The late Ken Brown, kiap: Jim Toner

Ken died on Anzac Day aged 85. We had met when he was made ADO Rabaul sub-district in 1962 and I worked for him with pleasure when later he became Actg/DO West New Britain. We had both worked for Jack Emanuel, GC, (assassinated 1971) and when thirty years later I was corresponding with Ken about his experiences in Darwin (now my home town) during WW2 and afterwards we discussed those days in Rabaul with Jack who he described as an amiable enigma. I leave aside our anecdotes except to say that Ken admitted to sometimes wondering whether Jack had ever watched and envied The Secret Lives of Walter Mitty. I thought this a pertinent observation since at the time it was not known that PO Emanuel had in 1950 written directly to the Prime Minister volunteering for counter-espionage duties against Communist activity in PNG.

Ken, after service in the RAAF 1944-46 which included a posting to a Wireless Unit in the bush outside Darwin, desired to return to the NT to find out what he could about his father’s eldest brother who had died somewhere in the Tanami desert. It turned out that he was the man mentioned in We of the Never Never as “Neave’s mate”. Contacts made with Native Affairs, as the Government branch was then called, put him on to an elderly stockman at Katherine who had worked alongside Ken’s uncle so he was able to pass some overdue information to his Dad.

To achieve that result Ken, aged 21, had signed on with the Department of the Interior as a clerk. He had flown by DC3 from Adelaide on posting to Alice Springs but on landing there a District Officer had come aboard and told him to remain in his seat as he had been re-posted to Darwin! Where he was set to work in what he described as the soul-destroying Sub-Treasury. He had no complaints about his physical accommodation which had been a RAN Officers Mess but behaviour of its inmates tended to resemble that of the late unlamented Ranaguri Hostel at Konedobu. One patrol officer in occasional residence there was Bill Harney already writing the third of his books about life in the Territory. He took Ken over to Bathurst Island where he met Father McGrath the coastwatcher who had radioed Darwin about the 180 Japanese planes approaching the port, a warning sadly not acted upon.

Ken then decided to join the Territory’s field staff but after successful interviews failed the tape-measure test. Patrol Officers were required to stand 5ft 10ins (1.8 m) tall, a personal feat he described as disappointingly unattainable. But into his gloom a ray of sunshine appeared from the Admiralty Islands. The newly appointed Director of NT Aboriginal Affairs happened to be Frank Moy, recently DO Manus, who advised Ken to apply for a cadetship in PNG where no height stipulation applied. And so Ken was able to join the company of ‘Stumpy’ Corrigan, ‘Shorty’ Carey and other diminutive but dynamic kiaps.

Ken’s other reminiscences about turbulent post-war Darwin are only of interest to those of us here with perhaps one exception. Passing through Pine Creek he met the police office in charge, Tas Fitzer, father of Des then at school but later a well-known PNG kiap.

On Ken’s 80th birthday a number of the young men who had worked under him made it their business to flock to Budgewoi where he had retired. One of them after his death wrote on the Ex-Kiap website describing Ken as “one of nature’s finest gentlemen”. I need say no more.


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