The Kiaps Compendium – Part 3 Provisional Administration

ASOPA | District Services | Kiaps | Culture contact | Telefolmin | Des Clifton-Basset | Lyn Clark | Tribal warfare | Unusual incidents

On 30 October a Provisional Civil Administration was restored to Papua and part of New Guinea, not then occupied by the Japanese, under the New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945. The Act made provision for an Administrator of the Territory to be appointed.

On 13 December 1946 the General Assembly of the United Nations approved of the terms of the Trusteeship Agreement submitted to it for approval by the Government of Australia for the Territory of New Guinea in substitution of the terms of Mandate.

Under the Papua and New Guinea Provisional Administration Act (1945-46) the territories of Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union. This was first to be known as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Port Moresby was the administrative capital of the combined territories.

The Papua and New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945 was repealed by the Papua and New Guinea Act 1949. This act confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of “The Territory of Papua and New Guinea” and placed under the international trusteeship system. In July 1971 the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was renamed Papua New Guinea.

Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA)

Keith Jackson, Wikipedia, February 2007

In 1943, the Australian Army’s Colonel Alfred Conlon, who had previously chaired Prime Minister John Curtin’s committee on national morale, was assigned to the staff of the Army’s commander-in-chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey. Alf Conlon believed the Army needed a research section to tackle major strategic contingencies, such as what to do if Japan invaded Australia, and persuaded Blamey to establish a Directorate of Research and Civil affairs. Blamey assigned Conlon to head the Directorate, which also provided policy advice on the governance of the Trust Territory of Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, then under Australian administration and the scene of fierce fighting between Allied and Japanese Forces.

Established in his new role, Conlon assembled around him a group of talented Australian academics, among then John Kerr, James Plimsoll, James McAuley, Harold Stewart, Camilla Wedgewood, Ian Hogbin, Bill Stanner, Marie Reay and Isa Leeson.

By 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, the School of Civil Affairs broadened its role to train officers for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), responsible for civil administration in the Territories. At this time non-academic functions of Sydney University’s Department of Anthropology – including providing training for cadet officers joining the New Guinea service and also more senior officials – were transferred to ASOPA.

Originally located at Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra, in March 1946 the School was transferred to civilian control and renamed the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA). In May 1947 the School was relocated to a group of Army huts on Middle Head in the Sydney Suburb of Mosman. ASOPA operated under the Papua New Guinea Act 1949 and was the responsibility of the Federal Minister for External Territories until 1 December 1973.

Immediately after the war, enrolments to study at ASOPA were restricted to servicemen and, when civilian candidates were admitted not long after, preference was given to those with working experience and good academic records.

The history of ASOPA and its successor institutions paralleled the changing political milieu of the post-war and cold war years. ASOPA began as a training institution for Australians taking leadership positions in Australia’s territories. In its middle life, the School offered courses to people from developing countries. And, at the end it provided a base for Australians consulting to the developing world.

At the end of World War II, confronting the first of many threats to the School’s existence over the years, John Kerr wrote: “The idea was opposed, and opposed in influential quarters.  We were determined that what had been created should not be destroyed. In this we succeeded.”

Today, the old Army huts on Middle Head are empty, but they have been heritage listed by the Commonwealth Government and now await refurbishment and regeneration into another role.

New Guinea Administrative Officers Receive Diplomas

The first ceremony for the conferring of Diplomas was held at the Australian School of Pacific Administration on Friday 14 December 1951. Twenty five officers of the Administration of Papua and New Guinea who had successfully completed a special two-year course of training were awarded the Diploma of Pacific Administration. The award of the Diploma to 14 officers who completed their course in 1949 was also announced.

From an address by CR Lambert, Secretary of the Department of Territories and Chairman of the School Council

Those who first conceived the idea of this School were men of vision. They recognised, as we do, that the part Australia would be called upon to play as the administering authority for the Territories, required that she send to the task of administration men of good character, men of vigour, and above all, men who were specially trained to undertake the tasks of administration and to accept the responsibilities of leadership.

In our opinion the administrative organisations of the Territories are not the places for escapists, for ne’er-do-wells or for misfits. The difficulties and responsibilities of administration that lie in the years ahead call for men of high qualifications, character and knowledge. In recognition of this we have adopted a high standard of recruiting for our district services….

There will be coming before you later the first diplomats of this School. You will see for yourselves what fine types of young men have been selected. You will have an opportunity later of conversing with them, where I am sure you will still be further impressed by their general demeanour and mental capacity. We have endeavoured through the Principal and lecturers, to impart to them as much as we could of the specialised knowledge so necessary to fit them for their future work in the Territories. They will now go forward to their allotted tasks in the Territories, and we feel confident that the knowledge they have gained will prove not only of immense value to themselves, but also to the future administration of the Territories.

To those young men who receive their diplomas today, and will be returning to their work in the Territories, I offer the congratulations of the Council. They have difficult work in front of them as well as heavy responsibilities, both as administrative officers and as representatives of the Government, which they really are in the eyes of the natives in the District Services of the Territories. Despite the occasional discomforts and lack of amenities they will be experiencing, they are indeed fortunate young men because theirs will be an interesting and full life; surely a much better life than sitting behind a desk or ledger in an office somewhere in Australia. So long as they do not regard the main feature of life in the Territories as a round of cocktail parties, they will enjoy that life and do a lot of good for the Territories and for their country.

To the wives of these young men, I offer congratulations on the careers your husbands have chosen. While you will miss much of what you have been used to, life in the Territories can be very interesting and free. I have met many of the wives of officers in the Territories and, with very few exceptions they love the life and are happy to stay.

From an address by the Principal, Professor CD Rowley

First, it is a permanent and visible sign that those concerned have measured up to a certain minimum and definite academic standards over two years of work, it signified the successful completion of a sandwiched course of training then a period of at least two or three years, but in many cases many more years of practical experience in the field preceding the final tests for the Diploma. There is the advantage of getting people who know from experience the relevance of their studies to the job they have chosen. Another advantage, of course, is that by the time Diploma studies commence officers have made up their minds what they want to do and where they want to be. These advantages have resulted in some very good work in the 1951 academic year.

Particularly impressive have been the best of the term projects that may reasonably be compared with the honours students in Universities. This achievement has been the more noteworthy in view of some of the handicaps suffered by students. There are married men among them with family responsibilities who, to undertake the course, have had to live in the sort of conditions that people living temporarily in Sydney must face. Apart from uncomfortable dwellings and long distances to be travelled daily, there is the common handicap of most of those who work in tropical areas: the existence of tropical diseases like malaria, the effects of which tend to be more or less permanently recurrent. Tropical illnesses choose the most inconvenient times to assert themselves and I know that many of the Diplomats have had to tackle important projects, and even examinations, while suffering from ill health.

Although maturity has great advantages from the point of view of standards of work, it constitutes in itself a definite barrier to be surmounted where the individual has spent the formative years of his life as a man of action in the field. It is no mean feat after all, for a man, who has borne the responsibility that devolves upon an Assistant District Officer or a Patrol Officer, to submit himself to the mental and other disciplines that are essential for academic achievement.

The establishment of this Diploma signifies adoption of professional standards for training Territorial officers. It is the modern view that training of this kind is most effectively done on a full time basis in special institutions under the sanctions and the stimulus of definite tests, with studies progressing by ordered stages through a definite course, each stage of which present a challenge to the student, while the course as a whole leads finally to a qualification which admits the successful student to the full practice of his profession and it removes the barrier to promotion to higher positions in the Department of District Services and Native Affairs.

There is a rather special group of people for whom this must be a special occasion. I refer to the wives of the married students about to take their Diplomas. For most of you this has been a period of exile from your homes and, I know, quite a costly one in most respects. The fact that the School cannot offer married accommodation yet means that the wife of the administrative officer must make a considerable sacrifice to see her husband through the course, irrespective of the annoying anxieties that she must share. The wife of the Territories officer has obviously a key role to play for the administration in the district where she and her husband may be surrounded by great numbers of people of a different culture, who are always watching and assessing what she does just as much as what he does. Then in addition, the foundation of his academic success in this course is very often laid upon a sacrifice on her part. I would like to take this opportunity of saying farewell, on behalf of my colleagues on the staff and myself and our wives, to the wives of the 1950/51 Diploma course. It has been both pleasant and profitable for us to have known you, and we enjoyed our association with you in social functions and the Women’s Auxiliary.

Diplomates: First & Second Long Courses

South Pacific, Volume No 5 No 11, January/February 1952

Graduated 1949: KW Dyer, E. Flower, JW Gibson, DS Grove, BB Hayes, AJ Humphries, AK Jackson, KW Jones, JR Landman, DR Marsh, HT Plant, DR Prowse, FV Reitano, HW West.

Graduated 1951: KA Brown, GD Collins, BT. Copely, FG Driver, WM English, LR Foster, HC Gaywood, RM Geelan, WJ Johnston, WJ Kelly, CW Kimmorley, CW Liddle, WG Murdoch, BA McCabe, JS McLeod, MB Orken, PF Robb, PF Sebire, CV Single, NM Tolhurst, WE Tomasetti, GR Wearne, RA Webb, KR Williamson, ED Wren.

Department of District Services & Native Affairs (DDS&NA)

WJ Johnston

The servicemen from the armed forces who joined the Department of District Services and Native Affairs as permanent Patrol Officers (Career Kiaps), brought with them a wide knowledge of the two territories.

The Department of District Services & Native Affairs was the original name of the Department (1946-55). It had several name changes over the years as the country developed: it became the Department of Native Affairs (1956-63), the Department of District Administration (1964-68), the Division of District Administration in the Department of the Administrator (1969-71), at Self Government in 1972 it was renamed the Division of District Administration in the Department of the Chief Minister and District Administration (1972-75) and, finally, when Papua New Guinea became Independent in 1975, the name changed to the Department of the Chief Minister & Development Administration.

It was a trail blazer Department. Its officers were the ones who, both pre and post World War II, originally opened up the country, establishing outstations that grew into towns and, as the area came under control, so to speak, other departments came in. Health was usually the next department into the area, then Education and Agriculture and then the Police Department would send in its European officers to handle police duties when they became towns. Patrol Officers and above ranks had police powers as officers of the Royal Papua and New Guinea Field Constabulary, they did not have any status such as inspector neither did they have a uniform or a badge of office.

Pre World War 2, they were Patrol Officers, Assistant District Officers and District Officers and called Kiaps in New Guinea; in Papua, the European population called them Resident Magistrates and Assistant Resident Magistrates and the local people called them Taubada. After the war the New Guinea pre-war terms were used in Papua and eventually, as the Territory developed and the government work expanded with the advent and growth of different departments and their various divisions, the position of District Commissioner was created as the coordinator and supervisory authority for all government activity in the district.

The men appointed to these positions came through the ranks of the Department of District Services and Native Affairs. They were the men with the knowledge of the country and the people and their service had developed their organisational and diplomatic skills. They were the Administrator’s representatives in the field, they would never meddle in the technical aspects of another department’s work and they were the main link between the government and private enterprise. The foregoing is a generalised and rough outline of the government structure in Papua and New Guinea.

The whole thrust of the government’s aim was to build an orderly and prosperous nation for the benefit of the inhabitants. We strove to bring them from the stage where they killed and ate each other and where everyone outside their language group was a stranger or enemy, to one unified nation, living in peace and harmony, self governing and independent. Many individuals gave a lifetime effort to achieve this result and, in addition, the Australian taxpayer contributed thousands of millions of dollars to finance this effort. If anyone says that the Europeans exploited the indigenous people, they are demonstrating an ignorance of the facts.

Unfortunately, there is very little written information left as a record of this short period of Australia’s involvement in the development of Papua and New Guinea during these years. There is even less information recorded for the period 1900 to 1946 for Papua and 1914-1946 for New Guinea. Briefly, I can sum it up by saying that, in those earlier years, the hardships and privations experienced by the European people were even greater than it was in my period of service in that country.

There are many different sides to the story of the European involvement in Papua New Guinea; missionaries will have their stories, plantation owners will have theirs and the residents of the towns will have their experiences to recount, as will the officers of the various Government Departments. However, there is one thing certain, the government officers from my department, the Department of Native Affairs, should possess the best-balanced source of information of the country, its people and its problems, than any other European who has lived in Papua New Guinea. The nature of their job took them to all parts of the country, from the towns to the most isolated villages. They knew the sophisticated local man and the most unsophisticated who hunted and killed his fellow men with the same lack of consideration for the hunted as he would extend to a pig or a cassowary. The officers of the Department of Native Affairs were familiar to the problems faced by the planter in respect of the work ethics of the native man, they knew the difficulties that certain local customs imposed upon the missionary and most importantly, they were not restricted to a lifetime experience with one particular group of people or one particular area.

The majority of officers in my Department I respected and it saddens me that their work has largely gone unnoticed.


The term Kiap originated in New Guinea when the word captain was corrupted into Kiap in the New Guinea Pidgin language. It was used in both Papua and New Guinea by the Patrolling Officers from the Department of District Services and Native Affairs.

South Pacific Vol 5 No 11, January-February 1952

The Secretary of the Department of Territories, Canberra, at the first ceremony for the conferring of the Diploma of Pacific Administration to Kiaps, said: “We recognise that the part Australia would be called upon to play, as the administrative authority for the Territories of Papua and New Guinea, required that men of good character, men of vigour and above all, men who were especially trained to undertake the tasks of administration and the responsibilities of leadership. The difficulties and responsibilities of administration that lie in the years ahead call for men of high qualifications in both character and knowledge. In recognition of this, a high standard of recruiting for our district services has been adopted.”

Peter Ryan, Latham Lecture, Quadrant, September 1995

Whatever might have been the short-sightedness and neglect on the part of nearly all Federal Governments since Australian federation, we have every reason for pride in the achievement of our colonial administration in the field of Papua New Guinea. The enterprise, dedication, honesty and sheer bravery of the district staff, the ‘kiaps’, as they are now known by corruption of a German word, were remarkable. The rifle played its inevitable early part, but the exploration and the pacification of millions were achieved at the cost of a few skirmishes. The law came, without which any general softening of life is impossible.

In any event, I make no apology for this candid tribute to the kiaps, who wrote one of the most honorable pages in this country’s history. Their achievements are from time to time scorned by writers, film makers and academics. One suspect that envy might be at work here envy of those great ‘outside men’ of Papua and New Guinea in whose generous adventure their critics had no share.

Dame Rachel Cleland

Pride in themselves, as men working in the high traditions of their service, enabled the Kiaps to overcome the incredible physical difficulties, live in hard conditions, to work long hours seven days a week or to be away from their wives and families patrolling for weeks on end; to drop everything at a moments notice and set off on foot across mountains, rivers and swamps when word came in of trouble. Pride gave them the integrity to handle their triple role of magistrate, policeman and administrator in such a manner as to earn universal respect.

Australia’s Forgotten Frontier, Chris Viner-Smith

In my experience, Kiaps were often the first trickle of civilizing stones down a remote mountainside and much followed in their wake. You had many important and difficult jobs to do, and you had to deal with native peoples whose respect and co-operation you needed. Consistency and fairness, not fear, were always the key to maintaining respect. It was frontline of civilisation in a dangerous place. Sadly, it broke the spirit of some.

These young men, these kiaps, were doing a tough job for Australia, though Australia had forgotten the frontier they walked. The world was a more peaceful place, at least in Micronesia. Conflicts were far away, in time or place. Australia had defended Kokoda, and retaken New Guinea and moved on.

But Papua and New Guinea had not moved on. It was still savage, backward and strange. Cargo cults had grown up after the war, as natives built mock aircraft and worshipped gods who never worked and never dropped food from the sky.

Then, as now, Australia was also sensitive about its relation with its neighbour, Indonesia, with its revolutionary communist government and all the dominoes Australia saw teetering in south-east Asia – and Micronesia. Yet within a decade, Australia would help Papua New Guinea take its infant steps as a fledgling democracy.

That’s Australia’s history. Our history. Honour is the respect we offer to the memory of glorious chapters in our history, no matter how few the number of people involved and no matter how secret or unspoken the events at the time. Honour is the wreath we lay at the feet of remembrance, a salute to courage. No Kiap would put himself in the same class as a veteran of Kokoda, yet at the same time both share the remarkable heritage of being Australian and surviving against impossible odds to charge a new future for the world. That is worth remembering, respecting and honouring.

The Last Paradise, Tom Cole

The life of an Administration officer (Kiap) in the outposts was one which, in addition to all things he learned at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, whether he be a lowly Cadet Patrol Officer or District Commissioner, required a great deal of courage, lots of stamina, plenty of resilience, an abundance of patience and, perhaps above all, a great sense of humour. Their only form of transport was ‘shanks pony’. With a line of carriers they doggedly walked through fever ridden, leach infested jungle in blazing tropical heat or drenching rain, climbing mountain ranges in swirling mists and icy winds. And they died, too. They died under a hail of arrows, they died from massive axe wounds and they died of the dreaded malaria fever. And they kept their oaths.

Culture contact – culture shock

Ron Galloway

The war had been over by four short years. It was 1949. In common with my friends and colleagues in the various branches of government, I was one of the team engaged in the work of rehabilitating a war torn country and restoring, consolidating and extending the functions of government. Many of us had been in uniform and the elements of hardship and isolation that were inescapable in this often harsh country that was Papua and New Guinea did not faze us. After all, it was not so long ago that much tougher and more dangerous conditions had been experienced during those years of war.

In those days, though it was recognised as the ultimate goal, little thought was given to those political considerations of self-determination and independence. That was for the politicians and bureaucrats, whether in Port Moresby, Canberra or United Nations headquarters in New York. We were officers in the field and there was more than enough to do in terms of the immediate present.

