2. Slipshod and you’re in trouble

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

Before I went to TPNG I had been Secretary of the Marist College Old Boys Association of WA and, since everyone knew I intended going to PNG for only the one term, they expected me to give a talk on my experiences on my return.

I wrote this piece for inclusion in that talk because the thing which most impressed me was the meticulousness with which Police and Kiaps abided by the Rule of Law in even the smallest details, and this episode illustrated this. I gave it to the Law students because although my lecturers had told us that, in ancient times, judges were given something called “Commissions of Oyer, Terminer and Gaol Delivery” (Gaol Delivery being like the powers of a Visiting Justice under the Prisons Ordinance where the V.J. has to check the documentation covering each person held in the gaol) they did not tell us that modern judges get the same commissions. They also failed to tell us that, for a person arrested, the main documentation was the “Station Occurrence Book” in which everything had to be recorded as it happened. Knowledge of such a book could be useful to a defence lawyer.

I also included this piece in a draft article on the High Court when, as mentioned in John Herbert’s excellent article in Una Voce No 4 of 1997, that Court was led to believe that the Rabaul Police Station was a large building with solid walls and windows. The report reads: “It was just after 7 am, Tuesday 12 February 1952 and I was looking for the Rabaul Police Station. I had arrived in Rabaul late the previous afternoon and, due to someone wrongly advising the Rabaul authorities that a “senior Law lecturer from Sydney” would be the Crown Prosecutor, I had no idea what kind of building I was looking for. All I knew was that it was where the road I was on joined a main road. The air was very still and there was absolutely no traffic, so sound carried and as I approached the corner I heard voices from the sole building there, a small raised up bungalow which had no walls or windows, just push-out shutters fully raised.

They were Australian voices and I was glad because I hoped to end my sudden run of bad luck. I was not deliberately listening as I walked past the side of the building, around the corner and up the steps but, since the voices kept repeating the one theme, I could not help hearing what was said: they were badgering someone called Vic because he had “forgotten to make a record and Monte would have his guts for garters when he did his V.J.”. And, when I identified myself, the Police told me – by way of overcoming the hesitancy which naturally arises when the “senior Sydney barrister” they expected turns out to be very junior, and from Perth, and needs their help – that “Vic here arrested a Native and then got called out on a case without entering the arrest in the Station Occurrence Book so, when he got back, there were later entries already entered and the Chief Justice will see that he had failed in (and these words were almost chanted in unison) An Aspect Affecting the Liberty of the Subject”.

It was all new to me but I soon found that the phrase “An Aspect Affecting the Liberty of the Subject” – meaning the rights of Papua New Guineans – was a cardinal tenet with all the then judges and, although his colleagues were treating it in a joking manner, it was clear that the future of Victor Clayton Rowles was in great danger because of his oversight. To cut a long story short, the Australians left the building so that the Chief Justice could do his inspection, but the Native Sergeant stayed since he was an old friend and when Monte was turning the pages of the Station Occurrence Book a big brown finger suddenly thrust itself onto the page and the Sergeant said, “They’re worried about that.” Monte said, “True here?” and the Sergeant said, “True here. But it’s something-nothing. Masta Vic is a good, honest man.”

And that was the end of it all! I don’t think any higher praise has been given any white person in TPNG, or any problem solved so simply. As Chesterton says, far too many people fail to notice the silent witnesses, such as the Sergeant who was always present, and wise lawyers should always seek them out, just as they should always seek to find those pieces of “mute testimony” which cannot be tampered with.”

If I may add a modern postscript I would like to record that my sudden run of bad luck did change because, that very afternoon, Max Orken returned and discovered my plight. He rescued me by taking me into his own home, a typical act of kindness for which I will forever be profoundly grateful.

 

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