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The elusive Arkie Poive

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I was mentored by some extraordinarily devoted and conscientious young Australian Patrol Officers (kiaps and didimen) during my early years in New Guinea working on various rural development projects.

No doubt, as with any Government occupation, there were some under-performers , but I never came across any of them.
Without exception all those I knew who worked at the “sharp end” of services to people in remote areas worked their hearts out planning and building roads, bridges, schools, airstrips, medical aid posts and agricultural extension centres.

Success often depended upon “making do” with whatever scarce resources could be scrounged from around these tiny outposts which were only linked to the outside world by a weekly “Government Charter” Cessna aircraft which delivered mail and essential supplies.

Kiaps and didimen became masters of improvisation by necessity.

If steel cable was unavailable to build suspension bridges or “flying fox” ropeways then fencing wire was used instead.
If cement supply was limited, half of the volume of a concrete floor or wall could be composed of embedded empty beer bottles.
(Please refer “essential supplies” above.)

One kiap even got so fed up with bureaucratic lassitude that he bought his own private bulldozer to build the roads he had surveyed.

Bureaucracies around the world are not renowned for financial flexibility. New Guinea was no exception. The Treasury allocated chunks of Government money to specific purposes called “votes”.

If money was allocated to us on the “casual wages” vote, then it had to be spent for that purpose and no other.

Diversion of funds from one purpose to another was strictly forbidden unless prior approval had been gained after lodging an Application on the appropriate Form in carbon-papered quadruplicate, followed with lengthy assessment by an entire ‘uselessness’ of senior Departmental bureaucrats arse-polishing leather chairs in the capital city Port Moresby.

Meanwhile, the $100 emergency repair job you wanted to do to fix the village water supply had to be held in abeyance.

Kiaps and didimen were consequently forced into becoming adept at accounting ingenuity.

Most outposts used “casual wages” money to employ gangs of men to “mow” the station and airstrip using lengths of sharpened flat steel called sarifs…..the fit young men swinging them parallel to the ground to cut the grass.

One Kiap during the 1960’s whose identity should probably remain shrouded in the mists of time decided to add an imaginary labourer to his gang to facilitate an emergency accounting diversion.

He selected the name “Arkie Poive” because in the world of Melanesian Treasury scrutiny it was less likely to attract attention than a labourer called “Jerry Lee Lewis” or “Howard Hughes”.

Over a period of time ( labourer’s remuneration was $10 per week)
Arkie Poive’s wages repaired the water supply, and provided a tank to store water at the small bush-material hospital.  Arkie’s wages also generously provided sufficient funds for two waterwheels to drive communal coffee pulping machines as well as some components for a hydroelectric lighting project which lit up 20 village houses for the first time.

Arkie Poive was indeed a very generous man.

The word of his success and usefulness soon spread far and wide among the Government field workers in New Guinea, and in no time at all there were probably more than a hundred “Arkie Poives” on the books, working their pioneering hearts out for the benefit of their country.

The only evidence of Arkie Poive’s omnipresent existence during the twentieth century remains buried in the monthly financial returns we all religiously sent to Treasury Head Office in Port Moresby at the time.

Arkie Poive has never been given sufficient credit for the significant part he played in Papua New Guinea’s rural development.

Until now.

About GOF

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

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