charge of the whole Telefomin operation. Things became clearer and I was informed that it was Canberra which had directed that the Telefomins be held in Wewak. In my first letter to the CLO (28 April) I advised that one defendant in the Harris case was very ill and unable to attend the hearing, and no other cases could be heard as, due to illness, none had a full complement of charged Natives available.

We will return to this question of illness in a later Snapshot but I am happy to relate that, if my memory is correct, only one Telefomin actually died and he was infirm long before he was arrested.


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