Quite apart from the requirement of routine administration, which also importantly involved the police and judicial function, there remained that vast hinterland of the highlands, much of it as yet untouched and unexplored. Earlier initial patrols and government activity in the years just before the war had indicated vast populations in their hundreds of thousands, most of whom had had no real contact with the outside world.

The extension of government control, the provision of medical services, educational facilities and all those other aspects of infrastructure that make up the total activity and purpose of government, added to what was already a daunting task. The Administration (as the government was then officially styled in Papua and New Guinea) was fortunate indeed to have a cadre of officials and staff, both men and women, who were possessed of the kind of motivation and dedication calculated to produce the best results possible for the people of this large territory.

Ancillary to these more formalised ranks of government, one would be churlish indeed not to make mention of the importance attaching to the many wives who accompanied husbands into remote locations and shared with them so many of the difficulties associated with bush living. I do not here make reference to the obvious comfort and companionship afforded their husbands. In a male dominated world, marked so often with the overtones of authority and seeming harshness relevant to most New Guinea or western social grouping, large or small, the presence of womenfolk was both significant and beneficial. They served, simply by their presence, so often to give a touch of colour and softness to the otherwise bleak vista of a primitive society where the male exercised undoubted dominance and the women had to occupy a servile role as a consequence.

During the early days of contact, both government and mission invariably made their appearance in parties solely made up of men. To the traditional occupiers of the land who had the responsibility to protect territorial and community integrity, this in itself was an ominous sign. They had only their experience as the basis of judgement to fall back on. Any party made up of only men and armed – as a government patrol was with its police and rifles and even a mission party intent on the ethos of “love one another’, but nevertheless also armed with the occasional shotgun for shooting wild game – excited fear and suspicion. The arrival of such a party could have only one objective – aggression, plunder, evil intent!

That was the way it had to be, for that is the way it always was within the context of their own tribal setting. After all, if the arrival of strangers on land that did not belong to them was entirely peaceful, as with the passage of men on their way to a dance, then they would have in company with them their women and children. It was not the habit of the Tau’ade, or any other group, to subject them to needless risk. The fact that neither of the parties so meeting could understand the language of the other, only served to compound the confusion and the likelihood of a mistaken judgment leading to violence. It often happened that way. In fact, the villagers could not even be sure that these strangers had women. In all the initial years of contact, sporadic as it was, with the outside movement from the upper Waris to the Kunimaipa, the Chirima from Kokoda, from the Mekeo plain to the Karuama and Kunimaipa or along another route to the Tau’ade and Fuyuge – in all this time, and remember it embraces a period from the closing years of the 19th century into the first and second decades of the 20th century – all they had ever seen were adult males. Never any women, never any children.

However, with the passage of time, this unusual situation underwent change. It became possible for white women to accompany the “intruders”, as the early missionaries and the government were initially regarded. Importantly, they included women folk belonging to the Catholic Mission on Yule Island. They were religious who undertook their tasks of education, medical care, cooking, etc., in quietness and dedication.

On first arrival, they had added a further dimension of perplexity. Used as the villagers were to the near naked visage of their women when those physiological characteristics of breasts and pubic region that so clearly defined their sex so open to view, these white women were another matter. Their garb, long flowing gowns reaching the ground and buttoned tightly to the neck, arms covered and with strange headgear, only permitted hand and face to be scrutinized. And sometimes there could be seen tendrils of long hair escaping from under the head covering – an entrancing view to those people with short tightly curled hair sometimes enhanced by the men with woven plaits reaching to the shoulders. The aura of mystery was heightened by the fact that sometimes the women were carried on a form of a sedan chair. Why? Could they not walk properly? Yet when they alighted from the chair they seemed to be healthy.

Eventually the white women became welcome additions to this new element of settlement in tribal country, which had never usually permitted “strangers” to remain permanently. It was true maybe that there were degrees of aloofness – the gap between white woman and Papuan mountain women could not easily be bridged. There existed difficulties of language communication and the perceptions of culture, conduct and hygiene, so different in nature, were not to be easily gelled together. But that as it may, it is true that as the strangeness wore off, because of their common femininity, they began to enjoy and instinctive affinity.

The interaction between these two groups of women, disparate in so many ways and bonded only by their very femaleness, proved to be of mutual benefit to all parties involved in this so new process of culture contact. The work of government and mission enhanced, supported and strengthened by the presence and encouragement in so many ways of the women who were now an important element in the development process. They too joined with the man as partners in this most fascinating enterprise of bringing a primitive culture into meaningful contact with those many confusion values so dearly held in the western world. Religion and its variability, the “Protestant ethic” of hard and unremitting work to produce reward, a common code of conduct designed to embrace the entire population so contrary to the rigid and restrictive rules of tribal law and norms.

This was all so new, it was difficult to comprehend and come to grips with. It was a classic example of culture shock. That the impact was lessened and softened is a tribute to those women who also had their part to play in the contact situation. They deserve a more prominent place in the history of contact and development in this newly independent country.

Their function continues and it is encouraging to observe that the indigenous women of Papua New Guinea are beginning, however slowly, to assume a more positive role. They are beginning to assert themselves and demand a better voice in the conduct of village and national life. Male chauvinist attitudes, as in other places, are under attack and they are doing much to erode and hopefully eliminate many values that for so long have done but little to enhance the essential dignity of humankind.

Telefomin (Telefolmin)

Australian Patrol Officers in Papua New Guinea, James Sinclair

Staying at the Single Officers’ Hostel was a tall, lean field officer, Des Clifton-Bassett, who was in Lae to collect supplies and equipment for a supremely fascinating task: the establishment of an Administration outpost at Telefolmin, on the headwaters of the Sepik River, one of the most remote and difficult locations in all New Guinea. This would be the first major new station since the resumption of civil administration. The vital work of exploration and extension of government influence that had perforce ceased with the outbreak of the Pacific war had not yet recommenced on a systematic basis, for the District Officers were struggling to re-establish administration in the controlled areas and were in no position to commit staff and resources in an extension of their responsibilities into new country. In 1950, 65,146 square miles of the total land area of Papua New Guinea of 178,000 square miles were not under full control, some 24,000 square miles of this unexplored or merely ‘penetrated by patrols’ in the official phrase. Most of this country was in the far interior; the Central Highlands and the hinterland of the Western and Gulf Divisions, and the Madang, Morobe and Sepik Districts. It was to the heart of this uncontrolled, partly explored territory that Acting Assistant District Officer Clifton-Bassett was bound. My heart ached with the desire to accompany him.

The high, sparse valley of Telefolmin was discovered by Charles Karius and Ivan Champion during their epic North-West Patrol of 1927-1928. The next white visitors, in 1936, were gold seekers, the members of the Ward Williams Expedition, who cleared a small landing ground there and set up a base camp, and in 1942 a party of civilians escaping from the Japanese, led by the veteran prospector, JJ Thurston, passed through en route to Daru. Late in 1944 the prospector and explorer Michael J. Leahy and a detachment of military engineers were landed at Telefolmin in four gliders to improve the Ward Williams landing ground to emergency aerodrome standard. This was the sum total of white contact with the primitive tribesmen of Telefolmin before 1948. A fortunate man was Clifton-Bassett to be given the honour of locating the first government station in their midst.

Des Clifton-Bassett

He pioneered the Telefomin Outpost, Ronald Monson, The Daily Telegraph, 14 November 1953

But for the war, in which he saw active service in New Guinea, English-born Sydney-educated Desmond Clifton-Bassett would probably have continued in his chosen profession of accountancy.

As it turned out, he was to get the job of opening up one of the last bits of territory on the globe to be brought under British administration – the Telefomin district of New Guinea, scene of the recent murder by natives of two Australian Patrol Officers and two police boys.

While serving in New Guinea young Clifton-Bassett, then a 23-year-old lieutenant of the Australian Army Service Corps, got interested in the country and its native people.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, his new interest meant that he had closed his accountancy books for keeps, and was to become one of the latter-day Empire builders.

Before he was demobilised he had joined up in New Guinea the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), which took over the government of the districts of Papua and New Guinea as the Army cleared them of the Japanese invaders.

In January 1945, Clifton-Basset was posted to Duntroon to attend the first School of Pacific Studies set up in Australia. Having completed his preliminary course he returned to New Guinea towards the end of 1945 as a Patrol Officer attached to ANGAU. His first posting as a Patrol Officer was to Goroka an isolated district in central New Guinea, which was then in the process of being brought under administrative control. Then he was moved to Bena Bena, a neighbouring outpost, as officer in charge of that patrol post.

From the first young Clifton-Bassett was getting into the tougher spots of New Guinea – but a still tougher assignment was awaiting him. He was still in the Army as ANGAU was a military body.

But in January 1946, he was discharged from the Army, and joined the provisional civil administration that had taken over from the Army.

For the next two and a half years Clifton Bassett tramped the lonely paths of New Guinea, taking the white man’s law to isolated tribes who had had very little contact with people from beyond their own tribal territories.

For a time he was Acting District Officer at Kup, the headquarters of a sub-district of the Chimbu area, in the Wahgi Valley. No roads connect these central areas of New Guinea with the outside world.

To establish their outposts the administrative officers have to fly into the country, land on the nearest wartime airstrip and then make their way on foot over the mountain tracks to the spot selected for their headquarters. After putting up a tent shelter, one of the young officer’s first jobs is to recruit natives to build an airstrip near the post. All supplies then come to the post direct, by air.

While the airstrip is being built the officer moves around his district, on foot, accompanied by a few police boys, visiting the native villages, explaining through interpreters that the white man has come to look after them, and help them. The young officer, who works under orders from his nearest District Officer, with whom he is in wireless touch. He has also to persuade the tribes to cease their age-old tribal feuding.

But teaching the Stone-Age men of New Guinea the need to obey the white man’s law is a slow job – and the New Guinea administrative officers do not try to hurry it. To carry through their tasks in the untamed parts of New Guinea, District Officers and their Patrol Officers must be men of infinite tact, capable of great restraint, and possessed of plenty of courage.

The patrols are armed, but Patrol Officers know that they must not shoot, except in cases of dire peril. Unfortunately, the full extent of the peril cannot always be estimated in time. Other Patrol Officers, before Harris and Szarka, the victims of the Telefomin massacre, have lost their lives on New Guinea patrols.

Clifton-Bassett was acting as Assistant District Officer in an area east of Port Moresby when in May 1948 he received a radiogram ordering him to go and open up the Telefomin area. Telefomin is a narrow valley, about four miles wide and ten miles long, about 35 miles from the Dutch New Guinea border, and just three miles north of the Papuan border. It is plumb in the centre of the Papua-New Guinea mainland. Wild mountain ranges surround it completely. On the Dutch New Guinea side the mountains tower to 16,000 feet, and are snow-capped all the year round.

The first white men to enter the area were District Officers Karius and Ivan Champion, of the Australian New Guinea Administration service, who traversed the country in 1926 in the course of a foot journey from the Fly River to the Sepik River.

The next white men to visit the area were John Black and Jim Taylor, Administration officers, and Mick Leahy, a prospector, who passed through the country in the course of a patrol from Mount Hagen to the Sepik River, in 1939. On that patrol, Taylor and Leahy told me later, the Mianmin people, one of the five groups inhabiting the area proved very friendly – at first. But Taylor and his party were taking no chances. When they made their first camp in the area they strung a length of bare telephone wire around the camps, and connected it with a battery. Anyone touching it would get a slight shock. Taylor hoped it would serve to give warning if any marauders approached the camp during the night.

But the cheerful Mianmin, despite their long bows and wicked-looking arrows, showed no signs of hostility. They brought gifts of food, including their treasured pigs, into the explorers’ camp. But that night a yell from the bushes told that someone had touched the protecting wire. The party, alerted, grabbed up their rifles as a shower of arrows descended on their tent. Three police boys got an arrow through them as they ran out of the tent. But the white men fired in the general direction of the attackers and drove them off.

Next morning the savages came around the camp, as cheerful as ever. Through an interpreter Taylor asked them why they brought food and other gifts, and then attacked the camp. The leader of the savages grinned. “Oh”, he said.  “We thought we would get all the gifts back again after we had killed you.” After that the savages remained friendly.

Except for a party of white men from Wewak, who passed through the region when fleeing from the advancing Japanese in 1940, no one visited the area until the American Army decided to build an emergency landing strip there in 1943. The Americans dropped a work party, led by Mick Leahy, by gliders, and built the strip. A plane then flew in and took the party out.

This, then, was the district young Clifton-Bassett was ordered to bring under Government control in 1948. Clifton-Bassett gathered nine tons of stores – tents, coils of rope, road-making tools, rice and tinned foods, trade goods, such as mirrors, tomahawks, and tembu (shell money), and shipped them by stages to Madang, on the north coast.

A Douglas airliner then flew the supplies on to Burui, on the Sepik. From there Qantas Dragons, the only type of plane that could land on the little Telefomin airstrip, took over the porterage. The Dragons had to make 14 trips to move the supplies. Clifton-Bassett went in with the first Dragon. It was a hair-raising flight, as the pilot had never made the trip before, and dense cloud covered the surrounding mountains.

That was early in October 1948. Another Patrol Officer and 12 native police boys followed Clifton-Bassett in on succeeding trips, and the Telefomin post was established. The natives gave no trouble, and assisted in building offices, staff houses, and a police barracks, from bamboo, plaited kunai (grass) and bark.

By the time he left he had patrolled a radius of 18 miles in all directions from his post – a long way in difficult country. He had no clashes with the natives in all that time. Now he is back in Sydney taking another examination at the School of Pacific Administration at George’s Head. He has no theory to offer as to the cause of the recent massacre of his brother officers.

Though the Telefomin country has been brought under Government administration, the actions of its Stone-Age inhabitants are still unpredictable.

First contact patrol

Patrol into Hathor Gorge, South Pacific Post, July 1952

Assistant District Officer WJ Johnston will begin a patrol from Kikori to the Samberigi and Hathor Gorge in two weeks, a spokesman for the Department of District Services said yesterday. “The Gorge is the most terrifying sight in the Territory”, the spokesman said. “The Gorge is on the watershed in the mountains. The cut runs for two miles and is very narrow. From the top you can see great sixty-foot trees and huge boulders being tumbled end for end down the length of the Gorge. Trees which begin at the top end finish up like matchwood and the noise is terrific”. The spokesman said that Mr Johnston would patrol east to find if there were any new tribes.

Through the Eyes of a Kiap, WJ Johnston

A First Contact Patrol to Mount Murray & Crummer Peaks, 23 April – 21 June 1953 (Based on Kikori Patrol Report No 6 1952-53)

My patrol passing through Wairope village on the Sireru River when I was returning with the prisoners from the raids on the Ianguri dubus had apparently made an impression on these people. Apparently, we were the first patrol to visit their village for seven years and the first patrol ever to be accompanied by a line of prisoners. The Village Constable was a young, powerfully built man so, when his sister married a man from an un-controlled group to the north of Wairope and was killed by her husband, he brought her fresh skull to Kikori to show me where the blade had penetrated the bone. He had seen me bringing back a line of prisoners involved in tribal warfare in the Samberigi Valley, so he requested me to take action and offered to lead a patrol part of the way to the offender’s village, because he wanted to remove the threat that this lawless group was to his people.

I agreed to take a patrol into the area but I needed some time to recover from hepatitis that had bedridden me some months previously. Since then I had done a trip to the Turama River to recover the bodies of the Lemke family, the victims of a launch fire, and I had arrested some murder suspects on the upper Turama River. However, I noticed during my walk across from the Turama to the Hegigio River, that my liver had not fully recovered, it tended to breakdown if put under too great a physical stress. In the last day or so of that walk, I had tired easily and had broken out in itchy, yellow lumps and had trouble digesting food. I recognised what the symptoms meant and had gone on to a plain starch diet as I wanted to be sure it would not occur again when I could be a month’s walk away from home.

At the time I was contemplating the patrol to make the initial contact with the groups to the northwest of Mount Murray; the District Officer, Jim O.Malley, received a request for an escort to take a party of experts in Water Resources Development up to the Purari River immediately above Hathor Gorge. The objective of this party was to determine the feasibility of a hydro electricity scheme whereby tunnels would be driven through the mountain at the top of the Gorge down to the Purari River. This was potentially dangerous country inhabited, at times, by hunting parties of wild men from the mountains to the north. It was agreed I would escort the party. I met Bill Schlusner, who came to Kikori to discuss the proposal with me; Bill was to be the party’s labour overseer and camp boss.

I suggested I combine the two objects by first doing a patrol to the un-contacted groups to the north west of Mount Murray, then proceed east, until I came into Lake Tebera from the north and then continue east across to the Purari River, above Hathor Gorge, and then walk around the Gorge and meet the party on the Purari River below the Gorge. I planned to meet the Water Resources party two months after I had left Kikori on the patrol. John Foldi, who was the Assistant Director of my Department, was passing through Kikori on the Catalina so I went out on to the river to see him, I told him about the problem with my liver, he snorted and said I was possibly suffering from too much high living at Kikori! That really must have been a joke!

Because of the nature of this patrol, I decided to build up my policemen’s self-confidence by giving them training in deflecting arrows with their rifles. Suabi, the highland interpreter, was given the job of firing the arrows at the police as they took turns to stand in front of him. The heads of the arrows were removed so it was only a shaft that was being fired at the police but even with this precaution the police were not too happy at the prospect of facing the arrows, their apprehension was clearly pictured in their faces. On the other hand, Suabi was having the time of his life and the sardonic expression on his face betrayed this fact. The idea was to hold the rifle in the port position to catch the arrow on the wood part of the rifle and deflect it to the side or above the head of the person being fired at. It was primarily a matter of good eyesight and quick reflexes. It is an easy matter to avoid an arrow in flight and the main thing is to remain cool and not to panic. This was the whole point of the exercise.

