Book: Small Steps Along the Way by Paul Oates
Phil Fitzpatrick recently had the pleasure of editing a new book by Paul Oates about his experiences as a kiap in the formative and crucial years just before independence. He writes:
‘What struck me about Paul’s account are the similarities with my own experiences as a kiap. I don’t doubt that other old kiaps will make the same observation.
This commonality of experience is important to record, both in its mundanity and in its exceptionalism.
The simple day-to-day activities of a kiap in Morobe can speak volumes, not only about how and why things were done but also about the overriding motives of the Australian administration and the ordinary Papua New Guineans who were effected.
The detailed descriptions Paul offers are unique to that period and will never be repeated. They range from building his own house and garden to the construction of bridges, roads and airfields.
In every account there is a palpable sense of innovation and making do under an austere and ignorant hierarchy in Canberra.
There is also a profound sense of two disparate groups, expatriates and locals, working together hand-in-hand for a common cause.
Paul’s easy-going relationships with the people he’s working among shines through his writing in a way that every old kiap and PNG lapun will recognise.
There is also drama and tragedy in the book. The loss of a good friend in an aeroplane crash is particularly heart rending.
So too are the last days of his wife and family in Port Moresby when their house was broken into and all their possessions stolen, followed by the stoning of their car by a bunch of drunken raskols.
Then there is the inevitable problem of fitting back into Australian society. Not many old kiaps managed that transition well, myself included.
Despite all this, Paul’s account, in all its manifestations, is related with a sense of humour and a firm appreciation of the ridiculous.
Note to PNGAA members: A search on the PNGAA website for ‘Paul Oates’ will highlight a number of his contributions to our quarterly journal, Una Voce, over many years. They make wonderful reading.
or AU$2.91 as an eBook, from Amazon in the USA.