55. Re-statement of why I am writing these ‘Snapshots’

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

Bob Blaikie’s tribute to David Selby in the last issue of Una Voce causes me to mention that, over the years, readers have asked that I include famous trials that I was involved in and the Mataungan Trial has come in for special mention on a number of occasions. In regard to the Mataungan Trial there are two aspects: there are the parts which are matters of record and there is the lead-up to the case which has not been reported. Since the latter can remove possible imputations against those who refused to allow a lawyer access to the men arrested – and since it also includes a reference to the proposed prosecution of District Commissioner Keith McCarthy – I will report it. But, just as there are two parts to that trial, there were two distinct periods in my time in TPNG and events in the latter period do not necessarily reflect the spirit or tone of the former period. Some do, but it depends on how you look at it. The question of whether the general public – especially Papua New Guineans – turned up in large numbers to listen to cases is one test. In the ‘old days’ the courthouses were packed so I will report a case I was involved in where the Tolai community wanted to bring back a young man and a young woman who had broken a totemic law and hundreds attended the hearings. 
In speaking of ‘two periods’ I do not want to suggest that those who were recruited to serve in TPNG after, say, 1960 did not do a wonderful job or that their dedication was anything less than that of those who went there before them. The difference is not in people – except for those few who used political influence to get appointed to top positions. The difference is in the system. This brings me to Bob Blaikie’s tribute which contains this summary of what Judge Selby said of the earlier period (Una Voce No. 4 of 2002, page 35):

Judge Selby said that Australia could be proud of the way in which so many of her officials, from the Administrator downwards, were tackling problems . . . it is impossible, after living and working with these men, to fail to recognise that the spirit of real service to a cause is still very much alive.

For present purposes I suggest that this be read with two other statements. The first is Ruri Brennan’s proud boast on behalf of the Public Service Association of 1955 (paragraph 3 of the transcript mentioned in No. 54):

always we have striven to keep in our minds this one fact, that . . . we are Australia’s representatives amongst roughly 2,000,000 Native people.

The second is what I said in the second of these snapshots (Una Voce, No. 1 of 1999 page 34):

These snapshots will, I hope, bring back proud memories to those who served in TPNG at the time and explain to their descendants just what it was that made TPNG so different from other dependent territories.

The words ‘so different from other dependent territories’ are vitally important. In the books we use in schools, Australia should have featured the fact that, whereas the ‘dependent’ races in the British, French and Dutch colonies threw out their former masters when the Japanese invasion gave them the opportunity, Papua New Guineans by and large rallied to the aid of countless Australians who were trapped. Some day – soon I hope – these deficiencies will be righted and the Papua New Guineans of today will see that, although they might be going through a difficult period at present they did, in the past, produce men like Bukumbangi and Mulai, Sauweni and Suni and all the others. And future Australians will also see that the vast majority of Australians who served in Papua New Guinea did a pretty good job.

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