On this patrol everyone, except the carriers, was to carry an emergency supply of food, ammunition, and a few bits and pieces so that they would be self sufficient for a few days if something drastic happened and the patrol was split up. There was the usual problem, in those days, of keeping dry the perishable food like rice, sugar, tea and salt. Plastic bags would have been a perfect solution but, at this time, plastic was in its infancy and we did not have any. I managed to scrounge a few empty four gallon flour tins and soldered them up for the rice which would be the last used. The other swags were made from old ex-Army rubberised rain capes that had long since ceased to be waterproof. I had to take two canvas tent flies; they were a curse because they weighed a ton when soaked with the rain. My gear was reduced to the bare minimum, food and trade goods to buy food were the priority items, a bit of curry powder and a few limes and onions were the only luxuries I carried. In the next couple of months we would all lose ten or twelve kilos of body fat and I did not believe in having it easy while the rest of the party were walking with heavy loads and living on iron rations.

During my first patrol to Lake Tebera, when I was taking the ex prisoners back to their village, I noticed they spoke the same language as the people in the Wairope area where the Village Constable had requested my assistance in bringing justice to the un-contacted people, living north of his village, who had murdered his sister. After my visit to the Samberigi, I knew the people there spoke a different language so I presumed from this that there was a large group of uncontacted people between the Samberigi Valley and Lake Tebera. A small group would not have survived the murder raids of the Samberigi people.

We left Kikori station by launch on 21 April 1953 and headed up river for Wairope on the Sireru River. The Village Constable from Wairope met us and kept his word and led us up into the mountains behind his village. It would have been an impossible task to try to find a path over the formidable barrier of limestone ridges and mountains that separated his people from the uncontacted northern group. In the past, I had travelled over some bad country but nothing had prepared me for this terrain. It was much harder for the carriers with two men loads as a person needed both hands free to negotiate the continual uphill struggle; the limestone was weathered to a razor sharp jagged mess. Despite the brass studs on my boots, there were numerous places where the only way I could negotiate a walk up a fallen tree trunk, suspended over pits of what could only be described as sharpened limestone spears, was by putting one hand on the butt of a police constable’s rifle held on his shoulder and carefully follow him as he sure footedly eased his way up and across the obstacle. In such locations, a small slip could easily have been fatal. Try and imagine how the carriers, with a heavy load slung on a pole between two men, must have felt.

For seven days we moved through villages that had not been previously visited by a European. Some of the younger men had visited Kikori but none of the women had seen a white man. I eventually reached Wairope at the edge of the limestone barrier to the uncontacted villages to the north. The first group to be contacted was called Mosa. The Mosa people had allegedly said they thought the Samberigi people were weak to have allowed us to capture some of them a few months previously. They wanted to know if our skins were like stone that their arrows could not penetrate.

The next day, Sunday, we commenced the climb up the limestone mountain. We climbed for five hours and made camp at a water soak, the only reason for stopping being the availability of water. In most places, the limestone was weather worn and sharp as broken bottles in most places: it was the sharpest limestone I had ever seen. Heavy rain during the night helped to overcome any water problems. The following day, after about another three hours of passing through limestone country, we began to work our way into fertile country, we must have been on the northern face of the range and so subject to a less heavy rainfall.

We made contact with the first group of uncontacted people; we most certainly would not have done this if the men from Wairope had not shown us the route over the limestone mountains. Even after the limestone barrier had been crossed, we still had bad parts to negotiate and I quote from my patrol diary of 8 May 1953 – “This portion of the track is over the worst limestone that I, or the pre-war patrol police, have ever experienced. It was a mass of razor like ridges and pinnacles with hardly any soil except at the bottom of steep jagged narrow fissures so that only small soft saplings and shrubs grow and then, when reaching any size, collapse from lack of support. These fallen saplings, instead of assisting progress did just the opposite as they allowed the sun to come through and so small shrubs and vines grew thickly covering the top layer upon layer of rotten saplings thus covering the numerous fissures and holes thereby constituting a definite menace to life and limb. Every carrier suffered cut feet and legs without falling and I managed to stumble in an apparent clear patch and smashed my knee cap into a grass covered limestone boulder.”

Once over the southern fall of the mountains, the country became easier to cover, as there was not the continual heavy rain to wash away the soil from the limestone base. When we were a few hours from the uncontacted villages our guides showed us the direction to take and returned to their own area. We moved carefully and alertly as a compact group and saw signs of human habitation and eventually broke out of the bush into a village area. It was totally deserted and everything was left in the dubus (men’s long-houses) and surrounding huts. We decided to stay in this village and made camp in front of the main dubu and mounted guards in the event that someone may arrive back unexpectedly.

As night fell we began to hear drums beating in the distance and after analysing the beat, the interpreter, Suabi, said it was a drug party in progress. The people pounded a certain root on a special board to the rhythm we were hearing and while the root was being pounded, other men poured water onto the board, the run off was collected and drunk, the result being a merry drunken party. All night the beating of the drums was heard so we knew we would not be disturbed and the hills and bush would make our fires invisible to the people in the next village so we had a meal and, with guards being mounted, we tried to get a bit of sleep. I don’t think many of the patrol party slept that night because the villagers were only an hour’s quick walk away and someone may have decided to return home.

The patrol was making contact with new groups just about every day. It soon became obvious the whole area was in a constant state of warfare with one group against another. Within some groups there would be individuals not involved who would show us the route to the next group, some would go all the way and others would go so far and then leave us with instructions on how to make contact with them. For fifteen days we had been progressing from one group to another and we were deep within hostile country, not the sort of place you would take the family for a Sunday picnic. We came to a well-used area where four dubus were joined by connecting ridges; the place was deserted but obviously only for a temporary period.

To give an idea of what constituted justice for these people, we saw a platform on which eight corpses had been placed. A group called the Ailolo had killed these people. Red plants were planted under the platform and the post supports painted red, this indicated the deaths had been repaid in full, so it was correctly presumed the people of this village had been members of the group who killed the fifteen Siligi people, the friends of the Ailolo people. The number of murders within the area over the past few years must have been numerous. I could not locate the people responsible, and had no intention of trying to. The pay back for various murders would have been going on for centuries and usually it was the innocent who were the victims. The official attitude was, as from a certain time when there was a government station in the area, murders would stop or the culprits arrested and tried before a Court.

Early the following morning we left for the next village. About two hours later we made our first contact, a middle aged woman and a young girl saw us on the track and they immediately scattered back the way they had come and raised the alarm by loudly calling out over and over again. Then we heard the voices of men saying, “Hold on we are coming.” The interpreter was feeding me this information as we led the patrol. I decided we had to do something fast, the patrol was on a small track and surrounded by thick timber. I looked ahead a few yards up the track and saw a freshly cleared area where a food garden was to be planted and a small fence erected from the felled trees and branches enclosing the area.

Expecting such a possibility as a surprise meeting, the patrol was a compact group so I was able to quickly get them all into the garden area and had the carriers take cover behind their loads with the police and myself taking up positions behind tree stumps with rifles at the ready, a bit like the ring of covered wagons waiting for the Indians to attack. We had no sooner taken the defensive position when the first of the warriors, whose yells and whoops we had been hearing, burst out of the bush ahead of us. For a time a period of tension existed, I don’t know for how long, I wasn’t looking at my watch. Suabi, the interpreter, eventually began to get the warrior’s confidence and the others stopped their war cries and were just looking, trying to make up their minds as to their next move.

We were in a good defensive position. Suabi eventually moved slowly forward from our group and when he was able to shake hands with the warriors in the mountain fashion, I began to relax a little. We had made a successful contact and we went on from that group to others. Sometimes our guides would only accompany us until they reached the outskirts of a group with whom they may not have friendly relations; they would then leave us with directions and for us to make friendly contact with the group.

By using the proper tactics at all stages we managed to surprise all but one of these groups. These people had been warned of our possible arrival by one group previously contacted. The uncontacted group was a large one: there were large dubus all over the place and the area for kilometres around had been denuded of trees. I don’t know if this group had been the one contacted by the Hides and O’Malley patrol in the nineteen thirties and had been shot at when they attacked the patrol or if they were the large uncontacted group that the Ianguris of the Samberigi valley had told me about. If they were the latter group, they would be aware of the raids I had made on the Ianguri dubus and the taking of prisoners.

Whoever they were, they were taking no chances because we did not see hide or hair of them, yet I knew, as I walked through some of their dubus, there were possibly hundreds of eyes watching every move made by the patrol. I made sure not a cent of damage was done by my party and I left a few gifts of beads and suchlike in some locations and did nothing about the stakes standing in front of some dubus with the tufts of human hair. These were symbols of victory over another person, a sort of trophy like a scalp.

My patrol came upon the scene of a recent massacre of a small group who had ventured unwittingly into an area that a large group considered their territory. There were mutilated bodies of women, children and youths but no adult males and there was evidence of cannibalism so presumably only the adult men were considered worthy to eat. There was the belief amongst some groups that when you ate a person you inherited his strength and skills. I was looking at some remains and realised it had been a young baby and I thought, “What sort of man could do a thing like this,” when I heard Lance Corporal Boroho’s voice raised in anger against one of the patrol party. I listened, alert to the possibility of some sort of altercation starting but I relaxed and thought, “Good for you,” when he said, “Haven’t you got any respect and where do you think you came from – a hole in a tree?” The corpse of a woman was spread-eagled in the bushes and the shaft of a spear was protruding from her vagina; one of the constables had made a lewd remark that Boroho had overheard.

We had met the perpetrators of this attack only two days previously but, of course, we did not know then what they had done. One of them had elected to guide us part of the way on a route that would bring us into Lake Tebera from the north. When he left our company, as a gesture of friendship, he told Suabi, “Don’t drink from the Didi Creek; there is a big taboo on it.”

Suabi told me and I alerted the other patrol members. We were following the Didi and I walked across and could not see why it was not drinkable, it was fast running, clear and reasonably deep but when we walked around the site of the killings the reason for the warning was obvious. Snagged on a log, about two feet under the surface, was the body of a youth swaying gently in the current. I had had a drink from the creek but consoled myself that it was some distance up stream from the body. It gave me food for thought about the possibility of future water sources.

The group responsible was only four or five hours’ walk back along our route but there was no point in taking a few prisoners for education purposes. Undoubtedly, the people from the larger neighbouring villages, located to the west, had overpowered the victims, who had never been contacted by Europeans. The Hides and O’Malley patrol, in the late nineteen thirties, had passed to the north of them. Administration policy was that murders committed before contact or the establishment of government control over an area were not punishable under our law.

I thought about how we had taken them completely by surprise when we walked out of the forest and down a kunai covered hill above their village. A group of men, armed with bows and arrows, had hastily assembled and moved a short distance towards us. They stopped when I gathered all the carriers and gear in one spot and leaving a few police to protect them, moved with the interpreter and a couple of police towards the group. They retreated to the dancing area in front of their dubu and formed a line, we kept walking towards them and at arrow range it could be seen, from the expression on their faces, they were completely bewildered by our continued progress towards them and then, as one man, they suddenly broke and ran away.

As we passed the women’s houses in front of the dubu, an old woman, too feeble to run away, grovelled on the ground, tears running down her face and wringing her hands, obviously pleading with me to spare her life. I smiled and made a reassuring motion with one hand and passed on alert to the possibility of a bowman suddenly appearing from behind a hut or the interior of the dubu. However, there were no ‘would be’ heroes, they were possibly still running and making up scenarios of their gallant defence of home and hearth against ‘impossible’ odds. I thought about these things as I viewed the carnage about me and I was angry. Incidentally, we did not stay long at the murder site and pushed on as fast as possible to put as great a distance between there and a suitable camp site before night fall, the reason being the patrol party’s fear of the spirits of the recently slaughtered people.

During my service I began to suspect that I was becoming adept at reading a person’s body language. Mostly I was working in a foreign language through an interpreter and found I almost knew exactly what a person was saying by the tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and whether he was telling the truth or not. I feel, in certain circumstances, I could almost predict immediate future action. During this patrol, we made camp for the day near the village of a group of people contacted for the first time that day. All the chores associated with making camp had been finalised, most of the people had drifted back to their village and, like the patrol party, they were preparing the evening meal before night fell, then possibly a short chat before a fire and then off to bed. I had washed and changed into dry night-time gear and changed my boots for sandshoes. I was walking around the freshly cleared area near my tent fly when I noticed a young warrior, in his twenties, standing on a tree stump on the perimeter of the small cleared area.

He was watching me in a manner that reminded me of a cat stalking a bird so I began to give him a visual scrutiny. Yes! He was under stress! He was trying to make a decision about a very important step. Yes! There was a pulse throbbing noticeably just under his breastbone. Then something made me think he was not a member of the nearby village group but possibly a visitor from another uncontacted village who had come over, post haste, when someone fleeing this village immediately on our arrival, had passed on the news that we were here. He looked as if he had travelled hard and fast in recent times. He had the usual long handled battle-axe shaped stone axe resting on his shoulder and his hand never left the handle. The thought hit me. “He wants to sink his axe into me and then bound off into the bush to become an instant legend.” He was waiting for a favourable opportunity to strike, hence the nervousness and suppressed tension, so I smiled and told him in English, that he could not understand, what I would do with him and his axe if he made a threatening move towards me. I made sure I was no closer than two bounds from him so he would lose the height advantage of the tree stump after the first bound. At the first sign of attack I would move just as fast or faster towards him, I was pretty sure he had never experienced that tactic before and once I got a hold on him under that raised axe, his proposed day of fame would end entirely different to how he had intended. The act went on for a few minutes with me being teasingly out of range of one bound.

Then suddenly, like letting the air out of a balloon, the tension left him and I could almost see him uncoil. I knew he had ‘chickened’ out and he had abandoned his plan for instant fame. Possibly, he realised I had read his intentions and, without the element of total surprise, he had little chance of success. With a resigned air, he turned around, got off the stump and slowly walked away. I am certain I did not misread his body language and I don’t think I over rated my ability to handle any situation he could throw up. I was young, fast and definitely bigger than him. The experience taught me the lesson of the need to be constantly alert and it may seem melodramatic but even today, I never feel really at ease when my back is unprotected and I don’t command a view of all entrances to a room.

A picture that remains in my mind is the afternoon after we had made our contact with the group who wanted to attack us. Everything had settled down and I was sitting under my tent fly, which had been erected on a flat piece of ground almost in the village area and there was a steep drop into a small gully on one side. I looked up to see one of the local men standing under the fly, he had popped up from the gully side and he had an arrow fitted to his bowstring. The bow was half pulled back and he was swaying from foot to foot and so was his half-cocked bow. He was staring at me so I stared back and smiled. Then there were yells from his fellow villagers who had spotted him and they were calling out that everything was all right and there was no need to kill anybody anymore. He knew, as I did, that it is easy to avoid an arrow in flight, the tactic was to raise and fully extend the bow and fire before your intended target was aware of what was happening and it was highly unlikely that I would be unaware of what he was doing once I saw him.

This man was a late arrival.He had seen the fly erected in the village area and strange people walking around. He said he thought everyone had been killed and he was going to avenge their deaths by killing the white man, the obvious leader of the party. I did not believe him, it was just an act to big note himself otherwise he would have put an arrow into me from hiding and made his escape. The same fellow came to me the next day to see if I could help him get rid of a large yaw on the sole of his foot. I wanted to give him a shot of penicillin that would have solved his problem. I sterilised the syringe and the needles but to no avail, for some reason I could not get the stuff out of the phial and into the syringe. It was a bit of a set back as the penicillin would have worked a miraculous cure on the poor fellow’s yaws that must have been extremely painful on the sole of his foot in this broken, mountainous country. I don’t know the reason for the failure; I just knew we did not have the use of the antibiotic if we happened to need it.

I had an appointment to keep with the Water Resources people below Hathor Gorge on the Purari River so I could not risk going any further west or north. I had to start making my way back east. This meant back tracking to the last group contacted. I had only a rough idea where I was but I think it was just west of Crummer Peaks because, on the way to this deserted group of villages, we had to climb over a fairly high range. It was high because, in our ascent, we had left the tree line behind and moved through an area of moss and spongy plants. On the first trip, the track was covered with thick mist and we could only see a metre or so on either side, but when returning, it was a beautiful clear day and we could see for kilometres. What was disconcerting were the sheer drops all around the route that previously had been concealed by the heavy mist and swirling clouds. I am sure I left a few fingerprints embedded in the rocks of that mountain on our return trip.

I eventually reached my rendezvous point below Hathor Gorge on the Purari River within the scheduled time and there was no sign of the Water Resources people I was to escort to the area above Hathor Gorge. When I found they had failed to arrive I thought possibly they were still down the Purari a day or two away so we made a few rafts and started down river. There were still a few rapids high up the river and, on one of these descents, one of the leading rafts and its occupants parted company, all material things of value are lashed to the raft at the onset. All, except one man, swam down the rapids and caught up with and reboarded the raft in less turbulent water, the exception swam to the bank and climbed up on to the rocks and I don’t think I have seen a funnier or more desperate individual as that man, stark naked, he had lost his lap lap in the swim, jumping from rock to rock and calling out for us to stop and pick him up. I don’t suppose anyone has ever thought about how to stop a raft and manoeuvre it to the bank in a rapid; we certainly did not even think about it. Everyone laughed and waved and told him not to worry about not having a lap lap because he would not feel the cold when the cannibals were cooking him. We pulled into the first back eddy in calmer water and waited for him, he sheepishly rejoined us about five hundred metres below the rapids.

We eventually found a campsite that could have been used only by the Water Resources Development party I was supposed to meet. There was a pile of wrappers that had contained sweet biscuits and I presumed the men had returned down river from that point. I later learned one of their canoes had capsized in the journey up river and their supplies were lost so they cancelled the trip and returned to base. I was disappointed because, after fifty-six days, I had almost exhausted my supplies and I had not eaten a sweet biscuit since leaving Kikori! I continued down river and was welcomed by the sound of a diesel engine and then the Kikori workboat came into sight. The District Commissioner, Kevin Atkinson, had sent the vessel with Cadet Patrol Officer Graham Hardy to look out for me as I made my way home via the Purari. The rest of the return trip home was certainly made quicker but there was still a long way to go and a lot of water between where we were and Kikori.

I returned to Kikori sixty days after I had left. A lot had happened and for the young men who had done the hard work of carrying the gear and being threatened by some very wild men they, like me, had gained an experience they would remember for years. I already had an idea that I wanted to take the Mount Karimui people down a peg or two because I had received word by the ‘bush wireless’ at Gurimatu, on the upper Purari, that they would eat the next single white man patrol into their area. Two man patrols, like the one led by Ted Hicks and Ken Chester, were one thing but a single man patrol they would knock over as they had done to Patrol Officer Lyn Clark. I had my own ideas about that and I was intending to change their ideas on the subject. Unforeseen circumstances were to occur that would change my life completely.

The comments on this patrol copied from a letter I hold are: “For me to comment of every outstanding feature of this patrol would mean to write many pages on things that were obviously well done and described… In conclusion I would like to congratulate Mr Johnston, his police and carriers on an excellent patrol and one which must rank as one of the best carried out in the Territory for some time.” – NJ

From an Australian newspaper, 2 September 1953

The Massi warriors who shot Patrol Officer Clark in the head with an arrow and stole his equipment were still bragging about it, Assistant District Officer, Mr WJ Johnston, had reported to the Government. “They claim that if the Government sends two Europeans and a lot of police into their area the party will be alright”, Mr Johnston said. “But if one European goes into the area again they will take the gear and chase him away too”.

Mr Johnston returned last June after a sixty day patrol into the Southern Highlands from Kikori. “The Massi groups are terrorising the whole north western part of the district”, he said. “About four months ago they raided the Onjebe groups who managed to escape without loss of life.

“Four women from another group, about a day east from Kairuku, went to visit the Onjebes and stumbled across the Massis who had killed everything left in the raided village. The Massi men raped and killed three of the women and a warrior took the other for a bride. The Massi people have also sent word to the three native groups at Gurimatu, Sira and Kairuku that it is only a matter of time before they will be coming down to raid them.

“The Sira people have already taken the precaution of moving to the other side of the Purari River. The Massi’s last raid took place only a few months after the Mendi patrol had visited them, so it appears it is time that more drastic treatment is handed out to them. If a few of the Massi’s were made to stumble handcuffed through the Paiwaian villages en route to Kikori gaol their reputation and big talk will decline”.

Mr Johnston advised the Government to surround only one of the three Massi villages. “But the patrol should be prepared to expect resistance from the other two,” he said.

Across New Guinea in 39 days – a patrol’s long trek, The Sun, Sydney, 22 August 1957

Una Voce, No4 December 1995 [Submitted by Chris Warrilow]

PORT MORESBY, Thursday—An administration patrol has crossed New Guinea from the Fly to the Sepik River following the route of the Champion-Karius expedition, which made the first crossing in 1927.

The patrol was made by Assistant District Officer AM Bottrill and Cadet Patrol Officer GHJ Pople with eight native police and 39 carriers. It took them 39 days, from Kiunga Station, on the Upper Fly River, to Telefomin in the Sepik District.

The Director of Native Affairs, Alan Roberts, said the purpose of the patrol had been:

  • To contact scattered tribes between the Fly River and the New Guinea border;
  • To seek a station site in the area;
  • To let the Telefomin people know there was another Government station south of them.

Bottrill said the people were still very primitive and several tribal killings were reported to him. For the first ten days the patrol travelled up the river in canoes with outboard motors. Then they moved inland through rugged, scarcely inhabited country where there was very little food. Bottrill said the natives lived in small groups with one to ten communal houses.

East of the Palmer River tribes lived in fear of a people called the Setamans. They said the Setamans had attacked a neighbouring tribe and killed five of them early this year.

During the patrol, Bottrill discovered two mountain lakes at an altitude of 6,000 to 7,000 feet. The patrol had to fight its way across floods and limestone country. Bottrill said some of the country was the worst he had ever encountered. Water at times was very scarce and at one point carriers had to be sent back to the previous camp site for water.

To the north, the patrol moved through moss forests on ridge tops. The Assistant District Officer at Telefomin, Mr RT Neville, reported that the expeditions had been a success.

The last big trek, The Advertiser, Adelaide, 11 November 1972

From Ken Brown’s Collection

Although self-government is only a year away, long and dangerous patrols into parts of north-west Papua, still untouched by western civilisation, are continuing. Four patrols into the rugged and remote country have just ended and they have brought back conflicting pictures of the life led by the scattered and primitive tribesmen there.

One patrol, led by Assistant District Officer Robin Barclay, spent 74 days among the Upper Strickland tributaries. Barclay described it as “a place of evil spirits, perpetual rain, a wilderness of unyielding stone. The land is useless and the people have the lowest standard of living I have ever seen.”

For Barclay, his 100 carriers, two constables, medical orderly and interpreter, it was an arduous and dangerous patrol. One carrier drowned while the patrol was repairing a 200 foot long cane suspension bridge which hung precariously 40 feet above a raging mountain stream.

“July 21. A sleepless night with persistent attacks by sandflies. Rain is falling. I have lost about a stone and my clothes formerly cut to encompass my ample girth now flap and billow like the sails of a badly handled yacht as I tack erratically along. All clothing has deteriorated badly in the perpetual rain.” Four sentences that might have been taken from a Prisoner of War diary of the Pacific War, or from the journal of Jack Hide’s epic trek through Papua in 1935.

In fact the quoted material is from a report a few weeks old – the record of a marathon 74 day patrol through the Upper Strickland area of Papua. The words are those of the patrol leader, Robin Barclay, Assistant District Officer at the remote Nomad post in the Western District. His report is sometimes laconic, sometimes laced with sorrow, occasionally streaked with sarcasm. Often it is couched in the rolling cadences of a born raconteur who has gazed, limbs trembling with exhaustion, eyes widened by disbelief, at a world a million miles and 10,000 years removed from anything else on earth.

Barclay led 104 men out of Nomad and into the Upper Strickland on July 8. He brought 103 back to Nomad on September 17. Between the two dates he explored a land of incredible desolation, “a wilderness of unyielding depressing stone”. His task was the key journey in four concurrent patrols, which formed what was probably the Australian Administration’s last major exploration in Papua New Guinea.

Two of the patrols, led by Col Middleton and Laurie Meintjes, traversed the fertile lands of the Komula people north of the Fly River. The third swept in a long half circle from Olsobip in the north west corner of Papua to Kiunga, the most northern post on the Fly river. The third patrol had its own significance because it was led by Leo Bera, the first Papuan to command an Administration patrol into the untamed unknown of his own country.

But the extent of Barclay’s journey, its 10 week duration and the impossible country covered, rank it first among the four patrols. It was a not a trek of the kind that first took white men into the New  Guinea Highlands and the territory’s southern ranges in the 20s and 30s. Barclay had the comforting knowledge of supply by helicopter and of an efficient field machine watching his daily progress from Daru.

Yet for all that he was for much of the time on his own, calming fearful carriers far from their clan lands, coping with a leg injury oozing pus or dealing with a sudden attack of food poisoning. At the end of his patrol Barclay had made the first European contact with 55 primitive Papuans. The patrol tracked down 387 people in 19 hamlets scattered over 1,112 square miles. “The people live in the shadow of the 14,000 foot Muller Ranges and have no less than 400 inches of rain dumped on them each year,” he recorded.

“This torrent permeates through the bedrock, and landslides are quite common with whole sides of mountains often falling away with a roar. At times I found myself eyeing off the inhabitants for signs of webbed feet or gills, for it seemed these would be indispensable when the real wet season begins.

“The land presents an external grey-green aspect, the leaves of the trees are a uniform grey and the branches and trunks are covered in mosses, vines and fungi.” The people he met lived in perpetual semi-starvation, a daily grind of privation to which they were bound by the gods and legends of ancient times.

At one hamlet Barclay asked why the people did not get sweet potato cuttings from their neighbours to supplement a dreary diet of sago. “They told me that Bikma, their god, had made a decree against it,” he reported. “Bikma, the creator of all things vivified and inanimate, had laid down precise rules of conduct to regulate every aspect of their lives. One in the community was foolish enough to defy the will of Bikma; life was difficult enough as it was without actively pursuing a course that could only lead to pernicious ruin.

“Each man walks knowing that the sword of Damocles is suspended over his head. He comprehends in the certainty of immutable fate that one day somewhere the sorcerer will plan a horrible death for him. The chance of his dying a natural death is so remote that he does not even consider it.”

On the way, Barclay learned the story of the Naio people, a clan once 100 strong but now extinct. “It seems the Naio were persistent sorcerers who killed each other off by turning themselves into cassowaries and wildfowl, digging at night into their sleeping victims and feeding on their vital organs. Eventually only one Naio man was left and he was dispatched by warriors of another clan against whom he had been working his evil machinations. I fancy that in fact an epidemic of some sort wiped them all out long before the 20th century man.”

Four days into the patrol he happened upon a funeral, the bereaved wailing and suspicions of the patrol in their grief. “The mourning rites provide for the body to be left for five or six days until it is in a high state of putrefaction. All members of the family wail over it and the exuded greases from the corpse are rubbed over their bodies to assist the imbibing of the departed’s spirit.”

As the patrol pressed on, its members and carriers dragged themselves up steep ridges, picked their way along precipitous crags or slipped and slid down slimy mudslips.

Newspaper report, First and last men met talked

From Ken Brown’s Collection

The Papuan Fuetou tribe were the Western District’s last “unknown men.” They were discovered last June by Patrol Officer Leo Bera, the first Papuan ever to lead an exploratory patrol.

The men from the same country, but from different worlds, couldn’t talk to each other. They had to get help from five interpreters. It will never happen again – and Patrol Officer Bera is sorry. He found the experience “exciting and satisfying”.

Bera’s job was to seek out all the scattered hamlets in the Western District area bounded by the Murray, Strickland, Black and Palmer Rivers, to census the people and to gain as much information as possible about the area.

This patrol into the stone-age was very much a 20th century affair, dependent largely on helicopter drops for food and in contact with civilisation by radio. Patrol Officer Bera, Assistant Patrol Officer Jeff Ransley, two police constables, interpreters and an army of carriers slogged for 63 days over creeks, rivers, rugged limestone outcrops, precipitous valleys and razorback ridges, to locate and census a total of 260 people, 60 of these “new”.

The patrol suffered the usual hazards – bad weather which delayed food drops, rain, the insect world of stingers, nippers and crawlers, cuts from bush knives, blisters and snakes. Berra records: “Today Ibum, the interpreter, nearly stepped on a Papuan Black and gave a death cry which gave me a fright. I shot the snake with a pistol.”

High point of the patrol was the discovery of a group of 30 people called the Fuetou in the Blucher Range area, one mile west of the Murray River, west of where the Burnett River flows into the Strickland. Bera says in his report that the people of the area are semi nomadic subsistence farmers, but cover no great distance. They circulate within a relatively small area and most of their settlements are separated by one to four hours’ walking time.

Each clan has a headman, usually an elderly person whose sphere of influence extends only over his own clan. No group seems to dominate any other and clans rarely venture outside their own small area. The lives of people in the area revolve round man’s two greatest needs; shelter and food. Not much emphasis is put on clothing; penis gourds and narrow grass skirts are all that is worn.

As far as the Fuetou are concerned, death is caused by magic worked by sorcerers. Bera writes that “sores, sickness and tribal fighting probably have a little to do with it as well.” Through an interpreter he learned that in the past, most of the dead from tribal fights were eaten. “Today, when a person dies, the body is taken into the house and mourned over for a couple of days. Relatives come from far and near to pay their last respects,” Bera says. This weeping and mourning goes on until the body is swollen and stiff and the skin starts to peel off. When all the white of the fat shows, the women bring in red soil and rub it over the body. “When all the body is covered with red soil, it is put into the bark of a huge tree and carried to the chosen burial site. Then a platform is built at the base of a big tree and the body placed in a sitting position on the platform with its back against the tree trunk. A wooden enclosure is built to stop pigs or dogs disturbing the corpse which is left to rot.”

Bera noticed that there was an excess of eligible young men among the Fuctou. He put it down to the fact that old men of influence, such as the chiefs or sorcerers, often take two or three wives. Young women are married off at a very early age. A girl aged 10 is eligible for marriage to a man twice her age, even three or four times. “Marriage is controlled by the parents of the girl. If a young man proves himself to be a good worker in the garden and a good hunter as well, he is a good prospect,” Bera said.

“A bride price is paid by the relatives of the man. This can be pigs, string bags, axes or headdresses. The bride is then taken from her parent’s home to her in-law’s place. A new garden site is selected for the two by the boy’s parents and clearing takes place. After a garden is planted, a new house is built on the site and the couple go and live there.”

The Furetou employ rather unusual gardening methods. “They clear the undergrowth, plant their crops and then chop all the big trees down. They think that crops grow better under rotting plants than in bare soil and blazing sun.” Bera writes that their methods seemed to be successful. The gardens had fairly healthy looking taro, sweet potato, bananas, tapioca, sugar cane, pitpit and tropical herbs – all handed down to the Fuetou through the ages by their ancestors.

“For meat they go hunting for cassowary and pigs. These are shot with accurate arrows.” The greatest problem encountered by the patrol was that of interpretation. In many cases conversation with villagers was only possible by using five or six interpreters.

Earlier patrols to the Western District tried to take young men back to civilisation with them to learn Pidgin and Motu so that they could act as guides for future patrol. So far, nothing has come of the idea because “the people fret and are hopeless out of their environment.”

The patrol was finally stood down at Kiunga and Bera gives the impression in his report that he would have been quite happy to go on patrolling for another six days.

Herbert Edlington (Lyn) Clark

WJ Johnston

This is a rough outline of the incident that happened about twelve months before my arrival in Kikori. Patrol Officer Herbert Edlington Clark, known as Lyn Clark, was shot in the head by an arrow during his patrol into the Mount Karimui area behind Gurimata on the Purari River behind Hathor Gorge. The arrow entered his temple and skidded along the bone of his skull and merged behind his ear.

From details given to me by Constable Mange and the other police who were with Lyn, the patrol party was spread out over some distance as the carriers struggled up the mountainous terrain. The constable, leading the patrol, surprised a small party of warriors. One fired an arrow at the policeman who ducked and it hit Lyn who was behind him. Lyn fell to the ground, the police and carriers nearest to him dropped their loads and ran back the way they had come and the police and carriers they met in their flight, joined them until they came to the last man, Constable Mange, the patrol whip. Mange ordered one police constable to go back to where Lyn was.

In the meantime, the group of warriors got reinforcements and came back to finish the job. Mange and the other constable fired warning shots but, when no one was hurt, the attackers gained confidence and pressed on with the attack. Mange shot and killed one warrior and that made the others reconsider and, with this respite, Mange and his companion were able to get Lyn away.

The patrol party dumped their gear and left the track they were following and made their way through the bush for three days, coming out below Hathor Gorge. Rafts were made for the trip down the Purari River to Romilly sawmill at the mouth of the Purari River. Lyn contracted scrub typhus as a result of his flight through the bush and he was ill for some time.

Assistant District Officer Ted Hicks and Patrol Officer Ken Chester were sent in to ‘show the flag’ in the area concerned. They did not look for trouble and they did not find any. It was the people from these villages who were sending messages, through the ‘bush telegraph’, as to what they would do to a future single European led patrol and I intended to change the Mount Karimui people’s ideas on the subject, and make them eat humble pie but the sudden death of my small daughter, changed my life completely.

Tribal warfare

Through the Eyes of a Kiap, Memoir, WJ Johnston

Based on Patrol Report Kikori No 3 1952-53

A short time after my return from the Tebera patrol, a report was received from a couple of Ianguri men that, upon their return to the Samberigi Valley after an absence working in Port Moresby, they found a state of war existed between the Sau people at one end of the valley and the Ianguri people at the other end. A number of people had been killed and there appeared to be no possibility of a peaceful solution. They requested the government’s assistance in putting an end to the fighting. The District Officer, Jim O’Malley, instructed me to mount a patrol and proceed to the Samberigi Valley with the object to stop the tribal warfare and bring peace to the valley, to arrest as many as possible of the men involved from each of the warring groups and to bring them back to Kikori for punishment.

The Samberigi Valley had, prior to the establishment of the Southern Highlands District, been part of the Delta Division administered from Kikori and the people still had the impression that it was the administrative centre responsible for their area. In addition, it was easier and far safer for them to come to Kikori because they had enemy territory to pass through to reach the first government station in the Southern Highlands District. Because of this factor, Patrol Officer Bill Brand, from Lake Kutubu, was to meet me in the Samberigi Valley before we acted together to put an end to the fighting and bring about peace. Before we started any action of capturing prisoners, I first had to try and make peace between the two groups and get an exchange of gifts and compensation payments to the relatives of those who had been killed. It was an ambitious programme and I spent forty-four days on this patrol. I believe it was a success but, really, the only solution lay in establishing a government station in the area so that problems could be dealt with as soon as they happened.

