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Seven huts for seven nights

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PNG bush hut

The Patrol Officers, or Kiaps (derived from the German ‘kapitan‘) who were responsible for the grass-roots administration of Australia’s colonial presence in Papua New Guinea during the 20th century were outstanding young men.

They were trained at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney in preparation for careers which required physical stamina and total commitment in a country which would initially provide them with unparalleled culture shock.

As an Agricultural Officer, I worked alongside some of these men in remote locations and envied their vast range of administrative and practical skills, most of the latter acquired whilst working on the job.

A young Kiap in his mid-twenties was commonly the road and airstrip surveyor, civil engineer, bridge builder, social worker, policeman, postman, banker, magistrate, jailer, builder, plumber, electrician, radio communication technician, post-mortem assistant, ambulance driver, paramedic, and marriage counsellor.

These men devoted the best years of their lives exploring formidable unexplored territory, dodging hostile arrows, then establishing and maintaining law and order in a tribally fractured country which they brought, along with Christian missionaries, from the stone age into the twentieth century.

No-one realised how important their presence was until after PNG’s premature Independence in 1975 when the Kiaps were, without much appreciation in a political decision, told to go home.

Following their departure, anarchy, violence and lawlessness flourished in PNG, and has continued to do so ever since.

Even though they were adequately compensated financially for this severance of employment, many Kiaps had great difficulty settling back into Australian society after so many years of living with Papua New Guinea culture.

One Kiap returned to Australia and bought a very large acreage of bushland upon which he built some rudimentary thatched huts in various widely spaced locations.

He would regularly pack up his camping gear and leave the main house to hike to one of these distant shelters in an effort to replicate his patrolling days in New Guinea.

His neighbours probably questioned his sanity.

I never did, because I understand precisely how he felt.

The only thing missing from his new life would have been the company of all the rural Melanesian villagers, 95% of whom never wanted him to leave their country in the first place.


P.S.Β  Many of these Patrol Officers, now in their senior years,
reminisce on the forum at

Within their ranks are gifted writers and published authors.
They all have interesting stories to tell about the particularly
proud chapter they wrote in Australia’s history.

About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

17 responses »

  1. I mean this with all sincerity, GOF, you should write a book from these compelling stories. The history is not one that people would normally hear. It’s quite wistful that these men want to replicate their experience. Some really special jobs are like that – they infiltrate our identity.

    I’ve always loved those style of huts. Everyone should know how to build a proper shelter like that.

    • Spot on, Emmi,

      If GOF doesn’t write this then I hope Goblet is taking notes for the family history.

      • Globet has been lumbered with the job as custodian of all this stuff Pete. It’s almost like a contagious disease for her……just as soon as it looked like Vox had a cure for her affliction, the same condition suddenly flared up again on her WordPress , Typepad and Posterous.

        I think that I’ve been a bad, bad parent! πŸ˜‰

    • Thank you Emmi for your kind comments. There are many more qualified, and with a longer, broader, and more interesting experience in PNG than mine, so I would consider it somewhat impudent to attempt to write a book. BTW there a superb coffee table book “Kiap” by James Sinclair which comprehensively covers this particular topic.

      With encouragement such as yours I am happy to make this blog my official “book”.

      And you are so right about the effect of special jobs….your life is your work, and your work your life.

      Such was the case for the kiaps……there was no equivalent job at that time in history anywhere else in the world.

  2. I can see the appeal in living this way. Civilized life can be a drain on the soul; simplicity can remind us of what is good about being here on this planet.

    That said, no bathroom with a shower and a flush toilet inside, I take it?

    • There is a lot that could be learned by Westerners from the simple village social structures in Papua New Guinea H.G. Self sufficiency, and minimal impact upon the environment and planet.

      And no showers and toilets inside either……just think ….no more cleaning dirty bathrooms and all that “foreign material” you talked about in your blog. πŸ™‚

  3. I’ll echo Emmi’s thought: this should all be put into a book, or maybe a documentary.
    And roaming your vast property, visiting various shelters, sounds capital to me.

    • Thanks kimkiminy…….my thanks to you for your kind words…..I have given my thoughts about writing a book in my reply to Emmi.
      For the moment I am just happy that you enjoy these stories here on the blog.

  4. Fascinating stuff, GOF. I’ll second, or is that third, the suggestion that you write a book on your experiences in NG.

    • Thank you Snowy. re the book….I think I need someone to show me the way. Someone perhaps like a more experienced blogging friend who spent time working on Australia’s largest civil engineering project, and attending the University of Life formulating his unique philosophies.

  5. Gold, mate, just gold! I love the ruggedness of PNG. I’ve only had very brief moments in the country in recent years, but the people left the most lasting impressions. All good.

    • Thanks Ninja……fortunately many rural village people still live in harmony and tranquillity untouched by the chaos going on in the remainder of their country.

  6. Really interesting (as all your reminiscing stories are)… at this stage in my life I do enjoy a real bathroom though.

  7. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that Kiap John Fowke left such a favourable lasting impression upon the writer, a manki didiman at Lumi in the late 1960’s, that had it not been so, this story would probably not have been written.

  8. GOF
    agree totally with your comments about kiaps. Remarkable role in the development of PNG

    • Thank you for your comment David. It was a unique chapter in history. PNG would be in much better shape today if the kiaps had never left. Humble opinion bilong mi. πŸ™‚


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