Kokoda Incident by Bob Fayle

It was a Saturday in early 1965. I was the Assistant District Commissioner (a Kiap) at Kokoda in the Northern District of Papua New Guinea and as usual on a Saturday I was down at the airstrip awaiting the Patair DC3 together with a gathering of plantation husbands and wives and various couples from a number of government departments. The plane’s arrival was always something of a social morning and time to chat.

Heather, my wife, had decided to stay back at home on the station. Theo Verbeck, an Agricultural Officer (a Didiman), was pursuing his hobby of catching butterflies. Dressed only in a pair of shorts and joggers and armed with a net he was heading along the road south of the station.

Meanwhile in a nearby village a local fellow named Jack (that was his name) believing that his wife had been unfaithful declared loudly to the people that he had great sorrow and shame. He stated that felt obliged to manifest this by killing someone and that once he had taken his axe from his house he would kill the first person he met. Naturally, by the time he re-emerged from his house with his axe the village was devoid of everyone other than Jack. Men, women and children had hurriedly decamped. Jack proceeded along the road north towards the station.

Jack and Theo were on a collision course.

When they met Jack immediately attacked and attempted to strike Theo on the head with his axe. Theo bravely moved forward to grapple with Jack and the head of the axe went over his head but the shaft struck him along the top splitting the skin and causing a good flow of blood down his face and chest. Jack had fallen over and Theo turned and ran back to the station being chased all the way.

The local people materialised from everywhere, knowing they were quite safe as Jack had chosen his person and was after him. A large number of people ran along behind to watch the show. Theo was bleeding profusely and he ran to my house where Heather was at the time busy doing her nails. She opened the door to Theo who came inside and noticed he was bleeding all over the floor and not wishing to make a mess he ran through the house and stood in the bath tub. Heather was left to face Jack with his axe. So, she closed the door and called our house staff, a chap named Egi and told him to get me as quickly as he could.

As the station is on a plateau Egi took a short cut over the side and ran to the strip where he informed me of what had happened. I jumped in the Land Rover and headed for home. Once home, I confirmed that Heather was alright. There were many people milling about but there was no sign of Jack and I was told he had returned to the village. Seeing to it that Theo was being looked after and having his head bandaged I took off for the village.

On arrival, I saw that the village was deserted except for Jack who was standing in the doorway of his house. The house was about two metres off the ground with steps leading to a small veranda. I asked Jack to come down and talk to me and he refused. I therefore went up the steps and I arrested Jack and took him to the vehicle. I put handcuffs on him and sat him in the back of the vehicle and drove to the station.

At Kokoda station, I removed the handcuffs and we sat on the ground outside the Sub-District Office and we discussed the events of the day. We were very visible to the assembled crowd as I wanted them to see and hear what was happening. Jack was very forthcoming and open about what he had done. I told him that it was a most serious matter and that he would have to go before the Supreme Court and be charged with grievous bodily harm.

It was then that another of the Agricultural Officers arrived on the scene and he ran up to us carrying a rifle. I suggested to him that it would be best if he took his rifle home as it was obviously causing concern. I committed Jack to a sitting of the Supreme Court and he was placed in the local Corrective Institution awaiting that sitting. It was a few days later that the Sergeant reported to me that Jack had absconded and that a watch had been placed on his house back at the village. This nearly resulted in his capture the next night but he was too fast for the police and he successfully made his getaway. I then nailed one of the newly minted twenty dollar notes to a tree outside the office and let it be known that the note belonged to the person or persons who brought Jack in.

Two days later there was a commotion coming down the road from the village and a great number of men, women and children appeared outside the Office with Jack trussed on a pole in the manner of carrying a pig. He was naked so I grabbed a blanket and covered him and cut his bonds. He was obviously relieved. However, I do believe that he had not been carried far as his hands and ankles were unmarked and the arrival performance was purely for my benefit. It was impressive. I looked up to see that the twenty dollars was gone as was the nail.

Jack made no further attempts to escape and was in fact something of a model prisoner. At the Supreme Court sitting, Mr Justice Minogue sentenced Jack to six months and at the end of proceedings he asked Jack if he had anything to say. Jack said that he would like to thank the Kiap (ADC) for saving him when the didiman wanted to shoot him. It was about a year later I was at Higaturu Council when the Clerk told me that an applicant for a labourer’s job said that I would recommend him. I looked outside and it was Jack. He got the job.