Even with two Kiaps, this was not going to be an easy task because there would be several thousand people involved as each group had affiliations with other groups to the north west, the north and north east and south, respectively, to the two main warring groups and there would be the need to simultaneously surround four or five dubus (long houses) in dawn raids at each group. Fortunately, a day’s walk separated the groups so, with luck, we could catch one group without the other group being aware of our action.

To understand the problem of the project, a basic knowledge of the people and their customs is necessary. The people of the Samberigi and adjacent areas are highland people in that they live at altitudes up to more than six thousand feet. Their valleys are not the large wide ones like those of the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea: they are smaller and are called valleys because they lie behind large mountain ranges but, inside those mountain barriers, there are a number of smaller hills or mountains that can be heavily timbered. The style of housing was similar to their lowland neighbours. All the adult males lived and slept in ‘long houses’ called dubus and the women and their children lived and slept in small huts located in front and to each side of the dubu with a dancing ground fronting it. The dubu was the gathering point as each family group had a hut in their garden where the family slept when working in their garden. These gardens were located in the virgin forests some distance from the dubu, often at higher altitudes. In times of warfare, the people were reluctant to leave the dubu area that was like the castles in our past. The system of warfare was based on raiding parties seeking out the unsuspecting or unwary, away from the community area of the dubu.

The dubus were usually strategically located on a prominent spur, away from heavy bush, with views on all sides of the surrounding countryside. In the front, facing the access to the piece of flat ground and the track to the dubu, was a verandah at ground level and a small doorway through which a person had to crouch down in order to enter into the dubu itself and there were no windows on the sides or back. Inside there could be a number of shoulder high partitions forming small cubicles and each had its own fireplace. Nights are cold at four thousand feet and when perched on the side of a hill the wind and driving rain can make it colder even though you are in the tropics. The back of the dubu could be three to four metres off the sloping hillside and to surround them in a dawn raid you needed a couple of men to watch each side and the rear plusyour main force at the doorway. You also had to get there without awakening the women and children in the little huts on each side. They were warrior strongholds where the men felt safe to sleep at night without fear of an attack by a raiding party.

The Samberigi people had been contacted before the Second World War and during and after the war. The last patrol had only been two years previous to the one I was making in July 1952. Despite this, the lack of easy access to a government station and its law enforcement role, the people were unchanged in their traditional way of life. Cannibalism was still practised and the people wore the smoked dried hand of a deceased relative around their neck as a constant reminder that revenge had not been extracted for that death. They believed death happened as the result of sorcery or more direct action of some other person.

They also believed disease and illness were caused by sorcery. Bacteria and virus and such like meant as much to them as they did to the European of the Middle Ages. Justice to them was an eye for an eye but the eye could be anyone from another group who, of course, could be totally innocent of any involvement with the death of the avenger’s loved one.

Warfare meant sneaking up on an unsuspecting family group working or living in a garden area or a smaller group of men out hunting for game or a small group of perceived enemies. Of course, there were many other causes for a spate of raids to break out. Sometimes the treatment of wives, who had married into an opposing group, trespassing on another group’s hunting grounds, the failure to pay the right price for a pig, anything could lead to the matter being settled by the death of the offender and that led to pay backs and so it went on.

It was a warrior-based society and I think the men liked it to be that way. They liked the excitement and it was the spice to their lives. It was just as honourable to murder a woman or child, as it was to kill a man in a hopelessly out numbered situation. I once heard a conversation that involved the death of a man who was known as a great warrior. He had been ambushed and was outnumbered but his relatives were bragging they were within hearing distance of the attack and could hear his cries but he did not go down to one of the two blows from his attackers’ axes, he was like a tree, he had to be chopped almost in half before he fell. Sometimes, as on this occasion, the cause went back to a couple of years when twelve men were set upon and killed at a feast in another group’s dubu area. It was the same old story where the guests at a feast are to be the highlight of the feast’s menu.

A complaint of the headmen during my patrol was that it was now possible for men to go away to work for the European and they often took advantage to first kill off a few of their opposing group and hope that, by the time they returned, somebody else in their group had paid the price of revenge action from the other group and they would get off scot free. It was a savage society where bullies and treachery flourished. It was no place for the meek or cultured and by the laws operating in the society they, or anyone inheriting those characteristics, soon became an extinct breed. However, before condemning them, we should take a close look at our own society. It is not necessary to cut off a man’s head to kill culture, meekness and innate sense of decency and fair play.

The route to the Samberigi Valley was well established, not that it meant it was like a walk in a National Park in a city. We proceeded from Kikori up the Kikori River and turned west where it joined the Sirebi River entering from the north-east and proceeded up the Hegigio river which comes down from the north west. These two rivers combine to form the Kikori River: they are both deep, clear and fast flowing rivers. The Hegigio River narrows at two locations and rapids are formed at these points. The strength of the current is, in drier periods, almost too strong for the launch to negotiate and in flood periods you would not consider pushing your luck with an attempt.  After the rapids are passed you proceed to a point on the eastern bank of the river where the track commences to climb over the range into the Samberigi area. The track runs to the west of Mount Murray, a ten thousand feet pile of limestone and heavy timber, particularly in the lower levels where the mountain’s top soil has been washed down by constant heavy rain. This is an area that the locals use the term ‘big bush’ to describe it. Wild game is prevalent and walking under the heavy canopy of the rainforest it is semi dark and gloomy and you can see through the tree trunks for a reasonable distance, there is very little undergrowth due to the lack of sunlight on the forest floor.

On the first day, after leaving the river, we were making our way through such surrounds when the lead policeman, a Lance Corporal, held up his arm above his head, the signal to stop, he then motioned us to be quiet and pointed ahead to a massive wild boar rooting around for worms. There was no wind to warn the pig of the smell of humans and there were no small trees to provide refuge for us if he decided to charge. The carriers froze where they were. I had not issued ammunition to the police at this early stage, so we stood motionless until the boar decided to move on. City people may consider a pig as a harmless animal but a large wild boar, about six feet long and a four feet high at the shoulders, is one of the most dangerous animals you can encounter, his tusks can rip a person to pieces and it is not just your legs at risk. His bulk and speed is such that a man can be bowled over like a doll and then he is at the mercy of those tusks behind which is the weight and power of the head and shoulders. Many a hunter has been killed by the hunted animal and policemen killed when taking a message from one place to another.

The most experienced policeman in the patrol party usually led the patrol. He was followed by the Kiap, then the interpreter and then the carriers with a police constable stationed at various distances down the carrier line. The last man of the patrol was called the whip and he also, was an experienced patrol policeman. It was his job to protect the rear and to stop those lagging from dropping behind. An experienced Kiap would keep his eye on the location of the last carrier to ensure the patrol was kept in a tight and controlled group: this was important in the uncontrolled or semi controlled areas. If you had a local guide, naturally he led the way followed by the interpreter or, if you expected contact to be made with the ‘wild’ locals, the interpreter would be the lead man.

An experienced group of patrol police was good to watch. You may come to a cliff face that has to be climbed. The patrol would stop while one constable climbed to the top to check the area and other constables would take up vantage points on the cliff face. The patrol then moved up the cliff face with the leaders waiting at the top for all to negotiate the climb and then formed up in line again to proceed. All this was done in silence, no order being given. Of course, this sort of thing did not happen on routine patrols when walking along well defined and well maintained tracks between villages in areas where the government influence has been strong for many years or over rolling kunai hills where you can see for kilometres in every direction and where the only threat would be from an ambush hidden in the kunai grass.

On this trip to the Samberigi, movement under the rain forest canopy was no problem. It was a different story in those areas where the track ran through an area open to the sun. In these areas, the undergrowth, mainly a prickly bracken type fern, which increased with the altitude, could not be penetrated without hacking your way through with a bush knife. There had not been very much traffic on the track in the past two years as a result of the fighting in the valley and the occasional traveller was not going to advertise his presence on the track by cutting back undergrowth.

After leaving Kikori, it took six days to reach the first Samberigi group, the Saus. The last couple of days of this trek had been quite demanding on the patrol party, particularly the carriers, because of the numerous ascents and descents in the broken mountainous country. Two man patrol boxes were brutal things for carriers in rough terrain, there was always an unequal distribution of weight, first on the second man when climbing and then on the first man when descending and they only had one hand free to support them from falling on the rough and slippery ground underfoot.

Maintaining a tight patrol party, where the last group of carriers would be in close contact with the leading group, was not adhered to; we were not in danger of being attacked. On one occasion I had to wait for an hour before the patrol whip, with the last carrier, caught up with the lead group. When unburdened with gear, the local man could dance up and down these hills with the sure footedness of a mountain goat. Carriers from the coastal areas, who did most of their travelling by canoe, were also disadvantaged because they did not have the muscle development in their thighs and calves to handle hours of arduous toiling up and down mountains. These men had my sympathy and respect but I had to be strict with them otherwise mountain patrol work would have to cease. I would patch up the sores on their shoulders upon which the poles, used to carry the loads, were placed. In the case of the inexperienced, the poles could make their shoulders raw meat and they would have to carry again the next day with a load on the tender areas. Because of this, I travelled as light as possible, and I always looked after their sores, cut feet or any ailment and they appreciated my concern. My concern, I have to admit, did not arise solely from altruistic motives, they were the ‘engine’ that kept the patrol mobile and it was in my interest to see their interests were given adequate consideration.

I never had trouble with my carriers at any time on patrol: they gave their best and they were tough men who never complained they were being pushed beyond their limit. I tried to make them feel part of the team and not regard them as beasts of burden. In fact, when the time came to surround the various dubus to apprehend possible murder suspects, I used most of them to bolster up my police force. I had ten police accompanying my patrol and Bill Brand would have had the same, so there were twenty police and two Kiaps to be spread over the simultaneous surrounding of four or five dubus scattered hundreds of metres apart.

For ten days after arriving in the Samberigi, I spent my time visiting and talking to the leaders of the two warring groups, trying to establish a basis for a successful peace. I also wanted to lull the people into a sense of complacency so they would be less alert for any action we would be taking to apprehend the possible murder suspects. At 4 am on the eleventh day, Bill Brand and I left with four squads to surround four dubus in the Sau area. Walking over small mountain tracks is bad enough at any time but in the pitch dark, in swirling mist and light drizzle, without any lamps or torches, is a very unpleasant experience. There were muffled curses and thuds as various members slipped and fell and I fell heavily on to my right hip where my revolver was holstered.

We camped more than an hour’s walk away and we managed to creep up and surround the dubus, undetected, just as dawn was breaking; the people were completely unaware of our pending visit.

The men were herded out from inside the dubus on to the veranda area in front, one young man, possibly heavily involved in the murder raids, decided to make a run for it and vaulted over the half wall of the verandah and made his getaway. I had my revolver sighted on him and moved the sights up to put a shot above his head but the trigger would not budge so I made out I was letting him go and brought the gun back and trained it on the others remaining. Nobody made a move, they apparently thought I had let one go but would not be so generous with the next one.

I later checked the revolver and found that, in my fall when approaching the dubus, the cartridge chamber was pushed out of position and this prevented the gun from firing. This was fortunate as a shot from a gun may not have been the best thing to happen at this stage, shooting over a person’s head would have been interpreted as a miss and the gun, and the person operating it, was not a threat. I really had the gun as a last resort in case my life was actually in danger, not to shoot murder suspects or people acting out of fear in an unusual situation.

The men from the four dubus assembled at one point and, after questioning, the likely murder suspects were sorted out and next day sent under police escort back to Kikori. We could not afford the man power to keep them under restraint while we set about surrounding the Ianguri dubus so, when the police left with the prisoners I set out with Bill Brand to contact groups to the north-west of the Sau area.  Bill was looking for a possible site where an airstrip could be established because aircraft was the only feasible means of supplying a future patrol post on a permanent basis. If a site was found the local people would use knives and digging sticks to construct the airstrip, this was the normal practice for the construction of an airstrip outside the main centres.

Whilst waiting for the police sent with the prisoners to return from Kikori, I spent the time trying to arrange compensation payment to the next of kin of the murder victims and this was done by frequently visiting the two warring groups. The Saus, who had been killed in the most recent raid, and who were the cause of the matter being reported to Kikori, were still reasonably fresh corpses when I arrived in the valley. By reasonably fresh, I would say they were three or four weeks old. At the Sau village I saw two of the survivors, one had an arrow wound in his forehead above his eye, he would recover from the wound and the other man had a spear wound between the shoulder blades. The spear had gone in very deep and I could see his lungs moving when he breathed. The spear had been removed but it was the practice to tip the war arrows and spears with bone and then, at the very end, the claw of some animal that pulls off and remains in the body when the spear or arrow is removed. I knew the possibility of a massive infection was a certainty, he was hot and feverish when I saw him and there was nothing I could do and he died, so I was told, later in the evening.

I did not confirm his death, it may have been a piece of fiction as he was definitely in the war party in the Ianguri territory when the superior Ianguri group ambushed them and his relatives probably thought that I would arrest him. If I had, he would need to be carried on a litter and would not have survived the trip to Kikori. As far as I was concerned he had gone looking for trouble and deserved what he got and if not already dead, I was sure he would not survive the wound whether it took a day or a week for him to die. Despite his condition, he was ‘cracking hardy’ reassuring himself that he had just a taste of battle and he would recover.

Four others from this party had been killed, the bodies of two of them were still where they had fallen in a food garden about six thousand feet up the slopes of Mount Murray about twenty minutes walk from the Ianguri dubus, so they were definitely up to no good, possibly looking for some unsuspecting group of women going to the gardens to collect food. Whilst at Ianguri, I went to the site of the murders to get the true picture of what had happened, the bodies were a putrid mess and the stench pervaded the area. It was raining and there was a swirling mist across the side of the mountain and my guides were not very happy to be there because they were frightened that the spirits of the dead were still present so, when there was a rumble of thunder and a heavy downpour of rain they said, “Let’s leave quickly, Guba is not happy about us being here.”

Quite frankly, if I had been the god Guba I would have also tried to drown out the smell with continuous heavy rain.

The bodies of the other two killed could not be located, the Ianguris said the men must have run off into the bush and died of their wounds. The Saus would not accept this story they said the Ianguris had eaten them after they had killed them. The bodies of the two men that were left in the garden had not been eaten because they were related to the Ianguris and the other two were not. I believed the Saus. It was immaterial to me what happened after they were killed: the cutting up and cooking of a dead human body was not an offence under the Papua and New Guinea Criminal Code but the point was important to the Saus because it was a matter of pride, adding insult to injury.

Even during my visit to their dubu area, the Ianguris were still performing their victory dance every night and they would come rushing towards my camp on a spur about seventy metres from their dubu and then stop short and give a war whoop and run back the other way. This made my police and the Kikori carriers nervous. I don’t think they slept at all and it was not too much coffee that caused their insomnia! I thought it was an eerie sight, light misty rain swirling around the dubu and dancing ground, the flicker of fires from the small huts on either side and in front of the dubu, and the yelling, prancing mob putting on their performance; there could have been a bit of cooked and smoked human flesh being served as dessert. I was biding my time with the intention of trying to arrest some suspects once I had established the basis of forming a peace settlement.

When the police returned from Kikori they had to be given a day’s rest because they were exhausted by the return trip. The following day we made a combined dawn raid of four dubus in the Ianguri area; this was not as successful as the raid on the Sau people because we did not catch as many suspects. I suppose this was to be expected as a result of the patrol’s activity during the preceding weeks. A particularly frustrating aspect of this raid was a group of warriors breaking out on to a clearing about sixty metres from a surrounded dubu: they had been sleeping in concealed huts in the nearby bush. They pranced around in full war gear and yelled taunts to the patrol saying their fathers and grandfathers had taught them how to kill and they were proud of it and they would continue to do it. At the slightest sign that we intended to move towards them, they quickly scattered into the bush and came out again when we remained where we were.

It was hopeless to try to catch them because, even though we were only separated by about sixty metres, it would take ten minutes to get down the hill and up the hill where they were standing. By that time they could be a kilometre away in every direction, they knew their bush and where their friends lived in other groups and once amongst them and they would be unidentifiable. I took a rifle from one of the police and lined up the most vocal warrior in the rifle’s sight, I could have dropped him and a couple of others before they knew what was happening but I would have been up on a murder charge without any defence. I could only shoot in self-defence or when the life of one of my party was in definite danger. I am ashamed to admit that I was sorely tempted to shoot when I thought of the bodies I had seen and the state of chaos that tribal war creates. I lowered the rifle, unloaded it and handed it back to the constable. I turned to the man, who was interpreting their taunts for me, and told him to tell them I had seen their faces and would not forget them. He did this and that seemed to take a lot of the starch out of them as they turned over the possibilities in their minds. I gave them a ‘Kings Cross’ salute then turned and walked away.

From the suspects we sorted out our prisoners and the men released were insistent that I also release the two men who were visitors from the un-contacted people to the north-east. This group had a very large population and if I took these two men away their relatives would think they had been killed and eaten by the Waro people and they would form raiding parties and wipe them out. I let them go free because I could appreciate the Waro people’s concern and there was also a nagging thought that, maybe, the Waro people, to clear themselves, would send word to that heavily populated area that I was taking away two of their men for some foul purpose and then war parties, from this group, could soon catch up with a slow moving patrol moving east, south east with prisoners in tow. There would be thousands of good ambush points along the route we were taking over Mount Murray then down to the Sirebi River.

