43. My task as assistant to John Grainger, OiC police, Wewak

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

It may sound odd that I, a lawyer who had prosecuted a record number of cases before the Supreme Court and defended over forty there, should say that I was ‘assistant to’ a provincial policeman. But I knew Jack Grainger well and I not only liked him, I respected him greatly. Jack was in urgent need of help because, although it was the kiaps who had done everything up until that point, Jack had now been given the job of conducting the Preliminary Hearings. And he not only had to conduct them now, but he had to do so under Wally Watkins’ watchful gaze for the first three days! In addition there was the lesser fact that I had been installed in the District Commissioner’s residence and the whole town had been told that, as far as the Telefomin operations were concerned, I was there to rescue what I could from the mess. 
In saying this I am not, in any way, casting aspersions on the kiaps who had been flown in, with a few police, with orders to scour the mountainous terrain and round up all the culprits. Since search parties must travel light, they did not take typewriters and other equipment for the taking of a formal Record of Interview of each person arrested but sent them off by first available aircraft to some place where that task could be performed properly. They did a magnificent job and, since it became clear, quite early, that practically everyone could have been arrested, because everyone was involved, they deserve special praise for their decision to arrest only the most culpable. If those with power could exercise a similar restraint in various parts of the world today, it would be a far better place!

The law accepts that arrests must sometimes be made instantly but, even then, there must always be time and facilities for the collection and weighing of evidence. In the Telefomin cases, there had been an interference with procedures and, instead of there being time for the collection of evidence, the public hearings – the Preliminary Hearings – were commenced. It was for this reason – and for this reason alone – that everything was in a mess and I was there to do what I could to prevent mass acquittals. But what could I do? I might be good in Court but I could not really speak pidgin!

Jack Grainger solved this by saying that, since they were his men, he had had to do quite a lot of ‘counselling’ of the police who had survived the massacres. And he therefore knew that, although the kiaps believed that Suni, the Station Interpreter, was reliable, the surviving police suspected him of complicity! This was because, when he was supposed to be on the Government station, he was seen skulking around in the bushes close to the scene of the Szarka massacre! This, Jack said, was something he could not investigate himself because he was ‘involved’ but, since the police bugler spoke excellent English, having studied at a seminary to become a Catholic priest, I could do it if I used him as interpreter. This I did but, since I sat in on the Preliminary Hearings (and on the separate meetings, each day, searching for potential witnesses), my investigations had to be at night and passers-by dropped in to listen. On the first night, I noticed a young Native boy, in the background, who I had noticed at the other ‘hearings’ and, on the second night he took a front position. On the third he came up to me and, in a mixture of languages which made sense to me, he said that if I wanted to talk to the Telefomin witnesses he would be my interpreter! His name was Tindangin but he preferred Tom, and he was a Telefomin! You can have no idea how thrilled I was: there were only two interpreters available and one was a possible enemy! I made enquiries and discovered that Tom was an orphan who hitchhiked in to Wewak with a batch of prisoners and, once there, he attached himself to the matriarchs of the Married Police Compound. He was highly intelligent and universally liked and, after I passed my pidgin exam, I took him up on his offer and he interpreted for me well into the midnight hours most nights, week after week, for months. It was not until Counsel for the Defence arrived, towards the end of my stay, and gave me a bundle of papers which the Crown Law Office had given him as ‘background material’ – but which they never gave me! – that I discovered that Suni, the Interpreter I was investigating, was precisely like Tom when the first Whites arrived in 1936! Those Europeans treated him the same way I had treated Tom, with results we will notice in No. 46.

It was during those interviews with the police that I discovered that there were more than fifty Telefomins in Wewak gaol after being arrested when the attacks on the Mission, etc., had been frustrated by the landing aircraft. This event was described in Snapshot No. 32, Sept. 2001, page 43, part of which reads:

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.


The Telefomins in Wewak gaol had been convicted of ‘riotous behaviour’ but, since they had not murdered anyone, they were never included in statistics of persons arrested! Equally important was the fact that the police who had arrested those non-murderers were not amongst those I was interviewing. They were scattered and when found – which took some time – the whole situation changed. Before we look at that change, however, I should return to my letter to the Crown Law Officer, written in my second week at Wewak.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply