The Kiaps Compendium – Part 4: Netherlands New Guinea

In 1958 Harry West served as the first Australian Liaison Officer in Netherlands New Guinea, based in what was then Hollandia, but he ended by doing much travelling because at that time the Indonesians were still fighting the Dutch, and their paratroops were trying to get a foothold in the country, so Harry’s was a very strategic posting – but not all gin and bitters, but rather hard work.

Papua New Guinea/West Irian Border

On 1 May 1963, Holland handed over West New Guinea to Indonesia and it became a province of Indonesia and called Irian Jaya. To quote from The Australian Financial Review of 2 January 2002: “A remarkable transition occurred yesterday (1 January 2002) in Indonesia’s western-most province, formerly known by its Indonesian name of Irian Jaya. The Jakarta government officially recognised local aspirations by formally naming the province West Papua and, in an autonomy deal which operates from 1 January 2002, has undertaken to return to the local government a majority tax and royalty revenue from new resource projects. On paper, it is a very generous offer…  ‘The deal provides for a democratically elected provincial government and the Papuans’ right to have their flag and anthem. However, the article goes on to say that the army has always been free to do as it wishes and that the problem under the new autonomy system is that little has changed and the army remains the dominant force’.”

Indonesia’s “Act of Free Choice” was conducted in West Irian in the late sixties/early seventies, when the Indonesian Government used a heavily armed para-military group known as ‘Brimob’, who lobbed two inch mortars, machine gun and rifle fire onto the Papua New Guinea side of the border while trying to stop the flow of refugees from crossing over. Youthful kiaps and indigenous policemen were posted to the Border, under the instruction ‘not to cause any major political incidents’ but they were expected to face the incursion of the ‘Brimob’; and the potential diseases that were prevalent over the border such as plague and rabies.

Border talks in Jayapura tomorrow, South Pacific Post, 9 June 1969

From the Ken Brown Collection

The first border liaison meeting between representatives of the Australian Government and the Indonesian Administration in West Irian will begin tomorrow. They may discuss the shooting last week of the two West Irians inside the border.

Mr Royce Webb and Mr Ken Brown will represent the Papua New Guinea Administration at the meeting. Both are District Inspectors with the Department of District Administration. They left Port Moresby yesterday and are due in Vanimo tomorrow. From there a special aircraft will fly them to Jayalpura, the West Irian Administrative headquarters where the talks are to be held.

Mr J Watson, the First Secretary of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, will also be present. They will meet General Sarwo Edhie, the Indonesian military commander in West Irian, and West Irian Administration officers. Last week the Administrator, Mr Hay, said the first meeting would be confined to establishing procedures for further exchanges.

Actual discussion of the border was not expected. However, a coroner’s inquiry last week into the deaths of two West Irianese in the Western District laid the blame squarely on an Indonesian patrol. This charge could lead to discussion of the incident tomorrow. The talks are not expected to take more than several hours and Mr Webb and Mr Brown are expected to return to Vanimo the same day.

From there, they will report to Port Moresby and whether they will stay in Vanimo will depend on agenda arrangement agreed to in Jayapura. Meanwhile in the Western District a group of 250 West Irians are reported to have reached a camp site prepared for them near the Morehead sub-District headquarters.

The people are reported to be in good physical condition but at the camp they will be given health checks. A few have tropical ulcers and scabies. Some have malaria and there are pregnant women in the group. Their route from the Kwari area to Moreshead was planned by District Officer Arthur Marks.

Visits to West Irian: 1971-74, Ken Brown’s Diary

The first of my several trips to Merauke began early in 1971. Except for the pilot of a chartered Beechcraft Baron, I was a delegation of one. I carried a letter of introduction signed by the Administrator. My official passport had been issued for the talks I had attended in Jayapura. The diplomatic niceties had been conducted by my headquarters at Port Moresby and the Indonesian counterparts in Jayapura. My task was to arrange the visit of a party of Indonesian/West Irian officers to Daru to continue regular liaison meetings Merauke-Daru , Sota-Weam and Mindiptanah-Kiunga. My predecessor Ian Holmes had made the last visit to Merauke in the District vessel in 1970.

The sky was cloudless when the aircraft took off from Daru about 8 am for an ETA Merauke 10 am. I was treated to a great view of the area between Oriomo and Bensbach Rivers, the southwest corner of my new District.

The pilot was flying as low as permissible and I observed three large herds of feral deer, alarmed by the noise of the aircraft, splashing through the swampy grassland. A minute or two after passing over the Bensbach River I spotted what I thought must be Sota, the nearest Indonesian border post. Sota is only 60 kilometres by road from Merauke (by early 1980s it was a two lane highway) and the pilot estimated we would be over the Merauke airport (Mopah) in 15-20 minutes. Contact with the airport was attempted as soon as Merauke was sighted without success – not even a static in reply. The pilot soon realised he did not have the correct wave length. Three wide circuits of the landing area were made. There were no aircraft on the ground and very little activity around the airport buildings. I suggested we make one more circuit at a lower altitude to indicate we were about to land. We clattered over the Marsden matting surface and taxied towards the parking area as a squad of Indonesian soldiers with automatic weapons ran towards the plane.