We had two more dubus to raid for possible murder suspects that were located about four thousand feet up on the southern slopes of Mount Murray. When we reached these two dubus that we were going to raid for prisoners, they were deserted. Two Sau women had taken word to their village telling the men to run and hide in the bush. We found an old man living by himself in a small bush hut and we asked him to get word to the people to return to their dubus. He contacted another old man to help but it was unsuccessful, despite me waiting patiently and even going to the extent of despatching all the patrol party and prison line and remaining at the village area with just one police constable. It was raining most of the time. I could understand their reluctance to leave their safe shelters and no damage was being afflicted on the dubus. I left at mid-day to catch up with the patrol party.

The country could only be described as wild and rugged: some would possibly call the ruggedness majestic, dominated by the roar of water. A river disappeared into a limestone hole in the ground, a roar of a waterfall could be heard and another river gushed out of the side of the mountain, the track being suitable only for a mountain goat as it wound around a cliff side with a large drop to a fiercely flowing river. The rivers were not in flood, they were crystal clear and deep but totally un-crossable. We had to make bridges across points where the river was forced into narrows and, fortunately, sometimes there was a large boulder midstream to break up the distance to be crossed. It was slow work bridging some of these wild torrents and it could have been dangerous to fall into the water. We had tried to fell trees to bridge the gap in some places but they had been too short and the whole tree would be whipped away like a matchstick in a flooded gutter.

At one place, I was talking to a group of men from a village located about fifteen minutes walk away on the other side of a wide, shallow creek near where we had camped. It had started to rain heavily and after some time they said they would have to return to their village before the water came. I looked out at the wide, almost dry creek bed and wondered and then about a half an hour after the men had left, I heard a roar that got louder and louder. I looked up the creek and there was a large wall of brown water rushing down the creek bed and within seconds the placid, wide creek bed was a mass of boiling brown water. I always kept that incident in mind when selecting possible overnight sites for camping. My advice to anyone is never to underestimate the power of water in its rush to get to sea level. This was a wild piece of real estate with men to match it, definitely not a place for the weak or unwary.

I had heard about this area whilst at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, when I had no idea I would ever visit it.  Dr J Andrews, a geographer and geologist, a lecturer at the School, said that this area was possibly the wettest place on earth. This was caused by the fact that the nine thousand foot Mount Murray was the first major obstacle in the path of the masses of clouds coming up from the southern oceans and passing over Papua New Guinea. It was certainly a very wet, gloomy place; interlaced by numerous creeks and rivers. There were obviously patches of very deep and rich soil washed down from the heights and wherever there was a bit of light, plants grew profusely. Sugar cane was the biggest and juiciest I have ever seen but the juice was watery and slightly sour: there was insufficient sunlight for the plants to produce sugar. Sweet potato would be a mass of healthy leaves but no roots, sago trees were big and healthy but no starch had been deposited in the fibres.

There must have been plenty of small game there, living off the abundant foliage because, asleep in a clump of grass near one of our resting spots, was a twelve feet python. One of the young boys accompanying his father, a prisoner, nudged the snake awake with a stick and when it raised his head out of the pile of coils to see what was stupid enough to disturb him, the boy quickly grabbed the snake’s neck immediately behind its head and this completely paralysed the snake. With his free hand, the boy slipped a large wild banana type of leaf over the snake’s head and eased it under the hand holding the snake’s neck he then quickly bound a strong vine around the leaf enclosed head. I think the snake must have suffocated as it died without the slightest suggestion of a struggle and was later gutted and cooked for the evening meal.

The patrol moved on and we reached Wairope village on the Sireru River. We eventually made rafts and rafted down the Sireru until it joined the Sirebi river until we heard the sound of a diesel engine labouring against the thrust of the river. In a short time we came in sight of the twelve metre TNT a government work boat, we transferred from the rafts and headed back down river arriving at Kikori at 9.30 p.m. I felt we had been as successful in our mission as was possible.

During the patrol I had a constant concern of keeping the patrol party healthy. This is a task that a patrolling officer has to attend to every day: sick and injured people can hold up your progress and there is the responsibility of getting people back to their home villages well and fit. On this patrol, the job was complicated by the fact that a flu virus was present. I had kept the spread of the virus under control but one prisoner, being brought down from the Ianguri area, was feeling quite sick. He was a middle-aged man and his youngest son, about fourteen years old, had accompanied the patrol to be of service to his father. At one rest break, when we were in a very inhospitable area on the southern slopes of Mount Murray, the prisoner lay on the ground and said he could not go any further. I knew if I left him behind he would ‘hole up’ in a cave before a fire and possibly die from pneumonia or his enemies would find him. At least I could prevent that and if we kept going I would have him under the care of a doctor within a week and he would, at least, get sufficient food and hot drinks during that period.

When his son told one of the patrol police who could speak his language that his father had said he was dying and to leave him where he was laying, they told me the situation. I said, “Ask him if he is really dying?” They did this and the prisoner weakly nodded his head, so I said to the police, “OK, start and dig a hole, we may as well bury him here.” They started to dig with bush knives and sharpened sticks and as they progressed the prisoner, watching the activity, asked his son what was happening, his son replied they were digging his grave. With a shocked snort the prisoner was on his feet and ready to go, the son collected a bunch of branches from a stinging nettle plant and as the prisoner faltered in his stride the son slapped his father briskly on his bare buttocks with the goad to smarten up his pace. He eventually recovered and was fit and well when we arrived at Kikori. This may sound like callous treatment, but I knew he would fare better with the patrol, even if forced to walk, than being left with his son. The patrol party had grown to about fifty, including the prisoners, and the need to keep moving was critical to ensure adequate food supplies were maintained.

While rafting down the Sirebi River, I heard the police laughing over some incident so I listened and heard they were talking about a previous patrol to the Samberigi. For some reason, the Kiap leading the patrol had lost his ‘cool’ and kicked one of the axe totting warriors in the buttocks to hurry him up. The warrior slipped the axe from its resting place on his shoulder to his hand and advanced towards the officer in a menacing fashion; the officer back-pedalled fast and, in panic, called out to his police to shoot the man. The policeman concerned said, “You kicked his arse Taubada, you shoot him.” The policeman had summed up the situation and recognised the warrior was simply making a gesture and there was no real intent behind it.

Some people think that the colour of their skin or the fact that they are a member of a racial group with superior manufacturing techniques and the social structure to serve them somehow makes them a superior person to the member of a social group without these techniques. A person may think that this is a recognised fact if he lives in a town or a place where his official standing gives him a certain position of authority and the various prerequisites associated with that position. In a field situation, away from the trappings of civilisation, this does not happen automatically: you have to earn respect by your own efforts. Regardless of how good you may consider yourself to be physically, you will be no match against an experienced bushman as he will out walk and out distance you in stamina every time when you are in his domain. You may be stronger or quicker in some fields of activity but not when it comes to moving over rough terrain. The need to wear boots is an immediate handicap as is our lack of knowledge of the forest products and what you can do with them. It is necessary to display qualities of coolness in dangerous situations, a consideration of others and a sense of justice. I suppose you could sum it all up by displaying leadership qualities that gains the confidence of the people you are supposed to be leading. You have to realise that you are under scrutiny and being compared all the time to others whom members of your party have accompanied on patrols in the past, and you have to be an asset, not a liability to them. The following is possibly a small example of what I mean.

On one occasion, I was leading a patrol into country unknown to any member of the patrol and with no local guides. We followed a rough pad into a peculiar type of swamp where a stunted type of tree formed almost an impenetrable wall. There was a barely discernible track winding through the swamp and underfoot we had to walk on a mass of gnarled, twisted roots, it was difficult and hard walking. A number of small tracks led off in all directions and I had to constantly consult my compass to see which way to keep heading, ignoring numerous faint tracks and sticking to the one dictated by the compass needle. After hours of walking, we eventually broke out into clearer country and some of the party were able to recognise the tops of mountains that were a feature of the location to where we were headed. One patrol policeman looked at me with a look of awe and respect on his face, because I had successfully brought them through an area that had misled all of them.

The track to the Samberigi, like all tracks over broken country leading up to the crossing of a mountain range, was mainly hard work without any real difficulties. Despite heavy rainfall, drinking water was sometimes a problem. Even though walking under the canopy of a rain forest and climbing into higher altitudes, it is still thirsty work. The sweat pours off your body and you could easily wring a cup full of sweat from your shirt. I have licked damp leaves and filled small holes in the limestone with pebbles to get a sip of water. At times you may hear water, but it is deep down in the limestone under your feet: the heavy rain from the night before has quickly been absorbed into the limestone and drained away. Most of us carried sticks of sugar cane stuck in the straps of our packs, this was for the rest periods every hour or so. It was a good energy reviver and whilst you got hot from the exertion, the cane got cooler from the air at the higher altitudes.

One of the biggest sources of annoyance was the mountain leech. These blood sucking worms were like ants on the track, standing on their ‘tails’ waving backwards and forwards to latch on to a host they knew was present by the vibrations caused by our walking. I always rubbed insect repellent on to my gaiters and trousers and the carriers rubbed lemon grass and the juice from wild limes on to their legs. This helped, but being constantly wet reduced the effectiveness of this protective measure. Whenever you became aware of an itching, slightly burning sensation you knew it was time to stop and pull the leech off. I never resorted to burning them off and I never saw anyone do this, you pulled them off and that was that. These leeches are as tough as leather, they look like little elephant trunks; a big one would be five centimetres long. They were more of harassment than anything else and you cursed the necessity of having to stop and remove them. The leech knew its best chance of a meal was a track along which people or animals moved so, during rest periods, the police and carriers got off the track and perched on the branches of small trees or on the top of boulders to get away from them. The more frequently a track was used, the greater was the leech population; like a lot of insects, the female leech needs blood to fertilise her eggs. The scrub mite was a similar problem but you usually picked them up when pushing through thick undergrowth and you would not be aware of them until they had burrowed into your skin, usually in places where clothing was restricted. A very itchy, raised welt across your stomach or groin made you aware of their presence and there was little you could do except hope that you had not picked up one infected with the scrub typhus bug which makes a person very sick and could be fatal if you did not have the drug to treat the disease.

Tribal Skirmish, Bob Cleland, Una Voce No 1 March 2006


I was a junior Patrol Officer (Kiap) and Officer in Charge of a small remote Base Camp called Watabung 6000 feet up in the Eastern Highlands District of Papua New Guinea. One Monday, on my noisy BSA Bantam motorbike, I was headed for Chuave from Watabung, along the winding road through very steep country when I swung around a corner and was confronted by a small group of very agitated men. I stopped; the engine stopped; and without its noise I could hear excited yells and yodelling further on out of sight. ‘O Kiap, they’re all fighting’, they panted in Melanesian Pidgin.

Feeling like one of New York’s finest scrambling to the crime in a B-grade movie; I kicked the bike into life and rode off and around the next corner. Down the steep slope of the ridge above, cascaded towards me fifteen or twenty Watabung tribesmen, with another fifteen or twenty excited, yelling, weapon brandishing Watabung tribesmen hot on their heels. I stopped. They slowed their descent. ‘The Kiap’s here’ some called. The skirmish slowed to a halt, so I signalled and yelled for them to come down onto the road. They came and gathered in two separate, simmering groups. The first group carried a wounded tribesman. I persuaded them to sit down, one group on the left and the other on the right of a sharp corner, each partially obscured from the other. I stood at their apex with both sides visible to me, left and right. Behind me was a fifty-foot sheer fall to the river.

I was exercising my police powers here by intervening in the dispute and calming the participants. But, vitally, I had behind me fifteen years of Australian contact and the trust built up by the people by an imposed system of administration, but able, nevertheless, to settle their minor disputes, mostly to their satisfaction.

The dispute was over a pig which had been part of a bride price paid by the clan on my left to the clan on my right.

Bit by bit, with the limited Pidgin they had, I pieced together the story. The two groups were from two clans or groups of the same village. A woman from the clan on my left had weaned and brought to maturity a pig. This pig then formed part of the Bride price paid to the clan on my right. Months later, the woman had seen the pig tied in a garden and her maternal instincts overcame her and she simply untied the pig and walked away with it.

Members of the clan on my right got stroppy with the other clan and marched upon them carrying their usual domestic weaponry. Fists led to sticks led to axes, knives and bows and the skirmish cascaded down onto the road, there to be confronted by the Watabung Kiap! The wounded man (husband of the larcenous woman) had an axe wound on his head and blood all over him. This, in truth, was one reason the skirmish came to an end. The aggrieved clan had shed blood, so assuaging the pig theft. My coincidental arrival was reinforcement for them to stop the scrap.

I’m still exercising my police powers as Investigating Officer, but delving behind the overt riotous behaviour to find the events leading up to the fight and the relationship between the protagonists, to put together with what I already knew of their social organisation.

Once I had the story, I harangued them on Pax Australiana and told them they would all have to attend a Court as their fighting had broken the law. This I would do on my return from Chuave in a few hours time, and while I was gone they could all take the half hour walk to Watabung with instructions to take the wounded man to the Aid Post. They were quite happy with this expression of ‘Kiap’s law’, and marched off down the road, unsupervised, in a single, harmonious, singing and laughing group!

Here, I’m a magistrate on the Court for Native Affairs, an appointment following about a year’s field experience and a rudimentary course in basic law and procedure. My decision was correct in the imposed Australian law, and ‘correct’ in the eyes of the defendants and their clansmen. The sentence reflected total lack of incarcerating facilities on this simple Base Camp, but, again was understood by everyone and caused no serious disruption to their every day lives. I’m also the roll-caller and work supervisor for their sentence.

Traditionally, this dispute would have ended amicably and ‘in balance’ between the two clans as soon as the perpetrator’s husband was wounded. My intervention should have served the same purpose.

But this little dispute turned out to be still ‘out of balance’ with the first clan because the wound (i.e. payback) was too big! When I called at the aid post to enquire after the wounded one, the Aid Post Orderly said, ‘He’s OK.’ ‘Skull not broken then?’ I asked. ‘No’, he responded, ‘his skull is broken – here look.’ With that he removed a piece of sticking plaster from the now shaven head, folded down a 4 inch by six inch flap of skin (which included his ear), picked out a piece of bone three inches long by half and inch wide and said, “See the skull is broken but he is OK.’

The injured one had not flinched – merely continued smiling up at me. I thought a bit of more-skilled medical attention might do no harm, so said I’d send him in to Goroka at first opportunity. This came the next morning when someone came through headed for Goroka, so off he went sitting in the back of a Landrover.

In the meantime, I persuaded the aggrieved clan to withhold further aggression until their Clansman returned from hospital, and I made sure that the convicted men worked on the station in two separate groups!

A week later, the injured one returned in smart new clothes and with other gifts and underneath a resplendent, large spotlessly white gauze turban, all patched up and stitched up.  He’d been sent on from Goroka’s rather rudimentary hospital to Madang’s Base Hospital. The DC3 flight was his first, his view of the coast and the Bismark Sea was his first and the sights, sounds and people of Madang were his first. He returned a VIP! His clan were so impressed and felt so vicariously important that they immediately declared peace and good will towards the aggressive clan, and (at least for the rest of the time I was at Watabung) the two clans remained happy and harmonious neighbours in their village. (Note: Aid Post Orderlies were indigenous people with basic training.)


I’m now an Assistant District Commissioner, 20 years on, 20km further west, and in charge of a whole Sub-District, in a totally different social and language group in the adjoining Chimbu District. With the District Commissioner, Laurie Doolan, I was driving in a Landcruiser from Chuave, the sub-District Headquarters up the steep limestone slope towards the abrupt cliffs of Mount Elimbari.

We swung around a corner and were confronted by scores of very agitated men, yelling and running in all directions through a village strung along the ridge, and firing arrows at each other – seriously.

Several bodies lay on the ground, several houses were burning fiercely and from the shelter of their houses, the women were screaming encouragement to their men and abuse to their opponents.

Following habit both of us jumped out of the Landcruiser and added our puny shouts to the general melee. We tried to convey the message ‘Stop, you’re breaking the law, we are Kiaps’ (they would have known that). ‘Stop fighting and let’s talk’. No effect. Men were running very close to us and our Landcruiser, and being shot at by others further away. Realisation hit us both simultaneously, that these tribesmen were totally ignoring and weren’t particularly concerned whether or not we got hit. It was the first time for both of us that we’d been so irrelevant in such a situation! Strategic retreat seemed the best course of action so we jumped back into the vehicle and returned the half-hour to Chuave. There we told the Chuave Police Inspector of the fight. He armed his police and in two vehicles, two hours later, left for the village we’d retreated from. The District Commissioner and I took no further part in subsequent matters arising from the village fight, but retained an administrative interest in the outcome.

The next day, I learned that by the time the police arrived at the village, the fight had stopped. Several villagers were dead, a number wounded and a number of houses were burned down. A police investigation the next few days resulted in arrests. The arrested were brought before the well trained and conscientious Local Court Magistrate at Chuave, thence through other levels of court over a protracted period, to be finally tried for murder in the Supreme Court. For this whole period the accused had been held in custody in a gaol remote from Chuave and their clansmen.

Despite the imbalance left behind by the fight and subsequent arrests, the two villages involved held and uneasy peace pending the Court outcome.

A short time later, I took the leave due to me and afterwards was posted to a different District. My later understanding is that the charges failed for technical legal reasons, including incomplete investigation and inadequate presentation of witnesses. The charges were found not proven, the accused were found not guilty and freed and subsequently were returned to their villages. They would have been warmly welcomed by their families and clansmen, but as everyone knew they were guilty there was expectation that they’d be in gaol for a long time. Their arrival back without conviction would have left all parties puzzled and confused and, critically, left a massive imbalance between the two fighting groups that Laurie and I had stumbled across.

