Stone Age Moon by James O Hunter

Self-published, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-646-93973-5, Paperback, 308 pages, colour and B&W photos, maps. Available from: PO Box 591, Bowen QLD 4805, 07 47851285, Cost: AU$65 plus $15 postage within Australia, Cheque or EFT payments to: JO & JL Hunter BSB: 084562 Account No: 7718 33676 (NAB)

Description: The 1960s era, one of development preparing the Territory of Papua New Guinea for nationhood, is the main period covered. The author worked there then, on outlying river and coastal stations in the Sepik District and the Southern Highlands District as an Australian Government Patrol Officer and Assistant District Commissioner.

Papua New Guinea was probably sighted by European navigators long before Europeans landed on the shores of Australia. Yet, it was not until 1975 that Papua New Guinea gained independence, one of the last of the colonies to do so.

In the late nineteenth century Germany established settlements in New Guinea. Britain took possession of Papua.

In 1906, the newly independent Australia took over the administration of Papua as a Territory of Australia. After World War I, Australia was given a mandate from the League of Nations to govern New Guinea. Both territories of Papua and New Guinea were now the responsibility of Australia.

During World War II, Papua New Guinea suffered widespread destruction. From Wewak to Kokoda to Milne Bay and to the islands, European settlements and native villages were devastated. About 15,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the fighting against the Japanese. The approximate number of natives killed or injured as a result of the conflict remains unknown. To this day, the conflict of World War II is commemorated throughout Papua New Guinea.

In 1946, New Guinea became a Trust Territory of the United Nations to be administered by Australia and, in 1949, the Australian Parliament passed legislation joining Papua and New Guinea as a unified Territory in one legislative, judicial and administrative authority under the Australian Government.

From 1949 until 1974, the Australian Department of Territories employed hundreds of adventurous young Australians as Patrol Officers.  Almost all had just completed their secondary education to matriculation level and they were all men. They were given at least one year’s basic training at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney and then deployed throughout Papua New Guinea. Their duties would include administrator, magistrate, policeman, medical worker, teacher and explorer.

Most joined out of a sense of idealism and adventure. They were confident in their mission as leaders and unafraid to carry out their responsibilities. The Patrol Officers were told they could expect lifetime careers.

This is the story of one of those Patrol Officers, Jim Hunter. It is a very personal account not only of the duties assigned to him by the Australian Government but, above all, of the way he managed his authority as the ‘Government’ among tens of thousands of natives in his charge.

The young Jim Hunter was fortunate to have served in the Sepik District, an area notably rich in cultural tradition. For the young ‘Kiap’ Jim Hunter, his first sighting of the Sepik River Region and the Highlands Region must have been wondrous.

Not long after his arrival at Ambunti on the Sepik River, Jim was asked to investigate a complaint made to the Administration by one of the Christian Missions in the area. The Mission was concerned that young Sepik men were being lured away from the Mission back to their village to participate in traditional ‘initiation ceremonies’. The Mission complained that these initiation practices would damage “young prospective Christians.”

His insightful understanding of initiation ceremonies and his decision not to condemn these practices as “wicked” and “disruptive” mark Jim as an astute student of social anthropology. Jim, the ‘Government’ man, would allow the Sepik people time to adjust to the irresistible encroachment of western religion and standards of behaviour. His actions would not go unnoticed by native leaders and would strengthen the trust between the Administration and the Sepik people.

Most of Jim’s time at Ambunti was involved in ensuring that Government services operated smoothly.  Jim complains in a letter to his fiancée of going to the “office” to “strangle self slowly in red tape”. But it is apparent from his reports and correspondence that he found the experience of government exhilarating and fulfilling, notwithstanding the challenges of bringing peace and order to the people in the face of personal danger, risk to health and loneliness.

The news of Jim’s ‘first contact’ patrol south of Ambunti in late 1962 received wide newspaper coverage not only in Papua New Guinea but also in Australia and overseas. Jim had made a peaceful first contact with more 100 ‘Stone Age’ people known as “G’Hom”. A later patrol by Jim in early 1963 located other clans and groups previously not contacted. Details of his report of this expedition were eagerly sought by the media. Newspapers covered the story extensively.

