Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

In late 1954, soon after Professor Elkin, the editor of Sydney University’s anthropology journal Oceania told me he wanted to publish my article “AFEK of Telefomin” but was experiencing difficulty getting Canberra’s permission (it finally came out in the joint Sept-Dec 1954 issue, p. 11), Chief Justice Sir Beaumont Phillips invited me to dinner at his home to meet another professor, Professor Ringrose from the University of Queensland. Ringrose told me that he had written to TPNG students doing Law externally with his university, seeking suggestions as to a likely person to be made “tutor”, and they had named me. I said that I was very flattered but I was only a “C” Pass student and, in any case, I did not see how anyone could tutor people scattered throughout the Territory. He explained that it would only be a stopgap measure for two or three years and that “letting my name go forward” was the important part. And, since he also said that, if I agreed, students would obtain various benefits which they would not otherwise get, I said OK. He then said, “If you could produce ‘local materials’ for the students that would help”. That was a horse of a different colour and, because of what was happening to my AFEK article and other unpleasantries, I was jack of laboriously typing things that got nowhere, so I prevaricated saying that the law in TPNG was, with few exceptions, the same as where I came from (WA). Sir Beaumont then intervened. For brevity I will refer to him as “Monte” from now on, but I would point out that, as is clear from my article on him at page 214 of vol 11. of Australian Dictionary of Biography, he was a great man and such usage does not betoken disrespect. Monte chipped in saying, “True, Quinlivan, but our administration of the law is much closer to the people, so you have a wide field there. For instance, how many times, in WA, would you have the Accused wandering out of the dock because he wanted to help the Court? And how often would a lawyer in WA have to face the problem you had at Samarai?” He also said that he would handle the typing and distribution himself – which he did; all I had to do was hand in the drafts to the court – and he arranged with all the judges for me to have access to their private notebooks. So, since I had quite a collection of items already available, the project began immediately.

To explain why I had a collection of items available I should mention that my arrival in TPNG was the result of Canberra panicking because, having failed to listen to repeated pleas from Port Moresby for more Crown Prosecutors, the backlog of cases was threatening to affect political stability in Australia. In most “colonial” countries members of the dominant race normally escaped being hauled before the criminal courts but in TPNG, in November 1951, while Warren Balfour was being tried by the Supreme Court at Finschhafen, Peter Jameson was awaiting trial before the Supreme Court at Kavieng, the Reverend Johannes de Roo was awaiting trial at Manus, Francis Terence Murphy was awaiting trial at Rabaul and Michael Gregory was awaiting trial at Lae – to mention only those on my own first circuit. It was scandalous by any standard and Canberra’s reaction (and the fact that they flew me from Perth to Moresby without any attempt to tell me anything about the place) gave me a false idea of what the administration of justice in TPNG was like. It also meant that, being specially imported to be the saviour, I was treated royally when I arrived – met at the airport by the Deputy Crown Law Officer, welcomed by the Chief Justice at morning tea, had tea and scones next day at Government House, dinner with Judge Gore, was taken on a tour of Samarai and Rabaul – but this, unfortunately, could not be sustained because, having solved their immediate problem, everyone forgot to tell Rabaul that they had abandoned the plan to fly in a senior barrister from Sydney and were sending me instead. So, while I was seeing the sights, Jack Crockett, the Chief Clerk, was giving my room at the Cosmo Hotel to the senior barrister who had come anyway! I did not discover the mix-up until the District Commissioner had disappeared home, thinking I was someone Monte had met on the plane and was treating to a free view of Rabaul, and I had to beg a meal from the Admin. Mess (after it had closed), and a bed in the Travelling Officers Bungalow. I also fell, totally sober, into a stormwater drain and got covered with buai-impregnated mud when I tried to find my way back to the TOB in the dark. It was the worst, the loneliest night I have ever spent. I could not sleep because I was seething with resentment and the more I told myself that I needed sleep if I was to survive my first day in Court in TPNG, the more sleep eluded me. Then I sat down and wrote the events of the day and found that 99 point 9 percent had been interesting and good and, since the blackness lifted, I resolved that, each night, I would write down the events of the day.

In late 1954 it seemed providential that I kept to that resolve. Now that things have changed so much, it is even more so because what I wrote provides, in snapshot form, a startling picture of what the administration of justice was really like – and what it should still be had things been allowed to progress the way Monte and Judge Gore planned. 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.

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