What had changed in 20 years? The Watabung people, traditionally, were happy to go their placid way to their gardens each day and generally conduct their daily lives peacefully with only an occasional skirmish due mostly to anger flaring on the spot. Just a little blood spilt was usually enough to end the noisy but hardly serious fighting, after which they could sit together and negotiate settlement.

The Chuave people, though geographically close, were part of a more volatile society with different language and customs. They loved a real blood and guts fight. Under the Kiap-led Pax Australiana that mostly prevailed twenty years earlier, with its emphasis on conflict resolution and locally appreciated justice within the letter of the law, and accommodating where possible local custom, they were becoming less belligerent and more settled. This imposed Australian law was becoming respected because people saw it as an understandable, and thus acceptable, alternative to their own system of immediate eye-for-an-eye social and political sanctions.

In the period between the two events described above, both policing and the exercise of justice had significantly changed. In place of the long-evolved and eminently successful “Kiap system”, were functionally separate Policing and Judicial systems.

This was an evolution which had long been Australian policy, and implementation had been gradual since the 1940s, first into towns and larger centres and gradually encompassing and increasingly educated village population in the longer-contacted areas.

From the point of view of most of the extensive Highlands population in the 1970s there had been degrees of evolution from traditional justice to kiap-administered justice over periods ranging from 30 years in the Eastern parts and decreasing to virtually zero in some still uncontrolled Western areas. For these Chuave people, first contact was as early in the 1930s, but regular patrols and the introduction of Pax Australiana did not start until the 1950s. The sudden substitution of a new method of policing and administration of justice in the 1970s came as a very confusing and apparently worthless change.

Instead of a kiap sitting down with a group of people – albeit on many occasions with a substantial uniformed police presence – and delving deep into the tradition and causes behind an event, they saw uniformed police themselves investigating along a narrow span and strictly with the Australian imposed laws. They saw only the evidence relating to the offence presented in court, often without the broader background of tribal custom and social relationships.

Instead of either the same kiap or a more senior kiap hearing the court and using evidence which nobody questioned, then giving a decision which at least took some note of the social and political needs and expectations of the community, they found a remote magistrate or judge sticking to a confusing procedure, counsel testing evidence in incomprehensible ways, followed by a decision which rarely could be understood.

With experience of this new way of administering the same law, is it any wonder that those Chuave villagers reverted to their own ways of solving a dispute and chose to ignore two kiaps who suddenly turned and wanted to interfere?

Numbaira Attack, Bob Cleland, Una Voce No 2 June 2006

I had been on a routine census, health survey and general administration patrol in the Tiaora Division South of Kainantu in 1956. Though reputed to be surly and uncooperative, I had found the people tractable enough and the patrol proceeded smoothly. Close to the Southern extremity of the area I heard reports of tribal fighting further to the South at a village called Numbaira. Two policemen I’d sent to have a careful look were warned off with fearsome threats and derisive insults, so I decided I’d better take the whole patrol in to investigate.

The Numbaira people lived on the headwaters of the mighty Purari River in the same valley system as the fearsome Kukukuku peoples. They had a reputation as warriors who loved a fight and resented intruders onto their land. They had attacked a Government patrol some years earlier. We were on the track well before dawn.   We climbed to the rim of the ridge surrounding the collection of hamlets in a small valley in this steep, rugged, limestone country. With binoculars, I could see apparently normal early morning village life with women and children bustling about their houses. Suddenly, cries of alarm drifted up to us in the still morning air and the villagers began rushing about and disappearing into the long grass and craggy limestone outcrops. One of my policemen said to me ‘Look, they have lookouts who’ve seen us.’ There, some distance away across a gorge, was a distinct smoke column rising as a warning signal. Within five minutes, there was no sign of life in the hamlets or anywhere else in the valley.

We needed to get to the Government Rest House on a spur some few kilometres away, which was well positioned for a strategic defence, but to get there we had to follow the track down through the Numbaira hamlets and up the ridge to the Rest House. We came in to the open, and descended into the village. Apart from the noise of our own progress, there was dead silence around us. We checked all the houses but found no one. They had taken all their possessions with them which was not a good sign.   Rough terrain and the narrow path through grass and limestone pinnacles forced us into a long single file as we continued to the Rest House. With me were European Medical Assistant John Birkin and his three Medical Orderlies, two Police Lance Corporals and eight Constables, and about 25 carriers, interpreters and other personnel. All police carried .303 rifles but no ammunition. John carried a .22 calibre rifle and I, a .303, both with ammunition.

Suddenly and silently, a volley of dozens of arrows showered amongst us, falling almost vertically from the sky. The patrol faltered but stayed together; we continued with interpreters on my instructions, calling out something like, “Don’t fight us. We have rifles. You cannot win.” Five minutes later came another volley accompanied by distant yells and yodelling. As we started to climb up the spur in more open country, a small group of tribesmen followed at a distance yelling insults and firing arrows towards us, all of which fell short. Fifteen minutes later we made the Rest House with the tribesmen still just out of arrow shot and continuing their belligerent behaviour. One carrier and one policeman had minor arrow wounds and were treated in the Rest House by John and I, with several police and the interpreter, stayed near the lower perimeter of the 100 metre area cleared around the Rest House, just watching.

I quote from my Patrol Report: “At this stage, a single round of.303 ammunition was fired into the air well above their heads.  They hesitated, but after a minute or so, continued firing arrows. A second round was fired into the ground about ten minutes later about 50 yards in front of the hostile group. Seeing the puff of dust, they retired to sit on a kunai hillock about quarter mile away.”

Simple, unemotional and understated language for the purpose of my official report. The reality was, in fact, highly emotional. This was a first time event in my mere two year’s experience as a field officer. I knew I had to stay calm and act within the very tight limits of policy and the law while containing the hostile situation;  the police Lance Corporal Kapo, who I knew well was experienced but excitable and upset that one of his Constables had been (slightly) wounded by an arrow; John, the Medical Assistant, seemed to be seeing this as a bit of a “Boys Own” adventure;  and the hostile group below us, led by the Numbaira Luluai or head man was in a high state of anger and belligerence.

Before I fired the first shot, the belligerents had been inching closer so that they were now almost able to lob an arrow on the Rest House. Other groups at several points behind them, though quieter, were also inching closer and firing an occasional arrow. So I fired the warning shot. About fifteen seconds later, the light crack-crack-crack of John’s .22 sounded as he emptied his magazine into the air. “Bloody fool.’ I thought. The anti-climax effect of the small calibre .22 coming after the crashing shot of the .303 and its echoes bounding around the enclosed valley was comical. The tribesmen must have thought so too, as they stopped retreating let off a chorus of excited yells and whoops and consolidated their positions. All groups continued with their verbal abuse and firing arrows.

As they began advancing again, it seemed as if they were testing us before getting more serious. The Lance Corporal beside me said, “You had better shoot the Luluai, Kiap.” I said, “No Kapo, we’ll wait and see what they do.” Their attitude and threat didn’t change. Kapo said, “Kiap, shoot the Luluai. Without him the rest will not attack.” I knew that to be so, but still I waited. The Luluai’s group, as well as the other groups, continued to close in, probably emboldened by our lack of further reaction. I concluded that enough was enough. I carefully aimed at the Luluai and fired.

As the heavy rifle jolted into my shoulder I was instantly appalled that I’d deliberately attempted to take a human life. I visualised serious reprisals. I imagined the inevitable enquiry into my actions and the devastation of my career. Then the bullet hit the ground about 50 metres in front of the Luluai with a huge burst of dust and pulverised limestone.

I remained motionless in the same expansion of time and finally ‘came to’ with Kapo saying, “Ah good Kiap, they’re all running away now.”

My report continues: After a rest of two hours, during which the group did not move, the writer with a Lance Corporal and the Interpreter approached to within 300 yards of the hostile group and engaged them in shouted conversation. With much persuasion and cajoling, the Luluai came forward of his own accord. He was taken into the Rest House and into custody.

The Luluai is a Government appointed head man of a village. This man would have been recognised by an earlier patrol as a leader, appointed and counselled, among other things, to keep the peace in his village and assist Government patrols when they visited. He was certainly a leader and a ‘big man’ but his other duties were clearly being ignored.

In the back and forth shouting preceding his ‘surrender’, I emphasised that he was a Luluai and suggested that he would be shamed in the view of many people if he didn’t do his job properly. If he gave himself up, I promised that we would take him with us to Kainantu for a short time and return him to his village in due course.

That night the hamlets were quiet and women and children returned to their houses. The next day four more tribesmen visited the Rest House saying they would go with their leader to Kainantu. It turned out they’d been part of the small belligerent group. In the Court for Native Affairs, convened later that day, I sentenced them to three months gaol in Kainantu for riotous behaviour. The real object behind the sentence was to take these men to Kainantu, and indeed, to incarcerate them, but also to allow them to learn Melanesian Pidgin, let them experience parts of the wider world outside their village, and teach them a little about law, agriculture and economics. In discussions with Assistant District Officer Mick Foley, it was agreed that I would personally return them to their village as promised and use them to establish good relations with that village and others in the area.

That didn’t happen! Headquarters in Port Moresby decided that I should go to Sydney to attend a year-long course at the Australian School of Pacific Administration. About the same time Mick Foley went on leave. So when the five Numbaira men completed their sentence, they were merely released in Kainantu and expected to find their own way back home. Some time later, the Numbaira people attacked another Government patrol. What could have been a significant forward step in pacification and development for these people, turned out to be only a slight hiccough in their traditional aggressive way of life. And I have been forever thankful that I underestimated the distance between us when I fired that second shot.

Unusual incidents in the lives of kiaps

Aro of Lupamanda, Graham Hardy, Una Voce No 2 June 2002

In early 1957, one Aro, who lived adjacent to Wabag Station in what is now the Enga Province, murdered his two wives in a fit of rage. Although regarded as a ‘rubbish man’ by his fellow tribesmen, he must have had access to sufficient wealth to acquire two wives. Aro harboured a suspicion that one of his wives was playing up with another man, a suspicion, which could not be supported by later investigation. On the particular morning he was preparing to go to work in his garden and told the suspect wife to cook some kaukau (sweet potato) for him. She told him to cook it himself. He flew into a rage, grabbed his axe and hit her a number of times, killing her instantly. His other wife was sitting in a corner suckling an infant. Aro then turned on her and axed her to death as well. She had not caused any offence, but as he admitted later, he thought he would rid himself of both wives while he was at it. He then brought his two children up to the native hospital and gave them to a native medical orderly before presenting himself at the Sub-District Office together with the murder weapon.

He was committed for trial on two counts of wilful murder, and in due course appeared before Judge Bignold at Wabag. John Greville-Smith was the prosecutor, and because I had not been involved in the investigation, I appeared as defending officer. Aro did not appear to have any mental abnormalities, but was a typical Enga tribesman who had responded to an insult from a wife in a manner common to the custom of his people. There were no excuses, whatsoever, for the attack on his second wife, so as defending officer I had very little to offer in Aro’s defence.

The usual procedure when a verdict of guilty was pronounced in the Supreme Court was for the judge to record a death sentence that was followed by the imposition of a custodial sentence, after the presiding judge had submitted a report to the Administrator in which he would recommend an appropriate period of imprisonment. In Aro’s case, Judge Bignold pronounced the death sentence on both counts and it was a chilling moment when he read out the pronouncement. The absence of the traditional black cloth covering the judge’s wig, in no way diminished the solemnity of the occasion. Aro appeared to fully understand the situation in which he now found himself and that night became disturbed and required sedation from the station medical officer Dr Keith Wilson. Aro was a Lutheran and was ministered to by Rev. Willard Bruce, of the local Lutheran Mission.

For years, we field officers had been warning locals that if the rate of murders, especially wife murders, was not checked, the Administration would have no option but to start hanging the offenders. A common response from tribal leaders was, “when are you going to do it, and stop talking about it?” It seemed that the time had at last arrived. I think there was a general feeling among field staff that if a hanging was to have a deterrent effect, it would have to be done publicly at Wabag.  As soon as word got out that Aro had been sentenced to hang, no more murders occurred as the population waited to see if the sentence would indeed be carried out.

Shortly afterwards I was transferred to District Headquarters at Mt. Hagen. No further word was received on the progress of the matter until advice that the sentence had been confirmed and a Warrant of Execution, signed by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Slim, was delivered. On instructions from our headquarters at Port Moresby Aro was transferred from Wabag to Mt Hagen pending further instructions. A few weeks later we were told that he was to be sent to Lae where the execution would be carried out on a certain date. Headquarters stressed that Aro was not to be told of the reason for his removal, or the date of the execution. The last time I saw Aro was when he climbed into the DC3 aircraft at Mt Hagen to be taken to his fate.

A few days before the execution date, the District Officer at Mt Hagen, WD (Bill) Allen, received out of the blue a telegram from headquarters instructing him that, because of his ‘special duties’ in relation to Aro’s execution, he was to be in Lae the day before the event. Bill, in a state of unease and thinking that perhaps he had been appointed hangman without his knowledge, fired off a telegram and received a reply that he had been appointed the Sheriff to assist in the execution.

A number of headmen from the Western Highlands and I believe from the Chimbu Sub-District, were taken to Lae to see Aro hanged. Superintendent Ron Hicks, who had executed Japanese war criminals, was the hangman. Bill Allen told me later that Aro collapsed at the foot of the steps to the scaffold, and he and Ron Hicks had to carry him up. His final words were to the effect that he was prepared to die but he wished he had been allowed to see his children before he died. Aro’s body was buried in Lae.

News of the execution was not released by the Administration until some days afterwards, and the response from the locals was predictable: “Where is the body? If we see the body, we will believe what the Administration says.” The headmen toured the district to give an account of what they saw and were generally disbelieved. The cycle of killings recommenced, and when I was the Assistant District Commissioner in the Wabag Sub-District in the early 1960s there was an average of about one murder a month. From time to time a Wabag man would come back from a visit to Lae and spread the word that he had seen Aro ‘walking about’. Aro was the last person hanged in Papua New Guinea before independence, and as far as I know, since.

A few years ago my son Michael, a journalist, accessed the papers on Aro’s case under the thirty year rule. These revealed that Judge Bignold had recommended that the death sentence be commuted to a custodial one. This was supported by the Administrator, Sir Donald Cleland, and he reported accordingly to the Minister for Territories in Canberra. However, the Cabinet in its wisdom upheld the original sentence. Apart from a brief minute confirming the decision there seems to be no Cabinet Minute giving the reasons for the decision and whether there was any dissent from it.

There can be no argument that, given the circumstances of the case, Judge Bignold had no option but to reach the verdict that he handed down. Likewise the Cabinet exercised its prerogative in reaching its decision, although its reasons are unclear. As an exercise in deterrence, I believe the Administration made a complete botch of the execution. The idea of a public execution, after the style of those recorded in the autobiography of CAW Monckton, Resident Magistrate in the early days of Papuan administration, would not have got off the ground. However, the timidity shown in releasing news of the hanging and the failure to return Aro’s body to Wabag for viewing and burial by his people was a gross error.

In later years, after the establishment of the Public Defender’s Office, a number of psychotic killers, far worse than Aro, escaped the death sentence on mental grounds. In my opinion, Aro’s death was a senseless occurrence. It was a waste of the life of a man who, after a suitable period of imprisonment, would have resumed his tribal life just as so many other convicted murderers have before and after him. It was a failure as a deterrent, and it left two small children orphaned. As a result of my involvement in Aro’s case, I have been, and still am, opposed to capital punishment even though in our Australian society quite horrific murders tempt me initially to think the snuffing out of the lives of these offenders is the best option. I believe that State sanctioned killing not only brutalises those involved in its execution, but also brutalises the society in which it is practiced.

Footnote: My reputation as a defending officer was restored somewhat a couple of years after the events described when I won an acquittal for another Wabag man against whom the circumstantial evidence in the committal hearing was overwhelming but the witnesses completely botched their evidence in the Supreme Court – but that is another story!

Daru days, Adrian Geyle, Una Voce No 3 September 2003

‘‘We have to dig her up; we have to dig her up. You know where Arnold lives Adrian, you know his house. Go and tell him that we have to retrieve Esther’s body for an autopsy.” My first reaction was to sink into a chair, head in my hands, incredulous. Stunned by the seeming insanity of this latest decision of our redoubtable acting District Commissioner, following the mind-numbing experience of the day before, I wanted nothing more to do with this nightmarish fiasco. We don’t bury someone one day and dig her up the next!  Or do we? An order from the Commissioner of Police in Port Moresby said we had to ….dig the body up.

Out of disgust with the haste with which Esther’s body was interred, and with the suspicions some were raising as to the cause of her death, I angrily suggested that he himself, the acting District Commissioner, should be the one to confront and comfort Arnold and the children, since he was an Officer of Police and I wasn’t. He was the orchestrator of these bizarre proceedings, so far. ‘I’m not a police officer. I have not been appointed one yet, so you do it’. Cheeky from a lowly Cadet Patrol Officer to his acting District Commissioner, but it was a trying time. I had served nearly two years in the field as a Cadet Patrol Officer, was only weeks back in ‘civilisation’ from up the Fly River, and was about to go south to Sydney on my first leave. Promotion to the status of Officer of the Royal Papuan Constabulary was usually gained and gazetted after one’s return to duties in his second term. ‘I don’t have the authority to do this’, I told my superior officer again.

‘I’ll fix that’, he yelled back, and with speed quite out of character with the way things were usually done around the district headquarters, I was appointed! The acting District Commissioner had got through quickly to District Services in Port Moresby, by radio/telephone, to request that Cadet Patrol Officer Geyle be appointed an Officer of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, and that the matter was urgent.