Jim’s reports of both patrols were praised by his superiors for his good work. The Director of his Department, the legendary J.K. McCarthy, recorded “Mr Hunter appears to have handled his initial contact with the people in a most competent manner.” Jim had established himself as an energetic and self-sufficient Patrol Officer.

At the end of January 1964, Jim was posted to Tari, headquarters of the Tari sub-District in the western Southern Highlands, an area not too remote from the West Irian (Indonesian) Border. This was also a time of tension between Australia and Indonesia which demanded watchful concern of the border between Papua New Guinea and West Irian.

In late 1966, he led an intensive investigation of the massacre of 10 villagers at Pumi (near Mendi). During the investigation, he survived an attack on his life without resorting to firearms and was able to successfully complete the investigation. Jim’s competence and admirable leadership abilities in bringing this crisis to a successful conclusion were acknowledged by thousands of natives gathered at Mendi when he returned with his prisoners. His superiors once again commended him on a job well done.

The years spent by Jim in the Southern Highlands were filled with unending administrative duties but relieved by two extremely important exploratory Patrols.

Jim’s Report of his patrol into the Pogaia–Strickland River region in April 1968 and his contact with new people of the Pagaia linguistic group was full of invaluable information for the Administration.

Observations range from the health of the local inhabitants, their subsistence methods and, curiously, their subdued acceptance of the coming of the Government. Photographs taken of these ‘Stone Age’ people during this Patrol offer an invaluable and unique portrait of ‘first contact’ peoples. These photographs were prized by the Administration. For this Report and his Report of his subsequent Patrol of the Strickland River region in late 1969, Jim was again singled out for praise from the highest levels in the Administration. He had established his reputation with his superiors as a competent and reliable explorer of some of the remaining wild areas of Papua New Guinea.

By the end of 1968, Jim Hunter was appointed to the senior position of Assistant District Commissioner in charge of the vast Koroba sub-District.

In 1969, I visited Tari for the sittings of the Supreme Court. On a non-sitting day, members of the Supreme Court party travelled from Tari to remote Koroba by four-wheel drive. Not far from Koroba sub-District Headquarters, I was astonished to see an enormous new all-weather airstrip.

Jim proudly escorted me to the airstrip and told me it had been made possible by the Koroba Local Government Council and built with stick and spade by the local people using crushed stone. Giant RAAF Hercules aircraft were able to use the airstrip. I have no doubt that it was Jim’s drive and leadership that persuaded to Local Council to support this massive ‘self-help’ project. It was completed without modern technical assistance. It was an extraordinary achievement.

Stone Age Moon is a very personal memoir of Jim’s achievements as an administrator and explorer during the 10 years he worked as a Patrol Officer or ‘Kiap’ in the wilds of Papua New Guinea.

Although Patrol Officers were few in number and were given limited resources, they established the foundations of a State. Over a relatively short period of time, it was the ’Kiap’ who, day by day, performed the  administrative tasks of bringing good government to a ‘Stone Age’ people. So successful were they in bringing a primitive people to the international table of nations, that Papua New Guinea is almost unique among former colonies world-wide in achieving a peaceful transition to democracy, peaceful transfers of parliamentary power, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary and a general acceptance by the population in the institutions of western democracy.

The wonder of Papua New Guinea was recognized by Major Herschel W. Carney of the U.S. Army Air Force who landed at Mt Hagen from Hollandia in July 1945. He had this to say:

My God, this is the strangest and most interesting country and people I have ever seen or ever expect to see.

Most everyone sometime in life has mentally pictured what it would have been like to have gone ashore with Columbus when he landed on the shores of Santo Domingo. To have lived among the Indians, observed their customs and their daily life before it was ever tainted by the white man would have been priceless if those experiences could have been brought down to the present.

Up here in the Wahgi country the contact with the white man has been so slight and has been so adroitly managed as to leave unaffected (sic) the native life and customs. This priceless opportunity is now made available to the fortunate few who have visited this valley.

Thirty years after Major Carney wrote these words, Papua New Guinea was admitted as a Member State of the United Nations on 10 October 1975.

In 2011, the estimated literacy rate in Papua New Guinea was 62.4% with a population of just over 7 million people. I hope many Papua New Guineans will read Stone Age Moon as it is an authentic history of an Australian idealist without illusions who spent the most vigorous years of his life on their behalf. Eamon Lindsay