Monday, 16 November 2009
Private Members’ Business
Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary: 1949 to 1974
I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion moved by the member for Cook. It gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of my constituents who served as patrol officers in the territory of Papua New Guinea. In particular, I wish to recognise the ongoing efforts of Bowraville resident Robert Cruickshank, who continues to campaign for official recognition of the kiaps. I welcome former kiaps and members of their family who are here in the Main Committee chamber tonight.
Kiaps were multiskilled field officers who often filled over a dozen roles within the remote Papua New Guinean communities they served. A note written by a kiap in 1955 describes the challenges of being a patrol officer. He said:
Changing times have necessitated field staff officers to have further qualifications. Now he must also be a typist, storeman, mechanic, radio operator, driver, agriculturalist, coroner and undertaker, police investigator, anthropologist, security agent, hotelier and diplomat; stevedore, shop and factory; hygiene, labour, industry and prices inspector; airfield, wharf and bridge construction expert; census taker, electoral returning officer, economist, re-afforestation officer, social surveyor, defence counsel, departmental liaison officer, electrician, mayor and social organiser, local authorities propagandiser and organiser.
That is quite a list of responsibilities indeed. He went on to say:
In addition to these normal qualifications, for an officer to remain in the service, he must practice monastic celibacy … he must be prepared to live in sub-human habitation, give his undying, unquestioning, unrecognised, unreciprocated loyalty, and for any hope of promotion possess certain academic qualifications, and to remain sane, possess a sense of humour.
I rely on the words of others in that regard. Every kiap’s duty statement contained the traditional bureaucratic proviso at the end that said that on top of all those other duties they were required to carry out ‘any other duties that may be directed to be carried out from time to time’.
The kiaps lived a dangerous existence. There was an ever-present threat of attack from hostile tribes and locals, and many kiaps were murdered on patrol. The harsh conditions on the frontier also proved to be very dangerous, with accidents and illness claiming the lives of kiaps. The list of kiaps killed in boating and aircraft accidents is extensive and I think it is fitting that these men and their surviving comrades should be officially honoured by the Australian government.
There is no doubt the kiaps played a valuable part in the development of Papua New Guinea in the period after World War II. When peace returned to PNG after the war, many of the towns and other signs of progress had been destroyed. Gardens and villages had been ruined and the plantations were damaged or neglected. The kiaps were usually representative of all arms of government in a frontier area and they often brought the first trickle of European civilisation to that area. The extraordinary efforts of these men and, as we have heard, a small number of women ought to be officially honoured by the Australian government because their stories make up a valuable chapter in our nation’s history. They have achieved amazing results with limited resources and in the most inhospitable conditions.
I will close with a statement from Norm Richardson, an ex-kiap, who appropriately described the efforts of his kiap comrades by saying:
They went where others feared to tread and did so without unnecessary bloodshed or disruption of the life of the people, frequently to the detriment of their own health and well being.
The country was changed from a state of constant fear and predation, village upon village, to one of free travel, cooperation across language groups and peace between long standing tribal combatants.
I pay tribute to the amazing achievements of the kiaps in New Guinea and offer my wholehearted support to this motion. I should also say that it is unfortunate that bureaucracy can get in the way of appropriate recognition. The time has now come to strip away that bureaucratic impediment and to allow proper recognition of the kiaps, which they most justly deserve.