The National, Friday 25th November 2011
THIRTY-SIX years after Papua New Guinea gained independence, Bob Fayle still has scores of stories about the time he spent there as a commissioned officer of the Royal PNG Constabulary.
From 1957 to 1975, the Mooloolaba man patrolled grasslands, jungles, rivers and villages in some of the country’s most remote tribal areas.
The now 75-year-old was one of more than 2000 young Australian men who took the pidgin title “kiap”, or “captain”, during an important yet little-known chapter in history.
After the Second World War, Australian kiaps were sent to bring law and order to towns and villages throughout PNG.
As multi-functional administrative field officers, kiaps shouldered a range of roles, from builder, policeman, judge and jailer to explorer, farmer, engineer and anthropologist.
At the age of 20, Bob jumped at the opportunity to work as a PNG patrol officer after changing his mind about a career in engineering.
After completing a compulsory course, he went to Sydney to study social science for a year before becoming a cadet.
Despite learning about the dangers of the patrol officer’s job, he was not deterred.
In fact, he was filled with words of encouragement from the father of Geoffrey Harris, a cadet patrol officer who was killed on duty.
“It was in 1953 that Harris was killed up in Telefomin,” Bob said.
“And before I left (for PNG), my father said, ‘I’d like you to meet somebody’ and he introduced me to Harris’s father.
“He said to me, ‘Look, don’t let me put you off because I know my son enjoyed doing what he was doing before he died’.
“It was just so terribly new and so interesting. Every day was a new thing, a new adventure.
“We used to go around, staying within the villages, and try to sort things out. That was our major role.
“We also had a very large welfare role and although we had all these powers of coroner and jailer and magistrate and police and everything else, the main purpose was to give them a better way of life.”
Bob and his fellow patrol officers were always on the move to various towns and villages.
On Manam Island, he helped evacuate villagers living near an erupting volcano.
“There was three feet (one metre) of ash and all the houses were collapsing from the weight. It was a pretty torrid time,” he said.
Years later, he was posted at a one-man station in Ioma in the Northern province.
“There was nobody else there but myself and lots of natives,” he said.
“(The natives) had killed a patrol officer there pre-war. But (since then) they had calmed right down.
“Although I did have arrows fired in my direction … they were just letting me know that it was their place.”
Another time, Bob narrowly missed being impaled by a spear as he paddled down the Musa River.
“It went straight between my legs into the canoe. That sort of startled me,” he said.
Like his colleagues, he heard his fair share of hair-raising stories.
“There were supposedly people (in Tufi) in the early 1900s with webbed feet because they lived in the swamps … generations of them,” he said.
“I was asking the local people ‘I heard stories about them, where are these people now?’, and they said ‘They’re all gone’.
“They said ‘Our ancestors ate them’.”
Bob married his wife Heather in 1964 and she spent 11 years on the outstations with him before they returned to Australia so their children could attend school.
But more than 30 years on, the spirit of the kiap brotherhood is alive and well.
Now he organises biannual reunions of patrol officers on the Coast, providing the opportunity to meet old friends and share stories from their days as kiaps.
Almost 300 former patrol officers gathered at the Kawana Waters Hotel yesterday.
Source: Sunshine Coast Daily, 13 November