Papuan Carriers: The “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” of WW11 by Chris Warrillow
In October 1959, I arrived in Kairuku on Yule Island as a Cadet Patrol Officer. ADO Ken Brown instructed me to accompany him and Patrol Officer Pat Dwyer to Inawaia on the mainland, in Mekeo territory. We ‘camped’ in an abandoned permanent materials house on the abandoned DASF station, a relic of the infamous Mekeo Rice Scheme. After a few days, Ken returned to his pressing station duties leaving Pat and me to ‘get on with the job’.
Our task was to try to divert the St. Joseph (Angabanga) River back to its original course to re-enter the sheltered waters of Hall Sound. The inland Mekeo people (and some Roro) used to paddle their canoes to Kairuku to sell produce and also ship betel nut etc to Port Moresby. During a series of floods in the latter half of the 50s, the river had broken its banks and entered Oreke Creek, which flowed into the open waters of the Gulf of Papua. This left the old riverbed dry and the Mekeo were unable to access Kairuku, and left several villages without reliable water during the long dry seasons.
But that is another story. The year 1959 was 17 years after the re-capture of Kokoda and 14 years after cessation of hostilities in TP&NG. Pre-war miner/planter and famous war-time, carrier-recruiter and labour manager for the Australian Army, ANGAU’s former Captain H. T. (Bert) Kienzle was comfortably resettled on his plantation near Kokoda. He wanted to show his appreciation of the efforts of those carriers.
A police ‘runner’ brought our additional instruction from Ken, in Kairuku. We were to identify two former carriers who could best represent those of the Kairuku Sub-District who served on the Kokoda Track. We sent word out to the surrounding Mekeo and Roro villages asking for suitable candidates from who we could select two.
Our message emphasised that there was to be a big party and that Taubada Kienzle was paying for two representatives from former recruitment areas (the Gulf, Kairuku and other coastal areas) to travel to Moresby and, with some Motu/Koita and Koiari former carriers, fly to Kokoda. At Kokoda there was to be a big singsing with several pigs and a steer killed, much rice, bully beef, and copious quantities of tea, sugar, lolly water and stick tobacco. After two days and two nights all would fly back to Moresby and be returned to their respective villages.
After several days, far from being swamped with eager wanna-be party-goers, there were no volunteers seeking what seemed to be a very generous offer. So, Pat and I visited a number of nearby villages to check that they had, indeed, received the invitation. The various Village Constables (Hanua Polisman) confirmed that they had received the message and passed it on. However, they claimed, no carriers were ever recruited from their respective villages and so no one could honestly claim to be representatives and join in the festivities.
Pat got cross at, what he knew to be, the blatant lies. Interrogations commenced and a few former carriers were identified. However, still none were willing to participate! After further interrogation all was explained. We were informed, in no certain manner:-
“That’s what they told us in 1942 and we were away for many months, even years, and often had no food or tobacco and certainly no singsings or lolly water. We were scared when the bombs (mortars?) fell near us. And, when we tried to run away the police chased after us and took us back to be beaten“.
However, it should be noted that, despite the sometimes harsh treatment meted out by certain officers, many records indicate that generally, considerable mateship existed between the Papuans and the rank and file Aussie diggers.
I sent a copy of the above to Pat Dwyer in Perth with a request that he check it for any inaccuracies or distortions that may have crept into my 57 year old memories. After all, as stated by Professor Ken Inglis when interviewed by Seumas Spark in September, 2014 for the book, Australians in Papua New Gu8inea 1960-1975, “Old men forget and even remember things that didn’t happen”.
Pat reminded me that a couple of the old carriers who protested also said words to the effect, “We did our bit when we were young, why send us again? Send a couple of these young lads hanging around the village doing nothing”.
Also, Pat refreshed my memory in respect of a few old women who had asked “Who will clear the bush and help us with our new gardens if, like last time, they don’t come back?”. Pat promised them that both he and I would return and do the job ourselves. Ken Brown, after reading our report, threatened that if the plane crashed he would second us both to DASF’s Lowland Experimental and Extension Station at Epo (Bereina) from where we would make good our promise.
Another recollection of Pat’s was the perceptions of the former carriers in regard to officers of the old (pre-war) TNG Administration and officers of the Papuan Administration with whom they had contact. The former, who presumably inherited some German ways, were referred to as ‘the British’ whereas the latter, who followed in Murray’s footsteps, were referred to as ‘the Australians’.