As soon as the propellers stopped, the troops circled us. With considerable trepidation I got out with my letter of identification for all to see. I handed it to the officer in charge of the squad. He beckoned the pilot and led us inside the airport building and Customs office. I was much relieved when the Customs man spoke to me in good English.

After examining the letter he rang the Bupati. I waited for a long 30 minutes when several cars appeared and from one L/Colonel Darmwidigdo, my counterpart, emerged. After a few friendly exchanges through the Customs Officer, I went to Bupati’s house for refreshments. Another long wait ensued before Jayapura could be contacted to confirm my bona fides. There was no explanation except that someone along the line had forgotten to notify Merauke of the impending visit. A school teacher, Mr V. Sugihardjo had been brought in for my interpreter. It did not take long to arrange the visit to Daru for May. The party was to consist of the Army Commander Colonel Soepardi, Police Chief Major Hamidy Isa, Bupato, Interpreter Sugihardjo and one other to be decided.

Bravery is not recognised, Editorial, South Pacific Post, 2 May 1969

Australia has every reason to be proud of such officers as Tony Try, the young man in charge of the Wutung patrol post. Equally the Territory can be proud of the policemen and interpreter who are stationed with him.

Their calmness in the face of provocative actions by the Indonesians helped to avert a major international crisis. An armed Indonesian party burst into Wutung village searching for West Irianese who had crossed the border. The Indonesians fired shots at Mr Try and his assistants. But later Mr Try had a prolonged discussion with the Indonesians and managed to convince them to release one of the men they had captured in the village.

The Minister for External Territories, Mr Barnes, has rightly commended Mr Try and the police for “Acting with great firmness in the face of this armed group.” But the bravery and tact of these men deserves something better, such as a decoration. Their actions certainly deserve something better than the attitude of the Minister for External Affairs, Mr Freeth. Mr Freeth has said Australia will not make a formal protest to Indonesia over the incident. For heaven’s sake why not? Does Mr Freeth consider it of no great moment that the lives of an Australian and his New Guinean police were placed in jeopardy by provocative Indonesian action? He told Parliament yesterday that Indonesia “will do its best to stop further border incidents on the West Irian frontier.”

It may be that the Indonesians intend to do the right thing in the future. But they will be better reminded of this if they have before them an official protest from Australia. Australia’s own self-respect demands such a course.

A recommendation was put forward but not approved on the basis that it was too close to Self Government/Independence and it would not be politically correct! Tony is one of many! The Director of the Department of District Administration and Native Affairs once said: “No recommendations for bravery were made because where would you start and end.” When Mount Lamington erupted in 1951, various people received bravery awards but none were given to the Patrol Officers who worked with these people – NJ

Life on the border, Tony Try

Wutung village was, and still is, an idyllic village of traditionally constructed houses in very neat rows, under the coconut trees adjacent to white sand beaches on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The village itself is situated a few hundred yards east of the Border of Papua New Guinea and West Irian, and approximately thirty kilometers west of the township of Vanimo.

It was during the period when the “Act of Free Choice” was being conducted in West Irian, which resulted in a large number of political refugees seeking haven in PNG.   The Indonesian Government tried to stop the flow of refugees across the border and used a heavily armed para-military group known as the “Brimob”. Unfortunately, these foot patrols often claimed that they did not know exactly where the border mark was situated and came wandering into the Wutung village area. They also lobbed two-inch mortars, machine gun and rifle fire onto the PNG side of the border, from the surrounding hills on the West Irian side of the border. The Indonesian patrol boats also regularly chased the motorised canoes into PNG waters. At the height of the influx of refugees I was required to report by radio every hour into Vanimo, twenty four hours a day; so that headquarters knew that everything was under control. Police were also stationed at all access points to Wutung on 24 hour guard duty, keeping a watch on movements back and forwards across the border.

As can be imagined this situation, which went on for quite a few months, led to some interesting experiences. One of which was reported in a magazine produced by HMAS Madang, an Australian patrol boat on duty in PNG at that time. HMAS Madang was (I believe) at anchor in Vanimo harbour. I had obviously gone to sleep and missed a few of the radio scheds that I was required to make. HMAS Madang was ordered to make maximum speed to Wutung to assess the situation. It was also a very dark and moonless night. The thump of the patrol boat’s motor could be heard getting closer and closer and as it was steaming along without any lights on at all, the policeman on duty reported to me that we could be having a visit from one of the many Indonesian patrol boats that we had seen in the area.

