Former Kiaps and the Mining, Oil and Gas Exploration Industry

Former Kiaps and the Mining, Oil and Gas Exploration Industry

Ridge top seismic camp, Gulf Province

Peter Wohlers

Much has been written about the work of kiaps in Papua New Guinea prior to Independence in 1975, but little has been written about the work of former kiaps in the mining, oil and gas exploration industry.


From the late 1980s, when exploration ramped up, until 2018, when much of the exploration came to a halt, former kiaps performed a role in camp construction, camp management, field management, labour mobilisation, permitting and scouting.  

Permitting basically ensured that the landowners were correctly identified, and permission was obtained to conduct a survey, and scouting entailed locating the seismic line from a map and marking it on the ground.

Some companies employed former kiaps directly in specific roles such as community affairs or logistics, however, most were employed through labour hire companies located in PNG specifically for the mining and exploration industry. Much of the employment was sourced through word of mouth.

One of the first labour hire companies was Exploration PNG, started by Neil Ryan, followed by Oilmin Field Services, started by Ian Thompson and Clive Nichols.

Ian and Clive started Oilmin, in partnership with a Papua New Guinean entrepreneur, George Leahy, in 1992. After Clive died, George became the sole owner of Oilmin in 2001, however, Ian Thompson continued as the driving force of Oilmin for many years.

Carson Pratt Services Ltd (Wild Cat Development) was also one of the early companies, followed by GMC, reformed as Gama Projex, in 2004, and later by Firewall Logistics. 

Later local labour hire companies did not employ former kiaps, as most had already departed PNG.

Almost all of the former kiaps were employed on a casual fly-in-fly-out basis and were paid on a day rate. Initially, pay was in Australian dollars, paid into an Australian bank account, but from early 2016 the PNG Government decreed that payment was to be paid in kina and into a PNG bank account. Presumably, this was due to lack of foreign exchange in PNG, and it became somewhat of a disincentive to be employed/remain in employment, for some expatriates.

Almost all former kiaps had previously worked as officers in the Highlands, and Tok Pisin was a pre-requisite.

To quote from the Foreword by Ian Thompson to Barry Taverner’s excellent book entitled, Scenery and Seismic in Papua New Guinea.

My initial choice was retired Patrol Officers who were the front men for the Australian Administration of a pre-independent Papua New Guinea. They all spoke one or both of the common trade languages of PNG with absolute fluency, they understood the customs and nature of the people, could navigate through and map new country, and were able to make the best of their circumstances, no matter where they were sent or how little support may have been available to them. But above all, they were men of integrity, self-sustaining and resourceful.

A major task was acting as an intermediary for the expatriate specialist staff who had little or no previous exposure to working with Papua New Guineans. 

Typical bridging for a seismic line

Most of the exploration was carried out in the Enga, Hela, Southern Highlands, Gulf and Western Provinces, with limited exploration at the top of the Sepik around Frieda River, and whilst the labour was generally sourced locally, the foremen and supervisors were more often highly skilled from the Hela, Southern Highlands, Western Highlands and the Enga Provinces.

Two of the prerequisites for employment in Papua New Guinea were obtaining a PNG Work Permit, and an Entry Permit. The Work Permit was issued by the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations and only allowed employment with the employer sponsoring the individual. The Work Permit could be issued for one, two or three years. A copy of an Employment Contract and an updated curriculum vitae were essential, as was evidence of training and development of PNG citizen workers. This included ensuring all staff were trained to perform the role for which they were hired and in all aspects of Work Health and Safety. Environmental issues were also a major topic with government set standards being enforced by the employing multinational company, and the individual labour hire companies.

The Entry Permit was issued by the PNG Immigration and Citizen Service Authority.

As former kiaps aged, they slowly departed and, to my knowledge, the last departed the industry in PNG in 2018.

They individually departed without fanfare, and returned to Australia to either retire or to resume their previous lives.

A list of names of 40 former kiaps who returned to work in PNG in the mining and exploration industry during the period in question can be found on the Association’s website:

The list is probably not complete, so I invite readers to let me know of people who should be added to the list.
(Mob) 0428 882 708; (E)

I acknowledge the assistance of a number of former kiaps.


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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