Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sunday Essay - reflections on the death of Barry Holloway

I hadn't intended to write this post. I had a far more pedestrian effort in mind focused on current Australian politics. But then there was a story by Mark Baker reporting on the death of Sir Barry Holloway that carried my mind back into into entwined threads of Australian and personal life. This post is my response.

To set the scene, this photo shows Barry Holloway (right) on a UN Trusteeship mission in what is now Papua New Guinea in 1956. Barry Holloway with UN trusteeship mission, 1956

Back in the now somewhat distant past, I went with my friend Sue to the wedding of her step brother Tony Voutas to Shelley Warner, daughter of Australian writer and journalist Dennis Warner, on the Mornington Peninsular in Victoria. It was a slightly difficult trip because Sue's Dad was confined to a wheel chair and somewhat grumpy about the whole thing.

I knew that Tony had been in New Guinea as a kiap or patrol officer, but had not expected that the PNG Parliament would adjourn early to allow a group including then PM Michael Somare and speaker Barry Holloway to attend the wedding. I was interested because I had long been fascinated by PNG, if at a distance.

Growing up, Papua New Guinea was still under Australian control. Papua was an Australian external territory or colony, the formerly German controlled New Guinea was a League of Nations/UN mandate. These formal differences carried through into differences in law and administration. However, following the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union. This unification was confirmed by the Papua and New Guinea Act 1949. The act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government.

Not that I was really aware of this legal detail. However, I was very aware of PNG because of the War and the Kokoda Track and as a place of romance and excitement. Cousin Cyril had worked as an anthropologist in PNG and we had original artifacts around the house, as well as toy outriggers.  I sat glued to the radio during primary school listening to a gripping series on the ABC Children's Hour telling the story of the adventures of a young patrol officer in PNG. The stories were so powerful that I remember them to this day.

I didn't know at the time that Barry Holloway was one such and at just that time. Born in Tasmania in 1934, he dreamed of adventure. Working as a labourer in Melbourne, he saw (in Mark Baker's words) a newspaper advertisement seeking young men with ''initiative, imagination and courage'' to work as patrol officers in PNG.

Holloway took the challenge, joining more than 2000 Australians aged between 18 and 24 recruited between 1949 and 1974 as patrol officers, or kiaps - pidgin for captain, from the German kapitan - sent to bring the rule of official law to the sometimes lawless remote regions. Here his experiences mirrored many of those that I heard on that distant radio series.  

Mark Baker records that the lanky 18-year-old with a shock of curly red hair arrived in Port Moresby in April 1953 after six weeks' basic training, After an initial posting with an experienced kiap on Bougainville island he was sent alone to a district in Madang province. Suddenly he was at once police chief, magistrate, medical chief, census officer and director of engineering for roads and airstrips.

You really did require a very particular personality to work as a patrol officer. On one of his first patrols into an uncontrolled area, Holloway had to defuse a clash between two warring tribes with the help of a handful of native policemen. ''After three weeks, the whole crowd of about 600 to 700 would be massing around,'' he told the ABC in 2009. To the tribal warriors, the .303 rifles carried by the police were only sticks. Holloway quickly disabused them. He made a dum dum (expanding bullet) out of a normal cartridge and had it fired through a line of five shields, showing the great gap at the end. The crowd dispersed.

Armidale is a big boarding centre. At secondary school, there were plantation kids at my school (The Armidale School) and at our sister school (the New England Girls School) sent from PNG by their Burns Philp South Seasparents for an Australian education. I was interested in the stock exchange and fascinated by the romance of the listed companied with PNG links such as Steamship Traders or Burns Philp South Seas.

Towards the end of my time, the first Papuan students began to arrive at the school. 

One such was Sir Kina Bona KBE. Kina was one of the candidates at the last PNG elections. Prior to that, he was  Chairman of the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates Commission and Registrar of the Political Parties and Candidates Commission. He had also been PNG's High Commissioner to London in the late 90s, and Public Prosecutor before then. Today, there is an active TAS Old Boys' group in PNG.

At University in Armidale, my moral tutor was Gilbert Murray, something I wrote about in Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald Murray 1900-1967. The Murray's are entwined with Papua New Guinea. Over wine and port, we talked (among other things) about PNG. I was interested, although now I wish that I could have collected more of Dr Murray's experiences and his memories of an Imperial family. Then I had no idea of their historical significance. Now I can just record fragments of memory, backed by some historical research.

Papua New Guinea was now moving towards independence. There never was a question of Australia retaining control of a territory whose acquisition had begun with an independent act of Queensland imperialism somewhat against the wishes of Westminster.

In 1963 a House of Assembly was created, a mixture of official appointees and elected members. It was not possible to be a kiap without identifying locally. In the elections that followed, Barry Holloway was elected to the Assembly along with another younger patrol officer, Tony Voutas. Now began a series of events that was to help form the character of modern PNG.

The new institutions that were being created including the Administrative Staff College, the localisation of the public service, were creating their own dynamics. The Administrative Staff College was very important for there, among other things, Michael Somare went for training in 1965, The story that follows next is drawn from an article in Islands Business.

The kiaps and the local independence leaders came to be known informally as the Bully Beef Club. They gathered at the home of trade unionist Albert Maori Kiki, and sometimes at the community centre in Hohola. There they ate tinned corn beef and talked late into the night. Michael Somare became a natural leader. In Tony Voutas' words, “Sir Michael was fiery, spoke well and was an ideas person. He was still a public servant, so there was a limit to how visible he could be.”

On June 13 1967, the Papua New Guinea Union (Pangu) Party was officially formed from the Bully Beef Club. It's members included nine members of the House of Assembly: Holloway and Voutas were part of this group. The Administration offered Pangu ministerial posts in part of its transition program. Under Somare's influence this offer was rejected. Pangu would be an independent, independence, opposition. I think that that was a mistake, but I can see Sir Michael's point.

The next  photo shows Michael Holloway with the Queen on an official visit in 1974, the year before independence. Barry Holloway with the Queen 1974

In September 1975, PNG gained independence with Pangu in power.

The coming of independence brought it's own problems. Again, a small personal example.

The Chinese who played a major role in the retail and trading sectors were very uncertain. Born in PNG, one Chinese merchant with major retail interests started shifting his money to Australia. This was done in a rush. leading to some very uncertain investments including a major real estate development at Caloundra on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. He recruited a friend of mine to examine the investments. For his part, Richard recruited a team: one person examined the legals; a second tramped all over the land, discovering an illegal marijuana plantation on the way; I examined the real estate market.

At night, we would gather at our motel and report. There our host talked about his life. He had been a young child when the Japanese occupied his village. He talked at length about that, and I listened. There were some amazing stories.

Today in PNG, there is a degree of nostalgia about the 1970s when administration was non-corrupt and the future looked bright. Would PNG have been better off if Australia had lagged its withdrawal a little? I suspect so. We are not talking decades, just more time to allow the independence transition measures to take fuller effects.

And the Pangu kiaps? Tony felt that as an expatriate Australian he should leave, that locals must take his place. Barry took a different view. To his mind, he was a local. Two choices, two paths.

Who knows who was right?  Probably both. Both had to do their own things. Both occupy a special place in PNG history.

What we do know is that Barry went on to a remarkable career. His lust for life was astonishing. I really envy it.  I guess as I grow older, what Barry tells me is that I don't need to limit myself, that whatever our age, we can do things. I am not sure that I want his number of children,  but it might be fun trying!        

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