“There”, our august improvisator growled, throwing a radio signal down on the desk between us, “now go and tell Arnold Walker we have to exhume his wife’s body.”

Never before, I imagined, was such a promotion recommended and executed with such alacrity! Still numb from the shock of Esther’s sudden death, I obeyed. Arnold was at home, lying on a large double bed with his three children who were sobbing with the shock loss of their mother. Arnold didn’t appear to be shocked or even perturbed – at least on the surface – as I told him of the latest developments, the order from Port Moresby from the Commissioner of Police. “I know” he said, “I expected this. You have to do a post-mortem.” “Yes” I said, “but there may be a way out of it.”

“We don’t have to exhume the body if you can find some vomit from Esther’s stomach,” I said as soberly as possible, half expecting a violent response from him. Esther had died violently, and food and faeces had exuded from her body within hours of eating a mince pie she had cooked herself. Arnold had seen to it that all bags and cloth used to clean up had been burnt, after Esther’s body had been removed, and he couldn’t point to anything that might have traces of food on it. Every trace of her illness had been removed by her close family.

The meat mince Esther had used had been delivered that same day, with other stores, fresh vegetables and freezer that the regular fortnightly plane brought from Port Moresby. The trouble was that this plane, a Qantas Catalina, did not fly direct but landed at other stations along the way – Kerema, Kikori, Lake Kutubu – so that freezer goods were either partially or totally thawed on reaching Daru at the end of the line.

For safety’s sake households, like Esther’s, habitually cooked their meat the day it arrived, especially minces, even in houses where refrigerators were in use.

Esther was a big woman, half Kiwai, half European, married to Arnold Walker who ran one of the trade stores on the island. He was a man conscious of his own controlled weight and appearance, always neatly groomed, clean and appropriately dressed – a sober man in a climate and locality where excesses were not unusual. He kept his wits about him. Esther was robust and happy, a congenial woman who was equally at home among whites and her own Kiwai relations and friends. She was grossly overweight.

At lunch she had apportioned slices of her meat pie to her husband and the three children. Something was wrong with it, all four said, and pushed it back – it ‘tasted funny’. She ate hers and her husband’s too, scoffing at the children’s comments and trying to convince them they were too fussy. Within hours she was dead. She died in great pain, convulsed and vomiting.

Daru had no mortuary, and the hospital had no facility for keeping bodies longer than overnight. And there was not one motorised vehicle on the island. A funeral procession of hundreds of local Kiwai townsfolk followed the mile-long trudge to the cemetery along the level, gravelled, straight road that dissected the island. Six of us young, able-bodied white and coloured coffin-bearers found the only wheeled ‘vehicle’ – a sort of autotray device from the hospital – of such little bearing capacity that we virtually carried it as well, somehow slung beneath the coffin. A couple of its small wheels had collapsed early along the way, so that all it served to do was to provide a temporary rest, taking some of the weight when we bearers needed a break. The mourners could see our difficulties, and respectfully, discreetly, slowed with us as we struggled our pathetic way towards the grave.

All was well and done, so we all thought when the grave was filled and closed and the mourners’ loved-one was put to rest.

A post-mortem? Dig up Esther? She, just a body? No, No, No! Why, only yesterday she was a healthy mother and wife, full of life, involved and vibrant, loved and loving, full of hope and expectations aplenty. Esther? We just don’t treat people this way, District Commissioner, we don’t bury them and then permit their bodies to be dug up, their soul’s aura not yet departed from the coffin around them!

In the company of the only doctor on the island I tried, without offending, to rationalise to concerned relatives the reason behind the exhumation that it had to be in accordance with the law. Doctor Markus was from Europe and had served with the German army in World War II as a paratrooper. Hard-nosed and methodical, he left most of the explaining to me. With Esther and Arnold when she died, he was convinced that botulism had killed her – a most virulent form of food poisoning.

As Esther had died suddenly and unexpectedly, an autopsy should have been performed before she was buried. That it wasn’t done reflected badly both on the acting District Commissioner and the doctor. It also suggested to a few that she died in suspicious circumstances, and there had been foul play.

It was hoped by the bureaucracy in Daru that the bureaucracy in Port Moresby would be seen as the instigators of an unnecessary post-mortem, as ‘everyone knew’ that it was putrefied meat that had killed Esther. To most of the islanders this was the cause of death and the exhumation about to be performed was yet another case of government interference in people’s lives.

As a newly appointed Officer of Police now, I witnessed the autopsy, the removal of a few snippets of entrails that contained pieces of food, undigested but reduced to small particles by mastication. Standing in the doorway watching the doctor perform, with my head half in and half out of the operating room, I was required to witness the placement of this food in a small bottle of formaldehyde, then seal it and sign across the seal to testify to its authenticity. It was then stored under refrigeration at the hospital for later dispatch by the next Catalina to Port Moresby, specifically to the Pathology Section of the Department of Health.

A fortnight passed after its delivery, without a pathology report being received. “What’s happened with that tissue sample you sent to Pathology, anything back yet?” asked the acting District Commissioner. In the circumstances I was remiss for not having followed up the findings, and hastily got away a radiogram to the Department of Health requesting the results of the laboratory tests. Within twenty-four hours a radio conversation was arranged with Health, as the results were still not forthcoming. “Oh, that sample you sent in was no good, – it was fermented”, came the reply! “And you didn’t think it important enough to advise us of this?” I asked. No reply from the pathologist – silence reigned for more than a few seconds.

Momentarily I was aghast as the thought of exhuming the body AGAIN flashed through my mind, but fermentation had, of course, put a seal on that being repeated. “Forget about it, write it all off,” was what that silence said.

Silence has reigned ever since! Forget about it? Fifty years ‘down the track’ I still haven’t forgotten it. I wonder if Arnold has. He remarried not long after Esther died – after a time lapse that was apparently acceptable to those closely related to his three children – to a young coloured girl. Hopefully he lived to see these three children grow into adulthood, and to see that the way their mother died and was buried didn‘t remain too vivid a memory that it weighed on their minds.

Teaching the kids in Tinung, Adrian Geyle, Una Voce No 1 March 1999

This is not a pleasant story. The Editorial Sub-Committee of Una Voce decided to publish it with the comment that this sort of thing happens in all sorts of societies worldwide. Lake Murray is situated between the Fly and Strickland Rivers.

The Tinung man, with three native wives came home from a hard day somewhere, or maybe he suffered from some undiagnosed, unrecognised, unknown complaint.   Tinung village had little contact with the white Christian missionaries who were working out from their Lake Murray centre not far away at Pangeo; it was early times in the far reaches of the Western District of Papua (1952) and missionaries were thin on the ground.

The Tinung man probably hated the missioners’ messages on killing as much as he hated his older, first wife, and wasn’t deterred by any of white man’s ideas, wherever and whoever they came from. He was hungry and his meal was not any different from the usual crusted ball of sago. Whatever made him angry we could only guess. The evidence was pretty vague because only his three wives were with the Tinung man when he stood up and asked, “Who cooked this shit?” It was to them a rhetorical question as none of them moved and, as always, it was his younger third and second wives who provided services other than cooking. The first wife, being the eldest and the least attractive and accommodating sexually, had to work hard to please her husband at all. She tried to do it, cooking. He asked again and his second and third wives simply said, “She did.” Without a word, without any ado, the Tinung man found a steel axe handy nearby, took an almighty swing with it from behind his Number One wife (but Number Three in popularity!) and nearly took her head off! He killed her outright. She wouldn’t have known what hit her.

That’s the way the story went back in 1952, in the sub-district of Lake Murray. The case was unresolved when the Officer in Charge, Dave Calder, and I first arrived there at Mava, the government station on the edge of the vast Lake Murray, so Dave decided we should go to Tinung and investigate and, hopefully, make an arrest and bring in witnesses.  The office file on the case didn’t read too well (information on the case had been provided by witnesses still resident in the village who had visited our patrol post); the details surrounding the killing and the burial were horrifying.

Crossing the lake to the village in a mini flotilla of huge Suki dug-out canoes, paddle-powered at that, we could have been seen coming for hours. I think of the mirage-in-the-desert scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia, with the huge black form of a camel with mount coming nearer for an interminable time, before the animal and human shapes emerged from the haze. Lake Murray is so vast that the shimmer on its surface likewise amplified shapes from ‘over the horizon’, like desert mirages, so we weren’t expecting to lob in Tinung village and surprise its inhabitants. Situated on a small island, no one could approach that village without being seen.

As expected, our alleged murderer was not there when we arrived. He had departed that morning for Dutch New Guinea, (now Irian Jaya/West Papua) not too far away across an invisible border, an arbitrary line. The long arm of the law, our suspect knew, didn’t extend across that border: he’d headed there in similar circumstances before, to escape arrest and prosecution. Corroborative evidence, though, we could not collect.

Coming ashore after a miserable canoe ride through miles of grassy passages that were home to every species of insect imaginable and then across wide-open water in the heat of the afternoon, the rest-house held our greatest interest. It was built of local materials of course, unhewn wood and thatch-roof – and it was far from upright. It was crazily leaning so far towards collapsing we were loath to even enter it. Dave Calder did, and nearly lost his manhood when the ‘limbom’ (wood from hardwood palm trees) gave way under him to leave him straddling a bearer, in excruciating pain. This derelict rest house and its unkempt surroundings – grass was growing waist-high, right up to it and obscuring the tracks to its entrance – were sure signs that the Village Constable was either unable or unwilling to get cooperation from the villagers.    All in all, we expected nothing but discomfort and non-cooperation, right at the onset of the investigation.

The investigation centred on the whereabouts of the alleged murderer, and the body of course. We got cooperation. Witnesses knew exactly where the body was buried, as did everyone in that small village. It was necessary for the remains of the murder victim to be exhumed, and this happened quickly as the grave was so shallow. The body had been laid in a ditch less than half a metre deep and was covered with a ‘skin’ off a palm tree and a little earth. All we found were bones and hair, decomposition having rid all flesh tissue long since. The skull was our main interest as it was alleged the husband had hit it with a steel axe from behind, with a single, direct, unexpected blow. And exactly as anticipated, we found a deep cut about 7-8 cm across the base of the skull, synonymous with a powerful blow from an axe.

Questioning of witnesses brought ample accounts of what had happened the day this woman died. The eyewitnesses agreed upon the facts; there was no conflicting evidence. The husband, having disposed of his wife with one blow to the back of the head as she quietly sat, ordered his second and third wives to take the body down to the coconut grove near the lake’s edge and bury it. They found a natural depression and were gouging out dirt when he joined them and ordered them back to the house. He wanted to ‘say goodbye’ to the dead one.

The kiddies were not oblivious to all that had happened, and out of natural curiosity they went down to join their father, to say goodbye too. Not only those children but also several adults saw the man having sexual intercourse with the body, in the shallowest of graves. This was his right, he claimed, and after he was finished the other wives could come back and cover the body over – bury it. He ordered them to do so.

What can one say? The deed was done, and that file on the whole sordid affair did exist. The despicable murder/defiler was still at large when I left Lake Murray six months later to go further up the Fly River to Kiunga Patrol Post. The proximity of that village to the border worked in the wanted man’s favour, but such was the weight of village opinion – anger – against him he could not have stayed in his home village indefinitely. The missioners at Pangeo would have learnt what became of him and his other wives and children. Was it just a ‘one-off’, the aberrant behaviour of a deranged man? I wonder what the Supreme Court hearing would have found, had we been successful in delivering depositions, witnesses and this man to a trial in Daru.

Aberrant behaviour is relative, certainly, and necrophilia occurs in many if not all societies. It could be argued that sordid details like the above are best left in the records of the courts, for specialist use only. Initially I recorded them for information of my family and generations down the line – the official report exists elsewhere (hopefully). It is ugly and a disquieting story and I wonder how much ‘outside’ influence had to do with this man’s actions, if any.

Sanguma, from Through the Eyes of a Kiap, Bill Johnston

I had heard of the practice of Sanguma in New Guinea and Puripuri in Papua and in the main I had put it in the category of ignorance and superstition whilst still recognising that it had to be considered and dealt with when its practice infringed on a person’s rights and state of mind.

In 1954, I was the Assistant District Officer at Bogia, when the station police advised me that a man from Awar village had killed a Sanguma man. I dismissed it with the statement, “Where’s the body?  I thought nobody ever saw a Sanguma man.” When they persisted that this was different, I listened and sent out for the man who had reputedly killed a Sanguma man. When I saw him, a man in his late thirties, very muscular and obviously a solid citizen in many ways, I believed his story that he had gone hunting for wild pigs at night at some distance from his village where there was a large wild fig tree and the pigs came to eat the fallen fruit. His hunt was unsuccessful and he was returning to his village in the moonlight, along a well defined track through the kunai covered hills, and as he was passing through a copse of trees in the gully between two hills, he heard the sound behind him of the crunch of a shell of a (Japanese introduced) giant snail being crushed. He spun around to see the figure of a man about to jump on his back, he had his pig spear in his hand and he thrust it at the man who was about to pounce on him. The man fell to the ground and the intended victim immediately took to his heels because he knew such a person would not be acting alone.

The next morning he told his fellow villagers about his experience and they went out to the site. They found a large stain of blood on the track and the mark in the bushes beside the track where a body had been laid. They followed a trail where a group had been carrying something and when they came to a ‘tanket’ sign on the trail, which meant – follow at your own peril sort of thing. They decided to return to the village. The point of the intended victim’s spear was covered in blood so it was obvious that a serious injury had been inflicted on the would-be attacker. I asked the intended victim, “When you speared this man, did he say anything?” – “Yes”, he said “Oh! You have speared me!'” I then asked if it was in any particular dialect, he said it was a dialect of a group of villages about four or five hour’s walk from his area.

Acting on this information, I sent a couple of police, who were literate, to check for recent deaths in each village in the group, one starting from each end of the group.   Word was sent back to me of one suspicious death, that of a medical Tul Tul, because of the varied accounts given by the villagers as to how he died. Some said he just got sick and died and others said he had fallen over and staked himself on a piece of bamboo in the garden. I instructed the police to dig up the body and carry him to a village halfway to the station where I would meet them with a Medical Assistant to check out the body. This poor ‘Medast’ chap was laid-up for a couple of days after the trip, I did not take into account that what was a long day’s walk for me, turned out to be a day and night effort for him. I had pushed on to get back to the station before nightfall and I thought he was right behind me but on one occasion, early in the afternoon, when I looked around he was nowhere in sight so I had presumed he had stopped to do something else and I did not find out until later that he, and his assistants, had staggered in well after midnight; but that is another story.

The body, despite the fact it had been buried for three or four weeks, was in a surprisingly intact condition, presumably because it was buried in wet clay soil with water seeping through all the time and it was sort of semi preserved with no insect damage or a great deal of putrefaction and it was easy to see where he had been speared in the face, penetrating into the eye socket.

I got the story from his younger accomplices. They said the deceased man had made the suggestion that they go down to the coast with the aim of killing somebody because the life they took would increase their life by the extent of the remaining years of the victim, and the stronger the victim the better it would make their lives. The plan was to lay an ambush alongside the track and the now deceased man was to make the initial attack on the victim and they were to back him up. After attacking the victim, they were to render him unconscious and insert a long piece of bamboo into his anus and penetrate the bowel; they then intended to leave him unconscious on the track.

When he recovered and returned to his village he would say he had been attacked by a Sanguma man and would certainly die a week or so later, presumably from a massive infection, and they would then inherit his strength and nobody would know who had done the deed; even if he was believed by the authorities as being a Sanguma victim. The typical symptoms of someone saying that they had been ‘Sangumad’ were severe abdominal pains and a heavy feeling as if somebody had placed a stone in their stomach. Having suffered a gangrenous appendix as a youth, I knew the sensation well.

I tried to get a conviction of the accomplice on an attempted murder charge but the Crown Law office threw it out. I did not achieve very much, if anything I drove the practice a bit further underground as reports of attacks surfaced from time to time but if one of the attackers died from this activity, we never found another body because we were always shown the graves of people who had been dead for a long time.

My actions did provide one useful outcome: it showed the average person there was no magical process involved in the practice and they had to be alert if walking alone at night; and that everyone had the right to kill a would-be attacker in self defence. I questioned why the practice had developed and I was told that it was really the government’s fault by putting a ban on killing and gaoling the offenders. The urge to kill was still there and to do it with impunity meant it had to be done by stealth.

As a result of my attempted crack down, a man from Manam Island approached me. I cannot remember his name, but he got himself assigned to working around my house chopping a bit of firewood and general duties. He was a short-term prisoner, in for adultery or something like that.  He obviously had wanted the opportunity to talk to me without making it official but somehow I must have betrayed his trust. He told me that members of his village also practiced Sanguma: it was a method used by power groups to maintain and expand their power. The method was different as they extracted something from the unexploded bombs that were laying around the area after the recent war and forced fed it to their victims. The result was the victim’s mouth and tongue became black and swollen and they could not talk and died within a few days. Some time later I was at Manam Island and asked as to the well being of this person, to be told that he was dead and, before he died in agony, he could not talk and his mouth and tongue were black and swollen.

To finish on a lighter side, I remember taking a Cadet Patrol Officer on possibly his first patrol. One night we visited a Catholic Mission station for dinner and during the evening, the talk got around to the practice of Sanguma. When we left sometime after midnight to return the Rest House, I was leading the way carrying a pressure lamp and Ron was bringing up the rear. Whilst descending into one of the tree filled gullies between the hills something made me turn around, Ron’s eyes were rounder than an owl’s and he was nervously looking every which way and it then registered with me that he was carrying a shotgun, so I said, “Hey mate, you go first I think I prefer my chances with a Sanguma man!”


The Kiaps Compendum

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