I should firstly acknowledge that Christian organisations and their missionaries with practical skills deserve much of the credit for providing improved services such as health and education, to village people in many of the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
The Australian Government's mandate was to firstly explore uncharted territory, pacify warring tribes and headhunters, then rapidly improve infrastructure and services throughout the country in preparation for PNG's eventual Independence as a nation.
On the ground that process was led by "Kiaps" the Australian patrol officers who can now look back on a proud, meritorious and often heroic history in PNG. They often put their lives on the line on a daily basis. From 1950 to 1977 there were 18 recorded incidents of patrols being attacked by natives. Fifteen Kiaps were killed in the line of duty from 1950 to 1977. (not all from ambush incidents)
Once areas had been officially pacified by the Kiaps, Medical personnel and "Didimen" (rural development officers like the writer) were introduced to do their own field patrols to identify and implement ways to rapidly improve the standard of living of the people who were often malnourished and sick with malaria and other parasites.
We would walk from village to village, on the way gathering information about sociology, geography, soil and vegetation types, then sit down at night with everyone in the meeting house to learn about their social aspirations and priorities for future development. Comprehensive "Patrol Reports" were then compiled and sent to our Port Moresby headquarters for analysis and evaluation.
The task of economic and social development in places like the South Wapei was daunting. The vast flood plains which drain into the upper Sepik River are not traversible at all during the wet season, and at other times the walking distances as notated below make any sort of life improvement extremely difficult for these sparse populations of people.
They had no roads, communications with the outside world, education or health facilities.
Some financial income was remitted by men who had been "recruited" by labour agents and shipped off to work on private coconut and cocoa plantations near Rabaul on the more developed island of New Britain. Small amounts of cash were also earned locally from selling salted crocodile skins.
A large percentage of the adult men were away working for years at a time, leaving behind a legacy of family and social disruption, and a disproportionate burden of village work on the shoulders of women, young people, and the old folk.
Our foot patrols involved packing all food, bedding and medicine (most important were anti-malarial tablets and antibiotic ointment and powder to treat infected wounds and tropical ulcers) into galvanised or black steel trunks.
Carriers were recruited from the nearest village, (sometimes against their wishes) and they lashed the patrol boxes onto long bush poles using kunda (vine rope)….one carrier at each end of the pole.
The Government payment rate for carriers was set at 10 cents per hour.
We also carried blocks of tobacco. Twisted greasy tobacco leaf sticks which were glued together with molasses to make a single heavy block.
Tobacco, rather than cash was sometimes preferred by the carriers as payment for their work.
We also traded tobacco for fresh food supplies along the way.
Our patrol box contents also included old copies of Sydney's broadsheet newspaper which we distributed to people who tore them into appropriately sized sheets to wrap the untwisted, dried and cut tobacco and made "cigarettes".
August 1970. (Blue represents journal entries)
Lumi to Bulawa;
Commencing from Lumi patrol post in the foothills of the Torricelli mountain range in the West Sepik (now Sandaun Province) walking south towards the middle reaches of the Sepik River.
" 6 hours walk to Bulawa village following the rocky river bed and crossing the Gwenif River 41 times"
Domestic servant/fixer/part-time interpreter Fortel (with gun) and a meal of fish and hornbills at Bulawa village.
Bulawa to Abrau;
7 hours through alternating steamy lowland forest and "kunai" grassland.
" Abrau village deserted, roof of rest house removed by storm at night"
Abrau to Yakeltim;
Patrol in state of shambles (top picture) following canoe capsize.
Village leader with Goura pigeons from hunting expedition.
Children with big bellies, the primary symptom of kwashiorkor.
(acute childhood protein malnutrition)
Abrau to Norambalip and Yegerapi;
12 hours walking time, then a village meeting at night to discuss strategies for marketing crocodile skins.
Mosquitoes so tiny here that they get through mosquito bed-net mesh.
Yegerapi to Yowari;
" 12 hours walk. Depart 7 am crossing endless kunai swamplands and following pig tracks into Yowari at 7 pm."
Semi-permanent floating foot paths had been constructed in the flooded kunai grasslands. They were made from split palm trunks cut from the adjacent woodlands. The planks were laid end to end across the "teis" (swamp) and floated on top of the mud.
"Yowari women and children fled into the bush at first sighting of the patrol's arrival, returning later at night".
The Yegerapis were not on friendly terms with the Yowaris and the carriers, fearing sorcery being applied to them if they camped at Yowari overnight, chose to immediately turn around and walk the 10 hours back home by moonlight.
Yowari to Kernam;
" Eleven hours in heavy rain. Kwieftim village carriers deserted, found substitutes"
Kernam to Lumi;
" Depart Kernam 5.45 am to Parisko on an overgrown bush track thence via Taute to Lumi 6 pm"
Lumi was the closest Government Patrol Post providing services to the people of the South Wapei. The Catholic Church, (Franciscans) and the protestant Christian Missions in Many Lands also had establishments at Lumi.
The CMML had an additional staff member at their Yellow River base, close to the Sepik River.
(For access to all stories in this series click the "view my tags" link on the right of screen then click "png history")