I quickly woke the remainder of the police – there were a maximum of 53 Royal Papua and New Guinea constables based at Wutung during the height of the activity – and stationed them behind suitable cover around the apparent place of landing. We remained quiet listening to the sounds of the patrol boat as it came to a halt – still in complete darkness, and wondering what we were in for.

The following is taken from the report by the HMAS Madang – “Operating under cover of darkness, we stealthily slipped into our anchorage. Operating to the maximum efficiency the boarding party, armed to the teeth with pusses and dirks and signal pistol, leapt into the boat for the perilous trip inshore in mountainous seas.
Unfortunately half way inshore on our mission of mercy we were met by a native canoe containing the local patrol officer, Tony Try, who just happened to be wondering what we were doing. Red faced we explained we were about to save him.”

The seas were in fact quite high and there was a good surf running where any boats would have to come ashore. This meant that getting into a small boat from the patrol boat was a very difficult exercise, as it jumped and bucked around. It was this fact that gave me the clue that we were not in as much trouble as I originally thought. Someone in the boat obviously got hurt because a very clear burst of swearing in a very Australian accent wafted across the water. It was then that I decided that with a small canoe, and some local knowledge, I should take a closer look at our “enemy” under cover of darkness and with relative impunity. Needless to say, relief on all sides made for quite a few laughs, as we waited for the sun to rise.

Enarotali, Bob Blaikie

A few months before I entered the Australian School of Pacific Administration in March 1948, as a newly appointed cadet patrol officer, I was given a book which has since been thumbed over many times and has an important place on my bookshelf. Jungle Pimpernel, by Lloyd Rhys, is the story of a District Officer in Central Netherlands New Guinea during World War II. Jean Victor de Bruijin was born of Dutch parents in Java in 1913 and completed his study towards a career in the civil administration of the Netherlands East Indies at the University of Leiden in Holland. It was here that he obtained a degree of Doctor of Literature and Philosophy.

His brief early postings were as an Assistant District Officer to the Moluccas and then to the island of Cerram. In 1939, after only ten months in the service, he was posted as district officer or controller to take charge of the base at the newly found Wissel Lakes, Paniai, Tage and Tigi in Netherlands New Guinea. The post of Enaroltali, established in May 1939 on the south-eastern shore of Lake Paniai, was the first Dutch post in the Central Highlands.

Jungle Pimpernel is de Bruijin’s story in the Central Highlands of Netherlands New Guinea from his posting there in 1939 to his evacuation to Australia by Catalina on 26 July 1944 from Hagers Lake. It is the story of his work among the Edkari and Moni people while supplying information of Japanese troop movements in West New Guinea to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service.

With this background in mind it was with some excitement that I was about to land at Emarotali in October 1969. What was an Australian official doing in the remote highlands of West Irian?

Following the declaration of Indonesian independence on 17th August 1945, tensions had risen over the transfer of sovereignty of Netherlands New Guinea from the Netherlands to Indonesia and the vexed issue of Papuan self-determination.

Disturbances and uprisings had been widespread throughout the Province with some of the more serous centred in and around Enaratoli in the Paniai Regency. In April 1969, air fields were sabotaged to prevent troop landings, Brigadier General Sarwao Edie’s plane was fired upon to prevent his landing at Enarotali, and four battalions of Red Beret paratroops were dropped by Hercules aircraft at Enarotali to put down the insurrection. Most were believed drowned in Lake Paniai or killed by OPM forces.

There had been a sporadic number of incidents along the border with Papua New Guinea since 1963. These included the movement of refugees from West Irian into Papua New Guinea and incursions by Indonesian forces in pursuit. One of the most serious was an incursion near Wutung in the north. On 26 April 1969, Indonesian soldiers in pursuit of refugees had fired upon Tony Try, the officer in Charge at Wutung Patrol Post.

Royce Webb, accompanied by Ken Brown, had visited Jayapura on 10 and 11 June 1969 to discuss the improvement of liaison along the border, including regular meetings between officers-in-charge, and radio and telephone links.

Since the visit of Royce and Ken in June, the Indonesians had conducted the Act of Free Choice at assemblies at a number of centres beginning at Merauke on 14 July and concluding at Jayapura on 2 August 1969. On each occasion, delegates unanimously voted to remain a part of Indonesia.

It was against this background that a second liaison team, again led by Royce Webb and of which both David Stevens and I were members, visited Jayapura.

Royce and I had flown from Port Moresby to Vanimo where we were joined by David. On 22 October 1969 we crossed from Vanimo to Jayapura in West Irian travelling in an Australian Beechcraft Baron piloted by Rev Doug McCraw. We were warmly greeted by the Indonesians at the airport at Sentani and driven in to Jayapura. The drive in the Australian-built Holden from the airport at Sentani to Jayapura was an experience not to be missed. With horn blaring and police escort we scattered all who dared to get in our way.

