This article looks at the stories of two Australian patrol officers (Kiaps) in Papua New Guinea – one told through official archival documents and the other through a privately held collection of memorabilia.
Up until independence in 1975, thousands of young Australian men served as patrol officers, or Kiaps, in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. A career as a patrol officer in what was then Australian territory required the men to juggle the multiple roles of ambassador, policeman, explorer, farmer, engineer and anthropologist.
Away for weeks at a time, Kiaps patrolled vast areas on foot with the help of an indigenous police force. Surviving patrol reports detail attempts to introduce Australian law and governance, observations of customs and languages, mapping and census reports.
Official Kiap records
Kiaps’ lives, and those of the communities they worked with, were captured for posterity by Australian Government photographers and film-makers. This material is now held by the National Archives of Australia. The Archives also holds a range of records about Kiaps and their work, including patrol reports, personnel and correspondence files, area reports and maps. Together these records help tell the shared history of Australia and Papua New Guinea. To recognise and pay tribute to the extensive history of Kiap involvement in Papua New Guinea, the Archives has highlighted records in its collection relating to this aspect of Australian history. This includes a Find of the Month story, featuring photographs and a copy of an advertisement urging Australians with ‘initiative, imagination and courage’ to answer the call to become Kiaps. A set of Archives photographs is also available on the photo-sharing website, Flickr.
Lloyd Hurrell: a Kiap in the Archives
In 1939, (Albert) Lloyd Hurrell applied for the position of cadet patrol officer advertised in Sydney newspapers. After serving briefly as a Kiap in New Guinea, Hurrell joined the Australian Military Forces in 1940. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on 11 November 1942 during fierce fighting after the recapture of Kokoda.
After World War II, Hurrell returned to Kiap duties in New Guinea. In 1950 he was appointed Acting District Officer of the Menyamya district, and was instructed to establish a new settlement at this remote post in the ‘uncontrolled’ Western Highlands. The following year, Hurrell was ordered to investigate a raid on the village of Kiatsong during which several people were killed. While investigating the raid, Hurrell’s party was attacked. He fired a warning shot, which unfortunately killed one of the attacking men.
Hurrell resigned from his Kiap duties in 1954, and established a farm and coffee plantation near Wau in the province of Morobe. He entered national politics in Papua New Guinea, and served for many years as President of the PNG Coffee Marketing Board. In 1969 Hurrell was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the Board.
You can find Hurrell’s story in Memory of a Nation, the Archives’ permanent exhibition in Canberra. This exhibition highlights the Archives’ vast collection and encourages visitors to explore Australian history through official records. It also showcases the personal stories of many Australians who have contributed to our history.
Crowdsourcing: beyond the official record
While researching the Archives’ holdings on Kiaps, it became evident that the official archival documents only told part of the Kiap experience. Archives staff soon realised, however, that there was a wealth of information contained within the private collections of former Kiaps. This privately held memorabilia complemented the records in the Archives’ collection, resulting in a more meaningful and rounded depiction of the Kiaps’ stories.
Through Flickr the Archives embarked on a ‘crowdsourcing’ exercise – appealing to former Kiaps across Australia to share their recollections as well as help identify personnel in the Archives’ photographs. This signalled a new approach to the delivery and interpretation of the records in the Archives’ holdings. It has enabled the Archives to tell many histories, adding layers of meaning and context to the ‘official’ history.
Tom Webster: a Kiap responds to the call
Former Kiap Tom Webster responded to the Archives’ call and posted his own images of his time in New Guinea on Flickr. He also offered personal items, such as a field officer’s journal, patrol reports, lecture notes and photographs, for an Archives display of his experience as a Kiap.
Webster was 20 years old when he arrived in Port Moresby in July 1969 to train as an Assistant Patrol Officer. His first posting was to Laiagam, in the Lagaip Sub-District, Western Highlands. During his first census/training patrol, he investigated a fatal fire in a nearby school where a teacher and six students had died.
From October 1969 until July 1970, he was stationed at the Tabibuga Patrol Post in the Jimi River Sub-District of the Western Highlands. One of his main jobs there was supervising up to 7500 locals building a road between Banz and Tabibuga (previously only accessible by a three-day walk or by aircraft).
In July 1970, Webster was promoted to Patrol Officer in charge of the Angalimp Administrative Centre, near Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands. Much of his time there was devoted to breaking up clashes between the Menka and Andagelika clans at Tuman, arresting participants and appearing in court prosecutions as a witness and an interpreter.
Other duties included teaching the locals to grow tea and coffee, government liaison with some of the large tea and coffee plantations in the area, purchasing land for the councils, providing medical assistance and leading patrols.
In April 1971, Webster got married while on leave in Australia. In June that year, he returned to Angalimp with his wife, Judy. Later, after a terrifying incident in which Judy and their baby son Mark were taken hostage, they were posted to the very remote Lake Kopiago Patrol Post in the Southern Highlands. By then, Webster had qualified as a local court magistrate.
In February 1975, his six-year contract completed, Webster returned home. A few months later, Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia.
View Archives records relating to this article:
- Lloyd Hurrell’s World War II service record
- Menyamya Patrol, Headwaters of Tauri and Banir Rivers, Morobe District, 1950–51. ADO Hurrell
Learn more about Kiaps in the previous article in this series
Read more about the Archives’ Kiap tribute event