Notes from the Northern Territory: Jim Toner

June 2009

Mike PRESS came out of retirement for five months to take relieving managerial positions with the NT's recently established Central Desert Shire. After his accumulated experiences as kiap in 'colonial' PNG and as community liasion on its 21st century oilfields he found time spent at Ti Tree less than satisfying and has returned to Darwin. His exkiap colleague in Aboriginal Affairs when both were residents of Katherine, Bob WELCH, has quit New Zealand and is now on Thursday Island working for the Torres Straits Regional Authority.

Deja vu all over again. Members may have noted that during April the journalist Sean DORNEY was expelled from Fiji thus repeating his PNG experience in 1984 when he was the ABC correspondent in Moresby. He had arrived in PNG during 1975 and become captain of the Kumuls in the following year, this affording him access to many important contacts very useful for his work. Dorney returned after the 1984 contretemps finally departing in 1998 with a Walkley Award for his reporting on the Sepik tsunami. By that time he was able to author two books, an authoritative account of the Sandline Affair, and a very readable examination of post-Independence PNG. In 2005 he gave a seminar at Parliament House, Canberra, the text of which is available on the web and well worth a glance from those still interested in the complexities of, and future for, an Australia-PNG relationship.

Most readers apart from dedicated followers of 'the greatest game of all' will know that the Rugby League team of the Bird of Paradise nation is known as the Kumuls. But few will be aware that the PNG snooker team which recently competed in the Oceania championships called themselves the Cuemuls. H'm.

Kevin MURPHY, a pikinini kiap in the late 60s who moved into education, commerce and became President of the PNG Rugby League, has been in hospital in Cairns. Sadly, due to diabetes, he has had a leg amputated. This calamity may come as a surprise to ex-kiaps who recall a sprightly Kevin at their Kawana Waters reunion in 2007. His first emergence from hospital was to attend a barbecue for his beloved Kumuls who had travelled to play a Cairns team.

PNG's Under-19 cricket team the "Barramundis" having, as reported in the March issue, been successful in Malaysia, flew to Argentina for the next qualifying round of their World Cup. They won four out of five matches  and were prevented from advancing to the final qualifying round in South Africa by Uganda but only because of its superior run rate. Still, not too many Papua-Niuginians have ever had a look at Buenos Aires.

Perry KWAN who died in January had been elected as Kavieng's Member in the 3rd House of Assembly. In 1972 he cheerfully accepted the Speakership but soon realised that it was quite beyond his competence and stood down to the relief of all concerned.  This allowed ex-kiap Barry HOLLOWAY to take the Chair and commence his
ascent to knighthood. I had never met Kwan until he arrived at a civic meeting in Rabaul with a book by a world renowned author under his arm. He commenced his speech by quoting wise words from it and I sat back thinking that what was to come would be intellectually interesting. However he immediately laid down the book and launched into an impassioned tirade about not being permitted to swim in the town pool. He was quite correct. It had been established under a pre-war Ordinance specifically as a "European Swimming Pool" and although the Sixties had arrived the 'winds of change' had yet to waft down Mango Avenue.

Of late Kwan had been living in modest circumstances in Moresby and I understand that the sole politician to attend his funeral there was his fellow New Irelander Sir Julius CHAN who in his eulogy made the interesting comment that "An honest politician will always be poor". 

However here in the Noughties "the times they are a'changing". A clue to the emergence of numerous women in high positions within the PNG public service is that female undergraduates at UPNG now comprise 47% of the student population. Unfortunately the provision of suitable accommodation at Waigani has not yet caught up in what was formerly a male preserve.

Even more surprising to most of us is the prevalence of mobile phones in PNG as will be the facility being offered to superannuants from the Public Service. There are 120,000 members of NASFUND and they will at any time be able to use their phone to SMS the Fund to learn the balance of their current account... 

The 'Siege at the Dagi River Bridge' in West New Britain was brought to my attention by Harry TOPHAM, loyal contributor to the Ex-Kiap website. It seems to have slipped under my radar in 1972 but Jim MOORE, who at the time was a PO at nearby Ewasse base camp, comments that there was 'a distinct lack of information passed on to those District field staff who were not involved'. Apparently a group of settlers from the Nakanai oil palm estate decided to march on the District HQ at Kimbe in an effort to liberate wantoks arrested earlier. They were met on the bridge by Noel Fowler DDC and Colin Campbell DO accompanied by armed Police and an unnamed Inspector. The mob commenced a determined assault on the Administration party including an attack on the PO manning the radio car and shots had to be fired before the sitation was brought under control. Peter TURNER, by then a Sepik kiap, says that some four years after the event he was told that Fowler shot dead the Chimbu fight-leader which immediately cooled the enthusiasm of his followers. The perception was that this probably saved Kimbe from being razed to the ground. Knowledgeable readers might care to comment.

"Raising 34 children and managing 12 wives takes some doing" stated Kagul Koroka, a trader in the Nebilyer and sometime Governor of the Western Highlands. I believe I'll take his word for it.