In Jayapura we were quartered in a comfortable guest house typical of that found in Indonesia with tiled floors and high ceilings and generally of an open-plan style – much more suitable for tropical living than the sterile architecture adopted in Papua New Guinea.

After a tour of Jayapura, the Deputy Governor hosted a lavish reception for the three Australian visitors, which was a lead-up to the serious business of the following day. The next day was spent in formal discussions and negotiation with the Indonesians on a border regime for the future in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the confrontations and incidents in the past.

With the business disposed of, the Indonesians planned to take us on a sightseeing tour the next day through the remote Central Highlands of West Irian. In the early evening, an Indonesian official visited us at the guest house to inform us, with some embarrassment, that the aircraft in which it was planned to travel through the highlands had been delayed at Manokwari in the far west. Would it be too much to ask that we travel in our Australian aircraft instead? Our pilot Doug was happy to oblige and we were secretly delighted as Merpati, the Indonesian airline, did not have a marvellous safety record at the time. We had known Doug for years as an experienced and reliable pilot and we were more than comfortable with him at the helm.

The following day we set off from Sentani in the Baron accompanied by two Indonesian officials for the main Indonesian town of Wamena in the Central Highlands. Wamena, the capital of the Jaya Wijaya Regency, was only quite a small settlement at that time but is now the major town in the Baliem Valley, the home of the Dani people, and has become a major tourist centre.

The Baliem Valley had been unknown to the West until 23 June 1938 when the American millionaire and explorer Richard Archbold, on this third visit to New Guinea under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, came upon it in his Consolidated PBYs Catalina Guba. Together with the Dutch military, Archbold subsequently set up two research camps where they remained for fourteen months.

The next major contact with the West was in the closing days of World War II when Allied pilots flew over the Baliem Valley looking for suitable sites for airstrips.   Hollandia was a major Allied base, and as the war moved westwards pleasure flights over the Baliem valley became commonplace. This remote valley was dubbed “Shangri-la” by American war correspondents.

In May 1945 a Netherlands air force DC3 on a sightseeing flight with twenty-four people on board crashed in the valley. There were only three survivors who were eventually spotted by a search aircraft. Supplies were dropped and paratroops landed. As there was no way to get the survivors out of the valley, a glider strip was built and 47 days after the crash everyone was whisked out of the valley in a glider hooked back into the air by a snatch-plane.

From Wamena we then flew westwards through the centre of the highlands. We could not help but compare the almost total lack of any development such as we had become familiar with in the Papua New Guinea highlands. It was as though we were in a time warp flying through what we might have imagined the Papua New Guinea highlands to have been like, some thirty or forty years earlier.

To our left were the Carstenz Peaks with perennial snow and Puncak Jaya (Carstenz Pyramid), the highest mountain in the island of New Guinea. And then there in the distance were the three Wissel Lakes and our destination of Enarotali dominated by the great Puncak Deijai. I could not help but think of Jean Victor de Bruijn and his dodging of the Japanese in this mountain fastness twenty five years earlier. At Enarotali we had coffee and refreshments with the resident Roman Catholic missionary. It was here that David and I were photographed with our Indonesian hosts at a commemorative arch erected to mark the twenty-fourth anniversary of the proclamation of Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945.

At Enarotali there was no sign of the turbulence of some six months earlier. One could not help but speculate that it may have been the intention of the Indonesians to demonstrate that order had been restored in this troubled area.

From Enarotali we flew back east to the evangelical mission station at Bokandini where we were to spend the night. We were welcomed by our American host family and were more than a little surprised, and a little embarrassed, to find a carton of beer being unloaded from the aircraft together with our bags. The Indonesians had thoughtfully put the beer on board without our knowledge. Maybe they thought Australians could not survive without their beer ration.

Next morning we were given a tour of the upper Baliem Valley by Missionary Aviation Fellowship Cessna. Our American pilot took us high into the Balien Valley where we landed on a small airstrip at Tiom and were met once again by the resident missionary. The air was crisp and clear in the grassed mountain valley home of the Dani people.
Apart from the almost total lack of any Papua New Guinea style development, it became clear to us that there was also an almost total lack of government presence in the highlands.   There were some officials in Wamena and we saw a few in Enarotali but apart from these it seemed to be Western Christian missionaries who wielded the most influence.

Then back to Bokandini where we rejoined Doug and his Baron. By passing Wamena we flew direct to Sentani. The Baron bounded around a little over the mountains in the turbulent afternoon air, and our two Indonesian escorts did not take too kindly to the rough conditions. We safely deposited them at Sentani and after saying our farewells headed back to Vanimo. Mission completed.


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