Graham Syphers 2 of 3


Here is the final part of a personal reminiscence and quick look by one Australian expat living in New Guinea, pre Independence.  I had a total of sixteen years flying in PNG. The years 1966 to 1975 were by far the best and most satisfying.  

After 1975, some of us went on to fly bigger and better aircraft (and some on to much bigger and better aircraft), though our pilot friends who crashed  up there never had that opportunity.  Just about all the old timers say that the period prior to Independence was “the best of times”. 

The law and order problem, far from perfect even then, was certainly like heaven compared to today’s total lawlessness, violence and corruption. Ray Whitrod, Commissioner of Police in PNG (1969-1970) once responded to law and order problems in Mt Hagen by saying, “Give me ten good men and I’ll clean the place up”.  Today the saying would have to be, “Give me ten thousand good men”.

I will avoid too much discussion on politics about PNG, and if Independence was granted too soon.  The younger generation in PNG thinks not, the old time natives really know what they lost *. The younger ones are swayed by UN propaganda,  political correctness and modern notions (inculcated) of bad old colonial days.  Often academic spin completely takes away the reality of good deeds done and injects racism as the root cause of everything.  Those authors (academics and newspaper journalists) are liars;  for this is insane, a fabrication for political reasons and completely wrong.

I lived in Lae for five years 1968-1973.  It was a beautiful spot.  Manicured lawns everywhere, white painted rocks beside the roads, immaculate botanical gardens, tranquillity.  Everything was serviceable. The only crime was thievery.   Since 1975, the place has become increasingly filthy, covered in red betel juice (buai) spittle. The roads are in such a cratered state, a modern armoured tank would disappear down them. There seems to be no money being spent on anything.   Crime is rampant and now includes frequent violence and murder.

Suffice to say that the ordinary native people were a lot better off in those pre 1975 days, when somebody really cared –  The Australian Administration of TPNG. Kiaps did a fantastic job and always had projects on the go.  Building roads, schools, airstrips and infrastructure, all of which benefited the local bush people. Where is the money from huge gas, gold, copper and timber projects going today? The bushies see none of it. Worst of all, without funding, many airstrips ran down and closed, (as Omkalai, Keglsugl and hundreds of others that no longer exist).

TPNG aviators lost many close friends in aircraft accidents and personally had more than their share of extremely dangerous and terrifying flying situations. “If I get out of this, I will quit flying.”  They were back again tomorrow.

It was then a great lifestyle. Goroka, in 1966 was a young man’s paradise.  Plenty of Aussie and NZ girls working there, mostly good, some bad, plenty of flying and a wonderful social life. The beer and wine did flow. There was much fornication.

Young men could make the error of relying on native servants too much, (then called haus-bois) or being  too  trusting.   Being too lazy to do one’s own cooking often lead to dysentery, letting them do your washing was fraught with hazard. Too much Rinso in one’s underpants caused serious burning – long daunbilo (down below). It was wise to iron your own good shirts.  I once went to put on a uniform white shirt and was not amused to find the back completely burnt out in the perfect outline of an iron. Asking my servant what had happened here, he answered, “Bikpela rat emi kaikai dispela”, (a large rat had eaten it). When socialising, a Canadian pilot friend said to me, “I hate to tell you, Graham, but this whiskey of yours tastes very much like 100% cold tea”. I wonder where my large and expensive Bowie knife is now? Most of these haus bois knew exactly when to quit and vanish. 

For those, scratching their heads at certain unfamiliar phrases and descriptions, the following should be useful.

Lae Veranda, Air Traffic Control. Before the real, standard control tower was built at Lae airport (in the City by the sea, not Nadzab), the ATC lads worked their separation and control duties from a small room that was attached to the original Dept. of Civil Aviation building on the original Lae airport.  This edifice, about as big as an average bathroom, was actually higher than the adjoining DCA Briefing Office – by all of five feet.   The entrance to the ATC room was via the Briefing Office.

If you wished to visit Lae veranda, you needed to climb three steps to the door.  The ATC boss was Phil Graham, a pipe smoker and very stuffy, but most clever and he enjoyed a drink of whiskey after work – he was a WW2 RAF bomber pilot.  Ex RAN Dean Darcy was the star controller. He looked like Lou Costello and had an amazing sense of humour.   With many aircraft flying in the vicinity, Dean kept up a continuous commentary, half for the pilots and half (with expletives not transmitted), for humour.  He would call certain pilots by insulting and rude names, often reflecting their brain power, general usefulness and other amusing observations– and then press the transmit button for the ATC instructions that the pilot heard.  He would have been in serious strife, had he lacked coordination or became confused and pressed the TX button when seriously insulting someone.

Some pilot characters used to try the patience of the experienced briefing officers.  One aviator from Crowley Airways used to walk in (having seen his most varied roster) and put in a single flight plan with four different aircraft types and aircraft registrations on the one page.  The senior briefing officer, Alan O’Conner , would say “you cannot do this, Dudley”, (Dudley Hardy). Dudley would casually say, “that’s what I am doing,  what you see is what you get”.  He was never denied an airways clearance to work as his roster directed.   “Laughing Dudley” was casual, but he was a good bush pilot.

Kiap.   The Australian Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was from 1920 to 1975.  The word Kiap is pidgin and evolved from the German word Kapitan, (Captain).  Essentially, they were area administrators and patrol officers.  Young men were trained in various aspects of administration, law, history of TPNG and other duties. As they were often alone in a remote outpost, representing Australia, they were young men with very wide ranging duties and responsibilities. The last area to be considered “controlled” (patrolled) was in 1963. Many areas had cannibalism, pay back killings, no laws, endless tribal wars about land, women and pigs. The last area that Australian Kiaps found  a tribe that had never seen white men was in the 1960s.

They did a fantastic job.

Pidgin.   Rather than outline every word and meaning – Google it, it is all there.



 * In 1993, I was in the Cloudlands Hotel, Tabubil. This was shortly after Jasper Maskelyne and I introduced the Dash 8 to the Ok Tedi Mine.  We were meeting many people in this happy time, beside the bar. An old (Lapun) New Guinea man, not dressed in modern clothes, came up me. He had no English, but had heard that we were old TPNG men “bilong taim bipor” (from the time before Independence).  He approached, with tears in his eyes, held my arms tightly and said “Tenkyu tumas, mi amamas long lukautim yupela.  Nu Gini nau em i bagarapim olgera. Mi laik lukim ol Australia na Kiap i kamap long lukautim mipela””.  (Thank you, I am happy to see you. New Guinea is now destroyed.  I would like to see Australians and Kiaps come back to help look after us”.    GCS.



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